(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2012)
My brother, a successful Internet Technology person living in San Mateo, recently wrote, “I know the Bay Area is back because for about three years no one was going out to dinner and a concert, so almost no one was playing at Yoshi’s; it was almost all spillover comedy acts. Now, all the ancient jazz/funk/smooth jazz/new age artists are performing at Yoshi’s again, and come to think of it, we just saw Liz Story there a few months back. The aging Yuppies, or as I like to call us, the sachems of the lower-reaches of the 1% are back in the tall cotton. Unfortunately it’s still not very recovered at all for the other 99%.”
My brother’s observation of those important economic indicators—going out to dinner and a concert—reminded me of something else he hipped me to a few years ago: the Worldwide Centers of Commerce Index, a remarkable and telling project funded by MasterCard. This fascinating study culminated in a multi-dimensional ranking of the top seventy-five city-states in the world, and has not, as far as I know, been updated since 2008. Nevertheless, if you are interested in how the giant multinational corporations develop their global game plans, I highly recommend you hop on a fast computer and check out the Worldwide Centers of Commerce Index. The revelatory information in the study confirms everything Buckminster Fuller wrote about how the supranational powers operate on spaceship earth.
Long before the rise of large and powerful nations came the rise of powerful city-states. Venice, for instance, known for several centuries as the Republic of Venice, was one of the most powerful city-states in the world during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Venice was a great center of commerce and art and war (notably the Crusades) for five hundred years, from the 12th through the 17th Centuries. Today we think of Venice as a quaint old city in Italy with gondolas plying canals, but at the height of her powers Venice was not an Italian city; Italy was essentially subservient to Venice. As a consequence of that greatness, the ambitious and talented flocked to Venice to make their fortunes, which is the main point of Mastercard’s Worldwide Centers of Commerce Index. To wit: the groovier the city-state, the more talented, creative, ambitious people will be attracted there; and those are the people in today’s world that the supranational corporations seek to capture.
According to the 2008 index (compiled before the economic meltdown that has so drastically altered the global financial situation and before the Fukushima nuclear disaster rendered Tokyo radioactive) the top ten city-states in the world were London, New York, Tokyo, Singapore, Chicago, Hong Kong, Paris, Frankfurt, Seoul, and Amsterdam. The San Francisco Bay Area was ranked twenty-eighth and rising fast. The seven criteria used to judge a city-state (each criterion composed of many sub-criteria) were: 1. Legal and political framework 2. Economic stability 3. Ease of doing business 4. Financial flow 5. Business center 6. Knowledge creation and information flow 7. Livability.
The authors of the study write with unbridled enthusiasm about an interconnected society of high-tech culturally exciting city-states taking maximum advantage of the resources and financial possibilities of the world through their interactions with each other, while the land and people outside the city-states are seen as extractive realms where money and manpower and natural resources and farmland are mined for the benefit of the city-states and those folks smart or lucky enough to be, in the words of my brother, among the sachems of the 1%.
This is how the world actually works—global feudalism—and the myriad wars around the world are being fought to serve the interests of those city-states, not in service of nations. This was Buckminster Fuller’s insight that he so desperately wanted people to understand, that the supranational rulers use nationalism to manipulate the masses in the service of the city-states. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are fought for the benefit of the city-states and their ruling elite, not to protect America or to promote democracy. Bucky believed that if people could learn to look beyond the primitive glare of nationalism, they would have a clear view of this superstructure of city-states; and with this clear view the people would cease to support the wars and destructive practices of resource extraction that enrich the city-states and impoverish the rest of the world.
As Bucky wrote in Critical Path (published in 1981), “Long ago the world’s great religions learned how to become transnational or more effectively supranational. Next the world’s great ideologies learned how to become supranational. Most recently the world’s largest financial-enterprise corporations have become completely supranational in their operation. Big religion, ideologies, and businesses alike found it intolerable to operate only within 150 walled-in pens (nations). Freeing themselves by graduating into supranational status, they have left all the people in the 150 pens to struggle with all the disadvantages of 150 mutually opposed economic policies.”
Indeed, when we use the city-state model to look at various aspects of American society that seem ridiculous and counter-intuitive using a “what’s-good-for-America-as-a-nation” model, the ridiculous and counter-intuitive suddenly make perfect sense. For instance, if the vast majority of Americans want and need Single Payer Healthcare, and such a system would save the nation and her people trillions of dollars, why don’t we have that system? Because such a system is not in the best interest of those city-states based in America. The resident corporations provide good healthcare for people of value and importance to the elite of those city-states, while everyone else is either irrelevant or a source of money extracted through exorbitant healthcare costs.
When one examines the upcoming Presidential election in light of the city-state model, we see that Obama is a product of the Chicago city-state hierarchy and a devoted servant of all American-based city-states, especially New York, while Romney was developed by the city-state of Boston with deep ties to New York. Now, a month before the election, it appears that the city-state elite want Obama re-elected, for he guarantees less unrest among the disenfranchised than would the Republican candidate and he is also a fantastic salesman of the wholly erroneous nation model that keeps 99% of humanity enslaved to the corporate elite. But no matter who wins the election, the city-states will be served by one of their high-level operatives.
One of the most interesting things to me about today’s city-state system is the enormous expense (hundreds of billions annually) that goes into enhancing the physical connections between city-states, including airlines, airports, high-speed transportation, and high-tech hotels and resorts for visiting sachem. With internet technology making it possible for people to communicate instantaneously with each other anywhere on earth, one would think that the need for concentrating people in particular places on earth would no longer be necessary; yet just the opposite is true. In the hierarchical systems dominating global commerce today, those who wish to succeed in any of those systems must live in a city-state where those systems are based.
I had a taste of this your-body-must-be-here phenomenon some decades ago when I embarked on a career as a screenwriter. After a motion picture was made of one of my novels, numerous doors in the Hollywood hierarchy were briefly open to me. Los Angeles and New York are the two American city-states where the movie industry hierarchy is concentrated, and when I met with several Los Angeles-based movie agents in my quest to find a representative, they were all eager to represent me, on one condition: that I move to Los Angeles or New York—to live anywhere else was unacceptable.
“But why must I live in Los Angeles or New York?” I asked the most powerful agent to give me an audience. “My work is writing screenplays. I can fly in for…”
“Your work,” she deftly interrupted, “is to establish personal relationships with the people here who have the power to get movies made. If a hot producer wants to meet with you, I have to know you can meet with him today, in an hour if necessary. If someone with clout gets interested in you and he’s giving a party and calls me and says he wants you at that party, I have to know you will be there, and pronto. You can write the greatest screenplays ever written, but if you are not based here and developing strong relationships with important people, you will never get a movie made. Not in this system. Can’t happen.”
“But I had a movie made,” I protested, the thought of trying to survive in Los Angeles or New York far beyond my powers of comprehension, “and I wasn’t here.”
“Based on your novel,” she said with a condescending nod. “Which did zilch at the box office. But if you want to live somewhere else and write novels, I will be happy to represent your published works. However, if you want to be taken seriously as a screenwriter, you must live here or in New York, and preferably with a presence in both places. Otherwise, you are simply not worth my time.”
So here we dwell in Mendocino on the outskirts of the great city-state of San Francisco/Silicon Valley, home to Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Visa, Pixar, Genentech, Hewlett-Packard, and Lucasfilm, to name but a few of the newer giants in the corporate oligarchy; and we most certainly owe much of our relative prosperity to our proximity to that fabulous concentration of wealth and power.