The Revenge of Milo Minderbinder

(3 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Milo informed him solemnly. “A strong Egyptian-cotton speculating industry means a much stronger America.”…

“You see?” said Yossarian. “You’re much better at it than I am. You almost make it sound true.”

– Joseph Heller, Catch-22

 The price of Egyptian cotton, now at its highest level since post-Civil War Reconstruction, is causing concern on Wall Street.

 Despite the fact that Egypt doesn’t produce much oil, the price of crude oil has now reached $103 a barrel, and Egypt’s protesters are being blamed.

 “Economic interests have been exposed to real danger,” Al Desouky said.

 If there is one thing that we can be certain of, as far as the financial markets are concerned it’s never a good time for people to demand basic human rights and dignity. Financial markets tend to applaud military coups, and frown on popular democracy.

 The trick is recognizing that the financial markets only represent a very small, elite, section of society.

  Unlike the way the American news media has represented the events in Egypt, this isn’t the work of people trying to copy Tunisia. The main underlying cause of protests in Egypt is poverty. The protests are anything but spontaneous. They have been building for years through the local labor unions.

 The communications technology used by members of the “April 6th Youth Movement” to organize the current protest had its genesis in 2008 when a Facebook group called “April 6,” used internet activism, social networking and text messaging to snowball support for a strike by 25,000 workers at a textile plant in Malhalla, about an hour north of Cairo.

  The walkout was quickly crushed, its leaders beaten and imprisoned.  But the audacity of the workers and the friends they discovered proved contagious and led to an increase in what was already an unprecedented wave of work stoppages in a country where the only “union” is government controlled. In 2009 and 2010, the wave of strikes continued, including work stoppages by more textile workers, janitors, cleaners, railroad workers and education administrators.

 The labor unrest followed a 2004 decision by the Egyptian government to follow the neoliberal economic model of austerity when it came to basic necessities for the poor. That very same Egyptian cotton that Milo Minderbinder loved so much became a symbol of enslavement.

 Workers were thrown out of their jobs and lost their pensions.  Prices skyrocketed. Families averaging $2 a day in income saw their purchasing power whacked in half. Meanwhile, upper-class businessmen and government officials piled up fortunes under the “American model” and began building gated communities in the suburbs, where huge mansions daily remind the poor and the working class of their inability to feed their children, hundreds of thousands of whom are forced to work in the country’s cotton fields and “carpet schools.”

 The financial markets absolutely loved seeing the working class of Egypt crushed. There’s nothing like a crushed labor union and wage cuts to send stock prices spiking higher.

“With a devotion of purpose above and beyond the call of duty, he had then raised the price of food in the mess hall that all the officers and enlisted men had to turn over all their pay to him in order to eat.

 “Their alternative – there was an alternative, of course, since Milo detested coercion and was a vocal champion of freedom of choice – was to starve.”

 – Joseph Heller’s Catch-22

 On the other side of the coin there is the rising cost of living. The price of rice, the food of the poor, is now at its highest point since 2008. This is despite rice inventories surging is many places around the world.

  World food prices are now significantly higher than any point since records have been kept. This is despite healthy harvests and large stockpiles of grains in most places around the globe.

 Experts point out that, in theory, the situation is not as bad as in 2007 to 2008, when the world faced a genuine shortage of food. This time around there are plenty of stocks, particularly wheat, that are being stored…

  In the run-up to the 2007/2008 food price crisis, the World Bank estimated that some 870 million people in developing countries were hungry or malnourished. The FAO estimates that number has increased to 900 million.

 Ah, yes. Things aren’t “as bad” as 2008 because we have more food this time. Just ignore the fact that more people are starving than before. You can see where the financial markets “experts” put their priorities.

Instead of people starving because there is a shortage of food. People are starving because financial speculators have bid up the price of food in an effort to make a profit. Famine in a land of plenty. Milo Minderbinder would be proud.

 And then they wonder why people are upset in Egypt.

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 When the financial markets are happy, it usually means that the bad guys are winning. A strike has been broken. Mass layoffs. A democratic movement crushed.

 When the financial markets are unhappy, it usually means the bad guys are losing. A dictator is overthrown. A strike was successful. Wages are rising.

 Yet when you watch the news they report the financial markets like you are supposed to be happy that they are happy. In fact, your interests and their interests are diametrically opposite. It’s sort of like when Yossarian found a “share of the syndicate” where his parachute should be.

 Once you realize that and accept it, watching the news becomes a surreal experience that Joseph Heller would appreciate.


Skip to comment form

    • gjohnsit on February 3, 2011 at 19:03

    The world looks insane unless you are already crazy.

    • Edger on February 3, 2011 at 19:51

    Interesting congruence here to me at least. On the first blog I ever set up, one of the taglines I used was “The opposite of conventional wisdom is the likely truth of most things

    The one other tagline I used was:

    The Edge… There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.

    — Hunter S. Thompson

    Excellent post, gjohnsit!

    • RUKind on February 4, 2011 at 00:08

    They produced enough food to export to Britain but were unable to afford to feed themselves with what they had grown and raised. So they migrated to America en masse – or starved to death with green tongues from eating the roadside grass.

    It’s the British model. I don’t know if it was John Locke or whoever that defined it but the people/things that exercise it to its extremes exist everywhere. And they just love it.

    • Edger on February 4, 2011 at 00:15

    Feb 02:

  1. I loved it when I read (and reread) it many years ago…definitely time to get another copy & check it out again.

  2. Great job, gjohnsit!  Thanks!

  3. Is that if we want to have a pension or a retirement fund we have to invest in the bastards that are out to crucify us.

    My Exxon stock is up (oil is the only currency really worth anything).

    I feel so good that my SEP is growing for a change.

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