“I believe in capitalism. Capitalism to me is a spiritual concept. Democracy just gets in the way. Democracy is annoying. Let them buy stuff and eat cake. Where I come from, if you don't believe in capitalism you're going to hell.”
A “Yes Men” parody? No, these serious words of US billionaire investor Ken Fisher give an insight into the Forbes Global CEO Conference held in Sydney on September 28 and 29.
Also at the conference, NSW Premier Kristina Keneally joked with billionaire Steve Forbes about how accommodating a Labor regime could be for the corporate set, while Forbes himself called for a huge slashing of the corporate tax rate.
There were some people that she had a few harsher words for — warning anyone that dared to protest the mega-rich bankers and mining magnates that “if people break the law, the police will take action”.
Meanwhile, Steve Forbes encouraged protesters to “buy a copy of my latest book How capitalism will save us!”
Well, there wasn't a Steve Forbes book in sight, but there were plenty of eye patches, bandanas, and “shiver me timbers” as dozens of “anti-corporate pirates” organised by the Socialist Alliance descended on the billionaires’ party on September 29.
Putting a new twist on the “What shall we do with a drunken sailor” shanty, the pirates sang “What shall we do with the corporate thievers?” (or alternatively “the planet destroyers”), then heartily suggested “make ’em all work for a dollar a day”, “lock ’em all up on Christmas Island” and “make ’em all swim in their toxic waste.”
While the “scurvy dogs” of the Forbes $8000-per-head conference plotted how to further fill their bottomless pockets, the anti-corporate pirates outside noted that the wealth of the tiny few came from exploiting the working majority across the globe, as well as pillaging the planet's natural resources and destroying the environment in the process.
While the pirate theme was humorous, it was also a tribute to the Caribbean pirates of the “golden age of piracy” in the early 1700s — the model for pirates in popular culture. They lived at the time when the corporate elite represented at the Forbes conference were just establishing their wealth and power — to a large degree through the brutal Atlantic slave trade.
Sailors were ill-treated almost as much as the slaves. Sailors and slaves who rose against this brutal system became pirates: defying authority, plundering colonial merchants and sharing their booty equally.
Pirate captains were elected and crews made decisions democratically. The ongoing popularity of 18th century pirates reminds us that for as long as capitalists have tried to spread their profits-before-people agenda across the world, people have resisted.
Fellow protesters, Wollongong's “Billionaires for coal”, underlined the point, with a banner reading “Because the wealth gap just isn't big enough.” The “Billionaires” called for more recognition of Australia's richest man Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, given his “impressive campaign” to derail the modest mining super-profits tax.
Inside the conference, a real award was given to Carlos Slim, for his “lifetime achievement” … What achievement? Furthering education? A medical cure? Promoting social justice? No, his achievement is amassing $53.5 billion as Mexico's telco king, becoming the richest person in the world while most of his fellow Mexicans struggle against poverty.
The colourful protest gained coverage on Channel 10, the Sydney Morning Herald, the ABC, the Australian and the Peoples Daily in China.