What are free trade agreements and why are they bad?

I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crises. The great point is to bring them the real facts.

– Abraham Lincoln

There has never been but one question in all civilization – how to keep a few men from saying to many men: you work and earn bread and we will eat it.

– Abraham Lincoln

The price we pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.

– Plato

It is not wisdom but authority that makes a law.

– Thomas Hobbes

All warfare is based on deception.

– Sun Tzu

In war, truth is the first casualty.

– Aeschylus, Greek Tragic Dramatist

Free trade agreements (FTAs) are deeply embedded in contemporary economics and politics, and are regularly discussed as a means for increasing growth and making economic relations between countries fairer and more ‘efficient’ (Baker, 2006). However, what they actually entail is rarely discussed, if ever, and any analysis of what FTAs mean for different people in society rarely goes beyond rhetorical flourishes about how wonderful they are and what an amazing world we’ll soon be living in with the arrival of new FTAs.

In reality, FTAs are devices for maintaining, expanding and deepening the economic supremacy of powerful nations and of the elites who dominate them (Baker, 2006; Chang, 2009, 2011, 2014; Stiglitz, 2002, 2012; Gilens & Page, 2014; Chomsky, 2005). This post substantiates this claim by doing three things. First, it discusses the propaganda which is often used to vaunt FTAs and pretend that they’re something other than a tool of economic domination used by elites. Second, it dispels these propaganda myths by outlining the way that economics works in the real world, which includes a brief discussion of capitalist (i.e., liberal/neoliberal) economics in general. Third, it ties these two things together by explaining the agenda behind people who use propaganda to cover up the true nature of FTAs – i.e., why they come to be proponents of this economic propaganda.

The purpose of this post is to summarise the facts about FTAs in order to help people to better understand the economic debates and the farcical lies told by proponents of FTAs so that we’ll be better able to resist them and their deleterious consequences. Both the Coalition and the Australian Labour Party (ALP), without at least one whom no federal government can be formed in Australia, support FTAs and subscribe to the propaganda on which they’re based, so understanding the reality of FTAs and what they mean for societies is not a trivial issue.

This post draws on work by economists Ha-Joon Chang, Joseph Stiglitz, Gar Alperovitz and Dean Baker, as well as Noam Chomsky, historian Eric Hobsbawm, and political scientists Larry M. Bartels, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page. For a full list of the works used for this post, as well as further reading on the subject that people can pursue, see the reference list at the end. It should be noted, though, that the best and most concise source, and the one on which this post most heavily draws, is Dean Baker’s (2006) book “The Conservative Nany State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer”. It’s 108 pages long and provides an excellent analysis of how the rich use the government to meet their needs, including, but not limited to, the role of FTAs. The post will now follow the outline given in the paragraph above, and then finish with an example of a free trade agreement relevant to Australia – the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA).

How do governments lie in order to promote FTAs?

The standard argument for FTAs goes something like this. Trade between nations typically involves barriers (such as tariffs) that make importing and exporting goods more expensive. This is an impediment to trade and a disincentive for the businesses and states that want to trade with each other across borders. This has a negative impact on economies by reducing trade, thus reducing growth. Since growth produces jobs, generates wealth and thereby provides stability, it’s the foundation of a prosperous society, so anything which impairs growth is bad for everyone. Hence, barriers to trade ought to be reduced (or, ideally, removed) as much as possible. For this reason, FTAs are economically sound, and should be pursued as vigorously as possible, for the benefit of all. This is a complete and utter lie (Baker, 2006). It’s much easier to tell lies than to disprove them, so unfortunately the truth about FTAs isn’t quite as concise as the propaganda. However, it’s neither complicated nor laborious to understand – it just takes some time to get acquainted with the facts, to which we now turn.

What are FTAs and what do they really do?

The propaganda argument for FTAs outlined above makes two important assumptions. One, that FTAs do what the argument pretends they do. Two, that growth provides prosperity. Both are important for advocates of FTAs, as well as for capitalism more generally, which is predicated on endless pursuit of growth and generating wealth (Hobsbawm, 1996). Hence, because of ‘growth’s’ importance to both FTAs and capitalism at large, we should first have a quick look at the argument that growth equals prosperity before we get into the facts about FTAs.

Growth is the capitalist’s answer to the fact that populations grow, their needs expand and we need more material resources in order to sustain ourselves as these things happen. Advocates of growth therefore argue that we need to expand our economy by producing and trading more, both within and outside our borders, in order to create more jobs, generate more wealth and thus achieve a sustainable future. There are many problems with this argument. First and most obviously, growth can’t continue endlessly, so this approach is bound to fail sooner or later (Hobsbawm, 1996).

Second, it assumes that the jobs generated by growth are more or less stable over time, as opposed to temporary jobs which evaporate after a while and don’t provide long-term employment. It’s no secret that this isn’t true, especially in terms of lower-income jobs in construction and agriculture, for example. True, when there’s demand for construction workers due to large (often government-initiated) construction and development programs, like roads, bridges, tunnels, etc., this generates wealth, provides employment, and in the meantime increases prosperity. However, when that demand dries out, issues with employment return, the wealth gained by workers in that period only lasts so long, and the prosperity doesn’t endure for very long unless the demand returns. This is a very tenuous situation, since workers can’t depend on a consistent demand for construction projects. Indeed, demand for such projects is much too unpredictable to provide a serious source of long-term employment and thus stability, unless governments deal with this problem by ensuring a steady demand for construction projects at all times, which experience tells us is simply not the case. The same is also true for the agriculture industry, and other industries like it. Hence, the assumption about growth providing stability via employment sounds nice, but in reality is totally unfounded (Baker, 2006; Chang, 2009).

Third, in terms of fairness, the argument for growth assumes that the distribution of the wealth generated by ‘growth’, while of course not equal, is at least not intrinsically unfair. There is a strong element of trickle-down economics to this assumption, which has long been utterly discredited as nothing more than a farce designed to justify policies which make the wealthy wealthier by lying to the public (Baker, 2006; Chang, 2009; Stiglitz, 2013; Bartels, 2008). Indeed, even Bill Clinton, who himself legislated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) during his time as president of the US, talked about the failure of so-called trickle-down economics when running for president against George H. W. Bush in 1992. In reality, the workers may receive some of the wealth generated by things like construction projects via whatever employment they gain, but, as outlined above, this will be temporary. What’s more enduring is the business that is established by the projects, such as farms, toll roads, electricity grids, and the myriad other infrastructure projects that can be privately funded and then owned, or publicly funded and then privately purchased later on, just as is happening to the electricity networks in NSW at the moment. The people who own the businesses therefore have a lasting supply of wealth being generated, while the wealth that the workers received is temporary (Alperovitz, 2011; Alperovitz, 2013). Incidentally, this is very typical of the way that the capitalist system works in general (Alperovitz, 2011; Alperovitz, 2013).

Furthermore, the wealth gained is radically disproportionate, as the people who own the businesses make tremendously greater fortunes than the people who work for them, even when the workers are paid very handsomely, as is the case with mining enterprises in Australia at present, such as Gina Rinehart’s and Clive Palmer’s, both of whom have deep political influence. Indeed, Clive Palmer even has his own political party – the Palmer United Party – which was important for passing legislation in 2014 to repeal taxes on mining companies that were designed to curb environmental damage and generate revenue for the state to use on behalf of the Australian population. Without dwelling on it, the corruption exposed by this example is jarringly ostentatious, even by the standards of capitalism. Hence, the assumption that the distribution of wealth is imperfect but not inherently unfair is just as unfounded as the assumption that the employment provided by projects designed to increase growth is essentially stable over time.

There are many other issues with the propaganda arguments for growth, but these are particularly significant ones and give a fair indication that the argument for growth as a means of providing long-term prosperity is totally absurd. There are some things which can address these problems and provide a greater degree of fairness, such as using fair tax systems to ensure that wealth doesn’t disproportionately go to the rich, but that’s a different discussion for a later post (Alperovitz, 2011; Alperovitz, 2013). For a more in-depth discussion of the way the system is rigged to provide unequal outcomes that benefit the rich and powerful, please see my prior posts on the origin and evolution of classes and class warfare, and the roots and realities of economic propaganda. They’re long, but if you want to hear more about these issues, they’ll flesh them out for you.

Before going into what FTAs really do, it’s important to briefly note one last thing. Endlessly pursuing growth and the wealth it generates as a means for stability are the only things which advocates of the current capitalist economic system promote, but there’s a much simpler and much more effective way to provide sustainable prosperity. While growth tries to meet increasing demand by increasing wealth, the simpler and more effective thing to do is lower the cost of life so that, as our population and its needs increase, the costs associated with this increase are offset by reductions in the price of products and services, meaning that no additional growth is required in order to sustain ourselves. In other words, reducing the cost of life allows us to be sustainable without us having to endlessly pursue growth, which, as an approach, is inevitably bound to fail, as growth simply can’t continue forever, since markets aren’t infinitely large, and never can be. They depend on workers to produce products and provide services, but there are only so many workers, and they can only produce and provide so much, far from an infinite supply of both.

Clearly, then, endless growth is unsustainable, while finding ways to reduce the cost of life is a much better and viable long-term solution. For example, the three main necessities we currently require are food, water and power. As the population grows, the cost of generating more power, providing more water and producing more food grows with it, the typical response to which is to push for more growth to counteract the increasing costs. However, if instead we invested heavily in renewable energy, which would in turn enable us to provide people with energy more cheaply, this would be another way of counteracting the costs of needing to meet the increasing needs of a growing population.

Furthermore, it would be indefinitely sustainable, meaning that by lowering the cost of power you could provide long-term stability. Indeed, as time went by and technology improved, the cost of obtaining, storing and distributing power would continue to decrease, possibly until it no longer costs anything at all. If you then used that power to run homes, hospitals, street lights, trains, cars, schools, research facilities, trams, irrigation systems, desalination plants, factories, etc., the cost of life in general would also decline, including the cost of providing the other two main basic necessities: food and water. This would fundamentally change the way our economy works, making our society more stable for the foreseeable future. And, what’s more, the technology to do so is right within our grasp, waiting to be used.

This is obviously a much better solution than appealing to endless and inevitably untenable growth to solve our problems with sustainability. Consequently, the fact that this solution isn’t being talked about, particularly since we know that ‘growth’ disproportionately benefits the wealthy, who have by far the most political influence, speaks volumes about the corruption inherent to our political system. Of course, the reason that the wealthy have the most political influence is that we have a political system in which political parties depend on capital to survive, which automatically gives the most political influence to the people with the greatest access to capital – the wealthy, nowadays typically members of the business community. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that we pursue policies that most benefit the rich and don’t even discuss policies that would most benefit everyone else, particularly the poor.

Indeed, since our political system is essentially the same one that every other ‘democratic’ nation in the world also has, this explains why, with very few and extremely limited exceptions, the wealthy are the ones most benefitted by government policies everywhere throughout the world (Gilens & Page, 2014). However, fully discussing this issue and ways to address it is also a different subject which deserves a later post of its own. For now, it’s enough, in summary, to note the discussion above and to understand the reasons why growth is advocated and why much more sensible policies are neglected. With that background covered, we can finally move on to what FTAs really do.

Fundamentally, the role of FTAs is to remove barriers to trade so that businesses, corporations and states can more easily trade with each other across borders (Baker, 2006; Chang, 2009). The purpose of this is proclaimed to be to increase growth for the benefit of all, but, as we’ve seen above, this is a complete fabrication. In reality, the point is to do two things. One, to put downward pressure on the wages of low-income people like dishwashers, taxi drivers, and factory and construction workers, and to put upward pressure on the wages of high-income people like lawyers, doctors, university lecturers, economists, and so on (Baker, 2006). Two, to enable businesses in wealthy countries to crush competition in foreign markets so that they, in turn, can increase their share of global markets and increase their profits (Baker, 2006). The next section will explain why FTAs are used in this way, but first we’ll look at how exactly FTAs achieve these two objectives, using NAFTA as an illustration.

Downward and upward pressures on wages are largely determined by supply and demand. When the demand for goods and services exceeds the supply, their value will increase, as sellers don’t need to compete with each other as much and thus don’t need to lower their prices in order to remain competitive. But when the supply exceeds the demand, their value will decrease, as sellers may need to reduce their prices in order to remain competitive, and indeed often do. Hence, in order to put downward pressure on wages for low-income people, FTAs increase the supply of available workers by making it legal and profitable for businesses, corporations and even states to ship their work overseas to take advantage of cheaper foreign labour (Baker, 2006). This of course provides a way to increase profits for the owners and shareholders, but also pits Australian workers in competition against workers in places like India, the Philippines, China, and so on, where workers are willing to accept obscenely low wages. Consequently, the threat of losing their jobs to foreigners weakens workers’ ability to negotiate decent wages, forcing them to accept salaries that they might otherwise flatly reject and resort instead to forms of collective negotiating such as striking and unionising (Baker, 2006). Thus, undermining the ability of workers to unionise and strike is also often stressed in FTAs, as this reduces low-income people’s ability to meaningfully resist these attacks on their livelihoods (Baker, 2006).

This is also particularly important when FTAs include provisions to make it easier for foreigners to come and work in Australia, which is another way of increasing competition and putting downward pressure on low-income wages. Allowing foreigners to come to Australia is of course a totally reasonable thing to do, particularly if they’re asylum seekers and refugees, in which case, as signatories to the UN Refugee Convention, we’re in fact legally obliged to allow them to come – which, incidentally, makes Australia’s barbaric and racist treatment of refugees over the last 10-15 years utterly reprehensible. However, governments dedicate significant resources to racist and xenophobic campaigns designed to vilify and demonise ‘immigrants’ and ‘foreigners’ so that, rather than looking at the government-created FTAs which put downward pressure on low-income wages and thus undermine working people’s financial security, people are encouraged to racistly and prejudicially blame foreigners, however they come to Australia, for the attacks on wages that’re in fact launched by wealthy capitalists in the ruling class. This propaganda tactic is used here and elsewhere all over the world, and continues to be met with overwhelming success.

This is of course done because, if the foreigners came and instead joined unions and got involved in action to prevent attacks on wages, this would be counterproductive for wealthy elites who want to maximise their profits via endless and unsustainable ‘growth’ (Baker, 2006; Chang, 2009). Hence, this option has to be closed, which is why savage attacks on, and bitter propaganda campaigns against, unions have been and continue to be a mainstay of contemporary politics, dominated as it is, and in truth has always been, by the ruling class (Chomsky, 2005; Hobsbawm, 1962, 1994, 1996; Bartels, 2008). However, this, too, is another discussion in its own right, with different arguments to refute and solutions to propose, so for now I’ll leave it alone. Suffice it to say that, on the whole, this, in all its cynicism and turpitude, is the way that downward pressure is put on low-income wages.

The way that upward pressure is put on high-income wages is very simple: do the opposite to what you do to put downward pressure on low-income wages. People with high incomes, such as doctors, journalists, economists, university lecturers, etc. are protected by FTAs which ensure that the degree of competition they face from foreigners who share their occupations is as low as possible (Baker, 2006). An obvious example of this is the fact that many people who go to university overseas won’t have their credentials recognised in Australia, meaning that high-income people don’t have to compete with them (Baker, 2006). This is why you get examples of nuclear physicists driving taxis, doctors mopping floors, and so on. Limiting the supply of technical professionals means that their supply is lower than the demand for their services, increasing their value.

This strategy will typically be accompanied by some rhetoric suggesting that educational standards here are superior to those elsewhere, particularly in poorer countries, so the credentials that foreign professionals have simply aren’t valid (Baker, 2006). Setting aside the fact that this argument doesn’t withstand scrutiny when, for example, comparing the quality of scientists from different countries around the world – poor and rich alike – even if this argument were valid the problem could be easily fixed by establishing internationally-recognised tests to verify people’s qualification to do the jobs for which they’re trained (Baker, 2006). The fact that such options, straightforward and commonsensical as they are, either don’t exist or do exist but aren’t taken into account gives a clear indication of how weak this propaganda really is, and what reality truly lies behind its thin veil. Thus, the approach, broadly speaking, is very simple, but extremely effective.

The second objective of FTAs is to enable businesses in wealthy, powerful countries to crush their competitors in weaker, poorer nations in order to expand their international market share and thus increase their own profits (Baker, 2006; Chang, 2009; Hobsbawm, 1962, 1994, 1996). NAFTA provides an excellent example of how this works. Among other things, NAFTA allowed US agribusiness to more easily export its products to Mexican markets than had previously been the case. The argument behind this was that US agribusiness was far more developed, wealthy, sophisticated and better subsidised by the state than Mexican agribusiness, meaning that US agribusiness could provide superior products at lower cost, which would benefit Mexican consumers. This would also benefit US agribusiness, since it opened up greater access to markets and provided a greater level of potential profits than was previously possible. Hence, it was a win-win situation for everyone involved. However, as you’d expect, all isn’t as it seems, and when you descend beneath this propaganda the situation’s much more cynical and pernicious than advocates of NAFTA, and of FTAs more generally, would suggest.

In reality, this enabled US agribusiness to flood markets such as Mexico with their products. While it’s true that these products were of better quality and lower cost than Mexican products, this meant that, although Mexican consumers could save some money by purchasing US goods, Mexican agribusiness was put under increasing pressure, since it couldn’t compete on an even playing field. This meant that Mexican agribusinesses could be weakened and even forced into insolvency, with serious negative consequences for the people who’d been employed in this industry and the ones relevant for it, including, for example, people involved in transporting, storing and selling Mexican products in their own domestic markets (Baker, 2006; Chang, 2009; Stiglitz, 2002). Overall, the significant damage done to Mexico due to this arrangement was far greater than the benefits it received by having cheap US agricultural products to purchase.

This is the standard way in which powerful countries impose FTAs, knowing full well that the businesses in the poorer countries can’t compete on a level playing field, in order to provide their own companies with the opportunity to crush competitors in other nations and seize a share of the market for themselves. Further, once the domestic industries have been sufficiently crushed, and thus opposition to US agribusiness, for example, is too weak to seriously compete, American corporations can ratchet up the prices of US goods and services with total impunity in order to further increase the profits they can generate, and consumers in, say, Mexico have little they can do about it other than suffer and complain in dismal neglect. This is because FTAs typically include rules that states can’t intervene to control prices, usually argued under the cynical guise of fairness by not interfering with ‘free trade’ and the ‘laws of the free market’, which means that the much more powerful American businesses and corporations can’t be held to account (Baker, 2006; Chang, 2009). Thus, FTAs are designed to take advantage of the fact that industries in powerful countries tend to be too much for industries in poorer countries to compete with, and therefore devise rules which seem fair on the level of propaganda, but in reality automatically give a deep advantage to wealthy countries and their better-developed, more mature domestic industries. NAFTA is an example involving the US, but the same is true for any powerful state which imposes FTAs on weaker nations.

You might ask why Mexico would possibly accept such a deal if it was going to have such detrimental consequences. The answer is simple – it doesn’t have much of a choice. Especially in situations like Mexico and the US, where a poorer country depends on trade with, and aid from, a wealthier one, the fact is that weak countries aren’t in much of a position to dictate the terms of trade, and must accept deals that they know are unfair. As Thucydides said roughly 2,500 years ago, “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” Clearly, the reality of power hasn’t changed much, and what is true for Mexico and the US with NAFTA is essentially true for powerful and weak nations in general. That covers the two objectives that truly lie at the heart of FTAs and how they are meant to achieve them. The next section explains what drives governments to pursue this agenda.

Why do governments make FTAs and lie about their actual goals?

The answer to this is simple, and was even touched on briefly above. In any political system like ours, where political parties depend on capital to survive, the greatest amount of political influence is automatically given to the people who have the greatest access to and control over capital. In the past, this would have meant monarchies and the aristocracy more generally. At present, this means wealthy and powerful elites, typically prominent and influential members of the business community. The mechanisms by which they shape and influence government policies is a longer and more complicated discussion than we’ll get into at present. For now, however, it’s enough to point out that, due to the fact that the wealthy are expected to have the most political influence, it’s no surprise that policies such as FTAs, which heavily favour the rich and undermine everyone else, particularly the poor, are enthusiastically pursued in Australia by both the Coalition and the ALP, despite the known and easily-predicted negative consequences they’ll bring upon everyone except the rich.

There’s more to this that a more in-depth discussion would elucidate, but the fundamental question that needs to be answered is this – to what degree are the politicians responsible for FTAs cynical liars, and to what degree are they simply ignorant ideologues? It’s hard to say for sure, and the answer would most likely vary from politician to politician, but in general, at least at the party level, it’s probably a bit of both (Baker, 2006; Chang, 2009; Hobsbawm, 1962, 1994, 1996). For now, setting aside any long analysis of that question, this is probably the best answer we’re going to get, though there’s certainly more to this question that ought to be considered, such as the role that educational institutions and corporate media play in promoting commitment to ideologies such as ‘free trade’ and ‘growth’ (Herman & Chomsky, 1988). These are important considerations, but for now are beyond the scope of this post and have to be left alone. Hence, in summary, governments and politicians make FTAs and lie about their actual goals because it’s in the interests of the wealthy people in society who have real political power and influence (Gilens & Page, 2014; Hobsbawm, 1962, 1994, 1996).

What was AUSFTA and what did it mean for Australia?

To finish this post, we’ll have a brief look at AUSFTA and what consequences it engendered for Australia compared to the US. In the previous example above with NAFTA, the US was the powerful country imposing itself on Mexico. In this example, the US remains the powerful country, though now against Australia, no doubt a weaker country, but one significantly stronger than Mexico. It’s interesting to note that the same relationship between exploiter and exploited remains, but that the consequences of a FTA with the US were not as dire for Australia as they were for Mexico. The information below comes directly from an online article about the AUSFTA, which can be found here. It goes through the history, details and consequences of the AUSFTA, and what follows below is an excerpt from the article, which can be found under the heading “Some impacts of the AUSFTA”. These consequences are meant to capture the fact FTAs are the savage tools that this post has tried to show that they are. Hopefully the following substantiates that.

  1. Australian domestic sugar prices will rise by 13 per cent,[6]while prices to the consumer in the USA will fall.
  2. Australian agriculture would be subjected to potential takeover by US-based agribusiness companies and a systemic challenge to the less intensive farming methods in Australia.
  3. Genetically modified crops will be introduced progressively over the next few years following on from the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator’s approval of GM canola on 25 July 2003. To refuse to grow GM crops could be considered a trade barrier under the rules of the WTO.
  4. The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) is under threat because US drug manufacturers regard the PBS as a trade barrier. The cost of prescriptions for non-concession cardholders could rise from $23.10 on average to a whopping $64.[7]
  5. Women will bear the brunt of free trade especially as care-givers, as cleaners and caterers in hospitals, as teachers and social service providers in the community. In the UK six out of ten of the health workers in the National Health Scheme (NHS) are women; while eight out of ten of the non-medical staff – administrators, clerical staff, cleaners, caterers – are women.[8]Australia’s health system has similar trends.
  6. The cost of higher education will rise. Access to education for women returning to study, for people on low incomes, and for Indigenous peoples will be increasingly more difficult while an excess of ‘choices’ will be available to those with the resources to pay for education.[9]
  7. Indigenous ownership of knowledge of biological resources will be threatened even more than it is now. US-based companies with bioprospecting interests and US-style patents will create profits for US corporations while simultaneously further dispossessing Indigenous peoples. The US National Cancer Institute, the Western Australian state government and the Australian Medical and Research Development Corporation (AMRAD) have been involved in commercialising the Western Australia smokebush.[10]Merck Sharpe and Dohme is among the companies with whom they have entered into exploratory contracts. Merck is a ‘recent new member’ of the American-Australian Free Trade Agreement Coalition (AAFTAC).
  8. Australian intellectual property in the arts and culture industries is under threat even if Australia accepts the USA’s standstill position. Such a position means that Australia loses the possibility of setting its own funding agendas according to the needs of the day. Australian content quotas, however, are regarded as a trade barrier.[11]
  9. The weightless economy, an economy based on the appropriation of intellectual property rights, such as patents and copyrights, will be opened up to US entertainment moguls who will buy up cheaply produced great ideas and inventive artistic, scientific or industrial products and sell them at greatest profit to themselves.
  10. Water and other utility services will be increasingly privatised, compromising water quality and the maintenance of utility infrastructures.[12]With the world’s three largest water companies coming out of Europe – Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux and Vivendi Environment both based in France and Britain’s Thames Water owned by German company RWE AG – the battle between the US dollar and the Euro will be fought through Australia’s water utilities.[13] The person needing a free glass of water might not be able to find a place willing to serve it.
  11. Detention centres will become an increasingly lucrative area of investment for US-based correctional services companies. George Wackenhut, owner of Correctional Management Australia who has run Woomera Detention Centre, has been accused of transporting ‘raw materials for chemical weapons to Iraq’.[14]Stricter border controls for people go hand in hand with borderlessness for capital.
  12. Australia’s military security will be increasingly in the hands of the USA. The combination of security issues being tied to trade is a new direction for federal government policy. In a world where the USA is by far the largest military power, intelligence has a high priority and Australia’s location at the base of a potentially volatile part of the world remains crucially important.
  13. USAID in April 2003 was offering web conferences to Australian companies on issues such as ‘primary and secondary education service opportunities ä electricity and water systems ä public health ä local governance ä and seaport and airport administration’.[15]
  14. Finally, the Australian constitution allows, under the foreign affairs power, the Commonwealth parliament to pass laws consistent with a particular treaty – in this case the AUSFTA – which over-rides state powers otherwise protected b y the Australian constitution. One impact of this would be the potential for an agreement resembling the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) to be brought in. Such laws could threaten many state-based public services because under the MAI companies can sue for loss of future profits in the event of a trade barrier including such socially beneficial barriers as environmental safeguards, banning of carcinogenic substances, or the non-provision of subsidies for foreign companies on an equal footing.[16]

Indeed, it’s interesting to read this list, compiled in 2003, and to see that many of its predictions have since been proven correct. I thoroughly encourage anyone interested in the details of the AUSFTA to read the article for themselves, which also discusses the role that imperialist wars, like the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, play in promoting the economic agendas of powerful states and the elites who control them. Otherwise, we’ve reached the end of this post. The point of this post was to expose and dismantle the propaganda around FTAs and to show them for what they really are – tools of domination and repression in the hands of presiding economic elites – so that people understand how they ought to regard FTAs and what they therefore ought to do about them. Hopefully it’s achieved these goals. If anyone would like to know more about them, the books included in the reference list below are excellent sources, particularly Dean Baker’s (2006) short book titled “The Conservative Nany State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer”. It also contains other works relevant to FTAs in general but not specifically about them, mostly because they focus on economics, history and politics more generally, and only mention FTAs in that broader context. Thank you for your time and I hope this post was helpful.

References

Alperovitz, G. (2011). America Beyond Capitalism. Takoma Park: Democracy Collaborative Press.

Alperovitz, G. (2013). What Then Must We Do? White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing.

Baker, D. (2006). The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer (1st ed.). Washington, DC: Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Bartels, L. M. (2008). Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Chang, H.-J. (2009). Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism (1st ed.). New York: Bloomsbury Press.

Chang, H.-J. (2011). 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. London: Penguin Books.

Chang, H.-J. (2014). Economics: The User’s Guide. London: Penguin Group.

Chomsky, N. (2005). Government in the Future. New York: Seven Stories Press.

Gilens, M., & Page, B. I. (2014). Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens. Perspectives on Politics, 12(3), 564-581.

Herman, E. S., & Chomsky, N. (1988). Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (Updated ed. of 1st ed.). New York: Pantheon Books.

Hobsbawm, E. (1962). The Age of Revolution. London: Abacus.

Hobsbawm, E. (1994). The Age of Empire. London: Abacus.

Hobsbawm, E. (1996). The Age of Capital. New York: Vintage Books.

Stiglitz, J. (2002). Globalization and its Discontents. London: Penguin Books.

Stiglitz, J. E. (2013). The Price of Inequality. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

The Israel-Palestine Conflict and the true meaning of ‘security’

Governments are not representative. They have their own power, serving segments of the population that are dominant and rich.

– Noam Chomsky

States are not moral agents, people are, and can impose moral standards on powerful institutions.

– Noam Chomsky

It is the absolute right of the state to supervise the formation of public opinion.

– Joseph Goebbels

The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.

– Sir Winston Churchill

You may deceive all the people part of the time, and part of the people all the time, but not all the people all the time.

– Abraham Lincoln

Security’s a term which is bandied about a lot. While security’s important, it has at least two definitions. The one that people are familiar with and you can find in any dictionary, and the one used to describe what ‘security’ means in political discourse. Civil liberties, the core of any free and decent life, are typically counterposed against security needs. Therefore, what security means, and what consequences this meaning entails, are extremely important to understand. This post uses the Israel-Palestine Conflict as a case study to identify the meaning of security and flesh out the ramifications involved. This will hopefully have instructive conclusions for how populations should regard states and, as a result, what actions they should therefore pursue.

Security means protection for, and advancement of, the interests of whoever has the means to influence and utilise states, or equivalent entities. Therefore, this primarily means elite interests, and peripheral, secondary care for the interests of everyone else, with level of attention being more or less commensurate with socioeconomic status. Other elements come into play, such as racism and sexism, but they’re subordinate to the preeminence of material resources and the political power they provide for those who possess them. Indeed, elites often create, or at least take advantage of and manipulate, racist and sexist tendencies in order to meet their own essentially financial objectives. The Israel-Palestine Conflict’s an excellent example of this. The following discusses the history of the conflict, and analyses what so-called ‘security’ means for the three primary actors involved: the US, Israel and the Palestinians.

In the late 19th century, Zionist Jews, mainly from Eastern Europe, began to settle in Palestine with the vision of establishing an exclusively Jewish state in Eretz (Greater) Israel (Pappe, 2006, pp. 10, 282; Finkelstein, 2003, pp. 10-20). By today’s geography, this vision included Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Transjordan (Jordan), though it typically no longer includes Jordan (Finkelstein, 2003, pp. 10-20). Their numbers and lands were small compared to the indigenous Palestinians, making up only 6% of the population in Palestine in 1914 and 16% in 1928, by which time they owned 4% of the land (Pappe, 2006, pp. 282-83). As an early point, it’s worth noting the fact that, in 1947, the Zionists won a state comprising roughly 56% of a region in which they had existed for less than 70 years, were still a minority, and owned a mere 5.8% of the land (Pappe, 2006, pp. 34-5). This illustrates the political favour which the Zionists had curried with the world’s great powers, most significantly Britain, which supports the meaning of security put forward in this post. Not to mention that this was despite the fact that Britain’s own Peel Commission recommended in 1937 that just 33% of Palestine be assigned for a future Jewish state, from which, incidentally, indigenous Palestinians would need to be removed (Pappe, 2006, pp. 284).

Perhaps even more interesting, the US King-Crane Commission noted in 1919 that, although it had “a deep sense of sympathy for the Jewish cause,” to impose a Jewish state on the Palestinian people “would be a gross violation of the principle [of self-determination], and of the people’s rights, though it kept within the forms of law” (Chomsky, 1983, p. 91). Consequently, it recommended that Jewish immigration be limited and the goal of a Jewish state be abandoned (Chomsky, 1983, p. 91). Nevertheless, as British Secretary of State, Lord Arthur Balfour, author of the Balfour Declaration, put it in 1919:

The four great powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land (Chomsky, 1983, p. 90).

Clearly, since they didn’t have the means to influence British policy, the present needs and future hopes of the Palestinians were of little moment against the Zionists. Unsurprisingly, the King-Crane Commission’s conclusion was “disregarded by the great powers, including the US” (Chomsky, 1983, p. 91). This demonstrates that security means serving the interests of those with the ability to influence states, often with scant or no regard for law, morality or justice.

To further substantiate the meaning of security proposed in this post, it’s useful to look at the period 1917-47 to see what the Palestinians and Zionists were doing, and compare how Britain responded to each group’s actions. Indeed, Britain’s responses throughout the period are very telling. Palestinians vociferously protested large-scale Jewish migration to Palestine. Both were engaged in terrorism. In 1931, Zionists formed the Irgun, a terrorist paramilitary organisation founded to support more militancy against Arabs. In 1938, its bombings killed 119 Palestinians. That same year, Palestinian bombs and mines killed 8 Jews. Subsequently, Britain deployed military reinforcements to quell the Palestinian rebellion protesting mass Jewish migration and Britain’s complicity in the events.

Further, as mentioned, the 1937 Peel Commission recommended partitioning Palestine into two states after Britain abandoned proposals for a bi-national state when the Zionists opposed them. That same year, Britain dissolved all Palestinian political organisations. In 1939, Britain approved a White Paper which planned conditional independence for Palestine after 10 years and the immigration of 75,000 more Jews over the next 5 years. And, fatefully, in 1947, being weary and bankrupt after WWII, Britain declared its withdrawal from Palestine, knowingly leaving an enormous power vacuum which resulted in the 1947 UN Partition Plan, in which Zionists received a share of Palestinian lands wildly disproportionate to their population. When you compare the treatment that each group received from Britain, it’s clear that the ability to influence politics was decisive, not justice or law.

This same reality has defined the Israel-Palestine Conflict since 1967-70, with the US replacing Britain as the hegemon providing the support Israel needs to carry out its designs (Chomsky, 2003, p. 161). During 1947-67, however, Israel continued somewhat without the powerful ally to which it’d so far been accustomed. In fact, in this period, the US had, at times, a tenuous, frosty, and even hostile relationship with Israel (Chomsky, 1983, pp. 20-3). For example, in the Suez Crisis in 1956 the US ordered Britain, France and Israel to stop as they invaded Egypt to attack the Suez Canal. However, it must be noted that even prior to 1967, Israel still “received the highest per capita aid from the U.S. of any country”, though this can’t compare to the tremendous, essentially unwavering and consistently increasing support that Israel’s received from the US since 1967-70 (Chomsky, 1983, pp. 9-12). Largely due to this support, Israel’s developed the world’s fourth most powerful military, an advanced industrial economy, and very successfully waged wars and smaller military offensives against its neighbours, including Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, as well, of course, as ongoing domination and subordination of the Palestinians (Chomsky, 1983, pp. 9-10). These include the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the First Lebanon War in 1982, and smaller military incursions into Gaza: Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9, Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, and Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

To understand why US foreign policy on Israel shifted during 1967-70, we’ll analyse what security means for the US. First, we’ll identify what motivates US foreign policy, why this motivates it, and what this means for US foreign policy on Israel-Palestine. Second, we’ll look at why the US-Israeli relationship became what it is today during 1967-70. This covers two key events which illustrate that the meaning of security in contemporary global politics is indeed as this post proposes.

Mearsheimer and Walt (2006) point out that the US-Israeli relationship is unusual, since it’s not based on a compelling moral case for supporting Israel and doesn’t greatly benefit US strategic interests (p. 2). Indeed, oftentimes it’s detrimental to stated US interests and objectives – and yet:

For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centerpiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel…Since the October War in 1973, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing that given to any other state. It has been the largest annual recipient of direct economic and military aid since 1976, and is the largest recipient in total since World War Two, to the tune of well over $140 billion…This largesse is especially striking since Israel is now a wealthy industrial state…Washington also provides Israel with consistent diplomatic support. Since 1982, the US has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, more than the total number of vetoes cast by all other Security Council members. It blocks the efforts of Arab states to put Israel’s nuclear arsenal on the IAEA’s agenda. The US comes to the rescue in wartime and takes Israel’s side when negotiating peace…One American participant at Camp David in 2000 later said: ‘Far too often, we functioned…as Israel’s lawyer’…This extraordinary generosity might be understandable if Israel were a vital strategic asset or if there were a compelling moral case for US backing. But neither explanation is convincing (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2006, pp. 1-2).

Why are the strategic asset and moral explanations not convincing? As a strategic asset, Israel’s often costly, burdensome and even counterproductive for the US. During the October War in 1973, $2.2 billion in emergency military aid given to Israel triggered an Opec oil embargo which damaged Western economies. This support wasn’t cheap, even for the US, and yet, ironically, Israel was still unable to protect US interests in the region, as the US couldn’t rely on it when the Iranian Revolution in 1979 threatened the security of Middle East oil supplies, having to resort to its own Rapid Deployment Force. Further, Israel couldn’t participate in the Gulf War in 1990 or the 2003 invasion of Iraq, despite having the world’s fourth most powerful military, being eager to be involved, and being a close US ally, since its participation would’ve jeopardised the anti-Iraq coalitions the US had developed.

Nor does Israel help to prevent terrorism. Indeed, Israel’s actions generate terrorists who pose threats to the US and other states around the world. In fact, “saying that Israel and the US are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: the US has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around” (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2006, p. 3). This equally applies to the so-called rogue states in the Middle East, since “they are not a dire threat to US interests, except inasmuch as they are a threat to Israel” (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2006, p. 3). Indeed, “even if these states acquire nuclear weapons…neither America nor Israel could be blackmailed, because the blackmailer could not carry out the threat without suffering overwhelming retaliation” (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2006, p. 3). To make things worse, “[Israel] does not behave as a loyal ally. Israeli officials frequently ignore US requests and renege on promises (including pledges to stop building settlements and to refrain from ‘targeted assassinations’ of Palestinian leaders)” (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2006, p. 3). Plainly, the strategic asset case has many weaknesses.

As for the moral case for supporting Israel, some argue that, because of the unique suffering of the Jewish people throughout history, the US, as the world’s supreme economic and military power, ought to support and protect Israel. However, whatever one thinks about the claim that Jews have uniquely suffered more than any other people, the creation of Israel “brought about fresh crimes against a largely innocent third party: the Palestinians” (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2006, p. 5). Indeed, even David Ben-Gurion admitted that:

If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country…we come from Israel, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that? (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2006, p. 5).

Therefore, the moral case for supporting Israel holds no water.

The question then becomes, if these reasons don’t explain why the US supports Israel, what does? Mearsheimer and Walt argue that “the explanation is the unmatched power of the Israel Lobby…the loose coalition of individuals and organisations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction” (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2006, p. 6). This argument has some merit (Chomsky, 2007, p. 229). However, it mistakenly embellishes the power of the Lobby because it fundamentally misunderstands the nature of so-called ‘US democracy’ (Chomsky, 2007, p. 229-30). If you assume the US is a functioning democracy in which the people decide what policies their state pursues, and yet the US’s foreign policies largely threaten the people’s interests and security, it’s reasonable to deduce that the democratic process must be being manipulated and undermined by some abnormal and powerful force. This reasoning led Mearsheimer and Walt to the Israel Lobby, but this isn’t a novel argument (Chomsky, 1983, p. 13). Indeed, many other people have drawn the same conclusion for more than 30 years, and have all succumbed to the same illusions as Mearsheimer and Walt (Chomsky, 1983, p. 13).

The genuine answer lies in the reality of so-called ‘US democracy’. Despite pronouncements of being the leader of the free world and a paragon of functioning democracy, the US is anything but. In political systems with parties which depend on capital to survive, the people with the greatest access to capital will always have the most political influence – the elites (Baker, 2006, p. v; Chang, 2009, pp. 31-7). Since this is true of the US, and its business community’s exceptionally wealthy and entrenched, this translates to elites with considerable political power, which in turn disenfranchises the majority of the American population (Baker, 2006, p. v; Chang, 2009, pp. 31-7; Herman & Chomsky, 1988). This is what Gilens and Page (2014) found when they analysed American ‘democracy’. They found that the US is best characterised by Economic Elite Domination and Biased Pluralism, both of which involve elites having disproportionate political power that excludes and marginalises the majority of the population (Gilens & Page, 2014, p. 2). Indeed, “economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence” (Gilens & Page, 2014, p. 2). The referent object for the US is therefore the privileged interests of the American business community, not the people or the state, which is merely a tool in the hands of the elites.

Tying this back to the Israel-Palestine Conflict, the key point is that supporting Israel is in the interests of the elites. For example:

A State Department analysis of 1945 described Saudi Arabia as “…a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” The U.S. was committed to win and keep this prize. Since World War II, it has been virtually an axiom of U.S. foreign policy that these energy reserves should remain under U.S. control. A more recent variant of the same theme is that the flow of petrodollars should be largely funneled to the U.S. through military purchases, construction projects, bank deposits, investment in Treasury securities, etc. It has been necessary to defend this primary interest against various threats (Chomsky, 1983, p. 17).

The material prize, which has since extended from Saudi Arabia to mean Middle East oil reserves more generally, therefore serves the interests of the American business community through revenue for US corporations and strategic power by which the state, animated by elite interests, can force the rest of the world to follow Washington’s orders if it wants access to Middle East oil. That’s the true reason behind US foreign policy on Israel: it acts as a regional Sparta enforcing US control of Middle East oil, and receives support to carry out, and as thanks for, its services. The US was convinced that Israel could play this role during 1967-70, which is why the US and Israel developed, and have since maintained, such a special relationship.

So what happened during 1967-70? On two occasions, Israel displayed its military capabilities and convinced the US that it could act as a regional Sparta enforcing American foreign policy. There’s an important background to these events. Chomsky (1983) points out that independent, secular Arab nationalism is a threat to US control of the Middle East and its oil reserves, since the indigenous people, if given the chance to exert their will democratically, might prefer that they benefit from their own resources, rather than American corporations (pp. 20-1). Incidentally, the US has to subvert democracy in the Middle East and support friendly dictators and monarchs who cooperate with its policies. For example, this is why the US supported Saddam Hussein in Iraq, installed the Shah in Iran, and has long supported the Hashemite Monarchy in Jordan and the King of Saudi Arabia. In this context, the events in 1967 and 1970, to which we now return, explain why the US chose to forge such remarkable and enduring ties with Israel.

In 1967, Nasser in Egypt was the world’s main source of secular Arab nationalism (Chomsky, 1983, pp. 20-1). The potential spread of Nasserite Arab nationalism, especially to the Gulf oil-producing states, was a threat to US interests in the Middle East, against which Israel was seen as a buffer (Chomsky, 1983, pp. 20-1). At the same time, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, perhaps the US’s most valuable ally in the region, were engaged in a proxy war in Yemen (Chomsky, 2007). Thus, when Israel attacked Egypt during the Six-Day War in 1967, it blocked the spread of Arab nationalism and damaged an enemy of Saudi Arabia (Chomsky, 2007). This was an enormous service to Washington. In 1970, Jordan was massacring Palestinians in the West Bank during so-called Black September. For a time, it seemed as though Syria might intervene against Jordan and come to the Palestinians’ defense (Chomsky, 2007). The US was mired in Indochina and couldn’t personally support its Jordanian ally, but, at Washington’s behest, Israel mobilised and Syria backed down (Chomsky, 2007). Again, this won Israel major favour in the halls of American power.

Henceforth, Israel received the lion’s share of US economic and military aid, as well as unparalleled diplomatic support at the UN and passionate ideological support from US media throughout their broad sphere of influence. Since US interests remain the same and Israel remains willing – often enthusiastic – to be America’s private Sparta, the US-Israeli relationship has continued to grow and deepen along those lines up to the present. Thus, the critical factor at play is the ability to gain support from the elites who truly wield American power, as was the case with Britain before the US. Plainly, the particular hegemon involved isn’t important, since the meaning of security and the resulting power relations are exactly the same regardless.

While US interests are therefore the decisive force behind the Israel-Palestine Conflict, the interests that motivate Israel and the Palestinians are also worth looking at, since they further corroborate the meaning of security proposed in this post. Israel’s interests are the same ones which Zionist settlers first began to pursue in the late 19th century – an exclusively Jewish state in all of Eretz Israel, from which the indigenous Palestinians must be somehow removed (Finkelstein, 2003, pp. 16-7). Chomsky (2010) substantiates that this is, and always was, Israel’s ambition:

[Israel’s illegal policies of occupying, settling and annexing Palestinian lands, which have] roots in the pre-state period, trace back to the earliest days of the occupation, when the basic idea was formulated poetically by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, who was in charge of the occupied territories: “the situation today resembles the complex relationship between a Bedouin man and the girl he kidnaps against her will…You Palestinians, as a nation, don’t want us today, but we’ll change your attitude by forcing our presence on you.” You will “live like dogs, and whoever will leave, will leave,” while we take what we want (p. 103).

This involves ongoing illegal settlement building in the West Bank and periodic incursions into Gaza which are euphemistically referred to in Israel as ‘mowing the lawn’. Israel’s referent object is therefore Eretz Israel, not the population or the state, both of which are, in fact, needlessly endangered by pursuing this lasting objective when Israel could easily have accepted a two-state settlement with the Palestinians along the internationally recognised pre-June 1967 border anytime since at least 1976 (Chomsky, 1983, p. 67; Hari, 2010). However, because there’s enough money bound up in Israel’s ongoing militancy, this continues to be the referent object and the great interest that shapes the imperatives of Israel and the US (Honig-Parnass & Haddad, 2007, pp. 123-7).

Meanwhile, the Palestinians either suffer in obscurity and neglect, or increasingly resort to radical Islam and terrorism for solace, revenge and to try to make political gains, just as Nelson Mandela and his African National Congress did against the brutal and intransigent South African apartheid regime. Therefore, the referent object for the Palestinians is their rightful land, as defined by UN Resolution 242, which both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority publicly recognise as the border for a Palestinian state in a two-state solution with Israel (Pappe & Chomsky, 2008). However, since they don’t have anything to offer the American or Israeli elites who shape their states’ policies, the US remains committed to Israel and Israel remains committed to gradually annexing all Palestinian lands (Finkelstein, 2003, pp. 16-20).

Thus, as a case study, the Israel-Palestine Conflict unambiguously demonstrates that the meaning of security in contemporary global politics is protection for, and advancement of, the interests of whoever has the means to influence and utilise states, or equivalent entities. If we reflect on this conclusion, it has important messages for how we ought to regard the states which presume to act on behalf of the populations from whom they derive legitimacy (at least in the supposedly democratic West), and what actions that regard might therefore justifiably entail.

References

Baker, D., 2006. The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer. 1st ed. Washington, DC: Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Chang, H.-J., 2009. Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. 1st ed. New York: Bloomsbury Press.

Chomsky, N., 1983. Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & the Palestinians. 2nd ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: South End Press.

Chomsky, N., 2007. Beware of State Power [Interview] (1 April 2007).

Finkelstein, N., 2003. Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict. 2nd ed. London: Verso.

Gilens, M. & Page, B. I., 2014. Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens. Perspectives on Politics, 12(3), pp. 564-581.

Hari, J., 2010. Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?. [Online]
Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/is-gideon-levy-the-most-hated-man-in-israel-or-just-the-most-heroic-2087909.html

Herman, E. S. & Chomsky, N., 1988. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Updated ed. of 1st ed. New York: Pantheon Books.

Honig-Parnass, T. & Haddad, T. eds., 2007. Between the Lines: Readings on Israel, the Palestinians, and the U.S. “War on Terror”. Chicago: Haymarket Books.

Mearsheimer, J. J. & Walt, S. M., 2006. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. London Review of Books, 28(6), pp. 3-12.

Pappe, I., 2006. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. 1st ed. London: Oneworld.

Pappe, I. & Chomsky, N., 2008. On the Future of Israel and Palestine: An Interview With Ilan Pappe and Noam Chomsky [Interview] (6 June 2008).

The Reality of Israel-Palestine: Part 1

The US-Israeli Relationship

Holding up the supply of shiny new weapons is America’s traditional slap on Israel’s wrist. But an embargo is ineffective unless it is certain to last … Much more effective would be the belief in Israel that this time an American president will stick wit his policy, including if need be a lasting embargo on arms and a rethink of the extent of America’s aid.

 – The Economist, London, September 11, 1982, cited in Noam Chomsky’s “Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & the Palestinians”, p. 2

[Menachem Begin, Former Prime Minister of Israel, 1977-83] has shown that whatever protests this or that American administration might make against the expansion of Jewish settlement or the infringement of human rights, in the West Bank, he has been able to strengthen his grip on the area without any diminution of American aid. Indeed, he is even anticipating an increase … Indeed the American Government has been financing the very policies it denounces with such consistency that one doesn’t have to be an Arab to wonder if the denunciations are sincere.

 – Chaim Bermant, “Financial Influence”, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 19, 1982, cited in Noam Chomsky’s “Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & the Palestinians”, p.109

This post is the first installment of a three-part series that will describe and explain the history and current reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, and what marginal role Australia has played, and continues to play, in the enduring situation. The first installment, this current post, illustrates that the situation in Israel-Palestine is defined by Israel doing whatever it wants because it has the lasting and essentially unwavering support of the US, and has since 1967-70. It goes through the history and causes of the situation in detail to explain why Israel and the US have this special relationship, and why it has meant, and continues to mean, joint Israeli-US repression of, and terror against, the Palestinians. This post also shows how these actions are and have always been in flagrant violation of international law, UN resolutions and sometimes even US law.

The second installment applies the argument from the first post to several wars and conflicts in which Israel has been involved since its formal creation in 1947. In doing so, the post does two things. One, it talks about the propaganda and demagogic myths which surround the wars and conflicts of 1947-49, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, 1987 and 2000, and attempt to hide, transform or completely fabricate Israel’s involvement in the events. This lays out more of the history in closer detail and helps to dispel certain illusions under which people might otherwise be acting. Two, this provides evidence to support the argument from the first installment of the series which then enables us to draw a conclusion about its likely validity. Thus, the second installment expands on and reinforces the line of argument begun by the first.

The third installment of the series applies this broad discussion to a narrower area than the ones prior: Australia’s small, but telling, role in the history discussed in the previous two installments. This focuses solely on some of Australia’s recorded votes in the UN on topics to do with Israel-Palestine and uses these votes to further expound on how the US-Israeli relationship is able to proceed in the way it does despite being patently illegal and despicably heinous. This lends additional support to the argument which broadly connects the three installments and brings the series to a close.

I hope not to make these posts too cumbersome to read, but I won’t sacrifice necessary content for expediency. The things said may resonate with some, polarise others and leave the rest uncertain and/or indifferent. But I encourage everyone reading to read each post as a whole and then make up your mind rather than premeditatedly dismiss the arguments for being too alien or because of some other objection. With that, I’ll begin the first installment of my Israel-Palestine series: the US-Israeli relationship.

When you talk about the US-Israeli relationship from Israel’s creation in 1947 until now, you need to recognise that the relationship was very different during the periods before and after 1967-70. This fact and the circumstances surrounding it are key to understanding the US-Israeli relationship and what outcomes it produces. Therefore, the following covers the periods before and after 1967-70, and explains how and why the US-Israeli relationship has changed from 1947 to the present; what this has meant for the US and Israel; and, broadly speaking, what consequences the US-Israeli relationship has produced.

Below is an excerpt from Noam Chomsky’s (1983) “Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & The Palestinians,” which masterfully critiques the interwoven relationship between the US and Israel, and its consequences. The content is exactly the same, but I’ve slightly adjusted the footnoting and deleted the endnotes. If you’re interested, though, you can find the PDF version here. In terms of the PDF, the whole excerpt below comes from Chapter 2: The Origins of the “Special Relationship”, while specifically the first paragraph comes from pages 61-2, and the remainder comes from pages 66-9. Noam Chomsky is a world-renowned intellectual, linguist, activist, author and long-standing professor at MIT. Paul Robinson, writing for The New York Times, February 25, 1979, said that “Judged in terms of the power, range, novelty and influence of his thought, Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive today.” He is also ethnically Jewish, fluent in Hebrew, and, in 1953, lived for a short time on a kibbutz in Israel. Part of his towering account of the US-Israeli relationship now follows.

Despite the remarkable level of U.S. support for Israel, it would be an error to assume that Israel represents the major U.S. interest in the Middle East. Rather, the major interest lies in the energy reserves of the region, primarily in the Arabian peninsula. A State Department analysis of 1945 described Saudi Arabia as “…a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” The U.S. was committed to win and keep this prize. Since World War II, it has been virtually an axiom of U.S. foreign policy that these energy reserves should remain under U.S. control. A more recent variant of the same theme is that the flow of petrodollars should be largely funneled to the U.S. through military purchases, construction projects, bank deposits, investment in Treasury securities, etc. It has been necessary to defend this primary interest against various threats.

A third threat from which the region must be “defended” is the indigenous one: the threat of radical nationalism [independent secular nationalism]. It is in this context that the U.S.-Israel “special relationship” has matured. In the early 1950s, the U.S.-Israel relationship was decidedly uneasy, and it appeared for a time that Washington might cement closer relations with Egyptian President Nasser, who had some CIA support. These prospects appeared sufficiently worrisome so that Israel organized terrorist cells within Egypt to carry out attacks on U.S. installations (also on Egyptian public facilities) in an effort to drive a wedge between Egypt and the U.S.,[1] intending that these acts would be attributed to ultranationalist Egyptian fanatics.

From the late 1950s, however, the U.S. government increasingly came to accept the Israeli thesis that a powerful Israel is a “strategic asset” for the United States, serving as a barrier against indigenous radical nationalist threats to American interests, which might gain support from the USSR. A recently declassified National Security Council memorandum of 1958 noted that a “logical corollary” of opposition to radical Arab nationalism “would be to support Israel as the only strong pro-West power left in the Near East.” Meanwhile, Israel concluded a secret pact with Turkey, Iran and Ethiopia. According to David Ben-Gurion’s biographer, this “periphery pact” was encouraged by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and was “long-lasting.” Through the 1960s, American intelligence regarded Israel as a barrier to Nasserite pressure on the Gulf oil-producing states, a serious matter at the time, and to Russian influence. This conclusion was reinforced by Israel’s smashing victory in 1967, when Israel quickly conquered the Sinai, Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, the last, after violating the cease-fire in an operation ordered by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan without notifying the Prime Minister or Chief of Staff.

The Israeli thesis that Israel is a “strategic asset” was again confirmed by Israel’s moves to block Syrian efforts to support Palestinians being massacred by Jordan in September 1970, at a time when the U.S. was unable to intervene directly against what was perceived as a threat to U.S. clients in the Arab world. This contribution led to a substantial increase in U.S. aid. In the 1970s, U.S. analysts argued that Israel and Iran under the Shah served to protect U.S. control over the oil-producing regions of the Gulf. After the fall of the Shah, Israel’s role as a Middle East Sparta in the service of American power has evoked increasing American support.

At the same time, Israel aided the U.S. in penetrating Black Africa with substantial secret CIA subsidies—supporting Haile Selassie in Ethiopia, Idi Amin in Uganda, Mobutu in Zaire, Bokassa in the Central African Republic, and others at various times—as well as in circumventing the ban on aid to Rhodesia and South Africa,[2] and more recently, in providing military and technological aid, as well as many advisers, for U.S. clients in Central America. An increasingly visible alliance between Israel, South Africa, Taiwan and the military dictatorships of the southern cone in South America has also proven an attractive prospect for major segments of American power. Now, Israel is surely regarded as a crucial part of the elaborate U.S. base and backup system for the Rapid Deployment Force ringing the Middle East oil producing regions. These are highly important matters that deserve much more attention than I can give them here.

Had it not been for Israel’s perceived geopolitical role—primarily in the Middle East, but elsewhere as well—it is doubtful that the various pro-Israeli lobbies in the U.S. would have had much influence in policy formation, or that the climate of opinion deplored by Peled and other Israeli doves could have been constructed and maintained. Correspondingly, it will very likely erode if Israel comes to be seen as a threat rather than a support to the primary U.S. interest in the Middle East region, which is to maintain control over its energy reserves and the flow of petrodollars.

Support for the concept of Israel as a “strategic asset” has, then, been considerable among those who exercise real power in the U.S., and this position has regularly won out in internal policy debate, assisted, to some extent, by domestic political pressures.

But why exactly did the US-Israeli relationship become like it is now during 1967-70? Chomsky answers that too in an interview sourced from http://www.chomsky.info which you can find here. His explanation now follows below.

The US-Israeli relationship in its current form began in 1967. In 1967, Israel performed an enormous service for the US. It destroyed independent secular Arab nationalism, which was considered a major threat. The oldest and most valued US ally is Saudi Arabia — that is where most of the oil is and Saudi is probably the most extreme fundamentalist Islamic tyranny in the world and the main US ally. In fact, most of the time the US is supporting radical Islamists against secular nationalists.

The major centre of Arab nationalism was Nasser’s Egypt – Saudi Arabia and Egypt were fighting a proxy war in Yemen. Israel destroyed Nasser’s secular nationalism, and that’s a tremendous boost to US power. Nasser was considered a great threat and it was feared that Nasser might use the region’s resources for the benefit of its people, rather than to the benefit of the west, and at that point, the relationship was firmed up.

In 1970, something even more important happened. The Palestinians were becoming an organised, secular nationalist movement, which is frightening [to the US]. They were in confrontation with Jordan, a US- British ally. In fact, the Jordanian army was slaughtering [the Palestinians]. It looked briefly as if Syria might intervene to protect Palestinians and that was considered a major threat to the Hashemite monarchy and also to the gulf tyranny in Saudi and the others.

The US could not intervene at the time because it was tied up in Indochina. Israel – at US request – mobilised its forces and Syria had to back off. At that point, US aid to Israel quadrupled. That was essentially the end of secular nationalism in the Arab world. Since then Israel has become a major US strategic asset. It’s a western implant right at the periphery of the energy-producing region.

The US’ second closest ally is Turkey, another part of NATO in this case, but another kind of US base for the control of the energy producing regions and to protect the monarchies against their own populations. Israel has been an important part of that, but it has also provided all kinds of secondary services to the US, which follows from its relationship of dependency.

For example, when the US and Britain wanted to evade sanctions against South Africa as they did, one of the ways they did that was through Israel, which was pleased to have open connections with the apartheid state – they regarded themselves as in a similar situation. That even extends to Southeast Asia when Carter wanted to increase US support for Indonesian aggression in East Timor, which was slaughtering the population. There were congressional barriers, so the US couldn’t support Indonesia directly, so they got Israel to send US jets into Indonesia. In Central America, it’s all over the place. It’s a strategic alliance that has been very valuable to the US.

Okay, so that covers the US-Israeli relationship and why the US supports Israel so assiduously. But what support does Israel actually receive from its relationship with the US? It surely needs support if it’s to hold up its end of the bargain, but what exactly does that involve? To answer this, we again turn to Chomsky’s “Fateful Triangle”. In brief, Chomsky sums up US support for Israel on three levels: diplomatic, material and ideological. However, Chomsky assumes that people already understand that, despite whatever you might believe about the international balance of order, power and democracy, the US is the world’s supreme power.

As by far the world’s leading economic and military power since World War 2, and as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, which accords the US veto power over any Security Council Resolutions it doesn’t like, the US is virtually not bound by anything. It obeys the laws which suit it, disregards whatever institutions it doesn’t like, and does whatever it wants because, as the world’s great power, the US doesn’t have anything which can hold it to account, other than its domestic population. However, if you’ve seen my posts on the origin and evolution of classes and class warfare and ‘manufacturing consent’ and the nature of society, you’ll know that states such as the US propagandise their population so that they’re confused and therefore passive, apathetic and obedient in the face of the state’s awesome power and injustices. This way, the US removes the public as the one obstacle to its imperial global domination and then proceeds as it likes.

Thus, with no one and nothing that can hold the US to account, it acts however it chooses. Since 1967-70, that’s included supporting Israel as a client state which enforces the US’s will and protects its interests in the Middle East, which basically comes down to control of Middle East oil reserves as a source of colossal revenue for the state and US corporations, and a kind of leverage by which to force other states to follow Washington’s orders. As the godfather of the world, the US has no boundaries but what the currently propagandised American public can impose upon it, meaning that right now no boundaries exist.

Fully discussing and proving this point is in itself a long discussion we can’t get into now, but if you’d like to read more about it then “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media” by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky gives an excellent analysis and abundant proof of how states use propaganda to do whatever they please and get away with it. For now, though, with the global hegemony of the US established and its consequences laid out, I’ll return to the excerpt from Chomsky’s “Fateful Triangle”, Chapter 2, pages 48-53, which detail the US support that enables Israel to be the regional enforcer which, since 1967-70, it’s been able, obliged and willing to be thanks to its relationship with the US.

The relationship between the United States and Israel has been a curious one in world affairs and in American culture. Its unique character is symbolized by recent votes at the United Nations. For example, on June 26, 1982 the United States stood alone in vetoing a UN Security Council resolution calling for simultaneous withdrawal of Israeli and Palestinian armed forces from Beirut, on the grounds that this plan “was a transparent attempt to preserve the P.L.O. as a viable political force,” evidently an intolerable prospect for the U.S. government. A few hours later, the U.S. and Israel voted against a General Assembly resolution calling for an end to hostilities in Lebanon and on the Israel-Lebanon border, passed with two “nays” and no abstentions. Earlier, the U.S. had vetoed an otherwise unanimous Security Council resolution condemning Israel for ignoring the earlier demand for withdrawal of Israeli troops. The pattern has, in fact, been a persistent one.

More concretely, the special relationship is expressed in the level of U.S. military and economic aid to Israel over many years. Its exact scale is unknown, since much is concealed in various ways. Prior to 1967, before the “special relationship” had matured, Israel received the highest per capita aid from the U.S. of any country. Commenting on the fact, Harvard Middle East specialist Nadav Safran also notes that this amounts to a substantial part of the unprecedented capital transfer to Israel from abroad that constitutes virtually the whole of Israel’s investment—one reason why Israel’s economic progress offers no meaningful model for underdeveloped countries. It is possible that recent aid amounts to something like $1000 per year for each citizen of Israel when all factors are taken into account. Even the public figures are astounding.[3] For fiscal years 1978 through 1982, Israel received 48% of all U.S. military aid and 35% of U.S. economic aid, worldwide. For FY 1983, the Reagan administration requested almost $2.5 billion for Israel out of a total aid budget of $8.1 billion, including $500 million in outright grants and $1.2 billion in low-interest loans.

In addition, there is a regular pattern of forgiving loans, offering weapons at special discount prices, and a variety of other devices, not to mention the tax deductible “charitable” contributions (in effect, an imposed tax), used in ways to which we return. Not content with this level of assistance from the American taxpayer, one of the Senate’s most prominent liberal Democrats, Alan Cranston of California, “proposed an amendment to the foreign aid bill to establish the principle that American economic assistance to Israel would not be less than the amount of debt Israel repays to the United States,” a commitment to cover “all Israeli debts and future debts,” as Senator Charles Percy commented.

This was before the Lebanon war. The actual vote on foreign aid came after the invasion of Lebanon, after the destruction of much of southern Lebanon, the merciless siege and bombardment of Beirut, the September massacres, and Israel’s rapid expansion of settlement in the occupied territories in response to Reagan’s plea to suspend settlement in accord with his peace proposals, which Israel rejected. In the light of these events, the only issue arising in Congress was whether to “punish” Israel by accepting the President’s proposal for a substantial increase in the already phenomenal level of aid—what is called taking “a get-tough approach with Israel”—or to take a softer line by adding even more to the increases that the President requested, as the Senate and most liberals demanded. Fortunately, the press was sufficiently disciplined so that the comic aspects of this characteristic performance were suppressed. The consequences of this message of approval to Israel for its recent actions on the part of the President and Congress are not at all comic, needless to say.

It should be noted that in theory there are restrictions on the use of American aid (e.g., cluster bombs can be used only in self-defense; development funds cannot be spent beyond Israel’s recognized—i.e., pre-June 1967—borders). But care has been taken to ensure that these restrictions will not be invoked, though the illegal use of weapons occasionally elicits a reprimand or temporary cut-off of shipments when the consequences receive too much publicity. As for the ban on use of U.S. funds for the settlement and development programs that the U.S. has officially regarded as illegal and as a barrier to peace (i.e., beyond the pre-June 1967 borders), this has never been enforced, and the aid program is designed so that it cannot be enforced: “in contrast to most other aid relationships, the projects we fund in Israel are not specified,” Ian Lustick observes, and no official of the State Department or the aid program has “ever been assigned to supervise the use of our funds by the Israeli government.”

For comparison, one may consider the U.S. aid program to Egypt (the largest recipient of non-military U.S. aid since Camp David), which is run by an office of 125 people who supervise it in meticulous detail. Many knowledgeable Egyptians have been highly critical of the aid program, alleging that it reflects American rather than Egyptian priorities, financing U.S. imports which must be brought on American ships and U.S. consultants, when trained personnel are available in Egypt for a fraction of the cost. They also note the emphasis on the private sector, “pay[ing] Mid-west farmers for wheat which could be grown at half the price in Egypt” (according to a former AID director), and in general the infiltration of Egyptian society to the extent that some perceive a threat to Egyptian national security.

These examples illustrate the diplomatic and material support that the U.S. provides for Israel. A concomitant, at the ideological level, is the persistence of considerable illusion about the nature of Israeli society and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Since 1967, discussion of these issues has been difficult or impossible in the United States as a result of a remarkably effective campaign of vilification, abuse, and sometimes outright lying directed against those who dared to question received doctrine.[4]

This fact has regularly been deplored by Israeli doves, who have been subjected to similar treatment here. They observe that their own position within Israel suffers because of lack of support within the U.S., where, as General (Res.) Mattityahu Peled observed, the “state of near hysteria” and the “blindly chauvinistic and narrow-minded” support for the most reactionary policies within Israel poses “the danger of prodding Israel once more toward a posture of calloused intransigence.” The well-known Israeli journalist and Zionist historian Simha Flapan describes “the prejudice of American Jewry” as now “the major obstacle to an American-Palestinian and Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, without which there is little chance to move forward in the difficult and involved peace process.” In concentrating on the role of American Jewry, these Israeli writers focus much too narrowly, I believe.

To cite one last example, an article in the American Jewish press quotes a staff writer for Ha’aretz (essentially, the Israeli New York Times) who says that “you American Jews, you liberals, you lovers of democracy are supporting its destruction here by not speaking out against the government’s actions,” referring to the wave of repression in the occupied territories under the “civilian administration” of Professor Menachem Milson and General Ariel Sharon introduced in November 1981 (see chapter 5, sections 5-8). He goes on to explain the plans of Begin and Sharon: to drive a large number of Arabs out of the West Bank, specifically, the leaders and those with a potential for leadership, “by every illegal means.” How?

“You activate terrorists to plant bombs in the cars of their elected mayors, you arm the settlers and a few Arab quislings to run rampages through Arab towns, pogroms against property, not against people. A few Arabs have been killed by settlers. The murderers are known, but the police are virtually helpless. They have their orders. What’s your excuse for not speaking out against these violations of Israeli law and Jewish morality?”

The settlers, he adds, are “Religious Jews who follow a higher law and do whatever their rabbis tell them. At least one of the Gush Emunim rabbis has written that it is a mitzvah [religious duty] to destroy Amalek [meaning, the non-Jewish inhabitants], including women and children.” The Ha’aretz journalist adds that his journal has “a file of horror stories reported to us by soldiers returning from occupation duty in the West Bank. We can refer to them in general terms—we can rail against the occupation that destroys the moral fibre and self-respect of our youth—but we can’t print the details because military censorship covers actions by soldiers on active duty.” One can imagine what the file contains, given what has been printed in the Israeli press.

It should be noted, in this connection, that many crucial issues that are freely discussed in the Hebrew press in Israel and much that is documented there are virtually excluded from the American press, so that the people who are expected to pay the bills are kept largely in the dark about what they are financing or about the debates within Israel concerning these matters. Many examples will be given below.

The dangers posed to Israel by its American supporters have consistently been realized, leading to much suffering in the region and repeated threat of a larger, perhaps global war.

The US-Israeli relationship thus emerged and has since continued to grow and deepen along those lines. Essentially, the consequence has been that, as a client state of the US serving as a regional Sparta, Israel can do whatever it pleases. Occasionally, when Israel’s barbarity receives too much publicity, it’ll be chided and tapped on the wrist like a misbehaved child. In extreme cases, like if, perhaps, it snubs US orders (you know, a serious offense), aid will be reduced or cut off temporarily. Fundamentally, though, Israel’s never held to account for what it does, much to the dismay of those beneath the US-Israeli iron boot, including and especially the Palestinians.

That covers Part 1 of my Reality of Israel-Palestine series. It’s not exactly my own work, but even though I could’ve written the explanation myself, I didn’t see the point since I would’ve drawn heavily on “Fateful Triangle” and I have no interest in trying to compete with Chomsky. So even though, unlike my other posts so far, it’s mostly not my original work, I hope you don’t mind and you enjoyed the article. As soon as I can, I’ll post Part 2 of the series: “Israel’s Wars: Realities and Myths,” which will take the US-Israeli relationship and apply it to some of the wars and conflicts which Israel has waged and participated in since it was created in 1947, including the so-called War of Independence during 1947-49, the Suez Canal Crisis in 1956, the Six Days War in 1967, the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the Lebanon War in 1982, the First Intifada in 1987 and the Second Intifada in 2000. Below are the footnotes which’d be in their proper places above if not for formatting problems. They’re also definitely worth reading.

[1] The official in charge of these operations, Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon, became Secretary-General of the Histadrut (the socialist labor union). According to the respected Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea, Lavon gave orders that were “much more severe” than those leading to the terrorist operations in Egypt, including an attempt “to poison the water sources in the Gaza Strip and the demilitarized zones” (Davar, Jan. 26, 1979). He does not indicate whether these alleged orders were executed.

[2] UPI, Boston Globe, May 16, 1982: the item reads, in toto, “American-made helicopters and spare parts went from Israel to Rhodesia—now Zimbabwe—despite a trade embargo during the bitter war against guerrillas, the Commerce Department has disclosed.” The Labor Party journal quotes the head of South Africa’s military industry as saying that Israeli “technological assistance permits South Africa to evade the arms embargo imposed upon it because of its racial policies” (Davar, Dec. 17, 1982). Yediot Ahronot, citing the London Times, reports that “Israeli technicians are helping South Africa evade the French military embargo” by transferring and repairing French armaments in Israeli hands (Oct. 29, 1981). Close relations with South Africa were established by the Rabin Labor government in the mid-1970s and remain warm, because, as Minister of Industry and Commerce Gidon Pat recently stated in Pretoria, “Israel and South Africa are two of the only 30 democracies in the world.” Similarly, Gad Yaakovi of the Labor Party “praised the economic and ‘other’ [i.e., military] relations with South Africa in a television interview” in Israel, Yoav Karni reports, adding that if he had said similar things in Britain, Holland or Sweden he would have lost his membership in the Social Democratic party, though his remarks caused no distress in the Israeli Labor Party.

[3] The General Accounting Office (GAO) has informed Congress that the actual level of U.S. aid may be as much as 60% higher than the publicly available figures. This is the preliminary result of a detailed study of U.S. aid to Israel by the GAO. “A major issue could develop next year [1983] over how much of the GAO study may be made public.” James McCartney. Philadelphia Inquirer, August 25, 1982.

[4] Israeli intelligence apparently contributes to these efforts. According to a CIA study, one of its functions is to acquire “data for use in silencing anti-Israel factions in the West,” along with “sabotage, paramilitary and psychological warfare projects, such as character assassination and black propaganda.” “Within Jewish communities in almost every country of the world, there are Zionists and other sympathizers, who render strong support to the Israeli intelligence effort. Such contacts are carefully nurtured and serve as channels for information, deception material, propaganda and other purposes.” “They also attempt to penetrate anti-Zionist elements in order to neutralize the opposition.”

The roots and realities of economic propaganda

Any customer can have a car painted any color he wants so long as it is black.

 – Henry Ford

The corporations don’t have to lobby the government anymore. They are the government.

 – Jim Hightower

Democracy, despite its limitations, is in the end the only way to ensure that policies do not simply benefit the privileged few.

 – Ha-Joon Chang

If we choose, we can live in a world of comforting illusion.

 – Noam Chomsky

It’s axiomatic that the economic systems by which the majority of the world is sustained aren’t designed to provide the greatest possible equality. Contrary to what ideologues would claim, the so-called free markets on which capitalism is supposedly based don’t produce outcomes which are at the same time maximally beneficial for consumers and sellers, and thus the economy as a whole. However, even though this is borne out by experience, particularly in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and as inequality continues to climb in the US and around the world, the important question is, “Why is the experience of free-market capitalism so starkly different from the concept given to us by its proponents?” That’s the question addressed by this post.

There are two areas to this post which relate to the same question, though in different ways. The first shows that, despite the fairness supposedly inherent to the free-market capitalist system, inequality is bound to occur and, if left unchecked, naturally increase as time goes by. The second shows that people are (at least at first) reasonably told to respect the economy as the means by which we’re collectively sustained, and that this premise has been gradually exploited for the purposes of wealthy and powerful elites. Together, these two areas will demonstrate why and how the economic systems by which we’re all sustained and ensnared are unfair; why and how they deliberately and consciously generate inequality; and what role propaganda has played, and still plays, in these developments.

Before continuing, though, it’s important to note that, in truth, inequality was already extant, and then institutionalised, when these systems were created, and was so for very straightforward reasons. But those reasons, while straightforward, still need some fleshing out, as does the propaganda which attempts to disguise them. However, though relevant, they’re not the subject of this post. To read my discussion of them, please read my prior post on the origin and evolution of classes and class warfare. Although I think to best understand the discussion it’s ideal to read the entire post, it’s quite long, so if you prefer you can start at the ninth paragraph and read until the narrative reaches the emergence of ruling classes. That will cover all the relevant reasons to do with why inequality already existed when the current economic systems were created. Further, that post discusses why, how and when the ideology used to support the systems emerged, and demonstrates that the ideology was never correct, and only ever meant to be a propaganda tool to disguise the enduring, but recently more clandestine, supremacy of ruling classes. Now, back to the two areas mentioned above for a deeper look at what the ideology behind them supposes.

As for the first area, the dogma which surrounds it goes something like this. Capitalism is an economic ideology which advocates and even compels individual initiative and entrepreneurship as a means of survival. This, however, might lead to destructive outcomes whereby consumers are deceived by savvy entrepreneurs and businesses who exploit them in order to maximise profits. Therefore, these possibilities are counteracted by free markets, which pit sellers against one another in competition for consumers. Free markets thereby supposedly lower prices for consumers, since the sellers compete with one another so that people prefer their products and/or services and choose to more regularly purchase them over other options, which thus benefits the sellers who most successfully appeal to consumers. In short, sellers compete with one another, which benefits consumers. Next, the profits made by sellers will, in their own capacity as consumers, be distributed throughout the society, at least to some degree. This won’t generate total equality, but it will, the ideology goes, be as fair as possible given the difficulties imposed by an unfair and imperfect world. This view is reinforced by the proposition, in my opinion erroneous, that there are no other genuine candidates to replace this system. Some degree of inequality is therefore unavoidable, the ideology reasons, but fairness and equality are supposedly intrinsic elements of economies based on free-market capitalism.

The possible candidates to replace the present system and the reasons why they’ve been so maligned and dismissed are an important part of this puzzle which deserve a post of their own. For the moment, though, it’s enough to say that the malignancy they face, and have long faced, is not because they’re faulty, but in fact because, in my view, if the goal of an economic system is to sustain the society as fairly as possible, they would probably work much better than capitalism ever could. The problem is that the ruling classes which principally profit from capitalism won’t allow it to be replaced without a fight, and the bulk of ordinary people who ought to oppose it are too confused by propaganda from the elites to know what’s best to do. The current post is a necessary foundation to discuss these long-maligned alternatives, a key few of which I’ll discuss in a later post. For now, though, back to the roots and realities of economic propaganda.

As for the second area, the key supposition made by advocates of free-market capitalism goes like this. It begins with the reasonable and, at least initially, correct premise that we are all collectively sustained by the prevailing economic system which supports our society. This can of course be whatever system people choose, but, following from the first area discussed just above, the advocates of free-market capitalism propose it as the best and fairest system available which can sustain our societies, especially complex, modern-day ones like ours. Therefore, they argue that it ought to be the system upon which all current societies are based. Further, they argue that because we are collectively sustained by the system, our security must then depend on its prosperity, which, for our own sakes, enjoins us to preserve the system at all costs. As you’ll soon see, this has extremely important consequences for the reality of free-market capitalism, and for the propaganda levelled against those whom this economic system abandons and exploits.

In short, the two core premises drawn from the advocates of free-market capitalism are that it’s the best system available, and that the preservation of that system is in everyone’s best interest, since the system sustains both every individual and the society as a whole. However, contrary to this ideology, the reality of free-market capitalism is rather striking. For the moment, since it’s not the present focus, we’ll set aside any long analysis of the fact that inequality already existed when free-market capitalist economies were developed during the 19th century following the Industrial Revolution, and that the new systems which emerged then institutionalised that inequality, rather than reducing it. Besides, my post about the origin and evolution of classes and class warfare, mentioned above, already covers those points as quite recent historical developments. To continue, it’s enough to acknowledge that inequality existed when free-market capitalism emerged and that this was a contributing factor to the developments which have led the world to where it is today.

Venturing now from ideology to reality, broadly speaking, the real events unfold like this. Inequality means that some people have greater access to capital than others. When societies are sustained by economies based on a monetary system, capital of any kind provides the means by which to survive. This, in turn, makes capital the source of power and influence in societies sustained by such an economy, which therefore means that inequality translates to inequality of power and influence. So long as this inequality doesn’t get out of control, societies may be able to function more or less fairly. However, even if the level of existing inequality was quite low, it’s bound to increase over time if left unchecked. This is because even though capital may become more or less valuable depending on rates of inflation and deflation, the currency itself doesn’t decay or degrade.

That’s different from the past when smaller, more primitive societies got by using barter economies which naturally imposed a limit on the amount of wealth a person could accumulate. If you had excellent oxen you could only trade them for so many chickens because there was a limit to how many you could use. Likewise, there was a limit to the number of oxen you could maintain for sale and personal use, since the uses you had for them and the uses to which they could be put by your customers were also limited. Essentially, it was a good system for surviving, but not one geared to allow people to become wealthy in any sense we’d recognise today. However, the introduction of monetary systems of currency changed the situation by destroying the natural equilibrium inherent to barter-based economies. This is because people can then accumulate their own private capital which doesn’t decay and, though it’ll become more or less valuable according to inflation and deflation, will more or less remain valuable, excluding some economic catastrophe such as the 1923 hyperinflation in Weimar Germany.

Thus, in principle, monetary system-based economies enable people to develop concentrations of wealth, which then translates to power. Slowly, then, as time goes by, some people are bound to thrive in the society more than others. Some will rise and become wealthy and others will fall and become or remain either ordinary or poor. Gradually, concentrations of wealth and power emerge and the people who control them are able to impose themselves on society as members of the ruling class. For my account of exactly how this happens, please read the paragraphs mentioned above in my post on the origin and evolution of classes and class warfare. For now, though, suffice it to say that these monetary system-based economies long predate free-market capitalism, which only arose and developed during the 19th century due to the Industrial Revolution.

Therefore, when free-market capitalism first developed it was integrated into societies which featured wealthy and powerful ruling classes and the institutions of domination and supremacy which they had already established for themselves. Since then, wealth has become concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, as reflected by the scandalous inequality seen in the US and around the world. Incidentally, this means that ownership and thus control over not just businesses but entire industries has also become concentrated, thereby reducing competition and effectively removing the free market as a supposed counterweight to the previously-mentioned inherent threats which capitalist systems pose to vulnerable consumers and to the wider public in general.

The important point to take away is that wealthy and powerful elites never allow themselves to be exposed to the free market because it might, at least to some extent, protect the majority of the population from the ruling class. Obviously, this stands in stark contrast to the ideology of free-market capitalism. Though important in itself, this also has very significant consequences for the premise that preserving the economy by which we’re collectively sustained needs to be an essential priority for the good of every individual and society as a whole.

In short, the argument goes that because as a society we all depend on the economy, we must protect it from whatever threatens its stability. If it were the case that, within the capitalist system, businesses, entrepreneurs and corporations were, at least to some degree, contained by free markets, this argument might be reasonable enough. However, because institutionalised and growing inequality equates to a powerful ruling class, and as the ruling class doesn’t let itself be subject to free markets, this reasoning therefore breaks down. In that case, preserving the economy for the sake of the greater good isn’t necessarily the best thing to do. Indeed, when the ruling class removes the barriers to domination and exploitation which, according to the ideology, free-market capitalism supposedly erects, maintaining the system can become a way of sheltering the reigning elites from failure by having the public’s taxes bail out institutions and corporations which would otherwise collapse. Clearly, this is a fundamental violation of free-market capitalism, since businesses and corporations are meant to rise and fall by how well their goods and/or services satisfy consumers, and should never be protected from failure by the very people they deceive and exploit. In the real world, economic dogma aside, the way things develop goes like this.

People are convinced that the ideology is correct and that it’s incumbent on everyone to preserve the economy for the greater good of society. However, unbeknownst to the public, the elites don’t play by the rules and never intended to. They privatise public institutions, arguing that the rules of competition in the free market (which they have no intention of following) will make the institutions function more efficiently, lower costs for consumers and benefit everyone who depends on them. These include financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies; infrastructure such as roads, bridges and railroads; educational and medical institutions such as universities and Social Security in the US; electricity, water and gas companies; and so on.

They then set about maximising profits as quickly as possible. To do so, they could of course provide the services they are supposed to provide and make profits from improving productivity by investing in better pay, training and working conditions for staff; supporting research and development to drive innovation; and fostering loyalty from satisfied customers who happily return to dependable products and/or services. However, since the threat posed by the free market is removed, and since in the short term it’s cheaper, easier and faster, they instead tend to maximise profits by, among other things, lowering wages, cutting and/or automating jobs, and moving production to where labour is cheaper and you don’t need to pay too much attention to laws and regulations. Aside from privatised institutions, this pattern of course holds the same for outright businesses and corporations, which are actually legally bound to increase profits and are rarely made to pay particular attention to the consequences of their actions.

Often, this naturally produces disasters for those who depend on the goods and/or services, not to mention the unemployment and instability caused by layoffs and wage suppression. However, because it tends to be the same ruling class in government which controls the corporations, as is demonstrated by, among many examples, the well-known revolving door between high public- and private-sector offices, it may be possible to have lower-level players prosecuted, but it’s increasingly difficult to have the people truly responsible even indicted for their actions. As a result, it’s difficult to prevent the looming calamity for the economy by any other means than a public bailout, thus socialising the consequences of the actions of the ruling elites. In the US, that was a leading cause of the GFC and was essentially what happened in its aftermath, though of course particular details varied. Naturally, there have been exceptions to this pattern, but they’re very rare and, for obvious reasons, even more rarely discussed in proper context by corporate media. Further, the public-private ruling class collusion enables elites to remove other mechanisms which the free-market capitalist ideology says ought to protect consumers and attempt to keep inequality in check, such as laws, regulations and taxation. Elites around the world have been particularly busy with this since the late 1970s.

Ultimately, in cases such as these, bailouts which save deservedly ailing corporations, businesses and/or institutions only abet the people responsible. Further, they ensure that the perpetrators can be more neatly indemnified once the incident, depending on its scale, is far enough in the past. The best tool to accomplish all of this, to smooth the crises over and make them go away, is, of course, the economic propaganda surrounding free-market capitalism. If it were understood by enough people that, although it might seem to make some sense, free-market capitalist ideology can’t succeed because it bears no relation to reality, then these events would gradually become fewer and less damaging until, ideally, they no longer occurred. That is the purpose of this post, to dismantle the ideology which confuses people in order to prevent them from doing something about the domination under which they live. I hope it does that.

I think lots of people are already intuitively aware on some level that what I’m saying is true. It’s no revelation that the system doesn’t work as we’re told it should. People notice when their life savings are obliterated or their homes are foreclosed on because of corporate greed. But when people have to work in order to survive, which takes up the majority of their day-to-day lives, they haven’t got the time or the energy to dissect the system which deceives and abuses them. They can’t pinpoint the facts through the fog of propaganda, and they’re left frustrated and unable to do anything to improve their situations other than work and hope for the best. If this post can help people to understand why things occur and then to channel their disaffection in constructive directions, then its job will be done.

This post drew on and was influenced by many sources. They’re too many and tedious to list in total, but the two books below both provide excellent analyses of the propaganda case that’s commonly made for so-called free market capitalism, as opposed to the reality. Dean Baker and Ha-Joon Chang are both highly-credentialed economists who’ve each published several books on economics and related topics. Ha-Joon Chang was even one of Prospect Magazine’s top 20 World Thinkers for 2013. His books I’ve found especially helpful, though others such as Gar Alperovitz, Joseph Stiglitz and Noam Chomsky are also exceptional and extremely useful for anyone interested in looking into the issues raised by this post and others like it. I own and have read many of their books. If anyone would like to find out more about them or anything else, please feel free to send me any questions you have and if I can help I will.

Baker, D., 2006. The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer. 1st ed. Washington, DC: Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Chang, H.-J., 2009. Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. 1st ed. New York: Bloomsbury Press.

My case against God

Religion has ever filled the mind of man with darkness, and kept him in ignorance of his real duties and true interests. It is only by dispelling the clouds and phantoms of religion, that we shall discover truth, reason, and morality. Religion diverts us from the causes of evils, and from the remedies which nature prescribes; far from curing, it only aggravates, multiplies, and perpetuates them.

 – Baron d’Holbach

Is man merely a mistake of God’s? Or God merely a mistake of man’s?

 – Friedrich Nietzsche

If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.

 – Bertrand Russell

This argument is meant to be challenged, because it takes on a topic which is poignant and contentious for many people, and amidst the clamorous disagreement I can only prove its merit by passing it through prolonged criticism. It’s my view on why even the concept of God, as opposed to one particular god, is logically impossible; just a notion conjured out of humankind’s primitive and profoundly ignorant attempts, from early in our history, to explain the stupefying mysteries with which the world surrounded us before we happened upon science and gradually began to genuinely learn about the nature of reality. I of course think it’s sound, but the proper test is how it withstands opposition. Thus, what now follows is, in my view, a satisfying denunciation of God, but only time can tell for sure.

To begin, for God to be God they would need to be perfect, otherwise they may be a powerful being worth respecting, and probably also fearing, but not a deity we ought to worship. Further, for God to be perfect, they would need to be capable of everything, since a perfect God cannot be constrained by limited abilities or insuperable obstacles, since a limited being would be imperfect. Therefore, if we can find just one thing which God can’t do, we can then dismiss the concept of God as logically impossible. In my opinion, there are many candidates for this task, but for the sake of simplicity and concision I’ll restrict this post to only one: miracles. It’s long been claimed and widely believed that miracles truly occur and that they have some divine origin, most often, and perhaps always, a god of one sort or another. When you look closely, however, miracles are actually logically impossible. If this is true, which I’ll now try to prove, God can’t perform miracles, which, according to our reasoning so far, means that God has limited abilities and that God therefore can’t logically exist. This is how my argument will disprove the concept of God, the reasoning behind which appears correct, as best I can tell. So, then, with the groundwork laid, I’ll now explain why I think miracles are logically impossible and educe that God therefore can’t be real.

Fortunately for everyone, unlike the trend in some of my other blogs, my argument against miracles is fairly short. I define miracles as when the impossible becomes possible. Anything less than this, i.e. anything that is possible according to the laws of the universe, known or unknown, is just an ordinary event and thus can’t be a miracle, even if it may seem miraculous or statistically unlikely to a given observer. My definition doesn’t subsume a deity, but, if you press the question, if miracles are beyond the purview of the laws of the universe, something would clearly have to be producing them, which would most likely be something you might call a god. Thus, even though I don’t include God in my definition of miracles, they’re tacitly present within the logical consequences of the argument. Hence, if miracles did in fact exist, it would seem that a god, or at least something possibly transcendent, might therefore have to exist as well, meaning that if miracles exist, they would probably, I think, prove the existence of a being which could at least potentially be God.

However, there’s a fatal impasse with the concept of miracles: only what can happen will happen. Though unassuming, this statement contains a truism that denounces the notion of miracles and thus, by extension, of God as well, which I’ll now try to demonstrate. If you consider it carefully, the statement points out that anything which occurs must obviously have been able to occur, no matter how unlikely it seems or how surprising it was, since everything that does happen clearly can happen. To put it another way, since only what can happen will happen, it’s also true that whatever does happen can happen, which means that, by definition, no event can be a miracle, since if it does happen it can happen, and if it can happen it isn’t a miracle because it must be obeying the laws of nature. Thus, miracles are logically impossible, which means that God can’t perform them and that, incidentally, they mustn’t exist.

From what I can tell, this reasoning’s sound and the conclusion it draws is unimpeachable, but it’s also so simple that I’m somewhat inclined to think that it mightn’t be correct purely because if it’s truly correct someone else would surely have already thought of it before now. However, when you think about it, without going deeply into the matter, that kind of logic rests on assumptions which have obvious problems and are also flatly contradicted by many simple scientific discoveries in just recent history alone. Hence, my concern needn’t be a serious issue as we continue. Though, all the same, it still doesn’t hurt to bear it in mind.

In sum, that is my case against God, and though I’ve used miracles as the present means by which to reject the very concept of God, not just one particular god, there are still many other such means that I thought were unnecessary for now, but which I can use later if need be. Plainly, then, if my reasoning’s correct, every conceivable religion that believes in a god of any kind must be false, which I think we have good reason to believe is true.

To finish, I’d like to say one last thing that may help to save some time if we consider it carefully. Human beings are deeply fallible, prone to a host of biases, prejudices, fallacies, and so on. As a result, no conclusions drawn by a person can ever be certain, no matter how or by whom they’re reached. Therefore, the only decent approach at our disposal is to think in terms of probability and improbability based on the best evidence available. Hence, when we discuss the concept of God, we aren’t trying to be certain whether or not they exist, but rather to ascertain how likely or unlikely their existence is and comport our beliefs and actions accordingly. In these terms, my argument suggests that God’s existence isn’t very likely, as do the facts that there’s no good evidence for any gods, and that science has explained many of the events which were once ascribed to gods. These all question whether gods were ever real or just fantastical inventions of people from the past who tried to explain features of the world which, at the time, were too perplexing to even begin to sincerely comprehend.

Therefore, just like with many other possibilities which people happily dismiss from their minds, I think that God’s existence is so amazingly unlikely that to dwell on it because it’s technically possible is a complete waste of time, akin, I think, to obsessing over the idea that you are the only real human on Earth and everyone else is a cyborg. Since humans are fallible, it’s definitely technically possible, but without supporting evidence and with evidence to the contrary, only people with paranoia would seriously entertain the thought. Thus, in an obviously similar way, I think the existence of God is so stupendously unlikely that no one should even pay attention to it as a possibility, since, for all intents and purposes, it’s a complete waste of time. I have my reasons why I think people still believe in God despite the case I’ve just made, which, to one degree or another, I think many people already know intuitively. However, that’s a related, but different, matter that I’ve dealt with in another post on the nature and history of religion, so I won’t bother to reiterate it now. In conclusion, this is how I see, and my case against, God, which is yours to judge and proceed accordingly.

A complete moral framework can consist of three basic principles

For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard people debate the morality of particular actions. Many times they were domestic and foreign policy actions of either the Australian state or some other state, often the U.S. There were so many debates and so few consensuses that, for a long time, I had the impression that morality was too complicated to ever be properly understood and that we’d have to debate these actions and disagree about them forever. Fortunately, though, it seems to me now that we can in fact have a complete moral code if we live by only three principles of morality.

First, if something’s wrong for you it’s wrong for me, and if something’s right for you it’s right for me. This, as Noam Chomsky has said, should be the core of any serious moral code, and has a clear relation to Immanuel Kant’s principle of Universalizability.

Second, it’s immoral to deliberately act or fail to act when you know that the consequences of your decision will cause avoidable harm to another person or other people. Therefore, for a person’s actions to constitute immoral behaviour, (1) the person must be aware that the consequences of their decisions are harmful to others, otherwise what they did was an accident and accidents, though they can be damaging, can obviously never be immoral, because there’s no intent. (2) Despite this knowledge, they must deliberately behave in ways that bring harm to other people, whether by causing or simply allowing it to occur. (3) The harm which they inflict on others must’ve been avoidable, otherwise no one can be responsible for an unavoidable outcome.

Third, as much as they can, people should, but don’t have to, help others and contribute to the common good for the benefit of all. While not a moral obligation, this is one of the chief means by which solidarity’s cultivated and humankind makes progress, since it promotes caring about one another, helps to reduce, and perhaps one day eliminate, the many barriers by which the world’s people have long been divided, and myriad other benefits.

I feel that a person with and committed to these three principles has a complete moral foundation to deal with any situation the world can concoct. Although, as always, I’m open to the idea that I’m wrong, and happy to discuss situations which people think cast doubts over or disprove the moral framework. For the moment, though, I don’t see any good reason why these principles shouldn’t be enough to guide people through their lives and stick to, or at least be conscious of, what’s morally right and wrong for a person to do in whatever circumstances they face. Hence, in my view, a complete moral framework can indeed consist of just three basic principles.

The origin and evolution of classes and class warfare

Bellum omnium contra omnes: The war of all against all.

 – Thomas Hobbes

There has never been but one question in all civilization – how to keep a few men from saying to many men: you work and earn bread and we will eat it.

 – Abraham Lincoln

Democracy is still on trial, but so far as it has not disgraced itself; it is true that its full force has not yet come into operation …the defective organisation of the newly enfranchised classes has prevented any overwhelming alternation in the pre-existing balance of power.

 – John Maynard Keynes, 1904

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.

 – Mahatma (Mohandas) Gandhi

But as the progress of democracy is the result of general social development, an advanced society, while commanding a greater share of political power, will, at the same time, protect the State from democratic excesses [too many people having the right to vote]. If the latter should anywhere prevail, for a time, they will be promptly repressed.

 – Sir T. Erskine May, 1877

The idea that there are classes within society which struggle against one another once seemed to me like it couldn’t possibly be true. As I saw it, for class consciousness to develop and maintain it would need to be either continually discussed or very obvious, neither of which I’d personally experienced. Further, for that consciousness (which I wasn’t convinced existed) to become class warfare, it struck me that there would need to be a great deal of discontent arising due to wealthy, powerful classes dominating, repressing and perhaps exploiting lower classes of the vulnerable poor. This too didn’t cohere with my understanding of the world for two basic reasons.

First, from what I knew of democracy, its fundamental principle is that everyone is equal by nature and by law, and that, accordingly, everyone shares the same rights. I therefore believed that if rich classes dominated poorer ones it’d be a direct violation of democracy, since one group would be stifling the rights to which they and their victims are equally entitled. I also understood that there are far fewer rich people than poor and ordinary people, which to me was a central problem with the idea of class warfare, since if it was indeed occurring in what I understood to be a democracy, surely the repressed majority would use its democratic rights to prevent the actions of the ruling minority, thus protecting itself from the domination and exploitation which class warfare involves. For me, then, as I perceived the world, what I believed was true about democracy was incompatible with what I understood class warfare to entail, which was the first basic reason why I rejected the idea that class warfare existed.

Second, and also I think more important, I did and still do believe that all people share a common human nature and that people by this nature are essentially good. Though I certainly knew that people can do bad things, I thought these were exceptions, not the rule, and that even people who did bad things were good by nature, but had been impelled to act immorally by prevailing circumstances, contrary to their inherently sanguine nature. I still believe that, because it was as clear to me then as it is now that the world itself, unlike human nature, isn’t inherently good or propitious. Rather, it’s a monetized world in which people have to work and are automatically pitted against each other in competition simply to survive. Some people’s work will be unrelated to, consistent with or even beneficial for one’s own, while other people’s work will compete with or even undermine one’s own, the first group of people being much easier to get along with than the second. Thus, while of course we are not bound to compete with everyone, we’re inevitably forced to compete with some proportion of the world’s many billions of people. Indeed, even if we never know the majority of our competitors, we’re still aware that they exist beyond our immediate horizons, which means that our sense of urgency and the pressure to succeed to survive aren’t limited to the adversaries with whom we are familiar.

Bearing in mind that the instinct to survive is perhaps our most powerful, and recognizing the direct link in a monetized world between one’s work and their ability to survive, it’s unsurprising, I think, that people in such conditions can be capable of immoral behavior, including violating other people’s rights to defend or advance your own livelihood. Hence, the monetized, capitalistic world in which people currently live is, in my view, unavoidably inconsistent with human nature, compelling many of us to behave in ways which run contrary to our intrinsic ethics. Moreover, this isn’t our only incentive to behave immorally toward others, since our survival instinct, though potent, is only one of our fundamental impulses, among such company as the instinct to procreate and the need to belong. These too, I think, in the same way as our survival instinct, can compel between people either great felicity and friendship, or indifference and hostility. Factored together, the sum of these compulsions (and the many others too lengthy to consider at present) provides resounding inducement to behave in the many unethical ways to which history now plays, and has heretofore played, host. In my opinion, this explains why intrinsically good people can perpetrate, and have perpetrated, all of humankind’s many wrongdoings, from the lies and infidelities which ruin relationships to the wars and atrocities which most besmirch our history. Setting aside the people I haven’t included, the heinous and psychopathic individuals who enjoy sadism, in the scheme of things are extremely rare, and don’t appear to reflect human nature, but a subversion of it, my reasoning seems to explain why good people do bad things and why misfortunes befall the just and unjust alike.

Tying this back now to class warfare, it therefore seemed plausible to me that some people might be induced to repress others in order to benefit themselves. But it also seemed implausible that this inducement would hold sway for the amount of people required to incite and sustain class warfare. Indeed, I still believe that immoral paths are walked by a great many people, but only a short way before natural remorse returns them to their better selves, precluding many people from enacting the type of repressive ruling class domination of which class warfare consists. If this is true, it should be a terribly marginal collection of the world’s people which treads the whole path toward profligacy, which I believe is indeed substantiated by the past and present course of human events. This was therefore the second basic reason why class warfare struck me for some time as too ludicrous to accept, and, in addition to the apparent impasse represented by democracy, why I chose to reject it as an indefensible notion.

Gradually, however, it’s become clear to me from exposure to people like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Eric Hobsbawm and Ha-Joon Chang that class warfare not only exists, but that it pervades the entire world and has done since, long ago in our past, people first formed societies which were too large, inwardly complex and outwardly vulnerable to long endure without the guidance of some form of leadership. In my view, on which I will expand shortly, this irresistible need for leadership vested with authority was the critical watershed from which social classes became entrenched and began quarrelling with one another right up to the present day. The sequence of events in the process I propose are, I think, logical and hence reasonable to accept, but of course you can decide that for yourself.

First, however, before discussing how I see the origin and evolution of classes and class warfare, there’s something which I think ought to be considered and would like you to bear in mind. I’ve come to believe, from considering the evidence, that all societies of which I know are, and have always been, comprised of social classes which have long struggled against one another – the powerful against the weak, the rich against the poor, the few against the many. Most of history has advanced from little more, if more at all, than one tyranny to the next, which means that class warfare along similar lines to those I describe is no surprise until we arrive in the 20th century, when our first genuine democracies were supposedly born and since which we have been and are still often told that our democracies have continued to expand and improve. If, however, class warfare still exists and if, as I attempted to show, it’s incompatible with democracy, there must be something gravely wrong with the pictures of 20th and 21st century democracy which are commonly presented. Quite plainly, either I and the evidence by which I have been convinced are wrong, and the typical contemporary view of the world is correct, or the opposite is true, which would then raise a number of uncomfortable questions whose answers might shock and disturb many people. Of course, my view on the matter is obvious, and while I naturally think it’s correct, people with opposing views likewise believe that they are equally justified. Thus, the truth of the matter can’t resort to any one person’s or group of people’s opinions or aspersions, no matter who they are. The only gauge we can rely on, as any good scientist would agree, is whether what we believe is consistent with the evidence.

Unfortunately, though, with the present constraints, the evidence is much too broad to even adumbrate. However, we’re nonetheless left with three possible solutions. First, we have an immediate and somewhat decent measure by which to adjudge the likely fact of the matter: to decide whether my proposal for the origin and evolution of classes and class warfare makes sense and use that outcome as a preliminary estimate of what is probably the case with the wider questions I’ve raised. Second, you could instead defer directly to the writers by whom I myself have been convinced, which I’d certainly encourage everyone to do. Or third, as a matter of self-interest, if you have kept with me for this long, then perchance you could do both and endure my post before you move on. In any of these cases, though, you are weighing evidence and judging what makes sense to you, which is necessarily constructive. If, however, someone arbitrarily dismisses what I’m saying without observing the arguments for themselves, content, perhaps, that they’re too far flung from what they are accustomed to, and that my argument therefore must be false, I can only caution, without trying to pontificate, that such thinking is and has long been one of the greatest sources of human ignorance and backwardness throughout all of history. Nevertheless, hopeful that some may have stuck with me so far, I’ll now discuss how I see the origin and evolution of classes and class warfare, and leave it to you to decide what seems right and to confront the consequences that follow.

The emergence of classes and the beginning of class warfare are separate but clearly closely related phenomena. They’re separate in that social classes can conceivably emerge without class warfare ensuing, while they’re also obviously connected in at least two ways. First, for class warfare to occur, social classes must exist, thus the former is necessarily bound to the latter, though, as mentioned above, not the latter to the former. And second, and more interesting, they both emerge from a common origin: economic development and population growth. In my view, they share this origin because every human society which has ever and will ever exist has its foundations in nomadic bands and clans in the far reaches of history which were once too small to contain the number of people required for the formation of the social classes and whatever class warfare which may later ignite. Hence, these bands and clans were incapable of containing classes and the means of conflict between them, because their populations weren’t large enough to support being divided into the discernible sections with competing economic interests that class warfare subsumes and on which its existence therefore depends.

Furthermore, even if the populations had been large enough, their economies were too primitive and undeveloped for imbalances of wealth and diversity of industries to create the basic social groups of domineering rich, intermediate managers and exploited poor of which social classes and their warfare consist, thus precluding both from yet emerging. In other words, these small agglomerations of people in humanity’s distant past lacked the people, the institutions and the resources for classes and their confrontations to arise. Hence, that’s why economic development and population growth are the two requisite components from which, I propose, classes and class warfare sprung. Thus, we can see that while classes and their warfare aren’t always necessary concomitants of one another, they’re nonetheless bound by class warfare’s subsumption of existing classes and by their mutual origin in population growth and economic development.

From this, an important conclusion can be drawn about the origin of classes and class warfare: every society which developed classes, including those which played host to class warfare and any rare exceptions which did not, must have once been too small and economically archaic to have engineered classes and the conditions which incited them against one another. Clearly, only the gradual transition to larger populations and more sophisticated economies could transform this inadequacy and thereby manufacture the more expansive and complex societies with which most people and most recorded history are now familiar. Therefore, as indicated so far, this transition furnished societies with the material, human and institutional means to create classes and class warfare: the fateful step towards the thousands of years of human repression, discrimination and atrocities in which we and the world around us are, and have long been, products, audiences and, for many people, collaborators. However, the important point to draw is that, although this transition provided the basic necessities for classes and class warfare to exist, it can’t explain how classes actually arose and why they fought to exploit and repress each other rather than strive to live in peace and equality. Therefore, to answer these new questions, we must now move from the fundamental necessities provided by the transition to the actual transition itself and the elements of which it consisted, so as to see precisely what forces brought forth social classes and the terrible class rivalries that followed.

In this interest, then, there are three principles which, in my view, completely explain why, how and when, during this great transitional phase of human history, social classes took shape and began to fight between themselves rather than try to cooperate in peace. First, recall my view of human nature and the influences which act upon it. I argue that people are good but are drawn from their better nature by various potent impulses which, from time to time, drive good people to do bad things to ensure their own wellbeing and legacy. This means that because the world is and has always been such that people can never rest assured that they and their legacy are secure, they’re constantly compelled to take steps to better shore up these prospects by whatever means seem available and necessary, including, if need be, violating and repressing others and their rights. Heinous and grotesque as it is, this was the outcome of human expansion in a world where people’s futures were not guaranteed, the ramifications of which still define our societies and demean the people of which they’re composed. This, such as it is, is the first principle which helps to explain why, how and when social classes and their conflicts took place.

Second, as economies develop and expand, they don’t do so fairly and uniformly so as to produce the greatest equality among the citizens of societies. Rather, they develop somewhat randomly, provided conditions are conducive, and most benefit those who first perceive the available opportunities to nourish incipient industries and reap the, sometimes towering, dividends which follow. To the degree that one is essentially by happenstance exposed to these potentially lucrative enterprises, and also to the degree that one has the ability to make use of them when they present themselves, some people will become wealthier and more stable than others purely by the nature of economic development. Incidentally, as economies grow so do these opportunities to gain, expand or consolidate one’s wealth and the things which wealth provides, chiefly power, status and security. These opportunities are highly prized and sought after by all, including those who have already become rich, since, by our first principle, they are compelled, both the rich and the poor, to pursue wealth whenever they can, as no manner of riches can ever guarantee their present and ongoing financial security. This means that the rich, intermediate and poor alike compete for access to, and usage of, the same resources and opportunities in order to improve their lives, only now with circumstances which dramatically advantage those whose wealth provides exceptional means, far beyond the grasp of most people, with which to pursue and utilize the chances available.

Hence, from an initially random and fortuitous set of circumstances, one small group of people becomes wealthier than others, hoarding and enhancing their fortunes to the greatest extent they can by continuing to pursue and obtain such opportunities for their personal and virtually always unmunificent use. Others will do likewise and overtake competitors, while some will begin well and collapse, by whatever misfortune, into the grips of poverty, mediocrity and exploitation at the hands of the enduring rich. Slowly, then, concentrations of wealth, power and influence emerge, their owners girding themselves and their fortunes by continually swallowing up economic opportunities by actions to which, by this stage of their experience and advantage, they alone are most finely adapted. In this way, distinct classes emerge due to people’s propensity to pursue and nurture their own interests, and due to the blind, unconscious tendency of economies to distribute wealth unequally, enabling some few people to become and stay wealthy, while thereby also necessarily limiting the ability of other people to follow in kind. Although, contrary to my reasoning, some people might be satisfied with a certain fortune and become, perhaps, philanthropic, or at least not rapacious, once their positions seem to be secure, they are, as history shows, fantastically rare individuals. Thus, while these people’s example would run counter to my argument, such people, were they to exist, would be so amazingly unusual as to not bear relevantly on the development of classes and class warfare, since their beginning and evolution would remain undisturbed by anomalies amidst the prevailing trends. Hence, these exceptions to the rule, though they may be interesting, don’t significantly bear on, or contribute to, our discussion and are thus meaningless peculiarities.

Therefore, from my first and second principles it follows that, if things are as I describe, distinct classes of people based on wealth and competition should slowly and, more importantly, naturally emerge as populations grow and economies develop, which further helps us to explain why, how and when social classes and class warfare occur. However, this only explains how social classes are created, not how class warfare is begun, since obviously the mere existence of social classes doesn’t necessarily enjoin class warfare. Indeed, under certain, admittedly idealistic, circumstances, you can easily imagine people recognizing that they stand to gain more security and prosperity by distributing wealth and improving the living standards and technical skills of the entire population, so as to create a highly developed and internally stable society, than by maintaining competing classes whose conflicts are often mutually destructive, retarding the progress of the entire civilization and, if it’s an adequate disaster, possibly even that of other civilizations involved or simply nearby. Hence, it’s left to the third principle, to which we now turn, to explain why, from the evolution of conditions as we’ve tracked them so far, it was class warfare which arose instead of some more sensible and constructive outcome.

The third and final principle is that as the societies grow according to their populations and economies, a new property becomes necessary in order for them to function – formal leadership vested with authority. At a certain point, the complexity of collections of people and their dealings with each other and outsiders becomes so great that some mechanism of leadership is required for their society to be able to operate. For almost the entirety of history, this authority was typically concentrated in either the hands of tyrants, kings and emperors, or presiding oligarchies of warlords and aristocrats. These institutions of power long remained openly oppressive towards the people while managing a precarious balance between making sure, on one hand, that the peasants and slaves on whom they depended for their personal wealth and power were healthy enough to fulfill their duties to the ruling class and content enough not to want to rebel; but, on the other hand, that the masses were also always sufficiently repressed and exploited so that they remained bound and subordinated to their prevailing masters. Much of the history of the rise and decline of leaders can be viewed, in this way, as essentially an ongoing attempt to strike a sustainable way to suppress and fleece the poor majority in order to satisfy a few figures of power and privilege, without crushing people’s living standards to the point that they’re forced to revolt against the domineering power structures by which they’re subjugated.

This, however, isn’t an easy task, requiring an effective and sophisticated form of domination which no leader could manage by themselves. Hence, leaders were naturally driven to collaborate with those people who, when in cooperation with each other, possessed enough power and influence to make such a system of domination possible – the rich. They would help to support leaders and would in turn be rewarded for their service, an arrangement which developed easily enough since leaders have virtually always been drawn from the same classes of elites upon whom they would eventually depend for support. Plainly, this outcome arose – as opposed to some other plausible scenario wherein leaders perceived and acted upon the potential virtue of equality, justice and social cohesion – because leaders, like everyone else, were compelled by my first principle to pursue their own self-interest above all other concerns. Incidentally, leaders were naturally disposed to oppress the people, because their superior numbers made them an obvious threat to the supremacy of the leader and the comparatively tiny section of powerful elites with whom leaders therefore made common cause. Hence, leaders sought, obtained and mobilized the vast pool of the ruling class’s resources in order to consolidate institutions of authority and the wealthy support base on which they depended, meanwhile symbiotically providing protection for wealthy oligarchs as remuneration for the efforts they made to keep their favoured individuals in power. This provided leaders with the necessary finances, personnel, influence and military strength to conduct their affairs and those of their allies, thus forming the ruling class.

This could thenceforth take the form of tyrannies, monarchies or empires, as well as other formulations, such as oligarchies of senators drawn from the ruling class, each of which worked in different ways and was best suited to different situations, but was overall very effective when properly used and understood, as illustrated, for example, by the eclectic political history of the Roman Empire. In this way, though they alienated themselves from the bulk of their fellow citizens, the ruling classes were protected from internal and external threats, and had little reason to do otherwise. Of course, this necessarily harmed and antagonized the people beneath the rulers’ boots, who, I should concede, fall into many categories beyond the basic working and middle classes to which I, for the sake of simplicity, have so far restricted the discussion. Thus, depending on whom you felt affinity for and where you fell on the spectrum of classes – from the most desperately poor to the most dizzyingly rich – you would be inherent allies with some classes and inherent adversaries with others, thereby automatically creating a complex web of shifting alliances and conflicts far beyond, though still including, the repression of everyone, to one degree of another, by the ruling class. In short, a society built on and defined by class warfare is, as we’ve seen, the natural result which follows from the three principles I propose. Therefore, in my view, this is the origin of social classes and class warfare, excluding such things as pure military expansion, which is not related to social classes and their warfare, but to blunt conquest, subjugation and enslavement.

From here on in, then, all that’s left is to explain the evolution of social classes and class warfare subsequent to their origin, which is a mercifully short discussion. This welcome brevity is because, in my view, even though many people may now suggest that such ruling class dominance is a thing of the past, it is, in fact, still as real and harmful as in the past, and perhaps even worse. The difference, I feel, is that the ostentatious techniques of previous elite supremacy were gradually forced to change once movements for civil liberties and equality began to make progress, particularly in the 20th century. However, as Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal and many others would agree, this merely led the same enduring ruling classes to adapt their activities to fit the encroaching zeitgeists, thus transforming their old techniques of domination, but maintaining their purpose, by engineering sophisticated methods and institutions for propagandizing publics and devising economic systems in which the rich and powerful are tremendously advantaged and protected, while everyone else is subjected to failure, competition and exploitation.

By this, the ruling classes fitted themselves and their actions with a sophisticated disguise of fairness and democracy in order to continue their unjust and immoral supremacy, though now with much less opposition from their victims, since many of them believed, and sadly still believe, the propaganda of the elites, thus blaming their repression and misfortune on, say, the prevailing system by which their ensnared or the supposed inherent unfairness of the world, instead of the presiding masters of mankind, as Adam Smith called them. If this seems outlandish, we’re fortunate that the architects of this design were rather forthright about their intentions and declared them openly and in print, such as Walter Lippmann, whose book, Public Opinion, argues that the public ought to be subjugated and deceived by the elites, which he coined “the manufacture of consent”, so that they, the responsible and worthy individuals of power and privilege, can control society and subvert democracy without the ignorant and meddlesome majority becoming involved or being aware of the ruling class’s ongoing tyranny:

‘That the manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements no one, I think, denies. The process by which public opinions arise is certainly no less intricate than it has appeared in these pages, and the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the process are plain enough. . . . [a]s a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner. A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power. . . . Under the impact of propaganda, not necessarily in the sinister meaning of the word alone, the old constants of our thinking have become variables. It is no longer possible, for example, to believe in the original dogma of democracy’. – Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion, Chapter XV

Therefore, from the origin of class warfare to the early 20th century, with some partial exceptions which I won’t go into at present, such as the French and American revolutions, the techniques of the ruling class didn’t significantly change. However, as the movements for democracy, equality and civil liberties slowly began to win serious victories throughout the 20th century, it became necessary for longstanding elites to introduce new techniques of domination which conformed to the shifting circumstances. This was a clever adaptation, enabling ruling classes to maintain their historical control by abandoning their now untenable use of force and resorting instead to shaping and strictly controlling the way people think by inculcating false realities through the systems and institutions of manipulation which elites established and operated – an approach which they now continue to exercise in the manner just described. Thus, although the new forms of domination used by power and privilege is a more complex and extended issue than I have presently sketched in brief, suffice it to nonetheless say that, based on the evidence as I see it, the natures of social classes and class warfare have not fundamentally changed from their origin to the present, lurching from one tyranny to the next until we recently witnessed a change in the style of elite supremacy, but not its content.

Before I conclude, I’d like to return to the two problems, mentioned at the beginning of the post, which I initially had with the idea of classes and class warfare. First, that it seemed to be inconsistent with democracy and didn’t have enough regular currency to be a continuing issue. Second, that I believed, and still believe, that all people are essentially good, which I thought ought to preclude people from forming and then acting as ruling classes at the expense of the vast majority of their fellow humans.

As for the first, I was wrong because I didn’t know that the ruling class’s historically ostentatious tyranny, which I thought was what class warfare would have to be, had very recently been cleverly transformed by propaganda and new institutions of power into a much more subtle and sophisticated system of domination and exploitation. So much so, in fact, that some people today can hardly even recognise how they’re being repressed, who’s responsible and sometimes even that they’re under the boot of the elites at all, even while it’s happening. As a boy, I was never going to be able to figure that out for myself, so what I thought was wrong.

As for the second, I still believe that my view about the natural goodness of human beings, and their resulting disinclination to dominate and exploit other people, is correct. However, I didn’t understand just how precarious the world is. Growing up in an affluent part of a developed country, I wasn’t much exposed to the true conditions in which the majority of people live. As we got older and our simple childhood illusions disappeared when we learned about the world’s realities, it became clear that, although people are good, having to fight to survive in a world as unfair as this makes people capable of virtually anything. Thus, my idea that people were too good to be capable of class warfare vanished as we learned about the deep inducements people face to consider only themselves and to do whatever they think’s necessary to survive. I was wrong because I underestimated how awful the world is:how many problems it contains and how revoltingly unjust they are. Basically, my objections fell beneath the weight of evidence I couldn’t deny, which clearly indicates that class warfare is, and has long been, the key determinant of human affairs.

In conclusion, then, these are my views and how I justify them, the validity of which is yours to judge. Whatever you decide, though, remember the point of my writing this, for if I am right, the common picture of present democracy in the world is, as I’ve hitherto tried to show, necessarily false. This, to recapitulate at the end of our discussion, is the central consideration which I’ve tried to address, and which I think is among the greatest of the world’s many problems. Therefore, think carefully about your views and the consequences they engender, for if enough people tend towards them, we might just shake the strong, despicable foundations of human societies and bring forth the very changes which the bulk of humankind has long desired and which many people now falsely believe they have already obtained due to the insidious machinations of the reigning elite.