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Globalization’s Game of Thrones, Part 2: Managing the Wealth of the World’s Dynasties
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
27 May 2014
In part 1 of this series (“Globalization’s Game of Thrones”) I examined the concept of corporate and financial dynasties holding significant power in the modern world. In this, part 2 of the series, I examine the realities of the ‘wealth management’ industry in being responsible for handling the wealth and investments of the world’s richest families, and the role of a unique institution dedicated to protecting and propagating dynastic wealth: the family office.
A Family Affair
In 2010, Forbes – a major financial publication which publishes an annual list of the world’s richest people – noted that the richest of the richest 400 Americans were members of prominent corporate and financial dynasties, with six of the top ten wealthiest Americans being heirs to prominent fortunes, as opposed to being ‘self-made’ billionaires. What’s more, since the financial crisis began in 2007 and 2008, the fortunes of these dynasties – and the other super-rich who made the Forbes list – had only increased in value.
Corporate America can frequently be seen as the emblem of the ‘self-made’ rich, a representation of a supposedly democratic, capitalist society, where firms are run by “professional managers” who received the right education and developed the appropriate talents to make successful companies. The reality, however, is that roughly a third of the Fortune 500 companies (that is, many of the world’s largest multinational corporations) are in fact “family businesses,” frequently run by family members, and often outperforming the “professionally managed” firms “by a surprisingly large margin,” noted the New York Times.
In other words, in the United States – the beacon of the ‘self-made’ millionaire – a huge percentage of the most successful companies are owned by family dynasties, and most of the richest individuals are heirs to these family dynasties. The picture that begins to emerge better reflects that of an aristocracy, rather than a democracy.
As the New York Times noted in 2010, “the increasing use of so-called dynasty trusts” was undermining the notion that America was a meritocracy (where people ‘rise through the ranks’ of society based upon merit instead of money, access or family lineage). Dynastic trusts allow super-rich families “to provide their heirs with money and property largely free from taxes and immune to the claims of creditors,” not only providing for children, but “for generations in perpetuity – truly creating an American aristocracy.” In laws that predate the formation of the United States as an independent nation, such family trusts were only able to limit the term of the existing trust to roughly 90 years, after which the property and wealth which was consolidated into the trust would be owned directly by the family members. However, in changes that were implemented through Congress in the mid-1980s and in state legislatures across the U.S. in the 1990s, the rules were amended – with the pressure of the banking lobby – to allow family trusts to exist “forever,” a quiet coup for the existing and emerging aristocratic American class.
Thus, the modern dynasty trust was officially sanctioned as a legal entity – a type of private family company – that would be responsible for handling the collective wealth – in money, property, land, art, equities (stocks), bonds (debt), etc. – of the entire family, for generation after generation. The focus is on long-term planning to maintain, protect and increase the wealth of the dynasty, and to hold it ‘in trust’ against the inevitable in-fighting that accompanies dynastic succession and generational differences. This would prevent – in theory – one generation or patriarch from mishandling and squandering the entire family fortune.
The legal structure of a family trust differs greatly from public corporations, in that their focus is not on maximizing short-term quarterly profits for shareholders, but in maintaining multi-generational wealth and prestige. Family trusts are increasingly used to manage the wealth of the world’s super-rich dynasties, alongside private banking institutions and other wealth management and consulting firms. There is an entire industry dedicated to the management of money, wealth and investments for the super-rich, and it is focused largely – and increasingly – on family dynasties.
Of Rockefellers and Rothschilds
One of the world’s most famous family trusts – the “family office” – is that of Rockefeller & Co., now known as Rockefeller Financial. It was founded in 1882 by the oil baron industrialist John D. Rockefeller as the ‘family office’ to manage the Rockefeller family’s investments and wealth. Roughly a century after it was founded, in the 1980s, Rockefeller & Co. began selling its ‘expertise’ to other rich families, and by the year 2008, the trust had roughly $28 billion under management for multiple clients.
When the CEO of Rockefeller & Co., James S. McDonald, shot himself in an alley behind a car dealership in 2009, the family looked for and found a successor in the former Undersecretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs for the Bush administration, Rueben Jeffery III, a former partner at Goldman Sachs. Jeffery was responsible for handling the family’s wealth throughout the global financial crisis, and by 2012, the assets under management by Rockefeller Financial had grown to $35 billion.
As of late 2012, Rockefeller & Co. had approximately 298 separate clients, providing them with “financial, trust, and tax advice.” The typical clients for Rockefeller & Co. are families with more than $30 million in investments, and the group charges new clients a minimum annual fee of $100,000. However, the family office has increasingly been attracting clients beyond other family dynasties, including major multinational corporations awash with cash in a world where nation states are flooded in debt. David Harris, the chief investment officer of Rockefeller Financial, explained in a 2012 interview with Barron’s (a magazine for the super-rich), that as the world’s nations were stuck in a debt crisis, triple-A rated multinational conglomerates represented “the new sovereigns” with “unprecedented” amounts of cash to be invested.
And while prominent family trusts have become increasingly attractive for other rich families and institutions to handle their wealth, they have also become attractive investments in and of themselves. One of Europe’s largest banks, the French conglomerate Société Générale (SocGen) purchased a 37% stake in Rockefeller & Co. in June of 2008. However, with the European debt crisis, the bank had to cut a great deal of its assets, and so in 2012 Rueben Jeffery III managed the sale of the 37% stake in the Rockefeller enterprise from SocGen to RIT Capital Partners, the investment arm of the London Rothschild family, one of the world’s most famous financial dynasties.
Barron’s magazine noted that the official union of these two major financial dynasties “should provide some valuable marketing opportunities” in such an uncertain economic and financial landscape, where “new wealth” from around the world would seek “to tap the joint expertise of these experienced families that have managed to keep their heads down and their assets intact over several generations and right through the upheavals of history.”
Early in 2012, the Rothschild family, with various banks and investment entities spread out across multiple European nations and family branches, was making a concerted effort to begin the process of “merging its French and British assets into a single entity,” aiming to secure “long-term control” over the family’s “international banking empire,” reported the Financial Times. The main goal of the merger was “to cement once and for all the family’s grip on the business,” giving the family a 57 percent share in the voting rights, thus protecting the merged entity from hostile takeovers. Thus, as the Rothschild banking dynasty was seeking to consolidate its own family interests across Europe, they were simultaneously looking to expand into the U.S. through the Rockefellers.
Thus, when Lord Jacob Rothschild – who managed the British Rothschild’s family trust, RIT Capital Partners – announced that RIT would be purchasing a 37% stake in Rockefeller Financial Services in May of 2012 for an “undisclosed sum,” it was announced as a “strategic partnership” that would allow the Rothschilds to gain “a much sought-after foothold in the US,” representing a “transatlantic union” that officially unites the two family patriarchs of David Rockefeller and Jacob Rothschild, “whose personal relationship spans five decades.”
At the time of the announcement, David Rockefeller, who was then 96-years-old, commented that, “Lord Rothschild and I have known each other for five decades. The connection between the two families is very strong.” Rockefeller & Co.’s CEO, Rueben Jeffery III, declared that, “there is a shared vision, at the conceptual and strategic level, that marrying the two names with particular products, services, geographic market opportunities, can and will have resonance. These are things we will want to act on as this partnership and overall relationship evolves.” In a world where families hold immense wealth and power, the official institutional union of two of the world’s most famous and recognizable dynastic names makes for an attractive investment for newer dynasties seeking propagation and preservation.
The Family Office
As the Financial Times noted in 2013, the “family office” for the world’s wealthy dynasties, which had “long been cloaked in a shroud of secrecy as rich families have sought to keep their personal fortunes private” has become more popular with “the explosion of wealth in the past few decades and dissatisfaction with the poor performance of portfolios handled by global private banks.” Still, many so-called “single family offices” continue to operate in secrecy, managing the wealth of a single dynasty, but the emergence of “multi-family offices” (MFOs) has become an increasing trend in the world of wealth management, handling the wealth and investments of multiple families.
The world’s largest private banks have specific “family office arms” which are dedicated to managing dynastic wealth, and these banks continue to dominate the overall market. Bloomberg Markets published a list of the top 50 MFOs in 2013, with HSBC Private Wealth Solutions topping the list, advising assets totaling $137.3 billion, with other banks appearing on the top ten list such as BNY Mellon Wealth Management, Pictet and UBS Global Family Office. Despite the fact that the family office arms of the world’s top private banks dominate the list, many of the oldest family offices made the list, such as Bessemer Trust and Rockefeller & Co. A top official at HSBC Private Bank was quoted by the Financial Times as saying: “Very wealthy families are becoming more and more globalized. It’s not just the fact that they are acquiring assets – like real estate – in several jurisdictions, but family members are scattered around the globe and need to be able to transact in those countries.” In effect, we are witnessing the era of the globalization of family dynasties.
Such a view is shared by Carol Pepper, a former financial adviser and portfolio manager at Rockefeller & Co. who established her own consulting firm – Pepper International – in 2001, specializing in advising families with more than $100 million in net worth. In a 2013 interview with Barron’s, Pepper explained that with the globalization of higher education – where the super-rich from around the world send their children to the same prominent academic institutions – as well as with the emergence of associations designed to bring wealthy families together, “the 19th century [is] coming back,” referring to the era of Robber Baron industrialists and co-operation between the major industrial and financial fortunes of the era. Pepper explained that in the present global environment, she was witnessing “a lot more exchange of ideas among wealthy families from different countries than there ever was before,” with such families increasingly investing in and with each other, noting that “inter-family transactions” had increased by 60% in the previous two years.
The globalization of family dynasties and the ‘return’ to the 19th century is an institutional phenomenon, facilitated by elite universities, business and family associations, international organizations, conferences and other organizations. Thus, regardless of geographic location, the world’s wealthiest families tend to send their children to one of a list of relatively few elite universities, such as Wharton, Harvard or the London School of Economics. At these and similar schools, noted Carol Pepper, the future heirs of family fortunes attain “both the know-how and the contacts for forging overseas collaborations between family businesses.”
So-called ‘non-profit’ associations like the International Family Office Association, the Family Business Network, and ESAFON, among others, are institutional representations of “intentional efforts by rich clans to rub shoulders with one another.” Instead of a rich family in one region hiring an outside firm to introduce them to a new market, they simply are able to reach out directly to the wealthy families within that market, and, as Pepper explained, their interests will be increasingly aligned and “hopefully you’ll all make money together.”
Instead of relying on banks as intermediaries between markets, rich families with more than $47 million to invest are pooling their wealth into the multi-family offices (MFOs). The Financial Times explained that such wealthy families were “crying out for something financial institutions have singularly failed to provide: a one-stop shop to manage both their business and personal interests.” Further, as banks have been coming under increased scrutiny since the financial crisis, “there is still a clandestine nature to the family-office world that will continue to attract clients.” Explaining this, the Financial Times appropriately quoted advice by the character Don Corleone from The Godfather, when he told his son: “Never tell anybody outside the family what you’re thinking.”
As the Wall Street Journal noted, family offices “are private firms that manage just about everything for the wealthiest families: tax planning, investment management, estate planning, philanthropy, art and wine collections – even the family vacation compound.” As such, regardless of where many family fortunes are made, the family office has come to represent the central institution of modern dynasties. And the growth of multi-family offices has been astounding, with the number increasing by 33% between 2008 and 2013, with more than 4,000 in the United States alone, the country with the highest number of wealthy families and individuals, including 5,000 households that have more than $100 million in assets. The Wall Street Journal noted: “You don’t have to be a Rockefeller to join a family office.” However, it does help to have hundreds of millions of dollars.
In 2012, the list of the largest multi-family offices were largely associated with major banks, including HSBC, BNY Mellon, UBS, Wells Fargo and Bank of America, but Rockefeller Financial maintained a prominent position as the 11th largest multi-family office (according to assets under advisement and number of families being served). And beyond the specific arm of the ‘multi-family office’ to the list of the top wealth management groups as a whole, private bank branches of some of the world’s most recognizable bank names dominated the list: Bank of America Global Wealth & Investment Management, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo & Company, UBS Wealth Management, Fidelity, and Goldman Sachs, among others. However, after the top 19 wealth management companies in the world – all of which were arms of major global banking and financial services conglomerates – came number twenty on the list: Rockefeller Financial.
Indeed, things have never been better for the super-rich. A 2012 poll of 1,000 wealthy Americans by the Merrill Lynch Affluent Insights Survey revealed that 58% of respondents felt more financially secure in 2012 than they did the previous year. In 2013, U.S. Trust, the private banking arm of Bank of America, released a survey of 711 individuals with more than $3 million in investable assets, of whom 88% reported that they were more financially secure today than they were before the financial crisis in 2007. Further, the main goal for the super-rich in 2013 was reported to be “asset appreciation” as opposed to “extreme caution”, as the survey reported for 2012.
In 2013, Bloomberg Markets Magazine reported that the number of wealthy people in the world with more than $1 million in investable assets had increased by 9.2% over 2012, reaching a new record of 12 million individuals, and the assets by the rich increased by roughly 10%, reaching a combined total of roughly $46.2 trillion. With this growth in extreme wealth, the wealth management business is itself becoming a major growth industry, with independent firms competing against the big banks in a race to manage the spoils of the world’s super-rich.
And the world’s big banks want to get more of this investable wealth. For example, Goldman Sachs has boosted its private wealth management services. The number of partners at the bank working in asset management in 2010 represented 4.5% of the bank’s total partners, a number which grew to 12% by 2012. Tucker York, the head of private wealth management in the U.S. for Goldman Sachs, noted: “This is a relationship business, and long-term relationships matter… The focus for us is to have the right quality and caliber of people come into the business and stay in the business for a long, long time.”
The managing director and chief investment officer of Goldman Sachs’ private wealth management arm, Mossavar-Rahmani, told Barron’s in 2012: “This is the time to be a long-term investor… There are very few market participants in today’s environment who can truly be long-term investors. Who can really afford to be a long-term investor? The ultra-high-end client is the only one we could think of, because they generally have more money than their spending needs.” In addition, he noted, “their assets are multigenerational,” and, what’s more, “they are not accountable to anyone.”
In a world of immense inequality, with the super-rich controlling more wealth than the rest of humanity combined, the wealth management industry – and within it, the ‘family office’ – have become growth industries and increasingly important institutions. The whole process of globalization has facilitated not only the internationalization of financial markets, multinational corporations and the economies they dominate, but it has in turn facilitated the globalization of family dynasties themselves, whose wealth is largely based on control over corporate and financial assets and institutions.
In globalization’s ‘Game of Thrones’, the world’s super-rich families compete and cooperate for control not simply over nations, but entire regions and the world as a whole. As dynasties seek perpetuation, most people on this planet are concerned with survival. Whoever wins this ‘Game of Thrones,’ the people lose.
The research for this series has been undertaken as part of The People’s Book Project. For this – and similar – research to continue, please consider making a donation today:
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
Globalization’s ‘Game of Thrones’, Part 1: Dynastic Power in the Modern World
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
7 May 2014
Think of any period in human history when empires and imperialism were common features of society, whether from ancient Egypt, Rome, China, to the Ottomans and the rise of the European and Japanese empires. There is an institution that – with few exceptions – was prevalent across most imperial societies: the family dynasty.
In a world dominated by institutions – organized hierarchically and embedded with their own functions and ideologies – the ‘family unit’ is very often the first and most important institution in the development of individuals. For the rich and powerful, the family unit has been the principal institution through which power is accumulated, preserved and propagated, precisely because the interest is multi-generational, requiring long-term planning and strategy.
In powerful states and empires, families have been essential in the process of constructing and governing the major institutions within those societies, as well as in the direct control of the imperial or state structure itself. Whether emperors, kings, queens or sultans, family dynasties have very often exerted direct political control of society. This has been the case for much of human history, at least so long as empires and states have been consistent features. And yet, in the modern era, we imagine our societies to be free of dynastic rule – an archaic feature of a world long past, not consistent with the ideals and functions of democracy, capitalism or modernity. We might imagine this to be true, but we would, in fact, be wrong.
Dynastic power not only remains, but it evolves and adapts, and in the present world of ‘globalization’ – with the growth of the modern nation-states, with the development of state capitalist societies, the banking and financial systems, the monetary-central banking system, industrialization and the multinational corporation – in a world largely dominated by a single state, the United States, acting as the international imperial arbiter on behalf of powerful corporate and financial interests, dynastic power remains a central institution in the global system.
There are, however, notable differences from past era of imperial and royal families. Today, most – but certainly not all – dynasties do not hold formal or direct political authority. The world’s most economically and politically powerful countries are no longer governed by kings and queens or emperors. Instead, modern dynastic power is largely a development that emerged with the decline in the authority of monarchs, and with the rise in parliamentary democracy and capitalism.
As the political and economic spheres began to be opened up, new structures emerged to quickly centralize power within those spheres. As kings and queens handed over the ultimate authority to issue coin to other institutions, merchants and financiers stepped in to increase their influence over the new institutions of a changing world order. Out of these monumental social transformations came new dynasties, embedded within the financial, industrial and corporate oligarchies. Their power was not in direct control of the political apparatus, but in their concentration of control over the financial, economic and industrial spheres. With that power, inevitably, came both the desire and the ability to influence and pressure the political sphere.
Today, it is the industrial, financial and corporate dynasties that have risen to unparalleled positions of authority in the age of globalization. And yet, while some of their names ring familiar to the ears of many, they are frequently thought of as relics of past centuries rather than titans of today, or their names are altogether unfamiliar, as is their positions and influence within our societies. We see power – typically – in terms of those who hold political office: prime ministers and presidents who we elect, as is consistent with our belief that we live in democracies. We see competing factions of political parties vying for office, with us – the people – as the ultimate arbiters of who gets to hold power. The influence of globalization’s dynasties remains unseen, or, misunderstood.
When one hears the concept of relatively few families exerting unparalleled influence over the modern world, the immediate reaction or insinuation is that of a ‘conspiracy theory’. Images of smoke-filled back rooms and mentions of ‘thirteen families’ sitting around a table deciding world events permeate the perceptions of those who question or are confronted with the question of the role of powerful families in the modern world. And yet, the concept of dynastic rule – of families competing, cooperating, and indeed, conspiring with and against each other for control and domination – are prevalent and popular within our culture.
A perfect example of this is with the immense popularity of both the books and the television show, ‘Game of Thrones.’ Set in a mythical world, yet largely based upon the historical rivalries of the ‘War of the Roses’, we witness the characters evolve and events unfold as several families and dynasties battle each other, conspire, compete and cooperate for control of the known world. They are frequently ruthless, cunning and deceitful, often surrounded by ‘yes men’ or the poison-tongued advisers who rose to their positions not by virtue of birth and name, but by their individual capacities for manipulation and cunning. It is a world in perpetual war, engrossing poverty, with the privileged few sending the poor to fight their battles for them, to die and suffer while the rich few propagate and prosper. With no lack of conspiracies, the greatest threat to individual members of dynasties typically comes from their own or comparatively powerful families. Issues of patriarchy, incest, blood-lust, and secession – to the head of the family or the head of the throne – are consistent throughout.
Indeed, the world of ‘Game of Thrones’ – so popular in our culture – is not so far from the reality of our culture, itself. In the world of globalization, families cooperate, compete, and perhaps even conspire against and with each other or themselves. They keep the politics of dynastic power from being understood or contemplated by the masses. We are distracted with sports, entertainment, ‘royal weddings’, a fear of foreigners and terrorism, and are blinded and manipulated by a deeply embedded propaganda system. Our celebrity culture celebrates banality and irrelevance: we tune in to the latest Kim Kar-crash-ian disaster of a human being that plasters the tabloids, while we tune out to the rivalries and repercussions of ‘Globalization’s Game of Thrones’.
While modern dynasties share many characteristics of past ruling families, they have their major distinctions, largely derived from the fact that most of them do not hold formal political or absolute authority. Past dynasties typically held absolute authority over their local regions, states or kingdoms. That type of authority does not exist at the major state, regional or global levels today, with few exceptions, such as the ruling monarchs of the Gulf Arab dictatorships. Yet, while the mechanism of authority is less centralized or formalized in the modern world, the scope and reach of authority – or influence – has expanded exponentially. In short, while in past eras, a single family may have exerted absolute authority over a comparably small region or empire, today, the indirect influence of a dynastic family may reach across the globe, though it remains far from absolute.
Thus, we should not mistake modern dynasties as replications of previous ruling families. They are adaptations to the modern era. With the emergence and prevalence of globalization, multinational corporations, banks, financial markets, philanthropic foundations, think tanks, media conglomerates, educational institutions, public relations and the advertising industries, financial and industrial oligarchs and dynasties have come to be integrated with the nation-state structure. Families that have established modern dynasties typically rose to prominence through their concentration of power and wealth in financial, industrial and corporate spheres. From these positions, political power and influence became a necessity, or else the loss of economic power would be an inevitability.
Such dynasties would frequently establish a ‘family office’ – a private corporate entity – which would handle all of the investments, interests and finances of a dynasty; they would create new universities which would focus on producing knowledge and intellectuals capable of managing changes within and protecting the social order, instead of intellectual talents or pursuits being channeled into areas that challenge the prevailing order. Dynastic families establish ‘philanthropic foundations’ to serve a dual purpose of justifying their wealth and influence (by being perceived as ‘giving back’), but which, in actuality, provide concentrations of wealth managed for the purpose of ‘strategic giving’: to undertake social engineering projects with an ultimate objective of maintaining social control. While appearing to be ‘charitable’ institutions, the major foundations are predominantly interested in the process of long-term social engineering. Notably among such foundations are the Rockefeller Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, Ford Foundation, Open Society Institute, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among many others.
Not unrelated – as they are frequently established and funded by foundations – think tanks are created with the intent to bring elite interests together from a wide array of institutions: financial, industrial, corporate, academic/intellectual, media, cultural, foreign policy and political spheres. In think tanks, top officials from these sectors are gathered in a single institution where they work together to plan strategies for economic and foreign policies, for establishing consensus between elites, and to serve as training and recruitment grounds for officials to enter the political and foreign policy establishment, where they are capable of enacting the very policies developed within the think tanks. Notable think tanks with immense influence – specifically in the United States – include the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution, the Carnegie Endowment, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Larger, international think tanks have been increasingly common during the era of globalization, uniting respective elites from across the powerful western industrial states, instead of simply the elites within each respective state. Notable among these institutions are the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group and the World Economic Forum.
The prevalence of financial, industrial and corporate dynasties within these institutions has ensured that such families have significant political influence, and have – moreover – played pivotal roles in the construction and evolution of our modern state-capitalist society. Not coincidentally, with the preservation and propagation of modern dynastic power has come the preservation and propagation of modern imperialism, no longer established as a formal colonial system of control. Instead, it is represented as a complex inter-dependency and interaction of institutions and ideologies that manifest as a system of globalized ‘informal imperialism’, with the United States at the center.
Some of the names of these dynasties are better known than others, like Rothschild and Rockefeller, while others are better known within their own countries or barely known at all, like Agnelli (in Italy), Wallenberg (in Sweden) and Desmarais (in Canada). Each family dynasty has their own unique history, with power concentrated in particular companies or family offices. Many, if not most, of these families also have significant connections with each other, acting as joint shareholders in various companies, sitting on the same boards and mingling in the same social circles. They cooperate and they compete with each other for influence in Globalization’s ‘Game of Thrones’.
This series aims to bring to light some of the stories, players and structures of the world’s dominant dynasties. The research included in this series has been undertaken through The People’s Book Project, a crowd-funded initiative to produce a series of books examining the ideas, institutions and individuals of power, as well as the methods and movements of resistance in the modern world.
For this research to continue, the People’s Book Project needs your support. Please consider donating today, and keep an eye out for future installments of the series, ‘Globalization’s Game of Thrones’.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 27-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
It’s Not Easy Being Young in This World: Help the “Lost Generation” Find its Way
17 March 2014
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
It’s not easy being young in this world. And I live in Canada; what does that say? I am 26-years old, in debt, a university dropout – in “the only nation in the world where more than half its residents can proudly hang college degrees up on their walls” – according to a 2012 study by the OECD; a position Canada has held as the “most educated country” in the world since 2000. Yet, I am not among those who are officially deemed ‘educated’ and so my job prospects are glimmer, still.
In 2011, one of Canada’s leading newspapers – the Globe and Mail – reported that 78 million young people were without work around the world, “well above pre-recession levels.” The head of the International Labour Organization warned that the “world economy” was unable “to secure a future for all youth,” which “undermines families, social cohesion and the credibility of policies.” Noting that there was “already revolution in the air in some countries,” unemployment and poverty were “fuel for the fire.” The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had previously warned that youth unemployment in poor nations was “a kind of time bomb.” It is the threat of a “lost generation” of youth that is radically altering the lives of youth – and everyone else – in the world today.
Beyond the Arab Spring uprisings of the Middle East – and the counterrevolutions, coups, civil and imperial wars that have accompanied them, seeking to co-opt, control or crush them – has been the massive unrest spreading across much of Europe, notably in south, central, and eastern Europe. This great unrest has accompanied the economic, financial, and debt crises which have gripped Europe in recent years, with countries imposing ruthless economic policies that impoverish the populations and make them ripe for exploitation by multinational corporations, while keeping them under the harsh boot of militarized police and increasingly authoritarian states, where fascism is once again on the rise.
But in Canada – the world’s most “polite” nation – where more than half of the population have degrees, roughly one in three university graduates (of 25 to 29 years old) “ends up in a low-skilled job,” low paid and part-time, while 60% of these graduates leave school with an average debt of $27,000. This, noted CBC’s Doc Zone, “is a ticking time bomb with serious consequences for everyone.” Young Canadians are “overeducated and underemployed.” We “are entering an economy in the throes of a seismic shift where globalization and technology are transforming the workplace.” An added challenge is that, “for the first time in history youth are facing… competition with their parents’ generation for the small pool of jobs that do exist.”
Canada’s youth have continued to be referred to as a “lost generation” whose future is of “people without jobs and jobs without people.” But this is not merely a Canadian phenomenon. The OECD – the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, an economic think tank representing the world’s 34-or-so richest nations – noted that the threat of a “lost generation” was global. Canada’s youth unemployment rate was at around 15% – for 15-24 year-olds – while in Spain and Greece it had risen above 50%, as was reflected in the increasing social unrest.
Canadian youth are unemployed at a rate double the national jobless rate of 7.2%, the “biggest gap between youth and adult unemployment rates since 1977.” Youth are – due to lack of experience – twice as likely to be laid off as older, more experienced workers. A July 2013 report by one of Canada’s largest banks – CIBC – stated that there were 420,000 youth (15-24) who were “neither employed nor enrolled in school… basically on the sidelines doing nothing.”
The CIBC report more-or-less bluntly stated – that is, blunt for bankers – that: “The current environment of part-time work, temporary jobs, corporate and government restructuring and downsizing is especially tough on young people whose lack of experience and seniority make them much more vulnerable to labour market changes.” In other words, we’re fucked. As the bankers continued to explain, while youth may be enrolling in schools more, staying in schools for longer, degrees are “no longer enough.” Schools must more and more become “training grounds” for corporate employment. Education will also have to become more expensive, require more debt, and thus, become increasingly privatized and specialized, so as to ensure that fewer people gain access to it. Instead of going to school, the bank suggested, “Do whatever it takes to make you different.”
I thought it would be a cold day in Hell before I followed advice from a banker, but here I am (cold it may be), trying to do what makes me “different.” So what the hell do I do? This is a question that has plagued many of my friends, my family, and indeed, myself.
My general cookie-cutter answer to the question of ‘what it is I do’ sounds something like this: I research and write about ideas, institutions and individuals of power, and methods and movements of resistance. That is, at least, the most succinct way that I know how to explain it. But perhaps it is time to go into a little more detail about what I do, and what I have done thus far.
I started doing research and submitting my writing to various alternative news websites back when I was about 19-years-old, still a university student in Vancouver, studying Political Economy and History. After a year or so of submitting articles, I received a job offer from one of the sites I was submitting to – Global Research – and began working as a Research Associate. I eventually moved to Montreal to be closer to my work, and when I was 22, we published a book on the economic crisis that I co-edited with my boss and in which I contributed three of my own chapters, covering issues related to central banks, think tanks and global governance.
When I was 24, I decided to move on, in part to protect the autonomy of a book I had started working on, and in part due to personality differences (and clashes). While I valued my newfound freedom, I chose a risky path. I was left as a 24-year-old unemployed non-French-speaking Anglophone in the French-speaking province of Quebec. My options were limited. At the time, it seemed that it came down to working at a call center, as a dishwasher, or going on welfare. Instead, I chose to try to chart my own way, to try to find a way to make money and survive doing what I love, and what I had developed skills for: research and writing. It was at this time that I decided to re-imagine my plan for writing my book, and I launched The People’s Book Project in the fall of 2011.
The objective was – as it remains – to crowd-fund my efforts to research and write one – and what later became a series of books undertaking an institutional analysis of power structures, to dissect and expose the ideologies, institutions and individuals that wield enormous power over the world.
From the time that I began The People’s Book Project until today, it has been a whirlwind of challenges, opportunities and growth. There were several people who, from the early days of the Project, contributed financial resources to allow me to continue with my work. It is never easy trying to live off of the kindness of strangers, from donations sent from around the globe. It’s not exactly a stable source of finances, and while one month may seem to be worry-free, the next month I could be broke. My family also stepped in to help me along my way, often subsidizing my efforts to a large degree as well. Thanks to my family, friends and strangers from around the world who have donated, The People’s Book Project is still continuing to this day, with thousands of pages of written research, rough drafts of chapters, and various edits compiled. One book became many, and with the growth of research, the analysis and understanding changes with time.
But circumstances also had a way of changing my focus. In early 2012, I decided to return to university, this time in Montreal. I enrolled and only signed up for one class (History of Haiti), since I wanted to continue devoting most of my time to my work. Within a month or so of returning to school, students from across the province of Quebec went on strike against the government’s plan to dramatically increase tuition costs (and in effect, to double the debt load most students would have to take on).
Suddenly, so much of what I had been writing about was happening right outside my window, on the streets, at my school, in the city where I lived. Hundreds of thousands of students protested, riot cops called into my school, charged by riot police for peacefully assembling, thousands of students were arrested, as police shot protesters with rubber bullets, tear-gas, ran them over with cars, vans and horses, until the government itself declared protests themselves to be illegal. The whole city rose up in response, and it was perhaps the most inspiring thing I have ever been personally witness to.
At that time, I chose to contribute to the student movement in the only way I knew how: to research and write. I was reading the English-language coverage of the student movement from within Quebec and across the rest of the country. What I was reading was about how “spoiled little brats” in Canada’s most “entitled” province were complaining and rioting about our government raising tuition when the rest of Canada had higher tuition (and debt to go with it). What I was reading was a world away from what I was seeing, hearing and experiencing. I decided that I would write about that story.
Very quickly, my writing was being picked up by multiple news sites like never before, as people hungry for more than the usual banality of the Canadian media were taking in new perspectives and seeking new sources of information. My article – “Ten Points Everyone Should Know About the Quebec Student Movement” – surprised me by going viral (by my standards), especially when it was picked up by CounterPunch and the Media Co-op, and thereafter I was consumed with writing about developments during the strike, as well as giving interviews with radio and even television stations. I was being quoted by a CBC blog, as well as in mainstream newspapers in British Columbia and Manitoba. Everything had been moving so quickly, and after months of working and writing about the student uprising, as it began to wind down, so did I. Ultimately, I had a bit of a ‘crash’ from over-exhaustion, but was soon back to writing.
In terms of the evolution of The People’s Book Project, the Quebec student movement was evidence to me that I could not simply focus on studying and writing about the institutions and ideologies of repression and domination, but that I had to place an equal focus on movements and methods of resistance, understanding that one cannot exist without the other, and that together, they provided a more coherent view of reality, this began to place increased focus on the issue of resistance being included within my research for the Book Project. After all, it is through resistance, rebellion, revolt, and creativity that we are able to find hope in this world and the situation we find ourselves in. It would simply not be enough to provide an examination of the structures that dominate our world without allowing for some hope to be understood and seen in those forces that resist these institutions and circumstances.
From here, my work on the Book Project began to rapidly expand. I turned my focus to Europe, and specifically the European debt crisis, examining the causes and consequences of the debt crisis, as well as the mass unrest, protests and social movements that have emerged as a result. In the span of a few months, I compiled over 350 pages of writing and research on the European debt crisis to contribute to the Book Project, samples of which I have since published online, notably on the debt crisis in Italy, focusing on the issue of austerity, and have also written on the uses of ‘political language’ throughout the debt crisis and all economic crises as a means of obscuring reality and, as Orwell wrote, “making lies sound truthful, murder respectable, and to give a feeling of solidity to pure wind.”
Studying the debt crises in Europe pushed me to try to better understand the uses and abuses of language by power structures and ideologies, and notably, in the fields of economics and finance, where the language appears very technical and specialized, to the point where it seems incapable of being understood by anyone without a degree in those fields.
By this time, I had also decided to drop out of school. I wanted to focus exclusively on my work, and school had seemed to become more a hindrance than a help. So, for the time being, I have given up on any goals regarding degrees and diplomas, instead, I have chosen to let my work speak for itself as opposed to getting any officially-recognized ‘credentials’.
I have, however, learned a great deal from the years I spent in school, namely, on an evolving quality of research. I don’t really look (or like looking) back at things I have previously written and published, especially those from several years ago. I rarely agree with any views I then-held, I find my quality of research seriously lacking, my analysis halfway incoherent, and my own understanding to be rather superficial. I am sure I will view my current work in a similar way several years from now, but I feel that this is a good thing. It is a sign that I am continually evolving in understanding and approach, and that I have still have a great deal to learn. This has been both a strength and a weakness for my Book Project. It has been a strength in the sense that the quality of research and analysis for the book increases over time, but a weakness in the sense that it extends the time that it takes to do the research and writing. The trade-off, I hope, is a worthy one. At least, I feel that it is. For readers, they may decide in due time.
For the past two years I have also been doing almost-weekly podcast episodes for BoilingFrogsPost, founded by Sibel Edmonds. The format has been wonderful, as I have been given an incredible amount of freedom to discuss whatever issues I want for whatever length of time I want, and it has connected me with a host of researchers, writers, activists and others from across the spectrum.
The past year has also been an especially busy one. I began getting offers to do an occasional commissioned article for various websites. This, again, has been both a strength and weakness for the Book Project. While it has helped in terms of being paid work (a rarity for any writer, it seems), as well as allowing my to work on subjects which are related to those of the Book Project, it has often torn me away from working specifically on the book, as most of my time had to be turned into writing articles for other sites, as well as working on several other projects which I took on.
My writing has been increasingly picked up by TruthOut and AlterNet, writing about the major think tanks that have been used to advance corporate and elite interests around the world, massive unrest in Indonesia, the world’s largest ‘free-trade’ agreement between the EU and US, and the development of the modern propaganda system, as well continuing to write about banks and “financial markets” (and their relationship to drug money laundering). Indeed, some of these articles have resulted in me being contacted by a big bank or two inquiring as to my sources for mentioning their name in relation to laundering drug money (which I promptly provided!).
I have also been working on an ongoing project for Occupy.com, called the Global Power Project, which focuses around institutional analysis of individual organizations, examining their history and evolution, as well as compiling the CVs of all the individuals who lead the organizations in order to chart a network of influence wielded by these various groups. My focus for this series has been primarily on studying banks and financial organizations. I have done a series of exposés on JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Morgan Stanley. I have also examined various organizations which bring together large groups of bankers with finance ministers and central bankers, such as the Institute of International Finance – the world’s largest banking lobby group – and the Group of Thirty, which resulted in me being contacted by the executive director of the G30 expressing his disappointment that I did not contact him or the group’s members for comment in my article series.
I have also authored an essay in cooperation with Occupy.com and the Transnational Institute for the TNI’s yearly ‘State of Power’ report, where I focused on analyzing the European Round Table of Industrialists – a group of Europe’s top CEOs – in shaping the evolution of the European Union. I have also been published in an academic journal published by the Spanda Foundation, where I contributed an article on environmental degradation and indigenous resistance to the social order. On top of all this, I also recently began another ongoing series for Occupy.com, the World of Resistance [WoR] Report, discussing issues related to the spread of global protests, uprisings, rebellions and revolutions.
One of my previous articles on the Trans-Pacific Partnership was also cited in Project Censored’s “Most Censored Stories” for their 2014 edition. I have also appeared on CBC Radio’s The Current to discuss evolving events in Tunisia’s revolution, as well as having had an op-ed published in a mainstream newspaper in British Columbia, The Province, where I countered an argument put forward by a regular columnist for the newspaper chain, discussing indigenous issues in Canada, a topic I have also discussed on APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network).
I am also the chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, a new U.S.-based “working class” think tank where I focus on discussing foreign policy and empire. I have written pieces for the Hampton Institute discussing the use of political language in modern imperialism, President Obama’s global drone terror campaign, the “secret wars” that America is waging in over one hundred countries around the world, U.S. support for death squads, the history of U.S. support for Arab dictatorships, notably in Egypt, where the struggle continues today, and I also wrote a large report on the American institutions and “intellectuals” that promote global empire.
So why did I go through a list of the various things I have written and am working on? Well, the answer is simple: I am asking for a ‘public subsidy’ for my writing and research, by you – the public – and so it seemed necessary to let you know a little bit more about where I’m coming from, what I’m doing, and what I’ve done, so that you can determine for yourself if my work is worth continued support.
My aim is to raise enough funds so that I can put aside a good deal of time from my various other time-consuming projects so that I can focus exclusively on the book and get the first edition done as soon as possible. But this requires actual funds, and I am far from having anything close to the amount necessary to dedicate meaningful time to this project. I hate asking for money, but I have come to terms with being an intellectual prostitute for the time being. However, I would rather prostitute my mind for the benefit of the wider public – and most especially the youth of the current “lost generation” to which I belong – as opposed to whoring my mind and efforts out to some various institution. At this point, however, I am essentially unemployable in almost every field, and so my options are rather limited. But I think that through my work, I can help others see that as a species, we do have other options, but that requires us to come to a common understanding, and to engage in common action. We cannot change the world, or steer humanity off the course of seemingly-inevitable extinction, alone. We need each other.
The People’s Book Project is the primary means through which I think I can contribute to this endeavor, to help give the “lost generation” a little bit of guidance. But just like the larger work and efforts that this world will require (and notably, require of the “lost generation”), I cannot do this alone. I require the support of readers and others. So please consider making a contribution to The People’s Book Project, and help the “lost generation” try to find its way.
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Central Banks, Financial Markets, Oligarchs and Family Dynasties
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
10 March 2014
As part of The People’s Book Project, I have been heavily researching a number of different and interrelated subjects over long periods of time, collecting and cataloguing information, quotes, citations and analysis from a wide range of sources. My specific focus in the last several months have been on studying financial markets, the central banking-monetary system, and the role of financial and corporate family dynasties as institutional power structures within the wider global political economy. The objective of this research is to gather as much relevant information as possible related to these subjects so that I can begin the process of putting the information together, forming a larger, more expansive view of the global economic order while also bringing to light more of the little details, and roles of specific institutions and individuals. Trying to be both specific and expansive is quite challenge, but I’m up to the task.
This research initiative has led me to go through literally hundreds of speeches by central bankers, dozens upon dozens of academic journal articles, and hundreds of articles from the financial press. Through these efforts I am working to construct a more comprehensive institutional analysis of the global economic order than I have yet to come across.
Most people have little sympathy for banks in the wake of the global financial crisis, knowing that they have played a monumental role in causing the crisis, and then receiving extensive bailouts thereafter. My research aims to not simply explain what their role was in both causing and profiting from the crisis, but to explain what their function is within the wider global political economy. This includes examining the role of bond and equity markets, and thus, the global debt system. How do banks organize their interests institutionally and ideologically? What other institutions are involved? What are the role of hedge funds, private banks, consulting firms, exchange-traded funds and investment firms? Who runs these organizations, and who are they connected to?
My ongoing research and writing for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project has contributed a great deal to these efforts, providing institutional analyses of individual banks as well as highly influential groups such as the Institute of International Finance, the Group of Thirty, the International Monetary Conference, and many others. These groups bring together private bankers with central bankers and finance ministers. This adds further questions, seeking answers: What are the role of central banks in money creation, inflation, deflation, interest rates, and in social engineering? What are the ideologies and individuals that drive these organizations?
Another institution of importance that I have been studying is that of the ‘family dynasty’, namely, the prominent financial and corporate dynasties built up around famous names like Rockefeller, Rothschild, Agnelli, Wallenberg, Desmarais, and many others. How have they evolved as dynasties, how do they function, how do they rise and fall? How do family dynasties influence ideology, institutions, individuals and policy? How do they compete and cooperate with each other?
This is not a ‘conspiratorial’ analysis: I do not believe that one or two families “run the world,” nor that elites hold omnipotent power. Power is, ultimately, illusory: it is there because large groups of people believe it to be there, built around mythology and fantasy, but with real-world consequences. Instead, I want to understand and articulate the complexities of the power structures in our world, and notably, those that make up the global economic and financial order. If cash is King, I want to shine light on the royal court of the House of Hubris so that the mythology and fantasies surrounding our global order are better understood, and thus, better undermined.
To undertake this task, however, I need your support. In the past week, the People’s Book Project has raised $495 – bringing the total to $585 – in an effort to raise $2500 by March 25, so that I am able to continue doing research and to write the first volume of The People’s Book Project, focusing primarily upon this subject matter. Please help spread the word, donate, share through social media, promote and help in whatever ways you can. I cannot do this without you and your support, so please consider donating some time or money to help the People’s Book Project continue.
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Research for Revolution
3 March 2014
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
After a nearly two-month break from work, I have returned full-force to working on The People’s Book Project, a crowd-funded project which has been ongoing (off and on) for the past two-plus years. The Project raises funds to subsidize my research and writing of a series of books examining the ideas, institutions and individuals of power in our world – through historical, political, economic and social realms – as well as the methods and movements of resistance against these power structures. With literally thousands of pages of compiled research thus far, I am pushing forward to finish the current areas of research I have been focused on, as well as moving to complete the first volume of what will doubtlessly be a series of books examining these inter-connected subjects.
So what have I been researching? In the past two weeks, I have been working nearly 12 hours per day collecting research and documentation to contribute to the first volume of the People’s Book Project, focused largely on understanding the global economic, financial and monetary order which is so influential in determining the course of the world and human society, with profound effects upon all the people and life within the world. The aim of my writing, and specifically the People’s Book Project, is to reach a wider and newer audience of people, by attempting to break-down complex institutions and ideologies into more easily-understood concepts; not to ‘dumb-down’ of simplify, but to explain in more simple language. The method of doing this is based primarily upon an understanding – as articulated by George Orwell in his 1946 essay, ‘Politics and the English Language’ – of “political language” as being used to obscure, deflect and manipulate a meaningful understanding of words, concepts, reality and power structures.
In the realm of economics, finance and monetary issues, the uses of “political language” are paramount. Ever read the financial press – Bloomberg, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Economist, Barron’s, Forbes, The Banker, etc. – and wonder what the hell these people are talking about? Or why it matters – or should matter – to you? The language is technical, written for “professionals” or “specialists” who received proper educational training in their respective fields, not to be understood by plebian observers, or the “bewildered herd of ignorant and meddlesome outsiders” (as Walter Lippmann referred to the public). The concepts, terms, and institutions within finance, economics and monetary fields are overwhelming in their sheer numbers, let alone meanings, with everything from – collateralized debt obligations, securities markets, bond markets, equity, asset management, money managers, exchange traded funds, price control and stability, macroeconomic adjustments, and the usual alphabet-soups of bungled terminology. It’s a bit much for those who didn’t get degrees in finance or economics.
But then, I didn’t get those degrees either, let alone, any degree. But one thing I do know how to do, and do well, is research. With a sizeable personal library of books – largely research or academic-based – as a start, I have compiled immense amounts of academic journal articles, and have been scouring the financial press for several months, collecting information, quotes and sources from the same publications that are read by those who work within and on top of the world of economics, finance and monetary policy, from the more commonly-known publications like the Wall Street Journal and the Economist, to the most-respected publications like the Financial Times, to the more-specific press, like The Banker, Central Banking, and Barron’s, which pander to audiences firmly resting in the world’s top 1%. On top of this, I have been collecting information from major reports within the industry itself, reviewing articles, forecasts, trends and annual reports and other publications from major banks, international financial institutions, global consulting and advisory firms, prominent lobbies, interest groups, think tanks and foundations. Drawing from a very wide range of sources, most of which are actually supportive – ideologically or institutionally – of the global economic order that rules this world, as well as a host of academic critiques, I have managed to compile – and am still compiling – a truly impressive electronic library of information.
It is from this library that I will be reviewing, organizing and editing into the first (and presumably following) volumes of The People’s Book Project, aiming to help others understand the true nature of the global economic order, and why it is necessary for the survival of the species that we oppose, undermine the legitimacy of – and create an entirely new – global economic system. I hope to analyze this system using language that is approachable and understandable to most people, not just “professionals” and “specialists” (of which I am certainly not one!). This has proven to be a much harder task than I imagined. With each new term, institution or idea described in some obscure economic language, I attempt to discover its true meaning, by holding to the method of translating political language: look at the policies, not the word; look at the actual effects of those policies, not the rhetoric of the “desired effects” they were intended to create; and, if the result of the policy is different from the stated-intent, yet, the policy never changes, one can assume that the words hold a different meaning to those who are speaking/writing them, than to all those who are reading them. For example, ‘austerity’ means something very different to bankers than it does to workers in factories, or single-mothers on state-support. In effect, it is a method of attempting to translate political language into simple language. This is a great challenge in the economic and financial realm, for just when I feel I have reached a comfort level with being able to describe – in simple language – the meaning of a particular term or policy, a host of new words, policies, institutions and ideas emerge.
In truth, I imagine that if most economists were asked to provide a simple-language definition of many terms they are used to throwing about in academic or professional settings, they would struggle to find a way. I am not attempting to preach the baffle-gab nonsense of economic language, nor am I writing for economists. I am writing for people. I am writing for people who do not have the time or access to do the research that I am doing. And I am doing this because I think it is of the utmost importance that people gain a far more realistic understanding of the world we live in. These issues have profound implications for everyone on Earth; and yet, the substance, meaning and effects that these ideas and institutions have are left largely to being discussed within the realm of those who implement them. Analysis and criticism are focused on the ‘policies’, not the system itself. The discussions and debates that take place within the financial and economic world are spoken in foreign languages, and without a popular audience, without a popular understanding.
But people know things aren’t quite right. This book – and the People’s Book Project – aim to arm people with information, and to inspire action for change. But I can’t do this alone. I have to put in a lot of time and energy, and also – unfortunately – a good deal of money as well: subscriptions to the New York Times, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, The Banker and other publications do not come cheaply every month, but access to these sources – and their historical archives, where possible – is essential to my research. So what I am asking for in help from others, is largely to contribute to an ‘open-source subsidy’ to help me continue my research, and to write the first volume of the People’s Book Project. This means asking for donations. I hate asking money, really, it’s pretty much the least-enjoyable part of everything I spend my time on… but, it is also essential if I am to continue with my work.
I have thus decided to start a new fundraising campaign, aiming to raise $2,500 within the next couple weeks. Most of my previous attempts at fundraising fell far short of my goals, but admittedly, I did not do much follow-up in promoting them. Out of necessity, however, I must do so now. I will begin the count of money raised with including all the donations given to me in the past two weeks, amounting to $90, so that those who have donated in the past couple weeks know that their generous funds have gone to start a new campaign, instead of adding on to a previously-failed fundraising attempt.
If you do not have the financial resources to donate money, please help me out by promoting and sharing my fundraising campaign – and The People’s Book Project – with others: on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, message boards and other social media platforms. All of this help and support is necessary if I am to continue with this project, and all of our efforts combined truly make this the PEOPLE’s Book Project as opposed to simply ‘my’ book project.
Thank you very much for your time and support,
Andrew Gavin Marshall
A Note to My Readers
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
17 February 2014
As some of you may have noticed, I have not had any postings in some time, nor have I been responding to messages or emails. I had to take a rather unexpected leave from work due to the death of a close friend. However, out of both mental and financial necessity, I am returning to work.
I would just like to thank those of you who have sent me messages and continued to donate funds to my research and writing. I have a serious back log of missed emails, so if you have sent anything to me awaiting response in the past couple months, please consider contacting me again (firstname.lastname@example.org), and I will get back to you as soon as possible. I will also be updating the amount of donations, and must continue to ask for your generous support.
This is a tough world to live in, though not without its many little wonders. Ultimately, all we have is each other, as inspiration, support, and hope. So let’s continue to work together to make this a better world in whatever way we can. The little things can and do make a big difference.
Thank you for your time and understanding,
Andrew Gavin Marshall
A Teaser to ‘The Empire of Poverty’: The First Volume of The People’s Book Project
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
The following is a little teaser to some of the ideas, approach and perspective being pursued through the research and writing of the first volume of The People’s Book Project, ‘The Empire of Poverty.’ Please consider donating to the Project to help these efforts come to fruition.
It’s important to try to understand the global economic and financial system – the banks, corporations, central banks, economic policies (and effects) of governments, trade agreements, the creation and value of currencies, the function of the oft-heard ‘markets’ – as daunting as the task may seem. One might think that they need a degree in Economics in order to understand the complexities of the global economy, to comprehend the correct choices and policies which achieve the desired results. One might think that this is true, but it isn’t. The truth is that if most economists understood the global economy, and knew the ‘correct’ choices to make, we wouldn’t be where we currently are.
Economics – both theory and practice – is an illusion. There are no concrete rules on which to base economic thought; there is no ‘gravity’ to its physics. Economics is not science, it’s sophistry; the sleight of hand, the quick and slick tongue, the wave of the wand, the theatrics of the stage set for all to see, and the effects – as destructive as they may be to the real world and all life within it – are largely hidden from view; the illusion keeps the population enraptured in awe, aspiration, and fear.
This is not to say that there cannot be anything real produced or given growth by what we call ‘economics’: there are of course exchanges made, resources used, products created, lives benefitted, and entire societies and peoples changed. The effects are very real. However, they have a disproportionately destructive, oppressive, and dehumanizing effect upon the vast majority of humanity: they bestow upon a tiny fraction unparalleled power, and thus, dehumanization in another form; while creating a comparably minimal buffer of generally satiated and malleable middle classes, educated well-enough to work and survive the horror show that is the global economic order, but consumed by a culture lacking in substance and meaning, and thus, left morally, psychologically, and intellectually lobotomized, physically paralyzed, and thus, once again, dehumanized.
So our global economic order has the effect of generally dehumanizing all who are subject to its whims and whammies; which is to say, almost everyone, everywhere. Those peoples and societies that are not integrated into the global economy tend to be bombed, invaded, overthrown or droned. Those who remain are doomed to slow death: one in seven people on earth live in urban slums – more than the combined populations of Canada, the United States, and the European Union – while the majority of humanity lives in deep poverty, in hunger, and malnutrition; with 18 million people being killed from poverty-related causes every year, including over 9 million children. Every year.
During the Holocaust, approximately six million Jews were killed. Take that number, add 50% to make 9 million, and just think: this is how many children die every year from poverty. Every year a new Holocaust.
These deaths are preventable. Truly. It has been estimated that less than the yearly Pentagon budget would lift the poorest 3 billion people of the world out of extreme poverty. In fact, in the twenty years following the end of the Cold War in 1991, there were roughly 360 million preventable deaths caused by poverty-related issues, more than the combined deaths of all of the wars of the 20th century.
But this is not our priority. Our priority is that banks and corporations make as much profits as possible, because this – by some unknown and unseen magic – will (it is said) benefit everyone else. It is propagated and believed that this system, as it exists, or even with the proper tinkering and toiling, can represent the totality of life and being on this world; to be humanizing, and to represent ‘human nature’ at its best. But if this system were ‘human nature,’ why would it be so dehumanizing? How many organisms grow by destroying that which their existence depends upon? Parasites, cancers and various diseases can kill the host before transferring to another.
We have no other host to go to. Those who sit atop the global structure know this, which is why they express such an interest in finding new planets to escape to (and presumably, plunder and destroy). The billionaires have given up pretending to care for the world’s billions of people suffering, which is why they are looking to space travel, mining asteroids, and searching for hospitable environments elsewhere. Their long-term ‘exit strategy’ is to abandon ship, not to change the direction we currently traverse.
Are we – as a species – a cancer upon the earth? Looking at the big picture, it may often seem that way. But it is in the small moments, the single acts, exchanged emotions, interacting individuals, in the every day life – those moments of joy, love, wonder – in which we find our own personal meaning, in which we discover that humanity – and human nature – can be so much more than destructive, petty, and pestilent behaviour. We are told we are a society of ‘individuals’ – that we are free, democratic and equal. If that were the case: why are we so isolated? We are individuals, yes, in the physical sense: but we are disconnected from the collective, separated from the species as a whole.
We think and act individually, but do so ignorantly, and arrogantly. Our thoughts and feelings are collected and collated by our commanding culture of irrelevance. The immense gift of a human mind – with all of its possibilities and capabilities, both known and unknown – is largely squandered on pop culture, sports, celebrities, consumer items and entertainment. So long as we remain distracted by the ‘celebration of irrelevance’, we are lobotomized of our meaning.
Is this how you see yourself as an individual? As the world you live in? It’s not an appealing thought. So why, then, do we live in a world in which as individuals we may act morally, purposefully, passionately, and proudly; though as a collective species, we are petty, parasitic, power-mad, pathological, and pretty much evil?
Is it ‘human nature’ that our personal values and priorities are not reflected in the collective – institutionalized – expression of humanity? Or, is it that the way in which our society is constructed, the institutions and ideologies, the policies, programs, priorities and effects of the way in which our world is ordered and altered, is inherently counter to ‘human nature’? In other words: is human nature inherently self-destructive; or, is our constructed human ‘society’ (our global social, political and economic order) inherently destructive to human nature? Does human nature pervert the effects we have upon the world, or do the structures of world order – and power – pervert human nature?
It is this vast disconnect between our personal values and the form they take at the global – collective – level of the species, which is ultimately so dehumanizing. Because power is centralized at the top, and for such a tiny fraction of the species – so much so that there has never been a more unequal and vast ‘Empire of Poverty’ in all of human history, the ‘great inequality’ is not of wealth, but of power.
Wealth is an illusion: a manufactured means to power, a collective delusion. Power is central to human nature. Every person needs power: they need autonomy over their own lives, thoughts, feelings, and decisions. It is central to maturity, it is central to leaving adolescence and becoming an adult, and it is central to finding a sense of self-worth. Understanding oneself is to empower oneself. Power is about possibility, personal fulfillment, passion and purpose. It has individual and social representations. It can be seen – or not – in your own life, but also in the world around us.
A pre-requisite for power is freedom. The process of achieving freedom is, itself, empowering. Once (and if) achieved, it is of immense responsibility to use your new power of freedom wisely, for the effects that it may have upon others and the rest of the world are endless. Power is freedom, quite simply, because slavery is the opposite of both freedom and power: it is the most un-free and the most disempowering personal position to be in.
Freedom is power; power is freedom. If we were actually free, we would have significantly more power. But we don’t. We barely have any control over our own individual lives, let alone the world around us. We leave all that to the others, to those with the proper degrees, the ‘expertise,’ the politicians, the pundits, the ‘right’ people… because they’ve obviously done such a great job of it so far. We remain – as a species, and very often as individuals – neutered from the necessities of individual empowerment, subjected instead to the very-often-arbitrary abuses of power over others.
So if we are not free, what are we? Certainly, we are not slaves, for we have no shackles, bear the brunt of no whips, serve no visible masters. We are, perhaps, slaves of another kind. We are financially, reflexively, intellectually, emotionally and hopelessly and very often spiritually enslaved to the system, as it exists. We are slaves to money. We serve the masters of money, with our time, with our labour and efforts, with our interactions, exchanges, interests, intelligence and aspirations. We are slaves to money.
Our society is built and sustained upon it; and our species is being driven to extinction because of it. The cause and effect of money – or more aptly, debt – slavery, is the distribution of power among the species: too few have too much, and too many have too little. This imbalance of power within the species is leading to our self-destruction, our inevitable extinction if we continue along this path.
Money is both the means and very often – the reason – for continuing down this path, for maintaining this imbalance. While very few have all the money, everyone – and everywhere else – has all the debt. This is not the wondrous ‘free market’ capitalist utopia which is incessantly babbled about, but the very real global feudal dystopia, both cause and effect of the power imbalance and money-system. In feudalism, there is no freedom, only serfdom.
Welcome to our global economic order, serf!
Welcome to the Empire of Poverty.
But it’s not hopeless. The truth is both painful, but also full of possibilities. The truth is that we do have the ability to understand the world we live in, to comprehend our global economic order. We don’t need a degree; we just need honesty.
The illusion that is our economic system is built not upon technical knowledge, but rather, technical language, a highly political language, “designed to make lies sound truthful, murder respectable, and to give a feeling of solidity to pure wind,” as George Orwell defined the term. Our inability to communicate honesty, and thus effectively, about our economic – and indeed, political and social – system is an essential mechanism in maintaining that system.
To speak and ‘understand’ this language, at least at a superficial level, usually does require some ‘education’: economists must be trained, so too must political and other social scientists. The artificial separations in their knowledge – (as in, the notion that the economic world exists separate from the political and social world, and thus, must be studied separately) ensures that none who receive a ‘proper education’ achieve a profound understanding of the world. Some may, but they are few and far between, and usually weeded out or co-opted.
Such a ‘proper education’ will allow one to gain enough basic knowledge related to the sector of society in which they aim to explore and advance, and they are given just enough knowledge to do so, but not enough to honestly look at – let alone have the capacity to communicate – the reality of how our global political, social and economic order functions and evolves. They may see problems, make recommendations, propose policies, and they may even do some good, but ultimately – as we still remain on the path toward extinction – they have not, and cannot – do enough.
Few possibilities – few ‘solutions’ – or opportunities, are communicated to the populations that are effected under and by these societies, and by the decisions the few at the top make. People are generally given a small set of options from which to choose, like guessing what’s behind door number one or two, when both are ultimately terrible, and ineffectual (in a positive sense). We put ‘faith’ – however empty – into the hands of politicians, we consume the crap spewed in the media, or we lose ourselves in the vast vacancy that is the ‘substance’ of our culture; a culture of mythology, lies, fantasy, persuasion, punishment, entertainment and manipulation.
Our hope is first in honesty. We can – and must – look honestly at the world for what it is, not what we want or imagine it to be, but what it is. Then, we can – and must – communicate this message, and to do so honestly and directly. This is a human reality, and it must become a part of a collective human knowledge, a shift in understanding, and thus, a change in direction; away from the current-inevitably of extinction, and toward survival. What comes after is for future generations to determine. For now, we must aim to simply survive.
Our goal must first be to begin charting a new path toward survival; this must be the duty of our present living and younger generations, as challenging, demanding and terrifying a responsibility that may be, it is either that, or extinction. And this is not a matter of hundreds or thousands of years away; it could be as soon as decades. If you – like me – are between 18 and 45 – the coming few decades of the world in which you currently live and hope to survive will become increasingly dreadful, destructive, oppressive, and disempowering. We cannot afford to continue kicking the can down the road, delaying – and exacerbating – the inevitable.
There is always hope, not in myths and fantasy, but hidden in reality. In our actions, ideas, in us – as individuals – connecting, interacting, sharing, working and creating together, as collectives, as part of a larger human organism; beginning to act as if we don’t want to self-destruct as a species, creating a new society – a new order – to make the current one obsolete. This is our great challenge. How do we navigate through living within the present existing order, while simultaneously seeking to create a new and alternative order? Moreover, how do we achieve this if it takes nearly all our effort, time and energy to simply survive the present order? To put it as crudely (and honestly) as possible: how the fuck are we supposed to change the world?!
I don’t know the answers. But I think that the best way to get them is to ask honest questions, seek an honest understanding, and to communicate honestly – about ourselves and the world – personally, and globally. This book is my attempt to understand and speak honestly about the world, not to speak in a language that only economists and political scientists or other so-called ‘experts’ can understand, but to speak plainly and directly. This will require me to dedicate some focus in attempting to translate political language into English. I don’t have a degree, and you won’t need one to read this, or to understand it.
The hope, then, that I hold for this book – and the wider book project of which it is apart – is that it presents an accessible and usable collection of knowledge. It is not the book that asks every question, or has ever answer (no books do!), but it is an attempt at taking a different approach to asking and seeking answers to some rather important questions about our world: what is the true nature of our society? How did we get here? Where are we going? Why? And, what can we do to change it?
This is but an introduction to our world, by no means comprehensive or conclusive, simply accessible, honest, and (hopefully) useful.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
 Mike Davis, Planet of Slums (Verso: London, 2007), pages 151-173.
 Thomas Pogge, “Keynote Address: Poverty, Climate Change, and Overpopulation,” Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law (Vol. 38, 2010), pages 526-534.
 Dan Vergano, “Billionaires back ambitious space projects,” USA Today, 13 May 2012: