When Getting Ahead Is Going Backwards

Friday, 21 February 2014

Last night I watched a special edition of Q&A.  This is a weekly show filmed live here in Australia, where a panel of different guests each week take questions from the audience, while tweeters lucky enough to be chosen from the 20,000 plus that come in each episode can see their tweet run along the bottom of the screen.

Last night's special episode was a one-woman panel - a Q&A session with Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF.  Ms Lagarde is most eloquent, as we would expect someone in her position to be.  As is always the case when anyone who is not vaguely stupid is on the show, there were therefore the requisite collection of tweets singing the praises of Ms Lagarde's intelligence.  As if it's astounding, as if millions of other people aren't also regularly having intelligently thought-through commonsense thoughts.  But I guess it's comparative - when you've been Murdoched for as long as we have, even basic commonsense seems a little miraculous.

I couldn't make way past my anger to be all that impressed.  I wish I could have paid more attention to what Ms Lagarde was saying about the economy and the way it works.  I'm sure I would have learned something helpful.  But I confess I couldn't get past my mistrust of someone who, no matter how smart, heads up an organisation that perpetuates injustice.  For decades the IMF has been giving loans to poor countries who have nowhere to turn.  They are forced into loan conditions that make them virtually unpayable, ensuring that they stay poor and in servitude simply because the IMF is too greedy.

There's not all that much that's eloquent about that.

As if it wasn't frustrating enough having everybody fawning over a Managing Director of an organisation that regularly deals in reverse Robin Hoodism, a couple of tweets in response to a question and response about multinational companies sent me literally to tears.  I can't remember what the question was now because of my sieve brain, but I think it was something to do with getting multinationals to pay their fair share of taxes.  Two responses were this:

"As a shareholder, I'm glad corporations are minimising their tax obligations."

"As a shareholder, I don't want to share my wealth with lazy people who didn't plan ahead."

Wow.  I notice that that second tweet is written by someone who's very young, so I guess you can't hold his myopia too much against him.  And if you're a company, he's exactly the kind of shareholder you want.   One who is ambitious in getting ahead.  Eager to build their portfolio.  Contemptuous of those who obviously must be "lazy" and "not planning ahead" if they don't wanna come to that particular party.

Well, I've never felt comfortable with the stock market.  I can't play in that pool even if I want to.

Luckily this tweet balanced it out somewhat:
"As a shareholder and a person I want to help people who can't help themselves."


This is the battle on our hands - there are those who see the bigger picture and understand that this economic system plays us as pawns against each other while servicing those at the top.  Those who know that a way of living which benefits everyone is a good and sane thing, not an evil socialistic thing.  That the way we do stuff now is nowhere near anything like the best way of doing it.  But then there are those whose ambition in getting ahead cuts off their ability to see properly that they don't live on a virtual island where their future bucks are going to make them safe.  Fuck, as if this whole economic system doesn't have a giant pus-filled cyst on itself that's just WAITING to burst.

"Get ahead" however you want.  Good luck in not stepping on someone else's feet to get there.  Although I wonder if that second tweeter would care much about that.  He's a part of the system that creates the dog-eat-dog conditions, but hey, if that's how it's rolling, then he's gonna go for the biggest piece, and that somehow makes him more awesome than you.

And meanwhile, it all continues to flow up to the top of the pyramid with relentless tedium.  We are not free.

Fuck that.  I don't want to play that game.  I care too much about my own sense of self-worth to play in pools of fetid water.  I'm holding out for something better than that sort of shit that's ruining the earth I live on and the community I live in. 

Take one person who by their initiative starts a company.  That company grows and suddenly you find yourself with the great good fortune to really "get ahead" - say Amazon offers to buy you out with a big fat cheque.  Hard to resist that but don't fool yourself that you haven't abandoned your child to a pimp and that it might leave a bad taste in your mouth somewhere.  Or else you can publicly list your company.  That feels like a win/win - you can keep a certain ownership of it while gaining a lot more money for your business to expand.  As if giant business aren't routinely shite.  But hey, you're getting ahead, right?  It's your opportunity to nest egg yourself into early retirement, and you might feel bad in some way for playing in a crappy system but there isn't any new one on the horizon, so what's a girl gonna do?

I get it.  But it doesn't mean it's not shit.  So many businesses that small groups of people started and they end up being part of the massive portfolio of Glaxo Smith Kline Wellcome or Lever and Kitchen or whatever the fuck they're called now.  Flowing relentlessly up to the top on the back of a bunch of people wanting to "get ahead".

And we all know that multinationals are their own juggernauts with their own rules.  Full of people, and yet they act so inhumanely.  Rich beyond measure, yet they'll try and worm their way out of paying any of the taxes that are their due.  Too big to fail, and too big to not be shit.  Full up with shareholders - everyday people who "just want to get ahead", and whose financial planners will help them realise their dreams by investing in blah blah boring boring fuck fuck give me some matchsticks to keep me awake.  I have transcribed far too many financial planner interviews over the years.  They record their interviews with new clients so as to be able to have a record of what their clients say in response to their questions that are exactly the same across the board, no matter what financial planner I've been transcribing.  Questions that are about dreams.  About where you'd like to be in 10 years.  About how we're going to help you get there.  Nice and friendly questions that feel lovely.  But they never fail to make me feel slightly uncomfortable.

I wonder how many people really know exactly how the whole system works?  I sure know I don't.  But I can see enough to know that someone wins at the expense of someone else.  And the someone who is winning usually has a big fat piece of greedy pie anyway and just wants more.  To feel safe.  Because of the dog eat dogness of the big bad world out there. 

I wonder how many of those husbands and wives visiting financial planners think much beyond a hazy sort of conception of share markets being like magical Santa Clauses where they put money in and then get even more out that they didn't lift a finger to earn themselves.  I wonder how many of them feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in their portfolios so that they then feel justified in calling others "lazy" who don't want to swim in those particular pools?

Maybe it's partly unexamined guilt that their getting ahead continues to strengthen those most desirous of perpetuating an untenable status quo.

I don't know what the answers are to all this.  It's so complex and I know there are probably things I've said here that others more knowledgeable can dismiss as the ravings of someone who doesn't know what she's talking about.

I know what I can smell though.  A rancid system that's really, really old.  It's getting just about ready to fall apart.  But don't expect to see anyone daring to discuss that sort of thing on Q&A or anywhere else.


  1. I've never even waded into investments...way over my head. I can't either understand why "socialism" is so evil. So many countries on this planet have socialist systems and high levels of reported happiness.

    The reason people like us are told we don't know what we're talking about is to shame us into silence, because those who believe they DO know what they are talking about stand to lose so much.

    It IS just about ready to fall apart. I just hope us "smallfolk" (peasants) are able to survive through the process.

    1. Hello, missus.

      Yeah, I wonder how much of the "socialism is evil" is because of the whole "the antichrist will be a socialist" thing that runs a little rampant through fundamentalist christianity. Align that with people who believe that their own actions only affect them and no one else and I guess you have a lovely little pile of right-wingers who are blind.

      Not that I think all right-wingers are blind. I've been thinking a bit lately about how those terms left-wing and right-wing are pointless, that we don't even think of them anymore as necessary balances for a bird to fly, but more like sports teams and we pick a side. It's so unbelievably dull ... not to mention harmful. We keep ourselves divided and conquered and some don't even notice that that's what's happening. It kills me.

      I really, really hope that us peasants are able to survive through the process too. It's all feeling a little too overwhelming for me this morning because I'm in pain, so I'm going back to bed for another few hours. If I could wish for anything when I climb out again it would be that us normal everyday smallfolk know our own empowerment. That would change everything.

    2. I know the concept of "socialism" was evil to the west in recent history...Stalin? USSR? But it would seem we forget words like Mandela and Sweden. I guess I think a little about communitarianism paired with socialism...hmmm...

    3. I had to look up communitarianism. I like that. Very much. I was calling myself a left-wing liberatarian the other day. I would examine the samenesses about those two if I wasn't starting to feel my eyes droop from putting two different isms in one sentence :)

  2. Well written, and I feel it's reflective of many peoples' thoughts these days.
    I can't honestly give an erudite or knowledgeable reply.
    And, I agree with Erin's comment.

    The future doesn't look good with the likes of "big power", and their greedy shareholders, in control.
    Shit's gonna hit the fan. Not if, but when.
    And it is overwhelming.
    Who knows what toll it will take.

    1. I guess the shit has been hitting the fan in one way or another for a long time, hasn't it? Maybe it'll end up backing itself into a corner and then it can explode. I don't really know if that's possible although some say that that is the only thing economics is going to do (if it doesn't keep getting propped up. It's like Bernie in Weekend at Bernie's :)

      I really do like to think that maybe one day it'll all get so transparent that slimy little people whose only service is to themselves won't be able to get a toehold. I guess we can hope, right?


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