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Thursday, June 28, 2012

The New Aristocracy

The New Aristocracy

By Andre Damon
WSWS.org
June 28, 2012

As governments throughout the world close schools, lay off
workers and slash support to the poor, old and sick, the
financial oligarchy that rules the world increases its wealth
and power.

The incomes of the top-earning bank CEOs grew 12 percent
last year, according to an analysis of the 15 largest global
banks conducted by pay research group Equilar.

These executives received an average of $12.8 million apiece,
even though the stock values, earnings, and profits of most of
the banks shrank.

Jamie Dimon, the chairman and chief executive officer
of JPMorgan Chase, once again topped the list, taking
in $23.1 million, an 11 percent increase over 2010.

Under Dimon’s watch, JPMorgan recently disclosed billions
of dollars in speculative losses.

Governments across the globe have bailed out these banks
to the tune of trillions of dollars.

They have massively subsidized these giant, privately-owned
financial institutions, and they stand ready to rescue them
again if and when necessary.

The report on bankers’ pay was released only days after Hawaii’s
governor announced that Oracle CEO Larry Ellison had bought
Lanai, the sixth-largest Hawaiian island, for between $500 and
$600 million.

The island’s 3,000 residents will be as dependent on Ellison’s
good will as were the vassals of the Middle Ages to their lord.

Ellison, the third-richest individual in the United States, is
notorious both for his extravagance and his petty avarice.

In 2008, he won a $3 million tax refund from the city of
Woodside, California after a court ruled that his house, a
reproduction of a Japanese emperor’s estate that cost $200
million to build, was worth only $100 million on the current
market.

The court declared that nobody besides Ellison could afford to
live in the house, which gave it “limited market appeal,” and
on that basis lowered the Oracle executive’s property taxes.

The taxes that Ellison and his fellow California billionaires avoid
paying have contributed to the state’s $15 billion budget deficit,
which is now being tackled through cuts in vital social programs
that keep millions from destitution.

California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and the Democratic
controlled state legislature reached an agreement last week on a
minimum of $8 billion in spending cuts.

State welfare benefits are to be slashed in half and $1 billion is to
be cut from the state’s Medicaid program, $402 million from state
workers’ wages, and $240 million from child care.

Ellison, whose net worth is $36.5 billion, could write a check to
cover the amount of these cuts … four times over. Then there are
the other 99 billionaires in the state.

Another example of the use to which the super-rich are putting
their vast fortunes has been captured in a soon-to-be-released
documentary, The Queen of Versailles.

The film recounts the efforts of the billionaire founder of Westgate
Resorts (a time-share company) and his ex-model wife to build the
largest house in the United States.

At 90,000 square feet, the Orlando, Florida mansion includes ten
kitchens and a bowling alley.

The palatial Florida home is named Versailles in honor of the palace
of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. That the royal couple had their
heads cut off in the French revolution seems lost on the builders of
the new Versailles.

A charming detail revealed in the film about the lifestyle of the
new Versailles: the family dogs were never housebroken because
a small army of servants was always on hand to clean up after them.

Aristocracy, from the Greek root, means “rule by the best.”

However, the financial oligarchy, whose selfish interests determine
the policies of the planet’s governments, encompasses the most
ignorant and depraved sections of modern society.

“Scum separates by floating upward,” said Marx, writing
about the speculators and fraudsters of his time.

“The finance aristocracy,” he added, “in its mode of acquisition
as well as in its pleasures, is nothing but the rebirth of the
lumpenproletariat on the heights of bourgeois society.”

The decades preceding the Wall Street crash of 2008 saw a
dramatic enrichment of this social element and the refashioning
of politics to suit its needs.

The financial oligarchy exercises monopolistic influence over
political life, and the police state mechanisms built up since
2001 have been put in place largely to protect its wealth.

The Obama administration itself is one expression of this process.

In 2008, Barack Obama received more money from the finance
industry than any other candidate in US history.

After his election, he proceeded to pack his cabinet with former
Wall Street executives.

Once in office, Obama made trillions available to the banks and
shielded those responsible for the 2008 crash from criminal
investigation or prosecution.

The concentration of this great wealth in the hands of a financial
aristocracy comes at the direct expense of the rest of society.

One in two people in the United States is either poor or near-poor,
and median household wealth fell by 39 percent between 2007 and 2010.

Millions struggle to make ends meet, and the increase in the
ranks of those living in outright destitution is staggering.

The proportion of the population living in “extreme poverty” has
grown by 50 percent since 2000, from 4.5 percent to 6.7 percent.
To be designated extremely poor an individual has to make less
than $5,851 and a family of four less than $11,509.

As Mark Twain once wrote, “There never was a revolution unless
there were some oppressive and intolerable conditions against
which to revolute.”

Every year, trillions are squandered on the yachts, mansions
and country clubs of the rich and the micro-economy they
create around themselves.

Vast resources are devoted to financial speculation, funneled
into the Wall Street gambling casino.

Putting this wealth to rational use would go a considerable way
toward eradicating unemployment, poverty and preventable
disease.

Ending the anarchy and exploitation at the heart of the capitalist
system, which find a particularly noxious expression in the
concentration of obscene levels of wealth at the very top, would
enable mankind to mobilize and develop the productive forces,
including science and technology, to vastly raise the material
and cultural level of human society and eliminate inequality.

And yet the universal cry in official politics is that “there is no
money” to fund social programs or pay decent wages, and that
workers, including the poorest and most vulnerable, must “tighten
their belts.”

Such is the character of all historically bankrupt ruling classes.

The issue is not just their personal wealth, but, more
fundamentally, their stranglehold over the productive
forces of society.

The giant corporations and financial institutions must be taken
out of private hands and run democratically in order to rebuild
the society the super-rich have ravaged.

Outside of socialist revolution there is no way to curb the political
and economic power of the new aristocracy that plunders society
for its personal enrichment.


http://www.wsws.org/articles/2012/jun2012/pers-j28.shtml

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