Saturday, September 26, 2009

Selling Our Soul To The Company Store


Michael Moore eviscerates capitalism in his new film, Capitalism: A Love Story. He finds it to be unworkable, evil, and needing replacement with true democracy. Now although there may be persuasive kernels of truth in Moore’s vision, I’m not inclined to go quite as far. I tend to fall more into the Robert Kuttner camp, whose ideas are presented in his book The Squandering of America. In which he describes a mixed economy – basically a regulated capitalist economy with progressive taxation (think our post-WWII economy up until the late 1960s). Although either vision would likely get us closer to the standard-of-living we covet rather than the present dog-eat-dog, increasing inequality paradigm within which we operate.
One-sixth of our economy is represented by sickness – the health care industry. The financial services industry (which as we recently witnessed, adds nothing of value) represents 20 percent of GDP. Over 13 percent of the population lives in poverty. 50 million have no health insurance coverage. In indicator after indicator, and study after study, the U.S. trails in outcomes and performance. The only categories we still lead in are delusion and boastfulness.
Maybe it’s time we actually reregulate – the banks, the polluters, Wall Street, corporations, etc. Let’s increase taxes on the wealthiest. It’s time to get rid of 401(K)s and bring back quality pensions. The solution to health care: Medicare for all. The answer to unemployment, job training, and our crumbling infrastructure: public works programs.
Yes, there is definitely a large cost to such an expansive initiative. But that’s what an investment is, it makes everyone better off in the long-run. Rather than just benefiting a select, wealthy, few right now. The kind of investment that “spreads the wealth,” builds/maintains transportation networks, provides clean air and water, in essence, the tools and techniques that enable a civilized society.
Demand as Economic Engine
If you build it, there is no guarantee anyone is coming. We’ve been sold a false fable whereby low taxes (which primarily favor the uber wealthy) enable our social betters - The Ruling Class - to make wise investments which will either create more market liquidity or produce much sought-after services. Which is true, if you think $12 trillion in bubble wealth is actual liquidity, or if by sought-after services one means convenience, impulse items.
We are a fast food nation, addicted to debt, over burdened with things, and being led astray by those whom could care less about our health, retirement, wages, and quality-of-life. The capitalists have put a giant wheel in each of our cages and told us if we run fast enough we can be like them. In reality, we just need to get off the wheel.
As Abraham Lincoln's quote (the subtitle of this blog) explains, Labor is the engine, not capital. One can produce and produce, unless someone actually wants or needs the service or product its useless. Valuing Labor and utilizing its skills and knowledge to make things desired and necessary is a sustainable and less volatile path. We, as workers in a supposedly representative democracy, should be exporting our step-up model (living wage, health care, pension) rather than allowing corporation to slowly drag everyone down to below subsistence wages.
Privatizing Away Equity
Privatization is not the end-all, be-all its boosters have claimed. In fact, numerous studies have shown privatization of public services usually ends up costing more. Not only does it cost more, the money now spent does not support living wages, quality health care, or a decent pension plan. Now that the service has been privatized, the workers’ are ravaged. This is part of the process of what academics have called the race to the bottom.
The race to the bottom is the continual search for cheaper inputs in the production process. And crushing Labor (wages, health, retirement) is at the top of the list. The primary flaw in the privatization schemes we’ve been peddled over the last few decades (coincidentally alongside Reaganomics) is that the savings never appear. There is merely a realignment of monies from worker to management. The CEOs and executives of the new private ownership make out like kings, while the workforce of this service provider is suddenly making essentially minimum wage.
Moving Forward
Obama stormed into office promising change. Change is exactly what we need. But based on the development over the last eight months, change may not be on the way. Health care is still overly controlled by insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Our economic policy is still enraptured with deregulation, the supply-side, and the status quo. Our environmental degradation and sprawling lifestyle has yet to even enter a meaningful realm of debate.
Here's hoping the threat of the 2010 election inspires Democrats to relocate their spines and do what is right for America and its workers, ignoring the typically destructive policies the conservatives continue to claim will (eventually) work despite the evidence.
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