The End of Empire
This is the thirteenth of a series of blogs based on excerpts adapted from the 2nd edition of Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth. I wrote Agenda to spur a national conversation on economic policy issues and options that are otherwise largely ignored. This blog series is intended to contribute to that conversation. —DK
The George Washington statue outside the New York Stock Exchange.
Photo by Mikael Tjemsland.
In an earlier day, our rulers were kings and emperors. Now they are corporate CEOs and hedge fund managers. Wall Street isEmpire’s most recent stage. Its reign will mark the end of the tragic drama of a 5,000 year Era of Empire.
Imperial historians would have us believe that civilization, history, and human progress began with the consolidation ofdominator power in the first great empires that emerged some 5,000 years ago. Much is made of their glorious accomplishments and heroic battles.
Rather less is said about the brutalization of the slaves who built the great monuments, the racism, the suppression of women, the conversion of free farmers into serfs or landless laborers, the carnage of the battles, the hopes and lives destroyed by wave after wave of invasion, the pillage and gratuitous devastation of the vanquished, and the lost creative potential.
Nor is there mention that most all the advances that make us truly human came before the Era of Empire—including the domestication of plants and animals, food storage, and the arts of dance, pottery, basket making, textile weaving, leather crafting, metallurgy, architecture, town planning, boat building, highway construction, and oral literature.
On the Origins of Corporations
How the buccaneers and privateers ofdays past came to be the Wall Street profiteers of the present.
As the institutions of Empire took root, humans turned from a reverence for the generative power of life to a reverence for hierarchy and the power of the sword. The wisdom of the elder and the priestess gave way to the arbitrary rule of often ruthless kings. Social pathology became the norm and society’s creative energy focused on perfecting the instruments of war and domination. Priority in the use of available resources went to military, prisons, palaces, temples, and patronage.
Great civilizations were built and then swept away in successive waves of violence and destruction. War, trade, and debt served as weapons of the few to expropriate the means of livelihood of the many and reduce them to slavery or serfdom. Whole empires were subjected to the delusional hubris and debaucheries ofpsychopathic rulers.
If much of this sounds familiar, it is because in the face of the democratic challenge, the dominator cultures and institutions of Empire simply morphed into new forms.
The ideals of the American Revolution heralded the possibilities of a new era of equality and popular democratic rule, but it was a more modest beginning than we have been taught to believe. Once the former colonies gained their freedom from British rule and declared themselves the United States of America, their new leaders put aside the pronouncement of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal and enjoy a natural right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—and set about securing their own power.
The king was gone, but the Constitution they drafted with a promise to “secure the Blessings of Liberty” for “We the Peopleof the United States” effectively limited political participation to white male property owners and secured the return of escaped slaves to their designated owners. Colonial expansion followed soon after as the new nation expropriated by armed force all of the Native and Mexican lands between themselves and the distant Pacific Ocean.
Global expansion beyond U.S. territorial borders followed. The United States converted cooperative dictatorships into client states by giving their ruling classes a choice between aligning themselves with U.S. economic and political interests for a share in the booty or being eliminated by assassination, foreign-financed internal rebellion, or military invasion. Following World War II, when the classic forms of colonial rule became unacceptable, international debt became a favored instrument for forcing poorer nations to open to foreign corporate ownership and control.
We’re Number One!
America is number one in quite a few areas—but they’re not all accomplishments to be proud of.
Most of the economic, social, and environmental pathologies ofour time—including sexism, racism, economic injustice, violence, and environmental destruction—originate in the institutions ofEmpire. The resulting exploitation has reached the limits that the social fabric and Earth’s natural systems will endure.
As powerful as Wall Street appears to be, its abuse of power has so eroded the economic, social, and environmental foundations of its own existence that its fate is sealed. We the People have a choice. We can allow Wall Street to maintain its grip until it brings down the whole of human civilization in irrevocable social and environmental collapse. Or we can take control of our future andreplace the Wall Street economy with the values and institutionsof a New Economy comprised of locally owned businesses devoted to serving their communities by investing in the use of local resources to produce real goods and services responsive to local needs.
Either way, Wall Street’s days are numbered. Ours need not be.
David Korten (livingeconomiesforum.org) is the author of Agenda for a New Economy, TheGreat Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, and the international best seller When Corporations Rule the World. He is board chair of YES! Magazine and co-chair of the New Economy Working Group. This Agenda for a New Economy blog series is co-sponsored byCSRwire.com and YesMagazine.org based on excerpts from Agenda for a New Economy, 2nd edition.