I never loved the game of golf, mostly because it never loved me, no matter how earnestly I embraced it. Among my earliest childhood memories was the obsession my grandfather and his mates had for the game, the hours spent on the links, and the sheer joy at how the game had handed them their asses on a platter. My grandfather had party guests rolling on the floor laughing before the term was invented as he described his latest brush with golf futility. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he played the game because it was an endless supply of jokes to make him the life of every party.
I hadn’t even played a stroke when I was sucked in by golf’s mystique. Once I started playing it was replaced by sheer frustration, but I 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.
Even for seasoned golfers, the lessons learned on the links can be harsh. I was always a pitiful 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 sank the easy birdie putts. Heck, I had easy birdie putts to sink. Not only would my approach shot from the fairway land on the green, but it would stick; it would not start rolling off into the bunker, the typical scenario. I could, without having to check my sanity, consider pulling my driver out of the bag. Most often my driver and I were estranged. It was a hooker who pulled, shanked, and duffed and went out of its way to wipe the smile from my face, no matter how much I paid for it.
For me, these magical rounds of golf were as rare as Bigfoot sightings, an inconvenient truth that did nothing to stem the tide of delusion swelling in my brain after the fact; the delirium convincing me I had stumbled upon the hallowed ground that had been so elusive: improvement in the game. It reels a person in like a wicked drug. In similar fashion, the inevitable crashing into hard reality pales in comparison to the wistful longings of a mind still floating on the wave of ecstasy unleashed by that magical round. No matter how bad the trip in successive rounds got, I craved the euphoria, the anticipation of finding the next fix kept bringing me back.
With the distance of time, it’s obvious I was a cuckold, mocked by the cruel jests of a wicked deity. The whimsy of that baleful spirit messed with my head for years. Just like Sisyphus, every May I dutifully began rolling the cursed stone up the hill, unwavering in my belief that, this year, things would be different. No matter how close I got to pushing over the summit, by October the Gods had punished me repeatedly for my vanity; they had kicked the stone from my hopeful hands and watched me crumble to my knees in agony as my game went downhill, again and again.
“It is to laugh,” the spirits decreed. With every hole in a terrible round I became increasingly apoplectic, directing a sewage treatment plant of profanities at the gods. It came to a head when I began throwing my clubs. First to go was my wise-cracking three iron. “Whoosh” it went into the water hazard. The game was over when I catapulted my woods into the forest, never to be found again. I take solace in the fact I had sent those bastard clubs back to the place where it all began for them.
My friends tried to talk sense into me, imploring me as I began each round to look at the facts: there was no historical basis in reality for me to expect a decent level of play. Rather than approach each round as an opportunity for progress in my game, I should see it as taking the time for a pleasant walk to get some fresh air while I watched others play golf. The statistical record unequivocally, categorically, undeniably predicted the probability of my improvement by playing more golf was on a par with my chances of being struck by lightning on a clear day.
Every man has a limit to the humility they bring to bear in life. Most often mine was exhausted at the first tee of every golf round. There was always an audience of dozens waiting to start their tee, people just loitering quite frankly. Try as I might, I could not ignore the curious eyes fixed on me as I lined up to the tee box. I had been doing the same myself only moments earlier when the party in front of us began their round. I am a little ashamed to admit this, but I always desperately hoped one of them would completely blow their tee shot and prove a worse golfer than I. It rarely happened.
So, there was always a crowd to watch me “top” my first shot, see it whistle along the ground, and stop a few feet past the ladies’ tee box. Grace was not foremost of mind when the golf-pro in the clubhouse who, having witnessed one of my legendary first tee shots, saw an opportunity to get on the PA system and remind everyone about the rules of etiquette: to let other parties through to avoid course delays for poor play (Yes, this happened to me).
Like a flat-earther, I believed reality would eventually harmonize with my beliefs if I held them more fervently. Hard evidence to the contrary was a trifle, a blip. There are countless examples of when an historical figure’s apparent delusion ultimately proved to be “unflinching optimism.” David and Goliath, for example. Frodo obtaining the Ring from Sauron. Charlie Brown believing he’s going to kick that bloody football before Lucy pulls it away. You get the picture.
Despite how frequently the game seemed to cut him down to size, my grandfather had an intense passion for golf. Since I worshipped the ground he walked upon, I desperately longed to share in his adoration for the game. For several reasons my hopes never came to pass.
Gramps was an Exeter-educated American from an affluent family who, as soon as he was old enough to enlist, left his home in Massachusetts to head north to Canada. At the time, his fellow Yanks were sitting on the sidelines as Hitler plundered through Europe with his Nazism and bellicose resentments. He signed up with the Royal Canadian Air Force and trained as a flyer in Fort McLeod Alberta. It was there he met and married my grandmother, before leaving his wife and newborn girl (my mother) to join the war effort in nineteen forty-three.
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 inked promotions for the junior flyers still alive. 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 several 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 did several jobs that I can imagine must have seemed extremely humbling for a child of upper class New England, Exeter graduate, and war hero. Among other things, he worked as an elevator lift operator, a milk delivery man, and a floor sweeper.
And then a stroke of luck. Grandfather got a foot in the door of a legendary Canadian retailer (Hudson’s Bay) with a job on the sales floor at one of their flagship department stores. 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 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, tenacious, go-getter, and persevering in his drive – but also Canadian in many other ways – reserved, humble, and considerate. He traced his roots – my maternal roots – to one of the earliest settler families in colonial-era New England. Everything about the man seemed draped in a great historical legacy. I was crushed when he died 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. My only golf experiences with him were as his caddy on the links. As fate would have it, this was probably for the best. My grandfather was happy when he died. Had he seen me golf he probably would have died a broken-hearted man.
For these reasons golf holds a strong emotional attachment in my psyche. I so badly wanted to love golf like my grandfather; connecting with his passion would be to connect to that part of him I never got to fully experience. I dreamed that someday my own sons would caddy for me as I had done for my grandfather. I wanted them to see a person they idolized in their own way humbled by a little ball 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. I wanted to be renowned for a timely quip uttered when the links imparted their harsh lesson in humility. When my grandfather guffawed, “It ain’t what it used to be,” after shanking an approach shot from the fairway, everyone laughed. Even in futility he was legend.
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 compelled me to abandon the game for pastimes where I held the faint prospect of improvement over time, like downhill, back country skiing and marathon running. 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.
Because of the strong emotional connection to golf, I have felt compelled to give it another chance since I first hung up my clubs. I am egged on 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 the most prestigious 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 or run a marathon.
Since my self-imposed exile from the links several other, philosophical aversions have tarnished the game in my heart. Combined with my pitiable lack of skill, they reaffirm the decision to stop giving it 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 concentrations of wealth and power over the past decades. Interestingly enough, this coincides with breakthroughs in the popularity of golf around the world. It makes sense: the game most beloved by those at the helm of the corporations that colonize and exploit countries around the globe with their Western capital would bring the game along with them.
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 to effectively lower their operational costs. The wealthy owners and operators are benefactors of tax policies allowing them to evade, avoid, and launder the proceeds of their corporate proceeds off shore to “tax havens.” The liberalization of the flow of currency across national boundaries means the extraordinary wealth capital amassed by corporate entities 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 benefactors: the exclusive golf and country club. In the past, its exclusivity was not solely on the basis of economics. In the WASPish, old-money city in which I grew up, elitism was rooted more in class and culture than economics. When the good grace of extraordinary wealth fell into the laps of those whose lineage was outside the old aristocracy, “commoners” were allowed membership in these clubs. Thereafter, barriers of exclusion focused on race, gender, and religion, rather than class and breeding.
Today, 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 chauvinistic membership policies.
What might dissuade a woman, a person of colour, or a Jew from rushing to become members of these exclusive country clubs, despite their financial means, is the prevailing culture of such places. It is this corporate, “let them eat cake” mentality that is the locus of my current disdain for golf. Arguably, it 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.
It is a mundane fact that not every billionaire or CEO is in the habit of wantonly using their extraordinary means to undermine the lives of their countrymen. That said, for every Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, or George Soros – self-reflective, honest billionaires who are exasperated by how easy it was to grow their wealth once it reached a certain point – there are dozens and dozens of others actively working to undercut the economic well-being of their fellow citizens for their own benefit.
Every one of these obnoxious, bloviating, mendacious corporate demagogues who actively uses their influence to extort sitting governments into pandering to their narrow interests 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 are the scene of the acts of corruption meant to consolidate the power and dominance of corporate wealth over a society, but those that matter most, the most exclusive clubs, certainly are. The golf clubs catering to Regular Joes do not attract concentrations of members who collectively exercise enormous influence over a society’s power structures. It is the exclusive clubs that are an instrumental cultural force propagating the graft, corruption, and treasonous, anti-democratic treachery that sustain and propagate the increasing wealth accumulation of corporations.
The shared golf pastime is a formidable force of conformity among disadvantaged whites to the ideological platitudes cooked up by corporate elites. Like other shared social bonds, the love of golf instills the belief among white working classes in the fiction their lot in life is more similar to the corporate elite who exploit and disenfranchise them than it is to the marginalized, to people of colour, or to immigrants.
The dubious cultural bonds that propel underclass whites to politically accept the corporate logic are sealed by countless other canards besides a love of golf. These are touted ad nauseum in American discourse and reinforced by the incessant corporate-funded PR campaign. For decades the propaganda has convinced lower and middle-class whites of the delusion their love of Jesus, guns, fear of immigrants, and whiteness divides them from the “others.”
This fabricated cultural bond allegedly shared by corporate plutocrats and underclass whites has been the cornerstone of GOP electoral success in red states for decades. It is the “wedge” Karl Rove built and it has been insidious to the economic fortunes of millions of working class Americans. The narrative fuels a meaningless culture war; which raises moral and ethical issues not ideally resolved at the ballot box but works to keep the economically disenfranchised masses politically divided.
The cultural fable of the “benevolent, job-creating, wealth-trickling billionaire”, a yarn written and disseminated by the corporate aristocracy, keeps the mobs of exploited, underclass whites from discerning who is responsible for underwriting their lives of relentless economic peril. When they see a white, flag-waving politician wielding a bible on Sunday and raising a gun to freedom they see a confrere. They are blinded to the fact this politician will legislate in ways that perpetuate a system that increases corporate wealth and intensifies the all-consuming economic hardships in their daily lives. The corporate political shill will do nothing to change the lot of working people who are forced to take multiple jobs to cover basic necessities, re-mortgage their homes to pay for their kids’ college, and go bankrupt from medical bills racked up by a critical illness in the family.
The sleight-of-hand makes the white mobs ignorant to the fact the countless hardships in their increasingly miserable lives is a tangible reality they share with people of other creeds. Instead of joining forces to compel politicians to address their concerns foremost, the duped whites align politically with the corporations who actively make their lives worse. It is America’s greatest tragedy and its most infuriating symptom of collective insanity; the corporate-serving paradox hatched on the lush greens of America’s most exclusive golf and country clubs.
Having lived in the Middle East, it is uncanny how folks 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 the 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 to chip away at American democracy while spinning the yarn about The American Way of Life.
Small businesses do not waste time and money behaving like pin-striped grifters and racketeers working tirelessly to undermine their valued employees. Small businesses cannot fathom moving their cash overseas: they need it to pay their staff and buy supplies locally to make their product. Small businesses need citizens who value innovation, diversity, and choice, attributes crushed by the suspicious, conformist proclivities of fascism. The homogenizing, concentrating tendencies of Corporatism are a threat not only to fair market capitalism, but to democracy and the 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 goes hand-in-hand with the emergence of destructive, war-producing fascism and nation-busting political upheaval. Gross imbalances of economic power – a state of affairs coveted by corporate interests – historically result in deep 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 needed to moderate corporate practices 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 there. 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. Poor regulation is now viewed as an essential facet of wealth creation. “Red Tape,” the buzzword for regulation, is the enemy of profit, apparently.
Unfortunately, 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. This gross, negligent debacle clearly demonstrates the corporate malfeasance possible where an environment of de-regulatory complacency prevails and breeds a culture of contempt for 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), 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 folk were not part of the mix – other than those clearing the tables and refilling the drinks.
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 from the absence of workplace health and safety regulations.
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. They unfairly restrict a government’s ability to implement fiscal policies meant to promote economic growth, stimulate full employment, and increase the living standard of the widest berth of its citizens.
It is a banal truism that the working-class citizens of any democracy are the consumers for the products made by the multi-national corporations. Yet, 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 these workers. In so doing they are effectively lobbying to weaken the purchasing power of their biggest customers. Not only is it insidious for the ill-will it enacts, but strategically incomprehensible behaviour for anyone charged with securing a corporation’s economic fortunes in the long run.
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.
The Greatest Generation 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 have an insatiable appetite for hoarding money. The contempt they show toward their fellow citizens is clear in the policies they tout as benefitting the macro-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 being trapped in abusive situations by 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 neither angry nor indignant, but philosophical and self-reflective about the experience; 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 glossy eyes, drunk on the cultural media’s depiction of black men as a hyper-masculine, sexually-precocious penises 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 a clear-cut sign 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 the result of luck, timing, being born into wealth, or being easily able to avail oneself to investment credit (a function of having access to networks of affluent people. That is, being born rich)
- 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. 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 – the sine qua non of capitalist economic growth.
- Taxes pay for education, social security, roads & infrastructure, health care, and a legal system, which provides recourse to enforce contracts and protect business from arbitrary government encroachment. Without these public expenditures 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 secure 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 are the cards in my hand.
If we were playing poker, I’d call bullshit. My argument is a full house compared to the pair of deuces argument made by those who suggest business will pull up stakes from the places they make their billions 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 laws and regulations that disallow the exploitation of workers or the pilfering society’s fiscal coffers by tax-evading money launderers.
Hucksters have propagated the “trickle down” delusion, they have spun the corporate fable to captify our collective consciousness for almost four decades. Meanwhile, they have spent countless hours on the links making sure not a red cent of their amassed wealth actually trickles down. As they gaily stroll the links, they conspire new and novel ways to use their exorbitant stockpile of excess capital to screw the little guy. They bankroll the chipping away of social security, medicare, gerrymandering, dubious voter registration initiatives, and countless other measures to disenfranchise poor and black voters and impede the smooth functioning of American democracy. They pay off legislators to oppose mandated wage floors, making certain the workers for whom the wealth trickle has been increasingly elusive enjoy an ever shrinking economic share of the corporate windfall their efforts have secured.
Of course I’m being a little tongue in cheek. Not everyone 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 love 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.
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 multi-billion dollar 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 scarred. 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 sliced my seventeenth tee shot into the forbidden forest.