Symbionts and Parasites
September 24, 2004
By Ernest Partridge, The
more than two hundred years, the American republic has grown and
flourished - politically free and economically prosperous - as its
component institutions and social classes have worked cooperatively
to the advantage of all. True, there has been class conflict and
struggle along the way, but our laws and institutions have resolved
Now an emerging class of wealthy and powerful elites, the "oligarchs,"
are about dismantle this splendid political structure, unless they
are thwarted in the upcoming election.
The following is an account of the common danger, and of how we
the people might avoid it.
For the greater part of our history, investors, managers, workers
and government have worked together to the advantage of all, albeit
this cooperative association has not been without strife from time
to time. Without investment, the workers would not have the capital
with which to produce goods or provide services. Conversely, without
the anticipation of a return on investment - the production of goods
and services by the workers - there would be nothing to produce
the nation's wealth.
In a flourishing private economy each class - investor and worker
- is wholly dependent upon its partner-class. Each flourish together,
unless one class cripples the other, in which case they fail together.
This is an elementary fact, taught in any Econ. 101 class. Yet
the emergent class of American oligarchs that have taken control
of our government, our media, and quite possibly the means of counting
our ballots as well, seem to believe that they can impoverish the
producers of wealth and the next generations, and not suffer for
History has shown conclusively that they are wrong; but unless
they are thwarted in the coming election, history will repeat itself
to the profound sorrow of all of us.
In the last two decades, the dominating investors and managers
of our corporate economy have transformed themselves from economic
symbionts to economic parasites. The concepts are
adopted from biology.
Symbiosis is an association of two species (symbionts)
for mutual advantage. The honeybee and the blossom is one example.
Another is the association between sea otters and sea kelp. The
otters feed on the kelp predators such as sea urchins, and the kelp
provide the otters with protection from orcas, sharks and other
In contrast, a parasite is an organism that takes its nourishment
from another "host" organism, and by so doing weakens the host,
and in extreme cases, kills it. When it kills the host, it kills
itself as well, but only after it has scattered its eggs to other
unfortunate hosts. The canine heart worm is a case in point. The
blood fluke of "snail fever" (schistosomiasis) is another.
With the rise of so-called "neo-conservatism" (in fact, a radicalism),
the investing class has transformed itself from an economic symbiont
- prospering conjointly with its producer-partner - into an economic
parasite - impoverishing its host, the workers, and thus, eventually,
Like a heart-worm devouring the source and sustenance of its very
life, the oligarchs are squeezing the productivity and the disposable
income from the workers, which is to say, the well-springs of the
And when the economy collapses, as it must if present trends continue
(i.e., massive federal deficits, outsourcing, unemployment, income
loss, impoverishment of education and research), the economic parasites
will surely be crushed along with the rest of us.
As our national wealth flows from the poor and middle classes
to the hyper-wealthy, we are moving toward a new feudalism; a very
small class of opulently wealthy families living off the labor of
the impoverished masses.
Why can't a new feudalism, despite its manifest injustice, be
sustainable? After all, it succeeded for centuries in medieval Europe,
and into the nineteenth century in Russia.
It can not succeed for several reasons, including foremost the
reason that it failed in Romanov Russia. Feudalism is incompatible
with industrial society - especially with an "information economy."
In a modern economy, wealth issues out of cash-flow. The industrialist
grows wealthy with both the production and the sale of his product.
And the product will only sell if there are buyers. I repeat: a
product will only sell if there are buyers. (Are you taking notes,
Republicans? There will be a quiz at the end of this lecture.) As
the middle class and the poor lose their disposable income, there
are fewer sales. And then what? To find out, read the history of
the crash of 1929 and of the great depression that followed.
Economic indicators reveal that the median annual family income
in the United States has dropped by $1,500. And that's not all.
Insurance and medical costs are rising, along with gasoline prices,
and the costs of higher education. Interest rates and thus mortgage
costs are bound to follow. Aggregate national consumer debt will
soon be "maxed out." The prospect of job loss looms. Throughout
the realm, families are deciding that the new car purchase will
have to be put off another year or two. The vacation will have to
be cancelled. The auto, travel and entertainment industries decline
and lay-off workers. Down, down, down, goes the spiral.
When Henry Ford raised the wages of his workers, his competitors
asked what on earth he was thinking. "If I don't pay my workers
more," he replied, "who will buy my cars?" Bushenomics amounts to
reverse Henry-Fordism: keep wages low, suppress unions and collective
bargaining, hire temps to avoid paying health and retirement benefits,
cut back on employment and send jobs overseas, and watch family
income drop. Give the super-rich huge tax cuts, and give the CEO
a salary and perks such that he earns in four hours what his median
worker earns in a year.
Do all that, but then don't be surprised that when the cash flow
from "below" dries up, there will be no more market for the corporate
products. Then the corporate parasites will discover that when they
starve the host, they starve themselves as well.
Another reason why parasitic neo-feudalism won't work: modern
economies require an educated work force. The brain, not the muscle,
drives modern technology which, like the shark, must constantly
move forward to survive.
Technology is science put to work (and we are well aware of what
the Busheviks think of science). However, that necessarily educated
public acquires an inclination to think independently and critically,
and thus to demand a voice in government and a fair share of the
national wealth that they are creating. Such a public is unwilling
to be the host that feeds the oligarchic parasites.
Is it any wonder, then, that the Bush regime has little regard
for education? Bush's "Leave No Child Behind" program is unfunded,
thus leaving the children behind. Rising tuition costs (up 34% since
Bush took office) are closing the college doors to middle-class
children. No matter - says Karl Rove, "As people do better, they
start voting like Republicans... unless they have too much education
and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good
Count on it: a nation that believes that there is such a thing
as "too much education" is a nation in decline. Or as Alfred North
Whitehead put it, "In the conditions of modern life, the rule is
absolute: that nation that does not value trained intelligence is
When the classical education of the Romans was overtaken by the
dogma and superstition of the conquering barbarians, the western
world fell into several centuries of dark ages. Bush's "faith-based"
denigration of science and trained intelligence will not cast the
world into a new dark age - just the United States. Science and
humanistic learning will flourish in Europe and the Pacific Rim,
enhanced, no doubt, by a diaspora of expatriate American intelligencia.
Then the United States will be left behind. (See my "Late,
Great, American Republic").
Finally, parasitic neo-feudalism won't work because a flourishing
modern economy presupposes civil order, and a "consent of the governed"
- a sense amongst the populace at large that the government is "their
government," and that they are significant participants in the economy,
the product of which is fairly distributed amongst the population.
The oligarchs who now control our government and our media have
succeeded in large part by convincing the general public that "government
is not the solution, government is the problem" (Ronald Reagan),
and that the key to prosperity is to liberate free enterprise from
the "constraints" of government regulation.
Too few of us appreciate that laws and regulations were put in
place to protect the public from the abuses of concentrated corporate
power and wealth. Thus we have established, through our government,
the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration,
the Securities and Exchange Commission - the latter designed to
prevent a repeat of the crash of 1929. (See "Mr.
DeLay Goes to Washington.")
The oligarchs, through their wholly-owned subsidiary, the mainstream
media, have sold the American public on the idea that government
and regulation are the problem. As they now begin to have their
unregulated way, the rest of us are about to be reminded, through
brutal practical experience, that when government is truly of, by
and for the people, it is a solution - it serves to protect the
people from the abuses of power, privilege and wealth.
If parasitic neo-feudalism continues and expands through a second
term of Bushista rule, it may devastate us, but it must eventually
fail. For unlike the pre-revolutionary Russian serfs, who never
knew a better life, the American people know what it is like to
live in a free and prosperous country. There is a limit to how much
more loss of freedom and declining standard of living they will
tolerate. The oligarchs are bound to exceed that tolerance, and
then they will be overthrown.
This is compellingly obvious: not only in theory, but also from
the historical record. So why can't these oligarchs and their media
toadies see this?
I answer with a familiar parable: a spinster finds an injured
serpent, takes it home, and nurses it back to health, whereupon
the serpent strikes with a fatal bite. In her final moment of consciousness,
the woman asks, "how could you do this to me, after I saved your
The serpent replies: "I am a serpent - this is what I do."
Surely a significant portion of the oligarchy and the media must
be aware that they are devouring the host that feeds and sustains
their wealth, and that they are leading our country, and surely
themselves with it, to devastation and ruin. So why do they persist?
Because their lust for power and their greed is unconstrained -
because, given the opportunity, "this is what they do."
The founders of our republic knew this full well, which is why
they set up a structure of checks and balances, and a rule of law,
to protect us from such abuses of wealth and power.
Heretofore, as our commonwealth moved dangerously from a regime
of mutual advantage (symbiosis) toward a parasitism of wealth and
privilege, these abuses were pushed back by the checks and balances
of our tri-partite government, by the law and the courts, by a free
and diverse press, and by the ballot box.
No more. The oligarchs now control it all. And so they shall until
we the people take back our government and our country.
We've done before. We can do it again.