World Economic Forum 2015: Global Governance In a World of Resistance
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
26 January 2015
This article and its accompanying infographic have been jointly published by the Transnational Institute and Occupy.com.
The annual meetings of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, bring together thousands of the world’s top corporate executives, bankers and financiers with leading heads of state, finance and trade ministers, central bankers and policymakers from dozens of the world’s largest economies; the heads of all major international organizations including the IMF, World Bank, World Trade Organization, Bank for International Settlements, UN, OECD and others, as well as hundreds of academics, economists, political scientists, journalists, cultural elites and occasional celebrities.
The WEF states that it is “committed to improving the state of the world through public-private cooperation,” collaborating with corporate, political, academic and other influential groups and sectors “to shape global, regional and industry agendas” and to “define challenges, solutions and actions.” Apart from the annual forum meeting in Davos, the WEF hosts regional and sometimes even country-specific meetings multiple times a year in Asia, Latin America, Africa and elsewhere. The Forum is host to dozens of different projects bringing together academics with corporate representatives and policy-makers to promote particular issues and positions on a wide array of subjects, from investment to the environment, employment, technology and inequality. From these projects and others, the Forum publishes dozens of reports annually, identifying key issues of importance, risks, opportunities, investments and reforms.
The WEF has survived by adapting to the times. Following the surge of so-called anti-globalization protests in 1999, the Forum began to invite non-governmental organizations representing constituencies that were more frequently found in the streets protesting against meetings of the WTO, IMF and Group of Seven. In the 2000 meeting at Davos, the Forum invited leaders from 15 NGOs to debate the heads of the WTO and the President of Mexico on the subject of globalization. The participation of NGOs and non-profit organizations has increased over time, and not without reason. According to a poll conducted on behalf of the WEF just prior to the 2011 meeting, while global trust in bankers, governments and business was significantly low, NGOs had the highest rate of trust among the public.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last September, the founder and executive chairman of the WEF, Klaus Schwab, was asked about the prospects of “youth frustration over high levels of underemployment and unemployment” as expressed in the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements, noting that the Forum was frequently criticized for promoting policies and ideologies that contribute to those very problems. Schwab replied that the Forum tries “to have everybody in the boat.” Davos, he explained, “is about heads of state and big corporations, but it’s also civil society – so all of the heads of the major NGOs are at the table in Davos.” In reaction to the Occupy Wall Street movement, Schwab said, “We also try… to put more emphasis on integrating the youth into what we are doing.”
So, what exactly has the World Economic Forum been doing, and how did it emerge in the first place?
It began in 1971 as the European Management Forum, inviting roughly 400 of Europe’s top CEOs to promote American forms of business management. Created by Schwab, a Swiss national who studied in the U.S. and who still heads the event today, the Forum changed its name in 1987 to the World Economic Forum after growing into an annual get together of global elites who promoted and profited off of the expansion of “global markets.” It is the gathering place for the titans of corporate and financial power.
Despite the globalizing economy, politics at the Forum have remained surprisingly national. The annual meetings are a means to promote social connections between key global power players and national leaders along with the plutocratic class of corporate and financial oligarchs. The WEF has been a consistent forum for advanced “networking” and deal-making between companies, occasional geopolitical announcements and agreements, and for the promotion of “global governance” in a world governed of global markets.
Writing in the Financial Times, Gideon Rachman noted that more than anything else, “the true significance of the World Economic Forum lies in the realm of ideas and ideology,” noting that it was where the world’s leaders gathered “to set aside their differences and to speak a common language… they restate their commitment to a single, global economy and to the capitalist values that underpin it.” This reflected the “globalization consensus” which was embraced not simply by the powerful Group of Seven nations, but by many of the prominent emerging markets such as China, Russia, India and Brazil.
Indeed, the World Economic Forum’s main purpose is to function as a socializing institution for the emerging global elite, globalization’s “Mafiocracy” of bankers, industrialists, oligarchs, technocrats and politicians. They promote common ideas, and serve common interests: their own.
Geopolitics, Global Governance and the Arrival of the “Davos Class”
The World Economic Forum has been shaped by – and has in turn, shaped – the course and changes in geopolitics, or “world order,” over the past several decades. Created amidst the rise of West Germany and Japan as prominent economic powers competing with the United States, the oil shocks of the 1970s also produced immense new powers for the Arab oil dictatorships and the large global banks that recycled that oil money, loaning it to Third World countries.
New forums for “global governance” began to emerge, such as the meetings of the Group of Seven: the heads of state, finance ministers and central bank governors of the seven leading industrial powers including the U.S., West Germany, Japan, U.K., France, Italy and Canada, starting in 1975. When the debt crisis of the 1980s hit, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank achieved immense new powers over entire economies and regions, reshaping the structure of societies to promote “market economies” and advance the interests of domestic and international corporate and financial oligarchs.
Between 1989 and 1991, the global power structure changed dramatically with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. With that came President George H.W. Bush’s announcement of a “New World Order” in which America claimed “victory” in the Cold War, and a unipolar world took shape under the hegemony of the United States. The ideological war between the West and the Soviet Union was declared victorious in favor of Western Capitalist Democracy. The “market system” was to become globalized as never before, especially under the presidency of Bill Clinton who led the U.S. during its largest ever economic expansion between 1993 and 2001.
During this time, the annual meetings of the World Economic Forum became more important than ever, and the role of the WEF in establishing a “Davos Class” became widely acknowledged. At the 1990 meeting, the focus was on Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union’s transition to “market-oriented economies.” Political leaders from Eastern Europe and Western Europe met in private meetings, with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl articulating his desire to reunify Germany and cement Germany’s growing power within the European Community and NATO.
Helmut Kohl laid out his strategy for shaping the “security and economic structure of Europe” within a unified Germany. Kohl’s “grand design” for Europe envisioned a unified Germany as being “firmly anchored” in the expanding European Community, the main objective of which was to establish an “internal market” by 1992 and to advance toward an economic and monetary union, with potential to expand eastward. Kohl presented this as a peaceful way for German power to grow while assuaging fears of Eastern Europeans and others about the economically resurgent country at the heart of Europe.
At the 1992 WEF meeting, the United States and reunified Germany encouraged “drastic steps to insure a liberalization of world trade,” and furthered efforts to support the growth of market economies in Eastern Europe. The German Economics Minister called for the Group of Seven to meet and restart global trade talks through the 105-nation General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). At that same meeting, the Chinese delegation included Prime Minister Li Peng, who was the highest-level Chinese official to travel internationally since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Of great significance also was the attendance of Nelson Mandela, the new president of South Africa. When Mandela was released from prison in 1990, he declared the policy of the African National Congress (ANC) was to implement “the nationalization of the mines, banks and monopoly industries.” When Mandela attended the January 1992 meeting of the WEF just after becoming president, he changed his views and embraced “capitalism and globalization.” Mandela attended the meeting alongside the governor of the central bank of South Africa, Tito Mboweni, who explained that Mandela arrived with a speech written by ANC officials focusing on nationalization. As the week’s meetings continued, Mandela met with leaders from Communist Parties in China and Vietnam, who told him, “We are currently striving to privatize state enterprises and invite private enterprise into our economies. We are Communist Party governments, and you are a leader of a national liberation movement. Why are you talking about nationalization?”
As a result, Mandela changed his views, telling the Davos crowd that he would open South Africa up as a market economy and encourage investment. South Africa subsequently became the continent’s fastest growing economy, though inequality today is greater than it was during apartheid. As Mandela explained to his official biographer, he came home from the 1992 WEF meeting and told other top officials that they had to choose: “We either keep nationalization and get no investment, or we modify our own attitude and get investment.”
At the 1993 meeting, the main consensus that had emerged called for the U.S. to maintain its position as a global economic and military power, and for it to take the lead encouraging greater “co-operation” between powerful nations. The major fear among Davos participants was that while economies were becoming globalized, politics was turning inward and becoming “renationalized.”
Later that year, Anthony Lake, Bill Clinton’s National Security Adviser, articulated the “Clinton Doctrine” for the world, explaining: “The successor to a doctrine of containment must be a strategy of enlargement – enlargement of the world’s free community of market democracies.” Lake explained that the United States “must combine our broad goals of fostering democracy and markets with our more traditional geostrategic interests.” No doubt, the Davos crowd welcomed such news.
At the 1994 meeting, the director-general of GATT, Peter D. Sutherland, declared that world leaders needed to establish “a new high-level forum for international economic co-operation,” moving beyond the Group of Seven to become more inclusive of the major “emerging market” economies. Sutherland told the assembled plutocrats that “we cannot continue with the majority of the world’s people excluded from participation in global economic management.” Eventually, the organization Sutherland described was formed, as the Group of 20, bringing the leading 20 industrial and economic powers together in one setting. Formed in 1999, the G20 didn’t become a major forum for global governance until the 2008 financial crisis.
In 1995, the Financial Times noted that the new “buzzword” for international policymakers was “global governance,” articulating a desire and strategy for updating and expanding the institutions and efforts of international co-operation. The January 1995 World Economic Forum meeting was the venue for the presentation of an official UN report on global governance. President Clinton addressed the Davos crowd by satellite, stressing that he would continue to push for the construction of a new “economic architecture,” notably at meetings of the Group of Seven.
In 1997, the highly influential U.S. political scientist Samuel Huntington coined the term “Davos Man,” which he described as a group of elite individuals who “have little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that are thankfully vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite’s global operations.” An article that year in The Economist came to the defense of the “Davos Man,” declaring that he was replacing traditional diplomacy which was “more likely to bring peoples together than to force them apart,” noting that the WEF was “paid for by companies and run in their interests.”
Samuel Huntington presented a thesis, summarized in a 1997 Financial Times article, that outlined a world that “would be divided into spheres of influence,” within which “one or two core states would rule the roost.” Huntington noted that the “Davos culture people,” while extremely powerful, were only a tiny fraction of the world’s population, and the leaders of this faction “do not necessarily have a secure grip on power in their own societies.” The Financial Times, however, noted that while the “Davos culture people” did not constitute a “universal civilization” being such a tiny minority of the world’s population, “they could be the vanguard of one.”
Russian Oligarchs and the Rise of China
In fact, at the previous year’s meeting in Davos, the World Economic Forum functioned precisely as the vanguard for seven Russian oligarchs to take control of Russia and shape its future. At the 1996 meeting of the WEF, the Russian delegation was made up largely of the country’s new oligarchs who had amassed great fortunes in the transition to a market economy. Their great worry was that Russian President Boris Yeltsin would lose his re-election later that year to the resurgence of the Communists. At the WEF meeting, seven Russian oligarchs, led by Boris Berezovsky, formed an alliance during private meetings, where they decided to fund Yeltsin’s re-election and work together to “reshape their country’s future.” This alliance (or cartel, as some may refer to it), was the key to Yeltsin’s re-election victory later that year, as they held weekly meetings with Yeltsin’s chief of staff, Anatoly Chubais, the architect of Russia’s privatization program that made them all so rich.
Berezovsky explained that if the oligarchs did not work together to promote common ends, it would be impossible to have a transition to a market economy “automatically.” Instead, he explained, “We need to use all our power to realize this transformation.” As the Financial Times noted, the oligarchs “assembled a remarkable political machine to entrench and promote the market economy – as well as their own financial interests,” as the seven men collectively controlled roughly half the entire Russian economy.
Anatoly Chubais commented on this development and the role of the oligarchs, saying: “They steal and steal and steal. They are stealing absolutely everything and it is impossible to stop them… But let them steal and take their property. They will then become owners and decent administrators of this property.”
In the 1990s, with the spread of global markets came the spread of major financial crises: in Mexico, across Africa, East Asia, Russia and then back to Latin America. At the WEF meeting in 1999, the key issue was “reform of the international financial system.” As the economic crises spread, the Group of Seven nations, and the Davos Class, told the countries in crisis that in order “to restore confidence [of the markets], they should adopt politically unpopular policies of radical structural reform,” promoting further liberalization and deregulation of markets to open themselves up to Western corporate and financial interests and ‘investment.’
The major emerging markets have been frequent participants in annual Davos meetings, providing a forum in which national elites may become acquainted with the global ruling class, with whom they then cooperate and do business. China has been a major feature at Davos meetings. China started sending more high-level delegations to the WEF in the mid-1980s. During the 2009 meeting, two prominent speakers were President Putin of Russia and the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Both leaders painted a picture of the crisis as emanating from the centers of finance and globalization in the United States and elsewhere, with the “blind pursuit of profit” and “the failure of financial supervision” – in Wen’s words – and bringing about what Putin described as a “perfect storm.” Both Wen and Putin, however, declared their intentions to work with the major industrial powers “on solving common economic problems.”
In 2010, China’s presence at Davos was a significant one. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who attended the previous year, was not to return. In his stead, his chosen successor, Li Keqiang, attended. China’s economy was performing better than expected as its government was coming under increases pressure from major global corporations.
Kristin Forbes, a former member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers and an attendee at Davos, commented, “China is the West’s greatest hope and greatest fear… No one was quite ready for how fast China has emerged… Now everyone is trying to understand what sort of China they will be dealing with.” China sent its largest delegation to date to the World Economic Forum, with a total of 54 executives and government officials, many of whom were intending to “go shopping” for clients among the world’s elite.
Li Keqiang, the future Chinese prime minister, told the Davos audience that China was going to shift from its previous focus on exports and turn to “boosting domestic demand,” which would “not only drive growth in China but also provide greater markets for the world.” Li explained that China would “allow the market to play a primary role in the allocation of resources.”
In 2011, The New York Times declared that the World Economic Forum represented “the emergence of an international economic elite” that took place at the same time as unprecedented increases in inequality between the rich and poor, particularly in the powerful countries but also in the fast-emerging economies. Chrystia Freeland wrote that “the rise of government-connected plutocrats is not just a phenomenon in places like Russia, India and China,” but that the major Western bailouts reflected what the former chief economist at the IMF, Simon Johnson, referred to as a “quiet coup” by bankers in the United States and elsewhere.
Davos and the Financial Oligarchy
The power of global finance – and in particular, banks and oligarchs – has grown with each successive financial crisis. As the financial crisis tore through the world in 2008, the January 2009 meeting of the World Economic Forum featured less of the Wall Street titans and more top politicians. Schwab declared, “The pendulum has swung and power has moved back to governments,” adding that “this is the biggest economic crisis since Davos began.” Goldman Sachs, which in past years was “renowned for hosting one of the hottest parties at the World Economic Forum’s glittering annual meeting in Davos,” had cancelled its 2009 party. Nonetheless, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, decided to continue with his plans to host a Davos party.
In 2010, thousands of delegates assembled to discuss the “important’ issues of the day. And despite the reputation of banks and bankers being at all-time lows, top executives of the world’s largest financial institutions showed up in full force. The week before the meeting, President Obama called for the establishment of laws to deal with the “too big to fail” banks, and European leaders were responding to the anger of their domestic populations for having to pay for the massive bailouts of financial institutions during the financial crisis.
Britain and France were discussing the prospect of taxing banker bonuses, and Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, suggested the possibility of breaking up the big banks. Several panels at the WEF meeting were devoted to discussing the financial system and its possible regulation, as bankers like Josef Ackermann of Deutsche Bank suggested that they would agree to limited regulations (at least on “capital requirements”).
More important, however, were plans for a series of private meetings of government representatives and bank chiefs, who would meet separately, and then together, in Davos. Roughly 235 bankers were to attend the summit – a 23% increase from the previous year. Global bankers and other corporate leaders were worried, and warned the major governments in attendance against the financial repercussions of pursuing “a populist crackdown” against banks and financial markets. French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke to the Forum’s guests about a need for a “revolution” in global financial regulation, and for “reform of the international monetary system.”
The heads of roughly 30 of the world’s largest banks held a private meeting at Davos “to plot how to reassert their influence with regulators and governments,” noted a report on Bloomberg. The “private meeting” was a precursor to a later meeting at Davos involving top policymakers and regulators. Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, said of the assembled bankers, “We’re trying to figure out ways that we can be more engaged.” According to Moynihan, a good deal of the closed-door discussion “was about tactics, such as who the executives should approach and when.” The CEO of UBS, a major Swiss bank, commented that “it was a positive meeting, we’re in consensus.” The bankers said they were aware that some new rules were inevitable, but they wanted to encourage regulators and countries to coordinate the rules through the Group of 20, revived in 2009 as the premier forum for international cooperation and “global governance.”
Josef Ackermann, CEO of Deutsche Bank, suggested that “we should stop the bank bashing,” and affirmed that banks had a “noble role” to play in managing the economic recovery. Christine Lagarde, France’s Finance Minister and current Managing Director of the IMF, encouraged a “dialogue” between governments and banks, saying, “That’s the only way we’re going to get out of it.” Later that week, the bankers met “behind closed doors with finance ministers, central bankers and regulators from major economies.”
The key message from finance ministers, regulators and central bankers was a political one: “They [the banks] should accept more stringent regulation, or face more draconian curbs from politicians responding to an angry public.” Guillermo Ortiz, who had just left his post as governor of the central bank of Mexico, said, “I think banks have misjudged the deep feelings of the public regarding the devastating effects of the crisis.” French President Sarkozy stated that “there is indecent behavior that will no longer be tolerated by public opinion in any country of the world,” and that bankers giving themselves excessive bonuses as they were “destroying jobs and wealth” was “morally indefensible.”
As the 2011 Davos meeting began, Edelman, a major communications consultancy, released a report that revealed a poll conducted among 5,000 wealthy and educated individuals in 23 countries, considered to be “well-informed.” The results of the poll showed there to be a massive decline in trust for major institutions, with banks taking the biggest hit. Prior to the financial crisis in 2007, 71% of those polled expressed trust in banks compared with a new low of 25 percent in 2011.
Despite the lack of public trust in banks and financial institutions, Davos remains devoted to protecting and expanding the interests of the financial elite. In fact, the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum (its top governing body) includes many representatives of the world of finance and global financial governance. Among them are Mukesh Ambani, who sits on advisory boards to Citigroup, Bank of America and the National Bank of Kuwait; and Herman Gref, the CEO of Sberbank, a large Russian bank. Ernesto Zedillo, the former President of Mexico who is also a member of the board, currently serves as a director on the boards of Rolls Royce and JPMorgan Chase, international advisory boards to BP and Credit Suisse, an adviser to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and is a member of the Group of Thirty and the Trilateral Commission as well as sitting on the board of one of the world’s most influential economic think tanks, the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Also notable, Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, is a member of the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum. Carney started his career working for Goldman Sachs for 13 years, after which he was appointed as Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada. After a subsequent stint in Canada’s Ministry of Finance, Carney returned to the Bank of Canada as governor from 2008 to 2013, when he became the first non-Briton to be appointed as head of the Bank of England in its 330-year history. From 2011 to present, Carney has also been the Chairman of the Financial Stability Board, run out of the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland.
Apart from heading the FSB, Mark Carney is also a board member of the BIS, which serves as the central bank for the world’s major central banks. He is also a member of the Group of Thirty, a private and highly influential think tank and lobby group that brings together dozens of the most influential economists, central bankers, commercial bankers and finance ministers. Carney has also been a regular attendee at annual meetings of the Bilderberg Group, an even more-exclusive “invite only” global conference than the WEF.
Though there are few women among the WEF’s membership – let alone its leadership – Christine Lagarde has made the list, while simultaneously serving as the managing director of the IMF. She previously served as the French finance minister throughout the course of the financial crisis. Lagarde also attends occasional Bilderberg meetings, and is one of the most powerful technocrats in the world. Min Zhu, the deputy managing director of the IMF, also sits on the WEF’s board.
Further, the World Economic Forum has another governing body, the International Business Council, first established in 2002 and composed of 100 “highly respected and influential chief executives from all industries,” which “acts as an advisory body providing intellectual stewardship to the World Economic Forum and makes active contributions to the Annual Meeting agenda.”
The membership of the WEF is divided into three categories: Regional Partners, Industry Partner Groups, and the most esteemed, the Strategic Partners. Membership fees paid by corporations and industry groups finance the Forum and its activities and provide the member company with extra access to meet delegates, hold private meetings and set the agenda. In 2015, the cost of an annual Strategic Partner status with the WEF had increased to nearly $700,000. Among the WEF’s current strategic partners are Bank of America, Barclays, BlackRock, BP, Chevron, Citi, Coca-Cola, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Dow Chemical, Facebook, GE, Goldman Sachs, Google, HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, PepsiCo, Siemens, Total, and UBS, among others.
Depending on its finances from these sources, as well as being governed by individuals from these and others institutions, it is no surprise that Davos promotes the interests of financial and corporate power above all else. This is further evident on matters related to trade.
Davos and “Trade”
Trade has been another consistent, major issue at Davos meetings – which is to say, the promotion of powerful corporate and financial interests has been central to the functions of the WEF. As the Wall Street Journal noted, “it is pretty much a tradition that trade ministers meet at Davos with an informal meeting.” At the 2013 meeting, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk explained at Davos that the Obama administration was “committed to reaching an agreement to smooth trade with the European Union,” saying in an interview that “we greatly value the trans-Atlantic relationship.” The week’s meetings suggested that there “were signs of progress toward a trade accord.” Thomas J. Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who was present at Davos, commented that “half a dozen senior leaders in Europe are ready to move forward.”
In fact, at the previous Davos meeting in January 2012, high level U.S. and EU officials met behind closed doors with the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD), a major corporate grouping that promotes a U.S.-E.U. “free trade” agreement. The TABD was represented at the meeting by 21 top corporate executives, and was attended by U.S. Trade Representative Kirk, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, the European Commissioner for Trade, Karel De Gucht, other top technocrats, and Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economic Affairs, Michael Froman (who is now the U.S. Trade Representative). The result of the meeting was the release of a report on a “Vision for the Future of EU-US Economic Relations,” which called “to press for urgent action on a visionary and ambitious agenda.” The meeting also recommended the establishment of a “CEO Task Force” to work directly with the “High Level Working Group” of trade ministers and technocrats to chart a way forward.
Just prior to the 2013 meeting in Davos, the TABD corporate group merged with another corporate network to form the Transatlantic Business Council (TBC), a group of top CEOs and chairmen of major corporations, representing roughly 70 major corporations. The purpose of the TBC was to hold “semi-annual meetings with U.S. Cabinet Secretaries and European Commissioners (in Davos and elsewhere).” At the Davos 2013 meeting, the TBC met behind closed doors with high level officials from the U.S. and EU. Michael Froman, who would replace Ron Kirk as the U.S. Trade Rep, spoke at the meeting, declaring that “the transatlantic economy is to become the global benchmark for standards in a globalized world.”
The following month, the U.S. and EU “High Level Working Group” released its final report in which it recommended “a comprehensive trade and investment agreement” between the two regions. Two days after the publication of this report, President Obama issued a joint statement with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, in which they announced that “the United States and the European Union will each initiate the internal procedures necessary to launch negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership,” or TTIP. At the announcement, Kirk declared the sectors that will fall under the proposed agreement, stating that, “for us, everything is on the table, across all sectors, including the agricultural sector.”
The World Economic Forum in a World of Unrest
Perhaps most interestingly, the World Economic Forum has been consistently interested in the prospects of social unrest, protests and resistance movements, particularly those that directly confront the interests of corporate and financial power. This became particularly true following the mass protests in 1999 against the World Trade Organization, which disrupted the major trade talks taking place in Seattle and marked the ascendency of what Davos called the “anti-globalization movement.”
These issues were foremost on the minds of the Davos Class as they met less than two months later in Switzerland for the annual WEF meeting in 2000. The New York Times noted that as President Clinton attempted to address the issue of restoring “confidence in trade and globalization” at the WEF, global leaders – particularly those assembled at Davos – were increasingly aware of the new reality that “popular impressions of globalization seem to have shifted” with growing numbers of people, including the protesters in Seattle, voicing criticism of the growing inequality between rich and poor, environmental degradation and financial instability. The head of the WTO declared that “globalism is the new ‘ism’ that everyone loves to hate… There is nothing that our critics will not blame on globalization and, yes, it is hurting us.”
The guests included President Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, along with the leaders of South Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia and Finland, among others. The head of the WTO and many of the world’s trade ministers were also set to attend, hoping to try to re-start negotiations, though protesters were also declaring their intention to disrupt the Forum’s meeting. With these worries in mind, the Swiss Army was deployed to protect the 2,000 members of the Davos Class from being confronted by protesters.
As the World Economic Forum met again in January of 2001 in Davos, “unprecedented security measures” were taken to prevent “hooligans” from disrupting the meeting. On the other side of the world, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, roughly 10,000 activists were expected to converge for the newly-formed World Social Forum, a counter-forum to Davos that represented the interests of activist groups and the Third World. As the Davos Class met quietly behind closed doors, comforted by the concrete blocks and razor wire that surrounded the small town, police on the other side of the fence beat back protesters.
In the wake of the financial crisis, the WEF meeting in 2009 drew hundreds of protesters to Davos and Geneva where they were met by riot police using tear gas and water cannons. Inside the Forum meeting, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde warned the assembled leaders, “We’re facing two major risks: one is social unrest and the second is protectionism.” She noted that the task before the Davos Class was “to restore confidence in the systems and confidence at large.” Protesters assembled outside held signs reading, “You are the Crisis.”
The January 2012 WEF meeting took place following a year of tumultuous and violent upheavals across the Arab world, large anti-austerity movements across much of Europe, notably with the Indignados in Spain, and the Occupy Wall Street movement just months prior in the United States and across much of the world. As the meeting approached, the WEF announced in a report that the top two risks facing business leaders and policy makers were “severe income disparity and chronic fiscal imbalances.” The report warned that if these issues were not addressed it could result in a “dystopian future for much of humanity.” The Occupy Movement had taken the issue of inequality directly to Davos, and there was even a small Occupy protest camp constructed at Davos.
As the Financial Times noted, “Until this year  the issue of inequality never appeared on the risk list at all, let alone topped it.” At the heart of it was “the question of social stability,” with many Davos attendees wondering “where else unrest might appear.” Beth Brooke, the global vice chair of Ernst & Young, noted that “countries which have disappearing middle classes face risks – history shows that.”
With citizens taking to city streets and protesting in public squares from Cairo to Athens and New York, the Financial Times noted that discontent was “rampant,” and that “the only consistent messages seem to be that leaders around the world are failing to deliver on their citizens’ expectations and that Facebook and Twitter allows crowds to coalesce in an instant to let them know it.” For the 40 government leaders assembling in Davos, “this is not a comforting picture.”
In Europe, democratically elected leaders in Italy and Greece had been removed and replaced with economists and central bankers in a technocratic coup only months earlier, largely at the behest of Germany. Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank (ECB), was perhaps “the most powerful leader in Europe,” though an Occupy movement had sprung up at the headquarters of the ECB in Frankfurt as well.
During the Forum, Occupy protesters outside clashed with police. Stephen Roach, a member of the faculty at Yale University and a chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, wrote an article in the Financial Times describing his experiences as a panelist at the “Open Forum,” held on the last day of the Davos gathering, in which citizens from the local community could participate along with students and Occupy protesters. The topic he discussed was “remodeling capitalism,” which, Roach wrote, “was a chance to open up this debate to the seething masses.” But the results were “disturbing” as “chaos erupted immediately” with chants from Occupy protesters denouncing the forum and calling for more to join them. Roach wrote that it was “unruly and unsettling” and he “started thinking more about an escape route than opening comments.”
Once the discussions began, Roach found himself listening to the first panelist, a 24-year-old Occupy protester named Maria who expressed anger at “the system” and that there was a “need to construct a new one based on equality, dignity and respect.” Other panelists from the WEF included Ed Miliband from the U.K., a UN Commissioner, a Czech academic and a minister from the Jordanian dictatorship. Roach noted that compared to Maria from Occupy, “the rest of us on the panel spoke a different language.”
Having spent decades as a banker on Wall Street, Roach confessed that “it as unsettling to engage a hostile crowd whose main complaint is rooted in Occupy Wall Street,” explaining that he attempted to focus on his expertise as an economist, “speaking over hisses.” He explained that all of his “expert” insights on economics “hardly moved this crowd.” Maria from Occupy, Roach wrote, got the last word as she stated, “The aim of Occupy is to think for yourself. We don’t focus on solutions. We want to change the process of finding solutions.” As “the crowd roared its approval,” Roach “made a hasty exit through a secret door in the kitchen and out into the night.” Davos, he wrote, “will never again be the same for me. There can be no retreat in the battle for big ideas.”
In October of 2013, The Economist reported that “from anti-austerity movements to middle-class revolts, in rich countries and in poor, social unrest has been on the rise around the world.” A World Economic Forum report from November 2013 warned of the dangers of a “lost generation” that would “be more prone to populist politics,” and that “we will see an escalation in social unrest.” Over the course of 2013, major financial institutions such as JPMorgan Chase, UBS, HSBC, AXA and others were issuing reports warning of the dangers of social unrest and rebellion. JPMorgan Chase, in its May 2013 report, stated that Europe’s “adjustment” to its new economic order was only “halfway done on average,” warning of major challenges ahead. The report complained about laws hindering the advancement of its agenda, such as “constitutional protection of labor rights… and the right to protest if unwelcome changes are made to the political status quo.”
The 2014 meeting of the World Economic Forum drew more than 40 heads of state, including then-president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich, as well as Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Brazilian Presient Dilma Rousseff, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and prominent central bankers such as Mario Draghi and Mark Carney also attended alongside IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and World Bank president Jim Yong Kim.
As the meeting began, a major report by the World Economic Forum was published, declaring that the “single biggest risk to the world in 2014” was the widening “gap between rich and poor.” Thus, income inequality and “social unrest are the issue[s] most likely to have a big impact on the world economy in the next decade.” The report warned that the world was witnessing the “lost generation” of youth around the world who lack jobs and opportunities, which “could easily boil over into social upheaval,” citing recent examples in Brazil and Thailand.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is due to attend the annual Davos meeting this week. But just prior to that meeting, violent protests erupted in the streets of Brazil in opposition to austerity measures imposed by President Rousseff, recalling “the beginnings of the mass street demonstrations that rocked Brazil in June 2013.” One wonders whether Rousseff will be attending next year’s meeting of the WEF, or whether she will still even be president.
Indeed, the growth and power of the Davos Class has grown with – and spurred – the development of global unrest, protests, resistance movements and revolution. As Davos welcomes the global plutocrats to 2015, no doubt they’ll be reminded of the repercussions of the “market system” as populations around the world remind their leaders of the power of people.
Global Power Project: Bilderberg Group and the Power of the Finance Ministry
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
8 January 2015
Originally posted at Occupy.com
This is the seventh installment in a series looking at the activities and individuals behind the Bilderberg Group. Read the first part, second part, third part, fourth part, fifth part and sixth part in the series.
Throughout the course of the financial and debt crises in Europe, politicians played a supporting role to financial markets and financial technocrats – that is, the economists, academics, central bankers, finance ministers and heads of international organizations who articulate the interests of powerful financial and social groups in the technocratic language of “expertise,” and who enact policies, create and shape major institutions, and whose decisions affect the lives of hundreds of millions, even billions, of people.
A number of the world’s top technocrats between 2008 and 2014 have been members or guests of Bilderberg meetings. Most especially, European technocrats have been highly represented within the membership, and were among the most influential players throughout Europe’s financial and debt crises. This article examines the technocratic institution of the “Finance Ministry,” specifically as it relates to the European debt crisis and the Bilderberg Group.
The Ministry of Finance
Finance ministers and ministries have truly immense power in the modern world. They manage the finances – money and debt – and budgets of states, and are responsible for the allocation of funding to governments, their departments, and their policies. Depending on an individual nation’s power and governance system, finance ministries can often wield influence that dwarfs other top government officials, and occasionally even presidents and prime ministers. They are pivotal determining domestic and foreign policy, and most responsible for designing and implementing financial and economic policy.
The wealthier a nation, the more important its finance ministry, and the more powerful are its officials. In the United States, it’s the Treasury Department and its secretary; in the U.K. it’s the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer; in most European nations, and in Japan, it’s simply the Finance Minister.
In January of 1979, U.S. President Jimmy Carter met with the leaders of France, Britain and West Germany. The New York Times noted that Carter was the only leader in the group who had not previously served as a finance minister. The paper’s Frank Vogl wrote: “More former finance ministers are now occupying the top political offices in the leading industrial nations than ever,” with the addition of Japan’s new prime minister, Masayoshi Ohira. The leaders knew each other well, having spent years interacting at major conferences and coordinating policies as finance ministers before taking the top political spots. Collectively, they are key officials of “global economic leadership.”
The role of finance ministers in global economic leadership has only expanded in subsequent decades. They meet, discuss and coordinate global policies alongside central bankers at the G7, G8 and G20 meetings. The also hold shares in and are represented on the boards of international organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which manages the finances and economic policies of dozens of countries around the world.
Europe in Crisis
Europe’s finance ministers were pivotal in the management of the European debt crisis. These technocrats shaped the financial policies of powerful nations and international organizations, coordinated with central banks, created new transnational institutions, and pushed policies that have had profound effects upon the future of the European Union and the 500 million people who live within it. Many of the most influential finance ministers in Europe were also frequent participants in Bilderberg meetings over the period of time from the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008 and throughout the debt crisis until 2014.
Throughout the course of the European debt crisis, Germany was joined by what the Financial Times called “its two closest allies in the Eurozone,” the Netherlands and Finland, who shared the German hardline demands of austerity and structural reforms for countries in crisis. Together, the central banks and finance ministries of these three nations frequently coordinated actions and objectives.
The three countries were among the major creditors to the crisis-hit debtor nations, and thus their united response to the crisis guaranteed that they would be the most influential national bloc within the E.U. This gave them a great deal of leverage in shaping the policies of other major technocratic institutions, like the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission (EC).
In 2008, the Financial Times ranked Finland’s Jyrki Katainen as the top finance minister in Europe, describing him as “part of a new wave of youthful center-right European leaders,” and one who could possibly become the future Finnish prime minister. In 2010, Katainen was again ranked on the top ten list of the best finance ministers in Europe, as determined by a group of judges who were mainly chief economists from major banks.
The Financial Times noted that Katainen, who had served as minister since 2007, led Finland “through its deepest recession since independence from Russia in 1917,” and that he was “a chief ally of Germany in the push for tougher European Union fiscal rules.” Katainen had attended Bilderberg meetings in both 2009 and 2010.
The following year, in 2011, Katainen took the top job as Prime Minister of Finland, forming a coalition government in which he appointed one of the opposition party leaders, Jutta Urpilainen, as the Finance Minister, the first woman to hold the post. The Financial Times noted that Urpilainen was “likely to take a tough stance on Eurozone policy,” committing herself and the government “to helping create a more stable Eurozone.”
In May of 2012, the Financial Times wrote that previously as finance minister and presently as prime minister, Jyrki Katainen had taken Finland on “a hard line over matters such as the Greek bailout and austerity, often exceeding the position even of Germany.” As part of this “hard line” abroad, Finland also employed it at home, with Katainen overseeing the implementation of successive austerity measures. In 2013, while Finland was entering its third recession since the financial crisis began – all under Katainen’s watch – the prime minister announced further budget cuts.
Finland’s hard line from 2011 on was pushed by its finance minister Jutta Urpilainen, “who took a more demanding position on the crisis.” Urpilainen attended Bilderberg meetings in 2012 and 2013. In 2011, the Financial Times ranked Urpilainen on the list of top ten European finance ministers, noting that she “demanded ailing fellow Eurozone economies provide collateral in return for aid… earning herself a reputation in Brussels as stubborn.”
She again earned a top ten spot in 2012, with the Financial Times commenting that she had “taken one of the toughest approaches on bailouts among her European counterparts,” and in doing so had “caused tension with her predecessor, Kyrki Katainen,” then serving as prime minister.
In the midst of the eruption of the Greek debt crisis in 2010, the Greek Finance Minister, George Papaconstantinou, who was responsible for negotiating the E.U. bailout, attended that year’s Bilderberg meeting. That same year, the Financial Times gave him a top ten ranking, noting that he had “stayed cool while negotiating harsh fiscal and structural reforms with the European Union and [IMF],” and that he cut the budget deficit “by a national record.” This, of course, had extremely negative consequences for the population of Greece.
In the midst of Italy’s exploding debt crisis in 2011, its finance minister, Giulio Tremonti, attended that year’s Bilderberg meeting having also earned himself a top ten ranking in 2009. A former Italian finance minister, Tomasso Padoa-Schioppa, had also attended Bilderberg meetings between 2008 and 2010.
In 2013, the Bilderberg meeting was attended by Bjarne Corydon, the Danish finance minister, as well as Anders Borg, the Swedish finance minister. Anders Borg ranked among the top ten finance ministers in all of the Financial Times surveys between 2008 and 2012, including holding the number one and number two ranking for 2011 and 2012, respectively. In 2010, the Financial Times noted that “Borg has had a good crisis,” as he “established himself as one of Europe’s most authoritative economic voices, and his reputation has been enhanced by Sweden’s rapid recovery from recession.”
In 2011, the Financial Times wrote that Borg, a former banker who had served as Swedish finance minister since 2005, “is a master at blending erudition with popular appeal,” noting that his criticism of bank bonuses “won voters’ hearts while his devotion to fiscal discipline [austerity] and sound public finances has endeared him to the markets.” Borg carries heavy weight in Brussels, headquarters of the European Union, earning a reputation as “the wizard behind one of Europe’s best-performing economies.”
Shortly after the democratically-elected governments of Greece and Italy were replaced with bankers and economists in a technocratic coup in November of 2011, the Financial Times reported that “Sweden has, in effect, had an unelected technocrat running its public finances for the past six years.” That technocrat, Anders Borg, previously “worked as a bank economist in the private sector and as an adviser to both Sweden’s central bank and the country’s Moderate party.”
Throughout the European debt crisis, meetings of the Eurogroup, composed of the finance ministers of the 17-member states of the single currency, played a key role doing “the heavy lifting on the bloc’s economic policy, from banking reforms to bailouts.” The “Troika” that was formed to manage the debt crisis – composed of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund – would report directly to the Eurogroup of finance ministers on all important decisions related to the bailouts and austerity packages.
Finance ministers, together with Europe’s central bankers and other technocrats leading major EU and international organizations, were key to shaping the response and policies of the financial and debt crisis. At Bilderberg meetings, all of these officials were able to gather together, alongside captains of industry and top financiers, to discuss Europe’s problems and coordinate responses.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a freelance writer and researcher based in Montreal, Canada.
Global Power Project: Bilderberg Group and the Cult of Austerity
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
26 December 2014
Originally posted at Occupy.com
This is the sixth installment in a series examining the activities and individuals behind the Bilderberg Group. Read the first part, second part, third part, fourth part, and fifth part in the series.
It could almost be a slogan: Bilderberg brings people together. Specifically, every year, the Bilderberg Group holds secret, “private” meetings at four star hotels around the world, bringing together nearly 150 of the world’s most influential bankers, corporate executives, dynasties, heads-of-state, foreign policy strategists, central bankers and finance ministers. It also invites the heads of international organizations, think tanks, foundations, universities, military and intelligence officials, media barons, journalists and academics.
Participants at Bilderberg appreciate having a closed-door forum where they can speak openly and directly to one other – and of course, not to us. But perhaps we, the people, would also like to hear what they have to say. For the past four years, Bilderbergers have been running around the world preaching the gospel of “austerity” and “structural reform” – very important terms. If you don’t know what they mean, Bilderbergers are working their day jobs to make sure you will learn.
What is Austerity?
If you’ve been to Bilderberg, chances are you’re a fan of austerity: promoting it, demanding it, implementing it and profiting from it.
Austerity has several names and phrases, including “fiscal consolidation” and “balancing the budget.” There are so many things to call it – but in the end you know it’s austerity because the policies are the same and the effects of those policies are, too. There is a reason why political and technocratic language is made to sound so vague and dull: because behind the words lie brutal actions and devastating consequences. If we understood their true meaning, their use would very often be shocking and unacceptable. Instead, their use has become common and seemingly inconsequential.
Here, however, are the consequences:
Austerity is a set of policies which are, in theory, designed to help a nation or government reduce its “budget deficit,” balance its books and, in time, even produce a yearly “surplus,” or profit. Thus, “austerity measures” are designed to do one thing: cut spending on almost everything, except, of course, the really important things like military and police, subsidies to large banks and corporations, and debt repayments. Otherwise it’s like at a clearance sale for countries, where everything must go. This is how the story generally works:
A country is in the midst of a “fiscal crisis.” It must make a very large interest payment on a debt it owes to some very large banks. These banks individually control more wealth and assets than most of the countries they deal with. Collectively, the banks hold more wealth and assets than any other single group in the world, and they always want their pound of flesh. When a country needs money, banks are there to help. Then the country is in their debt, with regular interest payments at a premium. A country can borrow an enormous sum of money by doing this, and not just from banks but from an array of financial institutions.
Apart from direct loans, this money is often borrowed in a very specific way. A country is in need of financing its budget over the coming year, so it plans what is called a “bond sale.” Bonds are financial instruments (aka, numbers on screens) that represent government or corporate debt. Governments sell their bonds in the “open market,” and when a government sells its bonds, the buyers are typically other nations, banks, asset management firms, sovereign wealth funds, international organizations and rich people. These parties “purchase” the bond at a set price, providing cash which that government puts in its treasury or finance ministry. In return, the newly purchased bond is a promise of future profits. It comes with a set interest rate and agreed upon dates for future payments. The government gets to fund its budget and manage its ministries and policies, while the banks earn interest – and influence.
The arrangement suits both parties, so long as it keeps going forever. But of course, it doesn’t. Eventually, the country builds up a substantial overall debt. Its interest payments become much larger and more frequent. Its need to borrow becomes much greater, and in ever greater amounts. On top of managing its budget, the government now has to pay huge sums of money to the global financial cartel. If the government can’t fund its budget, provide services and pay employees, it’s a government that is likely to collapse. But if it doesn’t pay its interest to the banks, then the government will almost certainly collapse. This is because it has entered the world of global financial warfare.
If a nation looks like it’s facing such a situation (which we call a “fiscal crisis”), financial markets tend to lose confidence in that country’s ability to repay its debts, and the downward spiral proceeds. They now begin to see the country as a “risk,” and suddenly institutions like credit ratings agencies are downgrading the country’s rating, just like a credit card company downgrades your individual rating. There are only three ratings agencies that dominate almost the entire global market for rating credit, so when they declare a downgrade, it becomes the gospel. This means that once a country is officially a risk, the financial institutions that continue to purchase its bonds (ie. debt) can demand a much higher interest rate on future payments, since those institutions are taking a greater risk.
At this point, one of two things happens. Either financial markets continue to purchase the country’s bonds with higher interest rates, or they decide that the country is too much of a risk and they refuse to fund it further. If they continue funding, the country continues to make its payments, though it remains unable to fund its regular functions. The country is left in a perpetual fiscal crisis whereby the interest payments get larger and the crisis gets deeper. This continues until financial markets stop purchasing debt.
The country is now in a major crisis. This is when rich, powerful governments and international organizations come to the “rescue” with money to lend – specifically, the United States, Germany, Britain, France, Japan, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But their money comes with strict conditions. These conditions have been defined and demanded beforehand by the major banks and financial institutions, and by the plethora of economists, central banks and finance ministries that support them. These are the “experts” and technocrats of global economic governance.
Such conditions require a country to “fix the problem” that created its fiscal crisis. But the main problem facing countries, according to bankers, economists, technocrats and politicians, is that they spend far too much money on social services that benefit their populations. Therefore, in order for a country to be able to borrow, it must implement “correct” policies designed to balance its budget and restore public finances. These policies are collectively described as “austerity measures,” and the process of implementing them is frequently referred to as “fiscal consolidation.” Long story short: governments must cut spending.
This means that healthcare, education, pensions, welfare and social services must be drastically gutted, masses of public sector employees must be fired, and taxes must be increased. Thus, austerity creates a new class of unemployed, pushed into poverty and deprived of all the resources that are meant to help the poor and disadvantaged, let alone everyone else. The economy goes into a deep depression as people stop spending and businesses collapse, unemployment and poverty soar, suicide and mortality rates increase, and racial and ethnic conflicts erupt. All of this is done so that a country is able to get a large loan (sometimes called a national bailout) from institutions like the IMF, European Union and the central banks of powerful U.S., Japanese and European nations. This loan is provided in order to pay the interest the country owes to the global financial cartel.
Populations are impoverished and societies are devastated in order to pay interest to global banks. All of this happens as a result of numbers on screens. This is “austerity,” or “fiscal consolidation,” as we know it.
Time to Reform
Either coupled with or following from austerity measures, lenders and bankers demand that the conditions of the loans include not only “necessary” austerity measures, but also important “structural reforms.” This bland term hides policies and objectives behind it that have the effect of radically altering the entire structure of the economy over a period of several years or even decades. These “reforms” will make the economy strong and “competitive” again, and bring the country out of its austerity-induced depression.
Typical structural reforms include privatizing all state-owned companies, assets and resources, which allow foreign companies, states and banks to purchase important national assets cheaply (and provide a short cash infusion in the process). Countries then have to further “liberalize” markets by reducing any and all government protections and regulations over specific sectors of the economy, allowing foreign banks and corporations to “compete” on an “even playing field.” This forces local and national industries, businesses and communities to compete against some of the largest transnational corporations in the world, many with more wealth and assets than their entire country is worth. As a result, foreign investors can afford to out-compete the local economy by providing cheaper products and services while maintaining global profits. Local businesses cannot compete, so they fail or are bought up. This often contributes to growing unemployment.
One of the key “structural reforms” demanded is “labor flexibility.” In countries with unions, workers rights, pensions and protections, where the labor force has institutional power, the labor market is often considered “rigid.” It does not bend to the wishes and demands of corporations and financial markets that want labor to be “flexible” to their demands. What do they demand? Cheap, exploitable labor. Implementing “labor flexibility” means it’s necessary to dismantle labor protections, regulations and benefits. Essentially, it’s a war on the working class.
“Structural reforms,” in essence, open up a nation, its resources and its population to be controlled, exploited and plundered by the world’s largest banks and corporations. These would be hard policies to sell if those who sold them spoke plainly. Instead, they describe a world in which nations need to “increase competitiveness” and implement the necessary “structural reforms” to create “economic growth.” The point is that it’s all so technical, you’re not supposed to understand it. But actually, it’s pretty simple. Which is why, every day, more and more of us are getting the message.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a freelance researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada.
The Brutes in Blue: From Ferguson to Freedom, Part 3
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
24 December 2014
Part 2: Institutional Racism in America
The protests resulting from events in Ferguson and New York have spurred a nation-wide anti-police brutality and social justice movement. This movement is addressing issues related to the realities of institutional racism in the United States, a colonial legacy born of slavery. Policing itself has a history and institutional function that is relevant to current events. This part in the series, ‘From Ferguson to Freedom’ examines the institution of policing and ‘law enforcement’, designed to protect the powerful from the people, to punish the poor and enforce injustice.
A Primer on Policing
Many social divisions erupt when it comes to discussing the issues of police and policing. Many accept the police and state-propagated view of police as being there ‘to serve and protect’, and that the ‘dangerous’ jobs of ensuring ‘peace’ and ‘safety’ are deserving of respect and admiration. Others view police as oppressors and thugs, violent and abusive, the enforcers of injustice. Here, as with the issue of racism itself, we come to the dichotomy of individual and institutional actions and functions.
As individuals, there are many police who may act admirably, who may ‘serve and protect’, who serve a social function which is beneficial to the community in which they operate. But, as with the issue of racism, individual acts do not erase institutional functions. The reality is that as an institution, policing is fundamentally about control, with cops acting as agents of ‘law and order’. They enforce the law and punish its detractors (primarily among the poor), they ‘serve and protect’ the powerful (and their interests) from the people.
When individuals in poor black neighborhoods are caught with illegal substances, such as drugs, the police are there to arrest them and send them into the criminal justice system for judgment and punishment. When Wall Street banks launder billions in drug money, police are nowhere to be seen, the law is ignored, justice is evaded, and the rich and powerful remain untouched. Crime is subject to class divides. Crimes such as mass murder, crimes against humanity, war crimes, slavery, ethnic cleansing, money laundering, mass corruption, plundering and destruction are typically committed (or decided) by those who hold the power, have the money and own the property. These crimes largely go unpunished, and very often are even rewarded.
Crimes committed by the poor, the oppressed, and especially those which take place in communities of colour are the main focus of the criminal injustice system. It is the poor and exploited who are policed and repressed, punished and sentenced, beaten and executed. The criminal rich and powerful are largely untouchable. The police enforce the law, so far as it applies to the poor, and are primarily there to serve the interests of the powerful. This is not new.
Like with all institutions, to understand their functions, one must turn to their origins and evolution through the years. In the United States, the history of ‘policing’ pre-dates the formation of the country itself, when it was a collection of European colonial possessions. From the late 1600s onward, just as racism was itself becoming institutionalized in the slave system, the social concept of policing increasingly emerged. The European colonial system was dependent upon the exploitation of slave labour, which since the late 1600s had become increasingly defined along racial lines.
In the 1700s, colonial societies began forming “slave patrols” to keep the slaves in line, to capture escapees, and to maintain “law and order” in an inherently unjust and exploitative social system of domination. As black slaves increasingly outnumbered the local white colonists, paranoia increased (especially in the wake of slave rebellions), and so the “slave patrols” and other locally organized ‘vigilante’ groups would be formed to protect the white colonizers against the local indigenous populations and the enslaved black African population.
The slave patrols defined the early formation of the modern “law enforcement” institution in the United States, which extended into the 19th century, up until the Civil War. The slave patrols also had other functions within the communities they operated, but first and foremost, their primary purpose was “to act as the first line of defense against a slave rebellion.”
Following the processes of industrialization and urbanization, cities became crowded, immigrants became plenty, and poverty was rampant as the rich few became ever more powerful. Thus, throughout the 19th century, the slave patrols began evolving into official “police forces,” with their concern for “order” and “control”, largely via the policing of poor communities of colour.
The evolution of policing in America since the 19th century has largely maintained its focus on the policing of the poor, acting as soldiers in the “war against crime” (which J. Edgar Hoover declared in the 1930s), though, of course, this applies almost exclusively to crime committed by the poor, by immigrants and ‘minority’ groups, as the rich and powerful are able to continue plundering and stealing wealth, waging wars and killing great masses of people, engaging in institutional corruption and even participating in war crimes and crimes against humanity, almost always with impunity and beyond the reach of police or justice.
In the past few decades, police forces across America have become increasingly militarized, with the rise of what has been called the “warrior cop.” Police forces get military equipment, tanks, rocket launchers, and even wear military outfits and get military training. Militaries are of course designed to be institutions of force, to kill, to destroy, to occupy and oppress. They are fundamentally, and institutionally, imperial. So as police forces become increasingly militarized, their function becomes increasingly aligned with that of the military. While the military secures the interests of the rich and powerful abroad, the police secure the interests of the rich and powerful at home. The domestic population is treated increasingly like an “enemy population,” with poor communities (especially poor black, Hispanic and indigenous communities) treated like occupied populations.
The origins of the modern police force began as a distinctly colonial structure, to enforce the injustice of slavery, to protect the colonizers as they expanded their territories and committed genocide against the indigenous population. Colonization, ethnic cleansing, slavery and genocide are inherently wrong and unjust. As such, these policies must be protected by force. The legal system has always been far more concerned with the protection of property (belonging to rich white men) than it has been with the protection of the population from the abuses of an inherently unjust social system. In a slave society, human beings become property. The law protects private property, but does so often through the oppression of populations. Property becomes more important than people, even when people are property.
The Global Reality of the Brutes in Blue
Think, for a brief moment, of the images, videos and realities of protests, revolutions, resistance movements and rebellions around the world in the past several years. From the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, to Indigenous movements in Canada and Latin America and Africa, to the peasant and labour unrest across Asia, to the anti-austerity movements across Europe, with social unrest reaching enormous heights in Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal, from the Indignados to Occupy Wall Street, to the student movements in Quebec, the UK, Chile, Mexico and Hong Kong, to the urban rebellions in Turkey and Brazil, and now to the civil unrest in the US sparked by Ferguson. What do you see, in all of these cases?
In each and every case, there are large or significant segments of populations who are rising up in resistance to oppressive structures, against dictatorships, state violence and repression, against poverty, racism and exploitation. In each case, there are populations struggling for dignity and opportunity, for freedom and democracy, for justice and equality. These populations, those who protest and resist, those who struggle and strive for the realization of democracy and justice, are historically the main reason why society has in any meaningful way ever been able to advance, to civilize itself, for rights and freedoms to be won and realized. Progress for people as a whole has always been accompanied by mass struggle and resistance against the forces of oppression and to upset the ‘stability’ of the status quo.
And, both historically and presently, without exception, the struggle and resistance of populations at home and abroad has always been met with the blunt, brute force of police, there to beat the people back down into subservience and to maintain “law and order.” In the youth-led rebellions from Egypt to Spain to Indonesia, from Brazil to Mexico to Quebec, from Hong Kong to Turkey to Ferguson, Missouri, the police are there with batons, pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, real bullets, beatings and brutality, mass arrests and murder, all in the name of preserving ‘stability’.
This is the true institutional function of the police. It cares not whether there are good or decent individuals within police forces, no more than the institutional reality of militaries cares whether individual soldiers are good or decent. Their job is to protect the powerful, police the poor, and punish those who threaten the stability of this unjust system. This is an institutional function which has been a lived reality for the black community in the United States since the origins of slavery and policing. The protests resulting from Ferguson are a reflection of this reality, regardless of the opinions of white people who have been largely spared the blunt truth of batons and bullets wielded and shot by the Brutes in Blue.
Black and Blue
According to a study published in 2012, every 28 hours in the United States, a black man, woman or child is murdered by a law enforcement official, security guard or “vigilante.” In 2011, murder was listed as the number one cause of death for black males between the ages of 15 and 34. In the month prior to Michael Brown’s murder, three other unarmed black men were killed by police, with data from police forces across the country revealing that black males are far more likely to be shot and killed by police than any other demographic group.
According to data from the Department of Justice, between 2003 and 2009, roughly 4,813 people were killed in the process of being arrested or while in the custody of police officers. In 2012 alone, 410 people were killed by police in the United States. Between 1968 and 2011, data from the CDC reveals, black Americans were between two and eight times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans. On average, black Americans were 4.2 times more likely to be murdered by police than whites.
Between the murder of Michael Brown in August and the delivery of the verdict in November of 2014, police in the United States killed roughly 14 other teenagers, at least six of them black. Two days before the Darren Wilson verdict was reached, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was murdered by police in Cleveland, Ohio, for holding a BB gun.
In late December, however, a mentally ill man in New York shot and killed two NYPD police officers in Brooklyn, after which he shot and killed himself. New York mayor Bill de Blasio, who has attempted to navigate between placating protesters and police, has made himself hated by many in the NYPD, who view anything but absolute and unquestionable loyalty as unforgivable betrayal. The head of the NYPD’s union commented on the two killed cops, saying that many had “blood on their hands”, which “starts on the steps of City Hall, in the office of the major.”
Attempting to placate the police, mayor de Blasio called for the protests to end until the funerals for the two cops had passed, saying, “It’s time for everyone to put aside political debates, put aside protests, put aside all of the things that we will talk about in due time.” Of course, this and other statements made by de Blasio are designed to keep his own police force under his control; however, the hypocrisy of the statement should not go unnoticed. After all, hundreds of unarmed black Americans are murdered by police every year, and now, people have had enough, have reacted, taking to the streets to protest. Yet, when two cops are killed, the mayor calls for the protests to end out of some misplaced form of ‘respect’ for the police. Clearly, murdered black Americans are not given the same type of respect, even if it is guided by political pandering. That should speak volumes.
The backlash against the protesters and the emerging social justice movement has been palpable, and the police have been (as they often are) on the front lines of social regression. There was even a small protest in New York held in support of the NYPD, attended mostly by white men (and cops), some wearing shirts declaring, “I can breathe,” mocking the final words of Eric Garner as he was choked to death by a NYPD officer, repeating, “I can’t breathe.” At the same time, there was a counter protest on the other side of the street, attended largely by black and Hispanic New Yorkers, chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets!” with the pro-NYPD crowd responding, “Whose jails? Your jails!” When the crowd chanted “hands up, don’t shoot!” the pro-police crowd chanted, “Hands up, don’t loot!” The pro-NYPD protest was largely made up of retired or off-duty police officers and their supporters, which along with the assembled on-duty police, media and counter-protesters, did not amount to more than 200 people.
Following the shooting deaths of the two NYPD officers, the head of an NYPD union declared that, “we have, for the first time in a number of years, become a ‘wartime’ police department. We will act accordingly.” So the NYPD has declared ‘war’, but against who? Well, they place the blame for the two deaths not only on the mayor, but more so on the protesters and the anti-police brutality movement itself. Thus, the largest police force in the United States, made up of 35,000 people, has essentially declared ‘war’ on a significant part of the population. It’s worth remembering that the previous New York mayor, billionaire oligarch Michael Bloomberg, once declared during a press conference, “I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world.”
In light of the two killed cops, many who had previously been pleading for people to respect the police and remember ‘that they are there to protect us’ and have ‘dangerous jobs’ suddenly feel vindicated. However, as the Washington Post reported back in October of 2014, “policing has been getting safer for 20 years,” with 2013 being the safest year for police since the end of World War II. Indeed, as the Post noted, “You’re more likely to be murdered simply by living in about half of the largest cities in America than you are while working as a police officer.” According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, policing is not even on the list of the top ten most dangerous jobs in America. Some of the jobs which appear on the top ten list include loggers, fishermen, pilots, garbage collectors, truck drivers, farmers and ranchers.
However, it IS dangerous to be an unarmed black man, woman or child in America. And while the NYPD union boss has declared a “war” on the people, the realities of that war have been felt and suffered by black and Hispanic Americans for years and decades.
For over a decade, New York City has implemented a “stop and frisk” policy whereby police are given the illegal ‘authority’ to stop and frisk citizens without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, an obvious violation of constitutional rights. Between 2004 and 2012, New York City cops conducted 4.4 million ‘stops’, with 88% resulting in no further action (arrest or court summons). In roughly 83% of ‘stop and frisk’ cases, those stopped by the police were either black or Hispanic.
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2014 revealed that young men who were subjected to stop and frisk by police, particularly young black men, “show higher rates of feelings of stress, anxiety and trauma.” In over 5 million stop and frisks that took place during the 12-year tenure of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire oligarch, young black men accounted for a total of 25% of those targeted, yet accounted for 1.9% of the city’s population, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. In over 5 million stops, police found a gun in less than 0.02% of the cases.
In late 2014, with a new mayor (de Blasio) and following increased public outrage against the policy as well as legal rulings against it, the ‘stop and frisk’ policy declined in its implementation. However, as the New York Times noted, “police officers today remain ever-present in the projects,” with a “new strategy” for policing the projects slowly forming. Police stand at posts on the perimeters of housing blocks, “officers park their cars on the sidewalk and turn on the flashing roof lights,” and, at night, “the blue beams illuminate the brick of the projects for hours on end, projecting both a sense of emergency and control.”
Black communities remain under ‘military’ occupation by the Brutes in Blue, the modern manifestation of the ‘slave patrols’. The rich and powerful are protected and served, the poor are punished, the descendants of African slaves are slain, their communities under ‘control,’ as the police walk their beat, and beat black lives back down. From Eric Garner and Michael Brown, to the mass protests and civil unrest, the institutional function of the police is, as always, about maintaining stability and order in an inherently unjust social system.
The institutionalization of racism, slavery, and policing predates the formation of the United States itself. And while these things have evolved and changed over the years, decades and centuries, they remain relevant and present. If they are not addressed in a meaningful or substantial way, the America that many imagine or believe in will fade away, leaving only racism, slavery and repression here to stay.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a freelance researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada.
Global Power Project: Bilderberg Group and the Tyranny of the Technocrats
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
19 December 2014
Originally posted at Occupy.com
Bilderberg is an inherently technocratic institution. It brings together top “experts” and decision-makers from a number of important sectors to engage in off-the-record conversation, speaking a “common language” in order to help design and coordinate policies that more accurately represent the interests of concentrated power.
As such, Bilderberg not only serves a technocratic function, but it is also populated with a number of the world’s most influential technocrats who are members and invited guests: top officials of central banks, finance ministries, international organizations, think tanks, foundations and universities. Their participation in Bilderberg meetings provides them with a “private” forum in which to engage with the political, corporate and financial oligarchy. More concretely, Bilderberg meetings enable participants to promote the expansion and further institutionalization of technocracy. But to understand Bilderberg’s relevance to technocracy, let’s first define the concept.
What is Technocracy?
Technocracy is largely defined as “rule by experts,” or the exercise of power by “professionals.” As the Economist explained in 2011: “Technocracy was once a communist idea: with the proletariat in power, administration could be left to experts.” But the scientific management of society “was popular under capitalism too,” and the magazine noted there was even a prominent “Technocratic Movement” in the United States in the early 20th century.
The late 19th and early 20th century witnessed rapid industrialization, new oligarchies, mass migration, revolution, a clash of empires between old and new, emerging technologies and inventions, expanded literacy, new energy sources and novel forms of communication and transportation. It was an age of oligarchs and unrest. Many of the most powerful societies turned to technocracy to help manage the great transitions of the era. As the oligarchs sought to maintain their influence by institutionalizing it within society, they also while sought to manage the expectations and interests of the population: by engaging in social engineering with the objective of maintaining social control, or what the ruling class called “stability.”
Capitalist, Communist (or State-Socialist) and Fascist societies turned to technocracy and the rule of experts to transform the structure of modern civilization through a “scientific management” of human society – where oligarchic power is legalized and institutionalized, and the population gives its consent, or is at least its obedience, to the ruling structure.
The Chinese Communist Party and state is largely ruled by unelected technocrats, as are several military dictatorships and one-party states. On occasion, even Western “democratic” nations become ruled by unelected technocrats, though as the Economist noted, “only for a short time” and “in unusual circumstances.”
Recent examples include the imposition of technocratic governments in Italy and Greece, in late 2011 when democratically elected leaders were removed from power and replaced with economists and central bankers. Another recent example was in Ukraine, where, following the removal of the more pro-Russian president, the management of the government was handed to a former central banker.
Despite these exceptions of direct technocratic rule, there are technocratic institutions and individuals who oversee major parts of our society and determine important policies that have profound consequences for hundreds of millions, and often billions, of people around the world. Central banks, finance ministries, international organizations, think tanks, foundations and universities are all highly influential technocratic institutions, often managed by high-level technocrats and governed (or advised) by members of the financial and corporate oligarchy.
China’s Technocratic Tyranny
A November 2013 article in The Atlantic described Chinese politics as “a nightmare” for those who were “lovers of clear, concise language.” The author, Matt Schiavenza, cited the names of the top ruling body (Politburo Standing Committee), the major conference establishing policy and direction for the following years (Third Plenary Session of the 18th Party Congress), and the conference’s resulting document that promised to “comprehensively deepen reforms,” and argued: “Chinese politics are designed to attract as little attention as possible.”
The technicality and obscurity of the language serves to hide the exercise and effects of power behind an image of “expertise.” Only those who are experts in matters of law, finance, economics, political science, etc., are capable of understanding the language, and thus, the implications of its use. In China, the technocratic language of the Party and state hide the rule of not only the visible top technocrats, but of the powerful political and financial oligarchs and dynasties behind them.
China’s political and economic power is concentrated in the hands of a new aristocratic class of what are called “Princelings,” the descendants of Communist China’s revolutionary leaders. These leaders wielded formal political power, and after the turn to capitalism, from the late 1970s onward, the descendants of these families came to dominate the economic resources of the country. As Bloomberg noted, in China “wealth and influence is concentrated in the hands of as few as 14 and as many as several hundred families.”
For foreign businesses and banks to gain access to the Chinese market, the most effective means has been through the practice of hiring or establishing relationships with the Princelings. Major global banks, such as Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and others, frequently hire princelings in order gain access and influence within China’s leadership, since the relatives of princelings themselves govern the bureaucracies and state-owned industries, determining the flow of money through society.
JPMorgan Chase has been under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for its practice of hiring hundreds of princelings in China to gain access to its lucrative market. In the words of Bloomberg, these princelings have become China’s “new capitalist nobility.”
Wen Jiabao served as China’s prime minister for the decade leading up to 2012, and his family amassed billions in assets, a practice consistent for most (if not all) of China’s ruling political figures, including its new president, Xi Jinping. Almost all of the nine members of the ruling Politburo Standing Committee under the previous Chinese government were from families that amassed enormous fortunes and controlled entire areas of the economy, with corruption “more severe than at any time in history,” as the Financial Times quoted a veteran Communist Party member and journalist.
China is a one-party dictatorship with powerful military and security forces and high-tech surveillance. It is ruled by gangsters, oligarchs and technocrats. China is, essentially, a Mafiocracy. Yet the language of its technocratic form of governance obscures this reality behind the veneer of impartiality and expertise. Behind the scenes, gangsters rule and families feud.
This reality of Chinese politics was revealed in 2012 when one of China’s princelings and rising political stars, who was set to gain a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee in 2013, became the subject of a dramatic downfall worthy of the palace intrigue in ancient imperial China. Bo Xilai’s rise to power was turned into a life sentence in prison after his closest adviser sought asylum in a U.S. consulate, fearing for his life and telling the Americans that Bo Xilai’s wife had murdered a British banker in a hotel room with cyanide.
The fall of Bo Xilai and his family was not a subject the Chinese leadership wanted aired publicly. The popular attention and implications of the story were largely the result of social media being used by an increasing percentage of Chinese citizens. What was intended to be the behind-the-scenes factional power struggles of families vying for top-spots on the Politburo Standing Committee, spilled out into the public as the most dramatic news story since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, and changed the course of Chinese politics.
It is also interesting to note that one of China’s top technocrats, Liu He, was invited to the Bilderberg meeting in 2014. In China, Liu He is one of President Xi Jinping’s top economic advisers, considered to be largely “pro-market” and seen as a prominent reformer. The Wall Street Journal described Liu He’s job as “nothing less than to craft an economic vision that will guide China for the decade to come.” He has also been referred to as “China’s Larry Summers.”
Technocracy in the West
Much like the powerful, dramatic and shocking figures and processes hiding behind the bland language of Chinese politics, the ambiguous language of global economics and finance hides its own ruthless realities. Behind the words and actions of central bankers, finance ministers and other top technocrats, we’re able to see countries collapse, governments overthrown, populations impoverished, societies destroyed, fascism and racism explode as people riot, rebel and revolt.
The language of “financial technocracy” belies a world of mass impoverishment, exploitation, domination and immense concentrations of power. These technocrats define and manage global financial and economic policy, construct the ideology the justifies the rule of the oligarchy, and implement policy which is intended to protect and expand the interests of that oligarchy.
As central bankers demand “fiscal tightening” and finance ministers implement “structural reforms,” the populations of Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Cyprus, Spain and Italy were plunged into crisis. Meanwhile, poverty and unemployment rise, fascist parties emerge, social unrest and riots in the streets become common, suicide rates increase, health and education systems come under strain and collapse, and governing political parties lose legitimacy and turn to police repression to control the crowds. Economic opportunity and political democracy become things of the past. Behind the technocratic language of economics lies a world of brutality.
Bilderberg’s structure, members and objectives that promote and expand the power of technocracy are inherently destructive to democracy. Europe’s debt crisis, and the technocratic institutions and individuals that managed it, have had profoundly negative consequences on the lives of hundreds of millions of people. The functions of technocracy and the actions of Europe’s top technocrats effectively serve the interests of concentrated financial and corporate power.
From Ferguson to Freedom, Part 2: Institutional Racism in America
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
16 December 2014
The primary issue of race in America, as elsewhere in the world, is less about the overt acceptance and propagation of racism on the individual level, and more about the realities of institutional racism. A racist society is established and sustained not simply by racist individuals, but by racist institutions and ideologies. If racism were simply an individual experience, education and interaction between racial groups would seemingly be enough to eradicate the scourge of racism in modern society. After all, most white Americans would likely not identify as racists, and in a society where a black man can become president, many may be tempted to proclaim that America is a “post-racial society.”
Viewing racism simply from an individual level is misleading, embracing the notion that because I am not a racist, we no longer live in a racist society; because the president is black, we have moved beyond racism; because there are black people who have succeeded in society and risen to top political and economic positions of power, there are no longer issues of racial segregation and oppression. These views present a mythology of ‘equal opportunity’ and ‘individual initiative.’ In other words, segregation and other overt forms of political and legal racism have been largely dismantled, and therefore, the rates of poverty, crime, imprisonment and death in black communities are no longer the result of a racist society, but rather, a lack of “individual responsibility” and failure to take advantage of the equal opportunities afforded.
Institutional racism, however, takes a view of society, of the relations between power and people, beyond the myopic and misleading focus of ‘the individual’ alone. Society is institutionally structured to support the rich and powerful at the expense of the vast majority of the population, which is evident through the structures, policies, and effects of institutions like the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve, Wall Street banks, the IMF, World Bank, World Trade Organization, etc. The ideologies and actions of these institutions effectively protect the powerful, bail them out, promote policies which benefit them, punish the poor, impoverish the rest, and support a top-down power structure of the national (and global) economy.
There may be individual policymakers, executives or economists who advocate more economic equality, who criticize bailouts and austerity, who oppose the parasitic nature of the modern economy. However, when sitting in positions of power and influence, these individuals must succumb to the institutional demands of those positions. An executive at a bank may individually oppose the actions of banks in creating financial crises and then needing bailouts and profiting from them as millions lose homes, go hungry and are pushed into poverty. However, that executive cannot change the operations of the bank or realities of the industry alone, he must be concerned with the institutional realities, which focus on short-term quarterly profits for shareholders, which in turn would require him to follow and mimic the actions and initiatives of all the other big banks. If such an executive did not follow the path as designed by the institutional structure of the bank and financial markets, such an executive would be fired. Institutional inequality and economic exploitation are realities of the economic system, regardless of whether or not there are individuals within the system who oppose many of the policies and effects of that system.
The same logic applies to racism. This has been true for as long as racism has been a reality. In the United States, racism was institutionalized from the beginning, as the U.S. was founded as a Slave State. Racism was a legal reality, and it was reflected in the institutional structure of the economy, labour system, education, health care, politics, geography, demography, the criminal justice system, city planning, foreign policy and empire. Over the course of decades and centuries, there have been many tangible improvements, with reform to various institutions, legal changes and social transformations: the end of formal slavery, Civil Rights Movement, voting registration, etc. Yet, despite these various improvements and changes over the course of centuries, the realities of institutional racism remain in many facets, old and new. Institutional racism is embedded in the original and evolving structure of society as a whole, and to effectively challenge and remove racism from society, most of society’s dominant institutions must also be challenged, changed or made obsolete.
The institutional structure of society largely serves the same purpose, to protect and support the rich and powerful as the expense of the vast majority of the population. This is true, regardless of race. However, those same institutions enforce segregation, exploitation, domination and exclusion not only in terms of class, but also race. This has the effect of dividing the population among themselves, pitting white against black, promoting and maintaining social divides and conflicts between the population to ensure that they do not unite (through experience or action) against the true ruling groups and structures of society. Racism thus allows for more effective control of society by the few who rule it.
Stokely Carmichael helped to popularize the term ‘Black Power’ in the late 1960s, having risen to acclaim as a young leader in the Civil Rights movement. In 1966, Carmichael published an essay in The Massachusetts Review entitled, ‘Toward Black Liberation,’ in which he wrote that, “The history of every institution of this society indicates that a major concern in the ordering and structuring of the society has been the maintaining of the Negro community in its condition of dependence and oppression… that racist assumptions of white superiority have been so deeply ingrained in the structure of the society that it infuses its entire functioning, and is so much a part of the national subconscious that it is taken for granted and is frequently not even recognized.”
Carmichael provides an example to differentiate between individual and institutional racism: “When unidentified white terrorists bomb a Negro Church and kill five children, that is an act of individual racism, widely deplored by most segments of the society. But when in that same city, Birmingham, Alabama, not five but 500 Negro babies die each year because of a lack of proper food, shelter and medical facilities, and thousands more are destroyed and maimed physically, emotionally and intellectually because of conditions of poverty and deprivation in the ghetto, that is a function of institutionalized racism. But the society either pretends it doesn’t know of this situation, or is incapable of doing anything meaningful about it.”
Carmichael described the ‘Negro community in America’ as being subjected to the realities of “white imperialism and colonial exploitation.” With more than 20 million black Americans accounting for roughly 10% of the national population (in 1966), they lived primarily in poor areas of the South, shanty-towns, and the urban slums and ghettos of northern and westerns industrial cities. Regardless of location in the country, if one were to go into any of these black communities, Carmichael wrote, “one will find that the same combination of political, economic, and social forces are at work. The people in the Negro community do not control the resources of that community, its political decisions, its law enforcement, its housing standards; and even the physical ownership of the land, houses, and stores lie outside that community.” Instead, white power “makes the laws, and it is violent white power in the form of armed white cops that enforces those laws with guns and nightsticks. The vast majority of Negroes in this country live in these captive communities and must endure these conditions of oppression because, and only because, they are black and powerless.”
The realities of institutional racism can be seen in the case of Ferguson. An analysis by Keith Boag of CBC News looked at the legal structure of St. Louis County, where two-thirds of the population, approximately 650,000 people, live within “incorporated municipalities.” There are roughly 90 of these municipalities, Ferguson being one such area, with a population of roughly 21,000 people. Fourteen of these areas have populations less than 500 people, and 58 of them have their own police forces. Boag describes the origins of this structure as dating back several decades to before the Civil Rights movement, when white people in the city of St. Louis fled to the suburbs as poor blacks moved to the inner city. As whites moved out of the city, they sought more autonomy and local power, establishing the system of ‘incorporated municipalities’, allowing the local populace to control their own development, writing legal ‘covenants’ which imposed restrictions on “who could buy or lease property within its boundaries.”
In 1970, Ferguson was 99% white, with their covenant enshrining in law that blacks could not sell, rent own property in any way. Over the decades, the covenants were eroded due to their overt racist forms, and they became “unenforceable.” Thus, black people from the city were able to move out to the suburbs, but had to inherit the plethora of jurisdictions left behind by the white population who continued to flee the movement of the black population. In many of these small jurisdictions, there are too few people to provide for a necessary tax base to afford the services and functions of the local administrative structure. The result was that many communities became increasingly dependent upon “aggressive policing” to raise revenue through ticketing and traffic fines.
Boag describes this as a “tax on the poor,” since they are the most susceptible to such practices: “It’s they who have trouble finding the money to pay fines. It’s they who may have to choose between driving illegally to work or not working. It’s they who may be struggling just to feed a family.” The main preoccupation of police becomes issuing traffic fines and tickets, and then arresting people for not paying those fines. As a result, people do not view the police as being there to ‘protect and serve’, but, rather, “to pinch and squeeze every nickel out of you in any way they can.” This system is rampant in the town of Ferguson, as confirmed in an investigation by the Washington Post.
In effect, the poor black population of Ferguson is thus made to pay for their own oppression, stuck in a cycle of poverty which forces them to pay fines (or go to prison) in order to pay the salaries of the police who fine them, arrest them, beat them and kill them.
Thus, racism in Ferguson, itself a product of the segregationist policies of the Jim Crow era, is institutionalized in the very legal structure, tax and revenue structures, city planning and law enforcement institutions. Such circumstances do not require an overt articulation of racism, nor for it to be enforced by individual white racists (though both of these realities also occur and are encouraged by such a system).
The same logic also applies to the official system of slavery that existed in the United States prior to the Civil War. The slave system was an inherently and obviously racist system. However, there were (on occasion) slave owners who would treat their “property” with kindness, even those who criticized and opposed the system of slavery, but would still participate within that system. The realities of the institutional system of slavery meant that despite an individual’s personal views and preferences, they operated within a system which was racially structured, and thus, were made active participants and supporters of a racist system of domination and exploitation.
If one white slave owner were to free his slaves and promote equality and justice, he would lose his entire economic, social and political base of power within the society, be ostracized and made irrelevant and ineffective. Further, the newly-freed slaves would likely be captured and sold to other slave owners, with ‘freedom’ a short-lived and largely symbolic experience. The actions of a moral individual within an immoral institutional structure cannot change anything alone.
What is required is the collective action of many thousands and hundreds of thousands of individuals, working together to make the costs of such a system greater than its perceived benefits, forcing institutional change. Collective and large-scale actions will, in time and struggle, force reform and gradual change from the top-down. Alternatively, collective action and radical struggle will add to this same pressure, but also propose, organize and initiate alternative methods and visions for social organization and objectives, promoting more revolutionary alternatives.
The events and reactions in Ferguson, New York and increasingly across much of the country and even internationally represent the emergence of a powerful new and resurgent force in society, the reactivation of people power. From urban rebellions and ‘riots’ in Ferguson and Berkeley, to mass arrests and protests in New York and Los Angeles, to the civil disobedience in Miami, Boston, Chicago, Seattle and beyond, America is witnessing the first few weeks and months of a powerful new social movement which promises not to go away quietly. Nor should it.
With chants of “shut it down!” the demonstrators recognize that their power comes in the form of being able to disrupt the normal functioning of society. Institutional racism has led to immense injustice, segregation, exploitation and domination over life in America. The realities of present-day America are the modern manifestations of an institutional system of racism which pre-dates the formation of the United States itself. The current unrest is a reflection of the fact that solutions must go to the core of the problem, within the founding and functions of the institutions themselves.
America may have a black president, but he still has to live in the White House. Black Americans may have more political freedoms and opportunities than in previous decades and centuries, but they still have to live in a society shaped and dominated by institutional racism.
The black population has been kept at the bottom of the social order in the United States since the U.S. was founded as a country (and in fact, long before then). This has been unchanged over the course of several centuries. If progress is defined as one black man being able to rise to a position over which he exerts immense power over a society that continues to subject the majority black population to institutional racism, then ‘progress’ needs to be redefined. An individual, alone, cannot alter the institutional structure of society. Obama is not a symbol of a “post-racial” America, he is a symbol of the continued existence of an “institutionally racist” America, where one can have a black president overseeing a white empire, at home and abroad.
Obama is the exception, not the rule. The rule is Ferguson; the rule is Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The rules need to change. The rules need to be broken and replaced. The rule of racist and imperialist institutions and ideologies must be smashed and made obsolete. The rule of the people must become the law of the land. The road to justice runs through Ferguson, driven by the collective action of thousands of individuals, taking the struggle into the streets with the very real threat that if true liberation is not achieved, the system has lost any sense of legitimacy. When the cost of subservience to the status quo is greater than the cost of changing it, the people will “Shut It Down.”
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a freelance researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada.
From Ferguson to Freedom, Part 1: Race, Repression and Resistance in America
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
11 December 2014
On 9 August 2014, a white cop murdered an unarmed black teen in a predominantly black neighborhood and black city dominated by white police with a history of violence toward poor, black communities, and in a city dominated by white power structures and with a long history of racism and segregation. More than three months later, that white cop was exonerated of any wrongdoing.
The cop, Darren Wilson, was not simply exonerated for the murder, but he was rewarded. The white cop who murdered 18-year-old Michael Brown was rewarded with a crowd-funded amount of more than $400,000 – as racists around the country sought to throw a few dollars in support of murdering unarmed black teens. On October 24, one month to the day before the verdict was announced, as Michael Brown’s family was still coming to terms with his murder, Darren Wilson got married to Barbara Spradling, also a member of the Ferguson Police Department. Since he murdered the unarmed 18-year-old Brown in August, Wilson had been rewarded with being on “paid administrative leave.” After the verdict was delivered, Wilson remained on paid leave. And as Wilson was rewarded for taking the life of an innocent boy, he announced that he and his wife were expecting a child of their own.
On August 10, a candlelight vigil for Michael Brown erupted into an urban rebellion (commonly called “riots”), as people expressed their anger and frustration of the systemic and institutionalized injustice, and were met with overwhelming police force. As the protests continued and further rebellions erupted, the police sent in the SWAT team, already having shot protesters with rubber bullets and engaged in chemical warfare shooting teargas at them. The police were even arresting reporters, from the Huffington Post and Washington Post, and journalists from Al-Jazeera were shot at with rubber bullets and then tear gassed. Protests continued, and police continued to shoot rubber bullets, use excessive amounts of tear gas, flash grenades and smoke bombs against demonstrators, which then had the effect of triggering the rebellions (or ‘riots’). Wearing military fatigues and riot gear, police deployed armored vehicles similar to those in Afghanistan and Iraq, aiming high-powered rifles at American citizens in a town of 20,000 people.
On August 16, a week after Michael Brown was murdered, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and implemented a curfew in Ferguson. The top cop in charge of Ferguson at the time, State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, stated that, “We won’t enforce [the curfew] with trucks, we won’t enforce it with tear gar.” The police then used trucks, smoke and tear gas against protesters to enforce the curfew, in what became the fiercest night of violence until that point. Another curfew was announced for the following night. Two hours before the curfew went into effect, police fired tear gas and flash grenades into assembled protesters in order “to disperse the crowd.”
The Governor then deployed the National Guard in Ferguson on August 18. Obama appealed for “calm.” More reporters were arrested. Three days later, the National Guard was removed from Ferguson. The following few days were relatively calm, though police continued to arrest people. The calm followed the convening of a grand jury to investigate Darren Wilson’s murder of Michael Brown. The US Attorney General Eric Holder even flew to Ferguson, and later commented than an FBI investigation into civil rights violations in Ferguson “will take some time.” Throughout this period, police in Ferguson and St. Louis continued to threaten protesters, aim weapons at them, and even murdered another man. The protests largely calmed down, and thousands attended the funeral of Michael Brown on August 25.
Smaller protests continued into September, and in late September the Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson decided to march in civilian clothes with a crowd of people demanding his resignation, hours after he released a “video apology” to the Brown family. In less than 30 seconds of Jackson joining the crowd, agitating many of those assembled, riot cops moved in to ‘protect’ him, prompting a confrontation with the protesters and declaring the protest an “unlawful assembly.” Protests continued for the following few days with police continuing to declare protests as unlawful, threatening to arrest people who stayed in one place for too long or who moved off the sidewalk and onto the street.
However, over a dozen protesters who were assembled on the sidewalk were arrested outside the Ferguson Police Department in early October, after which they were fitted in orange jumpsuits, locked behind bars for several hours with higher bail amounts than usual, some as high as $2700. Their charges included “failure to comply with police, noise ordinance violations and resisting arrest,” when assembled peacefully – and legally – on a sidewalk. Among those arrested was a journalist. Ferguson Police Chief Jackson then handed his responsibility for “managing protests” to the St. Louis County police department. In early October, a St. Louis Symphony Orchestra performance was interrupted by protesters who sang a civil rights song, ‘Which Side Are You On?’
On 11 October, hundreds of people took to the streets for a weekend of protests what they called ‘Ferguson October’. Roughly 43 people were arrested for assembling outside the Ferguson Police Department, including professor and author Cornel West. A Missouri State Senator was also arrested during a protest several days later.
On 17 November, one week before the grand jury decision was to be announced, Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and authorized the National Guard to again be deployed in Ferguson. At the same time, the St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar declared that police in Ferguson had not used rubber bullets or force against “peaceful protesters,” but against “criminal activity.” Days prior to the verdict, buildings were being barricaded around Ferguson in anticipation of “unrest.”
The Department of Homeland Security showed up in St. Louis prior to the verdict. As Homeland Security vehicles began to mass near Ferguson, a local Navy veteran was fired from his job and called a ‘terrorist’ after posting pictures of the vehicles on Facebook. Federal officials began arriving in Ferguson and St. Louis a few days before Governor Nixon declared his state of emergency. Despite announcements to “review” the transfer of military equipment to domestic police forces following the earlier social unrest in August, the Pentagon had continued to supply police forces in Missouri with “surplus military gear.”
Police forces in America have been increasingly militarized, starting with the ‘War on Drugs’ (aka: War OF Drugs) and rapidly expanded under the ‘War [on/of] Terror’. Across the country, police forces “have purchased military equipment, adopted military training, and sought to inculcate a ‘soldier’s mentality’ among their ranks,” noted The Atlantic in 2011. Since the 1960s, SWAT teams emerged in cities across the United States, marking the rise of the “warrior cop,” initially prompted by the urban rebellions of the 1960s in predominantly poor black communities. Since 2002, the Department of Homeland Security has handed out over $35 billion in grants to purchase military gear. The Pentagon has distributed more than $4.2 billion of equipment to local law enforcement agencies across the US.
These were the highly militarized police forces originally deployed against protesters in Ferguson in August of 2014, with armored vehicles, sound weapons, shotguns, M4 rifles, rubber bullets and tear gas. At the time, former Army officer and international policing operations analyst, Jason Fritz, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “You see the police are standing in line with bulletproof vests and rifles pointed at people’s chests… That’s not controlling the crowd, that’s intimidating them.” The New York Times referred to Ferguson as “a virtual war zone,” warning that if nothing is done to stop the national militarization of police forces by the Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon, then “the future of law enforcement everywhere will look a lot like Ferguson.”
The verdict on November 24, giving Wilson the gift of freedom for depriving Michael Brown of his own freedom (and life) prompted quick reactions in the streets. Protests started in Ferguson, and quickly erupted into urban rebellion with cars and buildings torched and destroyed. Governor Nixon then deployed more National Guard troops in Ferguson, with more than 2,200 deployed in the town of 22,000 people. Protests spread the following day to 37 different states in over 130 demonstrations, with significant numbers and acts of social disobedience in New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago, Minneapolis and Los Angeles. More than 170 U.S. cities experienced protests on the night of November 25, drawing thousands of people to the streets, “blocking bridges, tunnels and major highways.”
Obama declared that he did “not have any sympathy” with “those who think that what happened in Ferguson is an excuse for violence.” As protests spread, more than 400 people were arrested around the US. In Los Angeles, over 150 people were arrested. Reflecting on the lessons he drew from the rebellions on the night of November 24, St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar said, “you can never have too many policemen.”
Protests not only spread across the United States, but internationally. Protests spread across cities in Canada, including Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, and Montreal. Protests also spread to London, where thousands assembled outside the U.S. Embassy, drawing parallels to the case of Mark Duggan, a young black man whose murder by police in August of 2011 prompted the largest riots in recent British history.
One week after the grand jury decision on Darren Wilson prompted nation-wide and international protests, another grand jury decision – this time for one based in Staten Island – was reached regarding the choking death of an unarmed black man (Eric Garner) killed by a white cop. The entire murder was caught on film for all to see, and the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, had no charges laid against him. The verdict was in, and the killer cop was exonerated of any wrongdoing. The announcement prompted protests all across New York, with demonstrators repeating Eric Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe.”
The protests continued in New York nightly, with several taking place elsewhere across the country, in a continuation from the spark that lit with Ferguson. The day after the New York verdict, an unarmed black man was shot dead by police in Phoenix, Arizona, sparking protests there. In Times Square, several thousand protesters confronted police chanting, ‘Who do you protect?’ Police responded by arresting 200 of those assembled.
The protests in New York were drawing upwards of 10,000 people, and in the first three days alone, the NYPD arrested over 300 demonstrators, with the Police Commissioner declaring that, “the city should be feeling quite proud of itself at this juncture,” because the police were “showing remarkable restraint.”
As with Ferguson, the results in New York sparked protests across the country, with people taking to the streets in Washington, D.C., Boston, Baltimore, San Francisco, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Atlanta and beyond, blocking bridges and traffic, engaging in ‘sit ins’ or ‘die ins’ in public places, transport hubs, universities and elsewhere. Protests that took place in Berkeley, California, quickly turned violent as police used excessive force, tear gas and batons. The police violence in turn sparked ‘riots’ (urban rebellion) in the streets. Clashes between police and protesters also took place in Seattle, with more peaceful demonstrations continuing in New York, Chicago and Miami.
The protests continued daily, with new groups, new cities and states participating, new sparks, new collective actions, civil disobedience, with every new day. Demonstrators took to the streets, department stores, highways and intersections, to Ivy League universities, basketball games, and train stations. In Chicago, protesters continued well into December, with roughly 200 demonstrators gathering outside of Obama’s family home.
President Obama was holding a series of meetings on the social unrest resulting from Ferguson. He was meeting with Cabinet and Congressional officials, law enforcement and civil rights leaders, and an “unusual” meeting was granted to a group of young black activists from around the country. They held a 45-minute meeting with the president in the Oval Office. They spoke honestly about the problems they see and solutions they advocate, with Obama offering encouragement, though he stressed that, “incremental changes were progress.”
One of the youth organizers present at the meeting, Phillip Agnew, wrote about his experience for an article in the Guardian. Agnew described the assembled group as “representatives from a community in active struggle against state sanctioned killing, violence and repression.” They were not “civil rights leaders,” “activists”, “spokespeople” or “respectable negroes,” they were from Missouri, Ohio, New York and Florida. Agnew wrote of the expectations of those assembled: “We all knew that the White House stood to benefit more from this meeting than we did. We knew that our movement families would fear the almighty co-opt and a political press photo-op. We have been underestimated at every juncture… But this was an invitation that you accept – period.”
The group of youth, as young as 20, with artists, activists, teachers, and organizers, told the president that they were not the “People’s Spokespeople,” and that they “had neither the power, positions, nor desires to stop the eruptions in the streets and that they would continue until a radical change happened in this country,” that they “had no faith in anything, church or state… that the country was on the brink and that nothing short of major capitulations at all levels of the government to the demands of the people could prevent it.” Obama listened, discussed and debated, promoted “gradualism” and “asked for our help.” Agnew commented that, “We did not budge,” walking out of the meeting “unbought and unbowed. We held no punches… no concessions, politicking or posturing. The movement got its meeting. Unrest earned this invite, and we can’t stop. If we don’t get what we came for, we will shut it down. President Obama knows that and we know it. No meeting can stop that.”
History will perhaps view present-day America through the lens of pre-Ferguson and post-Ferguson. The spark which lit the fire was the continuous murder of unarmed black men, women and children by mostly-white police. Police beating, oppressing, and murdering black people in the United States is far from a new phenomenon. It’s a practice which is, in many ways, as old as the country itself (or older, in fact). The fundamental change is this: pre-Ferguson, the murder of unarmed black men, women and children was considered ‘unworthy’ of national attention, it was not news, not an issue, largely continuing unknown and unacknowledged by white America. Post-Ferguson, when black Americans are murdered by police, it starts to make headlines, people start to pay attention, and people increasingly take to the streets in opposition.
Ferguson is not a wake-up call to black America, which has been well aware of the injustices and oppression their communities have faced daily, yearly, and over the course of decades and centuries. Ferguson is a wake-up call for white America, to look and learn from the lived experiences of black America, and to join with their brothers and sisters in active struggle against the system which has made Ferguson the status quo.
Pre-Ferguson, black lives did not matter. At least, they did not matter so far as the national consciousness was concerned. White America could proclaim itself a ‘post-racial society’, feeling good about themselves for voting for a black president, having black friends, and not saying ‘Nigger’. Ferguson has changed the frame through which America views itself, and is viewed by others. White America increasingly looks at the reality of black America and sees great injustice and inequality. The rest of the world looks into America and sees a deeply racist society, repressive and brutal, reflective of the perceptions of America’s actions around the world.
Pre-Ferguson, black America was kept out of sight, black communities were kept under control, and black lives did not matter. Post-Ferguson, black America has taken center stage, black communities are the front-lines of a national struggle for justice and equality, and now, Black Lives Matter.