Sunday, April 7, 2013

Capitalism Is Not a Democratic System

Capitalism is not a democratic system, but you would think it is by the way many people defend it as if it’s written into the Constitution and the basis for freedom in America. It’s generally taboo to criticize capitalism, to suggest it doesn’t work, or to question why we adhere to it. People in this country who argue against capitalism are accused of being unpatriotic. Why is it acceptable to engage in criticism of the education system, transportation system, and agriculture system, but those who criticize the economic system are booed out of the theater? Answer:  the Cold War. Americans have not let go of their fear that if we give up on capitalism then we will be taken over by Stalinist-style communists. So if I say I think capitalism is a failure, then I am immediately suspect. Let’s get real and have a meaningful conversation.

The way capitalism works in this country, a very few high-echelon individuals at corporations and financial institutions make decisions that affect millions of people without consulting them. Those people most impacted by these decisions certainly do not have the opportunity to vote on the decisions. That’s not a democracy. In some instances one person makes the decision. That’s an autocracy. Our elected congress does not make these decisions. The people, those doing the heavy lifting, have no say. That is not a democracy.

I admit that I am woefully ignorant about economics. I have trouble wrapping my head around numbers. But honestly, I am better at understanding economic principles than I am at balancing my checkbook. And I look around me and I see some serious fallacies being accepted into the common lexicon of economic discussion.

For one thing, the economy is not recovering. I work with statistics every day at my job. Number one:  The way unemployment is counted gives a false picture. Number two:  the number of people living in poverty is calculated based on an arbitrary measure. People who have given up on looking for a job are not counted in unemployment figures. Middle income people are still losing their homes and going deep into debt to pay for such things as medical care because wages are stagnant. So when you hear that the economy is recovering, you should ask, “for whom?” For financial institutions bailed out by the government? Saying that the economy is recovering makes all the people who are unemployed, I mean ALL, not the government figure (and ALL is actually estimated by real economists to be over 15% of the population), it makes all those people feel rotten. If the economy is recovering then why can’t they find work? And who can live on an income that is marginally above the poverty level? The federal poverty level is not derived from any real effort to figure out how much a family needs to earn to survive. If real calculations for poverty were used, then more than one-third of the population of the U.S. would be counted as living in extreme poverty. That’s a lot of children and grannies going to bed hungry. And most of the rest of the population, living not much above the poverty level, are barely getting by, struggling to pay medical bills and figure out an exit strategy from the work force so that they don’t have to work until they drop dead.

It used to be that getting a good education was a ticket to a better way of life. Now it is a ticket to an avalanche of debt. And the inability of young people to find meaningful work that pays an adult wage is disgraceful. Concepts of socialism built on the shocking idea that those who work for a company should make company decisions, not the shareholders, not the board of directors, but the employees, well that threatens the very basis of profit-mongering. And capitalism is all about profit. There is no such thing as trickle down, Mr. Reagan. I’ll tell you what actually trickles down and it ain’t money.

I am not advocating for any other particular type of economic system. I am not that knowledgeable about economics. But I’m certain that there is another system that we can develop that is not capitalism, that does not create the disparity between the 99% and the 1% we have now. And I am certain that capitalism does not work. We are seeing it not work. One thing I find quite interesting is that until relatively recently in the evolution of the human race, our economic system did not utilize a market for the distribution of goods, resources, and services. Distribution occurred directly and without the use of money. In tribal cultures, everyone worked the communal land together and reaped the harvest, which was divided amongst them. If someone was sick, then the healer served them. If someone was young, then teachers taught them. If someone was old, then they were cared for. I’m not going to move to the Andes and live in a remote tribe, but I do think that if we put our heads together, we can come up with a better way to exchange goods and services, to distribute resources, than the system we have now, which has flopped on a grand scale. And is it so outrageous to suggest that the answers will not be found in the “civilized world”? Why we call it civilized to allow our elderly and our children to go to bed cold and hungry while our millionaires fly around the world in their personal jets, well that escapes me.

Here are some of the immediate questions on my mind in light of the ongoing economic crisis: 
1) Why isn’t the government creating jobs, filling them, putting people to work as government employees, like FDR did in the 1930s? Giving money to banks and corporations does not work as economic stimulus. Any idiot can see this. The federal government should directly hire people to build infrastructure, develop green energy alternatives, design more workable health care systems, provide universal preschool, and more. Sheesh.
2) Why is the government chipping away at the few protections people have in hard times and old age, such as Social Security and Unemployment Insurance? It’s not as if anyone can really live on what they earn from Social Security, which is not much more than $12,000 per year for most people. But it’s something. It helps.
3) What happened to federal regulations on the banking industry? Ever since the Clinton Administration repealed the Banking Act (in 1999), things have gone from bad to worse because banks have the ability to take huge risks, which by-the-way caused the economic crisis of 2007. And then what did the government do to address the crisis? It gave my hard-earned and taxed income to the banks to bail them out. Remind me again about why that was a good idea. Because I’m still furious.
4) Why is the government spending precious dollars on military interventions in foreign countries?
5) Why are our young people receiving such little help in obtaining a quality education and why does the government continue to allow them to be exploited in the job market with things such as “unpaid internships”?
6) Why is there so much opposition to a sensible health care system? I’m not asking for that watery Obamacare, but something with some substance that is more socialistic, like they have in Canada (where pharmaceuticals are affordable) or France. Somehow a lot of people seem to think socialism is the same as communism. So to those of you who wince when I use the word “socialistic,” I say, “Get a dictionary.”

Nothing will change until it becomes acceptable to engage in open discourse about our economic system. Nothing will improve until that discourse leads to the dismantling of capitalism. The economic crisis will continue to unfold in devastatingly new ways until that discourse leads to the development of a sustainable and equitable economic system to take the place of capitalism. So don’t talk to me about economic recovery or economic stimulus. Talk to me about what a new economic system would look like. That’s a conversation I am dying to have.

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