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To serve and protest by @BloggersRUs

To serve and protest

by Tom Sullivan

Another lengthy "natives vs. newcomers" thread on Facebook over the weekend reinforced the economic stresses people experience from inmigration of people, rising costs, and disappearance of living-wage jobs in a service-based economy. Life was better "back when," say old-timers, before the "ain't from around heres" arrived. Except back when much of downtown was boarded up. But parking? Parking was a cinch. Now downtown is crowded and parking is tough. Rents have gone up faster than paychecks. Property taxes are pricing natives out of the city limits. Developers want to put multi-story hotels on every vacant lot left in downtown. Those with generational roots in the area, in a kind of magical thinking, claim special status somehow conferred by the GIS coordinates of their birthplace. Not in this economy.

The compulsion to maximize financial returns at the expense of people is toxic for the haves as much as for the have-nots. While have-nots are busily pointing fingers at one another on Facebook for the stresses in their lives, the structure of the economic system we serve but that does not serve us goes unchallenged. We treat it as though it is somehow a product of nature rather than of flawed human design. Which is rather convenient for those who benefit from it most.

The release of the Paradise Papers exposed just "the tip of the Bilderberg" according to Brooke Harrington, Professor of Economic Sociology at Copenhagen Business School, author of "Capital Without Borders." NYC's "On the Media" spoke to Harrington for its examination of the world of wealth managers, the enablers of international wealth-hiding and tax avoidance.

The practice goes back to the Middle Ages, she says, but the profession dates back only about a quarter of a century. It exists to ensure those with wealth shield as much of it as possible from any accountability to the communities and countries from which they extract it. Yet both fawn over them so much, the uber-rich have created a kind of system where they have "representation without taxation." Wealth management involves a kind of Smithers-like subservience to the money wealth managers serve. The attitude great wealth engenders, she finds, is one of entitlement and privilege: "I have the money and you don't, so you are my puppet."

Harrington relates a story she heard from a wealth manager in Switzerland:

I had a client call me saying that I had to help her find her lost bracelet. And I said, well, do you know where you lost it? She said, well I'm outside a restaurant in London. This woman was based in Switzerland, the wealth manager. So, the client was asking her wealth manager to find a piece of jewelry that was lost in a different country. The client couldn't even name the restaurant or the street that she was on. So, somehow the wealth manager triangulated on the general location of the client, sent some people out, found the bracelet, and billed the client for it. But it was that sort of hand-holding that was astounding. What some of the people I interviewed called social work for the rich.
This system undergirds the "self-made" myth that undercuts the social contract that pays for the taxpayer-funded infrastructure that produces (and concentrates) the wealth in the first place.

"We are the product of investments that society has made in the future," Harrington says. "And until recently, the social contract has meant that we are obligated to pay forward so that other people can benefit from living in our society just as we did."

Globalization has broken that contract, as well as financialization and the vile ethos that greed grows the economy: the one we serve but does not serve us. Now, go back to fighting amongst yourselves over the crumbs.

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