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In 1729, when Ireland had fallen into a state of utter destitution at the hands of its British landlords, Jonathan Swift published a famous essay, “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public.”
His idea was simple: the starving Irish should sell their own children to the rich as food.
His inspiration, as it happened, came from across the Atlantic. As he explained, “I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young, healthy child well nourished is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout.”
Inspired in turn by Swift, I want to suggest that we put in motion a similar undertaking: on January 16, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, citizens from around the country should gather at the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street. Let’s call this macabre gathering—with luck and even worse times, it should be mammoth—“We Surrender” or “Restore Debtor’s Prisons” or “De-Fault Is Ours” or “Collateralize Us.” And plan on a mirthful day of mourning.
The basic idea is that we offer ourselves up, 99 percent of us anyway, on the altar of high finance as a sacrifice to the bond markets. It was Karl Marx who first observed that high finance is “the Vatican of capitalism.” How right he turned out to be—right with a vengeance!
The Death of Democracy
Whole governments, democratically elected, are collapsing, or abdicating on orders from our secular version of the papacy. Who will weep for the passing of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi? Not many, surely. Still, it’s appalling that, in Italy as in Greece, governing authority has been usurped by technocrats, elected by no one, answerable only to the European institutions of high finance that installed them in power.
At last count, eight governments of the European Union have come and gone, suffering the wrath of our new god. Other European governments barely hang on and scurry to curry favor with the bond market, proposing in effect to eat their own children and the futures of 99 percent of their pe00ople, if that’s what it takes to make high finance happy. More will follow. By the time this piece was published, who would be surprised if yet another government had bitten the dust?
What about here in the USA? That capitalism and democracy go together (like love and marriage in that old song) has been the imperial boast conveyed to the rest of the world by American banks and diplomats and presidents and Marines for a century—and more recently, by crony capitalist outfits like KBR and predator drones. Today, at home and abroad that particular gospel seems a sorry piece of hypocrisy. Capitalism has become a synonym for—to use an old word on its way back just in time—plutocracy, not democracy. The Obama administration like the Bush administration before it, and the one before that, and the one before that, has bent its knee to “the Vatican of capitalism.”