10 June 2014 — OurKingdom
A gathering of the elite 0.01% took place to discuss “inclusivity”, an event so crass in its absurdity that there is no need to satirise
On 27 May a conference unfolded in London with the title, “Inclusive Capitalism Initiative“, in Mansion House and Guild Hall in the heart of the City (heart – City, is that an oxymoron?). Unless informed to the contrary, the person in the street would assume that a conference searching to make capitalism more inclusive might include representatives from non-included groups, whoever that might be. The title of the conference seems to suggest, “capitalism is too exclusive in spreading income, wealth and power, so let’s bring together the ins and the outs to address this problem”.
I regret to be the bearer of disillusionment. The four keynote speakers were the Prince of Wales, the Governor of the Bank of England, ex-President of the United States Bill Clinton, and the Managing Direct (head) of the International Monetary Fund (find her contribution to the People’s Struggle here). Among the banalities of these dubious dignitaries, the speech by the baron of Threadneedle Street seems almost progressive.
The other 31 speakers included chief executives or the equivalent of Google (a leading tax evader), banks and hedge funds, and three chemical companies (at least one notoriously opposing approval of generic drugs). For gender balance the organizers included 5 women (one seventh of the speakers), which was better than the gesture to cultural diversity with only two Africans (one a candidate for the richest person south of the Sahara and the other chief of Prudential plc).
And how many of the 35 were trade unionists, representatives of non-government organizations, or elected officials (all their photographs appear on the conference homepage)? The exact count was zero, zero and one (a member of the Canadian parliament). The closest approach to the working class in this group of 35 was the Chairman (sic!) of John Lewis Partnership (balanced by the former head of Sainsbury’s). For those morbidly curious as to just how reactionary this conference was, I recommend a look at the agenda. For the true masochists are the videos of the keynote speeches, found by following a link named “thought leadership” – I swear I did not make that up.
For me this gathering of the world’s leading corruptibles and compulsive accumulators of ill-got gains raises two questions. First, what motivated the Great and Bad to organize this conference? And, second, having decided to do so, why did the organizers structure it to be as exclusive as possible?
In the alternately tedious and hilarious presentations to which we-the-underlings are privy by video, it is obvious that the conference occurred because the one-hundredth of the 1% represented at the gathering are worried by the other 99.99% showing signs of discontent – as in “the natives are restless”. The evidence of this discontent shows in a long list of often spontaneous rebellions, both trivial and momentous. Among the trivial is the phenomenal success of a book on inequality by a French academic, Capital in the Twenty-first Century (C21C, see my comment on it). Not withstanding that very few will actually read it (the book has over 550 pages of text), sales have gone well into six figures. This is the first Harvard University Press book to do that for over 40 years, the last being A Theory of Justice by John Rawls.
The serious manifestations include the international occupy movement (beginning 2011), which made the 99% versus the 1% a common phrase across the globe, including in book titles (my new book, for example, Economics of the 1%). While Occupy failed to set off the political earthquake its members and many others hoped would occur, it tapped a seething resentment that unsettled financial capital. Without doubt it contributed to the rejection of the politics of mega-rich New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the landslide victory of his successor, the progressive William de Blasio.
Second is the gathering unrest in continental Europe, manifested in the dramatic rise in fringe parties in the EU election, especially of the far right (see interview with Trevor Evans and me in The Real News). The increase in the number MEPs opposed to further economic and political integration must deeply distress the executives of financial capital, for whom the euro project is a license to print money.
An obvious yet little noticed example of euro robbery is the subsidy of bond speculation by the European Central Bank. Because of the capital-friendly rule that it cannot directly purchase bonds of EU governments, the ECB lent to private banks to purchase these in its stead – a cozy arrangement that meant that private finance borrowed at about 1% to buy bonds with returns up to and beyond 6%. What banker could be against that kind of euro?
Discontent with the ravages of financialized capitalism confronts us in obvious forms. To counter discontent the financial elite and its utensils organize a conference on “inclusive capitalism” and make it totally exclusive. I am interested to know if any reader knows personally someone who attended. I rather doubt it.
This conference was so blatantly absurd that I find it hard to believe that anyone except those present took it seriously (though a few progressives have, see the article by Nafeez Ahmed). If the financial elite was seriously attempting to seduce us into believing that it can make over the current version of Robber Baron capitalism to be inclusive, why organize a conference that was a parody of itself?
A serious attempt at cooptation would invite along the usual Peoples Representatives to give an illusion of, well, inclusiveness – compliant trade union leaders, charity oriented NGOs, representatives from do-gooder foundations, and so on. But none of these were in attendance much less highlighted as “thought leaders” (see above for this Orwellian term).
In the long and oppressive history of capitalism we find many proposals for “inclusion” with minimalist reform. Prominent among these are 1) worker representatives on boards of directors (as in Germany), 2) profit sharing (website dedicated to it), and 3) partial employee ownership (also has a website). None of these seems to have been discussed.
The clear message from the conference is that the global financial elite is so isolated from the other 99.99% that it has no clue of how even to broach the issue of “inclusiveness”. Like Viscount Whitelaw who allegedly claimed his contact with the masses was through talking to his gamekeeper, the financial elite is far more than isolated from the rest of us. It resides in a different world in which our existence is little more than a shadow, a ghostly spectre as Marx famously wrote in the Communist Manifesto.
In this case the spectre is not communism but reality, from which the elite has completely isolated itself. Having no contact with reality, the 0.01% can hold a closed and exclusionary conference on “inclusive capitalism” and not see the contradiction. While humorous and an easy target for ridicule, the isolation is also profoundly dangerous, suggestive of entrenched oligarchic rule far beyond democratic accountability.
About the author
John Weeks is Professor Emeritus, School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London, and author of ‘Economics of the 1%: How mainstream economics serves the rich, obscures reality and distorts policy‘, Anthem Press, published earlier this year.