Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Cheese Party: Is Wisconsin The Start Of An American Revolution (Or Will You Always Be Ruled By Goldman Sachs)?

Whenever I pay taxes, I think of the fact that GE and Exxon paid no taxes in 2009, that Goldman Sachs pays under 2% taxes, and that billionaire hedge fund managers pay a tax rate of 15%. As Warren Buffett says, his secretary pays taxes at a higher rate than he does.

The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas talks about the face-to-face encounter with the Other that induces empathy and morality. Well, I feel like my little face is going face-to-face with the gnarly butt of big business. And there's about as much empathy to be gotten from that butt as a mouse gets from a snake.

Bizarrely, I hear everyone walking around saying America and its states are broke, while Wall Street is coining billions and criminally under-paying their taxes. I hear the GOP saying we don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem. I see Obama extending the Bush tax cuts, which created no new jobs in eight years. And I'm thinking, I have so little hair left, what's the use of tearing out the last few?

Then it occurs to me that Americans must be one of four things, or a combination of all four:
b) stupid victims of learned helplessness.
c) stupidly apathetic to the point of cowardice.
d) stupid masochists.
d) plain stupid.

That includes you and me, dear reader.

Then I think of GOP governors giving tax breaks to big business and claiming teachers have to give up benefits so these governors can balance their state budgets. Teachers are getting paid too much. Not CEOs. Not Wall Street bankers. Not lawyers. Not doctors. Teachers.

Meanwhile, one teacher does more important work in one day than the entire board of vampire squid Goldman Sachs fraudsters do in their entire socially useless lives. Teacher should be paid more, not less.

Then I see the polls say Americans are concerned about jobs, jobs, jobs, but Washington is fighting over deficits, deficits, deficits. The GOP deficit-cutting plan will cause a job loss of a million. Nobody in power is actually listening to what actual Americans want. The big guys are stuffing down Marie Antionette layer cake while one in six of West Virginia's population is on food stamps.

I watch 100,000 public service labor union members in Wisconsin protest to keep their collective bargaining rights, as they bargain away their benefits.

And I think: how pathetic.

They're not asking for rich people to pay more taxes, or for corporations to pay ANY taxes; they're asking to keep their collective bargaining rights.

That's like a guy being skinned alive asking his torturer not to skin his penis.


Middle-class wages have remained essentially flat since the Reagan Revolution, while our productivity has improved dramatically. But CEO compensation has gone up by the hundredfolds. Between 2002 and 2007, the top 1% captured two thirds of income growth.

You've heard the big joke these days. A CEO is sitting down with a Tea Partier and a teacher, and there's a plate of 12 cookies on the table. The CEO takes 11 cookies for himself, and says to the Tea Partier: "Watch out for that teacher. She wants a piece of your cookie."

Given the fact that Americans are really stupid, really cowardly, really masochistic and really helpless, how can we save ourselves from our predatory elite?

I don't think the Wisconsin protests will do it (what might help a little, is if they recall Governor Walker next year).

What this country needs is some kind of miraculous transplant of smarts and guts, which might lead to our citizens actually organizing themselves into a Cheese Party to take over the Democratic Party and scare them to act progressive for a change -- like the Tea Party has taken over the GOP and scared them hard right.

But do we have the innate guts and smarts for this? For a little genetic contrast: if, for example, what is happening to us were happening to the French, what would be happening?

Let me tell you. We'd have Americans marching by the millions on Wall Street and burning Lloyd Blankfein in effigy. We'd have angry jobless people occupying the offices of Goldman Sachs from top to bottom. We'd have CEOs sitting locked up in their offices by their employees until they stopped outsourcing jobs. We'd have Tahrir Squares on the front lawns of Wall Street partners.

Unlike we Americans, the French people aren't cowards. They've got guts. They don't swallow crap on their knees on a hourly basis like we do, while our elite butt-bang us every minute of our waking days as we stoop to be conquered. When the French government screws up, the French citizens start tearing up the sidewalks and pelt the noggins of their cops with berets made of concrete.

If only we had a little French sass in our genetic makeup. But we don't. We're Americans. We just lie down and take it. For how long, how long, how long?


Forever, it seems.

Our leaders have no guts either. Obama didn't have the guts to go for the big stimulus of $1.3 trillion that his own economist Christina Romer told him was needed, and that Nobel-winning economists Krugman and Stiglitz said we needed in 2009. He settled for less than $800 billion with almost $300 billion wasted on tax remedies which were as stimulating as a road-killed armadillo is to a bunny rabbit on heat. So he came in with a third of what was needed, like a guy trying to impress a date by shlepping her to the local Burger King.

Then Obama didn't have the guts to start a WPA program to employ our unemployed construction workers to repair and rebuild our infrastructure, like FDR did when he created eight million jobs. Then Obama didn't have the guts to call off the costly war in Afghanistan immediately (a war that props up the second most corrupt state on earth after Somalia) but like a typical coward, he sucked up to the Pentagon by sending in more troops, and then he tried to brown-nose the rest of us by promising to pull the troops out in a year or two, or well ... sometime. This July maybe. Soonish. Depends on what people think at re-election time in 2012. Whenever. Never mind the Wikileaks revelation about the $52 million of our money in cash that Afghan Vice-President Ahmed Zia Massoud was caught with when he visited the Arab Emirates where the banks are; $52 million which we let him keep.

Then Obama didn't have the guts to turn the BP oil spill into a national cause for green energy investment.

But don't blame just him. He's following a hallowed American tradition of no guts, no imagination and no smarts. A tradition stupendously honored by the gutless dumbasses we've consistently voted into the presidency for the last 30 years. Reagan, Bush One, Clinton, Bush Two and Obama ... these gutless dumbasses combined don't add up to one cell in FDR's brain or one ab in FDR's guts.


There's only one place that our guts and smarts might come from. And that's from our unemployed. Yes, being unemployed, like the prospect of being hanged, concentrates the mind wonderfully. And it makes you desperate, too, which can make you gutsy.

You never know what could happen when people get desperate.

In Tunisia, one guy set himself on fire because the government fined his little sidewalk fruit stall, confiscated his equipment and wouldn't give it back ... and a short one month later, after some furious Facebook organizing and protests in which the oppressed populace suddenly grew balls, the dictator president who'd been in power for 23 years, fled the country to save his own suddenly-spooked-spermless balls. (He fled to our good friends the Saudis, whose citizens flew two planes into our World Trade Center, and who also took in Idi Amin.)

This amazing revolution happened in Tunisia without a single word about it in their media: the revolt happened exclusively via Facebook, until Al Jazeera TV got word. Now finally many of the Arab dictators, including the Saudi princes, are shitting bricks like ants trying to pass elephant turds, and making sure they've got a private jet standing by fueled up 24/7 with enough ready Swiss bank money to scarper the heck out of Dodge toute suite, just in case the same thing happens in their oppressed corner of oppressed Muslim Arabia. As has happened in the biggest Muslim nation in the Middle East, Egypt, where Mubarak didn't leave the country, leaving himself open to possible prosecution.

All this came about because one no-account dude got upset when the government swiped his fucking fruit stall.

Here in America, we have a jumped-up-from-nowhere-in-no-time Tea Party movement that has spooked all the GOP leaders to the lunatic right, to the point that John McCain claims he never was a party maverick.

These Tea Party people complain bitterly about Obama's spending. Funny, they never complained about Bush's spending; they didn't even exist then. So where did they spring from so suddenly? Who are these Tea Party people? Here's who: they're simply older white Republicans with time on their hands who had enough money to retire and watch Fox News, and who got worried that a black president was going to take their money and give it to poor people. A black guy got inaugurated and wham! that's all it took for the Tea Party to spring up like maggots on a dead dog, and change the moribund GOP overnight from a party of seemingly slightly unhinged run-of-the-mill lunatics into a party of off-the-wall gibbering crazed-from-sternum-to-cranium lunatics (the GOP's new vaunted brainiac, Paul Ryan, believes in privatizing Social Security, proving him more crazily brainless than a flatworm's anal orifice).

Change can happen real fast in today's internet-connected world.


Here in America the fastest-growing new subgroup of Americans to watch out for isn't the Tea Party, but the so-called 99ers. These are folks who've been unemployed for 99 weeks, so their unemployment insurance has run out.

I'm thinking they could be our saviors -- our Tunisians, so to speak. Listen up as I marshall my facts.

In June 2010, the Labor Department reported that there were an estimated 4.3 million 99ers. It's been estimated that there were 7 million at the end of 2010, and perhaps 4 million will be added in 2011. These are people who have no income: they are drawing down all their savings and losing their homes, and they will become tent city dwellers if they aren't already. If I were George Soros, I'd give them all tickets to go to Washington D.C. so they can make a huge tent city of millions right under the snot-nosed noses of our rulers.

You have to wonder what's going to happen when there are say 20 million of them. 20 million unemployed, desperate, penniless, homeless Americans. Or 40 million. Many of them will be young people who can't find a job, and have moved back in with their parents: young people in much the same position as can't-find-a-job young people in Tunisia and Egypt. Like the Tea Party people, these 99ers will have time on their hands. These 99ers already have their own websites.

Meanwhile, right on time, our punditry is currently banging on about the inequality of wealth, income and opportunity in America. Like the top 1% own 35% of our wealth, while the top 20% own 85% of our wealth, leaving the bottom 80% to squabble for the last 15%, which is rapidly moving away from them into the hands of the folks at the top.

Enough to give the 99ers some food for thought. Enough to turn their natural paranoia and fear of survival onto an enemy out there.


To make a long story short, the stage is being set -- courtesy of our dumbass elite -- for a good old-fashioned class war. The unemployed against the rest of us. And if the rest of us don't join the unemployed in a class war against the actual greedy-to-the-max 1% -- no more than 1.3 million fat cats out of our working population -- America will tear itself to pieces. Let's hope it will be 99% of us against 1%. That gives us a fighting chance of reversing the class war that the top 1% of don't-care fat cats have waged upon the rest of America -- and won big with the help of our oh-so-caring government.

In the Great Depression -- our only valid comparison point -- there was indeed a class war. Same as now: the downtrodden against the greedy-to-the-max. The downtrodden were so trodden down, when the unemployment rate rose to over 19%, millions of Americans actually died of starvation. Yep, starvation ... while businesses and the government were destroying “redundant” food.

Back in those days, in the spring and summer of 1932, there was a march on Washington of the so-called Bonus Army of 43,000 marchers (17,000 WW1 vets and their families and affiliates). The Bonus Army demanded immediate cash redemption of bonus certificates issued to the WW1 vets in 1924, that were to be paid out in 1945 (maybe the government figured they'd all be dead by then).

Think about the 99ers marching on Washington as the Bonus Army did, and in their case demanding immediate reinstatement of their unemployment benefits. Those 100,000 Wisconsin labor protesters will be a petite storm in a porcelain teacup compared to a tsunami of millions of marching 99ers.

Here's what happened to the Bonus Army. First the Washington Police tried to drive the Bonus Army out of their encampment. Two vets were killed, but the protesters stayed put. Then President Herbert Hoover called in the army. The Army Chief of Staff, General Douglas MacArthur, commanded a bunch of cavalry and six tanks. In the ensuing battle, he drove the vets out of their encampment, killing another two of them. Their shelters and belongings were burnt to ashes. Yes, children, this happened in America, in our capital, when the closest thing to our present circumstances obtained in our dear land.

Finally, in 1936, Congress overrode FDR's veto and the Bonus Army got paid early.


All this, plus other unrest, especially big strikes in 1934, led to the big changes of the New Deal, which was essentially a successful power grab by the people, wresting power away from our then-greedy-to-the-max elite. The people were significantly helped by the fact that a leading member of the upperclass switched allegiance, betrayed his class and joined the underclass in their power grab. He happened to be the President, and from his high perch FDR heard and heeded the voices of the damned. So huge changes happened -- like Social Security, like the Glass-Steagall Act that hogtied the banksters, like labor unions getting strong enough to give workers a decisive voice, etcetera. And after the class war got settled in favor of the people, we had a good long comfortable ride, full employment for forty years after WW2, until that rich man's poodle Ronald Reagan started the comeback of the privileged rich, which led to trade unions being weakened, and immense productivity gains by workers not coming to them but going to the already rich, and the gutting of Glass-Steagall so the banksters were free to fleece us, and the removal of oversight over derivatives -- both under that dumbass Clinton -- and the lifting of the 12:1 leverage limit on Wall Street speculation under that even bigger dumbass Bush Two. Suddenly our economy went into boom-and-bust mode again after growing steadily for fifty years, and the Reagan Revolution turned the loss of the elite during the New Deal into a clear win for them.

Now our fat cats are occupying the fat catbird's seats again. And with the exception of Bernie Madoff, not a single big-time Wall Street bankster is in jail for Wall Street's worldwide Ponzi fraud. If just one of them -- say, Lloyd Blankfein or Dick Fuld -- was having his Hershey canal invaded on a regular basis by some over-muscled prison inmate, Wall Street would behave themselves ASAP. Instead, they're back to making million-dollar bonuses while their victims go jobless and homeless. Result: today our democracy is a fully-fledged plutocracy: government by the rich, of the rich, and for the rich. Wall Streeters have bought themselves a lifetime stay-out-of-jail-free card.

Not that Wall Street should rest all that easy. Their rip-off schemes have become more evident to more of the ripped-off. And when they wreck us again ... well, folks, we may end up living in interesting times.

As our main competition, the Chinese, like to curse their enemies.

I'd say there's a fifty-fifty chance that within the next ten years, if a few good demagogues get on a few media-covered soapboxes, the unemployed may rise up like a mightily pissed Godzilla, and then the national fan could be hit by the sizable excrement like no fan has been hit by any excrement, and there will be bits and pieces of excrement flying flotsam-and-jetsam-like all over the place, all over you and me, dear reader, all over America, from sea to shining sea.

Even a worm like America can turn.

Personally, I can't wait. What with 400 channels and nothing on TV, I could do with an interesting time in my life. I wouldn't mind seeing the 99ers loot the headquarters of Goldman Sachs. I wouldn't mind seeing some of our rich crooks jump on their private jets and flee. In fact, I'd like to see some social and economic justice in our country for a change. How about you?

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Six Emotions Of Revolution: What Egyptians Are Feeling Now -- by Adam Ash

If you really want to know what's been happening in Egypt, you have to know what folks there have been feeling for decades, and all the new feelings they're feeling now.

Take a basic emotion: fear. Before a revolution can even get started, it has to face feeling terrified.

After all, how do you prevent a revolution from happening? You put fear, massive fear, in the minds of your population. At one point, the Shah of Iran's secret police, SAVAK, had a surgeon cut off the arms and legs of a dissident in prison; then they sent his live torso back to his family and friends as a living warning of what could happen to anyone who resisted. A pretty effective fear tactic.

Revolutionaries swim in that fear. Like fish swim in water.

The conditions that breed revolution may be material: oppression and poverty. Egypt had 15,000 political prisoners to torture. Up to 50% of folks unemployed. But there is something more lacerating than physical hurt and deprivation to consider: the psychology of revolution. A revolution is an intensely emotional experience. It has to be, to break the chains of fear.

That's why trying to make sense of a revolution without considering the emotions involved is like thinking about sex without considering the fact that penises and vaginas are involved. I count six emotions that drive revolutions, all evident in Egypt. They are seldom, if ever, considered by political analysts or historians.

This is a truly startling omission of scholarship. There's no way you'll understand the first thing about a revolution if you don't grasp the emotions behind it. I know these emotions firsthand and can speak to them personally, because I was living in my home country, South Africa, during the 1976 Soweto Uprising, when black kids took on the apartheid regime in a storm of emotion. I was bludgeoned with an insider's education unavailable to most Americans. Be warned: what you read here will change how you think about revolution, about Egypt, and even about your own life.


A dictatorship tries to pull the teeth of revolution in two ways. First, by mind control: censorship of all media and communication. Citizens are blanketed with state propaganda. In North Korea, the people know little of the outside world: their thoughts are the thoughts of the Leader. Their world does not acquaint them with any consciousness to revolt.

The other form of control is the afore-mentioned fear. The hammer of the state, its feared secret police, can “disappear” you in a moment, with no one knowing where you are. Anyone who challenges authority can be imprisoned, tortured and killed. In such circumstances, only the crazy brave -- the fanatics -- will consider resistance, because they can be pretty sure that, at the end of the day, they will find their genitalia hooked up to electrodes. The vast majority of folks, people like you and me, are cowed and intimidated into silence. Even within your family, within the seemingly-safe walls of a home, political dissent isn't expressed. You walk around with a plug in your mouth and a Maginot Line slung around your brain. Fear slams your innermost thoughts back into your own head, where they ricochet in silence; unspoken, unborn, dead.

Fortunately, most dictatorships can't afford the 24/7 job of instilling fear. You'd need at least one secret policeman for every five citizens to keep everyone scared suitably shitless. In his very model of a modern police state, ex-President Mubarak presided over more than a million informers, agents and police officers, but they had to keep 80 million Egyptians under surveillance -- not all that easy at an 80:1 ratio.

So there was space for cracks of resistance to open. The unthinkable could happen. And it did -- in Tunisia, and now in Egypt.

Naturally, the unthinkable is unpredictable. Ten CIAs in constant communication with microchips implanted in every brain on earth couldn't predict a revolution. Consider what happens: suddenly a whole nation gets all emotional about the state they're in, and takes to the internet in a snit, and then to the streets in communal rage, their fear momentarily overcome by some random spark that annoys the heck out of them. Nobody can envision what that spark will be. Nobody can measure how fierce will burn the fire it lights.

Rampant rage, insensate fury, ice-cold anger: those are the emotions that knock back fear. Journalist Nicholas Kristof was told by a young woman, Leila, in Cairo's Tahrir Square: “We are all afraid, inside of us. But now we have broken that fear.” This rage is of a special kind: moral outrage.

We're not being treated fairly, dammit. Our rulers are rich, they never stop stealing from us. They steal even from the poorest of us. They hurt us. They beat us. They kill or imprison anyone who stands up for us. Those bloody bastards. Let's show them.

Yet even while revolutionaries act in anger, their fear never leaves them. A revolutionary faces death at any moment, like a worm thrown to a bird. We know that at least 300 people have died in Egypt, and they're having quite a peaceful revolution. (The main reason it's been semi-peaceful: the Egyptian revolution is across a classic generational gap: Mubarak and cronies in their 70s and 80s against kids in their 20s, and naturally the old people are wary of starting a shooting war against the young, because they'll be shooting their own children and grandchildren: this revolution is also a family affair, being argued over every family dinner table.)

Here's a report of how hairy even this peaceful revolution can get, for both the revolutionaries and the counterrevolutionaries:

"In Barambel Village in Helwan, south of Cairo, residents set the local police station on fire after a police officer shot and killed a local resident for violating the curfew. The resident had gone out during curfew hours on Monday night and was shot to death after failing to respond to the police officer's warnings. He was killed instantly. Following the incident, village residents torched the police station in which the officer was taking cover, leading to the death of the officer and total destruction of the station and its civil registry. Other police personnel managed to escape before they were caught by residents."

Besides fear and rage, there is another emotion that's even more basic to revolution than those obvious feelings. It's an emotion that poisons the lives of would-be revolutionaries more than fear: a bitter pill they eat every day for breakfast, a potion they drink every night before bed, a sour rancor that stinks up their psyches in unholy crappiness ... so much so, it's the verdant soil for revolution, the corpse that sprouts maggots, the breeding ground, the very seedbed.


The rock-bottom existential emotional condition for revolution is humiliation.

Feeling humiliated sears the soul worse than Coca-Cola eats teeth. If you look at what Egyptians want, it's not only freedom and economic opportunity -- an end to oppression and corruption -- but DIGNITY.

Being oppressed deprives you of dignity, of self-worth, of self-respect, of feeling worthy in this world. It's humiliating not to be able to speak your mind, not to have enough to eat, not being able to get a job, not having a say in your destiny, not being able to contribute to the well-being of your fellow humans. It's humiliating to see the shits of your society on top, lording it over you -- those folks who used to be the suckups and snotnoses and bullies in your school when you were a kid.

So you are ready to get angry. You are dry timber waiting for a spark. Then something stupid happens. Like a lowly Tunisian fruit-seller sets himself on fire because the government doesn't want to give him back his fruit-stall that they confiscated, and his family gets angry, and his neighbors, and they tell their story to everyone they meet, and they go and shake their fists at the people in a government office, and young folks vent their anger on Facebook, and people start congregating in anger, and their numbers grow, and all of them being together makes them feel inexplicably exhilarated and happy and free to express themselves for once, and now they feel powerful, and presto: a revolution.

When I say something stupid sparks a revolution, I mean stupid. Like really stupid. Here's an Egyptian reporter recalling the first time he started feeling revolutionary anger, after he was arrested and being driven somewhere in a truck cooped up with other detainees:

“After a while, the fog of bodily odors was infiltrated by the far more offensive stench of human feces, prompting one disembodied voice to curse, 'Hold it in, you heathens! We’re in for the long haul.'
 At that point, I was not particularly worried: my colleague had seen me be taken away, and I was confident that my boss would alert the appropriate heavyweights. Still, it wasn’t a particularly pleasurable experience. To distract myself from the growing sense of panic, I did some mental math problems, regretted it, and instead thought about pretty girls. I thought about the beach, thought about my cats, and then remembered I had forgotten to put food in their bowl. The apartment was empty, and if I was gone long enough, they would surely starve to death. For the first time since my arrest, I began to feel anger towards the current political regime. What did my cats have to do with anything?”

The possible suffering of his cats got this guy going.


Revolution rides on emotion. Here's Wordsworth on the revolution that stirred him, the French Revolution:

Twas in truth an hour
Of universal ferment; mildest men
Were agitated; and commotions, strife
Of passion and opinion, filled the walls
Of peaceful houses with unique sounds.
The soil of common life, was, at that time.
Too hot to tread upon.

There is the hot fear and humiliation and rage that start the revolution, and then, when it is in full swing, there is sheer exhilaration. Before the government sent its goons into Cairo's Tahrir Square, there prevailed a carnival spirit. This past week, this spirit returned. People camped out on Tahrir Square with their families, and created for themselves a sweet little society of happy freedom there, complete with separate garbage cans for organic waste. Here's one report:

“The people who have been staying in the square for the past two weeks have created an organized system so as to be able to continue their strike indefinitely. Food outlets, entertainment, cultural centers and a security system are all available in the square. Protesters stress that they are not tired and are willing to stay as long as it takes for the regime to fall. 'We have a whole country in Tahrir Square -- there's a ministry for sanitation, a ministry for protection, and so on,' says Mohamed Abdel Raouf, who has set up a makeshift newspaper booth in his tent. A family head who had been staying in a tent in Tahrir Square with his wife and two children for the past four days says that he is reassured about the safety of his family sleeping in a tent in the middle of the square -- even more than he was at home.”

They're proving a revolution can work. When the Egyptian regime emptied the jails and withdrew the police from the country to try and create nationwide lawlessness so they could have an excuse for a nationwide crackdown, the citizenry immediately started taking over the functions of policing their neighborhoods themselves. The regime tried to fall back on the basic excuse for their existence: without us the country would fall apart. Apres moi, le deluge. We the elite are the only guarantee of stability. All regimes function because of a snotnosed contempt for their people: they don't believe the people can govern themselves. In his last speech, Mubarak patronizingly said: “I am addressing all of you from the heart, a speech from the father to his sons and daughters.” Then, when he was ousted, he didn't have the guts to tell the country himself, but sent his flunky Suleiman to make the announcement. Pride and cowardice: Papa went into a sulk, and couldn't face his sons and daughters anymore.

When the people do for themselves without interference from above, they flower: the taste of freedom is a heady and exhilarating thing of joy.

It's interesting that the revolution has already freed women. In these last weeks they've walked the streets of Cairo without fear of sexual harassment, which has been a congenital Arab problem in this Arab city. With a regime to harass, males have stopped harassing females.

The revolution lets people take responsibility for themselves (responsibility is what a dictatorship takes away from you). I've read many quotes from the folks at ground zero in Tahrir Square, and I found this response, from one Seif Salmawy, the managing director of a publishing company, the most telling and quote-worthy:

“Suddenly we are human beings. We think we can decide and that what we decide has worth and that we have some value as humans. Before there was the president, the police, the army and their money. We the people were just there to serve them.”

There's nothing like a revolution for you to discover that you're human: a worthy individual with your own muscles to flex, your own mark to make upon the world.

It's of a piece with what Egyptians, and especially expats looking at their country from a distance, are saying: they are now proud of their country. Proud of its citizens. Goddam, my people are standing up for themselves.

“I was not proud to tell people I was an Egyptian,” said Ahmid Awn, 31, on Tahrir Square. “Today, with what’s been done here, I can proudly say again I am an Egyptian.”

One chanted slogan was: “Egyptians, hold your heads high, you are Egyptians.”


Fear, humiliation, anger, dignity, exhilaration, pride. These are the six emotions that drive and flood revolutions, and we should be cognizant of them.

And we should know that these feelings live most intensely in the young, whose emotions are still burgeoning, because their unnerving hormones only kicked in recently ... unlike the middle-aged and old, who are worn down to the adult cowardice of responsibility, compromise and plain old fear.

To be a grownup with children is to be scared. Above all, you want your children to be safe. Having children is the first big step away from being a revolutionary. You've got to stay alive for the kids. You can't endanger them by putting your own life on the line. They're the little dictators against whom you could never revolt.

The young don't have children to fear for. That's why we need the young to start revolutions.

Wordsworth again:

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven! -- Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom. law, and statute took at once
The attraction of a country in romance
When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights,
When most intent on making of herself
A prime Enchantress -- to assist the work
Which then was going forward in her name!
Not favoured spots alone, but the whole earth,
The beauty wore of promise, that which sets
(As at some moment might not be unfelt
Among the bowers of paradise itself)
The budding rose above the rose full blown.


In Egypt, the budding youth of the country kicked off their revolution. A group of youths began debating the state of the nation among themselves on a Facebook page started by Esraa Rashid, 30, and Ahmed Maher, 28 in 2008. This group called themselves the April 6 Youth movement because they started supporting textile strikers in Mahalla near Cairo, who were violently put down on April 6, 2008 by the Mubarak regime. 70,000 kids began to follow the lively arguments of their fellows on their Facebook page, like thousands watching other thousands playing fervid ping-pong on a vast table. It was a kind of emotional group hug -- sharing their dissatisfaction with their regime anonymously on the web.

The group described themselves on Facebook in earnest adolescent officialese -- somewhat like little Trotskys worried their moms might make fun of them:

“We are a group of Egyptian Youth from different backgrounds, age and trends gathered for a whole year since the renewal of hope in 6 April 2008 in the probability of mass action in Egypt which allowed all kind of youth from different backgrounds, society classes all over Egypt to emerge from the crisis and reach for the democratic future that overcomes the case of occlusion of political and economic prospects that the society is suffering from these days. Most of us did not come from a political background, nor participated in political or public events before 6 April 2008 but we were able to control and determine our direction through a whole year of practice.”

After the Tunisia uprising led to its dictator fleeing the country, these debating kids in Egypt got all excited, and set a date for similar protests in their country. They asked people to gather in protest against their own Egyptian regime on January 25, 2011. They had no idea how many would show up (remember the 60s slogan: “what if they gave a war and nobody came?”). But they knew they had the timing right: their exams were over and schools and colleges were closed for a mid-year vacation.

To their utter surprise, they had made a date with an actual revolution. We know you can use the internet to make a date with a stranger: now you can use it to make a date with something really strange: a revolution.


Here's the thing about the internet and revolution. Besides acquainting humanity with a blizzard of sexual images, proclivities and opportunities, the internet is also good for these three revolution-enabling qualities:

1. It's a quick and easy way to reach out to like-minded multitudes you don't know beyond your immediate circle of acquaintances. It turns the physical village square into Marshall McLuhan's virtual global village, which then allows you to actually flood the physical village square with all the folks you met in the virtual global village.

2. It's a quick and easy way for people to feel more powerful than they do in their everyday lives. In the virtual world of the Internet, you can give yourself airs you'd never attempt with your real-life friends. We're all quite overly proud on our Facebook pages. That's what Facebook thrives on: the ability of everyone to dream themselves into a virtual existence of their own self-created celebrity. Click on the Internet, and you instantly become arrogant. Your self-created virtual identity empowers your real-life identity. Your internet avatar pumps up your real self.

3. It's a quick and easy way for folks to get highly emotional and intemperate in the relative safety of their homes, because with a single click they can vent whatever they feel to the world out there. There's no physical restraint. The internet breeds unbridled, unthinking in-the-moment self-expression. It brings out people's inner ids: no need to be polite. You have the heady freedom to be as angry as you get privately with your own family ... to be THAT angry in public and for all to see, with not a care that you're offending any strangers, because they're not physically in front of you to make your life physically unpleasant. It's like giving another driver the finger from the safety of your car.

The Internet spins a cocoon of invincibility, a bubble of personal power around everyone, that allows them to be as nasty as they like with no immediate physical consequences. In short, the internet is a safe place to be a bitch. (Look at how, in any argument on the internet in America, within ten or twelve comments, one commenter will inevitably call the other one a Nazi.) You get thousands of people bitching about their rulers on Facebook, and you can have a revolution on your hands.


But the Egyptian Revolution was much more than a snitfit on the web that spilled over into anger on the streets. It's been in the making for a long, long time -- for as long as Mubarak has been a dictator promising reforms and never delivering. Raising hopes and dashing them. Locking up political opponents. Rigging elections. Running an economy that made him and his family and his cronies superrich (he's purported to have something between $10 to $70 billion stashed away), and caused food shortages for his people (in a country where the average person spends 40% of their income on food, any food shortage strikes right at the guts of the people).

The ruling clique privatized publicly-owned property into gated communities for themselves. Big coastal areas became exclusive resorts for the super rich in government and business. Enclaves like Qatamiyya Heights and Mirage City contain multi-million dollar palatial homes for the very privileged few, to which their owners drive through poor neighborhoods in their luxury cars for all to become irked by this blatantly flaunted inequality.

In this state of the lordly rich, Egyptian workers have been striking for better pay and working conditions for years. From a 2009 AFL-CIO report: "The current wave of protests is erupting from the largest social movement Egypt has witnessed in more than half a century. Over 1.7 million workers engaged in more than 1,900 strikes and other forms of protest from 2004 to 2008." That was then. Now more than 2 million workers have staged an estimated 3,000 strikes and protests since 2004, especially in the textile industry. According to Egypt’s Center of Economic and Labor Studies, there were 478 labor protests in 2009 alone, in which 126,000 workers were laid off, resulting in 58 suicides.

Opposition from labor has bred the Egyptian revolution. When the enthusiasm of youth joined them, the movement grew strong enough to turn the whole country upside down. If Mubarak hadn't stepped down, all the workers in the country were going to strike today Monday February 14th. Yes, EVERYBODY.

Imagine that. And imagine how spooked the regime must've gotten -- to their very coccyxes -- when 6,000 workers in Suez came out on strike, endangering one of Egypt's main sources of income, already kneecapped by the fact that the tourist industry is currently deader than a mafioso in cement shoes. Over 160,000 tourists skedaddled out of Egypt in the last two weeks, a loss of at least $1.5 billion in tourism revenue. The Abu Dhabi-based paper The National reports that the country’s industrial output dropped 80%.

Besides blue-collar labor, even the johnny-come-lately white-collar professionals came out in support. On Wednesday evening, hundreds of judges in black robes and green sashes marched to Tahrir Square. Twelve thousand lawyers in their robes marched on Thursday to Abdeen, one of Mubarak’s presidential palaces in Cairo. The same day thousands of medical doctors and pharmacists marched in their white coats to Tahrir Square. Thousands of journalists chased their government-appointed union president from his office, and marched. Actors, writers, directors, singers, musicians and artists joined the chanting. The workers from all industries united, with nothing to lose but their chains.


An entire society became radicalized in less than three weeks. Here are the known opposition groups in the revolution:

1. Kefaya (Enough!), led by the Nasserist Abdel-Halim Qandil, founded 2004.
2. El Ghad (Tomorrow), the political party founded by the parliamentarian Ayman Nour in 2004. Nour ran as a presidential candidate against Mubarak, and after he came second, was bundled off to prison for four years.
3. The liberal Democratic Front founded by Osama al-Ghazali Harb in 2007.
4. The Facebook page April 6 Youth movement, led by Ahmed Maher (who came out of Kefaya and has used the offices of El Ghad).
5. The Facebook page “We Are All Khaled Said,” administered by Google employee Wael Ghonim.
6. Nobel Peace Prize winner ElBaradei's National Association for Change.
7. Amr Moussa has just resigned as head of the 22-nation Arab League, to which he was side-lined by Mubarak because Mubarak wanted Moussa out of Egyptian politics; he intends to run for President.
8. The Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions, established at a meeting in Tahrir Square on January 30 this year, which effectively ends state control of labor exercised via the former state-sanctioned Egyptian Trade Union Federation.
9. The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, who assassinated President Sadat, spawned Al Qaeda and Hamas, was banned by President Mubarak, ran for parliament as independents, and has lately become so “moderate”, it took them three whole days before they turned up in Tahrir Square. Having been underground for so long, they are the best organized, and would get anywhere from 10% to 30% of the vote in an election.

This revolution has been falsely called leaderless because it has a bewildering array of leaders instead of a single charismatic leader, and because many instigators chose to remain anonymous to escape capture. Google's Wael Ghonim himself said that he had hoped to remain anonymous, and that now, after Mubarak's ouster, he just wants to go back to his job and his wife. One of the great things about this revolution is that, without a single charismatic leader to idolize, the nation can idolize itself and take national ownership for what happened -- WE did it (not some braver-than-us he/she did it).


Major unrest has been stirring for a long time, but it took three Facebook-enabled thingummies to actually kick off the revolution.

One: the virtual conversations on the April 6 Youth Facebook page, which gave 70,000 young Egyptians a feeling of community, as well as on the Facebook page “We Are all Khaled Said,” started after a young man, Khaled Said, was dragged out of a cyber cafe into the street in Alexandria and beaten to death by cops, a photo of his shattered face a rallying image; this was the Facebook page administered by Google marketing executive Wael Ghomid, who was detained for twelve days, and whose TV interview after his release on February 7 on the privately owned TV channel Dream 2, brought more people to Tahrir Square last Tuesday than there'd ever been there before (one hopes Larry Page and Sergey Brin throw a big party for their most famous employee ever). Also, oddly enough, a big role was played by Egypt's strong soccer fan clubs on the web.

Two: the example of Tunisia, itself driven by Facebook connectivity.

Three: the April 6 Youth group setting a date on Facebook for a mass protest. It started with one video on the Facebook page and Youtube, from 26-year-old Asmaa Mahfouz, on January 18. She said:

“Four Egyptians have set themselves on fire to protest humiliation and hunger and poverty and degradation they had to live with for 30 years. Four Egyptians have set themselves on fire thinking maybe we can have a revolution like Tunisia, maybe we can have freedom, justice, honor and human dignity…. I’m making this video to give you one simple message: We want to go down to Tahrir Square on January 25. If we still have honor and want to live in dignity on this land, we have to go down on January 25.”

There was a button to click on. It said: “Will attend.” The clicking began. Still, nobody had any idea that they had volunteered to attend a revolution.


As the youth streamed to Tahrir Square in Cairo, and other meeting places in other cities, they called out to bystanders and people watching from their balconies to join them. They engaged onlookers in discussions. They went into stores and cafes to talk to folks. They recruited people block by block. This was a crucial tactic by which the revolutionaries enlarged their revolution.

And once the people came out in public in many cities, with the hub in Cairo's Tahrir Square, its demands increased from day to day, as the regime, caught totally unawares, kept lowballing the revolution's expectations. The regime's obtuseness provoked the revolution to want more than it originally wanted. At first the protesters just wanted some basic reforms. At that point they were not yet a revolution: they were only a massive protest. They asked that Mubarak not run again, and that he not make his son Gamal the next president. Then, three days after January 25, they wanted the entire regime changed ASAP, and rejected any concession made while Mubarak was in office. They wanted him to leave, leave, leave. Now they had turned from a protest into an actual revolution, demanding changes that were truly revolutionary. Soon they demanded that Mubarak also be put on trial. These days they want all the money back that he and his cronies stole from the country, and the Swiss, sensitive about their reputation these days, have frozen Mubarak's assets in their banks.

Spontaneity was a great feature of this revolution: it made itself up from day to day. It did not have a single leader or a fixed program. It did not even know it was a revolution. What it did have was two potent ingredients: a Facebook-wielding youth that blindsided the ruling elite; and a disaffected labor mass who bonded with the youth in a big network of opposition.

For the educated youth, the lack of economic opportunity and upward mobility was as great a motivator as wanting freedom. Egypt's educated and ambitious youth have been forced to leave for other countries to make their way in the world. Wael Ghonim himself, who got his MBA in Cairo, worked as Google's Marketing Manager for the Middle East and North Africa in Dubai. In Egypt, it's tough for a young person to make enough money to afford their own apartment, so they can get married and have kids.

"No marriage, no kids, no apartment, no money," one youngster summed up the problems of his generation. In fact, here's a question that goes to the heart of why so many young men went out there to revolt: how much of the revolution was born out of sheer sexual frustration, because young men couldn't afford an apartment, a private place of their own, where they could do what young men like to do, i.e. fuck chicks?


Fear, humiliation, anger, dignity, exhilaration, pride. All of us feel these emotions. All of us are potential revolutionaries, with these six emotions ready to be activated. In a very basic sense, all countries are in need of revolution. Heck, America is a more unequal society than Egypt, for example. Our Gini Index is 45, making the US the 42nd most unequal country in the world; Egypt is the 90th most unequal society with an index of 34.4 (the lower the index, the better). The emotions of revolution burn inside us all, like the ignition flamelets on a gas stove. Think about these emotions in your own life; you have all six stirring around in you, each one a different veggie in the soup of your life.

Fear. You have it in you as an American, but you don't know it. It starts young, with fear of the dark, and fear of being abandoned by your parents, and it's assuaged only by your constant and quotidian access to the comforting familiar. As you grow up and are socialized by going to school, where you're forced to sit in rows and listen to a grownup telling you what to do and think, your fear transmutes into a passive acceptance of your lot. So chances are you sink into a life of commodity fetishization, and the only thing you can do to exert a little power over your existence is to vote every few years (and most of us don't even do that). When your government declares an unnecessary war, you might join a march against it for a few hours, but mostly you just submit. You and I, as we live our getting-and-spending lives, seldom realize a profound fact underlying our existence: most of humanity lives in a state of cowardice. We know we're being screwed by our rulers, but we don't bestir ourselves to do anything about it. It's a congenital human condition: inertia, anchored by fear.

Humiliation. A child feels it when a grownup yells or sneers at them, or teases them, and that child swallows it and lives with it because the grownup is bigger than they are, and it becomes part of that child for its entire life. Humiliation is part of you, because you were once a child.

Anger. In our homes, family members can easily drive us to express anger, but we're not supposed to vent our anger in public. It's embarrassing to ourselves and to others. The embarrassment about public anger is something dictatorships unwittingly rely on to stay in power. The French don't mind being rude in public, which is what makes them a uniquely revolutionary and unruly lot.

Dignity. Who knows true dignity? Only the self-made man or woman. The rest of us trade our dignity for a living, submerge our one life on earth into a job, submit to a boss, fit into a hierarchy, let an alarm clock wake us early every morning to summon us to the drudgery of spending most of our lives earning a paycheck. Only a revolution -- or a comfortable retirement -- can bring us true dignity.

Pride. Are you proud of your life? Are you proud of your station in life? Somewhere, somehow, most of us are a little disappointed in ourselves. We thought we were going to turn out differently.

Exhilaration. When did you last feel it? At a rock concert? Walking through a park on a bright sunny day? Being with a stranger you like, and suddenly realizing, in sweet moments growing on you, hey, chances are I'm getting laid tonight, and who might this lovely person become in my life? There are not many moments of high exhilaration in a normal life, but they are there, and the biggest is when your nation goes into that deeply emotional and highly satisfying snitfit called a revolution. The last time Americans felt something akin to revolutionary exhilaration was when, after the nightmare of Bush Two, Obama became our president. It didn't last very long, but we all felt quite exhilarated at the time. A million of us turned up at the Inauguration. Imagine that exhilaration and hope multiplied by a thousand: that's how a revolution makes you feel. That's what Egyptians are feeling today. Heck, our own Tea Party people feel some of this exhilaration; idiots can also feel revolutionary. No doubt that sublimely grandiose cretin Glenn Beck feels like some kind of revolutionary, especially when he moves his cretinous self to glutinous tears.


Fear, humiliation, anger, dignity, exhilaration, pride. This mixture of heartfelt emotions is why revolutions are so attractive, and why they stir the human heart even more than war. It's why we like to say that “we are all Egyptians now.”

Because suddenly, our emotions are in play like they've never been before. Both negative and positive, each driving the other higher, like volcanoes trying to out-erupt one another. Fear joins humiliation and flips to anger and switches on dignity and pride and sparks exhilaration. If you're an Egyptian in Paris, you get on the first plane to Cairo, or you wish you were there to share in the emotions of your nation. The everyday cracks: life becomes new: existence flaunts possibility: things will never be the same. I know, because when I was in South Africa during the Soweto Uprising in 1976, suddenly, huge emotions flooded the country as though a dam of rich red wine had broken over the citizenry, intoxicating us all. Suddenly fear was trumped by the pride and exhilaration of flinging a Molotov cocktail at the grinning molars of the oppressor.

In a revolution, you are fully human, for once in your life, sharing the same emotions with millions of people. A country becomes a nation. Geography becomes emotion. You become part of something bigger than yourself. You are as one with others. You rise as one. Says 80-year-old Egyptian feminist Dr. Nawal El Saadawi from Tahrir Square: “I feel I am born again.” Everyone becomes a hero, a champion, a freedom fighter. Everyone is Che.

What a glorious feeling.

Your emotion is shared: a mass emotion. Mass emotions are highly contagious, and difficult to contain. The entire Middle East may be about to blow up one dictatorship at a time.


Of course, after the exhilaration of revolution can come any one of four rather more sobering feelings:

1. The fear and anguish of The Terror, which is when revolutionaries fight among themselves and the revolution eats its own, as happened in the French Revolution and in Iran's 1979 revolution, when the Shah was overthrown and Khomeini's mullahs killed and imprisoned their fellow revolutionaries and took the revolution away from the people to establish an oppressive theocracy.

2. The major disappointment of a revolution deferred: a successful counterrevolution, when the authorities clamp down and kill and imprison and suppress enough revolutionaries to stop a revolution from happening. As in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and in Iran in 2009.

3. The irritation of having to be patient with a fortunate outcome, which is -- at best -- a slow and messy journey to some form of democracy (like in the Philippines) or a semi-responsible autocracy (like today's post-Mao China, which is giving its people some measure of economic freedom without any political freedom).

4. Most often, if there is a strong military, they will take over in a coup, and then it is up to them to either encourage a civilian authority to flourish (Turkey) or to keep themselves in power, like the Army did in Burma after they put down the 1988 uprising. This is what has happened in Egypt, when Mubarak ceded power to the military's Supreme Council, or rather, was told by them to go the fuck away. So the Egyptian revolution could go one of two ways: either Burma or Turkey. And Egyptians are going to be in a state of fidgety unease until they know which path their military intends to pick.


My suspicion is that the Burma option was the outcome favored by Obama, Biden and Clinton, with their calls for an “orderly transition.” Orderly transition my ass: this was code for giving Mubarak and his Torturer-in-Chief henchman VP Omar Suleiman the time to wait out the protesters. Suleiman baldly stated that Egypt is not ready for democracy. The only emotion to have about Obama's earlier one-step-behind-events caution and double talk is dismay. He was ducking the obvious right thing to do -- to call publicly and insistently, together with all world leaders, for the entire Mubarak regime to retire immediately, to be replaced by a caretaker government representing all the big opposition factions plus some of the country's current bureaucrats, whose sole job it must be to allow political parties to form so there can be a free and fair election ASAP.

What we're seeing is yet another American domino falling: a further decline in American power. Even America's dominoes don't listen to America anymore, despite all the money we funnel their way. Obama has been begging Israel's Netanyahu not to build more settlements. Obama badly wants Pakistan's intelligence services to stop its secret support of the Taliban. Obama would really like China to revalue its currency. But nobody listens to America anymore, even when we shower them with billions. Well might one ask: why the fuck are we giving them money if they don't do what our money is telling them to do? (And why the fuck can't Mubarak hold on to power when we give his military $1.5 billion each year, and even supply him with the tear gas canisters he needs to keep his nation in line?) One pundit likened the irritating refusal of our recalcitrant friends to feel indebted to us, to these words of Prince Schwarzenberg of Austria after the Russians had helped suppress the Hungarian rising in 1849: “They will be astonished by our ingratitude.”

The US was looking as clueless as Mubarak and his VP Omar Suleiman (the intelligence chief who was our long-time CIA point man in Egypt, whom we turned to for the extraordinary rendition of folks we wanted the Egyptians to torture on our behalf). In his interview with Christiane Amanpour, Suleiman said the protest was engineered by jihadists and foreigners. If he believed it, his intelligence was as clueless as our own CIA; and if he didn't, he was trying to imply that the protesters were unruly terrorists deserving of a whacking.


It's a given that the older generals, like Suleiman, wanted to hang on to power, and that the younger officers wanted the old guys to go -- somewhat like Nasser's young officers' 1952 coup.

The generals are going to have to proceed with some caution, because they are responsible for 15% to 35% to 45% of economic activity in their country (nobody knows how much -- the law forbids anyone to write anything about the Army in Egypt -- but it's a lot). There's a great deal of stuff they'll want to keep for themselves as they orchestrate or impede a transition to democracy. And there is a great deal to grab as they prosecute corrupt businessmen like the unpopular steel magnate Ahmed Ezz. The revolution demands that some rich folks get thrown under the bus, and the military are ready to pick up the spoils. They will surely do all they can to destroy the new crony capitalists like Ezz, ceramics tycoon Mohammed Abul Einein and Ibrahim Kamel, who formed around the would-be successor to Mubarak, his enterprising businessman son Gamal. Since the late 1990s, this business elite became movers and shakers in the National Democratic Party and in parliament. They even became Cabinet Ministers. They've been trying to speed the privatization of an economy dominated by the state and the military, but now the generals have a chance to beat back the new business elite, who were hoping to really coin it when their man Gamal became the successor to his President Dad. Now they're not so happy, because many of them are not allowed to leave the country while legal actions against them are being readied at the Army's instigation.

In essence, the military taking power now does not amount to any great change from anything at all, and renders the Egyptian revolution entirely symbolic. It's a profoundly pre-revolutionary state of affairs. Since the 1952 coup that overthrew the old monarchy, Egypt has been dominated by the military. Its presidents -- Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak -- have all been military men. Current or former military men hold all the governorships. Omar Suleiman, the here-yesterday-gone-today vice president, was a general. Ahmed Shafik, the here-today-probably-gone-tomorrow prime minister, is a retired air marshal. In Egypt, the military is the ruling caste, plain and simple (they have 450,000 poor conscripts under them in the Army itself, who serve for two or three years, and whose sympathy lie with the people, and not with their generals, and who would surely have mutinied if ordered to fire on the protesters).

One reason the Army never wanted to open fire on the protesters is because, being good businessmen, they didn't want to shoot their customers. The Army makes and sells everything from dishwashers to bottled water to pots and pans and clothes. They even grow, process and sell food. They control a great deal of tourism, having turned coastal areas that their troops used to guard into resorts in which their officers have shares. The propane cylinders bought by every Egyptian household that uses gas for cooking are sold by the army.

In fact, the army's most senior man, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, 75, spends more of his time on business matters as the CEO of Egypt's Military Inc. than he does on military matters as Field Marshal. Serving also as Defense Minister, Tantawi is an old-guard Mubarak crony known among fellow officers as “Mubarak's poodle,” and if it were up to him alone, Egypt will revert back to being a military police state with sham democratic elections and a sham democratic parliament. He's strongly opposed to any social change or reform. The military man to watch for signs of a more accommodating style is the younger, seemingly more progressive Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Enan, 63, chief of staff of the armed forces.

It will be very interesting to see if the generals are willing to open up the government for real elections, which will take political power out of their hands, since the party in their control, the National Democratic Party, has now fallen to pieces, and will be replaced by parties like El Ghad, whose leader was jailed for four years; the banned Muslim Brotherhood, whose candidates had to run as independents in the last election; and the many parties still to be born.

The government may very well be taken over by a party, or a coalition of parties, that don't exist yet, with no particular connection to the military. That could threaten the military's business interests. After all, the military wouldn't want a civilian government to open up the economy to the likes of GE and Coca-Cola to come and compete with them and get the Army into a price war with international business invading their territory and conquering their market share.

Not that the youth, in their current state of exultation, fear a military takeover, as they should, because they will have to do their revolution all over again -- what a drag -- if the Army doesn't give them the democracy they want.

Revealingly, the Army stood by and did absolutely nothing when pro-Mubarak goons attacked Tahrir Square (they've also been known to detain and even torture some protesters). So far, the revolution trusts the military more than the regime, even though the military is the regime. A prime revolutionary slogan has been: “The military and the people are one hand.”

They are decidedly not. Egypt's young men, who spend two or three years of their youth in the Army as conscripts, where they are fed, have work, and enjoy manly camaraderie, take back to civilian life a rosy perspective of the Army. They have no idea how corrupt their officers are, and how tight the Army's grip on their country is. Just because the police have been the force chosen by the elite to brutalize and oppress the people, doesn't mean that the Army elite are a swell bunch of innocent babes who shed wet tears of deep sympathy on a daily basis for the common people.

Still, the youth of Egypt are rightfully cocky about democracy's prospects. When Ahmed Sleem, an organizer from ElBaradei's group was asked what he thought about a military takeover, he said: “We know how to force them to step down. We know the way to Tahrir Square.”


A question to ask besides “who runs the country?” is “who owns the country?” It's not only the people who ran the country who became momentarily disturbed. The folks who own the country are more than a tad freaked, including the military.

This is not just a battle between labor and capital, rich and poor, young and old. It's also a battle over the country's riches. Egypt has the biggest non-oil GNP in the Middle East. Its GDP doubled between 2005 and 2009, from $88 billion to $189 billion. Yet it lost 5% of its purchasing power in 2008. In other words, the income of average folks went down. With the world’s 21st largest labor force of 37 million workers, Egypt is 136th in per capita income. Its service sector, the largest sector in the economy, has an unemployment rate of 50%. Around 40% of its people live at or near poverty, even though its value of traded shares ranks 40th in the world. If Mubarak has stolen $70 billion, as some say, he's richer than Bill Gates with his $54 billion. The Middle East business practice of hawala -- informal non-contractual financial transactions based on nothing else but loyalty and honor -- means he and his cronies have many chips to cash in, and many calls they can rely on to many central banks all over the world. Hawala can be exercised illegally in many ways: money laundering, kickbacks, price gouging, the ransacking of national treasuries. What do you think Mubarak was doing while he hung on to power? He was on the phone, trying to safeguard his billions from the hands of his people. Mubarak and his cronies are as powerful and as crooked as Goldman Sachs, and just as capable of surviving their downfall -- just like Goldman Sachs did.

It's going to be a long, hard fight for some semblance of economic justice in Egypt (easily as intractable as America's fight against Wall Street and Big Business for economic justice). The 15% raise to all public employees in Egypt is a nice gesture, but it's not going to placate Egyptians all by itself.

This is why the psychology of evolution is so crucial to follow. So far the revolution has simply shifted a few butts around on the plush sofas of the elite: not much of a change. But the masses of people themselves are different. They're not the same folks they were three weeks ago. They've tasted freedom; they've tasted power; they've re-invented themselves; they've become human in the full sense of the word. This is the new reality that the elite has to deal with, even though they're still on top. The elite themselves have changed: they've had three weeks of shitting themselves. A different elite, a different people: psychologically. That's the big change, the fundamental upheaval, the real revolution. There's been a 180-degree turn in hearts and minds.

The people cannot be scared into submission anymore. Egyptian labor has become implacably bolshie: it has flexed its muscles and felt the power of resistance against capital. As Egypt goes back to work, workers will feel empowered to stand up to their bosses. Middle managers and business owners are going to feel the heat from a suddenly proud work force who feel they've just won their country back, and will be in no mood to take any shit from their overseers.


So what's going to happen? Now that the people have spoken, what acts will their words induce?

My cynical self says this: the least likely outcome is that there will be free elections in September or within a year, followed by a freely elected government that will allow free and fair elections after that. It just can't happen: there is too much privilege to protect. If that's ice-cold water on your romantic bunny-hopes of revolutionary emotion, sorry, dear reader. Revolutions seldom erupt into instant democracy. Egypt's military hasn't, for example, lifted the Mubarak's decades-old and hated state of emergency.

My optimistic self, buoyed by what happened in my home country of South Africa, says this: the military will oversee a peaceful breathing space for parties to organize themselves; for young people to go into politics and represent young people in young-people parties; for an election to happen; and for a secular coalition government to come into being, led by a moderate president who will not be a kleptocrat.

My optimistic self sings along with the great Arab poet, Nizar Qabbani, who wrote this for the next generation, after the Arabs suffered a bitter defeat at the hands of Israel in 1967:

Arab children,

Corn ears of the future,

You will break our chains.

Kill the opium in our heads,

Kill the illusions.

Arab children,

Don't read about our suffocated generation,

We are a hopeless case,

As worthless as a water-melon rind.

Don't read about us,

Don't ape us,

Don't accept us,

Don't accept our ideas,

We are a nation of crooks and jugglers.

Arab children,

Spring rain,

Corn ears of the future,

You are the generation that will overcome defeat.

Qabbani did not know exactly what victory the Arab children would win, but it turned out to be a victory by the biggest Arab nation of all ... over themselves.


We shall see if the military holds on to power -- or allows a civilian authority to rule and the country's wealth to be shared by its people. At least the Egyptian elite knows their people are upset, and will try to adapt. Meanwhile, Egyptians are more alive now than they've ever been, and ever will be. Bless them. They're having the time of their lives. Said a doctor on Tahrir Square: “If I die, it's for my country.” Let's face it: only a revolution is that immense thing: something that can be worth more to you than your life itself (or to put it in easier-to-understand shallow American terms, something totally worth giving up a fuck with Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt for).

To date, the Egyptian revolution is the 21st century's greatest moment. 2/11 replaces 9/11 as a bigger hinge and rupture of history. And a more positive one. It's youth flexing their idealism. It's 1989 in the Arab world. It's tremendously nervous-making and diarrhea-inducing for all dictators. It's instant-revolution-by-cellphone on the cheap that dislodges a regime in a matter of weeks. It's given young people all over the world a blueprint for the road to democratic power. It's a planetary turn-on. It reminds me a lot of the 60s, when Western youth broke down sexual norms and launched a sexual revolution -- and freed us all to bang each other with impunity.

In the Middle East and North Africa, dictators have their backs against the wall. Algeria says it will lift the state of emergency it declared in 1992. But the “Free Youth Movement in Algeria” organized massive demonstrations this past Saturday, February 12. Yemen’s President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, says neither he nor his son will run for president in 2013. But opposition groups are calling for huge protests. In Jordan, King Abdullah II booted his Prime Minister to dampen down massive protests and began talking to the opposition. And our CIA experts, clueless as they may be, now believe that our big friends, the Saudi regime, exhibit enough instability and inequality to qualify for imminent overthrow. What happens in Egypt will have a big influence: after all, with 80 million people, Egypt is bigger than Iraq (21.9m), Saudi-Arabia (25.7m) and Syria (22.1m) combined. Only Iran's population of 72m rivals Egypt's.

The Egyptian Revolution is certainly giving the moral arc of the universe, said to be very long, a rather sudden and swift kick towards justice. How inspiring, how elevating, how downright spiritual, is the immensity of a entire nation ready to change its face, its character, its very own self! If there's any chance for you to join a revolution, jump at it. You'll never live more intensely. You'll never feel better.

You need to feel better, considering the state of our own American nation, where democracy morphs day by day into plutocracy, and we seem to be going backwards about as fast as Egypt is jumping forwards -- what with our suspended habeas corpus, our predatory Wall Street that milks and bilks us, our corporations that export our jobs, our public school system funded by property taxes that shortchanges our poorest kids, our campaign-funding system that allows corporations to buy the government out from under us, and our legal system that refuses to prosecute torturers and bankster-fraudsters (the US has the biggest prison population in the world, yet not a single person from Goldman Sachs or BP is among them).

What speaks most poignantly to all us non-Egyptians, as we watch what's happening over there with a barely submerged feeling of envy (they're the nation on our planet having the most fun now), is not simply that the entire trod-on world has gained a little bounce in its step from walking like an Egyptian, and caught a little breath of what Egypt is feeling now as its citizens inhale the suddenly freer Egyptian air in deep gulps of exultation, having run the gamut of revolutionary emotions from fear and humiliation and rage to dignity and pride and exhilaration.

To put it plainly, bluntly, simply, starkly: it's not so much that we are all Egyptians now. It's that -- given our humdrum, fearful, cowardly lives -- we really wish that we actually were Egyptians now.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Capitalist Manifesto: How to Modernize Capitalism from Feudalism to Democracy

There is a specter haunting the planet. It is the specter of the failure of Western capitalism.

All that is solid -- jobs, homes, retirement savings -- melts into air. Our cock-a-hoop capitalism is staring into a pesky abyss which is either Lacan's mirror or the funky Weltschmerz of its own behind.

Yet far away in communist China, capitalism is alive and well -- maybe because China is not a democracy.

In Western democracies, capitalism is in crisis -- maybe because capitalism is not democratic.

The fact is that capitalism is a feudal system, which therefore works well in a feudal society like China.

But in modern, highly evolved democracies, capitalism is a handicap.

Why? Democracy has evolved, but capitalism hasn't. It's essentially unchanged from its 18th century origins. Capitalism is so feudal, it's almost medieval. It requires a subservience from its minions that hints at slavery, serfdom, or peonage. It grants its captains of industry the freedom to lord it over everyone else like banana-republic dictators or command-economy Kremlin bosses. It booms and busts with the fervor of a yo-yo being yanked by a tuning fork on steroids. Every so often it poops itself like a toddler sans toilet training, and sits there bawling in its own excreta until the state steps in to clean its unruly bottom.

Democracy, on the other hand, has advanced like a nimble marsupial -- maybe because democracy had an earlier start than capitalism.

Today, feudal capitalism is just a painful drag on modern democracy. A bad fit, mixing awkwardly with democracy, like sand on the beach gumming up the lubrication of mating; like original sin damning an innocent newborn.

What follows is a radical prescription to drag capitalism out of its fuddy-duddy necrosis: we're going to give it the tools to act in the sentimental spirit of humane socialism, yet retain the animal vigor of brute capitalism.

It is a simple three-point program to democratize capitalism, which will find agreement from the entire spectrum of economists -- Marxists and Keynesians alike, not to mention Schumpeterians, Hayekians, Minskyites and even out-of-favor Friedmanists. The whole bloody lot, from Adam Smith to Paul Krugman.

Now that's a mighty big tent, and you may think I'm out of my way-too-inclusive mind, but bear with me, my fellow-capitalist: your own mind is about to be turned upside down and then spun around like a tween girl at her first dance party, and you're going to love it.

Let's start with a statement that may upset you Friedmanists (as if your world hasn't been rocked enough already).

Capitalism is too irrational to be left to capitalists.

The capitalist market believes it can operate independently of the state until, in the manner of a drugged-out rock star, it chokes on its own vomit. Then, ever so patient, Papa Democracy has to spank Brat Capitalism and bail it out of yet another reckless adventure that threatens to ruin the whole family.

Attached to democracy, capitalism is as dysfunctional as wagon wheels on a Maserati.

The challenge for any democracy is to make its capitalism as democratic as it is -- to evolve capitalism into modernity, the way democracy itself has evolved out of the ancien regime into the robust mode of today's most successful states.

How? Start with the first and most fundamental question: leadership.

Who leads in democratic states? Elected representatives.

Who leads in capitalist corporations? Non-elected CEOs, appointed by boards who are sort of elected by shareholders.

If CEOs were democratically voted into office, like any other leader in a democracy, capitalism could become democratic, instead of being millstoned in autocracy -- a discordancy more incongruous than implanting a penis on a tennis ball.

Unelected CEOs don't belong in modern society: they're throwbacks to a time when father knew best, pashas were carried around on pillowed litters, and a nation saluted the Fuhrer. It's as if we've let loose a mob of little Napoleons in our midst. The most illuminating analogy for today's corporate leadership is this: our CEOs are like feudal warlords in Afghanistan.

They're all-powerful dictators. Exerting one-man rule by decree. Driven by a looter's mentality: they constantly reward themselves with untold riches, no matter how well or how badly the business is doing. They have the morality of con men. If exiled, they abscond unscathed with massive treasure jokingly called golden parachutes. While in power, they can banish thousands from the tribe in mass lay-offs, to cover for the huge mistakes they make as unaccountable dictators. Life in a modern American corporation is about as democratic as Germany under Hitler or Russia under Stalin. Our CEOs are today’s version of Genghis Khan.


To modernize capitalism, and bring it out of its outdated feudal stage, we have to start by making its warlord leaders accountable to someone else besides themselves.

CEOs have to be subjected to the democratic indignity of the vote every four years, just like the elected representatives in a democracy.

If being voted into office is good enough for the President of the United States, it's good enough for the CEO of General Motors or Citigroup or AIG.

If these CEOs were subject to the vote, General Motors and Citigroup and AIG would be thriving today instead of half-dead.

Moreover, in a fast-changing world, CEOs should also be subject to term limits -- just like we need a new US President every four or eight years, we need new CEOs every four or eight years, too.

Their hegemony needs to proscribed, because they've been on a power binge as ambitious as the esurient rapacity of Hitler, Mao, Stalin or Dick Cheney. Which has landed us in our present parlous state of living in the command economy of a Kremlin-like system run by financial banker-predators who, instead of contributing to society in any productive way, hatch vast debt pyramid schemes on the backs of the millions of credit-card holders and mortgage-holders they've created as little money spigots in order to clean them out (every US citizen is now a Wall Street ATM) -- with the final intent of going after our actual taxes, and diverting this bounty away from essential social services into their rackets.

With one big difference.

Instead of suffering under the massive Soviet incompetence (examples: Russia's old auto industry and agriculture) of some self-serving Communist apparatchik who hands out top-down orders to thousands because after years of clawing his way to the top by sucking up to a hierarchy of bosses, he's sucked up enough arrogance from them to think he knows better than anyone how to run an economy ... we're suffering under the massive American incompetence (examples: Detroit and Wall Street) of some self-serving capitalist CEO who hands out top-down orders to thousands because after years of clawing his way to the top by sucking up to a hierarchy of bosses, he's sucked up enough arrogance from them to think he knows better than anyone how to run an economy. Authoritarianism is authoritarianism, whether it lives in the USA or the USSR. So is the rank incompetence bred from flagrant arrogance.

Understand this: I've got nothing against leaders. I appreciate how invaluable a good CEO can be, and the qualities required:

1. A good CEO looks beyond dollars (profits) to people (customers), i.e. he knows he's running a customer-serving machine rather than a money-generating operation (take care of your customers and the money takes care of itself).

2. A good CEO realizes that the best use of yields in the present is to help him decide which bets to make for yields in the future, i.e. he knows he's managing an investment vehicle as well as a profit-extracting operation.

3. A good CEO grows future leaders (giving them the big opportunities as well as the big problems), i.e. he knows there's a future beyond himself.

I'm just against unaccountable leaders whose power is so entrenched, nobody would think of replacing them unless they stole into the bedrooms of every board member twice a night to pee on their bed-pillows.

The only way to curb power is to have people vote for their leaders -- whether they're your president, your governor, your mayor or your CEO.


Who should vote for a CEO?

It can't be the board. They are the cronies of the CEO. In fact, given their mediocre record of oversight (no better than the SEC, skunks overseeing turds), there's no reason for them to exist at all in an updated, modernized capitalism.

Some would say that shareholders should vote for the CEO. This is a notion as misguided as asking frogs to start fishing for crocodiles. The shareholders are totally removed from the day-to-day operations of the corporation. Their only interest in the corporation is that its shares should move up and that it should pay dividends. Shareholders are like the absentee landlords of yore who lived it up in town while their lands were farmed by peasants; they're like those uninvolved faraway owners who expected rent or a percentage of the harvest for doing nothing.

Who are the people with the greatest stake in the success of the corporation -- the most affected by its success or failure?

Obviously, the people employed by the corporation.

The workers. Those lowly grunts who actually do the real work of the corporation. Who get their actual nails dirty, their actual blue and white collars besmirched, their actual lower backs bent out of shape, their actual fingers carpal-tunneled by keyboards. They earn their daily bread from the corporation; its success is way more fundamental to them than to its shareholders.

The shareholders invest money in the corporation, but the workers invest something more important. They invest their lives. They invest the hours of their days. That's a bigger investment than any shareholder makes.

The shareholders merely own shares in the corporation. The workers ARE the corporation.

They are the people who should get to vote for their CEO, because he is THEIR leader, nobody else's: not the leader of the shareholders, nor the bondholders, nor the customers, nor the board. Take the President of the US: he leads the citizens of America, not the people who've bought US Treasury bonds.


How would voting for a CEO work?

Every four years the workers vote. They choose between various people from within and outside the corporation, who put themselves forward as candidates for the job of CEO.

These candidates tell the workers how they'd do the best job for the corporation. In other words, they campaign.

The candidate with the most compelling story of future success for the corporation, and the best record of past achievement, will get the most votes from the workers. If the current CEO did a good job for the past four years, he will probably win and become a two-term CEO.

That's it.

A revolutionary idea for sure, but something that will happen for sure, because it's more commonsensical than the wreck we have now. It's too commonsensical to die, now that it exists. Maybe there'll be a hundred wrecks before this revolution happens, but it will happen. Mark my words, fellow-capitalists; mark them like the fingernails of God marked two tablets on a mythical mountaintop.

For too long, capitalism has suffered under the widely accepted notion of the dictatorship of the CEO. Like the old divine right of kings, we've had the divine right of the CEO.

This ludicrous bit of whimsy has been unquestioned for more than a century. How come? Well, the blindness of the human race to the most obvious of facts is an indelible constant of the human condition. One of the greatest minds of all time, Aristotle, saw nothing wrong with slavery. The most obvious fact, by virtue of its obviousness, has the biggest chance of escaping human awareness. That's how the divine right of the CEO has managed to blunder its wacky way across two centuries without being questioned. Well, I am questioning it now.

Forsooth and gadzooks: monarchies lost all credibility back in the 19th century, yet here we have this idiotic corollary of the divine right of the CEO still operating in the 21st century. This is more absurd than foot-binding a marathon runner. Or powering a moon rocket with a horse-drawn buggy. Or constraining a modern woman in a whalebone corset. The divine right of the CEO is a shackle on the real potential of capitalism. It is holding capitalism back, and caging it in the inefficiencies of its feudal origins. You have tinpot dictators paying themselves exorbitant wages, even when their companies lose money. This is totally inefficient. Utterly not market-friendly. Completely feudal, old-fashioned, and in need of change.


Also, incredibly destructive. These capitalist warlords often get nation states to start wars for their benefit -- like getting the US to overthrow democracies in South America or Africa or the Middle East, or invading Iraq (where the sole beneficiaries are Halliburton and Blackwater, with Big Oil angling for its cut after giving their Texas oil buddies Bush-Cheney a nudge and a wink to go get those oil fields at no cost to them but at a cost of a million plus lives to the Iraqis). These predator-capitalists high-handedly cross borders (like terrorists) and globalize their warlord reach into world-straddling multinational corporations, dwarfing nation states in size and power -- and with the supra-national flexibility to outsource their labor to third-world sweat shops, retail their products to first-world consumer markets, and offshore their profits to handy tax havens.

Who sanctions this globally corrupt and absolute power? Nobody but the warlord CEOs themselves, aided by the governments they buy off. They've replaced the old European state colonialism with a new corporate colonialism. They can now pollute the entire planet with toxic emissions, toxic derivatives, and toxic advertising. They colonize our minds and constrain our hearts in a gulag of the free market. Commodification has conquered the globe; its fetishism constitutes a planetary neurosis. It's almost like the spontaneity of all humanity is caged on a vast Prison Planet of the Holy Business Empire. Ironically, neither the inmates nor their warlord wardens possess the keys to launch either outside into free, fresh air. Both bourgeois capitalists and proletarian labor -- the overlords and the underdogs -- live in captivity. (Of course, the cages of the overlords have nicer furniture and greater commodes and shower curtains.)

This warlordism-gone-global is no way to run any business in an otherwise democratic state.

But when CEOs have to earn a regular vote like everybody else wishing to exert power in a democracy, all is changed forevermore -- as dramatic a change as nasty, scaly dinosaurs evolving into free-flying beautifully plumaged birds.

The corporation is changed in its very structure, because now power becomes a give-and-take two-way street -- flowing from the bottom-up as well as the top-down.

This is the first way to start modernizing capitalism: to make the CEO accountable within the corporation. When all CEOs work for their workers, they will serve their corporations best.


But what if someone starts a company and builds it up -- should someone who actually owns the company be subject to a vote?

Here's where we get to the nub of capitalism.

Also, we get to my second revolutionary suggestion to drag warlord capitalism out of the feudal age into the modernity of the 21st century. Again, we will be going deep into the fundamentals -- into the obviousness that has escaped the human brain until now.

Fundamental question two: what is capitalism good for?

Fundamental answer: only one thing -- it encourages innovation by entrepreneurs.

The entrepreneur is the only thing about capitalism that remains enduringly functional for all time. The only thing worth preserving.

An entrepreneur is one of the greatest kind of human beings there can be: someone who has a new idea and goes to bat for it full blast, promoting their enterprise with all their heart, soul, marrow, bone, blood, balls and ovaries.

Business has its millions of functionaries and worker bees, but it also has its Steve Jobs, its Richard Bransons, its Bill Gates, its Paul Newman's Owns, its Ben and Jerrys, and its Shai Agassis (google Agassi: within the next ten years, he'll be the most famous entrepreneur on the planet).

Like the Beethovens and Picassos, the Darwins and the Einsteins, the Edisons and the Berners-Lees, these brilliant flames of individuality bring the greatest joy and support to the rest of us. Entrepreneurs are the creative artists of capitalism. We could not be truly human, and grow even more human, without them.

One reason entrepreneurs do what they do, is because if their idea works out, and enough people buy it, they might be richly rewarded.

It's not the biggest reason -- far bigger reasons are their creative passion and their pride in having their idea out there working. (It is an index of the vacuity of apologists for feudal capitalism that they prioritize monetary reward over the deeper passions that drive the human heart. Beethoven didn't compose for money; Steve Jobs doesn't do what he does for money; Warren Buffet hasn't bought himself a castle in the South of France. If you think money is what drives people, you're an idiot. And if money is what actually drives you, you're worse than an idiot: you're a psychopath. Just like the bonus-psychotic, 80-hour-workweek slaves of Wall Street. This may be what's wrong with America: too many of its TV-addled citizens think they should be driven by money; they've been misled about their own nature.)

But the lure of a rich reward does help to get the entrepreneur out of bed every morning, for sure.

So nothing should be done to stifle the creative passion of the entrepreneur. This is after all the one and only good thing about capitalism -- its main driver, its beating heart, the reason why we've been slamdanced out of our subsistence lives of yore into the riches of modernity.

Entrepreneurship is a supreme value of civilization because it reflects a fundamental human value, the creative freedom of the individual.

So here's how to keep entrepreneurship alive, and yet keep capitalism accountable.


Say you have a new idea that could make money. If you're juiced by the entrepreneurial spirit, you start a company. It’s yours, you own it. You're the entrepreneur.

Because your idea is good, your company starts to grow. You add more employees as you make more money so that your expanding company can make you even more money.

Here's my second revolutionary proposal to modernize capitalism.

You are the owner of the company as long as your business employs under a 100 workers. You’re the dictator. You’re free to support your employees, or exploit them.


The day you decide to expand to the point where you need more than a 100 workers -- the minute you hire your 101st worker -- the second you find you need to employ more than a 100 workers to expand even bigger and faster to make megabucks -- at that point, a new change kicks in.

A kind of legal French revolution.

A brandnew law of non-feudal 21st century capitalism.

This law says you now have to share ownership of the company with your workers, which I will call citizen workers from now on, because it sounds more dignified.

The minute you have more than 100 citizen workers, you have to give them 51% of your company.

That's it.

Bear with me before you lose your mind or get your knickers in a painful wedgie or split your entire brain on one little hair ... because it's getting worse, my fellow-capitalist.

After you've handed 51% of your business to your citizen workers, you and your citizen workers may decide to take the company public, but then you can offer only up to 49% of the company to outside shareholders.

Out of your share.

The shares of the citizen workers can never be alienated. They’re not even allowed to sell their shares themselves. If they leave the company, their shares go back to the company, i.e. to the other citizen workers.

In other words, the workers will always own at least 51% of their company.

So when you as the owner get to a 100 workers employed, you face an existential decision. You can decide to stay at 100 employees and be an Afghanistan warlord-type dictator. But if you want to expand to make more money on a bigger playing field, you have to change your company from a dictatorship to a democracy.

In one leap, you have to flip your company out of its feudal stage into a new, democratic future. All by yourself, as one individual, you have to do what civilization has struggled for centuries to accomplish.

Poor you. Such a weight of antiquated history on your puny little latterday shoulders. Imagine. You have to abdicate your throne and allow the peasants into your palace to share your escargots, complete with those funny escargot holders. You have to birth your own French Revolution, replete with guillotine-fierce pangs disturbing your bonny bourgeois belly. You have to storm your Bastille and overthrow yourself.


Besides sharing ownership you also share power, because now the citizen workers get the right to vote for their leader every four years.

They will keep voting for you, the original owner, if the company does well and makes money for them. But they will vote for someone else if you start to blow it. (As the original owner, you can rule longer than the two-term limit to which a hired CEO is subject.)

If the citizen workers vote for someone else, he or she starts running the company instead of you. You still own your 49% of the shares, but you have no power anymore.

If the citizen workers decide to sell shares to the public, they can do it without your say-so. They can raise capital for the company by selling up to 80% of your 49% share of the company. The capital they raise goes to the company, not to you. You can decide to sell your 20% of your 49% share of the company in the IPO if you want to cash in.

Hold on to your horses (even if by now they've bolted to Mars). It gets worse.

Every year, if there hasn’t been an IPO, you have to give away 5% of your 49% to the citizen workers until the last 20% of it, which you can keep forever and pass on to your kids. Or sell to the citizen workers in what used to be your company, or sell to shareholders.

How's that for an ouch and a yippee in one, fellow-capitalist? An ouch for you, a yippee for your workers.

It works even better than spreading the wealth around via progressive taxation, which works pretty well; it's about spreading ownership around so wealth will be spread around accordingly to help democracy devolve power down from the elite to the plebs. (In America this has been an uphill battle -- ever since our founders rigged our government to allow the elite to stave off the power of the plebs, yet give the appearance of allowing the plebs a fair shake. America has always been a rather unequal society. The closest we ever came to equality was after WW2. FDR's 1935 Social Security made old age less humiliating; strong unions ensured a decent wage; FDR's 1944 GI Bill opened up an upper-class-only college education to regular folks; Civil Rights gave black folks a political voice; LBJ's 1965 Medicare helped the retired delay death, and US capitalism entered its Golden Age that lifted all boats. Then that amiable shit Ronald Reagan came along to make sure it lifted only yachts.)

Distribute ownership, and you distribute wealth more equally, and combat the scourge of inequality guaranteed by feudal capitalism.

Crazy, isn’t it?

But is it any crazier than what we have now? Who says it's better that shareholders own a company rather than the people who work there, the actual human beings who ARE the company? Who says it’s better to have a board-appointed CEO than one democratically elected by the workers? Who says it’s better to have outside shareholders exert some sort of control when they have never stepped foot on the factory floor and only bought the shares on the recommendation of some broker – what you might call a class of absentee landlords? What’s so logical about that?

One idea behind our 21st century capitalism is that it’s OK to be the dictator of a 100 people, but not of more than a 100. You can screw a 100 people in any orifice available, kick their butts on a regular basis like a regular despot, knock 'em downstairs or kick 'em upstairs, bust their balls or stroke their egos, but no more than a 100.

Every small business can be a dictatorship, but all big businesses have to be democracies. In fact, the workers who sign up with your dictatorship are there because they’re hoping your company will grow beyond a 100 workers into a democracy.


Now you may say this is all totally unfair -- taking a man or a woman’s company away from him or her and handing it to the employees simply because his or her original idea was so good it needed more than a 100 workers to exploit its full potential. Doesn’t he deserve all the money to be made from his idea? Why should these workers be able to muscle in on her profits? He’s the guy who came up with the idea. She’s the gal who took the original risk of starting a business to bring her idea to a waiting world. If we keep doing business this way, we will take all motivation away from those innovators who bring new ideas to our society and keep it growing and changing and vital.

Goddammit: who the heck are these pawns in your scheme for worldwide domination to suddenly become your kings and queens?

It’s easy to mount a counter-argument against this. Who says the guy with the great idea wouldn’t make more money for himself by giving over 51% of his company to his workers, who would now work harder and smarter because they’re working for themselves and not just for him? Isn’t this a better way to make sure that good ideas will better succeed and keep our society growing and changing and vital? And wouldn’t this system encourage natural entrepreneurs to start more than one company: to come up with one idea after the other, and start many companies, one after the other, to get their ideas out in the world -- instead of doing the first good idea they get and sticking with that for the rest of their lives?


Under a more democratic system of capitalism, not only are power and assets shared, but also motivation and incentive.

When everyone is an owner, behavior changes. Everyone in the company, from the CEO to the janitor, owns shares and will be thinking about how they can make more money for the company -- how they can do their job better, how they can save money for the company, how they can maximize profit. The company’s money is their money.

Isn’t that more true to capitalist ideals than it is for the workers to rely solely on a fixed wage?

My contention goes further: I say a democratic corporation will beat an undemocratic corporation run by a board-appointed CEO and owned by absentee shareholders, hands down, no problem -- as easy as milking guilt from a Catholic. It stands to reason: a company owned and run by many capitalists who actually work in the company will work more cost-consciously and more profit-mindedly and more competitively than any other.

Here's the point: turn workers into capitalists. So they act like owners instead of serfs. Take privatizing the economy to the logical extreme of putting it in the private hands of every private individual working in it.

Now the workers will work smarter and harder. The bosses will work smarter and harder. The CEO will work smarter and harder. They’re all working for each other as well as for themselves. They're all accountable to each other. They all want each other to do better, because that way they themselves will do better. They win by sharing.

Like eager beavers, like a colony of ants or bees, like a retreat of monks, like a holistic commune, like a tribe of Bushmen, like a social network, like Mother Theresa's nuns, like an Obama campaign, like Wikipedia, like a Superbowl team, like a black church, like a geek startup, like Costco, like the Civil Rights movement, like that rarest of things, a functional family, they'll not only develop a shared culture, but create something else we seldom see: a shared soul, a whole that's an exponential multiple of its parts, a business that's infused with unbusinesslike emotion, a home-away-from-home haven where humans are delighted to work and work to delight their customers, a community of semi-spiritual empowerment -- which, instead of a mission statement that looks good on paper, births a cause that repletes the soul.

This is the perfect model of a perfect company in a perfectly competitive system. Not the 19th century old-fashioned feudal slow-moving slugs we have now. The fact is that our current feudal capitalism is a miserable system that should be committed to the dustbin of history as soon as enough humans wake up to its profoundly anti-democratic ethos. Feudal capitalism is like an old dog with rotting limbs who miraculously still has a few sturdy molars left to snap at whoever questions the fact that its legs are so gangrenous it can hardly stand. Capitalism is a past-her-time non-erotic sclerotic old sex peddler with a glass eye and more lipstick on her face than a hyena has rotten meat in its intestines. Capitalism is a doddering traumatized soldier of lost fortune who still hits the deck when a baby coughs behind him. Capitalism is the pig shit from an agribusiness farm dumped in a vast lake that renders several counties unfit for human habitation.

But modernized democratic capitalism will be, like democracy itself, an exuberant marvel of human organization -- the reddest rose in the garden of civilization.

Cue the violins.

And now drop the cold water: how the heck do we make this happen? It's all very well to conjure some splendid utopia, but how do you get to a real McCoy, standing tall in the real world, hitching up his gabardine trousers?

Aha. This is where you come in, my fellow-capitalist. Arise from the fainting spell induced by my preceding warblings. Gorge yourself on some tart smelling salts. And get this: it's all going to be up to the you-and-me of the voting public to lean on our elected representatives to nudge capitalism towards modernity by enacting a law that says:

1. Every business that democratizes itself gets a two-year tax holiday.

2. Every CEO who makes democracy happen in his or her corporation within the first 10 years of the program, gets a lifetime tax holiday.

This will probably be the first time in history that a tax break for the rich makes any sense.

So now there is something noble for you to do, my fellow-capitalist. An actual social mission above and beyond your dedication to the making of moolah: start pressing your government for a payback when you democratize yourself -- and enjoy a bigger tax cut than ever imagined by those zombie puppets of predator capitalism, the GOP (aka the Greatly Outnumbered Party).


If workers could vote for their CEOs today, which CEOs would survive? Steve Jobs of Apple would, for sure. But how many others?

If you’re a CEO, engage in this thought experiment: do you feel the cold breeze of democratic accountability raise the hairs on the back of your neck?

If only more of our American CEOs labored with that breeze down their necks.

If only CEOs were self-aware enough to know they're not only caging their workers, but themselves: the potential of everyone -- management and labor alike -- is locked down-and-out on the stultifying top-down feudal plantation command economy of 19th century capitalism.

If only our capitalism worked in a more democratic way.

But under our widely accepted and highly admired system, we just have to cope with the results of dictatorship-predator capitalism: cars and burgers that wreck our environment and endanger life on earth; HMOs that deny us operations that could save our lives; and CEOs who make more money in a day than their workers make in a year.

In fact, when it comes to making wise business decisions, it's a good rule to trust workers and their unions more than CEOs and their bail-out backstops in government. Way back in 1949, a pamphlet came out called “A Small Car Named Desire,” which said Detroit should not bet everything on bigness, but that many consumers would welcome smaller cars that cost less and ran on less gas. The pamphlet was written by the research department of the United Auto Workers Union. After Pearl Harbor, the UAW came up with a plan to convert Detroit's auto plants into arms factories before the CEOs did. When the war ended, the union had a strike at GM with demands that included putting union and public representatives on GM's board, something GM was too dumb to go for. Hey, these dirty-nailed workers are not our class, darling.

But the Union fought on, and most of the things that let workers into the middleclass -- like annual cost-of-living adjustments -- were invented by them against the wishes of the CEOs.

This UAW, whom the GOP today demonizes for Detroit's troubles, helped incubate every new, modern movement of our time. The UAW funded the March on Washington in 1963, when Martin Luther King made his “I have a dream” speech. They funded Cesar Chavez's farm workers union. They provided their conference center in Port Huron, Michigan to the Students for a Democratic Society to write their manifesto. They helped the National Organization for Women get started. They helped fund the first Earth Day.

Tell me one CEO who's been that forward-looking, visionary and modern.

And the UAW has been agitating for national healthcare all along. If the country had listened to the UAW instead of the CEOs of our HMOs, the Big Three would've been able to save themselves the $1,500 extra in employer healthcare payments that an American car costs over what it costs Japan or Europe to make a car.

The UAW has been more business-minded and far-sighted than all the CEOs in America put together. Our workers are the lifeblood and backbone of capitalism. Unaccountable CEOs are the terrorists of capitalism. If the UAW were able to vote for their CEOs, we'd have a thriving Detroit. When all workers everywhere have the basic right to vote for their CEOs, we'll have democratic capitalism, and the US will indeed become a shining city on a hill.

We’re stuck with the capitalism we have instead of the capitalism most of us may prefer, if only we knew about it.

We're stuck with labor and management being enemies, when they should be friends working with the same purpose and motivation. We're stuck with mutual fear and hatred and rage instead of comity and community in the workplace. Workers live in fear of management, because they can be fired for any or no reason. Management lives in hatred of labor, because they think of them as costs that mess up their profits. Management wants machines for workers, and they're stuck with people. The workplace is like a dysfunctional family -- rigid, disciplinarian, abusive Dad vs. rebellious, lazy, unfocused, whiny kids -- instead of a happy family.

We have workers who try to get away with working as little as possible for as much money as possible, and managers who work as long and hard as possible for as much money as possible: not a good life for either. Workers don't have the satisfaction of being committed to their work, and managers don't have the time left over from work to be committed to the satisfaction of family life.

Call me a dreamer. But if democratic capitalism actually happened, you yourself might find that, ohmigod, there’s a dream out there worth following.


There's one last point to cover: my third revolutionary proposal.

How do you make companies accountable to the greater society and our planet and our environment when they're driven by the profit motive?

In other words, how do you make capitalism moral?

Well, you can do it without being moral at all. Just make business accountable. The capitalist solution to this conundrum is simple: every business has to eat its own costs.

Let me explain. Take America's dying auto industry, once the most powerful in the world, that made the weapons with which we won WW2.

It makes cars and trucks. But we pay for the roads and bridges, and the traffic lights, and the polluted environment from gas emissions, and the health costs from car accidents that kill more than a million people a year.

Detroit doesn't eat its costs. It makes its profits and leaves the costs to us.

As the mantra goes, under capitalism businesses privatize profits and socialize costs. (Martin Luther King nailed it when he said capitalism is socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor.)

Under a democratic, accountable capitalism, businesses will have to step up and pay for their costs themselves.

This simple, business-like and non-moral proposal will make capitalism moral.

The immorality of business only happens because it has been able to outsource its costs to the rest of society.

If corporations had to pay top-dollar for polluting the environment, they would stop polluting the environment.

If tobacco growers had to pay the medical bills of those people they give lung cancer to, they might decide to switch to growing fava beans or Golden Delicious apples.

If fast-food hamburger chains had to pay for the environmental costs of the beef they use that come from cattle that fart methane into the atmosphere and cause 18% of global warming, they might invent some really tasty and healthy vegetarian meat-substitutes.

If global finance companies have to account for the social costs of imploding derivatives by paying unemployment insurance to the millions of Americans who've lost their jobs because of this reckless gambling, they might cut down on their trade in risky derivatives.

Here's what's almost Hiroshima-nuking-the-road-to-Damascus brutal and depressing: how America's financial titans managed in a few months in 2008 to socialize their complete failure at the most rudimentary capitalist risk-taking into a Fed-and-Government-Sachs bail-out that they've stink-bombed upon us unwitting taxpayers to the stench-to-heaven tune of $13 trillion -- with nary an apology or sense of shame or, even worse, without the slightest risk of being locked up forever for blatant fraud in an institution devoted to anal-rape rituals.

What can one say? Fuck me with a blowdryer. Paint me yellow and call me a banana. The mind boggles into a fog of boggledom. Extravagant analogies fail me, and I've got the market in extravagant analogies cornered. Let me try. It's as mind-begoggling as Newton espying the grandeur of gravity in a fucking apple, or Blake seeing a world in a grain of sand and holding infinity in the palm of a hand. It's as brain-befarting as a unicorn nodding so fiercely in assent to his lady love's swollen-vagina request for immediate coitus (“yes! yes! yes!”) that -- to the undying frustration of the horn in his crotch -- the horn on his forehead accidentally stabs her through the heart. It's as stomach-bechurning as a mom seeing the freedom of single womanhood waltzing out the front door as she plaintively scoops poop from her squealing baby's bottom at three o'clock in the morning while her husband snores blissfully in bed and her nipples hurt like two little fires burning her dreams of being the first violinist in the Berlin Philharmonic to ashes smoking fitfully at the bottom of a George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine.

Something like that. Anyway, you get the idea. Businesses have to eat their own costs, and bingo! capitalism becomes moral.


Of course there are some other moral things to be done:

1. The way the factory farms of agribusiness treat animals is absurdly cruel and monstrously evil -- caging living creatures together as tightly as skeletons in a mass grave, so confined that beaks have to be snipped and tails clipped to stop them from tearing each other to pieces in claustrophobic rage and sorrow. This has to be addressed by special legislation. One day we will surely stop eating our genetic cousins, and then this legislation won't be necessary. Meanwhile, in America alone, livestock production causes 55% of soil erosion, needs 37% of all pesticides and 50% of all antibiotics, releases 33% of the bad nitrogen and phosphorus going into our surface water, and dumps cancer and heart disease on millions of people. Eighteen percent of all greenhouse emissions in the world come from methane-farting livestock. The sooner we stop eating red meat, the better for our health and our planet. Agriculture should anyway be returned to small farmers all over the world, since subsidized agribusiness doesn't do much to solve world hunger, which is the big moral problem of our time (facts to chew on: a billion humans are hungry to the point of famine; two billion people depend on the food grown by 500 million small farmers in developing countries; these farmers' debt burdens have driven 150,000 Indian farmers to suicide). It can only be solved if each country grows its own food, and maybe if most regions and areas and cities and towns and hamlets and garrets and even most families grow their own local food in their own back garden lots, and apartment dwellers grow food on their window sills and rooftops. Flying food around the world pollutes the planet. (Gardening is the best hobby in the world: if our kids grew up nurturing nature, waiting for fluffy clouds to water seedlings into pretty flowers and colorful veggies, we'd be a nicer, kinder, better world.)

2. What about taxation, so hated by the Reaganauts and the Thatcherites? It has to become heavily progressive again, like it was before Reagan was put in charge by a cabal of Californian CEOs and ruined the Golden Age of American Capitalism 1945-1970 when the middleclass expanded dramatically and a family could live on one paycheck and CEOs didn't pay themselves 300 to 500 times what their workers made. And there should be a tax on all financial transactions.

3. Human rights need a bit of looking at, too, especially equal rights for women. You wouldn't want your sister to grow up in an Arab or African or Asian country. Oppressing women is an economic cost on society, perhaps the biggest cost currently preventing the world from becoming a capitalist paradise. It halves the potential of an economy. The rights of all humans should be expanded in our democracies, plutocracies and dictatorships -- to include the inalienable right of everyone to food, health, shelter, legal and military protection, education and free expression. It may be that all those goods and services should be provided by the state, for free, out of our collective taxes. These rights may be too vital to be left to the machinations of the private sector, too precious to be ruled by the profit motive. It looks like agriculture and finance -- the food that fuels humans, the credit that fuels business -- may be in need of either government takeover or intrusive regulation to steer them away from too-big-to-fail-or-function monopolistic practices in the West.

Feudal capitalism breeds monopolies -- Microsoft and Google are the latest examples of big business crowding out small businesses -- and government's job is to break them up when they happen, and to prevent mergers when bankers and CEOs drool at the hefty fees involved and forget that mergers only work for their short-term pocketbooks but never for any actual long-term business prospects. Not even the omnipotences of the Christian, Islamic and Hindu gods spliced into one Supergod know what the government was thinking when they forced Bank of America to swallow Merrill Lynch and give themselves years of merger heartburn.

4. The financialization of the American economy is a travesty of common sense. Casino capitalism (as opposed to value-producing capitalism) is a waste of human effort. It's a toss-up whether the creation of money (debt) should be left to banks, the government, or to an independent supra-agency (akin to the Supreme Court in the legal system) with the power to sentence to anal rape all those economic war criminals -- banks, brokers, private-equity firms and hedge funds -- who leverage themselves beyond a legal allowance of say 12:1, or give themselves bonuses based on a year's deals instead of five or 10 years' efforts, or spend more than 30% of their capital on gambling with paper assets instead of backing actual businesses that produce real goods and services.

As for the goddam Fed, it should be made accountable to somebody -- perhaps the President. It's the most undemocratic invention ever, created and staffed by banks to oversee banks, giving one man the authority to throw around trillions.

As for the rich, they should be forced -- yes, fucking FORCED -- to use their wealth productively instead of hoarding it in hedge funds. All that money is just sloshing around instead of being productively invested to start new businesses.

Personally I see no place for the gambling of securitization and credit-default swaps in a healthy capitalism. Heard about use value and exchange value and surplus value? Let me introduce you to the value of credit-default swaps: Vegas value. Credit-fault swaps are about spreading risk so far and wide, the whole system is at risk. Look at the numbers: there are $63 trillion of CDS's out there. The Chinese would have to make toy fart balloons for a million years before they'd get up to that Vegas value. These toxic viruses were invented in 1997; before that the world got along fine. What the hell is the raison d'etre of these financial weapons of mass destruction? A CDS is betting that a party will default on their obligation. Hey, let's bet on the fact that we're fuckups. What kind of a system bets on its own failure? This is not the creative destruction of capitalism; it's the destructive destruction of capitalism. It's betting that capitalism will default, which it obligingly does, seeing as its practitioners are willing to bet it will.

While we're at it, I don't see much use for private banks either. Obviously they can't do their jobs; they'd rather speculate than finance businesses. The state runs schools, the police, the army, and should run health. Why shouldn't it run banks as a public utility, and stick to the boring but healthy financing of homes, cars, education and business (instead of reckless gambling with “financial instruments,” a euphemism for Vegas chips)? Just the job for a boring government bureaucrasy, I should think. The government is the solution, not the problem. The greatest advance of the last 30 years, the Internet, was invented by the government. Against the excesses of capitalism, there is only one defense: the nation state.

5. The militarization of the American economy is ridiculous. It must mean one of two things: either we're the biggest bullies in the world, or the biggest sissies. Our government spends more than half our tax dollars -- the so-called discretionary spending part -- on the Pentagon, which is more than the rest of the world spends on its armies combined. We have over 800 overseas military bases. For what? What is the Department of Defense defending us against? Sensible spending of our money? Why aren't they called the Department of Attack? Talk about rampant socialism: the military-industrial-Congressional complex is simply a government handout to corporations who make things we don't need, to do things we shouldn't do. What a circus: weapon systems sophisticated enough to fight alien invaders from the Planet of the Borgs or Klingons but useless against insurgents armed with nothing more than AK-47s, IUDs and the joy of killing Americans; cost overruns running over the moon and back; workers making guns instead of butter, beds, blenders and bulldozers. This boondoggle has no connection with capitalism: it's command-economy Soviet-style communism in action.

6. It may also be a fair legal point to make everyone in a corporation -- workers and management alike -- personally responsible for any harm the corporation causes, instead of moving legal obligations over to the corporate entity, which is a way of escaping personal responsibility.

7. And we may have to get used to the fact that there is a limit to growth -- that developing economies need it, but developed economies don't -- and that the solution to overproduction is to stop stimulating demand, and for all of us to seek happiness in our personal lives instead of in junky stuff. GNH over GNP (gross national happiness rather than gross national product). Research shows that beyond a minimum point of material security, more money makes nobody happier. Moreover, growth by polluting corporations has pitched our only planet into becoming unfit for human life by the time our grandchildren bear children, which should make us all desperately unhappy unless clean, green energy becomes our universal #1 agenda of all time -- a challenge bigger than capitalism itself, that only a modernized capitalism can face. Current capitalism -- caged in its extractive and non-sustainable stage -- caused this problem, and is bound to lose this fight.

8. What to do about our elite? You can't trust them from one generation to the next. Bush Sr was a fairly responsible president with a sense of noblesse oblige. Yet he raised a son who blackened the family name forevermore, plunged the US into two unnecessary wars, stood by helpless while the sea washed an American city away, dug the economy into a grave of debt, buried the GOP under the ideological rubble of absurd unreason, and sanctioned torture. What can one say? That Bush Sr was a terrible parent? That Bush Jr was one exceptionally dumb puppet? That Bush Sr made the monstrous mistake of entrusting his fratboychick to That Really Bad Uncle Cheney? It's a drama out of Sophocles by way of Ionesco.

Like the poor, the elite will always be with us. Privilege breeds entitlement. Entitlement breeds indifference. Indifference breeds scorn. Scorn breeds condescension. Condescension breeds pride. Which comes before a fall.

There's just no getting round the vicious circle. Privilege corrupts. Total privilege corrupts totally. The poor are said to leech on society, but the privileged are full-bore vampires. The bloodlust of our vampire elite is as rampant as a trillion ticks on heat, and can barely be bottled up by democracy. Our income inequality, now back to Gilded Age proportions, is the direct result of the usurious greed of our elite. I don't know what happens at elite universities, but obviously they don't know how to teach their students -- the future leaders of our democratic yet capitalist nation states -- the first thing about social responsibility. Maybe we should make this an entrance requirement to any Ivy League college: go work as a community organizer in some urban ghetto for a year first. America has plenty to choose from. Rub the noses of the elite for a good year of daily exposure in the downer of extreme poverty, and they might emerge with half a heart and a moral compass that points more or less north. (Either that or a No-Child Policy for all millionaires.)


These eight points, although important, are all supplemental considerations when it comes to the urgent business of discouraging capitalism from choking on its obvious contradictions like a teenager risking accidental death for a bigger orgasm by masturbating himself with one hand while strangling himself with the other. The fundamentals are really simple, and summed up in Evert's three-point plan for modernizing capitalism and giving it a human face:

1. Any CEO has to earn his job by winning the democratic votes of his corporation's workers for a four-year term, with an eight-year term limit.

2. Any business will be owned by the founder in perpetuity or until it employs more than a hundred employees, after which ownership passes over to the employees.

3. Any company has to eat its own costs.

This is how capitalism can be saved from itself. Three simple, practical suggestions. The sort of thing the granola-sincere but mutton-headed Left and New Left and Marxist Left and the Port Huron statement and social democrats and democratic socialists and assorted Pinkos and Trotskyites and The Fabian Society and George Orwell and Raymond Williams and Old and New Labour and The New Statesman and liberals and progressives and the Seattle Battlers and The Nation and Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein and Pete Seeger and Billy Bragg have been looking for, ever since Proudhon's “property is theft” and Marx's “class struggle” and “the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it” -- but cannot find because they're more epiphanied by theory than praxis: in other words, more interested in pamphleteering utopias than rolling up their sleeves and organizing change on the ground in the world of real people with mouths to take in food and rear ends to crap it out. Armchair activists can be like the philosophers: they often interpret the world in order to leave it unchanged.

That's why my Capitalist Manifesto really takes off from where the Communist Manifesto took off (five of its famous 10 points are still valid) -- a manifesto that certainly changed a good part of the world in surprisingly horrible ways, including many sharp minds in the unchanged parts. Listen, I know. Capitalism is the opium of the bourgeoisie. But we're stuck with it like we're stuck with the irritating biology of two genders: it's the system that came out on top. Marx didn't understand that capitalism could be democratized instead of withered away along with the state, because although he understood capitalism better than anyone ever, he didn't quite grock democracy like we do (even though most of our democracies are really sort-of-benign plutocracies, except for the one model of the most humanely progressive social organization in history so far, the Nordic exception -- also exceptional for being the highest-taxed AND most competitive economy on earth).

My Capitalist Manifesto posits the sort of stuff that the World Social Forum in South America is groping towards (though soiling a “Manifesto” with the moniker “Capitalist” would offend them). In fact, we have to look to Latin America of all places if we want to find the first green seeds of a modernized capitalism sprouting their delicate, cutesy, adorable, teensy flowery heads.

Today's feudal capitalism cannot stand. It is just too old, too 19th century, too stultifying, too deadening, too unfair, too unequal, too costly, too amoral, too demonstrably the dumbfuckest of all dumbfuckery in the history of the dumbest dumbfuckeduppedness of all dumbfuckable dumbfuckosity.

Capitalism is the dinosaur in our midst.

It's not as if it can't change. It's only been around since the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. If you think of the entire history of humankind as one day, capitalism has been around for two minutes.


There's nothing particularly natural in human nature about capitalism. It's just another economic system that began in England in the 18th century and spread everywhere, and it's been under constant change and challenge since then, with labor laws and the workweek and all sorts of innovations being forced upon it, mostly by workers in opposition to management, and by great new technologies, like the media and the internet. Yet it has not shed its most dysfunctional characteristic -- the labor-management, worker-boss struggle (that Marx figured could be solved by a revolutionary antithesis when all it needs is a synthesis with a little democracy).

Still, things have moved along somewhat. Today's capitalism isn't quite the Seventh Circle of Hell it was when it started out, with children toiling in unhygienic factories for seven days a week, 14 hours a day.

Yet it's still a gazillion miles away from halfway perfection.

Capitalism shares Islam's problem of being mired in a dogma-blighted Dark Age. Read the Wall Street Journal's editorial pages if you want to see how dark. Like Islam, capitalism has not had an Enlightenment, nor a Reformation, nor a Revolution, nor an Age of Reason to help it enter modernity. Capitalism is a selfish greedy hungry whining baby of evolution that needs to grow up. It's an aging lion full of cancerous sores that smells so bad, the young lions can't stand to go near him to oust his stinking ass. We need a new way of thinking about work and workers and markets and production and demand and GDP and arbitrage and leveraged buyouts: freeconomics, not economics. You've got to excuse me here, but you may have noticed: Freedom is my thing. (Responsibility is my other thing.)

It's not markets that should be free, but people.

It's not the freedom of markets that count, but the freedom of people.

It's more important that people be free than markets.

For that to happen, capitalism has to change and become democratized. This will cause an enchanting ripple-effect beyond itself: a democratized capitalism will make democracies themselves more democratic -- as democratic as they should be. Democracy works -- via the vote, freedom of speech, the rule of law, the right to private property, progressive taxes, a social safety-net, and time-tested institutions -- to guarantee the well-being of its citizens, and to give all of them an equal opportunity at achieving their full potential. America doesn't do that: our income inequality grows by the hour; our social mobility is worse than the UK and France, two aristocracy-top-heavy countries. The US is a failure as a democracy because its capitalism is not democratic.

Let's raise the cry: Democracy in all things -- even in capitalism!

We can't have this undemocratic beast of feudal warlord capitalism operating in our democracies, and often making us all miserable, when -- with the three changes I've outlined here -- capitalism can make us all happy.

The time has come for real change. Now is the hour to start working and agitating and demonstrating and protesting and flash-mobbing and publishing and blogging and networking and linking and emailing for a fundamental mutation in our working lives.

Capitalists of the world, catch up! You have nothing to lose but your cages.

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