Saturday, October 06, 2012

Money Talks

Originally published at

Obvious fact: money talks. It yodels angelic to the captains of industry and finance who steer the fine ship of our economy (from local to global), and its silver tongue can smooth over any perceived conflict, can bridge any enmity, can cement any friend. Money is the grease on which the axle of the world spins, and its slippery utility stems from its ubiquitous persuasion. Money talks.

Which means that those with money do all the talking. To take the most obvious example, it's more or less publicly recognized that our current presidential election boils down to a bidding war. There are ideological and concrete differences between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney (though if you caught their first debate, you'll recognize that these differences are rather more nuanced than either candidate wants his own party to believe), and as a faggoty, poor, socially and economically left-leaning young Seattlite I know where my own loyalties lie. Still, nobody seriously disputes the efficacy of effective advertising in this (or any) election, and advertising is a pretty direct function of cash-money. Substantive differences between Romney and Obama are like substantive differences between Starbucks and Seattle's Best: they're real, but only as efficacious as their ad campaign.

Other examples:
-What decides which textbooks get printed, and which university programs get funded?
-Are "democratic" social media like Facebook and Twitter democratically owned and administered, or are they regulated and tracked by private, for-profit firms?
-In general, who can read, type, create websites, upload videos, write books, film movies? Poor people, or rich people?
-Name ten living millionaires or billionaires you've never met. Now name ten poor or middle class people you've never met. Which group was easier to think of?
-In TV ads for military recruitment, are patriotic citizenship or financial rewards (like job training and college tuition) more emphasized?

I don't mean to imply a nostalgia for some yester-generation when our minds were clear, our hearts pure, our politics public-minded, and our teens virginal. But I do mean to connect the dots between Obvious Fact #1: Money Talks and Obvious Fact #2: Expanding Capital. No one seriously disputes the expansion of money as a determining force in human society. As Marx and Engels describe in The Communist Manifesto, this began with the twilight of the Middle Ages and sped up with the Industrial Revolution. And that Revolution never stopped: the explosive advances in technology have only accelerated since the arrival of the cotton gin and the steam engine. Advance in technology, and corollary advances in markets: where once tradition and God dictated human behavior ("I'm a peasant because I was born a peasant and thus I'm meant to be a peasant"), now capital does so ("I'm a contractor because I chose to become one [within the limited possibilities which existed within the market]").

All of which has consequences which are cleverly discussed elsewhere by commentators more thoughtful than yours truly. But a colleague of mine did have an enlightening experience recently with DSHS, which--he explained--taught him two things:

"First, that my automatic bias toward fair-play, transparency, redress within the system, and non-violent, civil protest is largely a result of my own middle class upbringing. I tend to believe that officials are decent and sane, because in my upbringing they almost always were. Having been repeatedly lied to and insulted by disinterested bureaucrats, I'm beginning to suspect that this might not be the experience of everyone. Second, I can sympathize a little bit more with seemingly senseless acts of violence now that I've gotten a taste of what it feels like to get pissed on without redress. Here's what it feels like: it's degrading. Not being poor, but having someone abuse the power they hold over me: I can see how this would quickly lead someone to attack the system in general rather than just criticizing the parts that directly injured them."

Money talks, because in a market-society, money is power. And if you don't have it, then whatever your bosses might tell say to the contrary, they just don't hear what you're saying.

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