Monday, May 26, 2014

Fun with divestments!

This is the part where I freely admit that I have paid very little attention to what my city invests in. And not just because I hardly know what city to call "mine" in the first place. (In the five-year period preceding this blog post, I have lived in Guangzhou, Queretaro, Andong, Chicago, and New York, and I have "lived" in Phoenix, Grand Rapids, and Phuket.) Because I don't think I've ever given much thought at all to the fact that cities are investing in anything.

I mean -- if I stop to think (which I don't, ordinarily), "How does my city get money?" then it seems that "Um, sales tax?" is the answer. Isn't that what they tell us all along: property taxes fund schools, sales taxes fill city coffers, and income taxes make possible our roads and social services and all those billions of dollars of soldiers' salaries, education, housing, equipment, ammunition, etc. as they make the world safe/defend our freedom/generate greatness/get applauded at airports/kill people/lay waste to entire villages/stuff like that. (Cue apocryphal Thoreau: "No, Ralph, what are you doing out there?")

But then I go and read a little story like this one in which the city of Portland weirdly wisely gets rid of 25% of its investments in Walmart, with plans to dump all its Walmart bonds by 2016, becoming the first U.S. city to divest funds from Walmart. Leading to some oh-so-very-obvious questions, among which:

1. Only 25%? Bigger, better, faster, more!! Come on, Portland!
2. Why the !@#%&* are you so invested in Walmart to begin with?
3. The "first" city to divest? *suspicious look* How many other cities are funding fucking Walmart and its horrible, abysmal practices?
4. Um - millions of dollars in Walmart bonds? That each of our major cities is just randomly paying?

That item #4 there is the one that strikes me deepest today. Amid all the talk about "We the Corporations" and the 99% and how freedom isn't free but tax loopholes apparently are and other hullabaloo, I don't think many people have ever really talked about the fact that cities like, say, Portland are investing millions of dollars in corporations like, say, Walmart. That is pretty terrible. Not just because Walmart's evil (it is) but because this whole moneymaking things goes unseen. Our society rolls merrily along with this idea that governments and corporations are separate things going about their business separately. Only, no. No, they are not.

How did cities make money in the past? In the year 1700, what did Boston and Plymouth and Providence do? Was there even a city clerk then? Maybe not. When were city clerks invented? When were city clerks' pensions invented? Who among ye knows anything whatsoever about all this?

Bankers, that's who. Rich ones.
And their CEO pals.

It's pretty grotesque, no?

(But seriously, people. Walmart?? Just: no.)

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