JR'S Free Thought Pages
Reverse Socialism: Social Security for the Rich
What are "Entitlements" and who are its Beneficiaries?
* = footnote
by Johnny Reb
Conceptual Clarity and History
"Entitlement" has a long-standing historical significance, the meaning of which is grounded in the root word "title", implying distinctive aristocratic empowerments or family privileges conferred on those born, frequently with divinely sanctioned authority, an authority also justified by the solitary fact of having extreme wealth. The words "lord", "master" and "monarch" immediately come to mind when considering this concept.
Despite the growth of what we call "democracy", these arbitrary historical privileges based on tradition and, more importantly wealth, rather than merit or justice, are alleged to have disappeared. They have not; in fact in the past three decades of the neo-conservative onslaught, they have created unprecedented levels of economic inequality. The deference of the masses to oligarchy and unjustifiable authority still prevails in Canada and Britain with many deeming the British monarchy as worthy and deserving of their obscene wealth and privileged status. Can anyone cite even one redeeming quality of these lordly feudal parasites? More to the point, how do you explain an intellectual and personal mediocrity like George W Bush, a high school "D" student, gaining admittance to elite schools like Yale and Harvard - and then, following a long sequence of personal and professional failures, ultimately becoming President of the United States? The response to this sort of question is quite unmistakable and I will return to this phenomenon frequently throughout the remainder of this paper. Our ruling elites are no longer monarchs and theocrats, but rather plutocrats of a quite different but equally oppressive breed.
The example of George W Bush is just one of countless others one could cite. The importance of socio-economic background, family influence and class cannot be overstated in determining one's material future. They can make up for all sorts of intellectual and personal deficiencies, of which Bush and his ilk have in abundance. During the American Civil War both the Confederacy and the Union introduced conscription. In the case of the Union one could avoid mandatory military service and probable death or serious injury by paying the government a tidy sum of $300, equivalent to about $50,000 today. Other than material comforts and privileges, being wealthy does carry many other entitlements. Often just a phone call by a politically influential father or relative could produce similar exemptions from risk. In the midst of the Vietnam War during the 1960s and 1970s it was vividly conveyed in the popular CCR tune called "Fortunate Son". A silver spooned son of an influential family like George W Bush would not have to worry about being maimed or dying in an imperialist war started by people within his own social class in the jungles of South East Asia or Iraq. His exemption is guaranteed by his contingency of birth - and a brief phone call from daddy to the war lords at the Pentagon. The "entitled" rich and well-connected are not only given a huge jump start on the journey of life but there are many other benefits and bailouts along the way. George W Bush is a poster boy for conservative entitlement. Among many other advantages, a covering letter in a resume by an influential politician, celebrity or businessman could land you a job for which others may be far more qualified. Call it affirmative action for the rich. George W Bush, an obtuse man who was incredibly inept at every opportunity that was comfortably placed in his lap, is a testament to the old American adage that "anyone in the United States can become president".
For the Christian white man in the United States, his social privileges, political rights and other entitlements have been protected by the laws of the land, the police and the military. Not surprisingly, it is the White House that has been a foremost symbol of his freedom, power and democratic rights over feudalism and monarchy.* What has been whitewashed from American history is that, in addition to slave owner Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and James Madison's Montpellier, the White House was built by black slave labour. Since its construction the White House has symbolized the power, privilege and freedom of white people to exploit and plunder with impunity both domestically and abroad. The local, colonial and imperial aspirations of American white Christian robber barons were thereby afforded the legal sanctions of the White House that has continued unabated today under the supremacy of neo-conservative ideology. Along with countless other unpleasant facts airbrushed from conservative history is the fact is that the construction of the White House was overseen by President George Washington, the owner of over 300 slaves. As America celebrates Presidents Day they ought to hang their heads in remorse and shame over the stark reality that every aspect of their country was built on favourable legal conditions (including much bribery and other corruption) for capitalists, all sanctioned by the state and on the backs of slaves and the exploitation of the working classes.
* It's important to be reminded that the many uprisings and revolutions of the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries against monarchical rule, theocracy and feudalism were not peasant or working class movements. The peasantry had neither the wherewithal nor resources to start a revolution against their oppressors. The primary instigators and eventual beneficiaries were upwardly mobile elites and the burgeoning business and landowning classes. Marx and Engels studied the appalling conditions of industrial workers in 19th century Britain in which child labour and 12 to 16 hour days of grinding repetitive and often dangerous toil were the norm. They further noted that although the liberal revolutions of the past two centuries had overturned hereditary monarchs and brought about constitutions, the beneficiaries were the capitalist class, bankers, merchants and manufacturers. The much celebrated constitutions that were crafted had little or nothing to say about the rights of the landless peasants, growing destitute and impoverished working classes and racial minorities.
The founders of the American Republic and writers of the US Constitution had strong views about the role that would be played in the new republic by the masses of landless workers, blacks and indigenous peoples. They would have neither rights nor the vote. They resolved that "power must be in the hands of the wealth of the nation, the more responsible set of men. Those who have sympathy for property owners and their rights". The same rights would be ceded to slave owners which included Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and other founding fathers. In general, these are men who understand that a fundamental task of government is “to protect the minority of the opulent from the majority". Those are quotes from James Madison, the primary author; and this was in the Constitutional Convention, which is much more instructive than the Federalist Papers which many people have read. The Federalist Papers were basically a propaganda ploy to convince the masses to go along with the rigged system. But the debates in the Constitutional Convention are much more revealing; in fact the constitutional system was created on that basis. It essentially held to the principle which was enunciated simply by John Jay, the president of the Continental Congress, then first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and as he put it, "those who own the country ought to govern it".
In the past several decades of neo-conservative ideological hegemony the word "entitlement" has become distorted and detached from its historical meaning; so much so that conservatives deem people suffering from abject poverty and destitution living in wretchedly dangerous slums and receiving paltry social assistance as "entitled". Even many dictionary definitions have been adapted and modified to convey this ludicrous stipulated meaning concocted by conservative power elites. Many of you may recall working class basher Ronald Reagan's crass and condescending remarks about "welfare queens" living in the slums of Chicago's south side.
For working people, on the other hand, "entitlement" means "negotiated and earned benefits" such as the right to an eight hour day, overtime pay, decent wages and working conditions, employment and health insurance and pensions. Anyone familiar with the unavoidably violent history of the labor movement during the past 150 years knows that all of these "benefits" were hard-fought-for concessions of decency and social justice, earned by the blood of workers on the picket lines. Despite the folklore perpetrated by them, conservative power elites never willingly conceded any of these gains. History informs us that power has never concedes anything without a struggle. All these gains are slowly disappearing in a movement to a new feudalistic plutocracy and corporatism by bought-and-paid-for sycophantic courtesans in government. The vast majority of conservatives, particularly the neo-conservative mutation of recent years, claim they find unbearable any kind of wealth redistribution, ignoring the fact that the law has always promoted their interests, thereby enriching them beyond their wildest dreams. It's the cornerstone of political conservatism. In the past four decades we have seen increasing disparities of wealth due to a massive transfer to the super-rich and the multinational corporations. Contrary to popular mythology, conservatives have never been against "big government" provided it serves their interests - and with rare exception it always has. During the past hundred years or so this has been primarily due to systemic corruption and the unfair tax structures that benefit the wealthy and big business. During the past five years since the bank bailouts, not only has little if anything changed, but 95% of the income growth has gone to the top 1%. For the big corporations and the wealthy, the concept of entitlement is eerily comparable to the medieval principle of entitlement called the divine right of kings. Following the massive government bailout of his company and the subsequent debates over limits of executive compensation, CEO Lloyd Blankfein proclaimed, that Goldman Sachs is "doing God's work". Perhaps it was the principle of divine right to which Pastor Blankfein was referring.
Since the global financial meltdown of 2007-09 it has become increasingly difficult for even the most credulous to deny who has the real entitlements. It's not the single welfare mother and her kids in an urban slum, but rather big business, and particularly the financial corporations that were engaged in massive criminality prior to the bailouts. Were taxpayers asked if they wanted these undemocratic corporate bailouts of Wall Street bank mafia? Of course not; that would be sensitive to the opinions of the people and appealing to real democracy. Instead they were carried out by government politicians, pimps and bureaucrats bought and paid for by the same big banks. It's the best "democracy" money can buy, a democracy for the few. The working class victims of the criminal banks however, were left to the vagaries of market forces in the form of home foreclosures and bankruptcies. The sense of entitlement by large corporations and among the super rich is understandable, for it helps them to self-justify the massive redistribution of wealth that has occurred over the past century or more, a redistribution that has greatly accelerated in the past three or four decades. National investment in infrastructure, technology, surveillance and security has made countries like the United States rich. But it is beginning to look more like a third world banana republic and fascist police state. Ironically, imperialist America and much of Europe are looking more like the Third World countries they plundered for centuries. I'm referring to the exploited countries that have been and continue to be victims of colonialism and imperialism such as those in Latin America, South East Asia and Africa. These are countries that were once rich in natural resources - it's only their people that have been, and continue to be, poor. The big corporations and particularly the financial sector have used publicly-developed financial incentives and communications technology to generate trillions of dollars in profits, while a daunting national security apparatus protects their interests. The revelations of a courageous Edward Snowden have now made the world aware of how ominously intrusive and despotic this government-corporate partnership is.
Not only did these corporate financial parasites receive trillions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts globally because they were deemed" too big to fail" by their enablers in government, they were granted a free ride away from prosecution for their criminal activities. This time the new stipulated rule to justify "get out of jail free cards" for corporate pirates is "too big to prosecute". So the tainted logic seems to be this: if you are sufficiently well-heeled and well-financed, you are not only protected from failure, you are above the law. A two-tiered legal system has always existed; one for the wealthy and one for the rest of us. It's not unlike the fraudulence of the entire edifice of capitalism and what we affectionately call "free enterprise": it's a system of socialism for the rich and competition for the rest of us in which profits are privatized and losses are socialized. The real competition within the capitalist market system is, and always has been, among the poor and those searching for ever-diminishing and lower paid jobs. One could call it a system that abides by a perverted variation on the "golden rule": "those who have the gold make the rules". But no one could have imagined or predicted the venality and magnitude of injustice in the most recent incarnation of this long standing legal dichotomy.
The major beneficiaries of wealth have always convinced themselves that they have accumulated it entirely on their own, as though what they accomplished was within a cultural and structural vacuum. Moreover, they believe they're entitled to it all - with cronyism, corruption, bribery and favorable taxation policy the primary avenues of redistribution. Corporate lobbies bribe our politicians and have managed to bring corporate tax rates in Canada down to historical lows: 12-15 % federally and 1-4% provincially. I'm sure many of you working for salaries, hourly wages or even a retiree paying income taxes would ask" where do I sign up"? Add to all this the fact that corporations receive billions in tax incentives and outright grants from governments at all levels. In addition, the Federal Reserve in the United States and, to a slightly lesser degree, the Bank of Canada in our own county, are nothing more than instruments created by government to facilitate grotesque profits for private banks and financial institutions - and golden parachutes when their casino chips are depleted. The latest neo-conservative economic bubble is the stock market, artificially pumped up by the printing of billions of dollars every month by the Federal Reserve that's handed over to the same Wall Street financial criminals that were bailed out after the last bubble burst. Moreover, the Federal Reserve and Bank of Canada are managed and controlled by those same private banks, tantamount to the fox guarding the henhouse. One could call it corporate welfare, more entitlements for the Über-rich. Many corporations of course pay no tax at all since their charters are registered in offshore tax havens where high paid accountants and lawyers engage in financial shenanigans. Even former Prime Minister of Canada, the hypocrite Paul Martin registered the shipping company he inherited from his family in an offshore tax haven to avoid paying Canadian taxes. That the richest 85 people in the world now have more wealth than the poorest bottom half of the entire planet, amounting to about 3.5 billion people, ought to induce some serious questions about how this was allowed to happen. The facile and naive elitist rationalization that many working people still believe is that these wealthiest 85 achieved their riches by merit, integrity and honest hard work. Yes, and there's a tooth fairy and an invisible man in the sky who loves you.
When the rich man tells you he got that way through ingenuity and hard work, the first question to ask is: whose?
By popular mythology, the masses are commonly led to believe by their conservative masters that the rich are creators of wealth rather than appropriators. As wage slaves, the docile bewildered herd compete with one another to serve those whom they see as the source of wealth, hoping for a fair share and even dreaming of becoming a member of their elite club at some point. The American Dream you say? I think not. Propaganda, wealth production, appropriation, and distribution are the means by which the people are induced to serve the agendas of corporate CEOs, executives, accountants, number crunchers and other corporate drones, whether of capitalist enterprises or capitalist governments. Working class movements aimed at reform or revolution will always falter when the first choice available is to serve their wealthy masters. To reiterate, the oligarchs of big business have the wealth, in addition to the power and support of the government apparatus to serve their interests and re- distribute wealth, primarily by means of the grossly unfair tax system.
"Free Trade", "free enterprise", the invisible hand of the marketplace, neo-liberalism, public-private partnerships, and privatization are just different names given to the fundamental act of sucking up the resources of the planet and wealth produced through the efforts and toil of the many into the portfolios of the rarefied few. Job creation is not the objective of capitalism, regardless of the claims of Stephen Harper's endless propaganda campaigns expressed in his opaque "Economic Action Plan" television ads that have now so far cost you, the taxpayer, about $150,000,000. In countries like Canada there's a massive ongoing resource grab at the cost of the ecosystem and the public sphere. For a despotic anti-science corporatist regime like that of Stephen Harper, who has gutted environmental oversight, scientific research and handed hundreds of billions to big oil and mining, it's neo-colonial plunder on steroids. Big oil, the big banks and other multinational bandits love this sinister control freak and simply ignore his Christian fundamentalism and bronze age world view. Jesus in on the way to save us, at least for evangelical Christians like Prime Minister Harper . Globalization is just another scam to hoodwink the gullible hoi polloi, all dressed up in obscurantist economic jargon.
Our planet is being desecrated and pillaged by and for the enrichment of a relative few. In the name of quarterly profits, their ultimate aim is the plunder and destruction of everything that remains within the public realm. The notion of a commonwealth serving the common good, an uplifting idea that served us so well for a rare brief period following the Second World War, is being methodically destroyed.
Addendum: A Case Study of Wealth and Privilege
One of my favourite authors is Adam Hochschild, a very gifted writer of history. After reading my first book by him called King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, I was hooked. I have since read all his other outstanding books which take up a special section in my library. King Leopold's Ghost is a shocking history of the conquest, plunder and colonization of the Congo and the brutal enslavement of its indigenous population by King Leopold II of Belgium. Adding to the slaughter and pillage of indigenous populations undertaken by other Western European Christian nations, the book provides a detailed expose of the horrific atrocities that were committed under Leopold's private tyranny of the region, events that sparked the twentieth century's first great international human rights campaign. Other must read books by Hochschild include Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves, published in 2005, about the antislavery movement in the British Empire. In 2011, he published the brilliant To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914–1918, which examines the era of the First World War in terms of the struggle between those who had been convinced by conservatives that the war was a noble crusade and those, primarily on the left, who felt it was an egregious lie that involved the needless sacrifice of millions of lives. The vast majority of those traumatized, maimed or slaughtered whom were young men from the working classes who were fighting a war benefiting the rich who were squabbling over the spoils of colonialism. Sound familiar? Many who opposed the war such as Bertrand Russell were imprisoned for their outspoken views. In The Mirror at Midnight: A South African Journey Hochschild examines the racial tensions of modern South Africa through the prism of the nineteenth-century Battle of Blood River, which determined whether the Boers or indigenous Zulus would control that part of the world, as well as a critical analysis of the contentious commemorative of the event by rival groups 150 years later, at the height of the apartheid era. In The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin , Hochschild recalls the six months he spent in Russia, traveling to Siberia and the Arctic, interviewing gulag survivors, retired concentration camp guards, former members of the secret police and countless others about Joseph Stalin's paranoid reign of terror in the country, during which more than ten million people were murdered, including all the old Bolshevik veterans from the Russian Revolution such as Leon Trotsky and most of his entire family. Hochschild's books have been translated into fourteen languages.
Hochschild's first book was a moving account of his childhood, youth and early life as a young man, Half the Way Home: a Memoir of Father and Son (1986), in which he describes the strained relationship he had with his father and being raised in an obscenely wealthy family. His father had inherited a huge multinational mining conglomerate that had interests in several countries including South Africa. This book is a captivating account of an intelligent, sensitive and inquisitive boy growing up in a family that by the mere fact of their great wealth were henceforth automatically granted grandiose power, privilege and entitlement not only in their home country of the United States, but wherever they travelled abroad.
Hochschild’s father Harold became the director of his
own father’s company, by that time one of the largest multinational
mineral and metal extraction and trading companies in the world, Amax,
Inc, with interests in mines throughout the world. A socially ambitious
man, Harold Hochschild lived his life diligently and resolutely,
assuming all the trappings of success and wealth. The author Adam, his
only child, had a governess, he was chauffeured to private schools, then
went away to boarding school and during time off from school, traveled
all over the world with his parents. Summer months were spent at Eagle
Nest, a family-owned extravagant resort in the Adirondack mountains
where the family, aided by a large assortment of cooks, maids, butlers,
and grounds men, entertained large groups of well-heeled politicians,
celebrities, and big business icons.
I include some passages from the book, many of which speak volumes on the issue of elitist conservatism and entitlement:
All quotes are taken from Adam Hochschild, Half the Way Home: A Memoir of Father and Son, Penguin Books, 1987
No Marxist has yet written an analysis of the role of thank-you letters in ruling-class hegemony, but to whoever undertakes that task, I offer one thought: ritualistic thanking legitimates the distinction between haves and have-nots. A gift is thus a gift, and not a sharing of goods which were distributed unfairly in the first place. In our family, the obsession went far back: some letters that survive from the 1880s are thank-you notes written in the old, Gothic German script. But Father's brooding over un-received thank-you letters could not be explained only in class terms: there was clearly some deeper, more painful layer as well. Throughout my childhood it remained a mystery to me. (p. 84)
If I had to date the end of my childhood from one moment, it would be when, at age thirteen, I decided to go away to boarding school. Knowing that I was far too tightly bound to my now-aging mother, always fearing Father s disapproval, and feeling socially crippled by my various phobias, I groped toward the only avenue in our protected existence which seemed to lead to a more independent life.
Surprisingly, it did so. In the four years on a Connecticut hilltop that followed, I came alive. I entered the school as a boy who read books; I left as one who in some rudimentary way, thought about them. I learned that words meant more than their surfaces, and that music could say things words could not. For the first time in my life I formed a few friendships that had not been arranged by my mother, nurtured with invitations to Eagle Nest.* And I learned, though exposed to only a narrow and unrepresentative slice of the world, that it was made up of classes who often hated and envied each other.
* Eagle's Nest was the vast lavish Hochschild family holiday estate on a lake in the Adirondacks, N. Y. The enterprises that paid for Eagle Nest and first-class hotels and restaurants condemned the black people Adam witnessed to lives of ruthless toil and penury. It would indeed have been easy to present himself as the hero of the piece and his father as the villain, but he does not. He grants his father all the complications of his often incongruous nature: His father was an amateur ecologist, responsible for some of the most effective environmental legislation in New York State. He was an early opponent of the Vietnam War and a lifelong supporter of Communist China. At the end of his life, through his love for his grandchildren, he was able to relax enough so that his son could approach him. But not too intimate. ''Half the Way Home'' does not end with a dramatic reconciliation scene in which father and son understand all, but with a quiet and extremely moving description of a son's vigil at his father's death bed. Adam puts his head on his father's chest to determine if he is still breathing, and tells the nurse he hears a heartbeat. But no, she tells him, it is not his father's beating heart he hears, it is his own.
"'FATHER WAS ALWAYS REASONABLE"
'Sit down, Adam. I'll be with you in a moment. '
A shuffle of papers; a signature on a document; at last Father put the work on his desk aside, and leaned back in his chair.
''I've been meaning to talk to you, Adam, about something that happened yesterday. I thought it was quite rude when you were talking so much at the table last night. Couldn't you see it was preventing people from having their own conversation?''
It didn't last long. No spanking. No beating. No raised voice. Maybe just two or three minutes of talk. Father's words were always carefully chosen, balanced, never casual, as if each phrase had been inspected and been found irrefutable before he permitted it to exit his lips.
I couldn't bring myself to look at him. I craved for an earthquake to bring the session to an end. What made it so much worse was that Father was always, it seemed, fully reasonable. He spoke in a voice which carried in it the full weight of his authority, of his wide reputation for morality, a voice whose very quietness contained the expectation of unquestioning obedience."
The conflict in a New England prep school is not between bourgeoisie and proletariat, but it is a class conflict nonetheless. The students were all white, all male and mostly wealthy: a year's tuition bill was higher than a junior faculty salary. From that discrepancy came a subdued tension. My teachers had generally gone to public schools themselves; most had worked themselves through college or gone on the GI Bill. They often took summer jobs to make ends meet, while the students they taught vacationed in Paris or in the Hamptons. In the dining hall the teachers' faces wore silent, watchful expressions as they listened to students talk about visiting the Riviera or buying new sports cars.
One day a teacher told me that he had found a boy throwing away a brand-new pair of pants, right out of the package, into a dormitory trash barrel. "Why?" the horrified teacher asked.
"Oh," the boy said, "I ordered this suit because I wanted the coat. I don't need the pants."
This little episode reverberated, I think, because it was the first time I saw my own class through the eyes of another. It was as if I gradually acquired a new lens with which to see the concentric circles of privilege in which I lived. I read the alumni newsletter and saw the array of big law firms and corporations almost all graduates seemed to end up in. I noticed that the school's board of trustees held most of its meetings not on campus but at a bank in New York.
Most instructive of all was while I was there the school was, beneath its ivied Walls and stained-glass chapel windows, the scene of a political battle. I began to see that the adult world did not have a unified front. The typical trustee of Pomfret School was a Hartford insurance executive or Philadelphia banker, whose definition of a good school was one that most closely resembled the dear old Pomfret he had attended forty years before. But our headmaster was in many ways an admirable and progressive man, especially for a complacent decade like the fifties. He wanted to make the school coed, to admit blacks. and to put more emphasis on athletics. To most of the trustees in their bank boardroom these hopes seemed positively Bolshevik. The crowning outrage came when he tried to hire a non-Episcopalian as chaplain. The long-simmering conflict exploded and the headmaster resigned. These battles seem antiquated now, but the issues were symbolic, and at the time they loomed very large for me.
I also began to notice how my classmates conceived of the borders of life's possibilities, and how they seemed to assume the world belonged to them. In a way it did. A few years after I graduated, two members of a class just older than mine wrote to the alumni newsletter about how they had met again - in Vietnam. One was in the State Department, the other with a large construction firm building military bases. Over cool drinks on a Saigon patio, they said, they had talked about all that had happened "since the Class of '58 was loosed upon the world."
Around the same time I ran into a fellow alumnus and asked him what he had been doing:
"Well," he said cheerfully, "after college and the army I went into investment banking. First Boston. But now" - he threw his hands wide in a gesture of benign, tolerant acceptance of his own rashness - "I've gone clear to the other end of the spectrum. I'm a stockbroker."
My life up to this point is documented with hundreds, no, thousands, of photographs taken by my mother, stuffed into drawers, overflowing from boxes and closet shelves at Eagle Nest. From prep school on, though, there are few, for I was away from home. But if I could snap a few scenes for an imaginary album, here is what they might be:
My last year at boarding school. I have been a diligent student good at languages, encouraged by teachers to give little speeches in the daily assembly on the crisis in the Middle East or whatever. One day the headmaster, a man of great enthusiasm, is talking to me. "For every boy here, he says, "I like to imagine that we're helping him go in a particular direction, a direction he is best suited for. For you, I've thought it might be the State Department, or something in that realm." Suddenly, in a thunderclap of revelation, I know that whatever I do with my life, it will not be in that "realm." So: despite everything teachers and parents say about how I'm free to choose, they have a plan for me after all. I cannot yet see that plan clearly, but I suddenly become wary. (pp. 96-99)
It is hard to fix a moment when my understanding of all this began - which meant seeing that most international politics works in economic terms and not moral terms. (p. 113)
The 1960s had begun. In the summer of 1964, when I was twenty-one and a year out of college, I spent several weeks as a civil rights worker in Mississippi. It was not long enough to do anybody much good, but it was long enough to see that South Africa's injustices were mirrored closer to home. And its violence. I stayed in an old wooden house in a tree-shaded black neighborhood; in the evening carloads of young whites cruised by, screaming "Nigger lovers!" One night shortly after I left, the building, where other voter registration workers were still living, was torn open by a dynamite bomb.
In the fall of that year, I moved to San Francisco and went to work as a newspaper reporter. It was important to me to make my own way in the world, and not just financially. I still felt so defined by my connection with Father, with Eagle Nest, and with the wide network of friends and acquaintances and people who owed him favors that I could feel free only some distance away.
I had another reason, as well, for being drawn to California: the woman I was in love with was getting a graduate degree at Berkeley. I had met Arlie Russell a few years before, and had found with her a mutual warmth, passion, and understanding far greater than I had ever found with anyone else. But that is another story. Suffice it to say that without her I would never have been able to write this one.
Starting my job at the newspaper in San Francisco felt like stepping into a new and wholly different world. I was first sent for several months to the press room at police headquarters. There, reporters for all the papers in town worked in shifts almost around the clock. We waited to see if anyone interesting got arrested, phoned the coroner periodically to see if there were any "jumpers" (off the Golden Gate Bridge), and listened to the police radio to keep track of crimes in progress.
A reporter from a rival paper offered me some friendly advice the first day I was there. He was an older man I will call Count Kelly, who had worked the police beat for thirty years and treated it as his own fief.
"Kid," the Count said, pointing at a wall map of San Francisco, "anything that happens here is news." With his finger he marked off the upper-right-hand corner of the city, which contained the wealthiest neighborhoods. "Anything anywhere else, unless it's really good - like a murder - you can forget. And black-on-black murders you don't have to bother about at all."
The Count believed the role of a newspaperman was to entertain. People wanted a good story, so why not give it to them?
"People like animals in their stories," he said. "If there isn't an animal in the story, you put it there. If the animal doesn't have a name, you give it one."
And, indeed, I noticed that in his paper, cats named Blackie, talking parrots, or faithful dogs named Max always were found drawing attention to the scene of a robbery or mourning beside the body of a dead master.
The Count added many other details to stories as well, whenever real-life events were not sufficiently exciting. Most of these would have to be agreed to in advance by the other reporters in the press room, so there would be no discrepancies among our various stories. Once, we were all listening in on extension phones and taking notes while the Count was on the line to a policeman who was at the scene of the burglary.
"How much did they take?" the Count asked.
"Three thousand in cash," the cop said.
The Count put his hand over the telephone mouth piece and said to the rest of us in the press room, "let's make that ten thousand in jewels, OK, fellas." (pp. 124-26)
Then, abruptly, as the news media continued investigating, the story took a twist that astonished me. One of these newly revealed former CIA fronts, whose actual funding had ceased only a few years before, turned out to be the African-American Institute. Father had been chairman of its board for a decade. The next time I saw him he seemed uncomfortable. He defended the link, saying that in its early years there was nowhere else the Institute could have gotten enough money for its work. But he was clearly embarrassed that the whole thing had had to be kept secret.
All these experiences made me redouble my efforts to separate myself from Father's way of life. When my parents visited me in San Francisco, Father always wanted to take me and some of my friends out to dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town. I clumsily searched for some excuse not to go. Each time he felt disappointed and hurt.
From my new perch in the world of Left journalism I also gradually came to learn a good deal more about the ways The Company had made its money. There turned out to be a great many things which had never been discussed over the Eagle Nest dinner table: a years-long protest against The Company's strip-mining in Appalachia; a storm of opposition from Indians in British Columbia, who said their ancestral fishing grounds were threatened by pollution from one of its mines; a long, fruitless attempt by Australian aborigines to try to stop a planned Company mine from desecrating land sacred to them. The meek may inherit the earth, J. Paul Getty once said, but they can forget about the mineral rights.
During my twenties, I began to notice the birth dates in newspaper obituaries: 1885, 1890, 1907. The dates bracketed Father's own, 1892, and I found myself wondering when his own time would be up. Would that free me from his disapproval?
The same pattern that lay behind those sessions in his study after lunch, when I had done something he thought wrong the day before, continued as I grew up. Although Father prided himself on not automatically expecting me to go to work for The Company (as his father had made him do), he nonetheless had a fairly clear idea of what I should do with my life. This unwritten plan he never laid out directly, but it became all too visible, bit by bit, as I departed from it. With each such step, he became more disturbed.
In his life plan, I was to go to Yale (where he had gone), then to law school (which he wished he had done), then work in one of the big New York law firms for a few years, preferably dealing with international matters. Then I would go to work as an aide to a bright, young, rising - and, of course, WASP - politician, such as New York's Mayor John Lindsay, whom Father much admired. And then (as Father had realized in retrospect he would have liked to do) I would go farther into the political world, maybe as something like an Assistant Secretary of State, appointed when my mentor reached higher office. (pp. 130-31)
Big Money Talks - Hochschild's father as amateur proto-environmentalist and person of influence....
"For the last half of his life, his great avocation was the Adirondack Mountains. Adirondacks, ...which form the country's largest state or national park.
By appointing a group to study this question, Governor Rockefeller had mainly wanted to be able to get various pressure groups off his back. But in choosing Father, he got far more than he had bargained for. Under Father's direction, the commission drafted the country's toughest package of regional conservation laws, which would protect the forest and make further real estate development extremely difficult. Environmentalists everywhere hailed this program; Father was celebrated with awards, newspaper editorials, honorary degrees. Often, after dinner on an Eagle Nest weekend, while a houseful of guests sat over coffee in front of the big fireplace, someone would ask him about the work of his commission. As he started to explain, the whole room would fall respectfully silent.
But the battle was not yet over; the recommendations of Father's commission still had to be turned into law by the state legislature. Fierce lobbying by developers stalled the bill until the final night of the year's legislative session. At 2 a.m., Father, who had been watching everything from the gallery, asked to see the Speaker of the State Assembly.
"If you make any more concessions to the real estate lobby," Father told the Speaker, "I'm going to call a press conference and say that our commission's recommendations have been betrayed." Father knew that there was an election coming and that both parties were courting the environmentalist vote.
I was not there, but I can so well imagine the scene in the Speaker's office: Father's voice was doubtless calm, not raised; polite, deliberate; his words precise and carefully chosen. The Speaker was weary and intimidated.
The Speaker gave in. The bill Father wanted was
passed a few minutes later. A friend then drove Father from the state
capitol at Albany back to New York City. He slept most of the way,
except to wake once at dawn
"I liked the expression on the Speaker's face when he said, 'All right, you win, Mr. Hochschild.' " (pp. 154-55)
Although it took a long time to sink in, growing up in such surroundings was the best political education I could have had. I did not need leftist theorists to convince me that class is the great secret everyone wants to deny: of course there was a ruling class; Father belonged I did not need C. Wright Mills to point out the subtle links between business and government: I knew the man at The Company who had written a confidential report for President Kennedy on what his Africa policy should be; and John Foster Dulles at the State Department and his brother Allen at the CIA had come from The Company's law firm. I did not need Marx to show me that a person's very character is formed by, and cannot be separated from, class, power, possessions. I could not imagine Father without money, without The Company, without Eagle Nest. Could anyone? As I grew older, I became more accustomed to this way of looking at life. What I mean by that is an ever-clearer perception of how the joys, the power, and the riches of the world are divided so unfairly: between classes, between countries, between races, between men and women. When you feel the injustice of that division in one category - and for me it was the first -then your eyes begin to open to the others as well.
Looking back from that vantage point, I came to feel better about my painful shyness as a boy, about the uncomfortable nine - or ten - year-old who slouched down in the limousine's seat in order not to be seen by friends, or who was embarrassed by having half a dozen household servants when others had none. He was not just neurotically self-conscious, as his parents said. He had, instead, sensed some of the barriers that riches and poverty erected between himself and other human beings. He was on to something. He was right.
Even as I became more confident of where I stood, it was still difficult for me to know how to see Father in the light of what I now believed. He defied easy categorization.
On one side of the ledger, the more I learned about the whole system which underlay the abundance I had grown up with, the more I saw that wealth as plunder. The First World has been profiting from the Third for a long time, but mining raises this process to a new dimension, for it takes away from under the earth something which can never be replaced. And sometimes, particularly with strip-mining, it can destroy the land's surface as well. Often the land The Company mined was in distant countries, belonging to indigenous peoples ill-equipped to resist an onslaught of lawyers, engineers, drills, and bulldozers. Like all big mining corporations, The Company profited particularly in Africa and Latin America because it could pay workers there only a small fraction of what they would earn in the United States.
At the time I was growing up, for example, black miners at The Company's vast Tsumeb mine in Namibia earned less than a dollar a day. The mine was worked by the infamous contract labor system, in which miners must leave their families behind for nearly a year at a time. Thousands of them finally went on strike in 1971-72; the police shot several dozen, and locked up hundreds of men and women in tightly packed steel cages and tortured them with electroshock.
To such facts Father and other Company officials always had ready responses: "Well, that particular mine is managed by another company in the joint venture, and we don't always see eye to eye with them/' Or: 'The Company has to operate under the laws of whatever country we're in, however much we may dislike them." Or: "But over in Zambia, of course, it's quite a different story, and we've been able to do some extremely progressive things." Or: "These mines are giving jobs to people who otherwise wouldn't have any." Every one of those statements was true. But still: how many black miners died to make life at Eagle Nest possible? In Namibia, The Company did not even pay compensation to miners who contracted silicosis—an incurable lung disease that can lead to early death.
Having seen this much of Father's world, I found it temptingly easy to say that my own course in life was simply a principled rebellion against it. For many years this was how I saw things. I had, I thought, changed sides. Wasn't he an executive in a rapacious industry? He was even The Company's chairman. And wasn't I the muckraking journalist, in solidarity with the oppressed everywhere? For here I was, marching in the antiwar demonstrations of the sixties, hearing the hollow crack of police billy clubs on human skulls, feeling in my nostrils the acrid bite of tear gas. And when I ringingly spoke to crowds at protest rallies, I took a secret pleasure in beginning with the words "Brothers and Sisters!"
But everything was not so simple. For, despite how The Company made its money, in his way of thinking Father was strikingly different from most businessmen. Unlike them, he had no hostility toward higher taxes, welfare, regulation, or labor unions. He never mouthed the common pieties about free enterprise. The corporate exposes I edited for Mother Jones didn't bother him, even when one mentioned a Company strip mine. He formed lasting friendships with black independence leaders in central Africa at a time when few other whites did so. And when the Vietnam War came along, the issue which most divided my generation from its parents, Father opposed the war from the start. In 1964, he wrote to The New York Times saying that the United States was suffering from "the delusion of omnipotence" in Vietnam, like Hitler in Europe, and that we should get out completely.
A few years later, a successor of his as chairman of The Company asked him to make a campaign contribution to a United States Senate candidate who had promised various favors to the mining industry. Father refused, because the man supported the Vietnam War. When Father began contributing money to various antiwar candidates, Lyndon Johnson, using his famous arm-twisting, invited him to dinner at the White House. Father went, but then supported peace candidates more generously than ever.
In the wake of Watergate, it was revealed that President Nixon had an "enemies list." Father was on it. He told a newspaper reporter he felt flattered.
What is one to make of such a man? Father never fully resolved the contradiction in himself, or even perceived it as such. He lived out both sides of it all his life: aristocrat, capitalist, important figure in the American empire; but at the same time a man with a distinct sense of social justice and a rare ability to see clearly. To that second side of him, I owe much - perhaps even the strength to rebel against the first.
Nowhere did Father's sense of justice show more clearly than in his feelings about China, where he had spent two years as The Company's representative in the 1920s. He always spoke so scornfully of the regime of Chiang Kai-shek that for a long time I wondered if someone in it had once slighted him personally. Had somebody not written him a thank-you letter? But nearly sixty years later, Arlie, who can get people to say things they never have said before, got Father to talk into a tape recorder about his life in China. A whole range of experience he had seldom mentioned came pouring out. He talked about his travels into the interior, by foot, sampan, and horse. He told of sleeping in farmers' huts, on the stone floors of Buddhist monasteries, and between opium-smoking boatmen on the open deck of a riverboat at night. He told of meeting a group of grieving peasants on a country road. A new warlord had sent his soldiers to collect taxes from them, five years in advance: "The peasants had nothing left to give, so the soldiers took their wives and daughters, whom these peasants expected never to see again."
For years after the Revolution of 1949, Father tried in vain to visit China again. When he was eighty, he succeeded, traveling there on one of the first delegations to visit the country as the thaw in U.S.-Chinese relations was beginning. In judging any social upheaval, most people generalize from the experience of their own class. But even though Father's old Chinese businessman friends and their families had lost everything, he came back from the trip still convinced that on the whole the Revolution had been a big step forward.
A few years later, some old letters turned up which Father had written home from China in the 1920s. Here is a passage from one:
The glamour and romance that surround China, as depicted in American plays and books, vanish as soon as you . . . see the wretched poverty in which the bulk of the people live.... It would surprise you to see the absolute ignorance of the vast majority of Americans in particular, and of foreigners here in general, of all things Chinese. I've written you . . . already about -the inane life that most of these people live, surrounded by such luxuries as the East affords. ...
One can discern beneath the maneuverings of the militarists and the bosses and the politicians and the reformers the faint stirrings of a consciousness on the part of the people that they have the power to throw out the predatory gang that are fighting among themselves for the control of the land. . . .
Was I the class rebel, or was he? (pp. 170-75)
1981. Three weeks after that final New Year's weekend at Eagle Nest. Once again, a hospital in New York. Father, my father, is here, and the doctors say he has little time left. As my mother, my protector, stayed with me for my ear operation when I was five, now I stay with Father. I feel as if it is her caring, her compassion, her love I am expressing toward him, for I feel in myself something less, or perhaps more complicated, than love. When I ask if he wants me to move into the hospital room with him, to my surprise—and to a flooding feeling almost of exhilaration: his need for me is greater than my fear of him - he says yes. And so I move in, sleeping on a cot, for the duration. Just as I knew one of them would die abroad, so I knew one would die here. Gertrude died in this hospital; a director of The Company is now dying across the hall Just as there is Mother Teresa's famous Dying Home for the poor in Calcutta, so this hospital, with its windows looking out across the Hudson, is a Dying Home for the rich. On maps of Manhattan it appears as one giant hospital, but it is in fact two. Late at night when the wood-paneled entrance to the private pavilion is closed, you have to walk through the hospital for the poor to get to the hospital for the rich. Patients in the former are nearly all black or Hispanic; some fifty or sixty of them wait on folding metal chairs. Security guards stand about, bristling with straps and guns and billy clubs. There are curtained cubicles for seeing the doctor, dimly lit halls, a smell of stopped-up toilets. Painted arrows on the linoleum floor direct you where to stand in line. When he first came here some months ago after falling off the horse, Father had to wait five hours in this emergency room. His doctor found out about it the next day and raised hell: what had happened, of course, was that Father, being injured (only the poor get injured; the rich get ill), had been put in the hospital for the poor by mistake. When you pass through a set of glass doors, you cross the frontier between the two hospitals. This floor, where Father is, is the most exclusive of all, with handsome wooden doors on the rooms, and a kitchen which prepares things like lobster tail and rack of lamb. Doctors come by frequently; the nurses—everyone has a private nurse—are not black, as they seem to be in the hospital for the poor, but Irish, with soft brogues. Above all, the rich have purchased the solicitousness of doctors, of nurses, even of hospital officials, one of whom, wearing a business suit, comes by like a restaurant owner, "just to make sure everything is all right." (pp. 194-95)
Read the entire book if you can; it's a remarkably revealing and engaging story .