Ultimately, i am interested in changing the system, a life-alienating, planet-devouring system, so i want to use my energy in ways that are most effective for that. And i wasn’t sure if leaving Facebook would be that. Sure, i wouldn’t collaborate in one small way but is that really the most important way?
A friend of mine reminded me that the cost of leaving might be far greater for me than it would be for the Facebook bottom line. Of course that’s true only if i can’t convince masses of other people to leave with me, which, based on the comments i saw on Facebook, i haven’t been able to do. People see the connections but they have convinced themselves either of their powerlessness or that Facebook contributes to them or something else… Not quite sure actually… However, seeing the response to my query about insomnia remedies earlier today, i was reminded of the cost to me: I would not have thought to ask the one person who gave me the most promising recommendations!
And then i listened to an interview with Richard Peet on finance capitalism. I got the strong sense that leaving Facebook is barking up the wrong tree: It’s not corporations like Facebook that are behind the massive problems we are facing; it’s the machine driven by finance capitalism that feeds on getting people into debt and gambling with the money of people like the owners of Facebook (as well as the rest of us, of course, though we don’t really have enough to make a dent).
Under industrial capitalism, the form of capitalism we had until the 1980s when the neoliberals came into power with Ronald Reagan, Richard Peet points out, the top 1% owned about 9% of total income, especially when there was Keynesian income redistribution in place. Now under finance capitalism, the top 1% own about 24% of total income! And that income is largely used to gamble through the help of financial institutions, which puts the economy at risk of the kinds of collapses we experienced in 2007-2010.
What enables finance capitalism? Well, first, the top 1% need to have lots of money to pour into the financial institutions. They get that money by a reduction in taxes. A huge reduction in taxes. When the US was more prosperous and there actually was a middle class, the tax system ensured income redistribution – not perfectly but way more than today. The vast income inequality gulf that exists now did not exist before Reagan. People like the Forbes 400 can only endanger our economy because of a tax system that allows them to either avoid paying taxes entirely or pay paltry amounts.
On top of that, Peet points out, the less tax revenue is generated, the less money the government has for social services, the services that could make life more liveable for most, if not all, people. Instead, the 99% (or more likely the bottom 80% or so) get squeezed further because of austerity measures to “balance the budget,” a budget that was exploded by massive subsidies to the financial industry and a budget that could easily be balanced by raising taxes just a bit on the top 5%.
How do we change all that? Richard Peet’s prognosis is not very optimistic. He thinks that things will have to get a lot worse for most of us before we will do something. The US government – the most corrupt government in the world, as he puts it – will not do anything because they have been bribed to support the financial industry. And we are being lulled into believing that things will be fine if only the rich get more tax-cuts by a media machine that spreads delusion and by consumption patterns that enslave us to debt. Maybe we’ll wake up when this all comes crashing down again and again. Let’s hope it won’t be too late then.
In the meantime, maybe we can start learning not to buy into the lies of the plutocracy. That might include that social networks are necessary for connection and business – something i am still exploring.