A GLANCE AT THE ONE PERCENT
By: Raúl Zibechi
The current crisis is deepening social and economic polarization between a small handful of multimillionaires and a good part of humanity that is drowning more and more all the time in poverty and desperation. The rich get richer every day, something that we know through dozens of works that have been published in recent years. Nevertheless, the wealthy of financial accumulation are different from the other stages of capitalism, when hegemony corresponded to productive capital.
They are prison dogs, “large predators” as Fernand Braudel defined them. In this period of the descent of United States imperialism and of geopolitical chaos, they have acquired an additional profile: they are warriors, the type of cruel mercenaries of the worst civil wars; they don’t obey rules or have the least respect for human beings. The economist Michael Hudson, who knew them up close, emphasizes that they profess feudal values and seek to set the working population back to debt servitude.
The master’s thesis of Marco Bulhões Cecilio, who is part of the team of the Brazilian economist José Luis Fiori (The Global and geopolitical power of capitalism, within the framework of the Federal University of Río de Janeiro), points out that “in the current financial system, the biggest winners are the elite of the management class and not the shareholders.” As we have pointed out on other occasions, the bourgeoisie has been bifurcated between property owners and the managers of capital, who are those that make the decisions and are situated in echelons where the money flows.
Cecilio’s thesis recuperates the work of Braudel on the period of “accelerated accumulation of wealth,” and submits some of his ideas to severe scrutiny, among them that which postulates that the market economy and capitalism are opposed.
Among the class of managers that make enormous profits for themselves, he places for example some presidents (CEOs) of big corporations, who earned in full crisis remunerations up to 162 million dollars, like Stanley O’Neal, of Merrill Lynch. He is an exceptional case, in a medium where many executives earn more than a million dollars annually. In 2007, the corporation paid bonuses to its executives of 4 billion dollars and in 2008 Wall Street corporations paid 18 billion dollars to its executives, when the government saved the financial system.
Continuing with the remunerations, in 2014 the consultant Robert Walters studied the fixed medium salaries of executives in 27 countries, in particular those that have more than 12 years of experience. Without including the bonuses, after the 2008 crisis, a financial director (CFO) receives 360,000 dollars annually in Shanghai, scarcely on top of their colleagues in New York and London. In São Paulo the same position receives 250,000 dollars annually. The accounting managers, situated in the lower part of the echelon, obtain around 100,000 dollars (Valor, 12/2/14).
But there is a second question as important as that of income. The profile of this group indicates that 80 percent are white males, graduates of elite universities, prepared for a ferocious competition, which has not the least fidelity to anything that is not theirs. A poll by the Brazilian consulting firm Talenses, among 620 high level executives of São Paulo, revealed that for directors and managers the decisive factor at the time of deciding where to work is feeling challenged, and the remunerations and bonuses only appear in second place (Brazilian Human Resources Association, 1/29/14).
Challenges are what motivate them most, the conquest of new achievements, the permanent challenge to go beyond. They change companies constantly: only 6.6 percent of those interviewed have more than 10 years in the same company, 29 percent have between two and five years and 52 percent less than two years. Changing companies is part of the challenge for these executives that are between 24 and 40 years old. The high salaries seek to retain them.
As Braudel points out, they are people that have the privilege of being able to choose, have freedom of movement, don’t cling to previous activities, and don’t specialize in only one activity so that they can enter games inaccessible to others. They have access to privileged information that permits them, on the one hand, to elude controls, and on the other to appropriate for themselves the innovations that are almost always born in the base of society, much of the time economizing on technological development.
“Long term parasitism,” he calls that vital attitude; an active, destructive and obliterating parasitism. This way of behaving, this business culture, has enormous similarities with what the military think tanks promote. Today more than ever, the armies act like the CEOs of the financial sector, and vice versa.
In The Search for Power, William McNeill synthesizes these characteristics brilliantly: “Our only significant macro-parasites are other men, who, by specializing in violence, show they are capable of insuring life without having to produce the food and other things they consume” (Siglo XXI, 1988, Preface). He continues emphasizing that the changes in the weaponry of armies look like genetic mutations of microorganisms for “opening new geographic zones for exploitation, or destroying some limits through the exercise of force inside of the same society that hides them.”
Financial capital and armed forces (state or quasi-state) are the big parasite-predators that behave like plagues swindling humanity. It is the logic of the one percent, which won’t change of their own will. As we know, one cannot negotiate with plagues. One stops them or they destroy us. It is necessary to have clarity about the modes of the one percent. But we must recognize that we still don’t have a strategy for stopping them.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee
Friday, July 11, 2014