Monday, August 3, 2009

Sir Thomas More and Ollie Cromwell

James Call: Expert here, fighting his window-less office headache with another round of questions from our readers!

Today in Whether Corporations Are Good, Neutral, or Evil

I wanted to just quickly follow up on Geoff's question because I didn't get to over the weekend.

In a nutshell: corporations are driven by the profit motive. They are indifferent to the greater good, and thus often create negative externalities, including pollution, products that cause obesity, etc. However, corporations that manufacture goods have two conflicting interests: they want to lower wage costs, on the one hand, which lower the purchasing power of the consumer (never forget that the worker = the consumer! Most Americans seem to, for some reason...), and yet, at the same time, they want to raise the purchasing power of the consumer, so they can consume more (and more expensive) goods!

This has led in large part to the growth of debtor culture in our country, wherein people live off their mortgages, credit cards, etc., while high-paying jobs are destroyed and/or replaced by lower-paying jobs overseas. This allows for a high consumption rate and a low wage policy...

...until, of course, the house of cards collapse, and we're left here. One would think that saavy corporations of the future would push for a 1940s-1970s scenario, with higher union membership (and thus higher wages/benefits), to recreate a solid consumer culture. But, of course, corporate thinking can be as entrenched as any other kind of thinking - for instance, is it rock and roll without sex and drugs? - and therefore, I wouldn't expect this change overnight.

Still, corporations CAN be made into productive, if not "good" entities. And I'd certainly argue that corporations can do what saintly "small business" cannot. I'd rather shop at a Barnes and Noble than most smaller bookstores, I have to admit. And I'd rather buy my soap from whomever makes Ivory or Dove than rely on some boutique, ne c'est pas?

However, financial institutions do not necessarily provide a productive function. They provide a speculative function. If they can be made to bet conservatively, then they greatly aid productive corporations, but if they engage in destructive speculation, then there's no other way to put it: they are BAD.

A big step towards making them behave better might be the reinstitution of the Glass-Stegall act, or something like it. More on that if you kids would like to hear.

And as always, I hope you're reading your Paul Krugman.

Today in Oliver Cromwell and Sir Thomas More

Reader "Damian" asks the following question: "It's not really a question... I just want you to explain to me Oliver Cromwell and how he relates to the other cromwell in the movie 'man for all seasons' about Thomas More, are they related?"

They are NOT related. I forget who the Cromwell in Man for All Seasons is, but Sir Thomas More was a contemporary of Henry VIII (you know, the fat man with all the wives, who started his own fucking church because the Pope wouldn't give him a divorce), and Oliver Cromwell was of course the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, who overthrew Charles I, monarch #4 after Henry VIII.

Thomas More wrote "Utopia" and was a big ol' Catholic, and this led to problems for him. The Pope would not annul Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragorn (Henry wanted a male heir which Catherine could not produce, and he was always nailing other chicks, too), because the Pope was being held hostage (true!) by Charles/Carlos V of the Hapsburgs, who was kinda the man at the time - he controlled Spain and Austria, and let's not forget that this was back when Spain was at the height of its New World power - and Catherine was Carlos' aunt.

So Henry was like "F this!" and, after being excommunicated, made it the law of the land that Catholicism, in England, was OUT, and Anglicanism, which is just like Catholicism except lame*, was IN. But Sir Thomas More was a true believer, and so, boom, off with his head. Probably served him right for being a hater against England's Protestants, pre-Henry's excommunication.

By the way, Sir Thomas More and Martin Luther's letters to each other are hella vulgar and LOL-worthy and some dude or gal put 'em on wikipedia, so check 'em out.

* a note: Anglicanism these days is amongst the more benign organized branches of Christianity, so much so that many very conservative African congregations are weighing whether or not to cut themselves off from the Church of England. But it is still lame because what's the point of Catholicism without a Pope? oh well...

Oliver Cromwell was a much more imposing figure. Roughly 100 years after More's time. Cromwell was basically a military guy and a member of Parliament when Parliament got in a spat with Charles I over its prerogatives. Charles was like, "Shut up, I'm the king, leave me along, see you in 11 years," and Parliament grew some cojones and rounded up their own army which took it to Charles, resulting in his execution. This is how the Commonwealth of England was born (not the same as today's Commonwealth, which includes Canadians).

The Parliament ruled for a little bit while Cromwell went and just killed the beejeezus out of folks in Ireland, which was still Catholic (oops) even when the rest of England had Anglicanized it up, and was harboring the exiled royalists. While Cromwell was gone, Parliament dicked around as parliaments are wont to do, and when Cromwell get back, he shut the place down by force, and the Protectorate came to be, with Cromwell declared Lord Protector... for LIFE! He had more power than Charles I ever had.

Thankfully, he eventually died, and his son Richard lost power so quickly they called him "Tumbledown Dick". And then the monarchy came back, under Charles II, but this was a much more mellow monarchy, with Parliament being an almost-equal member of government, so I suppose just like you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, you probably can't make a model for American Representative Democracy without an Irish Genocide or two.

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