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Tomás Smith: The Poverty of Power


Presenting - "The Poverty of Power"

Notes for the presentation of “The Poverty of Power” on December 9th, 2002, by Tomás Smith


Old Ideas And Very Old Facts

Some 500 years' ago, a famous writer made the following comments:

"We have maintained elsewhere that the most useful institution to have in a state which enjoys freedom is one that keeps the citizens poor."

Regarding Rome: "that for 400 years from the time the city was built, there was a very great deal of poverty there."

"Nor can one think of any institution which tended more to produce this effect than the knowledge that poverty did not bar you from any office or from any honor, and that virtue was sought out no matter in whose house it dwelt."

These comments were written in the early 16th century, i.e. around 1510, by Niccolo Machiavelli, in his Discourses on Livy: Concerning the Poverty of Cincinnatus and many other Roman Citizens.

I quote all this to show that we are really dealing with some very old ideas and very old facts. We can find the same thing for the food war. For that we have a story in the Bible (in the Book of Judges) about Samson, who decided to burn his enemy's crops to gain control over them. To do so, he is said to have caught 300 foxes, tied burning torches to their tails and set them free in the enemy's fields.

However, while the principle remains the same, the scale of these activities and the conditions under which they are taking place are quite different.

You can see this from the example Machiavelli gives –and the model society he refers to. That innocence has passed –long ago.


All War Is Now Genocide

I believe it was the English historian Eric Hobsbawm who pointed out that wars in the 20th century were largely against civilians. You can see this today, as well. Al Q'aida attacks some buildings in the U.S. where civilians work, although the Pentagon is a civilian facility belonging to the U.S. military. The United States bombs the Afghani population, just as it did in Vietnam. Now, it is preparing for a war against the Iraqi people. And when you look at Al Q'aeda's future likely targets put out by the U.S. security services, they never mention US military facilities.

And, as others have noted, these are not really wars, but attacks on unarmed peoples, i.e. genocide.

This was clearly the situation we were moving into when “The Poverty of Power” was written in August 2001, and it is the direction in which the world is clearly headed today.


Overproduction Leads To A State Of War

War, yes. But why now? War was a continuous feature of the 20th century, though after World War II, wars have been basically local affairs, in which conflicts were "contained". We are now looking at a war that could burst out into global war.

“The Poverty of Power” begins to hint at this and the causes that lie behind it. To get some historical perspective on it, though, we need look no further than the Manifesto of the Communist Party, written in 1848 by Karl Marx and Friederich Engels. There, they state:

"In these crises, a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. In these crises there breaks out an epidemic that in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity – the epidemic of over-production. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism…"

In other words, overproduction leads to a state of war.


Overproduction Has Become Generalized And Continuous

In the 1930s and 1940s, communists referred to the long-term crisis of capitalism –clearly, it has been and continues to be very long.

The problem of overproduction has become generalized and continuous during the 20th century –i.e., we could no longer speak merely of periodic crises of overproduction (and these were going on all the way through the 20th century, even when Keynesian economic policy was being applied), but of generalized and prolonged overproduction.

“The Poverty of Power” points to several manifestations of this phenomenon. Firstly, we see that society is dominated by monopolies, which deliberately restrict output in order to increase profits. If anyone argues that there is simply not enough to go round, we should remind them of this first of all. The long-term problem of overproduction manifests itself in:

a) The unequal allocation of resources and incomes –a simple example of the first is the production of bombs rather than food. In the second half of the 20th century it was manifested in the massive growth of the tertiary sector – finance, etc. Parallel with this, income and wealth have both been polarizing massively (i.e. the rich are getting richer & the poor comparatively poorer] since the Second World War, indeed this has been going on since Capitalism came into being.

b) The destruction and degradation of goods and resources, including food, another state of affairs which is as old as Capitalism itself.

In addition to this, we see that the powerful States have used the Law to control what and how much the less powerful countries are allowed to produce.

Indeed, we see the continuation of the old colonial method of keeping the colonies under control by preventing them from developing their own economies, all of which was finely documented by Adam Smith in his famous work, "The Wealth of Nations", in 1776. This indicates a return to Mercantilism.

Furthermore, “ “The Poverty of Power” ” comments on the control over plant reproduction which has been made possible by gene technology –i.e., how the US intends to make all the world’s farmers dependent upon its transnationals.

In this way, Power has upset and undermined all the beautiful models of "perfect competition" worked out by such 19th century economists as William Stanley Jevons and Alfred Marshall.


The Role Of Addiction In Imprisonment Of People

The role of addiction is at the heart of today's capitalist system. This is not restricted to the clandestine activities of the drug mafias or even to the secret operations of the CIA, but seems now to be fully integrated into transnational capitalism, in all sectors of the economy, the industrial, the financial, etc.

Recently, for example, the European Union sued the RJ Reynolds- Nabisco tobacco and biscuit group for money-laundering for the Russian Mafia, Italian organized crime and the Saddam Hussein family, among others. Hence, the importance given to such activities in “ “The Poverty of Power” ”. [See also… The Real Deal: RJR Takeover Wars --- The Next Episode]

This system does not free the human race, but imprisons it at a time when great freedom beckons to us from the other side of the hill we are stuck on.


Science Too Has Been Imprisoned

Science and scientists today face a situation that is as intolerant as that which existed in previous times, when the Inquisition was used to inspire fear into those who challenged the dogmas of the Church.

Today, we see evidence of assassinations and attempted assassinations of scientists who challenge the orthodoxy that supports the domination of this planet by the oligarchy of oil. “The Poverty of Power” seeks to open up debate on this very important issue, which implies questioning the fundamentals of the world of science, and encouraging the development of inventions that will help the human race to solve the great problems of our times, challenging the use of science and technology for secret and destructive purposes.



In “The Poverty of Power” what is sought is to open up a Pandora's Box of issues and questions that the author feels people throughout the world should be talking about. Questions like:

1. Does a system that systematically destroys what is produced and what has been produced in the past have a future?

2. Does a system that cannot embrace the breakthroughs and developments in science and technology to the benefit of humanity have a future?

3. Does a system that embraces death and destruction, not life and creation, have a future?

Written down like that, these questions seem absurd – it seems self- evident that such a system cannot last, and yet it goes on. And what is happening in the world, the issues that are presented in The Poverty of Power, lead to such questions.

And all of this is happening on a world scale. Property, Power and Capital is set on its most destructive course right now .

How are we to survive a war of international dimensions using weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, as well as other weapons that have been developed since World War II? A war which promises to eliminate millions of people from the Earth's surface?


- Tomás Smith has a Masters in Economics, but believes that Economics is just a starting-point for understanding and moving the world. The human race must return to a universal education, end the artifical division between the arts and sciences, and stop the forces that are leading us to war and further misery. His book - “The Poverty of Power” - will be presented in Mexico City on December 9th this year. You are invited to send contact details and/or feedback to To sign up to receive Tomás's writings or to discuss their implications with other Tomás Smith readers see...

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