Germany’s Super Rich

Germany: The Discrete Lives of Germany’s Super Rich

DW (2019)

Film Review

This is a documentary about German billionaires, which are more prevalent in Germany than elsewhere in Europe. Der Spiegel’s Manager Magazine compiles and annual list of Germany’s 1001 richest people. Assets of at least $100 million to make the list, which includes 170-180 billionaires. All but one are men.

German billionaires are far less ostentatious than their US, Chinese or Russian counterparts. Shunning conspicuous consumption, most try to hide their wealth. They express fear of provoking envy and the risk of break-ins or having their children kidnapped. Families with inherited wealth are afraid its links to the Third Reich will be exposed.

The filmmakers found a handful of billionaires willing to be interviewed, including a multibillionaire who owes his wealth to a self-service drug store chain, the founder of a chain of fitness studios and a hearing aid manufacturer. Unlike the US, there are no big tech, athlete or movie star billionaires.

Rather than directly lobbying political leaders (as in the US), German billionaires tend to lobby the German government indirectly through their business associations. There is always the implied (or expressed) threat they will leave Germany and take tens of thousands of jobs with them.

In Germany, the last 25 years as seen a big spike in wealth inequality. Average wages and corporate and wealth taxes have declined as billionaire wealth has increased exponentially.

The billionaires interviewed uniformly oppose restoring former tax rates to help reduce poverty. What I find most striking about the film is their failure to recognize their obscene fortunes as a wealth transfer from low income people. In many cases, it’s clearly a wealth transfer from their own workers, whose wages have been steadily squeezed by German productivity policies.

 

 

 

 

China’s Invisible Working Class

The Chinese Economic Bubble

(2011)

Film Review

The Chinese Economic Bubble offers a unique perspective from two low income Chinese – a taxi driver and a construction worker – on China’s so-called economic miracle. Their commentary is interspersed with that of two Chinese economists. The latter discuss the growing Chinese real estate bubble, empty high rise buildings, rent-seeking and corruption, as well as the thousands of government officials who go to jail every year. These vignettes are interspersed with scenes of lavish media events celebrating Chinese millionaires and billionaires.

There is repeated emphasis on the immense sacrifice made by ordinary Chinese workers to create such phenomenal wealth. When the film was made in 2011, the construction worker early only slightly more ($4,200) than the national average ($4,000) for highly dangerous scaffolding work. At the time average global per capita income was $9,000. In 2014 the average Chinese wage had risen to $8,655, compared to an average global wage of $18,000.

The 1% at Their Finest

The Super Rich and US

BBC (2015)

Film Review

The Super Rich and Us features casual cameos of British billionaires openly displaying their narcissistic indulgence in trophy assets. There is also a brief appearance by economist and author Thomas Piketty (Capital in the Twenty-First Century). The goal of the documentary is twofold: to debunk trickle down theory and to critique government policies that have made Britain one of the most unequal nations on the planet.

The filmmakers maintain that Britain’s top 1% generates and consumes all the so-called growth the UK has experienced over the last five years. None of it derives from increased investment, job growth, wages or productivity.

The British 1% has doubled their income between 1980 and 2015, while income for everyone else has stagnated or declined. Likewise the Conservative government’s 80 billion pounds in austerity cuts is roughly equal to the bonuses banks paid out to CEOs.

Why Britain Has the Most Billionaires

The UK has more billionaires per head (104) than any other country. This stems largely from a policy decision to compensate for factories moving overseas by making the country a tax haven for rich colonials seeking to avoid taxes in their own country – under the delusional belief it would make everyone else richer.

In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher significantly reduced taxes on Britain’s native millionaires and billionaires. She argued, as Reagan did in the US, that taxing the rich made society poorer. These policies, which have changed little over thirty years, have made Britain the world’s favorite tax haven, as international pressure forces other traditional tax havens (Switzerland, Luxemburg, Cayman Islands, etc) to shut up shop.

Trickle Up vs Trickle Down

Thanks to the wholesale repeal of banking and corporate regulations, none of this surplus wealth trickled down to the rest of the population the way Thatcher claimed it would. Instead the super rich have been sucking up shrinking lower and middle classes resources into their vast reservoir of private wealth. The main reason trickle down doesn’t work is that the 1% spends their surplus wealth on diamond jewelry, yachts, sports cars and other luxury goods that generate income for only a handful (if any – most of these goods are imported) of working people.

The film contrasts British tax policies with those of Sweden and Denmark, which the rich pay a fair share of taxes. Not only do both have GDPs equal to or higher than the UK’s, with numbers that reflect genuine improvement in productivity and job and wage growth. When polled, eighty-eight percent of Danish people are perfectly happy with their tax rate because they see it reflected in generous government services.

How Citizens United* Kept the Koch Brothers Out of Jail

The video below is an interview with Investigative reporter Greg Palast regarding his 2012 book Billionaires and Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps. Palast is best known for exposing the fake “ex-felon” scrub list that illegally disqualified tens of thousands of law abiding Florida African Americans from voting in the 2000 presidential election.

According to Palast, the real agenda behind the Citizens United decision was to keep the notorious Koch brothers** out of jail for illegal corporate donations they had made to Republican campaigns. In other words, the ruling decriminalized extensive lawbreaking by the Republican Party’s favorite billionaires. Apparently it’s was no accident that Ted Olsen, the Citizens United attorney, also happens to be legal counsel for Koch Industries.

The Koch Brothers’ Long History of Flouting the Law

As Palast reveals at the beginning of the interview, he was an FBI investigator prior to becoming an investigative journalist. During the late eighties, he was directly involved in investigating Charles Koch for illegally siphoning oil (beyond what Koch Industries had paid for) from Indian reservations. According to Palast, the FBI had videos of the whole operation, as well as numerous witness statements, including one from David and Charles’ younger brother Bill. The US attorney in Oklahoma went so far as to file an indictment against subject 67C (their code name for Charles Koch), when Koch leaned heavily on Oklahoma Senator Don Nickles (Rep 1988-2005) to have the federal prosecutor replaced and the indictment quashed.

With the possibility of criminal prosecution off the table, brother Bill Koch filed a civil lawsuit over the oil theft under the False Claims Act. The latter private plaintiffs to sue, on behalf of the government, companies and individuals which have defrauded it.

In December 1999, the jury found that Koch Industries had stolen oil it didn’t pay for from federal land, and the company paid a $25 million settlement to the federal government.

The FBI next turned its attention to 350 criminal violations of environmental law, mainly due to faulty pipelines dumping oil sludge into rivers. After George W. Bush became president in 2000, the US Justice Department dropped 88 of the charges. Two days before the trial, Attorney General John Ashcroft agreed to a plea bargain. The company pled guilty to falsifying documents. All major charges were dropped, and Koch and Ashcroft settled a civil lawsuit for a fraction of the criminal penalty.

The FBI – and Congress – Investigate Illegal Corporate Donations

Next on the FBI list of crimes was the smear campaign Koch Industries secretly funded, through the Campaign for Our Children’s Futures. This was in 1994 when corporate campaign donations were still illegal. The campaign, caused 25 incumbent Democrats to lose their seats, which meant Clinton lost Congress in the 1994 midterm election and again in 1996.

The illegal campaign donations were funded through an entity called Triad Management Services. Senator Fred Thompson, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee attempted to undertake an investigation into Triad. According to Palast, it was shut down the same day (ethically challenged) Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott made a deal with President Bill Clinton not to investigate his illegal campaign donations from the Indonesian billionaire James Riady.

*In Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled that setting limits on campaign expenditures on corporations and labor unions violates their first amendment right to free speech.

**The Koch brothers are major funders of several conservative think tanks and lobbies, such as the Heritage Foundation, ALEC, the CATO Institute, and right wing Astroturf groups, such as the Campaign for America’s Future, the Campaign for a Fair Economy and the Tea Party). They’re also the major beneficiaries of the Keystone Pipeline

Takeover

corporate flag

 Guest blog by Steven Miller

(The following is an brilliant essay in 6 parts about the takeover of democracy by monopoly capitalism – that includes solutions.)

Capitalism in the 21st Century is no longer based largely on profits resulting from a real  economy productive process, windfall financial gains are acquired through large scale speculative operations, without the occurrence of real economy activity, at the touch of a mouse button.”  Michel Chussodovsky

Part I – Summary

It is a statement of fact, not ideology, that a class of billionaires, principally based in finance and speculation, control the levers of society. Since the Crash of 2008, the 1% has been waging a war against society that drives the 99% further towards disaster and ruin. Their End Game is the complete privatization of everything that is today owned by the public. This process is inevitable as long as political power remains in their hands. The question is: can this system be reformed? Another is: If not, can we fight and win? If so, how? These are strategic questions.

There are decisive moments in the history of capitalism when one form of wealth, one kind of property, becomes the most lucrative. The capitalists that control this property often become the dominant sector of the capitalist class and take control of the state, dictating policy to society. Marx writes, “The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”  (1)

The ruling class – call them the 1%, call them capitalists – commonly wages war against itself to seize markets and articulate the strategic view that makes the most profit, especially for them. They call this “the free market”. It is rigged and completely stacked in favor of the billionaires.

When the most profit-making form of labor was slavery, the slave owners ran the government and the state. They were succeeded, after the Civil War, by the railroad barons, industrialists, who owned property in factories, coal, and iron. Slave production was replaced by industrial production. Human slavery was replaced by the far more productive wage-slavery. Early bankers played an enormous role in this transition. Industrial production predominated into the 1950s. It didn’t disappear, but the control of capital passed to banks, investors and finance.

Now it’s all changing again. The tools themselves, the technology, determine which sector of capitalists comes out on top. Today the most revolutionary tools are the vast array of digital, electronic and communication technologies. This revolution is transforming society in ways unforeseen just a decade ago. When Obama was elected in 2008 – the same year as the great economic Meltdown – there was no such thing as social media, no apps, no data in the cloud, no viral videos. The IPhone was only a few months old. The tools are changing fast, driven by constantly evolving hardware and software.

As you read through this essay and examine the evidence, please keep the bigger question in mind. Can this system actually be changed in some sort of meaningful way? What would it take? How do we fight and win?

The growing electronic production of almost everything demonstrates what Karl Marx was referring to when he said, “capitalism sows the seeds of its own destruction.” But it was Adam Smith, not Marx, who first proved that the real source of profit is human labor.

References and Resources

 Lead quote – Michel Chussodovsky. “The Speculative Endgame: The ‘Government Shutdown’ and Debt Default’, a Multibillion Bonanza for Wall Street”, Center for Global Research

 1)  Communist Manifesto. Chapter 1

To be continued.

***

Steven Miller has taught science for 25 years in Oakland’s Flatland high schools. He has been actively engaged in public school reform since the early 1990s. When the state seized control of Oakland public schools in 2003, they immediately implemented policies of corporatization and privatization that are advocated by the Broad Institute. Since that time Steve has written extensively against the privatization of public education, water and other public resources. You can email him at nanodog2@hotmail.com

photo credit: Adbusters Culturejammers HQ via photopin cc

Originally posted at Daily Censored