Voice From The Back


The columnist Richard Morrison, in an article mocking the ridiculous prices paid for modern art, refers to Don Thompson’s book The $12 Million Stuffed Shark and brings to notice the obscene wealth enjoyed by a handful of billionaires. Remember we are dealing with the social system of capitalism where many exist on a $1 a day. “He looks at the buyers for ‘trophy’ art; billionaires such as the American asset manager Steve Cohen, who bought the shark with what, for him, was loose change (it would have taken him five days, Thompson estimates, to have earned the $12 million price tag).” (Times, 16 January) Overlooking the term “earned”, we are talking about someone whose income is over 2 million times that of another. Doesn’t capitalism make you sick?


Daniel Everett once was a missionary in Brazil dealing with so-called primitive tribes, but his experience of the Piraha people made him give up that calling to become a linguist. When asked how he had changed his views he replied: “They lived so well without religion and they were so happy. Also they did not believe what I was saying because I did not have any evidence for it, and that made me think. They would try so hard to understand what I was saying, but it was utterly irrelevant to them. I began to think: what am I doing here, giving them these 2000-year old concepts when everything of value I can think of to communicate to them they already have?…” (New Scientist, 19 January)


The sole purpose of capitalist society is to make profits, so we can imagine the following report will come as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about how it operates. “The government will be publicly castigated this week over its failure to help poor people by the watchdog that ministers set up to monitor fuel poverty. Ofgem, the energy regulator, will also be criticised for not stopping energy companies from making excessive profits at the expense of consumers. Peter Lehmann, chairman of the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, will criticise the government over its record on fuel poverty, which he labelled ‘incomprehensible, unjustifiable and shocking’. Consumers now pay more than 50 per cent more on utility bills compared with five years ago, yet energy companies’ costs have risen by only a fraction of this. In the past month, four of the biggest suppliers have announced substantial rises in the price of gas and electricity.” (Observer, 3 February)


We are constantly being told by supporters of capitalism that the extremely rich got that way because of their superior intellect. That seems invalid thinking when we see how much the extremely rich will pay for a stupid pointless motor car licence plate. “But nowhere is the craze for a unique plate more intense than in the United Arab Emirates, the oil-rich Persian Gulf nation that holds the world record for the six most expensive plates. Here, it’s all about how low you can go — with people battling it out at auctions to win the chance to show off license plates with the lowest digit. The numbers “5” and “7” have already been snapped up,


The death of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi led to many newspapers rehashing the stories about the Beatles contact with his Transcendental Meditation, but it has transpired that his TM could have more properly stood for Transcendental Materialism. It seemed the great man had sited his HQ in a Dutch village for tax reasons. “As ever, the business-savvy guru was ahead of the game: the big draw is a financial regime that has made the Netherlands the EU’s top tax shelter. Among those who have set up holding companies there are Ikea, Nike, Coca-Cola and Gucci.” (Guardian, 7 February) Like many religious leaders before him this guru told his followers not to be concerned with the material things of life, but in practice was very shrewd about the way capitalism operated.

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