The country has spoken. The recent local elections across the UK have shown that the public are fed up with the current regime. Adding provisions for the rich to a budget that was stripping the elderly of their benefits proved to be the last straw for George Osborne and the rest of the cartoonish Eton boys running the country. It’s understandable really considering how little experience they have with the elderly poor and how many friends they have among the millionaire elite, it’s a you scratch my back situation, it really begs the question: why does anyone vote for them in the first place?
That is a question for another time however; this situation merely highlights the facade of a problem that lies deep in the core of our society. The problem that allows these very things to happen in the first place is the economic structure of our country and most others around the world, neoclassical economics and a capitalist system that is governed by a wealthy select few. The reason we don’t hear about this distortion or a purportedly fair and equal system is simple, they control the media. Why would anyone let a message disparaging their way of life play over the media that they own? The Murdoch Empire for example has even acquired political support. After the revelations of phone hacking at the News of the World many MPs have been questioned as to whether or not they think Rupert Murdoch is a fit and proper person to run such a cast media conglomerate. They often reply with 400 words that do not answer the question instead of 4 words which everyone would accept as the bona fide truth, “No he is not”. The media giants and their politician lackeys can’t control all of the media however, the message slips through the defences any way it can.
Four Horsemen was released on DVD on the 14th March and epitomises the information that should be getting to the public, the real thing instead of having the wool pulled over our eyes. The film takes a helpful look at the current economic situation that people accept, there is an agenda, no good documentary is made without one but it doesn’t have to work hard to convince. The film simply questions what we have come to accept as the norm and explains how the norm is just plain wrong.
Four Horsemen is succinctly split into 5 chapters that are easy to digest separately while contributing to a complete narrative. Empires, Banking, Terrorism, Resources and Progress are all very persuasive in their own right but considering the film as a whole the picture of a distorted society and an economy that is essentially a rigged game begins to be clearly drawn.
Chapter 1 analyses empires of the past, primarily Rome and seeks to ascertain what factors contributed to their decline. Ross Ashcroft and Dominic Frisby describe how the late Roman Empire collapsed due to a vast apathy that was concocted by the civilisation’s affluence. They show how this is comparable to the Baby Boomers generation; both squandered the inheritance of their successors through greed and ignorance. Nobel Prize winner Noam Chomsky speaks with a shuddering clarity on this issue declaring it the biggest miscalculation of capital ever to occur. The greed is staggering; food is wasted on epic proportions throughout the ‘developed world’ yet many in Africa starve to death. Greed is the key to the rise and fall of these modern day empires, with the focus on material assets far more prevalent than it has ever been; you would never see the Romans taking out a loan to acquire the latest technology. The need to have more is furthered by television and the endless advertisements, blatantly aimed at making anyone feel inadequate if they do not own the product on display. This is all part of the shameful act of manipulation contributing to the stark realisation that much of humanity cannot grasp the idea of society and collective wealth, understanding need over greed.
The second chapter and the most relevant to the financial crisis in the UK is that of Banking. In the film, former Wall Street trader Tarek El Diwany describes some of the activities that his colleagues were engaging in as “legalised fraud”. Counterfeiting and cooking the books were just some of the daily activities that were as normalised as making the coffee run. It’s this kind of behaviour that gives the financial sector such a bad name, flagrant breaking of the rules without consideration of the repercussions.
The beauty of Four Horsemen is the consummate ease and simplicity of the arguments, thanks to excellent writing and narration from Dominic Frisby and clear focused animation Pola Gruzska. Explaining something very complicated such as speculative market bubbles would be difficult for most but the host of international experts make it an uncomplicated task. Former senior World Bank economists explain how our money system works and how the idea of trickledown economics doesn’t.
Eminent economist Joseph Stiglitz explains how new money is concocted constantly and this essentially screws the bottom rung of the economy. By the time the new wealth makes its way from the top to the bottom it has become debt, in fact 97% of money is debt, somewhere along the line. Voltaire states that paper money will always return to its intrinsic value of zero, Stiglitz fears that by the time the world realises this it will be too late.
Four Horsemen covers almost every aspect of the economic downturn from a fair and unbiased perspective. Stiglitz himself is a firm believer in capitalism, but only in fair capitalism, not in the unequal or rigged markets that play out on the world stage. Far from a socialist vision Four Horsemen is trying to advocate capitalism on an even playing field but misses one vital component that distorts the world’s wealth and pools it with a small percentage of ultra rich. John Christensen is a development economist who embarked on an undercover operation to unveil Jersey’s banking system having worked as the island’s economic advisor for 11 years. His findings were included in the excellent book People First Economics. Christensen found that millionaires on the island defend the fact they pay no income tax with a simple ‘everyone else is doing it’. This is not simply a churlish and childlike answer but it reveals the scope of the tax evasion that occurs thanks to tax havens like Jersey and the Cayman Islands. The most shocking statement that Christensen encountered was “We’re rich, we’re different and taxes are for the little people”. What would the ‘we are all in it together’ Tories think of a statement like that from one of their more likely supporters. Tax havens are the most indicative problem of the current economic setup. From capital flight out of debt-ridden sub-Saharan Africa to huge companies moving their takings through the Caymans, Monaco, Switzerland and Jersey, they are all easy ways to avoid paying your share of tax, and they are only available to the rich, go figure.
Four Horsemen covers the section on terrorism with deadly sincerity while staying on message. The US military has huge defense contracts with major American companies that supply them with planes, ships, tanks, guns etc but it is argued that America must keep fighting wars to keep these industries afloat. One wonders if there was not billionaire investors involved if the industries would be saved. Not only are the markets distorted to keep the industry producing astronomical profits but the wars are used to distract the American people from problems at home, it what is horribly named the ‘false flag’ policy, wars unite people against a common foe, but this new foe can’t be killed easily. Terrorists, or freedom fighters depending on your viewpoint, unite around an idea, something that can’t be eradicated with munitions. Perhaps this enemy is perfect for the ‘false flag’ policy, an endless war against an enemy that is difficult to find and will never give up, there seems to be an infinite number of people to fight.
The film then goes on to discuss something that there is certainly not an infinite number of; resources. Four Horsemen takes a bold leap in declaring that the exhaustion of Earth’s resources is a much bigger problem than global warming. If the consistent goal of modern day neo-classical capitalism is growth, it seems obvious that without a planet that grows, resources will become scarce. An even more hideous outcome of this ‘progress’ is the lack of cooperation, food is not shared equally, some eat themselves to death while others starve, life has become valued in material success, consumption is a life purpose which dehumanises us. Frederich Nietzsche declared that the pursuit of yourself is an abyss, individual achievement is but a myth.
Everything that Four Horsemen discusses comes down to two things, individuality and greed, merged with each other they create a destructive influence. Today people are far too concerned with creating an image and to achieve things solely without realising that it is other people that make us happy, sharing experiences makes them worthwhile. So why not shut out this culture of self-obsession? It is far from impossible. Why when the very people who advocate this distorted capitalist system to make their fortune complain about the level of tax do we yield? Let them threaten us with desertion, we will be better off without them. Why let greed proliferate? Usually when the gap between rich and poor gets to these levels it ends with heads on pikes, maybe it’s time to avert an economic apocalypse by starting a social revolution.