Russell Brand’s Revolution- The Breakdown (Part 1)

A few days ago, well known English comedian and actor Russell Brand was interviewed by Jeremy Paxman of the BBC’s Newsnight. Here’s the video (yes it’s long and no it’s not absolutely necessary that you watch it, but trust me, it’s worth it):

So for all of you guys who decided to skip the video, I put together a literary highlight tape of some of the more note-worthy quotes from the interview:

If you didn’t watch the video, Brand has been hired as a guest editor of the left wing British publication The New Statesman. Early on, Paxman asks Brand what gives him the authority to talk about politics, to which Brand replies,

I don’t get my authority from this pre-existing paradigm, which is quite narrow and only serves a few people; I look elsewhere for alternatives that might be of service to humanity…alternate means; alternate political systems…”

I’m cool with that answer. I don’t really think you need any kind of authority to speak on politics- I would say the only real qualification is a reasonable level of knowledge on whatever topics you choose to speak upon. As far as the current paradigm only serving a few people- that’s pretty vague so we’ll get back to it.

Paxman then proceeds to ask Brand what these alternative political systems would look like. Brand responds,

Well I haven’t invented it yet Jeremy! I had to do a magazine last week I got a lot on me plate! But, I say, here’s the things we shouldn’t do: shouldn’t destroy the planet, shouldn’t create massive economic disparity, shouldn’t ignore the needs of the people.”

Yes, it’s definitely easier to say what you wouldn’t do than what you would, but I also think all of these are reasonable goals for a modern society. As far as the validity of these issues (ie. does data support the claims that these issues actually exist), we will save that analysis for later as well.

Later in the interview, Brand tells Paxman he’s never voted in his life. Paxman then asks him how he expects to change things if he doesn’t even bother to vote, to which Brand replies,

 It’s not that I’m not voting out of apathy, I’m not voting out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery, deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations now- and has now reached fever pitch where you have a disenfranchised, disillusioned, despondent under-class that are not being represented by that political system; so, voting for it is tacit complicity with that system.”

I don’t totally agree that voting is “tacit complicity” but the overarching point here is very spot-on. The people at the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder see very little tangible change in their daily lives, regardless of which party happens to be in power at any particular point in time.

Paxman continued to press Brand on what his “revolution” would look like. Finally, Brand said,

I think a socialist egalitarian system based on the massive redistribution of wealth, heavy taxation of corporations and massive responsibility for energy companies and any companies exploiting the environment.”

wealth meme

Had to pump the breaks on that one. I’m all for egalitarianism (defined as: the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities), and if we were designing a system where the past was completely irrelevant and we could use the neuralizer from Men in Black to wipe everybody’s memory, massive redistribution might work, but within our current structural framework there is no way that that will ever happen without some sort of conflict.

You’ve never seen Men in Black??

Ok back to the matter at hand. The people who are well off in this world are not going to let go of that wealth without a SERIOUS fight. And I don’t blame them. Why should they be penalized for their good fortune? If the money is inherited who are we to say it should be taken away. And if the money is truly earned through hard work, business savvy and cleverness it is downright uncivilized of us to demand the redistribution of this wealth. However, I’m ok with having high levels of responsibility for companies exploiting the environment. That too, will be more deeply examined later.

Elaborating on what his system would look like, Brand says,

I think the concept of profit should be hugely reduced. David Cameron said profit isn’t a dirty word, I say profit is a filthy word. Because wherever there is profit there is also deficit.”

To me, this is one of the best points he made in the interview. The capitalist system is basically a big game of musical chairs- the only way for it to work is for a portion of the population to be in debt. There’s not enough money in the money supply for everybody to be debt free. Also, the more wealth an individual has, the faster he or she accumulates it, so there are fewer and fewer “chairs” in the game as time goes on.

Towards the end of the interview, Paxman asks Brand if he thinks there’s any hope for his revolution. Brand responds that it is a cerntainty, and that it is already happening, citing the recent Occupy Wall Street Movement,

The Occupy Movement made a difference, even if only in that it introduced to the popular public lexicon the idea of the 1% versus the 99%. People for the first time in a generation are aware of massive corporate and economic exploitation.”

I think it’s good that a much larger percentage of the population is now aware of this economic disparity, but I don’t think it’s productive to view the situation as us against them. Some of the 1% are some are brightest and most innovative minds in the world, and we do not need to be persecuting them because of their success.

Ok. Now that the highlights are out of the way, let’s get to the meat of this argument, focusing on the three issues he points to as being most important: the destruction of the planet, the creation of massive economic disparity and the lack of attention to the needs of the people. Brand was speaking globally but for our sake, I will be focusing on America- we’re a pretty good microcosm of the developed world and it’ll be more relevant to the majority of you guys reading this. I’ll start from the top.

THE DESTRUCTION OF THE PLANET

Do I think we are responsible? Partially. How responsible? I couldn’t tell you, I’m not a climatologist. However, a significant majority of published experts in this field believe we are at least somewhat responsible for global warming so I will trust them. Honestly, I think the extent to which we’re causing it is somewhat irrelevant. Whether it’s natural or not it poses a threat to our well being, so we should be doing everything possible to reverse it. So I agree that any corporation exploiting the environment and contribution to its destruction should be heavily taxed for doing so. In fact, I’d take it a step further and say let’s tax them at the average rate for other companies, but make them completely financially responsible for maintaining the smallest possible net effect on the environment in which they do business.

The driving force behind many of these destructive practices is profit. Let’s look at the patent encumbrance of nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries for example. If you’re not familiar, these batteries are used in hybrid or fully battery operated vehicles. The Ovonics Battery Company created them in the early 90s in a project that was funded partially by the government and partially by the Big Three auto companies (GM, Ford and Chrysler). According to the founder of Ovonics, Stanford Ovshinsky, the Big Three falsely maintained the position that the batteries were not ready for widespread use, despite the fact that the batteries performed excellently. When Ovonics tried to share the ideas with other companies, the Big Three stifled their efforts by claiming rights to the patent as a result of their initial funding of the project. Then, in 2001, Texaco purchased GM’s stake in Ovonics, and was three months later acquired by Chevron, who maintained veto power over any sale or licensing of the NiMH batteries, as well as the right to seize all intellectual property in the event that Ovonics did not “fulfill their contractual obligations”. Chevron filed suit for this very issue in 2008; the case is still on going.

From a logical standpoint, going fully electric in cars makes total sense. Why would we choose to burn a finite resource that is more dangerous and more damaging to our environment when we have a rechargeable clean alternative? Profit. That is the only factor that tilts this equation the other way. The oil and automotive industries are megaliths who, as a result of their massive financial influence, can maintain illogical practices like this simply because it makes them money.

CREATING MASSIVE INCOME DISPARITY

This one is hard to argue with and I know you’re probably tired of reading so here’s some charts that say it all.

and finally, NOT SERVING THE NEEDS OF THE PEOPLE

I guess this depends on who “the people” are. The numbers do indicate, however, that the people with the most need (those below the poverty line) are definitely not being served.

Since falling below the 15% mark in the late 60s, the percentage of people below the poverty line has stayed pretty consistent. But this isn’t really surprising when considering the musical chairs analogy- some people are always just going to be left standing in a capitalist system. Of course, this is not to say that we should just ignore the other 85% of the population, but it is harder to objectively quantify whether their needs are being met. So here’s a few charts illustrating how people feel about their own financial situation.

Another interesting discovery from the GALLUP data above: Both lower-income Americans making less than $36,000 a year and higher-income Americans making at least $90,000 are significantly less likely than those in the middle-income group to say the economic system is fair.

So Brand’s three most important issues check out pretty well, but as I said earlier- it’s much easier to say what you wouldn’t do than it is to say what you would. Brand’s vague reference to a socialist egalitarian revolution with massive redistribution of wealth is just not plausible in my eyes, nor do I think it would be the best solution to these issues. But I do think there is a better way to address them than the current system we have in place. If you’re interested, I will be detailing it in my next piece. Until then, keep expanding your perspective.

John Dough

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12 thoughts on “Russell Brand’s Revolution- The Breakdown (Part 1)”

  1. Thank you for not riding Brand’s brand of pseudo intellectualism too hard. His “idea” of a massive redistribution of wealth screams “lack of true economic understanding” and negates every other idea that comes out of his eccentric mouth. A thought occurs, what is Russell Brand’s net worth? $15mil based on what the Internet says. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, yet he’s not rushing to eliminate his “massive disparity” that he’s so worried about.

    Also, the idea of “taxes as a penalty for environmental impact” vs “[arbitrary] heavy taxation of corporations” is an important distinction. The first, most can agree with. The second disincentivizes production, innovation and growth. As you mentioned, to speak on a topic, one should have significant knowledge on that subject. Call me crazy, but my guess is that this ACTOR has a severe lack of knowledge about economics and human psychology, as most things (read, money and adoration of his fans) have been served up to him on a silver platter since his “big break.”

    1. he seems to have a pretty good understanding of the problems within our society, but he doesn’t seem to have a very realistic idea of how the political systems actually work or how easy it would be to affect significant change on it. i don’t think his own net worth is really that relevant. under the current conditions i’m sure he feels that he can do more good for the people with more financial resources but that doesn’t necessarily mean he wouldn’t willingly give up that fortune if a system like the one he describes were put in place.

      as far as your point on taxation i totally agree. i go further into detail about how i think we could resolve this issue in a reformed society in Part 2 so i guess you’re just going to have to wait on that!

  2. Redistribution of wealth would never work because rich are rich for a reason and poor are poor for a reason.
    Everytime the latest apple product comes out or newest shoe style.. People buy it whether they can afford it or not. You can redistribute the wealth but in most cases the poor will be poor again and the wealthy will be wealthy again.
    A lot of people in the upper tax bracket are heavily taxed and penalized for being wealthy already. People just don’t see it as “enough” because at the end of the day these people are still rich. Bill and Melinda gates have given millions to help offset the national deficit and it doesn’t help. Because like the average American.. Our government has a spending problem.

    It’s not right to expect anyone To work and support others offspring. This is against nature…

    The poverty problem is because we sustain the impoverished lifestyle. And people that are impoverished mindlessly reproduce. Leaving their children and children’s children for the government to take care of.

    It’s not about having a Great Depression and helping your fellow man through it… It’s not about being embarrassed to not have a job and depend on govt assistance. Those times are of the past. And today’s culture is all about entitlement.

    I believe I’m only entitled to what I earn. And I do not take for granted that I can depend on anyone but myself. Therefore, I save… I plan for retirement… I work whatever job I can get.. And I always look to better myself.

    1. i think the issue is more with the super-rich than just the merely rich. if you look at some of the graphs above (particularly the ones showing average household income and % change in wealth since 1979 https://thehigherlearning.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/uneq.jpg?w=572&h=313), you can see that the general trends for the top 20% aren’t that much different than that of the bottom 20%, but the top one percent’s graphs are all over the place. this clearly indicates that they are operating under a different set of parameters in terms of wealth growth- if they weren’t the graphs showing their trends wouldn’t be so drastically different than that of the other 99%.

      another thing i think is important is realization that we are trending towards more and more mechanization and less and less blue collar labor in our industries. at some point, all of the jobs we consider blue collar now will be done by machines and computers. and i don’t think it’s reasonable to believe that other jobs will just magically appear for all these unskilled workers. so the question is, when there aren’t enough jobs for everyone to earn a living, how do you provide for the unemployed? this is discussed in the second part of this piece which i hope to release early next week. thanks for your input!

  3. what’s going on mbiyimoh? Felt like I would chime in. First on Brand’s whole “I don’t vote”. I get that the system feels fundamentally flawed and all the disenchantment yada yada but here is the biggest issue with that. Half the country doesn’t vote. http://www.idea.int/vt/countryview.cfm?id=231 this link breaks it down quite nicely. As you can see during presidential elections (the ones that get the most media attention shoved down our throats) we got only 64.36% of registered voter turnout and in midterm elections (the ones that elect representatives to the house and some senators) only 41.59% of registered voters turned out. What is more interesting is that the United States unlike many democracies requires voters to qualify themselves i.e. get registered, prove their citizenship and residency, and otherwise jump through bureaucratic hoops photo id being the newest. All this means is that if you look at the percentages of voting age turnout really only 57.45% of the people eligible to vote in 2008 voted and in 2010 only 38.46% barely more than a third of the people eligible to vote in the election that saw huge gains for Republicans and Tea Party crackpots. Imagine if you will if everyone had gotten of there ass and voted. Granted some people of voting age have been convicted of felonies which is not an insignificant portion of the electorate (more reading here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/felon-voting-laws-disenfranchise-sentencing-project_n_1665860.html) but the whole drug war/prison industrial complex discussion is another beast entirely. The point is, despite common misconception elected officials are responsive to the electorate. All you have to do is listen to them whine about primary challenges from the right and what there constituency will and will not abide. The problem is that half of the country isn’t showing up to have their voices heard. Which is what a lot of political strategists count on. The simplest thing you could do to make the government more responsive to the citizenry is make voting mandatory like they do in Australia (you have to pay a fine if you don’t vote) and make election day a national holiday. Give everyone a paid day off, go to the poles, shoot fireworks, hang out with friends and barbecue and celebrate participating in a democracy where you get to actually chose what kind of country you want it to be. If we can have some bullshit like Columbus day on the calendar why not Voting Day? My point is you can’t declare that the game sucks when you aren’t even playing it. If we were like Australia and had 95% voter turnout and everything still sucked, then yes it makes sense to say the system doesn’t work and that it needs to be changed. But if you aren’t even utilizing the mechanisms that exist, what are you bitching about? To respond to Marry while yes there certainly are cultural contributors to generational poverty, the idea that food stamps and housing assistance are bankrupting the nation is total bullshit, especially when you compare it to corporate welfare and military spending. The racial shit makes no sense either http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html You’re trying to tell me that 77.9% of the country (white people) are being held back by the 13.1% (black people)? Here’s an article comparing direct financial aid to individuals with direct financial aid to corporations http://thinkbynumbers.org/government-spending/corporate-welfare/corporate-welfare-statistics-vs-social-welfare-statistics/ important numbers are 59 billion for people 92 billion for corporations that already post billions in profit. Let’s not forget Wally mart that pays poverty wages so that tax payers can make up the difference. Or how about the fact that http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/06/defense-spending-fact-of-the-day_n_1746685.html
    we spent 695.7 billion on defense in 2012 and 107.6 billion on education http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/27/putting-a-number-on-federal-education-spending/?_r=0 and of that defense money how much ended up in the hands of contractors like Haliburton, Brown and Root, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, etc. Nothing screams free market like no bid contracts. The people who have the real culture of entitlement are the top 1% of the population that controls 40% of the wealth while the bottom 80% have just 7% of the wealth http://www.upworthy.com/9-out-of-10-americans-are-completely-wrong-about-this-mind-blowing-fact-2 just look at the graphs above that show productivity increasing as wages stay stagnant. And just because you’re poor doesn’t mean you don’t work or that you don’t pay taxes. I am a paid staff member for Habitat for Humanity I work construction. I don’t pay federal income tax. But every time I get a paycheck about 18-20% of it is taken out for payroll tax. Anytime I buy something I pay 8 something percent sales tax. So before any money reaches my hands I’ve lost about 25-30% of the money I earn. Factor in that capital gains are taxed at lower rate than wages and that social security tax only extends to the first $140,000 of income and I am paying a way higher percentage of my income in taxes than any wealthy people. You’ll notice too that I don’t just say random shit I throw down numbers and cite sources to back them up. In conclusion all yall can get fucked I win. Peace

    1. david! my guy! i loved everything about this comment- well thought out, well sourced, and very accurate. your comments about voter apathy made me wonder how different the political segmentation is for non-voters vs voters. i’d imagine that the non-voting demographic is probably more liberal than the voting population (based off other demographics) but if this difference isn’t pretty significant significant it wouldnt change the overall election results much. also, call me pessimistic, but history has shown me that the political-corporate love affair stays fairly consistent regardless of what party is in the white house. BUT, in terms of the more local elections (congress members, governers, mayors etc.) i think your point is much more cogent because there is a lot more direct responsibility to your constituency. i discuss a lot of this stuff further in part 2 of this piece. hoping to release it early next week

  4. Hi David. Wow. Ok.
    First, I agree with the non voting. My policy: didn’t vote? Then don’t complain.

    In response to your response to me…
    1. I never claimed that welfare recipients were bankrupting the nation.
    2. I never stated “facts” that would need referencing. Also, when I would reference anything I would choose unbiased fact sheets rather than liberal/conservative news sources. (Huffington post)

    3. When was race brought up at any point? Did I miss something? Whites take up roughly 70% of govt assistance. And? I’m talking about Americans. Race is irrelevant. (To me anyway.. We all bleed red)

    Lastly, I was merely giving my “opinion” on why redistribution of wealth won’t work.

    Mbiyimoh, I see what you are saying about the top 1%. Ironically, 16/20 of the richest ppl are democrat. (Forbes magazine)
    Why aren’t they just willing to give in and pay up what America thinks is fair given that they support such liberal agenda? I mean the richest Americans (gates and buffet) seem to be all for liberal agenda.

  5. I agree that trending toward mechanization is a scary thought and we do need more jobs. With that said.. My computer, phone, some of my clothes.. Even a lot of packaged food is “made in china”. Don’t you think it’s time we bring some of these jobs home?

    1. yes, i do, but they are over there because that makes the most sense in a capitalist system. why manufacture things here when u can get the labor for cents on the dollar elsewhere? and eventually, even in 3rd world countries, the question will be why pay humans when you can, with machines or technology, do it cheaper, more efficiently, safer, and without any of the hassles of dealing with human labor. like i said though, i go more in-depth with all of this in part 2 of my piece so just be patient! 🙂 thanks for engaging in the dialogue! its great to see people who actually care enough about these issues to respond with lengthy, well-thought out comments, regardless of what their personal views are

  6. I had another thought on the concept of the existence of profit only coming because of the detriment to the workers.

    Profit is simply whatever amount of revenue is leftover after all expenditures (including, notably enough, employee wages)

    Almost half of all businesses fail within 5 years of their creation. In that time period, there are likely years in which a LOSS is posted, as opposed to a profit. When a loss occurs, the employees still make their wage. The owner must reach into his own pocket and write a check to keep the business afloat. This is obviously not cheap, and it is very difficult to effectively quantify the amount of risk that the entrepreneur undertakes in the context of the amount of economic value his business adds to the overall well being of the customers and employees.

    That profit is the “wage,” if you will, of the entrepreneur or business owner who shouldered the risk and burden of turning his idea into a functioning entity, adding economic value through jobs and the products or services his company furnishes. But the LOSS is also his wage, whenever it occurs.

    By saying “profit is a filthy word,” Brand seems to be suggesting that people should start businesses, take risks, and shoulder those burdens for free. In fact, literally every business I can come up with takes a profit. (I know there are some who masquerade as “non-profits” but check their bottom lines and you’ll see that is mainly for tax avoidance purposes and little else)

    If we examine the other side of the coin, the “disenfranchised” (Brand’s assertion) worker who is being taken advantage of, we’ll see the logic simply doesn’t hold. Are these employees REQUIRED to work for these EVIL businesses? Is there some law somewhere that says by accepting one paycheck, you are indebted to a company for the remainder of your working career? No, obviously not. Why then, do these people not simply go and make more money elsewhere? Because they can’t. If they could, they would, but they can’t so they don’t. It’s not as though there’s a barbed wire fence around their offices. The profitability of these businesses ALLOWS their employees to make the MOST money that they possibly can. How Brand and others cannot see that is flabbergasting.

    1. the money supply is finite, so even if that profit isn’t coming directly from the employees, somewhere within the system there has to be an equal loss; capitalism is a zero net sum game (except when the fed pumps money into it, which just causes inflation across the board). i agree with what you said about having to burden the risk of a business early on- that’s totally legit. but once a corporation becomes a mega-corporation (obviously there’s no set line where this happens, but i think we would agree companies like walmart and shell are mega-corporations), the risk of the original founder drops pretty much to zero. i would say the profit they make early on is pretty proportional to their risk early on, but you would be hard-pressed to convince me that walmart yearly profits are proportional to the risks involved with staying open.

      like i was saying in my comment to Mary, i think we have to separate the rich from the super-rich. look at this graph again: https://thehigherlearning.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/uneq.jpg?w=572&h=313
      as i was pointing out to her, the wealth trends of the top 20% aren’t that different from that of the bottom 20% (obviously there’s more gains, but not by much and there is high correlation in their graphs). the wealth trends for the top 1%, however, are drastically different. clearly, their ability to increase their wealth is governed by a different set of rules than the rest of us (tax havens, tax loopholes, capital gains taxed lower than payroll). if you check out this graph http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/Content/GIF/type_share_historical.gif
      you will see that in the late 60s early 70s (beginning of the wealth graphs i just cited) the government started relying more and more on individual taxes (individual income tax and social security tax) and less and less on corporate taxes. not saying this is the only reason for the wealth trends of the 1% to be so different than for everyone else, but it is clearly a major factor.

      so i agree with you about small businesses, but i think we need to come up with a new set of rules for these mega-corporations because the simple fact is, once you get enough money, you can start doing lots of (often shady or morally questionable) things to increase your profits, things that the smaller businesses either don’t have the money to do, or the political connections to get away with.

      my biggest worry is that since the money supply is finite and this 1% is clearly eating up the majority of all profit (see this graph that compares change in overall productivity to the average change in wealth for the top 1% and the overall change in average wages) http://www.motherjones.com/files/images/change-since-1979-600.gif
      wealth will just continue to accumulate at the top. i haven’t seen anything to convince me this trend will reverse, so eventually we get to a point where, unless you’re creating your own industry, it will pretty much impossible for anybody to compete with the mega-corporations, which will give them waaaay too much influence on how the country is run (if they don’t already have enough influence as it is)

  7. Capitalism is NOT a zero sum game. A basic definition of capitalism is that the individual is free to do as he or she sees fit with whatever resources he or she has peacefully acquired.

    Operating on this definition, the individual is free to trade his or her resources as he or she sees fit. When a trade takes place in the market, it is (by the definition of capitalism) done so by CHOICE of the participants. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that at the time of the trade, BOTH PARTIES ARE WINNING. Capitalism doesn’t have safeguards for bad decisions and buyer’s remorse, but we can’t just abort all of our problems away.

    As far as “convincing you” of whether Wal-mart or anyone else is receiving a “fair” amount of profit is concerned… who rightly cares? Why does it matter whether you think something is “fair” in this world? The world doesn’t operate based on what we, as individuals, consider “fair,” because each of our definitions of fairness are going to vary, and those that learn the adage “life isn’t fair” early on are usually either very successful or bitter and let the world have its way with them. I ask you to mathematically prove exactly how much profit would be considered to fall under this nebulous, vague, ethereal concept of “fairness.”

    Oh it’s impossible? Now you’re understanding what I’m saying. Therefore, the problem is the inherent corruptibility of humankind, namely when they participate in politics. Power corrupts, as we all know, which is why the founding fathers attempted to build in safeguards and checks and balances against people accumulating too much power. If your main point is that we need to reconsider all of the bullshit that’s gone down legislatively to allow these super wealthy to stick their nose into politics, then I’m with you 100%. The legislation is the problem. Allowing these loopholes is the problem. Big government sticking its nose in everything is the problem. PROFIT is NOT THE PROBLEM. “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” These companies are simply learning and adapting to their environment more effectively than those around them, which is simple Darwinism happening right in front of us. However, much like Sears-Roebuck and the dinosaurs, there’s always something better waiting around the corner to usurp power when we employ a “survival of the fittest” aspect in our economy.

    In a simplification, I would assert that “Lobbying” is the cause of the downfall of the U.S. Allowing for the “squeaky wheel to get the oil” rather than the wheel that is silently sparking a fire getting the maintenance it needs is what has put us here. As you mentioned, these lobbyists and all those involved tend towards scumminess, pursuing their own causes relentlessly, at the expense of everything else. To make it easy on everyone, eliminate lobbying and campaign donations completely, rewrite tax rates where theyll be the same proportionally for everyone, and see where we are in 20 years. I would bet it’d be better than we are right now.

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