aNewDomain — A weird thing happened when gas started getting pricey ahead of the 2007-2008 meltdown. Rich people started driving Hummers.
It was the age of Hummer. Of course, it’s since gone the way of Saturn: bought out, made generic, folded in, sunken under.
But back in the day, the H2 and the H3 were symbols, status symbols. The Hummer said: “I’m too rich for a gas crisis.” When it cost over a hundred dollars to fill the tank, these drivers didn’t have one flying damn to give. “Let the poor ones ride the bus,” was the attitude.
Or: “There isn’t enough to go around, but I’ve got mine, so give more to me.”
That’s why Marie Antoinette got offed.
In pre-revolutionary Paris, garbage sat in the streets. Import tariffs made food absurdly expensive and hard to come by. Citizens were taxed to come into the city and taxed to go out. Poverty was endemic. And money accumulated at the top. So when the revolution came, it came hard — not only with the expected socialist agenda but with its fearesome Reign of Terror, a reign the aristocracy would never forget.
In the end, nobody ate any cake. But we did learn a thing or two about income inequality.
Then we forgot.
In the United States, the 1920s were the worst for social mobility, poverty and inequality. And we’re rivaling those numbers today, maybe even beating them.
It’s a trend we’ve been seeing ever since The Great Depression — which was caused by greed and, specifically, the greed of rich people betting that poor people couldn’t pay their debts: The economy has improved steadily since the 1930s, but only for the rich. It never returned to anything even close to normal for the rest of us.
And now, in California, a decade of drought has resulted in unprecedented water shortages.
Wealthy people are happy to pay more for water. Brown lawns and defoliated golf courses are their biggest concerns. Wealthy people can also afford to deny climate change, too, and they can afford to watch only right wing-slanted news. Rich people can afford a lot of really weird, science-denying, reality-questioning attitudes, because there’s no real penalty for being so out of it.
But here’s the thing: The water is gone in California.
And it’s nearly gone in the rest of the world. A recent NASA study suggests the water collapse in California is just the first in a wave of such collapses imminent worldwide. It shouldn’t surprise us. We’ve known this was coming since forever.
It is even the central theme of Frank Herbert’s Dune novels: hydraulic despotism, the ability to oppress society by controlling the limiting factor on growth.
I pointed this out in my “Mad Max” review awhile ago. It’s the same theme you’ll find in both the new and old films, and especially in that 1980s gem “Ice Pirates.”
So rich cats in Cali are getting all Marie Antoinette about the water the same way they did about gas 10 years ago.
As it turns out, rich folks account for only a tiny minority of water usage, as do individuals generally. Water use is most heavily concentrated in industry.
And rich folks own industries.
In California, that doesn’t just mean technology. What it really means is farming.
Across the country, livestock, auto manufacture, power plants, textiles, paper … everything we buy is made using water, often staggering amounts of it. That water is a natural and public resource.
When it comes to who gets to buy it and use it, we have some serious double standards.
Detroit, for example, cut off water to many poor citizens who were delinquent on their accounts while treating industry differently: Business accounts were allowed to continue into indefinite deliquency.
When Mr. Romney says that “Corporations are people, my friend” — and the Supreme Court agrees, ruling they have free speech rights and those rights are expressable in political spending — then it seems clear what sorts of people corporations are.
They’re white people.
Rich, white people who couldn’t honestly care less about the rest of us.
Specifically, they’re Marie Antoinette.
They get to use all the water and we get to eat cake.
For aNewDomain, I’m Jason Dias.
Cover image of Queen Marie-Antoinette de Lorraine-Habsbourg: Google Art Project” by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun – RQE3s9ANo6GnTg at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Image of Dune-like sandscape: Pete Souza [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Water 4: (http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2015/05/28/3663467/detroit-water-shutoffs/)