Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ferdinand Lundberg, April 30, 1905 - March 1, 1995

The Rich Are Different

I've been rereading parts of Ferdinand Lundberg's fantastic look at the real rulers of America, The Rich And The Super-Rich: A Study in the Power of Money Today, published by Lyle Stuart in 1968. You can read my short review of this book at the Amazon link above. The book is out of print but reasonably priced used copies are available there.

Mr. Lundberg's insights on America were acute and prescient. The culture of the wealthy he describes in TRATSR has gotten more extreme. The rich are richer. They have more power. They are more bold and less cautious. But they are still primarily the same old families that have been there from the beginning. And that is the point of the book. A small number of families retain wealth and power using their wealth and power to undermine our democratic republic. Mr. Lundberg graduated from Columbia University and was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal during the stock market crash of 1929 heralding the Great Depression. His books include Imperial Hearst (1936), America's Sixty Families (1940), and The Rockefeller Syndrome (1968). Lyle Stuart also published Cracks In The Constitution in 1982 which makes the argument that our founding document is a fraud. The first sentence "We the people.." is the first lie in it since it was actually written by wealthy propertied gentlemen who never intended that the people in general would have much to do with their great enterprise.

Tonight at 8PM on Adam Gorightly's Untamed Dimensions Vyzigoth, Gordon Comstock and myself will discuss this great book.

Some Lundberg quotes from (just the beginning of) the book:

Most Americans—citizens of the wealthiest, most powerful and most ideal-swathed country in the world—by a very wide margin own nothing more than their household goods, a few glittering gadgets such as automobiles and television sets (usually purchased on the installment plan, many at second hand) and the clothes on their backs.

Their agents deafen a baffled world with a never ceasing chant about the occult merits of private-property ownership (good for everything that ails man and thoroughly familiar to the rest of the world, not invented in the United States), and the vaulting puissance of the American owners. It would be difficult in the 1960’s for a large majority of Americans to show fewer significant possessions if the country had long labored under a grasping dictatorship. How has this process been contrived of stripping threadbare most of the populace, which once at least owned small patches of virgin land? To this fascinating if off-color question we shall give some attention later. Statements such as the foregoing on the rare occasions when they are ventured (although strictly true and by no means new)1 are bound to be challenged by the alert propaganda watchdogs of the established order. These propagandists, when hard pressed, offer an incantation about a mythical high American standard of living which on inspection turns out to be no more than a standard of gross consumption. The statements must, therefore—particularly in this age of burgeoning one-sided affluence-be monumentally and precisely documented and re-documented. Not that this will deter the watchdogs, who have limitless resources of casuistry and dialectic to fall back upon as well as an endless supply of white paper from denuded forests.

Compared with the political power and influence of the American military today, Hohenzollern Germany (at one time designated by horrified American publicists as the acme of cold militarism in modern times) was only a one-cylinder, comic-opera affair. The Pentagon of today—its agents busy in Congress and the Executive Branch, with the politicians obviously standing in awe of the be-medaled generals, with the defense-industry corporations loaded with retired officers—could flatten an entity like Hohenzollern or Hitler Germany with a few well placed blows.

The United States is a great deal more like Brazil and Argentina, for example, than it is like France or England (two countries upon which most Americans are inclined to look with patronizing reservation). Even in such a distinctive United States feature as the separation of church and state there is now a strong movement, led by politicians with their eyes on the least instructed voters, for a direct supportive involvement of the state in the affairs of the church, an involvement that would presumably gain these politicians the support of the church. In this feature, then, there is a movement to make the United States even more like Latin America and less like Europe, where church and state are tending to become more and more separate in most jurisdictions. It might almost be said that there is a growing tendency to model the United States, apart from its industrial features, upon the “banana republics,” thus making it the Banana Republic par excellence

Down through history poverty has always referred to lack of property. The man who had no property was defined as poor; the more property a man owned the less poor he was. Most people in the United States own little more property than do Russian peasants, and by that standard they are poor.

For my part, I would say that anyone who does not own a fairly substantial amount of income-producing property or does not receive an earned income sufficiently large to make substantial regular savings or does not hold a well-paid securely tenured job is poor. He may be healthy, handsome and a delight to his friends—but he is poor.

But this panorama of contemporary private wealth and power throws some doubt on the doctrines of earlier apologists for the big fortunes. It was once widely preached from pulpits as well as editorial pages that great wealth was either the reward for social service (such as graciously building a vast industry to cater to an undeserving public) or it represented the inevitable, natural and wholly acceptable outcome of an evolutionary struggle in which the fittest survived and the unfit landed in the gutter. On the basis of this doctrine the present top wealthholders are the offspring of public benefactors and the fittest of a past generation. Fortunately, they are not themselves facing the same tests of fitness.

What has developed, then, under the operation of inheritance laws handed down from days when property ownership was far more modest to a day when vast properties have been created mainly by technology, is a huge, solid fortress of interlaced wealth against which even clever new wealthseekers, try as they will, cannot make a tiny dent. About the only way one can get in (and that way isn’t always rewarding) is by marriage. If a potential new Henry Ford produces an invention and sets out with friends to market it he generally finds (as did Professor Edwin H. Armstrong, inventor of wide-swing radio frequency modulation, the regenerative circuit for vacuum tubes, ultra short-wave super-regeneration and the superheterodyne circuit) that it is boldly infringed by established companies. After he spends the better part of a lifetime in court straining to protect his rights he may win (usually he does not); but if he wins he collects only a percentage royalty. What the infringers can show they have earned through their promotional efforts they may keep, with the blessings of the courts, who are sticklers for equity: All effort must be rewarded. And then the overwrought inventor, as Professor Armstrong did in 1954, can commit suicide. Henry Ford came up when there were only small competing companies in the field. When established companies are  in the field, inventors must sell out, or suffer a fate similar to Professor Armstrong’s.

The wealthy, like everyone else, dislike to pay taxes and, unlike most other people, they know how to minimize them through the exercise of political influence. This is one of the nice differences between being wealthy and being poor. The Constitution of the United States bars the bestowal of titles of nobility. But in many ways it would clear up much that is now obscure if titles were allowed. Not only would they show, automatically, to whom deference was due as a right but they would publicly distinguish those who held continuing hereditary power from people who are merely temporarily voted in or appointed for limited terms.

In order to participate in politics in the Soviet Union one must be a member of the Communist Party. This is a formal condition. Similarly, in order to participate meanirtgfully in politics in the United States one must be a property owner. This is not a formal requirement; formally anyone may participate. But, informally, participation beyond voting for alternate preselected candidates is so difficult for the nonpropertied as to be, in effect, impossible. The nonpropertied person in the United States who wishes to attain and hold a position of leverage in politics must quickly become a property owner. And this is one reason why unendowed budding American politicians, not being property owners, must find or create opportunities (legal or illegal) for themselves to acquire property. Without it they are naked to the first wind of partisan adversity and gratuitous public spitefulness.

A Few More Pertinent Quotes:

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.
Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten.
Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. 

Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.
Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.
Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.

 James 5, 1-5

Thus shelter'd, free from care and strife,
May I enjoy a calm through life ;
See faction, safe in low degree.
As men at land see storms at sea.
And laugh at miserable elves.
Not kind, so much as to themselves,
Curs'd With such souls of base alloy. 
As can possess, but not enjoy;
Debarred the pleasure to impart
By av'rice, sphincter of the heart;

- Matthew Green 1696-1737 English poet, from "The Spleen"

Money is like muck, not good except it be spread. 
Francis Bacon from the essay Of Seditions and Troubles

The money complex is the demonic, and the demonic is God's ape; the money complex is therefore the heir to and substitute for the religious complex, an attempt to find God in things. 
-Norman O. Brown, September 25, 1913– October 2, 2002,
US philosopher, from Life Against Death, ch. 15

Avarice, ambition, lust, etc., are nothing but species of madness, although not enumerated among diseases.
Baruch Spinoza, Ethics

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