I first ran across the expression “wealth pump” in a 2012 post “The Nature of Empire” that appeared on “The Archdruid Report.” It struck me as an admirably straightforward and simple explanation of the purpose of an empire:
With this [preceding 13 paragraphs] in mind, we can move to a meaningful definition of empire. An empire is an arrangement among nations, backed and usually imposed by military force, that extracts wealth from a periphery of subject nations and concentrates it in the imperial core. Put more simply, an empire is a wealth pump, a device to enrich one nation at the expense of others. The mechanism of the pump varies from empire to empire and from age to age; the straightforward exaction of tribute that did the job for ancient Egypt, and had another vogue in the time of imperial Spain, has been replaced in most of the more recent empires by somewhat less blatant though equally effective systems of unbalanced exchange. While the mechanism varies, though, the underlying principle does not.
You may have run across the expression elsewhere, earlier or later than 2012. In any case, I found that the idea of a wealth pump is useful well beyond its application to the principles of empire.
It’s not even mentioned as the purpose of The Empire in Star Wars, though one could argue it is implied. However much fun it might be to talk about this and any number of other fantasy Empires, real world wealth pumps are what we have to deal with daily and real world wealth pumps are the subject of this blog.
Empires are just one form of wealth pump, and not necessarily the one most of us confront every day. I personally haven’t had a lot to do directly with empire since I did my one tour in Vietnam. That was more than enough for me.
In addition to treaties and conquests that transfer wealth between nations, there are dozens of big and little internal wealth pumps in the United States. They are how the 0.01%, the 1% and even the 10% got to be super-rich, wealthy and comfortable respectively while the rest of us got to be nearly powerless.
“Nearly” is the key word, not “powerless.” Many of the wealth pumps to which we are subject are essentially confidence games. If we understand the con, then we won’t fall for it and that pump will not work on us as individuals.
Others are created by specific laws passed by our legislatures and signed by Governors or Presidents. There’s no individual solution but, if enough of these understand these, we can insist that our elected officials repeal them, and we can refuse to elect those who refuse.
Here’s an off-the-top-of-the-head listing of some specific items that are wealth pumps IMO:
- Trust authority – It’s well known that you can find conflicting authorities on most any subject. It’s best to learn about the subject yourself and make some judgement about the authority – who the authority is working for, if they are honest and qualified.
- Conspicuous consumption – Thorsten Veblen saw this issue over a century ago, and yet Cadillacs, Cartier and Chris Craft Commanders still sell.
- Blame the other – race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual preference, language, etc. In general, these “others” don’t have power over you, while employers, laws and police do.
- Ignore science – 6th extinction, climate change, dangers of radiation and other pollution, dangers of monoculture and destruction of habitat, etc. Science, done right, tests ideas to see which ones work as explanations for events, and which ones do not. Science is not the complete answer for everything, but it is good for eliminating reasonable sounding but wrong ideas.
- Interest charged on credit cards and mortgages
- Interest (much less interest) paid on deposits
- Fees for banking and finance
- Student loans initial scam (Get a degree to get a good job.) plus excessive tuition plus high-priced textbooks plus loans not discharged in bankruptcy.
- Federal reserve bank and fractional reserve banking. The Fed was established by law in 1913 to regulate the rate at which banks are allowed to create money. Yes, that’s right; while you or I would be arrested for fraud or counterfeiting if we tried it, banks are allowed to create money “out of thin air.”
- Fines enforced by jail time for misdemeanors and minor infractions, used as a main source of income for cities
- Criminalizing protest and other actions.
- Licensing fees
- Excessive costs for water and sewer
- Privatization, schools, prisons, garbage collection, etc.
- Part time and “on demand” jobs
- Trade treaties giving multinational corporations powers including international courts.
- At-will employment and Right-to Work (for less) laws
- Inadequate minimum wage
- Exemptions for capital gains & corporate taxes. Some corporations pay no taxes at all
- Digital rights management, software licensing (but no requirement to support operating system or older software or hardware)
- Stealing pensions (At least as complicated as fractional reserve banking)
- Social Security cut and cap plus theft of SS funds.
- Calculation of inflation
- Forced insurance payments, i.e., Obamacare
- Patent and copyright laws
- Corporate personhood and fiduciary responsibility
- Right to repair vs. monopoly on repairs
- Secret government – Now here’s another complicated issue with a long history that’s difficult to deal with (because it’s secret). It may be necessary to approach this one like the blind man approaches an elephant, but without jumping to conclusions based on the first part encountered.
The main thing about wealth pumps is that those of us who have the business end of wealth pumps applied to us do not like them. It’s one thing to earn your own money and then spend it as you see fit. It’s another thing entirely to be convinced to spend it foolishly (the con games of our culture) or required by unfair and unjust laws to give it up. It’s particularly hard to save some, and then see the value of those savings disappear due to inflation, especially inflation of health care expenses.
The subject is broad enough and important enough to provide lots of posts. If you have ideas about specific subjects that should be added to the list. let’s hear about it in the comments.