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It would be comforting for many to imagine that our globalized economy is a conspiracy,  a murky cabal, directed from the shadows by some Bilderberger-ish, ecumenical-protocol, of sinister "elders", who are pulling all the strings.

I say comforting because presumably, if sufficiently intimidated, the people who got us into this mess could easily pull their strings and get us out.

However, I am afraid that instead of being something so tidy, there are no identifiable human hands on the controls of our world and the whole thing is simply on automatic pilot...

How does that work?

I could illustrate that with an old joke I recall.

An airliner takes off full of people and a metallic voice comes over the speaker system:

"Welcome aboard Acme Airlines flight 505 to London, the first totally automatic flight in aviation history, this is your computerized control system speaking, totally free from any possibility of human error, there is no pilot on board,. We hope you enjoy your flight. We will be flying at an altitude of 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet, 30,000 feet,  30,000 feet....
That is where I think we are right now. No one is in charge: the system itself has taken over and has no idea of the future but to grow endlessly.

In globalization, the deregulated system expresses itself freely qua-system and even the famous buttinsky billionaires like Sheldon Adelson or the Koch Brothers and their Tea Party accolytes are mere puppets, reacting like Pavlovian pooches to the stimuli produced by the unshackled world mishagoss, as are those politicians they use their billions to influence (buy, bribe).

I call this system "stateless-imperialism".

Classical state imperialism could be illustrated by the 19th century British empire's destruction of India's native textile industry and forcing Indians to buy cheap, industrially produced, cloth from Britain's satanic mills. This captive market made Britain rich and caused many an Indian weaver to literally starve to death and sucked commercial life out of India's villages.

In short imperialism was generally good for the British, but generally bad for the Indians and the distinction between being British and being Indian was clearly marked with indelible ink.

Stateless imperialism is quite similar in its effects, but the lines of winners and losers has little reference to state boundaries, color or creed.

A roughly hypothetical example might go something like this. The prices on the world cotton market, chock a block with subsidies, but without significant tariff barriers, fall dramatically and this allows the reborn Indian textile industry to turn out a lot of cloth cheaply and allows the many brown and nimble fingers of sweatshop ladies in India and other Asian countries to turn out attractive clothing at near-slave wages; clothing which is to be sold by multinationals in expensive boutiques all over the developed world and after being worn there, turns up second hand in the street markets of Africa thereby putting native African industry out of business.

Meanwhile, thousands of Indian cotton farmers, with the collapse of world cotton prices, finding themselves drowning in debts they are unable to pay, commit suicide, leaving their widows and orphaned children to sell themselves into indentured servitude to eventually pay those debts.

Of course in this environment the British textile industry disappeared ages ago and its descendents loiter on street corners wearing hoodies.

All of this is logical, cause and effect. Just business... unchained business.

The suffering is the same as in state-imperialism, but in stateless-imperialism there is no "king and country" and no "viceroy" and certainly no one lining up to "bear the white man's burden". In classic state-imperialism, identifiable robber barons, celebrated in song and story, controlled entire industries. Today there are no Henry Ford or John D. Rockefeller figures. Once upon a time there was a man actually named J. P. Morgan, God only knows what or who J. P. Morgan really is today. Now, like "flight 505 to London", the world economy is flying itself... look ma, no hands.

When I say this world system is on automatic-pilot, I'm not saying that are no human beings involved in running these mechanisms, only that these humans are merely hired managers with stock options, whose only assignment is to maximize shareholder value, if they don't do so they will soon be replaced by their board of directors, men and women who themselves represent only a tiny fraction of the total, largely faceless, equity. In short, faceless men and women create "value" for faceless often momentary shareholders in mastodonic enterprises of no clear national or personal affiliation and whose only horizon is the quarterly report.

Many have ridden this impersonal process to wealth, but none control it and the fallen lie all about us and the walking wounded crowd the roads.

Cross posted from:

Originally posted to David Seaton on Mon Jul 09, 2012 at 08:07 PM PDT.

Also republished by Systems Thinking and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  But like shipping has done for centuries (16+ / 0-)

    (it was after all the first globalized  business), today's globo-corporate economic actors fly "flags of convenience".   One of the most useful, particularly when they are engaged in business where neither they nor their business is particularly welcome among the hoi polloi, is the US flag.  Once tht is flown, their operations immediately become deemed a "vital US national interest" and the armed might of the global hyperpower backs up the transnational corporate entity against all that might threaten or even make demands upon those  entities.  The wise then submit to their shearing silently, those who persist in failing to make sufficient "concessions" are brought up-to-date on American military technology in very short order.  And in the US, this is met on all sides as glorious triumph, of "red-blooded Americanism" for the hard right and "humanitarian collateral damage intervention" in the center-right, the two existing wings of American political thought.

    The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges. ~ Anatole France

    by ActivistGuy on Mon Jul 09, 2012 at 09:27:16 PM PDT

  •  You brought tears to my eyes, David (14+ / 0-)

    You inspired me to practically auto-write the following:

    State vs Stateless Imperialism or

    Stateless Statism?

    Brilliant writing, analogy.

    Thank you.

    Watching the EU squirm within the confines of its self-imposed fish bowl glass, my analogy, pretending they like the confinement, I anticipate that the next devolution will be a Stateless Statist world where the masses will be controlled by technology and hyper fear of falling into the ranks of nouveau poverty.

    In my imagination, I can see Angela's face pressed to the glass, distorting her visage in a Jimminy Cricket fashion, her expression screaming "Get me out of here!"

    Surrounding the bowl are the faceless fancy pants crowd:  The uber wealthy private equity magicians and the gangsters whose money feeds their acquisition schemes.  They are cheering Angela and the worldwide political puppets on.

    What would be their advice to Angela Et Al?  Do the Goldman Sachs and men with Sacks of Gold know what they want?  Do they have a well thought out uber game plan of anything other than the pursuit of their own pleasures?

    Do they want world wide chaos?  Anarchy?  Civil wars?

    Do they want to end bordered states and become that New World Order Herbert Walker Bush slipped and mentioned back in the 90s?

    Do they want the newly auto-piloted world, dotted with their mediocre retail/food outlets, each employing 2-3 people at any given time, for less than $10 hr, to continue chaos free because, hey, Greed is never satisfied?

    Or are those at the top of the Caterpillar Pillars satisfied because they can now afford to have their private helicopter/jets fly them from one sumptuous spot/event to another, each secured by Dyncorp mercenaries and IEDs at the perimeters, never having to rub shoulders with the little people or witness the smells of their misery or the dampness of their childrens' tears?

    I think the latest batch of Imperialists, the heirs of the rugged Imperialists of the 1930s -1950s are tired.  I think they have sufficiently set up their world wide web of perverse glamor spots, free from any constraints of law.  I think they want to bail out and just party until they die.  Bohemian Grove Forever!

    If the latter is true, it helps to explain why it feels like no one is in charge.  I sense the day isn't too far in the future that the work force link, one or two down from the jetters, will tire of working 60-80+ hours of week whipping the workers beneath them, all with no hope of a real vacation EVER.  I sense the days of bureaucratic satisfaction and pride that once fueled the autocrats of the past are over.

    I think corruption is so entrenched in our world that nothing short of an international labor strike will be able to knock the metaphorical pedestals out from under the faceless fascists that are now in control.

    That's what it took to shake the Ceasars and install the Republics forever ago.  Have we gone full circle?

    Also, I blame rampant corruption, which doesn't even try to hide anymore, few take pride in the work they do anymore.  How I miss the friendly mailman or milkman.  The days when the machines of commerce smiled and knew you by name.  Sigh .  

    The world as we know it is and will continue to crumble from neglect.  Disaster captalism is a phrase that never should have been need to describe this world.  Stupidity reigns.

    Mediocrity will, in time, destroy the wealth sustaining vampire squids we call retail these days.  Was that a McDonald's I saw on the perimeter of the Vatican?

    I really don't know how this will play out, but I fear that the Mitt Romneys and Bain Capitals of the world are really, really either enraging or despairing large segments of the Western world in addition to driving the rest of the world generationally insane.  

    Shame on their unquenchable greed and unbridled need for power, play, and now perversion.

    If there is karma, the western world's karma won't be pretty.  The karma of the Statists is beginning to brim, too, as misery is mounting.

    I fear for my grandchildren.

    Sorry to blither here, but it's been awhile since I read my mind in another's writing.

    I could be totally wrong in my analysis.  

    How do you see this Stateless Statist World unwinding?


    Speaking of the jetted set:

    The Jet Set dropped in for a Romney meeting in Park City last month.  TURN DOWN your sound before you play this.  The drive by noise is very loud.  These are the jets parked at Heber City, Utah airport.  Heber has about 11,000 people.

    In short, I see V for Vendetta

    I thought you might enjoy this clip from the script of the movie The American Gangster


    Whispering gunfire from a television set veiled by foreground snow: Soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam in 1970. A rich, cultured, authoritative voice offers:

    BUMPY This is the problem. This is what’s
    wrong with America.

    The war footage multiplies by twenty: a stack of TVs with price tags dangling from the knobs behind a display window.

    BUMPY  It’s gotten so big you can’t find your way.

    People on the sidewalk, out of respect or fear, part to let Frank and Bumpy and Bumpy’s German shepherd pass.

    BUMPY The corner grocery’s a supermarket.

    Candy store’s a MacDonald’s.

    And this place.

    Bumpy and Frank enter a discount electronics store/emporium.

    BUMPY  Where’s the pride of ownership here?

    Where’s the personal service?  Does anybody work here?

    What right do the suppliers,  have cutting out the all the middlemen out, the manufacturer -

    Inside, the emporium is vast, with aisles that seem to stretch off into infinity. The TVs give way to a display window full of Japanese stereo componentry.

    BUMPY: Sony this, Toshiba that, all them Chinks - putting Americans out of work?

    He’s not really asking Frank, so Frank doesn’t answer.

    BUMPY  What am I supposed to do with a place like this, Frank? Who am I supposed to ask for, the assistant manager?

    This is the problem. This is the way it is now:

    You can’t find the heart of anything to stick the knife.

    Bumpy stops before a display of cameras and stares in. They’re all pointed at him as a pain grips his chest and he sinks to his knees. Frank kneels down.

    FRANK  What is it?

    Bumpy seems unable to speak, looks to Frank confused.

    FRANK Somebody call an ambulance!

    But the store suddenly seems empty. Frank yells into the emporium but can’t be heard above the Muzak and the cash registers ringing up sales Bumpy will never see a piece of.

    Looking up at Frank, Bumpy manages weakly -


    Forget it, Frank. No one’s in charge.

    Bumpy dies and leaves his Gang Kingdom to Frank.

    It's difficult to be happy knowing so many suffer. We must unite.

    by War on Error on Mon Jul 09, 2012 at 10:12:31 PM PDT

  •  "Fifteen Steps to Corporate Feudalism"... (9+ / 0-) Dennis Maker points in the same direction as this very catchy "stateless imperialism".

    Plutocrats and corporations have transcended the nation state.

    In a dialectic analysis, this would be the new thesis.  I wonder what is the anti-thesis.  It may emerge from social media.

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 04:35:52 AM PDT

  •  I joked with a friend the other day (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    northsylvania, RichM, ozsea1, Cliss

    That we need not worry about another multinational war like WW 1 or 2, as the global national corporations would never allow it, and would influence through their faceless entity of capital managers and lobbyists in the varied nationals to prevent it.

    Wouldn't want to cut into profits right?

    Great diary.

    --Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson--

    by idbecrazyif on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 05:53:16 AM PDT

  •  Great diary. I was thinking much the same thing (7+ / 0-)

    when i read this mornings news feed about LIBOR rates being fixed for years, no one apparently responsible, just players playing with global capital.

    We don't have Rockefeller, but we do have Bill Gates. I think many of the masters of the universe prefer to remain hidden in our time.

    Stateless imperialism still needs state power to project and protect itself. If, and I say if, we overcome the consequences of climate change, I think the pilotless ship will continue on or off course, depending on your perspective. The next step of course, will be AI in charge of decision making. There could be economic wars among the creator/owners of these intelligences.

    The antithesis would be a victory by the barbarians at the gate.

    Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. -Martin Luther

    by the fan man on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 06:31:24 AM PDT

    •  There are most certainly responsible persons (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LillithMc, bumbi, ozsea1, Cliss

      in the LIBOR rigging story. What is absent is any prosecutor willing to enforce the law. The missing in action prosecutor is backed up by comments like this one, or indeed, diaries like this one.

      There are some thousands of banksters and henchmen who are entirely eligible to spend the remainder of their days at hard labor. Putting them where they belong would quickly change the meaning of the word "responsible" back to what it properly means.

      •  In this particular case, it seems like it was (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        common practice, not a one off. When I mean "no one responsible" I mean there was a diffusion of responsibilities over players over time. New masters of the universe doing what the last ones did. Yes, you're right, when it was finally noticed in 07-08, the reaction was "gee, I guess we'll get to this after we patch up the patient".

        Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. -Martin Luther

        by the fan man on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 11:24:15 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Then put them all in jail (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mookins, Cliss

          When the common practice is larceny you need to put a whole class of actors where they will do no more harm. In the current environment an honest banker is an oxymoron and swiftly put out of business.  If crime pays and the law is in abeyance you can't be surprised by the results.

  •  Thank You - N/T (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

    by linkage on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 08:19:31 AM PDT

  •  We are like white mice in a great experiment (6+ / 0-)

    The idea of completely untrammeled, frictionless capitalism has only been a theoretical construct till now, but we are almost there already right now.

    On one hand the free market liberals believe that if not interfered with the markets will bring mankind an endless cornucopia of good things that will lift all boats.

    On the other hand Marx believed that left to its own devices, the system would tear itself apart.

    Us white mice have front row seats at this experiment, rather like crab lice at the birth of Jesus.

    We shall live to see who is right.

    Fun, nu?

  •  There are no abstract forces (7+ / 0-)

    pushing historical decisions, no "system." The very notion of "system" is just a convenient shorthand for "the sum total of all the values and actions of all the humans related to the situation." To talk of a system as something self-existent and causative is to make the mistake of reification.

    Sure, there's abstract forces but they are of nature, and along the lines of full moons bringing out crazy behavior; famines leading to political aggression or instability; these kinds of things.

    But we see the current Libor scandal, where the Bank of England guy says "well, we cheated because everyone else was cheating." Now, in informal conversation we can say he was forced to cheat because of the system. But that overlooks that at any moment he, and all the other bankers, had an option to not go along. To blow the whistle. There was no system forcing them to do anything at all, it's just the values and actions of the people involved.

    Same applies for it all: capitalism system; totalitarian system; democratic system -- it's all just shorthand for "the values and decisions of the participants." If you want to have clarity on the economic crises in particular, imo, you can't reify. People are responsible for their actions and the consequences, especially when just a bit of due diligence on their part would show them the consequences. Every Libor banker knew that their customers were being robbed; pleas of helplessness before a vast impersonal system, to talk of systems as self-existent entities, just masks what's really happening. People making corrupt decisions, and repeatedly, and in almost all circumstances. Neither the Devil nor the System made them do it.

    The Internet is just the tail of the Corporate Media dog.

    by Jim P on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 08:50:08 AM PDT

  •  Suggest WW 1 nations slidding into war as metaphor (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LillithMc, New Rule, Cliss

    Each nation had its own cunning plans and schemes, but when these all canceled out, the process of war took over.

    Right now we 'enjoy' the equivalent of a permanent global trade war, organized by corporations with minimal loyalties, but affecting whole nations.

    Workers are devastated, profits are milked, many feel like they have inside power, but it's not clear who is holding the steering wheel.

    Just as the nations of Europe stubbornly fought a 4 year war of attrition none wanted, simply because suggesting peace talks seemed unpatriotic; so we may be on an ever accelerating environmental and human death-spiral because those with power are too busy hanging on to the monster they created to choose its direction. Yet we are not on auto pilot as much as drifting in a dead-lock, we are not headed to a chosen destination but lurching into unknown darkness, caught up in our immediate concerns.

  •  Good essay mahalo.. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ozsea1, DawnN, Cliss

    Sometimes the true picture of our collective persona is like a pail of cold water in the face.  But your descriptions are apt and true.  

    Our species has not evolved to the point we can change things though. We are the human monkey species.  Our spiritual side is quite underdeveloped.  Really.  I mean why does our species COMPETE for resources on a planet where there is a surfeit; certainly enough to feed us all in style.

    I raise dogs and when you have a litter there is always one that forces himself to the front of the food line and enforces his place with growls and bites if needed.  That is who we are as a nation.

  •  Auto-pilot (6+ / 0-)

    My son, the commercial pilot, and I often joke about auto-pilot and the computer running the plane (which he says can do almost anything making the pilot almost redundant).  Like global warming, the "casino", or whatever it is, has enough power and control to keep running until it ends by "natural" change or a crash.  I would like to believe that, like the "Founding Fathers", we would rise up and bring the US back in line with their vision, but your "crab lice" analogy may be more accurate.  Keep writing.

  •  Fascinating points (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cliss, northerntier, David Seaton

    It being the end of a work day, I apologize in advance if what I say is more stream of consciousness than substantive.

    But I get your angle on this "stateless-imperialism." It's a concept I've not put to wording, but have sort of understood as manifested in globalization. My observation is that the sovereign powers of individual nations has waned even as corporate power has increased globally. This is explained as businesses continue to seek new frontiers in the world, because it must fulfill its endless growth mantra, and, because there is no international sovereignty so to speak, the outcome is more hegemonic. The world is "flat", indeed, because what cultural identities remain has now been masqueraded by branding. We are better identified by what we're consuming than what we're creating from within. I guess that's my cynical side talking.

    Sovereignty is more reactive and passive (India or Turkey shall ban GMOs, for example) to corporate power, whereas the state may have been a more powerful tool to meter corporations back during, say, the Progressive Era during the Roosevelt-Taft years in the United States, containing corporations to the host country. Instead of setting up colonies, businesses open up shops or outsource services or manufacturing to countries that can offer something their headquarter country does not (no environmental regulations, low labor costs, tax relief, and the like.) As another example for why it's passive, sovereign countries may try to compete to bring those corporations back into the mix by slashing taxes or regulations. In some cases, public spaces in the EU have recently given way to billboards for H&M and other companies to reduce budget deficits. Romney wants to sell out Sesame Street to advertising agents for McDonald's and others? Creepy. There's a pattern to this. So, I think the "autopilot" of which you speak is more tangential to the notion that sovereign countries abdicate their rights or the powers for the sake of corporate growth.

    The multi-nationalization of companies like Coca-Cola, Nestle, P&G, Monsanto, etc. seems less bounded by individual nations than before. In this way, public power has diminished. This seems to make collusion all the more possible. In addition, joint-stock corporations with multiple stockholders spread liability, so no individual can commit a crime so heinous that it's detrimental to the entire conglomerate. I guess, sliding into less on-topic points, this segues into how companies are "too big too fail." Nouriel Roubini had an invaluable interview over the weekend with Bloomberg, arguing how banks like Bank of American and J.P. Morgan have become even "too bigger to fail", as they've cannibalized smaller banks, brokerages, or mortgage lending outposts.

    "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." ~Edward Abbey ////\\\\ "To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships." ~W.E.B. DuBois

    by rovertheoctopus on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 03:18:16 PM PDT

  •  Thank You ... (0+ / 0-)

    Republished to Systems Thinking.


    "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

    by linkage on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 11:43:55 PM PDT

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