Thursday, December 15, 2011

End of the Age of Exploitation

I'm reading a history of India right now.  It's a Marxist history so it views everything through a lens of colonialism and exploitation.  The Brits, you see, cleverly disturbed the traditional land-ownership and tax payment in India.  They replaced "corrupt" officials with their own chaps who racked up the rent and the taxes on the poor suffering Indian peasants.  Of course the peasants rebelled, time after time.  On this view, in India's Struggle for Independence by Bipan Chandra, the Rebellion of "mutiny" of 1857 "was the culmination of a century long tradition of fierce popular resistance to British domination."

The interesting thing is that, up until about 1850, the Brits summarily dealt with rebellions.  They put them down, "with prejudice," as the phrase goes, and then went on their merry way, making more money out of India.  They were quite happy to exploit the Indians to the limit.  Their indigo planters were representative.  These chaps farmed out the cultivation of indigo plants to the natives, and then paid them next to nothing.  Not surprisingly, in 1859, there occurred an "indigo revolt."

But this time the Brit overlords took a look at the situation and decided that the revolters had a point.  Then in the 1880s the Indian intelligentsia formed the Indian National Congress and developed the idea of India as a nation and began to organize Indians of all faiths and castes in an all-India movement against the British.  Then, you might say, it was all a matter of time.

The important thing to realize is the novelty of all this.  Go back to 1800 and you have Arthur Wellesley happily marching troops all over central India in a war against the Maratha Confederacy.  There was no scandal about that.  But by 1857 the Indian Mutiny was a scandal, and the question of exploitation was an issue, and the British were ashamed.

Let's say that, between 1750 and 1850, the world changed.  Let's say that it reflected the rise of middle-class intellectuals and the bourgeoisie and the "public square".  These chaps had a different world-view than the landed warrior class that ruled up to the moment of the French Revolution.  There was a religious side to the change that was manifest in the anti-slavery movement.  And there was a secular side of it, that erupted in the French Revolution and the baby-boomers of the 1840s.

After 1850, therefore, exploitation--of slaves, of workers, of colonial peoples, of "others" became a scandal.  The century from 1850 to 1950 was the Age of Exploitation.  Everyone railed against exploitation, and the most notorious railers, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, created the most exploitative societies in human history.

And now, I would argue, the Age of Exploitation is about to disappear onto the ash-heap of history.  Why?  Because exploitation isn't just a scandal these days.  It doesn't even make sense.  It only made sense in the old agricultural age, when agricultural workers could be conveniently exploited and starved on the quiet out in the countryside.  Today, we are all networked and each person is a resource that makes the most money for the ruling class if they are groomed into becoming a valuable "intangible asset" for the global economy.

But here we have Osawatomie Bam Obama still sounding the old cry: "inequality" and "exploitation."  It's the last hurrah of the class warrior.  It's the last hurrah because greedy employers today realize that they can make more money with skilled employees that can deliver more product than unskilled employees that you squeeze for the last ounce of blood.

Here's the dirty secret of the class warrior.  Obama and the class warriors have to bang the drum for exploitation.  I only realized why a few months ago.  If you want a revolution, or you want to increase government power with taxes and spending and regulation, you have to argue for exploitation.  Without exploitation there is no argument for increased government power.  Without exploitation we all sit around and say, wow, what could we do better?  How could we use our capital better?  How could we improve the training of our employees. How could we improve our market position?

But the Obamas of the world are not interested in a society where there are mild or moderate problems. Because that doesn't call for force.  They want big-time exploitation that calls for men on white horses, charismatic leadership, fake Greek columns, and vast government power.  Otherwise what's the point?

2 comments:

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  2. Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.


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