J is for Jeopardy

by David Kline


I have never known much good done by those affecting

to trade for the public good.

Adam Smith


A June 8th election drew 74% of Santa Clara's registered voters, showing the importance of Measure J, which was approved by 57% of the voters. It was influenced by more than $3,600,000 the 49ers spent to get those votes. Santa Clara Plays Fair, in opposition, spent $13,362. The results are disproportionate to the spending. Even though 99% of all campaign funds expended went for Yes votes, the margin of approval was just 7% of all votes cast.


Telling the truth, even in the face of a huge countervailing force, does still matter.


Measure J was just one manifestation of a quandary we face everyday. Corporations for profit amass funds obtained from investors, on a par with funds obtained by governments from taxpayers. Projects beyond the means of individuals are thus realized, providing services and commodities for taxpayers and profits for investors. Though all have a stake in such projects, the goals of investors and taxpayers differ. Corporations fulfill their charters to turn a profit, externalizing costs which the rest of us pay. Most of us say that's OK. That's capitalism, and it has made us the richest nation on earth. It has floated lots of boats. It is the "invisible" (Adam Smith) hand that has fed world populations, not just Americans, so let's not bite it. But when it comes time to pledge allegiance, some of us almost inaudibly mumble the creed: Greed is good and Money is all that matters. Corporate leaders chant loudly, finding it obvious. Others simply leave the classroom.


It is a puzzle.


A solution for some is to ignore the obvious harm caused by a myopic focus on profit. A good living can be made manipulating the media to direct our attention to floating boats, although admittedly this analogy has sprung a leak recently in the Gulf of Mexico. Some vilify the one-eyed monster and make a living exposing it as it squirts PR and buys legislators to hide itself in a legal labyrinth. But being right won't hurdle a labyrinth, even for those who have managed to follow the expose'. In fact, it excites more PR. Look at the Gulf through 50 million dollars of PR created by BP to see how this works.


Overlooked in the daily rush to commerce lies an obvious truth, key to the puzzle: Infinite expansion is not possible!

In pursuit of the constant increase in capital investment required to sustain profits, the obvious is ignored. As long as profits continue, the pending collapse goes unnoticed. Indeed, efforts to conceal it are necessary, and these are made easier if the inevitable seems generations away. But, as in a Ponzi scheme, we are duped by present gains and thus complicit in its perpetuation. The operators of the scheme are praised and seen as doing their duty, raising our boats. Special provisions are written into law, and those acting in accord cannot be called villains.


The time has come, the broker said, to speak of many things; of sinking boats, investors, corporations, and invisible kings. We must dismantle the labyrinth, make better rules better yet, see who rules.


Coming up next: The Invisible Kings.