Surviving smashing and grabbing

Ed Raymond

Jeremy Bentham

Will “Smashing and Grabbing” Finally Destroy Our Attempt at Democracy?    

This is not a shocking financial statistic: Since 2020, the richest One Percent has “smashed and grabbed” two-thirds of all new wealth globally. It’s no surprise that is twice as much as the rest of the world’s population.

Ten global billionaires now possess six times as much wealth as the poorest three billion people on Planet Earth. In the Divided States of America, the top Ten Percent of households own more than 70% of the country’s assets. In just the last four years, the median price of homes in larger cities in California, our richest state, has reached over $1 million, increasing 30% in that short time. That’s why 50,000 people are living in the streets of LA and thousands live in tents and old RVs parked on dozens of streets.  

The cancerous growth of economic inequality has been around since Egyptian, Roman, Mayan empires, and the millionaires who often acted like today’s hedge fund managers with the buying and selling of slaves from Africa. The spread of economic inequality was emphasized recently by Occupy Wall Street protesters a decade ago. Senator Bernie Sanders kept talking about it until his democratic socialism philosophy won the 2020 election for the somnolent Joe Biden.

As Astra Taylor wrote in her book The Age of Insecurity: Coming Together as Things Fall Apart: “To cope, we scramble and thrive, shoring ourselves up against potential threats. We work hard, shop hard, get credentialed, scrimp and save, invest, diet, self-medicate, meditate, exercise, exfoliate. And yet security, for the most part, eludes us. Of course, living with uncertainty and risk is nothing new.”

Why Didn’t We Listen To Bentham When He was Preaching Democratic Socialism?

Ever heard of Jeremy Bentham? He was one of the smartest guys in the world in the bottom half of the 18th Century and the top of the !9th. I studied his work in college because I was working on a broad English major which included both literature and history. He was a teacher who taught some of the smartest guys around such as John Stuart Mill who wrote his famous essay “On Liberty,” legal philosopher John Austin, and the American activist John Neal. In this period of religious fakes and hatred of gays his intelligence has been hidden because his study of science and Homo sapiens turned him into an atheist. He liked to be with women but never married.  

What a life! He had to be an equal to the artistic genius Michelangelo and the all-around genius Leonardo DaVinci, both gays. He was a child prodigy. When he was a toddler, a tutor caught him in his father’s chair and desk reading a multi-volume history of England. At three he learned Latin. At seven he entertained guests at dinner parties playing violin solos. He had tutors and attended Westminster School before entering Queen’s College at 12 where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in four years and a Master’s Degree in three years. He also trained as a lawyer.  

Bentham said his “fundamental axiom” of his philosophy was based on “the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” That’s what democratic socialism is all about today.   

Here are the major issues of his day he supported. Most of them are still issues in the 21st century:  leading theorist in Anglo-American philosophy of law, welfarism for the poor, individual rights and personal economic rights, separation of church and state, freedom of expression (our free speech), equal rights for women and the right of divorce, decriminalization of homosexuality, opposed to slavery, capital punishment, and all physical punishment practices, particularly of children, animal rights. and opposed the idea of natural law (a Roman Catholic idea) and natural rights that might be considered as “divine” rights or “God-given” rights, calling them “nonsense on stilts.”  

That’s why he was considered an atheist. There’s nothing about abortion in the issues studied by Bentham. It was not an issue in his day. This list could have been prepared by Senator Bernie Sanders 200 years after Bentham preached about them.

Our Robber Barons Smashed and Grabbed Their Way to Fortunes over 200 Years

The term “robber barons” comes from the practice of medieval German lords who charged illegal tolls to travelers who crossed their lands and rivers. The term was later used to describe the practices of greedy businessmen who practiced monopoly, crushed competitors, rigged markets, corrupted governments, controlled natural resources, paid lower wages, exploited labor and sold stock at inflated prices to unsuspecting investors. One of our many robber barons from the 19th century to the 21st was Cornelius Vanderbilt of shipping fame who showed his ability to create wealth by “smashing and grabbing.” He built the Biltmore House on an 8,000-acre estate near Ashville, North Carolina, a small cabin of 254 rooms which is still the largest family home in America. It’s worth a visit. Corky and I spent two days going through it—and still did not see it all.    

Other “smashers and grabbers” in the Gilded Age of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries were John D, Rockefeller of Standard Oil fame who remains the richest American at an estimated $400 billion, J.P. Morgan of Wall Street banking fame who saved the country from financial disaster a couple of times, and Andrew Carnegie who made enough money making steel by “smashing and grabbing” smaller steel companies to build 1,679 Carnegie libraries in large and small communities in America.

So far in the 21st century our leading smashers and grabbers are Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Elon Musk of Tesla, SpaceX, and Twitter-X, and many Wall Street hedge fund managers. Bezos just bought another Florida mansion for $60 million to add to his record of owning the most mansion bathrooms in the world. Musk claims he lives in a one-bedroom apartment while being named the world’s richest “smasher and grabber” about every other week.  

Of the estimated 2,755 billionaires in the world, only 238 have signed the Living Pledge where they will give away at least half of their fortune to philanthropies. This means that 90% of billionaires believe in “What do I want?” rather than “What do we need?”

This is why the Bottom 90% are Smashing and Grabbing the Rich 10%

A recent article says a lot about why members of the bottom 90% are beginning to “smash and grab” stores where the top 10% buy their “stuff” : “Say you’re in a room with 400 people. Thirty-six of them don’t have health insurance. Forty-eight of them live in poverty. Eight-five are illiterate. Ninety have untreated illnesses. And every day at least one person is shot. But two of them are trans, so you decide ruining their lives is your top priority.” 

In the Middle Ages, in rare instances, a feudal landlord was killed by his peasants who then “smashed and grabbed” his castle. Here are some basic realities of present life in modern America where fifty 90%ers “smash and grab” $300,000 worth of luxury goods that 10%ers would buy:

1. Thirty million Americans have no health insurance and 43% of them have such crap insurance and badly uninsured that any accident or illness that costs them more than a $1,000 in co-pays puts them in a debt they can’t pay.

2. Thirty-seven million Americans live in poverty as defined by the government because of low-paid jobs and a very low government minimum wage low. As a comparison, only 5% of Italians and 11% of Japanese workers work in low wage jobs while 23% of Americans do. And besides both the Italians and Japanese have free health care and college!

3. Last year 350 children died of firearm accidents. Firearms are the leading cause of death among children! This year, 316 Americans are shot and 110 die each day from wounds.

4. Twenty-six percent of Americans suffer from mental illness with over 54% never receiving any treatment for the condition. Because of lack of access to care, the 465 who do get treatment, the average time to get care from the first diagnosis is more than 11 years.

5. Because of a lack of education funds, mainly by Trumplican no-votes, 21% of Americans are illiterate, and only 35% of fourth graders read at grade level.

6. While most European countries have free college, 45% of Americans, ages 18 to 90, owe more than $1.7 trillion in student debt. The subject of student debt is not even discussed in other developed countries.

7. At $11,912 per person, the Divided States of America charges twice as much for healthcare and drugs than Germany at $7,382, France at $5,496, Australia at $5,463, and Japan at $$,666. Of the 38 countries in the Organization of Co-operative Economic Development (OCED), the U.S. is the only country that does not have universal care. The U.S. rich get the best healthcare in the world while many of the bottom 90 percent go bankrupt paying for expensive, inadequate care. This why the average American life expectancy is 78.8 years, our neighbor Canada is at 82.3, Australia is 82.9, Japan is 84.4, and Germany is 81.3. Poor Blacks in the U.S. are at 61 years while rich Whites top off at 95. What are 34 more years on earth worth?  

Are We Headed into the Abyss?  

The answer is: If the “smashing and grabbing” top Ten Percent doesn’t stop, the “smashing and grabbing” bottom 90 Percent will continue to grab more. In just a few days last week hundreds of masked thieves raided the stores of the rich and “smashed and grabbed” close to $1 million worth of expensive purses and clothing in Los Angeles malls. Other large cities such as Chicago and New York are beginning to experience “smashing and grabbing.”

Another poll grabbed my attention this week. Although only six percent of our public and private workers are in unions now, 70 percent of Americans now support unions.  Jeff Bezos of Amazon is just one example of the superrich “smashers and grabbers” spending billions to eliminate unions. Starbucks boss Howard Schultz is another.  

Brian Watson, columnist for the Salem News in bewitched Salem, Massachusetts, has just published Headed Into The Abyss: The Story of Our Time And The Future We’ll Face. He says ten forces—capitalism, technology, the internet, politics, education, media, human nature, the environment, population, and transportation—are driving our society in negative ways. Meld my list of seven issues into his list of ten—and then take a guess whether the smashing and grabbing” will stop in our society. We have the Trumplican Party already in his abyss and the Democratic party straddling the fork in the road to disaster capitalism or  democratic capitalism. Chances are slim to none that we will survive as a democracy--because Slim is out of town “smashing and grabbing.”  

Another fact: A country with more than 400 million firearms smothering commonsense, with a mass shooting and a child dying every day, and the inevitability of some of the 20 million crazies we produce each year making national headlines through killing by firearms, no way can we predict our future.