Bad-ass (or bloated) capitalism has the air quality of a factory hog farm. Its undigested eruptions include the private-insurance health crisis, global warming, maxed-out debt financing, and the war in Iraq. Downwind of it even right-wing economists are starting to turn green.
The mentality of bad-ass capitalists has significant similarities with those of slaveholders from 150 years ago. The behaviors of today's capitalists may not be as obviously vicious, but the mentality of slaveholding still percolates through them and it is as deluded and degenerate as ever.
This article is no anti-capitalism rant. It's not going to raise a stink about capitalism per se. The modern market economy is an efficient system capable of increasing the prosperity of us all and providing high-quality products and services. But unprincipled and neurotic individuals with economic power-along with truly vile liars, crooks, and felons-are pushing the system beyond rational boundaries. In their addiction to wealth accumulation and power, they are subverting democracy as well as capitalism. The Democrats in Washington, who have been skipping their social psychotherapy sessions for the last four decades, still appear unwilling to address the problem.
Many people can't see the dysfunction and ruthlessness undermining the middle class, neglecting the poor, and leading America away from its ideals of equality and justice. Often we blame ourselves for coming up short in the scramble for dollars. More of us need better focus on the extreme dysfunction of the system, so we can feel more confident about speaking out, writing letters to politicians and newspapers, and coming together to protest effectively.
A System Based of Ruthlessness
From its inception, capitalism was a system based on ruthlessness and the dominance by a small minority over the population. Americans have become increasingly passive as corporations have busily fenced off the open range of our freedoms. The restrictive national bankruptcy law that went into effect in October, 2005 is a recent example.
Our credit report (that three-digit measure that, in effect, grades our compliance to the capitalist system) is not branded or tattooed on our forearm. For one thing, it changes all the time. But it is married to our Social Security number and follows us around for life, a branding of us inflicted by capitalism. That number might be invisible in cyperspace but it surfaces and exposes our economic status in our face-to-face dealings with fellow Americans. And sometimes it shows up in our nightmares.
Modern capitalism is morally repugnant, if not criminal, in its behavior. Numerous examples abound and include our massive production and exportation of weapons, the refusal to produce cleaner-running automobiles, as well as the refusal of health insurance companies to sell policies to older Americans.
Recently, the tobacco industry was exposed in the media for secretly increasing the level of nicotine in cigarettes in order to hook young people for life. That this cruel physical abuse of children went unpunished shows the extent to which people without social conscience can, in the name of capitalistic enterprise, get away with murder. We have begun to put perpetrators of domestic abuse in jail, especially the poorest ones. These fat butts of bad-ass capitalism steal the health of others for monetary gain in the way that slaveholders stole the freedom of others for the same purpose.
Moral criteria bow down to capitalism's supreme Godhead-wealth accumulation. The profit motive may be American capitalism's icon, but wealth accumulation is its mantra. An affluent elite makes decisions without our input. These decisions can hurt us drastically through loss of work, dislocation, threats to our health, and environmental degradation. Isn't this the mentality of a slaveholder who would break up a slave family and sell off the children when economic gain "justified" doing so?
The Privatization of People
Capitalism, like slavery, has no interest in promoting the cause of freedom or respecting the sanctity of life. Slavery is the privatization of people, and today's capitalism is the privatization of the people's common wealth and common space.
A free people would have a greater abundance of open fields and streams through which to wander and wonder. How can we feel free if there are so many places where we're not allowed to go? Why don't we have more access to forests, pastures, beachfronts, mountainsides, trails, and beautiful vistas? Instead we are lured into a jungle of hidden pitfalls, where we find ourselves, for instance, paying 21 percent interest rates on our credit cards and a half-day's pay for late fines.
Our kids are not free-born but debt-born. The government's debt, counting liabilities and future payouts, is tens of trillions of dollars, and the interest payments on that debt make the rich richer. Capitalism has pumped up the national debt by raiding the public purse in hundreds of way. What could be more disgusting than passing this debt on to our children? They'll enjoy singing the revised national anthem: "In the land of the rich and the home of the slave." We are so mentally enslaved by this corrupt system and all its propaganda that we are rendered helpless and powerless, bound up by chains of passivity.
Threat to Democracy
In a curious parallel, the Southern States, beginning in the early 1850s, printed more than 100 variations of paper money on which were depicted happy slaves toiling on farms and in cotton fields. The images were intended to counter the influence of northern abolitionists. Modern Americans of all races are depicted in millions of print ads and commercials as happy consumers who cannot say enough good things about the joys of the marketplace. These images are also intended to counter the influence of reality.
What does it take to arouse us? We have in this world what are called undeveloped or underdeveloped nations. But, golly gee, we also have what can be called undeveloped and underdeveloped people, and they're the ones in charge of this country!
"It's easy to understand why Franklin Delano Roosevelt feared a government by money as much as a government by mob," writes Bill Moyers in Inequality Matters: The Growing Economic Divide in America and Its Poisonous Consequences. In an essay in the same book, Charles Lewis writes that the connections between concentrated wealth and the political process are, in their way, "as great a threat to our democracy as war and terrorism."
These junkies of capitalism are very, very happy to live in a country where "freedom" is so boundless it allows them to be evil. They're always looking for a chance to snatch another nickel or a dime from us. Since we are not hoarders and accumulators like them, they see us as bad-ass slackers who deserve whatever misery befalls us. These people will take abuse to the very limits-and then beyond. We must ennoble ourselves by overthrowing this tyranny.