Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The true cost of capitalism

Subtitle: Capitalism for dummies

For those of us who were not economics majors--or didn't get a college degree--I am going to attempt to make the case for why capitalism and democracy do not play well together. The underlying theme will be that capitalism is based upon the notion of the "shining individual upon a hill" or, to put it a little more succinctly, man-as-god. [Note: nothing that I say here is meant to imply that it is not possible, even likely, that there will be women-as-gods, too.]

Here is the hypothesis behind my little theory: If a society is based upon the ideas 1) that individuals should be empowered to achieve the maximum they can achieve in terms of the accumulation of wealth, as long as it is done within the law; 2) that those laws should be structured to encourage the accumulation of individual wealth even at the risk of doing injury to others (as long as that injury is byproduct and not the objective); and 3) that the political system is engineered to tip the balance of power in favor of the wealthy (and the corporations they control), then it follows that all societal costs incidental to the accumulation of wealth, whether financial or health-related, will fall upon the broader society.

This little theory of mine, while certainly not new or unique, may, nonetheless, come as a somewhat shocking realization to some, including me. Furthermore, it tends to make finding solutions to crises more problematic. For example, we know that global climate change is an imminent and existential threat to human existence. Yet, capitalistic societies seem completely incapable of focusing on the issue with enough resolve to take the steps likely to slow down the inevitable march to oblivion. Why is that?

I'll tell you. All you have to do is look at the state of the two political parties in the U.S. today. The Republican Party has become the State Apologist for the New American Oligarchy. They are buried so deep in the pockets of the fat cats that they cannot see daylight. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, is divided between the faction that still cares about the well-being of common folk and the faction that is politically aligned with Democrats--for pragmatic reasons--but ideologically aligned with Republicans. Nowhere to be found is a party which not only cares, first and foremost, about the 95% of Americans who control but 50% of the nation's wealth but also is in a position to challenge the power elite.

Since the other capitalist countries around the world are looking to the U.S. for leadership on global climate change, nothing truly revolutionary is going to happen unless we show the way.

Here are a couple of examples from yesterday's news of why I am not optimistic that we ever will--

A) The Washington Post, in a story by Lyndsey Layton, informs us that our own Environmental Protection Agency has, for 33 years, kept the names and physical properties of approximately 16,000 chemicals in commercial use secret, both from the public and the federal government, under a little-known federal law designed to protect trade secrets.

B) The Denver Post, as reported by Margaret Jackson, states that redevelopment of an area of the city includes land once owned by a chemical company"which salvaged uranium from defective fuel rods." It seems the company closed in 1982,"leaving the site contaminated with radioactivity. The site was cleaned up under the federal Superfund program in 2006."

So, let's analyze this in context. Chemical companies' profits are enhanced by federal government policies that protect their trade secrets, even at the risk that those same chemicals may be ingested, inhaled, or otherwise absorbed into the bodies of the very same people--of which, by which, and for which, our government was established--and any toxic messes they should negligently leave behind will be cleaned up at the expense of those same people. At least, we're not being forced to do the actual labor, in which case, we would literally be the indentured servants of industry.

This madness must stop! Our system of financial accounting must, in the future, internalize the costs to society of commercial/industrial enterprise. Only then will the true value of a green economy become evident and a fair trade-off with the chemical and oil industry be made.


troutbirder said...

well stated .... thanks

legacyguy said...

Thanks for dropping by, troutbirder.