Sunday, January 28, 2018

Do We Need A Financial Magna Carta?

There are many things afoot in the world today that deeply concern me about the role that excessive wealth is playing in the concentration of power.  Back when this blog was first started, I wrote about my concerns that a new Dark Age was developing, and it wasn't going to be pretty.  That was in 2004.  Here we are 14 years later, and many twists in the path have gone by.  To say that we live in uncertain times is an understatement.  A political Dark Age?  Perhaps.  Donald Trump got himself elected by not just preying upon people's gullibility, but by actually celebrating ignorance.

Since 2004, the gap between rich and poor has grown enormously, we are seeing signs of the world balkanizing along trading lines (which is both interesting, and very disturbing).  In the local politics we have populist politicians running about trying to imitate the success of Trump, and a most peculiar phenomenon of the newly formed UCP in Alberta constantly trying to "celebrate" business owners as "job creators".  The overall gist of this seems to be that workers should be eternally grateful to their employers for providing them with a job.  I see this as little more than a form of economic servitude. Realistically, in today's world, a job only means something as long as the employer thinks they need you.  After that, too bad.  (I don't want to get into a lengthy discussion over minimum wage, working conditions, and other related issues just yet - that's not the point of this post).

In North America, there has been a steady shift in the balance of power.  Until fairly recently, the concept of power lay predominantly in the ability of the nation-state to ensure peace within its borders, and protect those borders from incursion by foreign powers.  This was more or less true up until the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.  Since then, the forces of economic globalization have resulted in a significant shift of power into the hands of the corporate world.  The ability of multi-national corporations to shift money around the world at the blink of an eye, the revelations of the very wealthy playing games (e.g. the so-called Panama Papers) has meant that great wealth has come to mean great power.  If you work for a large corporate entity today, chances are very good that you have been exposed to many policies and changes at work that suggest the corporation has more control over your existence than perhaps you had thought (for example, most employees are strictly forbidden from speaking about their workplaces to media).  Corporate policy has in some respects come to have the weight of law without the concept of due process.

With the world's financial systems structured as they are now, the ability of nation-states to hold corporations in check is all but neutered.  The local business practices of a company can be regulated to some degree, but realistically, the company can readily move its business and money around to places where the degree of regulation in force is more appealing to them.  This gives them great leverage with respect to both the nation-state as well as the people.  Those familiar with the exodus of manufacturing from the United States (for example), will recognize the way that globalization has been used to gut the local economy of jobs.

So ... let's think about this a bit further, shall we?

In 1215, the first Magna Carta was signed, and became ultimately, the beginning of the gradual erosion of the fiat powers that English Kings enjoyed.  I don't want to bury us in the details of the Magna Carta per se, rather I want to recognize its long role in the evolution of the British state.  Over time, based on the Magna Carta, and with the growing influence of Parliament, the power of the crown shifted away from the person holding the crown to the representatives sitting in parliament.  Today, the monarchy is largely ceremonial, with the real power of government being in the hands of the Prime Minister.  This was a gradual process that took place over centuries (literally!).

Today, we seem to be at a similar place in our history to where we were in late 12th century Britain.  Power has shifted, and now sits in the hands of a few whose interests are often at odds with those of the public as a whole.  (Please note:  I recognize that the Magna Carta was more about the relationship between the Crown and the senior nobility - bear with me - I'm coming to that).  However, the shape and nature of power is now oriented around money.

Conceptually, I am starting to think that we need to formulate a new Magna Carta, this time the emphasis has to be on addressing the power imbalances that have developed as a result of globalization and the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.

Future posts will start to explore the nature of the power structures involved in an effort to come to an understanding of what shape this new Great Charter should take.