“qu’ils mangent de la brioche.”
—falsely attributed to Marie Antoinette. Likely said by Marie-Thérèse wife of Louis XIV.
A recent article in the City Journal of New York City discusses the risky investments that have cost most New York arts organizations a loss of 25 – 40% of their endowments forcing cutbacks, layoffs and a reduction in services. The article appropriately points out that for many arts organizations in the nineties and into the early part of this century, investments were proportioned 85% toward equity and illiquid instruments, i.e. wall street. The very term investment suggests an action that will secure a future prosperity not leverage a current one. The fact that arts institutions have fallen prey to casino capitalism is both unsurprising and saddening. These institutions have boards run almost exclusively by the ruling class elite who either run the Wall street banks and investment firms or the corporations and foundations born out of that same mentality. They are not in any position to consult these institutions on conservative investments than Larry Summers is capable of advising the federal government on bailing us out of our current financial crisis.
The quote above likely made by Marie-Thérèse, who lived in a time when abject wealth, much like current America, was a prideful display of 1% of the population at the expense of the other 99%. The attribution to Marie Antoinette is important because it demonstrates the slow burn necessary in order to overturn such inequity. In the case of France that was nearly one hundred years. I doubt we have a hundred years let alone ten years in the United States today. It is not so much that we are squandering our children’s and grandchildren’s fortunes, but that climate change and the end of oil will intercede long before those generations come of age and revolt against the powers that be. The wealth and power of 18th century Europe was more easily dissapated than the corporate-centered wealth of today. Although Europe at the very least had a cultural center and deep history to fall back on even when it attempted to self destruct in two world wars. America being the center of global power today stands relatively culturally empty-handed and pales in its mere 233 year history. A nation that watches over four hours of television a day, largely comprised of reality TV and Fox News is not going to weep when the great cultural institutions of America shutter. There is more than enough professional wrestling, American Idol and Katie Couric to fill the void as “Rome burns.”
Now is the time that the educated, well-informed (a daily diminishing number) literate and artistically and culturally inclined need to take action. As my college political science professor used to say, ‘revolutions are never initiated by the poor, but the middle-class’. Marat and his legions beheaded Louis XVI because the middle-class felt disenfranchised not because the poor were starving. The poor are always neglected. Karl Marx said; “Political economy regards the proletarian like a horse, he must receive enough to enable him to work. It does not consider him, during the time when he is not working, as a human being. It leaves this to criminal law, doctors, religion, statistical tables, politics, and the beadle.” This metaphor can be extended because the American ‘horse’ is crippled and it no longer plows like it once did. In fact, American corporations in their sociopathic structure simply outsource to other country’s ‘horses’ when ours proves insufficient. Americans, of which only 20% have passports sit in their recliners watching NASCAR ignorant of the sociopolitical dynamics of nations they will never visit and don’t care about. The Walmarts and Targets maintain a fresh supply of cheap Chinese goods placating the working class. What an irony that our original inheritance of this nation from the Indians who lived here was “purchased” in much the same way, with trinkets, beads and poisoned blankets.