Welcome to The Gulag

As I write this, a viral video (The Wall Street Code) tells a fascinating insiders tale of how stock markets are fraudulently manipulated by algorithmic trading.

It is difficult for most people to grasp how this affects them. It seems so remote – high finance – a long way away. It’s just those bankers and geeks again.

But it impacts us all, directly. The price of food, clothes, vehicles, houses – everything – is much much more expensive because of it. It is one of the reasons we have austerity. The higher prices do not affect those with big salaries, the cost of a loaf of bread or pint of milk is a tinier fraction of their disposable income than for the less well-off.

The unfairness and criminality are, of themselves, good enough reasons to pay attention. However, there is a deeper, darker lesson hidden in there. A lesson about corporate greed and how society is inexorably being sucked dry by it.

That the fuel in your car is paid for by the death and maiming of millions of people worldwide is now so well known that it is a non-fact. Like the mistreatment of chickens or pigs by supermarkets. (If you can watch all of this video about production of Walmart pork, you have a stronger stomach than I do.)

The recent fuss about spying by the NSA and GCHQ has focussed on the issue of government surveillance and invasions of privacy. While important, the noise has obscured the fact that it is the multi-national corporations that have and use the relevant data.

Pay attention next time you search for a product on the internet. You will immediately see advertisements for those very same products pop up on totally unrelated sites. You are being watched, tracked and sold to – but not only by governments.

It is in the interests of insurance and pension companies to know about your interest in particular symptoms or medications. They want to both reduce their risks and increase your contribution.

Military spending for oil, animal cruelty, corporate spying – all these are now common knowledge. But I have to thank ZeroHedge and Michael Krieger of Liberty Blitzkrieg for this latest example of how corporate greed is reshaping society: the Private Prison scam.

It has been obvious for some time that the ‘soft gulag’ that we have entered is structured around an institutional dependence on privately offered ‘public services’. A good example is the way community hospitals are closed down and then hotels, restaurants and shopping malls spring up around their regional replacements.

The same has happened with prisons. Prison visitors need food and accommodation when they go to remote prisons with awkward visiting hours. Prisons are an even better corporate investment than hospitals, because the prisoners can be made to do a valuable days work for a pittance.

Whether it is producing hi-tech components in the USA or manning call centres inside prisons in the UK, prisoners have become slaves – labouring for the profit of private corporations. A labour force that takes no vacation, is forced to work and has no union – a corporate dream.

But the real killer is this: a Public Interest report on a survey of private prison contracts found that a majority of contracts include a guarantee of ‘occupancy rates’. These are typically around 90%, but are sometimes 95% to 100% – if the targets are not met, the tax-payer has to pay an ’empty-bed tax’. Such contracts typically run for 20 years.

Just think about it for a minute. The civil authority is motivated to keep the prisons full! If they don’t, they have to pay. There are even cases where a private contractor has taken over a prison, demanded, and got, a 95% occupancy rate, and then subsequently converted some pre-release study facilities into more beds – to increase revenue.

No wonder the US prison population has ballooned up to nearly 2.5 million, 25% of the worlds total prison population, in a country which only comprises 5% of the worlds people. There is no bureaucratic incentive for rehabilitation, prisoner re-offending is a direct benefit to the state.

Corporate greed is driving, and thriving on, an increase in criminality. It is not necessary to postulate an intentional desire to dehumanise and dumb-down the majority of the population. But that is the outcome.

And corporate profit benefits from it.

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