In both America and its capital colony Sri Lanka, economists point to numbers to say people are doing fine. Reduced inflation, etc. As the old medical joke goes, “the operation was a success, but the patient died.” Here’s some numbers to tell you why the conventional statistics are lies. Poverty has increased by 60% in America and at least doubled in Sri Lanka. These are much more than numbers. These are lost lives. This is the punishment of innocent children, who had nothing to do with these economic crimes.
The fact is that who suffers in an economic crisis is not some inevitable economic law. It is a choice. You can see it clearly in both the heart of the American Empire and the darkness at its edge. The cardinal rule of what westerners call democracy is property rights. This used to mean owning people and it still does, just in disguise. The rule above all rules is that the rich must get paid and the poor must get played out. As the self-declared new slave Kanye West said, “Two words: Chi-Town raised me, crazy. So I live by two words: ‘Fuck you, pay me.‘” The troubled and troublesome man is not an idiot (though that does seem to be four words, not two). He expresses the unconscious id of America. This is the globe-spanning White Empire we still live under; we live under a ‘developing’ rather than ‘civilizing’ influence now, but it’s the same shit, different day. Entire nations and internations must be reduced to debt slaves. This is the slavery of our times.
The iron law is that moneylenders must get their pound of flesh, and the poor — especially the children of the poor — must provide it. This is not some scientifically necessary sacrifice for the greater good. This is the same old corruption of ancient times, just put in modern lies. It’s the same rancid idea that the rich must get richer and the poor poorer, and don’t ask why. As Leo Tolstoy wrote about in 1900. He said:
It is admitted as an undoubted truth that if in society many thieves and robbers have sprung up who take from the labourers the fruit of their labour, this happens not because the thieves and robbers have acted badly, but because such are the inevitable economic laws, which can only be altered slowly by an evolutionary process indicated by science; and therefore, according to the guidance of science, people belonging to the class of robbers, thieves or receivers of stolen goods may quietly continue to utilize the things obtained by thefts and robbery.
Though the majority of people in our world do not know the details of these tranquilizing scientific explanations any more than they formerly knew the details of the theological explanations which justified their position, yet they all know that an explanation exists.
We still live under the title of Leo’s book, ‘The Slavery Of Our Times.’ Our suffering is still the choices made by ruling elites, and the corporate machines they increasingly have less and less control of.
To take the most modern of times, after COVID, America lifted people out of poverty and now it has simply thrown them back. Their current increase in poverty has been shocking because it was so blatantly a government choice. Like the brief rise in worker power after the Black Death, the empire quickly struck back at its serfs. Now they have effectively raised taxes on people, to whip the wage slaves back to work. As Stephen Semmler reports:
The Census Bureau attributes this sharp increase to changes in US tax policy: “[T]he tax system (which included stimulus payments and expanded refundable tax credits) in 2020 and 2021 decreased the number of people in poverty by 13.1 million and 16.0 million people respectively,” but the net impact of taxes paid and tax credits lifted only 910,000 people out of poverty in 2022.
This makes sense. After all, some of the most effective federal pandemic relief programs were tax credits, like the enhanced Child Tax Credit, or tax rebates, like the stimulus checks. After the welfare superstructure housing those programs and others was dismantled, many people suddenly started to get a lot less in return for the federal income taxes they paid. If feeding bills into the government vending machine produced a Twix bar in 2021, it spit out a bag of unsalted pretzels (if that) in 2022.
This American oligarchy of rent-seekers and moneylenders is who governs Sri Lanka as well now. Forget all the illusions of independence and blaming our local idiots. We only have the power to beat up minority races and have our own holidays. Countries like Sri Lanka live under a globe-spanning Empire still. Just follow the money. Most of Sri Lanka’s government revenue goes to foreign (mostly western) bondholders. This is the new colonialism of debt, and it hides in plain sight. This true ruling class of loan sharks are the same people who carry around American politicians and judges like so many nickels and dimes.
This corruption extends to ‘international’ institutions administering the country now. These are just the new colonial administrators. The IMF is always headed by a European and the World Bank is always headed by an American, which tells you all you need to know. As the saying goes, the fish rots from the head. Sri Lanka — among many countries — has its economic policy run by the IMF, through an unelected and widely despised President, and the same old government of thieves and robbers that got us into this mess. The collapse of Sri Lanka is in fact ongoing and we are now colonized for the fourth time. Once again the common people starve while a local comprador (collaborator) class sells us out to foreign powers. This is the ongoing slavery of our times.
It is, however, difficult to be mad at America, because those people are in the same bind. We are all oppressed, they also just get to vote on which minority to hate while the majority of their wealth is stolen every time. I went to Kanye West’s Chicago recently and the American poor live terribly. If you look at the net worth of the average American, they are actually poorer than Sri Lankans. The average American household is $100,000 in debt. What American counts as a high GDP is really a measure of enslavement. The heart of Empire is a nation of debt slaves, driven by the whip of poverty up a Sisyphian hill they can never climb. Most Americans die in debt. American Empire was founded on generational, chattel slavery, and those chains still bind.
The fact is that for both countries, for all countries in this neoliberal empire, the peoples suffering is not some inevitably consequence of immutable economic laws. It is a choice. Any country that allows its people to slide into poverty while pointing to abstract numbers is not ‘making hard choices’. They are simply run by common thieves, rationalizing their crimes.
In Sri Lanka the people that had to pay for a foreign debt crisis were not the foreigners nor not the corrupt elites who took out the debt. No, it was precisely everybody else. Poor people were thrown off Samurdhi (the lowest level of welfare), workers were robbed of their pension funds, taxes were raised on working people, and poor people cannot afford the new regressive electricity rates at all. What did these people have to do with a US dollar crisis perpetrated by the corrupt ruling class? Nothing, but every crisis is an opportunity to loot all over again. Indeed the same people are in power. How could we expect anything different? This is one definition of insanity, holding nobody accountable and expecting the accounts to work out.
In the same way, in America, the people who had to pay for their collapse in 2008 were not the bankers that did it, but everybody else. The bankers actually got paid for causing these troubles. America never actually recovered from that crisis, economists just goosed their imaginary numbers while real people lost real homes and entire lives. COVID showed the paucity of their ‘recovery’, with absolute hunger and destitution threatening the supposedly ‘rich’ country in plain sight. For a brief moment, the oligarchic government had to actually bail out working people, but this caused great terror among the ruling classes. All laws are really just rules about who gets to steal, and sharing with the poor is the only real crime. So US government support for working people was pulled back, violently. A great decline in poverty was turned into an increase, and that was a choice. America’s greatest form of theft is wage theft, and once again the ruling class chose crime.
This is the slavery of our times. These economic policies, extended internationally, are the colonialism of our times. Thus it’s both powerful and depressing reading Tolstoy from over a century ago, because we still live in the same time. We live under what Leo called, ‘this wonderful blindness’. As he wrote then:
This wonderful blindness which befalls people of our circle can only be explained by the fact that when people behave badly they always invent a philosophy of life which represents their bad actions to be not bad actions at all, but merely results of unalterable laws beyond their control.
The new philosophy of life Tolstoy saw coming in 1900 was economic, and now these dreary priests do what dreary priests have always done, explain why the ruling class should take your harvest and why your children have to die. This new corruption has spread globally and it doesn’t just devour children, it takes from all generations yet unborn, through the complete destruction of our climate. This is the slavery of our times, and this is the scale of revolution required. Just as Jesus threw the money changers out of the Temple, we have to throw the economists out of the new temple of science. They don’t belong there, and they’re robbing everybody (and everything) else blind.