More of us need to ‘get real’. I’m not “being negative”. My purpose is not to scold. I’m re-posting from, and recommend reading of, the full article of this Al Jazeera report on Glencore, because it will help us ‘get real’. This world needs economic systems that do what economic systems ‘theoretically’ are supposed to do. They’re supposed to serve humanity. They’re supposed to help us uplift ourselves and one another toward greater fulfillment of our astonishing potential and promise.
It’s true, economic systems have been ‘about power’ for at least 2 thousand years. It’s valid to feel ‘these human ways will never change.’ But truthful observations (of human doings), and valid feelings (“there’s no point in trying to change things”), must be checked against other (contrary) observations and feelings: “We observe humans have been able to invent and create powerful answers to powerful needs; we believe in sanctity of life, we believe in humanity’s amazing potential, we believe in the promise of a child born, we believe in challenging ourselves to respond to great need, we believe in reaching for ‘out of reach’ goals.”
When something isn’t going right we analyze it. We do this all the time, often informally, quickly, and automatically. We do it when the toaster doesn’t work. We do it when a houseplant looks poorly. We “assess” the situation based on details, facts. If the problem seems serious, we try to gather additional facts and knowledge. We seek input from someone who’s likely to have studied small appliances, or houseplants, someone who knows what she/he’s talking about. This is analytical thinking and problem solving. During analytical thinking, we demonstrate hope, belief, that improvement is possible. “No point in doing anything” is not really our ‘automatic’ response – unless, and until, that is, we’ve reached discouragement.
Now is not the time for us to be discouraged about prospects for human capacity to “fix what’s wrong with” our human practices of economic system! But it certainly is a time to ‘get real’ that we’ve got a problem.
It’s not “news” that world economies “aren’t working”, are “looking poorly”. Economic systems are not successfully distributing resources; disparity between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ is becoming extreme. Many who’ve been ‘modestly comfortable’ are ‘sliding into discomfort’. People are “on the move” as they escape unliveable conditions in hope of reaching improved conditions – and the people already living in the ‘better’ place are facing unemployment, loss of safety nets, and rising food prices. Most political unrest, waring and misery, can quickly be linked back to ‘disparitiy’ of access to resources and opportunity. None of this is news.
If you listen and/or read what hierarchical punditry is saying, you’ll hear “It’s about to get better soon.” Or – “It’ll get better if you trust me and/or vote for me.” Or – “It’ll get better if we blame the trouble on that group over there.“
If you listen and/or read what hierarchical punditry says, you will not hear: “We need to re-structure our entire approach to human economic systems.” You will not hear: “Profit-maximizing, expansionist-driven, economic models have lost their usefulness, we’re going to need to re-think the system and make deep, fundamental, change.”
The reason you won’t hear hierarchical punditry calling for radical change is that most of the pundits are like the rest of us*. They can sort out why a toaster doesn’t work, or what a houseplant needs, (like the rest of us, they have capacity for analytical problem solving when they recognize a problem.) But hierarchically placed pundits don’t live in misery or fear of misery, and don’t really “see” a “problem, beyond ‘fixing what used to work’. They’d just as soon not “get real” about critical failure in an expansionist capitalist economy that can’t work, can’t serve, 21st Century humanity). “Critical and deep analysis” threatens them. They don’t like the word ‘critical’. It sounds like ‘criticize’, and ‘criticize’ sounds like a call away from status-quo. Status-quo, from their place in the scheme of things, seems to work pretty well.
The bigger the player – whether individual or government – the more they enjoy the ‘relevance’ of their ‘wisdom’ and ‘commitment’. They are pleased to be asked to help with problems, but only if being asked doesn’t mean they have to experience any deep change. They wish other people did not experience such desperate lives, but they believe in the hierarchy, and in their role in it – the entitlement which lets them play ‘pundit’.
The article on Glencore is detailed and informative. It features Glencore, but reminds us often enough that we should realize, as we read, Glencore is an example, it is not ‘the‘ problem. Trans-national mega-corporations, even mega-corporations that stay within national borders, effectively ‘own’ most governments. (For national examples, think American Health Care). These huge financially powerful corporations have the intimate ear of policy makers when legislation is written up. In fact, their top people are often the first to be consulted by governments who want advice on ‘how to fix what’s wrong’. They ‘appreciate’ one another and often find ‘adviser’ roles for one another among the companies that operate at this level. They own much of the major news media!
Here are excerpts from Glencore: Profiteering from Hunger and Chaos. I strongly recommended readers read the full article, and use it for two purposes: (1) to give deep and analytical thought to global food pricing, and (2) as ‘model’ to understand the control over daily lives of all humanity that these companies wield.
The rapid rise in prices for food, fuel and commodities has been disastrous for the world’s poor, including Indonesian market vendor Lia Romi. But it’s a bonanza for multinational trading firms such as Glencore.
While Romi has trouble feeding her family, Glencore – the world’s largest diversified commodities trader – is planning a US$11billion share sale, likely the largest market debut ever seen on the London Stock Exchange.
“The price for our daily food has at least doubled in the past two years,” Lia Romi told Al Jazeera through a translator. “Food costs 100 per cent of my family’s daily income [of about $3]. I have nothing saved and I owe [money] from my [market stall] business.”
While Romi, and millions like her, worry about feeding their families, the initial public offering from the commodity speculating giant will create at least four billionaires, dozens worth more than $100million and several hundred old fashioned millionaires. Chief Executive Ivan Glasenberg is set to make more than $9bn from the share sale. And speculating on food prices is an important part of his wealth.
Controlling prices (excerpts)
Valued at about $60billion, Glencore controls 50 per cent of the global copper market, 60 per cent of zinc, 38 per cent in alumina, 28 per cent of thermal coal, 45 per cent of lead and almost 10 per cent of the world’s wheat – according to information the firm disclosed prior to its share sale. It also controls about one quarter of the world market in barley, sunflower and rape seed.
“Glencore’s vertical integration really is unprecedented,” said Devlin Kuyek, a researcher with GRAIN, a non-profit international organisation working on food security.
“Glencore owns almost 300,000 hectares of farm land and it is one of the largest farm operators in the world. They are engaging in speculation on the grain trade and have immense market power,” he told Al Jazeera.
Knowledge and Power (excerpts)
To make money betting on food, metals and energy, Glencore – like other trading houses and hedge funds – relies on one crucial commodity: Information.
“They have offices all over the world and unique access to information about production and distribution,” said food security researcher Kuyek. “When the people who have that information are also the ones speculating, there is grave cause for concern; they can purchase forward contracts when they know prices are going up.”
Shady Deals (excerpts)
During Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq, and the UN sanctions which accompanied its final years, Glencore made handsome profits marketing embargoed oil. In February 2001, Glencore bought 1million barrels of Iraqi crude oil destined for the US and diverted the black gold to Croatia, where it was sold for a premium of $3million, according to a UN Security Council report ….
Tony Hayward, the disgraced former BP CEO who presided over the worst oil spill in US history, has been approached by Glencore to become a non-executive director on the board of the company when it becomes public. …
Food Insecurity (excerpt)
“It seems that they are buying a stake to strengthen the UAE’s control over the global grain trade, for their own food security,” said Kuyek. “In the absence of anything meaningful being done at the international level, – except for the same prescriptions of open markets and trade liberalisation.” Food insecure countries in the Gulf, Northeast Asia, Korea and other regions are attempting to gain more direct control over food, as the market economy “can’t guarantee decent prices”, he said.
via Glencore: Profiteering from hunger and chaos – Features – Al Jazeera English.
I don’t define ‘the revised or replacement system’. There are two important steps that we need to ‘ramp up’ immediately: knowledge (as the Glencore article and other sources can give); and ‘our voice’ (during and between elections.)
Our first step is to be better informed, and through that, to ‘get real’. This Glencore article mentions names and organizations that will give information beyond Glencore. Exploring critical analysis of Monsanto is a way to increase awareness on food security issues.
Time spent reading Al Jazeera feature articles and interviews will broaden general understanding of political issues most places on earth. Using key words from any quality article for browser searching quickly leads to more sources, and more information.
It can be overwhelming. We need to learn to ‘deal’ with the avalanche of issues and research already done. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, it’s helpful to “generalize”, to get a “sense” of the dynamics of human power-at-work. If the ‘details’ escape us, that’s fine – so long as we’re ‘generally’ aware, and willing to reject snake-oil-sales pitches from punditry. With increased awareness, we’re better prepared for ‘step 2’: voice (year around), and voting.
The better we understand political-power-at-work, the better we can understand the global nature of our 21st Century. While we need to address issues of our own government, we need to appreciate the ‘whole humanity’ impact. The better we understand political-power-at-work, the better we can understand the desperation that drives mass migrations of human populations, (we’d be on the move also if our lives were so severely impacted by starvation and war). (NATO’s direct causal relationship to heavy migration into the United States is seldom described – we’re encouraged to ‘blame’ the people who arrive. Campaign ‘snake oil pitches’ encourage us to ‘look at those people’ instead of at the failing system.)
The better we understand, the better we can be strict and clear in our questions and demands to those we elect.
*Re: “the pundits are like the rest of us”. It’s helpful and most honest for us to realize how true this is. These pundits, who so enjoy their hierarchical positions of power and prestige, who resist radical change in their routines, are ‘merely being human’, and are ‘acting out’ the ‘way of life’ most of them have either been born into, or have learned to enjoy for the power and achievement. The difficulty for us, the reason we must – for sake of humanity – challenge status quo expansionist economics, becomes more clear when we see it’s the system – not the core humanity of individuals running the system – that needs deep change. The system itself is ‘the monster that rules’. It’s hierarchical (non-democratic), and denies individual value, worth, and contribution. It encourages competition for sake of ‘power-over’ and discourages collaborative cooperation of all community. Individuals ‘in charge’ may themselves also change, but in ‘essence’ it’s the system, and ‘worship’ of the system, which ‘demands’ extracting profit by any available means, and prevents generosity of spirit and intelligent revision as response to misery and deprivation. Any of us who are also ‘relatively comfortable’ will also find challenges to ourselves in changes that may be required – until we find a new, and better, balance. -MA