Chapter 7 (Part 2)
Chapter Seven – Undermining the Machine (Part 2)
Melting the Big Guns
This is the bit that most publishers will want taken out. The reason will become clear very quickly. I don’t expect many people reading this will feel especially comfortable about what is to follow but it has to be written and you need to at least know why these actions are so vitally important for the future of humanity.
There is a close and incestuous relationship that keeps the industrial world functioning at a global scale. The three main players in this relationship are governments, corporations and the economic system. Two of those things are most definitely tangible, i.e. they can be described in physical terms; these two are the corporations, of which there are many, though only a relative few which wield genuine power, and the governments. The governments do not actually comprise the majority of politicians; it is the superstructure of government we are talking about: presidents, prime ministers, cabinet members, high-level advisors and spin-doctors, the judiciary, the military and the senior civil service make up the bulk of this. The economic system, while having tangible elements, such as trading floors and banks, is more ethereal. It is best described as a paradigm. It brings within its realm things such as policies and rules of operation; it forms part of our culture; it embraces belief systems, faith, the hearts and minds of society itself. Never underestimate the importance of the economy in civilized society.
The relationship between these three things is complex and multi-layered but in summary:
• Corporations have many of the same rights as human beings, while also not having the responsibilities of humans – they are rarely held legally accountable for anything because to do so would lower their exulted status.
• These rights, along with other rules that protect the finances of the rich and a string of clauses that permit the systematic abuse of human beings and the wider natural environment by those in power, are created by governments.
• Corporations exist to make money for either shareholders or private owners1 and as such they are entirely dependent on a healthy market economy for their existence. Should the economy as a whole contract then shareholders and private owners would make less money.
• Governments, being institutions run for the purpose of maintaining the status quo, i.e. industrial civilization existing, also depend upon a healthy economy partly so their operations (such as wars and the obligatory public/private services) are paid for, but mainly because the corporations insist upon it.
I still think that’s a bit wordy, so for ease of understanding (and a lovely piece of graffiti) think of the recycling triangle and you pretty much have it:
It stands to reason that if you take away any one part of the triangle, you destroy it entirely. To all intents and purposes the engine-room of civilization will come to an immense grinding, crunching halt. So, assuming you are up for the challenge, how can we achieve removing one or more parts of the interdependent triangle?
If you have ever been a mainstream activist then you might see your targets straight away, because it has almost always been governments and corporations that are targeted by actions, albeit usually in a polite and diplomatic way (governments) or a guiding and understanding way (corporations). A more radical activist will likely see the same two targets, with one eye on the economy – but the economy is surely not anything that can be attacked, or undermined, with any success. By all means attack governments and corporations as best you can; undermine their craven lies and greenwashing bullshit, because they need to be undermined big time. For this section, though, we are going to take on the global economic system…in a way it has never been taken on before.
Empathy is a wonderful gift, and here we need to use that gift; we need to have empathy with the mindset of ordinary civilized people. It doesn’t take a great imagination to predict the reaction of someone having the economic safety net further pulled from under them. Forget that this “safety net” is made of false promises that stand for nothing when times are really tough; people genuinely believe that they need to keep the economic system propped up with their spending, and in turn that when they really need it the economic system will cushion their fall.
Times are hard and with this current paradigm things will only get worse. The central banks can keep pumping pretend money into a pretend system but it won’t make a blind bit of difference in the end. Look down: there is nothing there, you are on your own, and the bastards that kept you believing in the goodness of the industrial economy are sailing their yachts into the sunset. As a wise punk once said: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been had?”
Economic growth hurts the global ecology; it fills the atmosphere with warming gases; it creates slaves by the million; it fuels the machine of destruction. Economic recessions, slumps, crashes – call them what you will – give the global ecology welcome breathing space, but in turn hurt ordinary people who have complete faith in the system and depend on having a job, ready cash and all the accoutrements of civilized life to sustain them. Economic failure hurts. We must understand that, even as we smile.
Scrapping the industrial economy is the Dig Deal: it has to be done otherwise humanity is finished and just about the rest of life with it. There is no “Plan B” for the economy; no clever financial sleight of hand; no “sustainable growth” or “steady state economics” – all lies designed to keep you part of the system, compliant and consuming. We can undermine the economic system wholesale if we have the courage, but we can also stop the hurt even before the undermining does its work. First, by taking away the reason we have to work so much, the consumption and debt trap that plies its trade through the application of fear and dreams; second, by stealing back our time from the offices, factories, call centres, supermarkets and every other example of unnecessary toil we no longer need to undertake, because we have far less need to earn; finally, we take away the faith the economy needs us to have in it in order to keep going. Sorry Tinker Bell, you have to go out.
We don’t need the industrial economy, it needs us. But when the industrial economy goes we need to be in a position of safety for ourselves, those that depend upon us and those we care about. This is not selfishness, it is common sense. The three undermining tasks that follow are also common sense: like a row of dominoes one can set off the other if enough of a jolt is given. Furthermore, any one of them could be enough to undermine the economy on its own. Before we take the plunge, though, why not show your lack of commitment for the system by pulling out one of the hooks that binds you to it…
Quick Win: Don’t Expect, Don’t Register, Don’t Vote
I just put on the fire another letter inviting me onto the Electoral Register. It caught quickly and helped warm the house. That’s just about the best thing you can do with such a letter; perish the thought that anyone would actually fill it in and send it back thus putting your details on record as a Voter and thus a fully-fledged Citizen. Even if through some fluke of bureaucracy anyone in my home did end up registered, you wouldn’t find us anywhere near a polling station on Election Day; what’s the point?
George Carlin put it better than anyone else, I think:
“I have solved this political dilemma in a very direct way: I don’t vote. On Election Day, I stay home. I firmly believe that if you vote, you have no right to complain. Now, some people like to twist that around. They say, ‘If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain,’ but where’s the logic in that? If you vote, and you elect dishonest, incompetent politicians, and they get into office and screw everything up, you are responsible for what they have done. You voted them in. You caused the problem. You have no right to complain. I, on the other hand, who did not vote — who did not even leave the house on Election Day — am in no way responsible for what these politicians have done and have every right to complain about the mess that you created.”2
We don’t expect politicians to speak for us. At best, they are ordinary people; at worst, they want to take your freedom away and control your life. We expect even less of governments: they speak for no one but the system they are an intrinsic part of. Therefore we don’t register and we don’t vote.
“Don’t Expect, Don’t Register, Don’t Vote” is a series of positive, constructive acts that anyone can do. It is also a meme that can spread very easily through word of mouth, blog, graffiti…whatever floats your boat. By refusing the mandate to be “represented” you take the mandate away from politicians to represent you. They become powerless to claim they are anything but a bunch of toadying, corporate-loving elitists. And the best thing of all is you don’t even have to do anything to achieve this. What a perfect piece of undermining.
Task 7: Throwing Off the Chains of Debt
Civilized people take debt through their lives, from a simple credit card transaction to a hire purchase deal on a new piece of furniture; from a loan that gets you through the next set of bills to a mortgage on a property you could never afford were it not for debt. Some things we often don’t see as debts but rather necessary parts of life, like mortgages or credit cards, are no better than the loan from the man with the cheap suit in the shop with gadget filled windows. The difference between that and the mortgage is little more than the price of the suit and what’s in the shop window.
Before we can change our personal and, by extension, our collective circumstances, we have to be liberated; we need to be free of things that keep us dependent on the civilized world. Debt makes people powerless – it creates dependency. This is the point where economic control has to begin. We have to learn that all forms of money borrowing, even from friends and family, are debts, and we have to learn from the earliest possible moment that all forms of debt are bad.
Very significantly, the creation of debt (invariably with interest, also known as usury3) allows the global economy to exceed natural limits, ensuring that damage will continue beyond the point that non-debtors would have stopped. An individual is able to exceed their normal ability to buy goods and services by getting in debt; therefore by not being in debt an individual is only able to spend what they can genuinely afford.
Now we are getting somewhere. It is astonishing to realise that all governments and corporations have to run structural deficits just to remain in business. In slack or recessional periods this can be simply to “keep the lights on”, but primarily it is so they can invest in whatever infrastructure is necessary to grow their relevant economic sectors. Such investments include IT and telecommunications, roads, buildings, tax breaks, “educating” the population and waging wars. This nicely parallels the personal debt trap: we are taught to accept debt on a personal level as institutions convince themselves en masse that structural debt is essential. Not only this, but such institutions also have to accept such debts in other institutions (governments, banks, manufacturers etc); in effect a double-bind of immensely high risk.
So, if it becomes impossible to run a deficit for whatever reason then it will be impossible to create this infrastructure of growth. As I have said, take away one part of the triangle and the triangle will collapse. In the case of personal debt the simple refusal of people to take out cash loans, mortgages, HP deals and so on, on a large enough scale will reduce their ability, and just as important, their willingness to buy what they once thought they could afford. Take away the comfort that debt provides and you take away the incentive to spend: the consumer economy starts to break apart.
This is not speculation: when the global economy crashed in the summer of 2008, there was a similar crash in consumer spending. Not only did people find it more difficult to take out loans, but they also felt less willing, given the state of the potential (and actual) job situation among other things. A McKinsey report from 2009 spells this out dramatically:
Until recently, households could use credit to smooth out consumption through the ups and downs of the job market. Not anymore. Banks, battered by mounting credit losses and plunging equity prices, have tightened lending standards for consumers and businesses. New borrowing by households has fallen sharply from its peak in the second quarter of 2006 and turned negative in the fourth quarter of 2008. In other words, for the first time since World War II, total household debt outstanding fell rather than rose. It is unclear how much of this debt reduction is voluntary and how much is involuntary. Part reflects lower demand for credit (as fewer people are buying cars and houses) [note, the issue of confidence is neatly avoided in this mainstream report], while part is the result of the tighter supply. Either way, consumers are reducing their debt burdens – deleveraging.
With the confluence of plummeting wealth, jobs, and credit, consumer confidence is at a 41-year low. Even those with jobs fear for their future. Many households are using their cash to pay down credit cards rather than buy new goods. Others are putting money away for a rainy day. As a result, US consumer spending is plunging. Spending fell at a 3.8 percent annual rate in the third quarter of 2008 and at a 4.3 percent rate in the fourth quarter, a primary reason the economy contracted.4
It came as no surprise then, that in October 2011, British Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to re-write a conference speech because it appeared to recommend the public pay off their debts. The original text, released to the press the day before, to the approbation of the financial and business lobby read:
“The only way out of a debt crisis is to deal with your debts. That means households – all of us – paying off the credit card and store card bills.”
The version used for the actual speech was subtly, but materially changed to read:
“The only way out of a debt crisis is to deal with your debts. That is why households are paying down the credit card and store card bills.”
Sound advice in the original version was perhaps too sound for the people whose careers and wealth depend on us remaining in hock to the system. Had we followed Cameron’s original advice to the letter the worst fears of the British Retail Consortium5, among others, may have been realised – the economy would shrink rather than grow. Fear is, as we saw in Chapter 2, a very powerful Tool of Disconnection, and you don’t actually need to have a tangible threat to create fear: not if you are a government, and not if you are an Underminer:
[Rules for Radicals] Rule 9: The threat is more terrifying than the thing itself. When [Saul] Alinsky leaked word that large numbers of poor people were going to tie up the washrooms of O’Hare Airport, Chicago city authorities quickly agreed to act on a longstanding commitment to a ghetto organization. They imagined the mayhem as thousands of passengers poured off airplanes to discover every washroom occupied. Then they imagined the international embarrassment and the damage to the city’s reputation.6
So, that explains why the mass refusal and paying back of debt, and even the threat of such an action, is such a potent undermining force; now we need to create that situation.
Much undermining is about leading by example, and this applies particularly to personal debt which is such a powerful psychological burden, and a crutch. Leading by example, you should first refuse to take out a loan for anything. If you really need something – and probably you don’t – then save your money and buy it, barter for it or borrow it.7 Now, encourage others to join you: start by sharing what you have – your car, your garden, your tools, even your clothes. Pass stuff on; give stuff away. You don’t need that loan and neither do the people you care about. If you already have loans, and most recent students do, then seek deferral under economic hardship. Odds are pretty high you’re actually experiencing economic hardship, so this is no big deal. And even if you’re not, there’s no sense feeding the beast if the beast defaults down the road. None of this entails risk to anyone but the industrial economy.
At a higher level of risk is defaulting. Many people are now living in homes with mortgages that are greater than the value of their property. Why would anyone continue to pay a debt that is higher than the asset it secures? After all, big corporations view pulling the plug on unsuccessful ventures and sticking the debt holders and shareholders as a key business strategy! The whole idea of “risk capital” is that the interest and other fees you earn for lending to risky borrowers compensates you for that risk, so if the borrower defaults you accept the loss and chalk it up to experience. Yet for some reason homeowners feel some moral obligation to throw good money endlessly after bad. This of course is exactly what the corporations, who have no such moral compunction, are counting on, what economists call moral asymmetry. If everyone with a mortgage greater than the value of their home – and the lender really should have predicted this situation in the first place – either walked away from it, or was legally empowered to require the excess to be written off as the bad debt it is then of course there would be many bank failures and plunging profits. Walking away from your mortgage or any other bad loan you may have will damage your credit rating. Obviously, this doesn’t matter in the long term, but it still causes concern for many people. The bailiffs knocking on your door – wherever it may be – will also cause concern, which is why not getting into debt in the first place is such a good strategy. If this is a possibility then publicising your actions widely could protect you from unwanted intrusion.
Taking a step beyond abandoning your underwater mortgage, don’t pay off your mortgage even if you’re not underwater. Simply default but continue to occupy your house. The lenders cannot afford to tell their stockholders about it, so the borrower gets the loan for no payments while the lender gets stuck. This is not such an unusual step and became something of a trend in the USA from 2009 onwards when people realised it was a viable way of getting out of crippling mortgage debt. And it doesn’t have to just be mortgages or, indeed, just as a way of dealing with a personal problem – Enric Duran took out loans and donated the proceeds to a variety of causes for three years, with no intention of ever paying them back. His story is taken up by the Institute for Anarchist Studies in an article and interview, some of which is reprinted here:8
On September 17th, 2008, Barcelona-based anti-capitalist Enric Duran announced that he had expropriated 492,000 Euros. For several years, Duran took out loans that he never intended to pay back and donated all of the money to social movements constructing alternatives to capitalism. This announcement came with the publication of 200,000 free newspapers called Crisi (Catalan for “Crisis”), with an article explaining Duran’s action, and other pieces offering a systemic critique of the current financial and ecological crises. The action got the attention of tens of thousands of everyday people as well as major media outlets, who soon dubbed Duran the “Robin Hood of the Banks.” Duran left the country to avoid prosecution. The group that published the newspapers formed Podem Viure Sense Capitalisme (We Can Live With Out Capitalism) and began region-wide organizing through their website, http://podem.cat, bringing together debtors, squatters, alternative economy networks, environmentalists, and everyday people to build a large-scale alternative to capitalism.
Duran returned to Spain six months after the announcement to participate in the release of another publication. On March 17th, 300,000 copies of Podem (We Can) were distributed across Spain in Catalan as well as Spanish. Duran announced the publication during a student protest at the University of Barcelona, and was soon after arrested by the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan regional police on charges of “ongoing fraud” that were brought against Duran by 6 of the 39 financial entities he took money from. He spent two months in jail. He is currently free on bail, having had his passport seized and required to present himself before a judge once a week. None of the charges have been formally brought to trial.
Q: In the United States, levels of personal indebtedness are very high–personal credit, student loans, mortgages. What is the situation like here in Spain?
A: Right now, the banks and savings banks have an average loan delinquency rate between 3 and 5 percent, which is already pretty serious, and it could always go higher. Before the crisis it was around 1 percent, and it always seemed like people were committed to paying their loans back, but now that respect is deteriorating little by little as people consider not paying them back. So I think this current situation could also accentuate the financial crisis.
Q: Do you see a weakness in the financial system? Do you think that increasing the number of delinquent debtors is a viable strategy for weakening, or even taking down, capitalism?
A: The weakness of the credit-based financial system is that it depends on people wanting to go into debt and–more importantly–being committed to paying those debts back, which is what keeps the system in control. If we’re able to create an alternative that extends beyond capitalism, people will see that they have the option of a life that doesn’t involve paying their debts back. This mechanism, this defect, could amplify our capacity to construct alternatives. A lot of people could use loans to set up alternatives and then quit paying them back, because it would be possible to live in a way that is “insolvent” for the system, but “solvent” for the people in these alternative ways of living.
Q: Have people been explicitly inspired by your action, taking out loans without the intention of paying them back in order to promote alternatives?
A: I think so, because people have asked me how, and I’ve told them…also, people can learn about it through my book without asking me. So, I’m pretty sure it’s being done, but it’s most likely that no one is doing it publicly because that’s safer, with less personal risk. And it’s not only people doing it like that; I think what’s even more common is people who at some point took out loans because they wanted to consume, because they wanted to have a mortgage, whatever–and now they see the utility in doing this to change their lives.
A related, but more complex strategy is voluntary bankruptcy. Like defaulting, this may not strictly be considered undermining because in most cases it is the result of circumstance rather than a desire to create change; nevertheless, in a situation where the only options are to continue paying off loans at impossible rates and sacrificing more and more of your time and mental faculties paying them off, bankruptcy can not only free you from the obligations of debt, but also stick it to the companies that profit from others’ misery.
Moving outwards into more deliberate and less personal undermining, you could start with a bit of subvertising, focussing on loan companies and banks, changing the messages to emphasise the theft aspect of loans. Alternatively, just remove loan adverts entirely.
In a variation on pure exposure as a means of undermining corporations, send out false press releases from loan companies and banks to media outlets such as local radio stations, local press and even the nationals if you are brave enough. These press releases should discourage people from taking out loans because, after all, people don’t really need all the toys they buy on credit. If you make the “press release” as complete as possible, and word them so that responses are not required then there is a good chance they will be run without questions being asked. The following letter was sent to about 50 newspapers and radio stations from a post box 100 miles from the sender’s home. It is reproduced in full to show examples of press release style and how to make a spoof just believable enough. Alan Davenport is a fake name, as is the “decision” by Barclays; the rest is real:
PRESS RELEASE – BARCLAYS BANK TO STOP SELLING PERSONAL LOANS
The credit crunch has hit everyone involved in the global economy hard; and none more so than the millions of individuals who are struggling to make ends meet. Job losses, increases in energy prices and an unpredictable situation in the global financial industry are making it ever more difficult for people to plan for the future. There is a need for urgent and innovative ideas to help ease the burden on banking customers both in the UK and across the world.
That is why, starting in the Spring of 2010, Barclays Bank will no longer be offering loans to its personal customers: instead it will provide a range of sound, sensible advice designed to help them free themselves from financial hardship – advice that they can carry with them in whatever they do.
This may seem a perverse move from a bank that has historically been one of the world’s largest lenders of money to individuals, but we believe it is time to give people back what we now realise has unethically been taken from them in the form of interest. Obviously we cannot pay back all that interest, but we can help our customers ensure they have far less need to borrow money in the future. We feel that in a financial climate that is sure to persist for some years to come, it is no longer acceptable to sell the idea that, somehow, borrowing money is the way out of financial hardship.
How will we make a profit?
In the short term we will continue to provide lending services to businesses, and also invest our savers’ money wisely. In addition, card credit facilities will remain, with a medium term plan to also phase out this service in favour of debit cards only. In the longer term we are aiming to become less profit motivated, in keeping with our ethical mindset, choosing instead to run “at cost” as far as is practicable. In a world where environmental issues are being increasingly linked with the consumption of goods and energy, there is a very strong case for economic growth to be curtailed, or even reversed, in order to reduce environmental damage.
This longer-term aspiration dovetails neatly with the decision to no longer offer personal loans, for it is undoubtedly true that the ready availability of money in the form of cash loans, credit cards and other debt instruments encourage individuals to spend more money: money that would not be available without such inducements.
Won’t this cause hardship?
On the contrary, this move is designed to ease financial hardship through a combination of withdrawing inducements to borrow and spend, and also providing sound, long-term advice to customers.
Barclays will be teaming up with a number of charities, well known for their work in dealing with the causes and effects of financial hardship; and also working closely with government agencies in order to provide the very best advice in terms of common sense use of money, reducing energy and other forms of consumption, and the availability of benefits for those most in need.
What about our competitors?
We have no doubt that other lenders will, at least in the short term, continue to offer unnecessary loans to personal customers, and benefit from the interest they charge. Someone has to make the first move and, as a leader in the financial industry, we have decided to be that “someone”. In time we hope our competitors will become our partners in this brave Debt Free Revolution. We also see many people turning to Barclays as savings customers who would like to bank with a more ethical organisation.
The Debt Free Revolution is starting, but cannot continue without your help: please publicise this brave and groundbreaking move on your station, and encourage your listeners to take part in the debate that will undoubtedly erupt.
Alan Davenport on behalf of Barclays Bank PLC.
Barclays Bank PLC. Registered in England. Registered No: 1026167. Registered Office: 1 Churchill Place,
London, E14 5HP. Barclays Bank PLC is authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority.
(You can download a PDF version of this letter via this link).
Sending letters via the postal service is the safest way from the point of view of the Underminer, but it is one-way and unless the recipient accepts such information at face value then it will not be as effective as you might wish it to be. This makes it especially important to make the letter as convincing as you possibly can on repeated readings, discouraging the recipient to check the veracity of the contents.
For more immediate effect, and potentially the ability to update information on the fly it may be better to use a pre-registered and configured mailbox along with a fake website. This is a staple of groups such as The Yes Men, who have used it to surprising effect on repeated occasions. Web site spoofing is technically complex to get right, but the following should help get you started. This is relevant for all undermining tasks that use fake web sites and electronic communications.
A Guide to Spoofing Web Sites and other Internet Fun
1) Purchase your domain name. Assuming something similar enough to the desired target is available ensure you use an anonymous registrar because the first thing any decent journalist will look for is the name of the person who registered it. Also check that any services you may need, such as mailbox hosting, are available via the registrar. If you are not able to buy an appropriate domain then your spoof will have to be of the Phishing variety (see 3b)
2a) Create your web site. Make it as close to the look and feel of those of your target as works with the nature of the spoof you are carrying out. Ideally you should use as much of the source code of the original web site as you can, as well as (for all that you are not changing) using the original links. Test your pages thoroughly in every common browser.
2b) If you are doing a complete bait-and-switch, i.e. presenting something completely different to the original, then the code is up to you; though be aware that anything more than a fake “holding” page will quickly be seen as a spoof by those familiar with the target.
3a) Carry out your domain assignment / redirection. For a convincing, and longer term, spoof you will change both the domain of the hosting server and the DNS record for the domain, which is carried out via your domain registrar. This ensures that the address structure of the web site is based on your own domain name. Less convincing, but fine for a one-off spoof, you can set up a Framed Redirection via your domain provider, which will mask the URL of your spoofed web site.
3b) For a straight Phishing attack you will be using what appears to be the official URL to go to the spoof site. Most anti-virus software will detect phishing in emails, but you could always use this technique in forums and blogs where you can edit the HTML.
4) If you are not sending out a press release or invitation to view and just relying on the spoof, then that’s all you need to do; but you won’t get much traffic unless you have a really convincing URL or one that will be typed in accidentally; so, you will at least need to publicise your efforts. If you are sending out a press release then you will need to set up at least one mailbox under your fake domain name, otherwise your information will lack credibility. If you can use a third party email client then that will protect your personal details (and the security of your own computer); most domain providers have that facility for a small additional fee. Be aware, though, that this is a form of abuse, so you may lose your account if you are found out.
5) Send out your press releases: make them as similar to the official press releases as you can, including embedded logos (proper ones) and contact details as appropriate. It is up to you whether you respond, but if you do then keep all responses in the official form of the original. Telephone numbers are not recommended unless you have a dedicated number with enough hands to deal with the call volume.
6) Follow up. A good follow up will add extra mileage to your undermining efforts. It can take a number of forms. A simple follow up similar to the original providing more detail will give the story legs, maybe including a few choice “quotations” from staff, and perhaps a video (you will need to sort out a convincing video hosting account for this). Alternatively, especially if you suspect your spoof has been found out and countered by your target, you could send a denial claiming that the target itself has been spoofed and yours is, in fact, the correct story.
7) Cover your tracks. Observe the Housekeeping protocols in Chapter 4, especially if you want to do the same kind of thing again. There is no harm leaving the original web site running in case people stumble upon it by accident or via reblogging; whatever you do, don’t sell the domain name to your target – why should the bastards benefit from your hard work?
Despite my, and probably your, antipathy to symbolic action, some things that might appear to be symbolic can actually be quite effective. One example is the Default-In. Run along the lines of the Love-Ins and Sit-Ins of the 1960s, this is a more collective, and thus socially powerful, form of individual debt rejection. It could include the public tearing up of “contracts” (not legal tender in reality) or mass calling up of banks and other loan sharks to cancel accounts. If you can emphasise the positive nature of debt rejection then more people will be encouraged to set up their own. We could end up with a bizarre combination of community tea party that everyone is invited to, and active rejection of a very dangerous and essential part of the industrial economy. The next logical step is to take that new-found freedom from debt and use it to liberate another part of our lives.
Task 8: The End of Wage Slavery
What do you think is the most dangerous word in the English language? There are plenty of potentially dangerous words, like Civilized and Development, but it may be that the word “jobs” is the most dangerous word of all. I will try and explain why with the help of two small news reports:
Australian coal producers reacted fiercely to a carbon tax that passed the country’s lower house of Parliament Wednesday, but said it was too soon to know how much the climate change regime would influence prices for thermal or coking coal.
Trade groups representing mining companies said the policy would deal an unfair blow to the industry.
Mitch Hooke, CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia, whose members produce 90% of the country’s exports, said in a statement that the tax would undermine the competitiveness of Australian coal and slash domestic jobs, without cutting greenhouse gas emissions9.
This first extract is from Platts, an energy and minerals information service, so it’s no surprise that it is skewed in favour of coal mining operations and the jobs that these mines provide. It’s the jobs side we are interested in: apparently if mining companies have to pay more tax then jobs will be cut, but not the amount of coal mined. That’s essentially how capitalism works; but notice how the word “slash” is used with reference to jobs.
BAE Systems intends to cut 3,000 of its 40,000 UK jobs. Apparently this is necessary for BAE to “ensure its long-term future” while the futures of the estimated 5,700 directly and indirectly affected workers look bleak.
The decision to make 900 out of 1,300 workers redundant at BAE Brough is a body blow to workers in Hull and the Humberside region.
As we campaign to save BAE jobs, we need to realise that such a campaign has to challenge the capitalist system itself. If the economy was democratically planned by the workers in industry together with democratically elected local and national representatives as part of a national plan, we could eradicate unemployment and the uncertainty we face today.10
The second extract comes from an apparently opposite viewpoint, that of the Socialist Party, who appear to be anti-capitalist and anti-corporate, but are also banging on about jobs. They want jobs for everyone – not useful work, but jobs.
It seems that one of the worst things anyone can do is threaten jobs. Politicians talk about the danger of job losses; as does the mainstream media; as does the radical media, in many cases; as do ordinary people. In fact, there are few things more likely to get you on the wrong side of a “community” (I use the word with caution) than to suggest anything that would reduce the number of jobs available. But look at the subject of the articles: one is implying that reducing the amount of coal burnt is bad…because it would cut jobs; the other is even more clearly saying that reducing the amount of money going to a weapons manufacturer is bad…because it would cut jobs. Look at the second one again: this is the Socialist Party, a left wing group – so-called “woolly liberals” – so blinkered in their attitude that every job is a good job; that even exported death is acceptable if it means a pay packet.
Can you now see why “jobs” may be the most dangerous word in the English language?
So why do we crave jobs so much, and how have we become so brainwashed that we will fight, risking the loss of everything including our own freedom, to ensure they are not threatened? An obvious reason is money: within an industrial economy money is necessary for almost everything, and as has been shown throughout this book, we are brainwashed from birth into thinking that we have to keep the economy healthy in any way we can. If we do not actively participate in the economy, then it suffers; and, because we buy almost everything we eat, wear, sit on and sleep in, keep ourselves warm with, shelter us with and have fun with, we suffer too. Or so we are led to believe.
But it’s not just money. As we know, schools prepare us not for useful work, but for doing a job, a.k.a. having a career. We are never taught that a 9 to 5 job in an office is anything but useful work, nor are we ever shown the concept of Wage Slavery, for that would put negative connotations upon something we have to believe in as the absolute truth: it is good to have a job, no matter what that job is. If you don’t have a job then you are less than human, you are unemployed, a layabout, a waster, a loser. Get a job, hippy! Yes, that’s about the size of it.
Confused? You should be.
We have to see that the economy is not “in” crisis, the economy itself is the crisis. It’s not that there’s not enough work, it’s that there is too much of it. In France, we get down on all fours to climb the ladders of hierarchy, but privately flatter ourselves that we don’t really give a shit. We stay at work until ten o’clock in the evening when we’re swamped, but we’ve never had any scruples about stealing office supplies here and there, or carting off the inventory in order to resell it later. We hate bosses, but we want to be employed at any cost. To have a job is an honor, yet working is a sign of servility. In short: the perfect clinical illustration of hysteria… The horror of work is less in the work itself than in the methodical ravaging, for centuries, of all that isn’t work: the familiarities of one’s neighborhood and trade, of one’s village, of struggle, of kinship, our attachment to places, to beings, to the seasons, to ways of doing and speaking.11
Make it difficult or impossible for people to do their job and you free people from slavery. This might not seem entirely fair from a personal point of view, after all most of us need money to even survive, let alone thrive in the industrial world; but lose the debt and the incentive to spend beyond your means and you are part of the way there. Lose the mindset that having a job is a good thing whatever kind of job that is, and you are well along the right path. Redefine what “useful work” means in the real world and acceptance by the majority starts to become a possibility.
But before acceptance becomes a likelihood there is the prickly problem of tax to contend with. Let’s take a typical, albeit nameless, industrial civilized nation. A revolution of sorts has taken place, perhaps as a result of a lack of available money earning jobs and an increasing number of people walking away from their wage slavery; perhaps because people have realised that cash and particularly debt are shackles that bind us rather than free us. Around 50% less money is circulating within the personal tax system due to a plethora of part time and lower paid jobs, a huge number of people working for themselves and incorporating alternative methods of payment into their lives, and almost everyone being less profligate in their spending and borrowing. What would once have been hard financial times have been transformed into times of sharing, trust, low material need; and as a result the burden on the global ecosystem, the “resource” reservoir and the lives of people who normally serve the corporate system is relieved by a significant measure.
As a further result, the burden on the public purse becomes unbearable. Only half the money previously available is entering the system, and social collapse is imminent…or so we are being told.
But that’s simply not true. With such a dramatic shift in the way people live and think – a necessity to achieve such a sea change in spending and work – there is no such gulf between tax income and services. I wrote about this in some detail on The Earth Blog12, but in essence it would be no great shakes to achieve a 50% reduction in the amount of money required by the state to run services; even more as time goes on until the concept of “public services” is simply absorbed into the communities we have created for ourselves. That’s a taste of things to come, if we can do this right, and something we will concern ourselves a lot more in a later chapter.
Basically, don’t worry about not enough tax being paid.
There is a lot of undermining needed here because of the number of discrete ways the “jobs” paradigm pervades our lives so, rather than specify different actions for every aspect of this, I will give some ideas for undermining the job culture that can be applied more generally across the board. First, it is important to outline some of the key areas that can be targeted by undermining so you can select and create actions of your own appropriate to your situation and what you are motivated most to undermine.
• The idea that having a job is a good thing in itself, irrespective of anything else, and the stigma attached to not having a job;
• A lack of awareness of what “useful work” really entails and how little useful work a typical job actually achieves;
• The extent to which employers own employees’ lives, including their time, moral attitudes, sense of worth, social life and personal well being;
• The financial dependency employees have on their employers.
I think these are the main ones. There may be more, but it’s surprising how few points you can distil the jobs paradigm down to despite, or maybe because of, its impact on our lives. It may be its simplicity that gives it so much power – it is simple enough for us to clearly understand the apparent importance of us having a job, and jobs being readily available, but the Veil of Ignorance allows things to be turned against us very effectively.
“People who purposely abuse their paid working time are stealing from their employers, just as they would be if they stole money or products,” says Robert Half, the employment expert who first identified – and named – time theft. “And time is a commodity that can never be replaced, replenished or restored.”13
There is something remarkably sinister about this statement, but as far as employers are concerned “time theft” is a deeply undesirable fact of working life. The especially sinister aspect of this you already know; “time theft” as named by Robert Half, is quite the reverse of the Tool of Disconnection called “Steal Our Time” – taking back our time from the masters we serve in our place of work is undermining, and it is the first step towards employment liberty. Read the next passage and you will see immediately how many ways you can quickly and easily start liberating yourself from the job culture.
He also announced the results of a nationwide survey of leading corporations. According to the personnel directors and top management executives who were interviewed, the major types of time theft [sic] are, in order:
1. Constant socializing with other employees and excessive personal phone calls [this was in 1988, so very little email and internet access]. The largest form of time theft by far.
2. Faking illness and claiming unwarranted “sick days”.
3. Inordinately long lunch breaks and coffee breaks.
4. Habitual late arrival and/or early departure.
5. Using the company’s time and premises to operate another business [or, presumably other non-job activities].
6. Creating the need for overtime by slowing down during normal hours.14
All of the above apart from the last are ways of taking time back from your job in order to use it more productively – yes, I’m aware of the irony. The last one seems to be the reverse except for the opportunity of screwing your employer for more money. Taken in isolation and with a level of secrecy, then you are just undermining the effect of a job upon yourself, perhaps easing yourself out of the job trap slowly; making a few mental snips and crossing the odd line as to what is ethical. With less secrecy, shared within a group of trusted colleagues perhaps, this becomes a combination of collective personal undermining and making whatever employer you work for operate less efficiently – as the man said above.
Moving further outwards, a concerted effort to encourage dissent among multiple people in multiple places of wage slavery could be carried out under the blanket of “anonymity” (remember the provisos, employers love sneaking around on social networks) maybe in the form of a blog: “The Rebellious Wage Slave” to pluck a title out of the air. “Work to Rule” carries with it the political stigma of extended trade disputes in many parts of the world, however well intended, so maybe a change in terminology is needed to make these ideas more attractive to a wider range of people: I can’t imagine there are many people who don’t want to take their lives back from their job, however dependent they feel upon it. The possibilities of this rule bending and reverse time-stealing are numerous, and have great potential to disrupt the industrial economy, either by themselves or in combination with other activities. Undermining in a social context may be more appealing as a “package” of actions. One example of this was proposed by the Global Strike 2011 movement, an unfortunately abortive attempt to take time and wealth from under the feet of the corporate elites:
There is a way we can collectively fight back against environmentally destructive multinational corporations. A coordinated global general strike and boycott, combined with personal preparedness, in sufficient numbers, can cause a great deal of economic disruption. The best tactic? Non-participation. A multi pronged strategy will be most effective:
1. BOYCOTT: All corporate products, beginning with Coke, McDonalds, ADM, and Monsanto. Reduce to eliminate your consumption of gasoline. You can start this now. Lawsuits: The more of their resources are devoted to circular legal action, which is expensive, the more is taken out of their budget without producing anything. File lawsuits of every kind (class action, environmental damage, labor rights).
2. STRIKE: The first week of July 2011. Take your vacation time, sick leave, organize your union to strike at this time. Spend time with family at home! The main thing is: DON’T BUY ANYTHING FOR ONE WEEK. Continue as long as possible, buy the gasoline you will need for a week at least.
3. PREPARE: Learn what wild foods are available to you, identify them, and eat them. Start a garden, organize within your community to become as food self sufficient as possible. Store durable food a little at a time so you have a large supply by July. Plan many crops that will begin to bear by the first week of July.15
Reading through the proposal, there is an element of muddled thinking here; the overall aims are well targeted, but suggesting not buying anything for a week (an excellent idea) in the same point as taking time off dilutes the “Global Strike” concept. Buying enough gasoline for a week, while at the same time trying to eliminate its use, is contradictory. In undermining it is important to be clear about what you want to achieve and how you are going to achieve it, even if you may not get there all at once. You have an audience so speak to them in way they understand and will appreciate the sense of.
There is an obvious limit to how far you can take this, individually and collectively, which is the point your employer sacks you. That is why it is so important to have already rid yourself of the worst financial burdens, taking you to a point where you are prepared to risk losing your job. It is no longer enough to rely on a union to protect someone working to rule or striking; workers are as disposable as they are essential, and the Western economy’s employment situation heading into virtually unknown territory as I write this is only likely to tip companies even more towards the “disposable” end as increasing numbers of jobs are exported to even cheaper, newly brainwashed lands.
As we approach the possibility of any rebellion in the workplace leading to termination one has to ask oneself, “Why should I put up with this?” There is a point at which exploitation becomes unbearable and the temptation to simply walk away from work becomes far more appealing than staying on to face another day working for The Man. As activist Ben DeVries wrote: “If you stop participating in your slavery, you will stop being a slave.”16
A Reminder: Why We Are Doing This
There is no need to feel guilty; you are doing a wonderful thing. The Undermining of the industrial system must have seemed an impossibility at the beginning, but now it’s becoming a reality it’s tempting to feel a little tug in the gut, like you’re dangling a hated enemy over the edge of a cliff as they cry out for one more chance. They lie; they all lie, because lies are how they allowed this to happen, lies are what made you a willing partner in all this. Do you need another reason?
If any [spoon-billed sandpiper] chicks do survive, they must undertake one of the most perilous journeys of any migratory bird: 8,000km (5,000 miles) to their wintering grounds in Myanmar and Bangladesh. On the way they pass through the world’s industrial powerhouses – Japan, China and South Korea – where the reclamation of coastal wetlands for economic development is proceeding at a terrifying rate. To make matters worse, if the sandpipers do reach their wintering grounds, poor local communities trap them for food. It’s hardly surprising the spoon-billed sandpiper is heading for extinction.17
The destruction of those wetlands is because of the industrial world’s hunger for cheap and plentiful consumer goods and a lifestyle that mimics that which the West has sold to the rest of the world in order to make even more money.
A researcher with Survival International, the London-based human rights organisation, returned to the UK last month with transcripts of interviews with the Penan conducted deep in the jungle. According to one headman, called Matu, hunters were increasingly returning empty handed. “When the logging started in the Nineties, we thought we had a big problem,” he complained. “But when oil palm arrived [in 2005], logging was relegated to problem No 2. Our land and our forests have been taken by force.
“Our fruit trees are gone, our hunting grounds are very limited, and the rivers are polluted, so the fish are dying. Before, there were lots of wild boar around here. Now, we only find one every two or three months. In the documents, all of our land has been given to the company.”
“There were no discussions,” said another Penan. “The company just put up signs saying the government had given them permission to plant oil palm on our land.”18
Palm oil monoculture is the next attempt by the industrial system to suck every last “resource” out of what was once a genuinely rich and important resource for the ecosystems of South East Asia and the indigenous people that directly depend upon them.
We reached the edge of the oil spill near the Nigerian village of Otuegwe after a long hike through cassava plantations. Ahead of us lay swamp. We waded into the warm tropical water and began swimming, cameras and notebooks held above our heads. We could smell the oil long before we saw it – the stench of garage forecourts and rotting vegetation hanging thickly in the air. The farther we travelled, the more nauseous it became. Soon we were swimming in pools of light Nigerian crude, the best quality oil in the world. One of the many hundreds of 40-year-old pipelines that crisscross the Niger delta had corroded and spewed oil for several months.
Forest and farmland were now covered in a sheen of greasy oil. Drinking wells were polluted and people were distraught. No one knew how much oil had leaked. “We lost our nets, huts and fishing pots,” said Chief Promise, village leader of Otuegwe and our guide. “This is where we fished and farmed. We have lost our forest. We told Shell of the spill within days, but they did nothing for six months.”
More oil is spilled from the delta’s network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico, the site of a major ecological catastrophe caused by oil that has poured from a leak triggered by the explosion that wrecked BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig.19
A distant land, if you are lucky enough not to have to live in this (S)hellhole. Yet 40% of all oil imported by the USA comes from the Niger delta, neatly tucked away from media scrutiny and our minds, disconnected in a way only the “need” for unlimited oil can make us.
So, do you want to give the system another chance, or should we undermine it?
Task 9: No Confidence
Is damaging Consumer Confidence an act of terrorism? I think that’s a perfectly rational question that covers a lot of ground in what matters to Industrial Civilization. First, it’s worth considering what is meant by “terrorism”. A dictionary definition is irrelevant here because the meaning is not so much a function of any particular action, as a reflection of what is considered “terror”; or, more accurately, what we are told “terror” means.
Given the determination of the Canadian government to publicly cast aside any concept of environmental protection in favour of promoting polluting industries in recent years (at least they are honest, if brutally so) it seems appropriate to use their definitions of what construes terrorism. The Anti-terrorism Act of 2008 defines “Terrorist Activity” in two separate ways20: first a restatement of various international definitions based on treaties that Canada is a signatory of, such as the International Convention against the Taking of Hostages and the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings; second, a much more localised view of what the government in power at the time, or rather their paymasters, consider to be Terrorist Activity. The first is contentious in that certain aspects of treaties such as the “financing of terrorist groups” and “unlawful acts against” are open to interpretation, particularly in the heat of battle, as it were. More pertinent, though, are the localised definitions, some of the more interesting which I have highlighted:
Paragraph 83.01(1)(b) of the Code provides that a “terrorist activity” consists of:
(b) an act or omission, in or outside Canada,
(i) that is committed
(A) in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause, and
(B) in whole or in part with the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public, with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act, whether the public or the person, government or organization is inside or outside Canada, and
(ii) that intentionally
(A) causes death or serious bodily harm to a person by the use of violence,
(B) endangers a person’s life,
(C) causes a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or any segment of the public,
(D) causes substantial property damage, whether to public or private property, if causing such damage is likely to result in the conduct or harm referred to in any of clauses (A) to (C), or
(E) causes serious interference with or serious disruption of an essential service, facility or system, whether public or private, other than as a result of advocacy, protest, dissent or stoppage of work that is not intended to result in the conduct or harm referred to in any of clauses (A) to (C), and includes a conspiracy, attempt or threat to commit any such act or omission, or being an accessory after the fact or counselling in relation to any such act or omission, but, for greater certainty, does not include an act or omission that is committed during an armed conflict and that, at the time and in the place of its commission, is in accordance with customary international law or conventional international law applicable to the conflict, or the activities undertaken by military forces of a state in the exercise of their official duties, to the extent that those activities are governed by other rules of international law.
It is no surprise at all that the Act does not define any military activity as terrorism; more surprisingly is the exemption of more symbolic activities such as protests and strikes from the definition, suggesting that such activities are not considered a great threat to the successful running of the industrial machine. What is worth noting, in full, is the section I have highlighted, now concatenated for clarity:
A “terrorist activity” consists of an act or omission, in or outside Canada that is committed in whole or in part for a political or ideological purpose, objective or cause, and in whole or in part with the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public, with regard to its economic security, or compelling a person to do or refrain from doing any act, that intentionally causes serious interference with or serious disruption of an essential service, facility or system, whether public or private and includes a conspiracy, attempt or threat to commit any such act or omission, or being an accessory after the fact or counselling in relation to any such act or omission.
Basically, undermining economic security is a Terrorist Act. I’m not surprised, but look again and you see that there are all sorts of related activities, including encouraging people to actively carry out such acts and even discouraging them from doing things that may prevent economic harm, that fit into this definition. The definition of “essential service, facility or system” is broad to the point of absurdity, and I know from experience that in the UK, for instance, financial exchanges and clearing houses are considered to be “essential services” as are the data centres they depend upon and the programs that run on the computer systems hosted in those data centres on behalf of those exchanges and clearing houses. Stop a computer program in a stock exchange and you are a terrorist.
Now take a breath. We have very quickly uncovered a potentially huge problem; on the other hand, when a colleague of mine inadvertently shut down an entire data centre by stepping on a broom and hitting the Emergency Power Off button, he wasn’t carted off to the Old Bailey; we just apologised to the various departments and customers, made it less easy to trigger the button and gave the room a good tidy up (without the broom). It seems that the key here is intent: do you intend to cause an Act of Terrorism, or are you simply doing what is moral and good. What is moral and good for some will be considered an Act of Terrorism by others.
Ok, think of the scenario many pages back of shutting off the polluting factory on the river’s edge in order to protect the people that depend on that river for food. On one hand we have the “essential facility” carrying out its legal right to pollute, which shutting down would constitute an Act of Terrorism; on the other hand we have the people having their lives endangered (see clause ii(B) above) by the polluting factory which if it continued would constitute an Act of Terrorism. The point is, this has simply never been properly tested; and likely never will be because such an event would publicly expose the contradiction between state and corporate sponsored terrorism, and that which is considered terrorism by the corporate controlled state.
So, what is the relevance of Consumer Confidence here? In 1985 the Conference Board, a highly influential industry body, started formally recording public confidence in the economy using the Consumer Confidence Index21. At the point of inception it was given a baseline value of 100, in the same way as major trading indices such as FTSE and Dow Jones are. At the time of writing the CCI stands at a lowly 39.8, down from a high of nearly 145 early in 2000. Other indices of confidence show a very similar pattern, and across the industrial world these indices are taken very seriously indeed.
Manufacturers, retailers, banks and the government monitor changes in the CCI in order to factor in the data in their decision making processes. While index changes of less than 5% are often dismissed as inconsequential, moves of 5% or more often indicate a change in the direction of the economy. A month-on-month decreasing trend suggests consumers have a negative outlook on their ability to secure and retain good jobs. Thus, manufacturers may expect consumers to avoid retail purchases, particularly large ticket items that require financing. Manufacturers may pare down inventories to reduce overhead and/or delay investing in new projects and facilities. Likewise, banks can anticipate a decrease in lending activity, mortgage applications and credit card use.22
Formal measures of Consumer Confidence affect government and business policies to such an extent that a false reading could be catastrophic for particular sectors of the economy, such as futures and options markets and those which rely on people incurring debt. The first thing to explore must be whether it is possible to do something as blatant as manipulating the various indices of confidence in order to hold back, or even cause to contract, vulnerable sectors.
For instance, we can safely say that the automobile industry is heavily dependent on consumer confidence. It is also one of the worst greenwashing offenders, and has a huge, destructive infrastructure dependent upon and depended upon by this industry (e.g. road construction, metals, oil production and distribution, vehicle parts and servicing, tourism, publications and so on). This makes the automobile industry – a major contributor to the economies of many countries – an ideal target of undermining both from an ethical and an effectiveness point of view. So, let’s suppose it was possible to manipulate confidence indices to such an extent that the auto industry, and those ancillary industries, had to dramatically rein back their activities in order to remain solvent. The effects would be immediate and dramatic, for not only would production and consumption be reduced, but we would also see government income forecasts affected, the share prices of the impacted companies going down leading to further downstream impacts, a reduction of investment in related industrial infrastructure and other effects that would cause a net contraction of the auto industry. All of this simply from a faked-up confidence forecast.
Such a grand effect is only likely if the source data or at least the source documents are sufficiently changed, but because the global industrial system is so interconnected and delicately balanced, with barely a buffer in place, even manipulating the forecasts to a single industrial sector or a major corporation could be significant. Even misreporting is potentially damaging: a suggestion of a corporate buyout in one major news outlet can affect share prices, and a nicely orchestrated rumour that the confidence indices have been manipulated to give overly good news (you might call this Reverse Undermining) would have the same effect as a reputable forecaster giving “bad” news. Here we again enter the realms of fake press releases, telephone calls and emails here which, if targeted cleverly, perhaps to a few ambitious politicians or trigger happy financial pundits, could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Just as a rumour of food shortages and potential terrorism can cause panic buying, resulting in huge profits for some; rumours of other types can cause the reverse. In 2003 an outbreak of the SARS virus in Canada, which caused the deaths of 44 people (compare this to seasonal influenza which causes 700 to 2500 deaths per year in Canada23) had a significant effect on the Canadian economy:
The Canadian Tourism Commission…estimated SARS will cost the Canadian economy $519 million in 2003 alone and $722 million between 2003 and 2006. It says Canada lost 662,000 occupied room nights in the month of April 2003 – translating into an estimated $92 million loss of revenue. The CTC estimates the bleak picture is the same for the tourism job sector, where losses are estimated at 5,300 for 2003, with 7,350 jobs lost between 2003 and 2006.
“We are seeing a slower rate of growth than we had forecast at the time of the budget,” [federal Finance Minister John] Manley told reporters on April 23. “We’re seeing continuing softness in the U.S. economy and one is hopeful as some of the uncertainty declines we’ll see a pickup in growth later in the year.”
But J.P. Morgan economist Ted Carmichael put a number on it. He dropped his economic forecast for the second quarter by between one and 1.5 percentage points (which puts his growth projection for the quarter at one per cent). He said hospitality and tourism would be the hardest hit sectors.24
I am certainly not advocating causing a major public health scare (although tabloid newspapers seem to get away with this on an almost daily basis) let alone actually causing a public health incident, but it is interesting to recall how the fear of something alone can cause a change in behaviour. Thus, if it were rumoured that a particular mass production toy was an immediate threat to children’s health – which, for the people who make it, it certainly is – then the sales of that toy would inevitably fall, to the chagrin of the manufacturers, retailers and perhaps the entire toy industry. If that rumour can be worded in such a way that local makers of traditional toys are unaffected, or even benefitted, then we have achieved two undermining tasks in one. The potential of rumours and speculation on economic confidence is unlimited.
To take this a stage further, we can take advantage of an obvious feedback loop which occurs in such situations: low public confidence causes a falling of consumer confidence indices which is reported back to the public which in turn causes a further fall in confidence. Governments, in particular, try to intervene in such a situation by pumping out “good news” about job creation, their own forecasts (“green shoots are appearing”), the possibility of tax cuts, and so on; but the media invariably follow the Grim Reaper line which further exacerbates the situation. By undermining the credibility of politicians it is thus probable that such government intervention will fall on deaf ears. As was seen in the British MPs Expenses Scandal of 2009, it only takes a few second homes and rogue duck houses to dent the reputation of a whole institution.
Finally, we have to take a few lines up on large-scale market interactions and the potential for using credit ratings as an undermining tool, simply because to ignore the big picture would be to ignore a potentially huge target. If you aren’t already dozing then this might be of some interest, although from an Underminer’s point of view there are two major impediments to directly undermining anything on as large a scale as a major corporation or a national economy. First, the places to intervene, to use Donella Meadows’ terminology, are limited – if you aren’t “in the system” then your actions are unlikely to be taken seriously. Second, the potential for undermining is limited to those institutions which are already hurting, which may be a perfectly acceptable outcome, but at potentially great personal risk. Institutional Credit Ratings are used by bond traders, in particular, to assess the credit-worthiness of the institutions they wish to purchase debt from (a bond is simply a purchase of debt in exchange for a regular interest payment). The largest ratings agencies, Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s, are taken very seriously by investors so, in theory, a change in the rating of a corporation such as a bank or even an entire national treasury is big news affecting how likely investors are to lend to them. In practice it is only “downgrades” (which incidentally are what we would be interested in) that are significant in altering investor behaviour, and really only downgrades at the lower end of the spectrum (the “Speculative Grade” ratings) cause a reduction in lending anything close to the 3-5% needed to make an institution flounder25. An investor is likely to only take information about these changes directly from the agencies, so a high level of infiltration would be required, and then it would only be relevant if the institution in question was already in a precipitous state. Still, if the opportunity should ever arise then it would be possible, in theory, to damage an entire nation’s economy with just one rogue report.
As I write the European Union is facing a financial crisis far beyond anything it has ever had to deal with before: entire economies are already on the verge of collapse. By following the suicidal model of trying to create profit off the back of debt the system has backed itself to the edge of a cliff; one false move and it falls. In such a wonderful moment of economic liberation we have to seize the moment with both hands, and not let anyone take the initiative from our grasp.
CLICK FOR CHAPTER 7 (PART 3)
1 There are other types of corporation, such as in the UK where “corporation” more commonly means a body created by royal statute and the term “company” is more usual to describe profit-making entities, but in the case of this book, a corporation is a profit-making business.
2 George Carlin, “Back In Town”, HBO Special first broadcast in 1996. Extract is from a segment entitled “Why I Don’t Vote”.
3 The Bible and Qur’an seem to make a special point of casting moneylenders into the deepest pits of hell, with frequent mention of the word “usury” (the charging of interest on a loan) in particular. This extract from The Bible is typical:
1 Look! The LORD is about to destroy the earth
and make it a vast wasteland.
He devastates the surface of the earth
and scatters the people.
2 Priests and laypeople,
servants and masters,
maids and mistresses,
buyers and sellers,
lenders and borrowers,
bankers and debtors—none will be spared.
3 The earth will be completely emptied and looted.
The LORD has spoken!
(Isaiah 24, verses 1-3, Holy Bible, New Living Translation, 2004.)
The Qur’an is even more scathing:
Those who consume interest cannot stand [on the Day of Resurrection] except as one stands who is being beaten by Satan into insanity. That is because they say, “Trade is [just] like interest.” But Allah has permitted trade and has forbidden interest. So whoever has received an admonition from his Lord and desists may have what is past, and his affair rests with Allah. But whoever returns to [dealing in interest or usury] – those are the companions of the Fire; they will abide eternally therein.
(Surat Al-Baqarah 2:275, Qur’an, Sahih International Translation).
4 “Will US Consumer Debt Reduction Cripple The Economy?”, McKinsey & Company, 2009, http://www.mckinsey.com/mgi/reports/pdfs/us_consumers/MGI_US_consumers_full_report.pdf (accessed October 2011). Short answer: “Yes”.
5 From The Daily Telegraph, 5 October 2011 (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/8808294/David-Cameron-rewrites-conference-speech-after-credit-card-gaffe.html : accessed October 2011):
“The comment sparked concern among retailers and economists, with the British Retail Consortium warning that urging people to ”retrench” was ”at odds with promoting growth”. The Institute for Public Policy Research think tank said that if consumers took the PM at his word, the UK economy would be ”in real trouble”, shrinking significantly over the years to come.”
6 Saul Alinsky, “Rules for Radicals”, Random House, 1971.
7 A large part of this section derives from an article entitled “Throwing off the Shackles of Debt” by Sharon Astyk, Guy McPherson, Dave Pollard and Keith Farnish, http://thesietch.org/mysietch/keith/2010/03/01/monthly-undermining-task-march-2010-throwing-off-the-shackles-of-debt/ (accessed October 2011). This was a collaborative work made all the more powerful by the four different versions, customised for the authors’ individual websites.
8 Scott Pierpoint, “Disobeying the Banks: An Interview with Enric Duran”, Institute for Anarchist Studies, http://anarchist-studies.org/node/429 (accessed January 2012).
9 “Australian coal miners predict at least $3/mt hit from new carbon tax”, Platts, http://www.platts.com/RSSFeedDetailedNews/RSSFeed/Coal/8451916 (accessed October 2011).
10 Mick Whale, “As BAE threatens cuts…Fight for Jobs!”, The Socialist, http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/688/12920/05-10-2011/as-bae-threatens-cuts-fight-for-jobs (accessed October 2011).
11 The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection, MIT Press / Semiotext(e):
“À force, on a compris ceci : ce n’est pas l’économie qui est en crise, c’est l’économie qui est la crise; ce n’est pas le travail qui manque, c’est le travail qui est en trop. En France, on fait des pieds et des mains pour grimper dans la hiérarchie, mais on se flatte en privé de n’en ficher pas une. On reste jusqu’à dix heures du soir au boulot quand on est débordé, mais on n’a jamais eu de scrupule à voler de-ci de-là du matériel de bureau, ou à ponctionner dans les stocks de la boîte des pièces détachées qu’à l’occasion on revend. On déteste les patrons, mais on veut à tout prix être employé. Avoir un travail est un honneur, et travailler une marque de servilité. Bref : le parfait tableau clinique de l’hystérie. L’horreur du travail est moins dans le travail lui-même que dans le ravage méthodique, depuis des siècles, de tout ce qui n’est pas lui: familiarités de quartier, de métier, de village, de lutte, de parenté, attachement à des lieux, à des êtres, à des saisons, à des façons de faire et de parler.”
Also available for download at http://tarnac9.wordpress.com/texts/the-coming-insurrection/ (accessed October 2011).
12 Keith Farnish, “What If…We Stopped Using Money?”, http://earth-blog.bravejournal.com/entry/60133 (accessed October 2011).
13 Weekly World News, October 24, 1989, quoted in Martin Sprouse, Sabotage In The American Workplace, AK Press, 1992.
14 Op cit.
15 Global Strike 2011, http://globalstrike2011.blogspot.com/2011/02/global-strike-2011.html (accessed October 2011). The project was perhaps doomed to failure, partly because the context was wrong – people wanted to hang onto to their jobs so were loath to strike – but mainly because there wasn’t sufficient coverage. Had this converged with the growth of the Occupy Movement in late 2011 then it would perhaps have formed a rallying point for a lot of people. This demonstrates the importance of context with large-scale undermining.
16 Personal communication.
17 Stephen Moss, “Why the spoon-billed sandpiper’s luck might change”, The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/oct/16/saving-the-spoon-billed-sandpiper (accessed October 2011).
18 Martin Hickman, “The guilty secrets of palm oil: Are you unwittingly contributing to the devastation of the rain forests?”, The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/the-guilty-secrets-of-palm-oil-are-you-unwittingly-contributing-to-the-devastation-of-the-rain-forests-1676218.html (accessed October 2011).
19 John Vidal, “Nigeria’s agony dwarfs the Gulf oil spill. The US and Europe ignore it”, The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/30/oil-spills-nigeria-niger-delta-shell (accessed October 2011).
20 Text of “Anti-terrorism Act 2008” from http://justice.gc.ca/antiter/sheetfiche/terrordefp1-terreurdefp1-eng.asp#tfpotdota (accessed October 2011).
21 Consumer Confidence Index, The Conference Board, http://www.conference-board.org/data/consumerconfidence.cfm (accessed October 2011).
22 James McWhinney, “Understanding the Consumer Confidence Index”, http://www.investopedia.com/articles/05/010604.asp (accesed October 2011).
23 Barbara Sibbald, “Estimates of flu-related deaths rise with new statistical models”, CMAJ March 18, 2003 vol. 168 no. 6.
24 “The Economic Impact of SARS”, CBC News Online, 2003, http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/sars/economicimpact.html (accessed October 2011).
25 The 3-5% figure is a widely recognised measure of the level of growth required for a company or national economy to remain viable; any less and things start to become tricky for the institution leading to job cuts, further borrowing and potential takeover / collapse. Ratings information derived from Philippe Jorion and Gaiyan Zhang , “Information Effects of Bond Rating Changes: The Role of the Rating Prior to the Announcement”, Journal of Fixed Income, Spring 2007, Vol. 16, No. 4.
Version 1.01, published 24 October, 2012