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The Village Errs

Imagine a small village. The social folk who regularly meet at the local pub are from all walks of life. The bricklayer is a good tradesman, a hard drinker, and is married to a rich mans daughter. The schoolteacher is temperate, a closet homosexual, who seeks opportunity in the social setting. The barmaid is a divorcee, with two small children, and her unsteady partner is an abusive alcoholic. The banker is a socialite, likes to splash money around, and is not exactly faithful to his marriage. The architect is refined and reserved, though is often at the pub to host clients. The mayor is a successful businessman, who uses the bar as an ear to the ground, searching for business openings more so than to hear local gripes. The farmer and his wife call in most Saturday nights to play the pokies, and generally socialise.

This group of people commonly spend a more time in each others presence during any given week, than all the other villagers do in a year. Consequently, when the architect needs an approval for a project which falls outside of the design restraints for the village, a chat with the mayor, (often witnessed by the architect leaving the barmaids house at lunchtimes) who in practice has no sway over exceptions council will give the project, guarantees his projects suffer no planning impediments. The farmer has been patiently waiting for the bricklayer to call at the farm to lay up the new shed for which it's foundations were prepared 4 months ago. Luckily his wife and the rich mans daughter are on good terms, primarily as they have same age children at the school. On one occasion the school needed funding to repair the swimming pool which had fallen into disrepair, so again the ladies were able to sweet talk the bank manager into arranging a low interest loan. At a particularly heavy session one Friday evening, the bricklayer was heard to be defaming the schoolteacher, insinuating that there had been inappropriate connection with one of the school children. Tempers flared, resulting in a scuffle which left the schoolteacher with a few bruises and hurt pride. Turns out the bricklayer had mixed up his stories somewhat, but the damage had been done. The barmaid was able to verify there was no violation going on as the child mentioned was well know to her and her children, but the character insult was very hurtful. The bricklayers wife smoothed the situation with a financial donation to the school and a generous gift to the schoolteacher. Some of these stories made it out into the broader community, but most locals were generally disinterested in pub gossip, and preferred to just go about their own lives, not bothered by the haughty socialites.

Next, imagine that instead of a local village, you scale this up to Capitol Hill. The banker is in charge of the Federal Reserve Bank, and the barmaid is the Press Secretary. The bricklayer runs a large business, in name only, from a boardroom position. Marrying well provides ongoing, and unquestioned contracts, so the workflow and revenue, are endless. He is also privy to political machinations which sealed the nation’s Presidency for his father-n-law, being a fly on the wall as various industry bigwigs and lobbyists graced the family dinner table. At one party he attended, the architect was overheard to be negotiating a kickback for the Secretary of Education which would provide a design blueprint for the entire nation, in exchange for lucrative ‘boardroom’ positions, and sexual favours. This moment was captured by one of the kids playing on a cellphone, but luckily was intercepted by his wife before it was uploaded publicly. The vid has been deleted, allegedly. The farmer and his wife both actively lobby for Big Agriculture, mostly for support of wheat subsidies, though they also have a hand in pressing for the continued use of glyphosates. They are part of a corporate farming group which owns 1.5m acres of cropping land, whose production costs are 30-50% higher than other wheat producing nations. The media has been investigating wheat cropping, asking why domestic farming receives such huge subsidies, when the same product can be imported for half the cost to the consumer. On behalf of the president, press secretary is managing to quell the uproar stating “we must put food on our own table”. The president refuses to answer questions on the issue, choosing to focus on the latest foreign war which is bringing freedom and democracy to an oil-rich third world country that is not yet using the US dollar for it’s reserve currency. This issue too is causing squeamish retorts from the press secretary, who is also trying to tamp down allegations of insider trading by the Fed Chairman's son. Allegedly, there has been a pattern of financial transactions on any given day prior to announcements of interest rate hikes. It is made all the more curious as the son is a recalcitrant drug addict who barely knows which day it is, let alone what the markets are doing. Fortunately the press secretary is able to say he attended the best university in the land, (attested to by the Secretary for Education) and has autonomy over his affairs, even if the company transacts via accounts owned by a family trust. The Press Secretary, who has been linked ‘socially’ with the Chairman’s son, chooses very blunt terms to curtail questions regarding the coincidental investment patterns, saying only, “Thank you, I dealt with that previously, and will not be commenting any further.” She must run cover for everyones asses, including her own.

The only difference between those two fantastic tales is the zeros, everything else is more or less similar. The zeros are on the bank balances, being managed as well as being garnered, likewise on the numbers of affected people. The remainder of the stories are purely a function of social interaction, of maximising one’s position in the social order, of leveraging social interactions to ensure maximal financial gain, or movement up the power hierarchy. The core human motivations remain the same, as the village becomes a nation. The tales of human fallibility are the same, the ass-covering and back-scratching are the same, whereas the dynamics of scale have shifted personal gain from a local level, to a national take. They are simply helping each other out because they are socially acquainted, and protecting one another when the going gets tough. Both tales are working within the constructs of a system known as democracy, where elected representatives tug on levers controlling financial resources to which they have little, or no, skin in the game.

Outside of this Capitol Hill, are the ‘disaffected’. Those who could give two fucks about politics, it’s machinations, or it’s effects on their daily lives. They do not engage in politics other than to complain endlessly about the rising price of milk or gas. Politics and Big Business are to them, something done by others, an ‘other world’ experience, in the same way fish breathe water, the same water they just pissed in, they don’t care. They are so disenfranchised from any sense of control which will trickle down from institutional power structures, that they do not for an instant consider themselves to have agency within it.

To that end, it is all a matter of opportunity, and a function of moral motivation, or lack thereof. Both are patterns of self seeking human action, taking advantage, where and when it presents itself, and involving those closest to them socially, as both leverage to power, and/or a hand up when required. If we are to strip out the social mechanics, and purely view the mathematical statistics in isolation, a clear advantage would be seen accruing to the Capitol Hill people. Providing a political environment where such inconsistencies across scale can be minimised is one of those eternally unanswerable challenges. Searching for that utopian parity is the dream of IOV, and will be discussed further in upcoming work.

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