I never loved the game of golf, though I was always intimately familiar with the reasons for its appeal; the substance of its mystique. I inherently understood why the game inspired dramas like Tin Cup, or The Legend of Bagger Vance and comedy classics like Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore. No matter the caliber of golfer one happens to be, on any given day the whimsical, comical forces of divine intervention will decide the kind of round any player experiences. For avid golfers, the lesson can be harsh; can lead greats like Chi Chi Rodriguez to snap his clubs in half, Phil Mickelson to play lawn hockey on the 18th at the ’06 Open, or Greg Norman to blow a six-shot lead going into the final round of the ’96 Masters.
I was always a dreadful golfer, but once every dozen rounds the planets would align and guide my hand to greatness. My tee shots would be in play almost every hole. I would sink the four-foot birdie putts. I’d get on the green even if I sneezed while swinging my approach shot from the fairway and landed in the beach. I could, without having to check my sanity, consider pulling my driver out of the bag. My driver and I were most often not on speaking terms. It was a hooker; one who pulled, shanked, and duffed. It never put a smile on my face, no matter how much I paid for it.
The odd magical round inevitably fueled delusions of efficacy in the game. That is how the game reels a person in. Inevitably, the very next round would bring reality crashing down upon my hopeful ego. Each successive round thereafter would bring me back to the deplorable golf path I had never truly left, despite the glorious round, which would soon become a faint apparition.
With the distance of time, I now know it was a cruel, divine joke. It was messing with my head, employing its dirty tricks to keep me coming back to the links from May to October for a weekly lesson in humility and grace. I was the furthest thing from a model student. With every hole in a terrible round I became increasingly apoplectic. I unleashed a barrage of profanities to whomever would listen, threw clubs in water hazards and aimlessly catapulted them into the forest, where they would never be found again, joining the balls of my wayward tee shots past.
It was almost as if, going into each round, that I should be playing better than history quite clearly indicated I played: terribly. Like a flat-earther, I believed reality would eventually harmonize with my beliefs, especially if I held them more fervently in the face of hard evidence to the contrary. History has countless examples where delusion wash shown to be a relative term, where it ultimately proved to be “optimism.” David and Goliath, for example. Frodo obtaining the Ring. You get it.
My grand grandfather had an intense passion for the game which, since I worshipped the ground he walked upon, meant I desperately longed to share the same passion. Gramps was an Exeter-educated American from an affluent family who, as soon as he was old enough to enlist, left home because his fellow Yankees were sitting on the sidelines while Hitler was decimating Europe, and came to Canada to sign up with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He trained as a flyer in Fort McLeod Alberta, the place he met and married my grandmother, before leaving his wife and newborn girl (my mother) to join the war effort.
He became one of the youngest squadron leaders to pilot the famous Lancaster
Bomber in the battle for Europe. Certainly it was a nod to his grit and talent, but it was also a testament to how many Lancasters were downed with every sortie; the rising death toll inking the promotions for remaining flyers. Flight reports from my grandfather’s squadron (433 Porcupine in 6 RCAF Bomber Group) indicated his plane (NG441, aka Little Lulu) was chased back to base at Skipton-on-Swale by German FW-190s, which tore some holes in the sturdy beast without taking her down. I can only imagine what it must have been like to steer that tattered tank in the sky home to safety.
After he returned from the war, he spurned the family business – and certain wealth – in America to start a new life in Canada with his wife and children. He was an elevator lift operator, a milk delivery man, and then finally got a foot in the door of a legendary Canadian retailer (Hudson’s Bay). From the bottom he worked his way up, rising to the executive ranks of the retailer and then launching into a successful career as a Canadian marketing executive. He retired as an Executive Vice-President of a multinational oil and gas company and was a well-known, well-respected business leader in his community.
It would be an understatement to say I idolized the man. To me, he embodied the American Ideal. He was stereotypically American in some ways – gregarious, go-getter, and persevering in his drive – but also Canadian in many other ways – reserved, humble, and considerate. He traces his roots – my maternal roots – to one of the earliest settler families in colonial-era New England (the Footes). I am distantly related to the Bush family. Everything about the man seemed draped in a great historical legacy. I was absolutely crushed when he died so young – at the age of sixty-nine – when I was only nineteen.
I never got to know my grandfather as a man and, worst of all, I never got to play a real round of golf with him. In retrospect, this latter fact was probably for the best. He was happy when he died, and had he seen me golf I think he would have died a broken-hearted man. Though he died young, he died happy and grateful with only a handful of regrets, which is to say no more than those which would have made him perfectly human.
For these reasons golf holds a strong emotional attachment in my psyche. I wanted to love golf like my grandfather loved golf. I wanted to someday have my own sons act as a caddy for me as I had done for my grandfather. I wanted them to see a person they idolized humbled and made apoplectic by a little ball and a few clubs while galavanting in a well-manicured amusement park. I wanted to play golf with my brother and my relatives who inherited my grandfather’s love of the game.
But it never took. I tried and tried and tried some more to love it. Hell, even to like it. Nothing. Despite all the lessons and time spent at the driving range, I perpetually remained an abysmal golfer. Eventually, frustration made me abandon the game for pastimes that had the prospect of leaving me with a smile. In so doing, I lost out on countless opportunities to spend a little leisure time with my brother, uncle, and cousins.
It’s a shame. And it’s all because of golf.
The strong emotional and familial bonds to the game of golf has meant that, several times since I hung up my clubs I have tried countless times to find my connection with the sport. I am spurned along in the effort by thoughts of how fun it would be to play a round with my Uncle and Aunt who are zealous about golf and have traveled the world to play its most reputed links: St. Andrews, Glen Abbey, Spruce Meadows, et cetera. They are members of a club with a spectacular course, which would be a pleasure to get a round on – were it not for the fact I hate golf and would rather use the time to have a root canal.
Since my self-imposed moratorium from golf several other, philosophical aversions have come to tarnish the game in my heart. Combined with my pitiable lack of skill, they have combined to strengthen my decision to stop giving the game another chance. The family affinities are distant, the fond memories less immediate, the causes of my immense disdain far more poignant and marked.
Most of this is rooted in the unprecedented growth in Corporate largesse over the past decades which, interestingly enough, coincides with breakthroughs in the popularity of golf. In North America it is not uncommon for CEOs of large, publicly traded companies to be paid several hundred times what their regular employees make. Multi-billion dollar companies are given government subsidies in the form of preferential tax rates and economic policies that effectively lower their operational costs. The wealthy owners and operators are benefactors of tax policies that allow them to evade, avoid, and launder the proceeds of their corporate proceeds off shore to “tax havens” where the capital they amass vanishes from the economy in which it was earned.
Everyone knows the dubious cultural institution that is the mainstay of this cadre of filthy rich kleptocrats: the exclusive golf and country club. In the past, its exclusivity was not exclusively on the basis of economics. In the WASPish, old-money city in which I grew up, economic elitism was more firmly rooted in class than in Corporatism. When the good grace of extraordinary wealth began to fall in the laps of those whose ancestry was not of the moneyed elite, and thus allowed “commoners” membership in these clubs, the barriers of exclusion focused on one’s race, gender, and religion. The white women who were regular staples at the club were wives of members, not members in their own right.
Mass marketing, globalization, and economic necessity has made it such that most exclusive country clubs no longer exclude on the basis of factors other than extraordinary wealth. Despite its bigoted lineage, golf has become popular among non-WASPs around the world who genuinely like the game despite the appalling lack of cultural diversity among those who play in its elite leagues. To the degree women, Jews, or people of colour with the financial means aspire to join social clubs with a sordid legacy of excluding people just like them, they are no longer barred from doing so by the chauvinistic membership policies of the past.
What might dissuade a woman, a person of colour, or a Jew from rushing to become members of the most exclusive country clubs, despite their financial means, is the culture prevalent in such places. The “let them eat cake” mentality that is predominant is the locus of my current disdain for golf. Arguably, this is a little insane, because golf can be played anywhere besides an exclusive country club where aristocrats cook up schemes to further enrich themselves by screwing everyone else in society, especially the poor and disenfranchised.
At the same time, every obnoxious, bloviating, lying corporate dirtbag who uses their influence to extort sitting governments into pandering to they and their ilk also shares one thing in common: their addiction to golf. The worst president America has ever seen, Donald Trump, cannot stop playing the game, no matter how much his neglect of running the country he was, against all rhyme and reason, elected to run, causes the formidable empire that was once America to slip further down the slippery slope of its demise.
The exclusive golf and country club and its members have been for decades a formidable institutional force that instills, reinforces, and perpetuates white, male dominance in society’s main power institutions – business, economics, law, medicine, politics, and government. In Britain and continental Europe the aristocracy once served this function. In Canada and the United States, which ostensibly shunned the aristocracy of their British forebears, it took time to find an equally effective institution of exclusion from society’s elite, until one ultimately emerged in the golf and country club.
Not all golf courses consolidate the power and dominance of white men over a society, but those that matter most, the most exclusive clubs, certainly do. The golf clubs catering to Regular Joes do not have any influence on a society’s power structures. Instead, it is an instrumental cultural force that propagates and reinforces wider society’s acceptance of the graft, corruption, and treasonous, anti-democratic treachery that sustain modern, corporate elitism.
This shared pastime is a formidable force of conformity among low-rung whites to the ideological dictates cooked up by white elites. Like other shared social bonds, the love of golf seals their belief in the fiction they share more affinities to the white elite who exploit and disenfranchise them than with marginalized people of colour, progressives, or foreigners. The alleged cultural bonds are further instilled by several other canards, touted ad nauseum in American discourse by corporate wealth, which has advanced massive white, lower and middle-class delusion with well-funded, well-orchestrated propaganda campaign for decades: a Love of Jesus, hunting, fear of immigrants, being white, America’s moral supremacy, and slavery denial.
These shared passions between white plutocrats and the hoodwinked masses of white serfs are essential facets of the narrative fueling the culture wars, which keep economically disenfranchised whites and people of colour divided socially and politically. This tall tale is written by the corporate aristocracy to keep the underclass whites they exploit from apprehending the shared political fraternity with those of other creeds; to keep the masses from mobilizing around their common cause to demand a change to the status quo.
Having lived in the Middle East, it is uncanny how men there value family, god, guns, and their country – just like white, blue-blooded, economically poor Americans. Yet, thanks to the propaganda cooked-up at the golf and country club, Muslims are touted as the enemy; they are the ones making the whites struggle to make ends meet, they are the ones stealing the land and threatening the American Way of Life. In reality, it is large corporations – not small or mid-sized businesses – who exploit their labour force to enjoy extraordinary profits, paying them barely subsistence wages in return for the value their efforts create. These exploitative organizations are operated mostly by white, Christian Americans and Europeans, not Muslims or immigrants from elsewhere.
Small and medium-sized businesses, often run by immigrants, people of colour and whites alike, are the true capitalist fuel sustaining the American Way of Life. These enterprises compete fairly because they have no choice; they do not have the financial means to corrupt legislators or destroy the free and competitive nature of economic and financial markets. They do not have excess capital to hire lobbyists in Washington who chip away at American democracy while spinning the yarn about The American Way of Life. Small businesses do not waste their time and money keeping Americans oblivious to the pin-striped grifters and racketeers who work against their economic interests. Multi-billion dollar corporations are the single, greatest threat not only to fair market capitalism, but to democracy and the so-called American Way of Life.
That is not the clarion cry of a new Communist manifesto, it is the observations of a political scientist who has read a few history books. All of them clearly show how Corporatism has gone hand-in-hand with the emergence of destructive, war-producing fascism or political upheaval. Gross imbalances of economic power, a state of affairs sought after by Corporate interests, have historically resulted in disorder, civil unrest, or total war.
The concentration of a society’s wealth is inherently antithetical to democracy – it diverts capital away from economic activities that benefit most of a society’s citizens in favour of profit-making ventures that serve the least. Not only does this ultimately leave a nation desperately bereft of investment capital available for small business ventures, but it also sustains a political bubble that removes a nation’s rulers from the ruled. The lack of accounting for the needs of the citizens among legislators breeds feelings of resentment, disenfranchisement, and casts a pall of illegitimacy over a nation’s public institutions.
The preponderance of Trust, a staple of civic-mindedness absolutely essential for most functioning societies, predicts the degree most citizens are willing to abide by a society’s rules. We tend to overestimate the power of government to enforce rules, thanks to corporate-sponsored media campaigns suggesting this is the case. Over the past several decades, their well-funded, self-serving discourse has slowly eroded public sentiment about the legitimacy of government’s legislative and regulatory role in society.
This is less a doctrinal issue than a pragmatic one: it is an end-around way of earning public support for its agenda of tax cuts (that is, effective public subsidies) and de-regulation for corporate wealth creation and accumulation. Together, they work to bankrupt the public treasury and flout consumer and environmental protections. Most democracies rely less on the threat of legal sticks and more on good faith to compel the majority of its citizens to follow the rules. Such civic mindedness is eroded when democratic governments are constantly subjected to attack by corporate interests as wasteful, irrelevant, and illegitimate agents in a free society.
The unceasing anti-government campaign in the hearts and minds of regular citizens is by far the most conspicuous element of corporate sociopathy in America today. Corporations are not “citizens”; legal sticks are required to moderate corporate practices; those that create adverse “spillovers” onto society. The seeds of the de-regulation agenda were sown by corporate interests in the eighties under Reagan, but the ideas it fomented did not stop at de-regulation of the economy. They invaded the American political consciousness like a cancer and eroded the bonds of trust and civility, the intangible, absolutely essential ingredients for a functioning democracy.
The propaganda has been so utterly effective that, today, most citizens genuinely believe in corporate self-regulation; they see it as an essential facet of wealth creation. “Red Tape,” the buzzword for regulation, is the enemy of profit, apparently. Except, corporations have proven time and time again their compunction to behave like sociopaths in the absence of a stick to stop them doing so. The legal ramifications for negligence, for flouting principles of safety and consumer protection, is factored in as a cost of doing business. The families of the two Boeing 727 Max planes that went down are the tragic result of starving government regulatory bodies; demonstrating the sheer repugnant corporate malfeasance that prevails where de-regulation has bred contempt and complacency in respect of public safety.
Without strong institutions of democracy forestalling its political ambitions, big money will always use its wealth to corrupt politics as a means to increase its economic gains. Most often, the policy agenda set by such corrupting influences adversely affects a vast majority of citizens. The assault of corporate lobbyists in our nations’ capitols undermines democratic institutions in ways that are difficult to turn back once the system has been compromised. Imagine any politician running on a platform of completely eliminating tax shelters, which at one time did not exist, but have cost most economically developed nations tens of trillions of dollars in lost revenue in the past decades – enough to have mostly eliminated the accumulated debt these countries have racked up.
A CEO of a publicly traded company has something akin to a fiduciary duty to shareholders to leverage the economic clout of the corporation he presides to persuade or extort legislators to enact policies to improve the company’s bottom line. Given the epoch of tax revulsion we have been mired in for decades, these fiscal breaks for corporations must necessarily reduce the revenue available for the provision of government services to the wider population: schools, hospitals, and social welfare. It is the duty of politicians and democratic institutions to stop the kinds of influence-peddling that are not subject to democratic scrutiny from succeeding. If they do not, mechanisms of real political power are corrupted by inherently anti-democratic forces, given corporations are not real citizens, but legal, economic entities. Non-citizen agents should not wield so much power in a democracy.
The power and corrupting influence of the wealth wielded by large corporations in a democracy needs to be curtailed if fascism is to be avoided. This is not the same as an argument for socialism or increased government control of the economy. These shibboleths were hatched and unleashed by corporate shills to silence calls for democratic reforms and maintain the kleptocracy that today allows so few benefactors to hoard a nation’s wealth capital and send it offshore.
The corporate consolidation of economic and political power needs to be diluted and diversified to make economic markets more fair and efficient optimizers of a nation’s capital. There must be limits to the degree of political influence corporate money can buy, because its aims are so often antithetical to what is required of an orderly civil society; where trust and faith in the transparency, fairness, and the efficacy of democratic institutions are vital to political stability.
At this moment, anyone who claims America is an exemplar of a functioning capitalist economy or a robust democracy is either a liar, a fool, or a paid mouthpiece. America’s economy is a perfect example of crony-capitalism at its absolute worst. It is one dominated by monopolies, monopsonies, and oligopolies who use their influence to weaken markets and destroy long-standing public institutions like education, health, and social security. They lobby to have governments enact social and macro-economic policies that, insofar as they improve the profit margin of corporations, inculcate wasteful, inefficient allocations of a nation’s capital and reduce the benefactors of its wealth.
It is insidious how policymakers have hidden the economic costs of capital flight by filthy rich entities from public knowledge. In the stroke of a pen, policymakers could put limits on such off-shoring. Or, they could tax the offshoring of capital and use the proceeds to fix the broken health care and public education systems. Alternatively, they could incentivize not diverting profits offshore with measures to encourage domestic investment towards poorly capitalized sectors of the economy (for example, “green” ventures or small businesses run by the urban poor).
If an American government did any of these things, or if they just taxed corporations like regular working people, they could send most of a country’s citizens to college free of charge (which many European countries do, pace the ignorant Americans who laud such an idea as “socialist”). Except, the corporate elite tells politicians “don’t you dare” and weak-kneed, spineless, corporate campaign funded politicians listen. Then, the corporate PACs use their well-financed propaganda machine to make Regular Joes believe the lack of cash in the US Treasury to pay for much needed government programs is the fault of immigrants, the homeless, or people on social security.
Insofar as women and people of colour have become ensconced in society’s elite, their membership in exclusive golf and country clubs presents them with strong disincentives from thinking, acting, and exemplifying aspects of their identity as female, black, Asian, Muslim, progressive, or working-class individuals. To the corporate cultures that dominate, these marginal dimensions of a person are conspicuous by their difference and, by that token, are inherently threatening to the status quo. To ignore this proviso is to invites alienation and scorn in one of the most homogeneously white, corporate cultural enclaves in existence in North America.
The whole point of paying such exorbitant fees to gain membership in such an exclusive club is to gain influence with a society’s most powerful; to network with prospective high-value clients, patrons, sources of capital, and those touting highly-coveted executive appointments; to be seen to be among a society’s elite in order to increase the market value of one’s cultural capital or personal brand. When you are in Rome trying to take a piece of the Roman pie for yourself, you must do as the Romans do. The imperative of wealth creation in this social milieu imposes norms of conformity that act to obliterate the ethnic, gender, or other cleavages that may have distinguished members of the corporate elite prior to their membership in the golf and country club.
I spent many Sundays brunching with provincial premiers, deputy ministers (my grandfather was himself one for a time), and senior cabinet ministers federally and provincially. I was at weddings, anniversaries, and run-of-the mill cocktail parties hosted by Board Chairs, Directors, CEOs, and executives in the country’s largest banks and publicly traded corporations. Working schlubs were not part of the mix – unless they were clearing your table or refilling your drink.
Members of Canada’s oldest, largest family business empires were personal friends of my grandparents, and I hob-nobbed with their little children when I was a young child. I also went to one of the city’s most elite private schools until I began to get queasy about the hypocrisies of being schooled in elitism while living with a poor mother and switched to a public school. In effect, I was raised like any other privileged white kid in the 70s and 80s. I know exactly what white privilege is because I saw it all around me in my city’s most exclusive golf and country club. I was raised to possess the mind that was a product of the white corporate and political elite.
What are some of the things that shaped that mind, you ask? Read on. The vulgar excess greed and contempt for social democracy it breeds are a relative new cultural phenomenon among the ultra-rich. They are an insidious, conspicuous trait predominant among Baby Boomer monied elites; they who love Trump and have no moral qualms about throwing throngs of their fellow citizens under a bus to fatten their wallets.
Today’s ultra-rich, irrespective of their nationality, have far more affinities to one another than their fellow countrymen, because of the singularly common, narrow interest they share – that of wealth accumulation and concentration. The chief prerogative of this common agenda demands the chipping away at a nation’s economic and political sovereignty by encouraging policies to facilitate the freer movement of capital across national boundaries. The reasons for this have nothing to do with economic efficiency, but to encourage tax evasion, simplify the offshoring of production, and facilitate capital flight to places where lax labour laws sanction exploitative practices and allow cost savings by eliminating the need to implement workplace health and safety measures.
The ranks of the world’s most exclusive golf and country clubs are comprised of the top rung of the global wealthy elite who profit most from these dubious laissez-faire capitalist practices. Their preponderance is antithetical the national interests of any democracy seeking to implement fiscal policies aimed at promoting economic growth, stimulating full employment, and increasing the living standard of the widest berth of its citizens. The working-class citizens of any democracy are the market where the products made by the multi-national corporations are sold. With unabashed contempt, the corporate top-dogs work tirelessly on the links of their gilded country clubs to convince politicians to enact laws facilitating increasingly detrimental corporate economic collusion and erode the political and economic fortunes of their biggest customers.
Hence, my deep disdain for golf.
My grandfather’s generation of wealthy magnates grew up in the Depression and fought Hitler and fascism. My grandfather shunned his American family, came to sign up with the RCAF and flew Lancaster Bombers in World War II. In contrast, Baby Boomers fought for “free love” (for men to fuck whoever they wanted, basically) and LSD. My mother was a ski bum before she had me, which is when she started the thankless journey of single motherhood.
White, conservative men from the “Greatest Generation” – men like my grandfather – comprised the members of the exclusive golf and country club in my town as I was growing up. The similarities between the magnates of the Greatest Generation and those among the Boomers are relatively few in number: they were rich, largely white, and the country club was where they socialized most often. The country club was then and now the place where the political and ethical outlook of the elite is hashed out and consolidated.
The wealthy of yesteryear hated unions, just as those of today do. I heard about union thugs ad nauseum over scrambled eggs and sausages every goddamned Sunday brunch. What I did not hear was my grandfather and his generational peers laughing diabolically after convincing paid-off patsies in government to subsidize their corporate profits by cutting taxes or allowing labyrinthine corporate structures to facilitate tax avoidance.
My grandfather’s generation did not use their clout to block legislation meant to provide workers the right to be paid a living wage. They knew who it was that drove and generated ninety-five per cent of their corporation’s revenue and asset value. That’s why they did not pay themselves a thousand times their lowest paid worker. My grandfather would have been embarrassed and ashamed to present such grotesque compensation package to his Board. He golfed with those guys and considered them friends, not idiots.
The difference between the magnates of my childhood and today’s “conservatives”, who are actually more like industrialist fascists of Third Reich Germany, Franco’s Spain, and Pinochet’s Chile, are stark. It is reflected in the disparities in their attitudes and behaviours as much as it is in their golf game.
It was not a widely held view among the previous generation of wealthy – those before the Baby Boomers – that their power and access to politicians at the country club gave them a platform to vie for policies outside their direct business interests. They did not lobby the politician in their golfing party for tax policies that undermine the health system and social safety net just to enrich themselves. They did not suggest privatizing health care so they could start hospitals and insurance companies to reap the proceeds of public expenditures on health.
My grandfather’s generation accepted government’s role and knew their place – they were good sportsmen who competed as such on the green and on the political hustings. They were citizens first, shrewd businessmen second. They felt the obligation to use their power and influence to help the unfortunate. They did not leave charity to government; they cobbled together their monied friends and created charitable organizations to achieve this aim. They used their extra energy to help those who were less fortunate, not to hinder and further denigrate their lives, as today’s wealthy golfers do.
When it came to their wealth, a good majority of the Greatest Generation magnates I grew up around at the country club were grateful for their lot. Their prosperity did not fuel a sense of entitlement. They knew intuitively the shot they cupped from the sand trap near the seventeenth green was a little lucky, just like their incredible wealth, and they behaved accordingly. Magnates on the links of yesteryear did not pump out their chest and say, “I meant to do that,” because the links were a place of humility and grace, not an opportunity to humiliate your golf party by swinging your club around like a brick bat.
Aside from free flowing booze and racial slurs, what I mostly saw at the country club I grew up in in the 70s and early 80s were rich, white folks who were happy to be alive. They knew they were benefactors of hard work and a little luck. They knew their lives were so much more fortunate than most, so their joy was not smug and self-entitled as is the attitude of many who possess extreme wealth today. They took to heart the lessons of the links – the next shot, the next round, the next season might be a total disaster. It’s why they did not gather in circles angrily kvetching – primarily because they did not allow Jews – about how the government was their worst enemy and should be bled to death of revenue. Being a good winner and a graceful loser were once key features of being a good sport in the game of golf and in the game of life.
Golf provides the perfect analogy to describe the differences between the wealthy conservatives of the “Greatest Generation” and so many in the Baby Boomer generation. Many Boomer elites are loathesome and detestable in their avarice; in the utter contempt they proudly display toward their fellow citizens in the policies they tout as “good for the economy.” These ideological bromides are hashed out at the exclusive country clubs of today. The multi-millionaire and billionaire class – a rare specimen when I was growing up – have irrevocably impugned the effective functioning of capitalist markets as much as they have desecrated the game of golf.
In my mind these institutions – capitalism and golf – which I once held dear, are filthy, degenerate facsimiles of what they once represented. I will never be a Marxist but I cringe when I hear pundits on business “news” shows suggesting the increase in billionaires is proof of a well-functioning capitalist system. They are either the most daft, fraudulent economists that ever existed, or are paid extraordinary bonuses for being thespians worthy of a starring role at the Old Vic for the lies they tell with such conviction and sincerity every day on national television.
I say this with an extremely heavy heart; I was once a staunch capitalist and conservative. I was once an eager, avid golfer until it became, for me, the symbol of everything corrupt and dubious in North American crony-capitalism. Every day with their short-sightedness and greed they dig our economies deeper into the pit of market failure by touting policies that serve their monopoly position. We owe the hollowing out of our economy’s wealth and the lack of punishment for shipping it off to Caribbean tax havens to monetary theory, one of the greatest, most socially ruinous fables in the sordid American pantheon that includes the Salem witch trials, slavery, McCarthyism, the “War on Drugs,” and The War in Iraq.
For decades monetary economic theory was touted on the golf course to politicians and policymakers as the rationale against doing anything to curtail capital flight and Keynesian monetary policy, despite the fact it helped European economies not only recover from decades of total war, but to thrive in the decades thereafter. Here are two words that should put the armchair economist business mavens trolling the exclusive golf course to shame: Marshall Plan.
Two of monetarism’s greatest proponents, Milton Friedman, who invented the theory, and Allan Greenspan who implemented it under Reagan, have wholly disavowed it. Not only is it ethically degenerate in its dogmatic application, but it is theoretically flawed, a far more serious disparagement in the minds of economists than the decades of economic destruction left in its wake.
Nonetheless, on the exclusive golf course books, magazines, and other manuscripts associated with facts and reality are the last thing in the hands or on the minds of the patrons. Their unanimity in disavowing climate science, despite having zero background in any of the relevant fields, attests to the poor affinities with facts among Corporate executive members in the country club these days. Apparently plutocrats only care about two types of green – that of the links they paid a hundred large to play, and that filling their pockets by the tens of thousands every hour. The green in the dwindling rainforest or the fields sprayed with insecticides? Not so much.
The fat cats driving around on gilded golf carts act like Japanese soldiers marooned on islands in the South Pacific who were unaware World War Two ended. They tout things like “trickle down” and “tax incentives” like people who did not realize their masters sold them out as a bunch of cons.
For some reason, Regular Joes are siding with the cons. Why? Because the cons come off as so believable. First of all, they are white like Regular Joe, so their dogma is just a little more familiar. Second, they make a far more convincing argument in their ten thousand dollar suits and smart golf attire than do the socialists in their tattered, frumpy, left-wing jeans and gun-hating, God-disbelieving ivory towers.
This, even when the billionaires have been pushing – in the case of OxyContin, literally – a drug that has ruined countless lives and made two entire generations of Westerners poorer: corporate crony-capitalism. It resembles feudalism, but thanks to fiat money and capitalist exchanges it has a more clean, modern look and feel, which nicely cloaks how it works in the same exclusionary way.
Thanks to the volumes of money changing hands, the billionaire’s golf party of sycophants go along with his lies about shooting a birdie on the par five sixteenth. They all saw the son-of-a-bitch take a Mulligan; they knew he did not take a stroke for the drop shot from the drink, and took a one putt from fifty feet out without actually sinking it. They all said nothing when they saw the card he handed in to the course Marshall showed “79” when they knew damn well it was more like “89”.
They say nothing when the billionaire yells out at the top of his lungs, “I have a one-handicap and am worth ten billion dollars” on FOX, at the church, to the New York Post, and from the Oval Office. Why? Because they don’t want to rain on the parade of their billionaire golf buddy. They don’t want to forgo the free trips on his private jet to his Florida cottage. They hope one day he will help them become the lying, cheating billionaire who ostensibly shoots a 79 every round.
I would be remiss were I to completely sugar-coat the country club I grew up in, as if the white rulers of yore had no sins of their own. I’ve already alluded to the fact there were no schmucks, putzes, or mamzers hanging around at the country club when I was a kid. I don’t recall there being a single bar or bat mitzvah at the club either, come to think of it. The wives of members were good for business, running up extraordinary food and liquor tabs to augment the revenue from a relatively flat stream of memberships.
Oh, and the wives. They were, shall we say, not the liberal feminists of the MeToo generation. Without being glib, I assume some of them were victimized by abusive husbands, which is sad in retrospect. It justifies a key pillar of liberal feminism – the economic enfranchisement of women to secure their independence and avoid women being trapped in abusive situations out of economic necessity.
But it also needs to be said: if the white women I witnessed at the country club in my childhood are any indication, they were and are themselves active, willing victimizers. Affluent white women are every bit as complicit as the white men they love in perpetuating the disenfranchisement and marginalization of the women, people of colour, or immigrants who are below them on the social ladder.
As a young black man, I was subjected to countless instances of unwelcome sexually aggressive, sexually inappropriate behaviours and abject, denigrating racism from white girls and women in every meaningful social space I occupied (school, night-club, workplace). I am not angry or indignant about it, but philosophical and self-reflective; it is a facet of social conditioning.
When I was young I would joke to displace my frustration at how certain white women had a “look” when they set eyes on me. Whenever I saw it I knew the afflicted female was blind and dumb to the neurotic, cerebral, nerd-aesthete I actually was. Instead of seeing the real me, they saw me with the drunken eyes of the cultural media’s depiction of black men like me as a hyper-masculine, sexually-precocious penis with limbs and a mouth. Thanks cultural media.
Of course, the issue is not really about money but one of power. Social spaces like the exclusive golf course, the access to which is open only to those of extraordinary financial means, is a safe space for wealthy benefactors to normalize all the perversions of power that comes with their economic standing. They are mutual admiration societies where the false, delusional narrative about how such grotesque fortunes enjoyed by members of these gilded cliques was amassed by excellence, intelligence, and hard work alone.
For some wealthy entrepreneurs these virtues definitely contributed to their good fortune, but for every one of these, mostly younger magnates, there are countless others whose wealth was also a result of: birth, guile, shrewdness, official corruption, straight-up crime and racketeering, tax evasion, fraud, good timing, and sheer dumb luck. The biggest lie, the most fetid, execrable dogma to have hoodwinked America in its history, next to the widespread denial of the still-lingering effects of slavery, is the idea of “the self-made magnate”. This putrid fable was hatched and passed down from the country club without a hint of irony.
From the eighties onward, an infinitesimally small chunk of the ill-gotten proceeds from each of the members of this cabal has been pooled in the service of framing such unacceptable wealth concentration as virtuous and beneficial for all. It is amazing how just a few billionaires can successfully bullshit hundreds of millions of unwitting dupes into drinking bilious Kool-Aid and believing it good.
Over the decades the corporate henchmen have bought politicians on both sides, created “news” networks to distill reality to fit their narrow, self-serving message, and funded cultural institutions like gun clubs and churches. They have weaved their insidious logic into the fabric of society to see to it the mobs believe and internalize the ridiculous rationales justifying the billionaires’ scandalous wealth accumulation:
- Billionaires are paragons of business exceptionalism, they are a sign of a thriving economy
- Anyone willing to work hard enough and to take big risks can become a billionaire
- The more billionaires, the better the economy, because billionaires re-invest their wealth back into the domestic economy with purchases and starting new businesses
- Taxes create disincentives to enterprise and government spending is almost always adverse – unless it is on the military and prisons, because those are good
We now know none of this to be true. In fact what we know is the following:
- The proliferation of Billionaires is clear-cut signs of capitalist market failure, mostly thanks to de-regulation, concentration of investment capital, corruption, money laundering, and cheap, unstable, often fraudulent credit and investment markets
- Anyone willing to work hard enough and to take big risks may become a successful business person, but most often billionaires are created by the result of luck, timing, being born into wealth, or being easily able to avail oneself to investment credit (a function of privileged networks)
- Billionaires are a drain on a domestic economy. They offshore most of the proceeds of their wealth for tax avoidance purposes. They do not buy most of their high-value assets in the domestic economy. They amass cash from paying consumers in a domestic economy and place that cash in a financial institution in a foreign country with poor banking regulations and no real economy. Since the billionaire’s cash is not in a domestic bank, it is not available as investment capital in the domestic economy, a total loss of the multiplier effect of capitalist economic growth.
- Taxes pay for education, social security, roads & infrastructure, a legal system to enforce contracts and protect businesses from arbitrary government encroachment, and health care. Without these public expenditures driven by tax revenue there is no reliable pool of skill and labour, there is no stable marketplace, and non-business risks increase. Not a nickel is made by a billionaire without publicly-funded investments to create a stable business climate where non-market risks to profit and growth are minimal.
The powerless mobs need a mileu as singularly effective as a golf course is to billionaires in consolidating a cohesive worldview to perpetuate its interests. If citizens were able to consolidate the differing narratives about of the causes of their economic disenfranchisement into a single, unified set of policy prescriptions the plutocrats would be running for the hills. At the very least, they would be in jail, where many belong for money laundering, wire fraud, tax evasion, and racketeering. A war on fraud and tax evasion ought to replace the one on drugs which criminalizes addiction, race, and poverty.
While it is not true today, the city of my youth was about as diverse as a penguin colony in the South Pole. I learned the petty racism and bigotry one witnesses among affluent whites is not necessarily a product of rampant immigration. At the country club of my childhood, it was obvious ignorance and booze were as much a predictor of racism as television images of throngs of Chinese or Sri Lankans showing up on our coastal shores in rickety boats or Mexicans, Hondurans, and Guatemalans heading to the border for America.
It wasn’t in some back alley in the slums of my town where I learned every slur for persons of colour imaginable, but at the country club where my edification in world geography began. And this, mostly from white women like my grandmother who were more crass and brazen in airing their racist slurs than any of the men.
Over Veuve Cliquot mimosas I learned the six categories of world ethnographic taxonomy, according the WASPs: Negroes, Orientals, Sheikhs, Packies, Spics, and “Us, the ones who matter”. I also learned the colour white has several gradients that act as benchmarks to exclude those who were not quite white enough for the WASP elite of my town in the 70s and early 80s. The Irish, Greeks, Italians, and Jews were not white, per se but mick, dago, wop, kikes. “Sorry, Bland, Humourless Whites Only,” the sign at the country club door should have read.
Every important member of the local establishment was a constant presence at our prestigious country club. These were entirely white guys with high-end cars in the parking lot and price tags that collectively could feed a large city in Nepal for a year. The golf course was the perfect refuge for rich white men to escape the persecution of corporate underlings, poor people, insider-trading investigators, union thugs, and tax regulators.
When you add up all the factors: my genetic incompatibility, the chauvinism, entitlement, crass wealth, graft, greed, contempt for humanity, sabotaging of democracy, and unself-reflective self-aggrandizing displays at the exclusive country club it equals oodles of frustration, ire, and pathos within my soul for the game of golf. It is the springboard from which my massive, Poison West Coast Sequoia tree of hate for the game of golf springs. The country club is a throwback to a bygone era of monarchy and aristocracy that is now occupied by the corporate elite. Perhaps it is time to storm the Bastille, which in today’s world can be found at the nineteenth hole of the world’s most exclusive golf glubs.
Within today’s exclusive golf and country club a single political narrative dominates in a way not experienced in the past. It is one that postulates greed, social atavism, and utter contempt for any shred of government energy devoted to social security policies to address poverty. Despite the fact they are clever enough to obtain a higher education and nominally run a large company, few seem intelligent enough to understand how turning a country’s existing poor into middle class earners is the easiest, surest way to guarantee a growing consumer market for the foreseeable future. Today’s corporate mavens seem pitiably incapable of viewing social security not just as a compassionate way to eradicate poverty but also an investment in market-development.
At the country club of today, governments exist to cut corporate taxes, award multi-billion dollar service contracts to the companies corporations operated, and introduce more loopholes to help the billionaires offshore their money. This gaunt, morally repugnant husk of a policy platform leads them to advance an agenda that works to the detriment of the vast majority of their fellow citizens. They do not see how using their access and influence to lobby policy makers to augment their wealth also erodes a nation’s democratic institutions; how it ultimately creates political resentments that fuel civil unrest.
It is appalling every time I hear pundits pandering to their greedy corporate patrons telling us if we don’t cut taxes for the rich they’ll move themselves and their companies elsewhere. Where are you going to go? China? Bangladesh? Sudan? Venezuela? Vietnam? Poor banking controls, rampant corruption, routine asset forfeiture by the state without access to legal recourse, poor legal systems to enforce contracts, and lack of a local skilled, educated workforce is my Full House to those who argue – the poker equivalent of a pair of deuces – that business will pull up stakes if they don’t get their way about taxes. Other economies with modern legal systems, democracy, an educated labour force, and political stability have higher taxes and regulations that do not allow exploitation of workers. They disallow corporations from pilfering society’s fiscal coffers for its own narrow benefit.
So, let me ask again CEO guy on FOX, where are you going to move that business if you don’t get your way? Only those who have been hit in the head with too many golf balls, or those who are winging them at our policymakers’ heads, are convinced by this bullshit argument.
Even though these hucksters propagated the “trickle down” delusion that has stained our collective consciousness for almost four decades, they spend countless hours on the links making sure not a red cent of their amassed wealth actually trickles down. And as they proudly stroll the links they agree to pool their cash to ensure the poor schlubs for whom they’ve turned off the ‘trickle tap’ will never earn a decent living by buying off legislators to oppose any increases to their wages.
Of course I’m being a little tongue in cheek. Not every white guy who golfs is a billionaire. Not everyone who golfs is white, has a penis, and is non-Jewish. Some socialists I know love golf. Alice Cooper and basketball players golf. True that. An exquisitely landscaped back yard for the plutocrats is no longer the most conspicuous aspect of golf in the twenty-first century. There are many public courses where the plebes and serfs can play too. There is golf around the world. It is “the people’s sport.” Hearing this, knowing what I know, makes me vomit in my mouth a little.
Every time I open up a business magazine – usually at a doctor’s or dentist’s office – I’m struck by the canard about golf being more than a white, corporate-elite pastime. And yet there it is, staring at me as I flush, the profile of yet another white CEO spewing the same drivel about a passion for the exact same hobby the other 499 fortune 500 CEOs share: golf. Snooze.
How does that happen in a place as geographically and demographically vast and as ethnically diverse and populous as North America? Just once, I’d like to see a CEO say he’s into yoga, or Ultimate Frisbee, or triathlon. These are all hobbies that would take far less time away from running a large company than golf, by the way. Why aren’t shareholders outraged by this fact?
And so there it is. The treatise of my disdain for golf. I admit, it is not The Prison Notebooks or What is to be Done? but it is how I see it.
It is still, by and large, an elitist sport because of those who flock to it; for the volume of courses that are exclusive and private, open only to those whose incomes are in the stratosphere. It’s had a history of foreclosing its doors to folks who are non-white like me; to those with a vagina; those whose religion touts Jesus as a seminal figure, but not the son of God. It panders to patrons wary of those who are nominally white, whose tendency to acquire an extremely dark complexion in the sun makes them suspect. It panders to those who would screw their fellow citizens and weaken democracy just so they can afford another yacht and European villa.
Aside from my pathological, completely irrational reservations about the pastime, I’ve had terrible experiences as a golf hack that have left me ambivalent. Given what it stands for philosophically, it is senseless to pay my hard-earned, meagre money for the privilege of being flogged by abject failure on the links. Being subjected to the muffled laughter of white guys who make more in five minutes than I do in a year is too much for my ego to withstand, especially when I’ve duffed my seventeenth tee shot into the adjacent forest.