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The One Percent’s Doctrine for the 99%

Many on the American Right insist federal actions from the Civil War to recent banking regulations were encroachments on states’ rights and personal liberties, but underlying these claims – in the 1860s and today – is the greed of the richest one percent treating the 99 percent as chattel.

by Mark Ames

consortiumnews.com (March 23 2012)

A little over a year ago, while researching the Confederacy’s economy, I stumbled across this unnerving graph charting the value of America’s “stock of slaves” in the last decades before the Civil War.

http://consortiumnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/ransom.civil_.war_.us_.figure1-300×234.jpg

This graph tells the real story behind the South’s secession: the value of the South’s “slave stock” – the property of the ruling class  –  soared as secession approached, reaching an almost ninety-degree angle in those final years before Harper’s Ferry. The South’s ruling class seceded to protect their riches, period:

From afar, if you didn’t know that human “slave stock” was the asset being charted, you could easily mistake this graph, and its parabolic trajectory, for one of the many destructive asset bubbles this country has suffered right up through our own time.

Up close, this graph drips greed, mass murder and shame  –  it strips away the historical revisionism that falsely ascribed the South’s “cause” to an almost selfless, tragically romantic attachment to “tradition” and “culture”; it gives lie to the myth that slave owners kept their slaves to the detriment of their own bottom line.

Like the worst wars and the worst of history’s villains, the Confederacy’s one percenters seceded and fought in order to continue profiting from their most valuable investment properties  –  their human slave stock.

The graph comes from a grim working paper, “Capitalists Without Capital”, written in the late 1980s by a University of California (Berkeley) economist, Richard Sutch, and a University of California (Riverside) historian, Robert Ransom.

As they showed, slavery produced huge profits for southerners who invested in slave capital  –  to the detriment of all other portfolio investments, as the value of slaves soared in the mid-nineteenth century. By that time, by far the largest cotton-growing states’ wealth was in slave stock, not in real estate or other investments.

The slave trade was outlawed in 1808; but the slave population quadrupled from one million in 1800 to four million in 1860  –  encouraged by slaveowners who “bred” their human stock, thereby multiplying their profits as the value of each slave rose.

Slavery is often portrayed by revisionist historians as somehow antithetical to market capitalism; in reality, slavery was a winning portfolio investment, the very incarnation of just how evil “free-market” capitalism can be. As the authors write:

If slaves … were an investment included in the asset portfolio of the planter/entrepreneur, they helped satisfy the owner’s demand for wealth. But unlike most other forms of capital, which depreciate with time, the stock of slaves appreciated. Thus, the growth of the slave population continuously increased the stock of wealth.

What makes this graph so disturbing for us in 2012 is what it suggests about today’s “one percent”  –  and how they view the rest of us. It gives form to the brutal crackdown on the Occupy protests  –  and suggests darker things to come as we try to free ourselves from their vision of civilization, and our place in it.

Contrast that with this McKinsey report put out a few years ago by the director of the consulting group’s New York office. Titled “The New Metrics of Corporate Performance: Profit Per Employee”, the report argues that the best performing firms in our increasingly financialized era are those companies that have learned to squeeze ever-larger profits out of each employee  –  and not by the more traditional “return on investment” metric.

The McKinsey report looked at the world’s thirty largest companies between 1995 and 2005, and found that their return on human capital more than doubled, from an average of $35,000 profit per employee to $83,000, leading to this rather frank and nauseating conclusion:

If a company’s capital intensity doesn’t increase, profit per employee is a pretty good proxy for the return on intangibles. The hallmark of financial performance in today’s digital age is an expanded ability to earn ‘rents’ from intangibles. Profit per employee is one measure of those rents. If a company boosts its profit per employee without increasing its capital intensity, management will increase its rents.

http://consortiumnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/mckinsey-profit-per-employee1-300×216.png

Extracting rent from “employees” as a business strategy: This is supposed to be the language of feudalism, not modern advanced capitalism  –  and yet this is the cutting edge in 21st century capitalist thinking, unashamed and unvarnished:

One way to improve a company’s profit per employee is simply to shed low-profit employees. But if they generate profit greater than the cost of the capital used to support their work, shedding them actually reduces the creation of wealth.

As with slave stock in a Southern investor’s portfolio, the McKinsey report argues that as a corporation learns to successfully extract rent from its employees, the more employees it extracts rent from, the greater its aggregate profits.

To compare “the 99 percent” to African slaves would be crude; but the mindset of “the one percent” then, as now, is eerily consistent. They view the rest of us not as human beings with rights, but as livestock whose meat is “rent” to be extracted.

This is the language of plutocratic capitalism, a brutal system totally incompatible with democracy and antithetical to republican government and civilization. It is the language of misery, and misery is what “the one percent” is promising “the 99 percent” for years to come, in ever-greater doses.

_____

Mark Ames is editor of The eXiled Online, author of the book Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine (2006), and co-author with Matt Taibbi of The eXile: Sex, Drugs and Libel in the New Russia (2000).

http://consortiumnews.com/2012/03/21/the-1-percents-doctrine-for-the-99-percent

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. hscs19
    2012/03/25 at 18:39

    Thanks Bill again! One interesting way to look at the deadening changes in growing, packaging, distributing, advertising and selling our farm produce is by comparing these practices to those 150 years ago. Starting with the rough figure of how many small family farms or shops would be supported with a living income before the commercialisation of produce into vast self supporting conglomerate stores named supermarkets. Staggering figures. Just take one, like Albert Hein, a large member of a much vaster one. All monopolies.

    Supporting corporations like Monsanto, GE, Dow and the rest who market and sell genetically deadly food sources as safe, supplying markets, ( as in Nuclear energy) would be impossible if our food sources still rested on family farms. Erasure of the species is no marketing ploy or game. Erasure is part and parcel of the bottom line….the one all must watch. We are it.

    Though it may have escaped the attention of most, enriched Uranium bombs were dropped on Fallujah, Iraq by US troops in 2003 or 2004, then by US directed UK NATO troops on Libya in 20011. Obama and Cameron enjoy a blood brotherhood. The infants now born in Fallujah have no brains. Something that will happen in Libya after 5-6 years of mutated and limb/organ missing Libyan infants.

    The seals on a letter in the Middle Ages was impressed with a metal or gem seal signature in warm wax to show who it was from. The mark of the US and all of it’s allies and friends are those tiny deformed infants unable to develop into normal humans. Suzanne

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