Why Assange must be severely punished.


(Published in Pearls and Irritations, 12.3.2020.)


Do you not realize that if people are allowed to blow the whistle on the crimes carried out to secure your empire your affluence cannot be guaranteed?

Do you have a fridge?  A car? Do you realize that only a few rich people have them?  Around 5 billion people don’t.  Around 1 billion have to get by on less than $7.50 a day.  They get energy at about 5-10% of the rate that Australians do.

The point is that our affluence is only possible because we rich 20% of the world’s people are accounting for about 80% of the world’s resource consumption.  According to the World Wildlife Fund the Australian per capita amount of productive land used is 6-8 ha. If productive land was shared equally among the world’s people we’d each get about 1.1 ha. Ten countries get 80 times as much of the world’s annual iron ore and alumina production as all the rest combined.

Now how is this possible?  There are two powerful mechanisms at work here.  The first is simply the way the global economy functions.  It is a market economy, and the market allocates scarce things to richer people. It cannot do anything else.  It allows richer people and countries to get scarce things like minerals and oil by paying more for them. That’s why something like 600 million tonnes of grain are fed every year to animals in rich countries, while something like 800 million people are hungry all the time. The market principle does not and cannot take any notice of considerations of justice, need, ecological sustainability, morality or social cohesion.  Just as well; how would you like to have to get by on your fair share of the world’s resources?

And the same miraculous mechanism ensures that the development taking place in the world is development in the interests of the rich.  In this economy what is developed is not what might best meet the needs of people and ecosystems, it is whatever the owners of capital believe will make more profit for themselves than any other available investment opportunity. So in the Third World there is lots of development of export plantations and mines and sweat shops, but little or no development of industries that might produce what the poor masses urgently need. This ensures that their resources mostly flow out to our supermarkets, cheaply because of the low wages.

The point is all this constitutes an empire, a global economic system which automatically siphons wealth to the rich few. In the old days you had to send gunboats and armies to conquer before you could ship out the loot. It’s much easier now; all you have to do is get them hopelessly indebted and they have no choice but to gear their economies to paying tribute to our banks and helping our corporations to purchase their land, minerals, forests, fish and ultra-cheap labour. (Unconvinced? Have a look at Perkins account of his valuable work for the Word Bank, 2004.)

But from time to time the normal functioning of the market is not enough and we have to intervene a little, sometimes a lot. At the polite end of the scale this can involve generous “assistance” to countries to encourage them to adopt policies favourble to us, such massive arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Sometimes it is necessary to prop up dictators willing to rule in ways that suit our corporations.

Unfortunately we sometimes run into non-compliant regimes. Some of these want to make sure their country’s resources benefit their people rather than us.  An example was “Arab Nationalism”, but that has been got rid of some time ago. Venezuela is a current example, in the process of being dealt with by the mid-level strategy of, as Henry Kissinger said,“…making the economy scream”; that is using devices like trade and financial sanctions, or freezing the $7 billion of their assets in US banks, or moving capital out in order to ruin the currency. These devices are intended to damage the economy to the point where people will throw out the nationalist government and allow in one that will “…get the economy going again.”  In Venezuela the US has approved Juan Guaido as the replacement president. He would certainly get the economy going again, by giving transnational corporations generous access to the country’s resources and investment opportunities …which include the world’s biggest untapped oil reserves. 

However, unfortunately there can be more difficult cases.  Sometimes it is necessary to use skullduggery, dirty tricks and violence to get the job done. The CIA has over $60 billion to spend each year, on for instance pouring money and arms into rebel groups (such as the Taliban to get the Russians out of Afghanistan and into ISIS to get rid of Assad.) McCoy (2003) documents their importation of heroin into the US to fund regime change in Nicaragua (2003).

At the most nasty end of the spectrum is military action to bring about regime change. This is often a matter of funding rebel groups but the US has invaded non-compliant countries …over 70 times.  It has over 800 military bases around the world to do this work. Sometimes quite nasty things have to be done, such as assassinating non-compliant rulers (over 600 attempts on Castro, many by the CIA . Wikipedia, 2020.), or standing by when maybe a million “communists” were slaughtered in Indonesia or at least enabling the murder of Lumumba, and Allende, and Gadaffi.

The point is that these things have to be done in order to secure the empire, the vast regions and economies from which resources flow into our fridges and cars and cell phones and supermarkets.  Yes of course the transnational corporation and the global 1% benefit most, but you and I benefit too. Our “living standards”, our rate of consumption of oil, and tantalum and copper can not be anywhere near as high as they are unless we can go on getting far more than our global fair share and that means we must maintain access to these resources and that means we have to keep in place regimes that will allow us in and get rid of those that will not.

Now you will understand why it is so important to prevent people like Ellsberg and Chelsea Manning and Snowden and Assange from exposing the nasty things that are done to secure our empire. Those who try must be severely punished in order to deter others from doing so. The deep establishments in rich countries fully understand this and quietly cooperate.  The law Assange broke was disobeying bail conditions, under extreme incentive to do so, but he has been imprisoned and tortured for ten years and is being treated viciously by the British establishment.  The Australian establishment knows it must not assist him. If the Americans get him he will be charged with treason and will die in prison (…when it is not technically possible for him to have committed treason against the US because he is not a US citizen.) Doesn’t matter, potential whistle blowers will take note.

Does it need to be added that these kinds of things are not going to cease unless and until it is understood that growth and affluence are impossible, absurd and suicidal goals. The world’s resources cannot sustain present rich world “living standards”, let alone extend them to 10 billion people, let alone enable limitless economic growth. At present 1.5 billion have high “living standards” only because they take far more than their fair share of the available and dwindling resources.  They cannot do so without creating and dominating and exploiting an empire. There can be no sane solution unless there is acceptance of de-growth to an economy and to forms of settlement enabling us to live well on far lower per capita rates of consumption.  If you refuse to contemplate this then you had better go along with what’s happening to Assange. If on the other hand you would prefer to see a world in which it is no longer necessary to crush whistle blowers then you should join the simplicity movement. (thesimplerway.info, simplicityinstitute.org.)

Perkins, J., (2004), Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, New York, Berrett-Koehler.

Wikipedia, (2020), 638 ways to kill Castro. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/638_Ways_to_Kill_Castro