"It is in the very nature of things human that every act that has once made its appearance and has been recorded in the history of mankind stays with mankind as a potentiality long after its actuality has become a thing of the past."~~Hannah Arendt(190675), German-born U.S. political philosopher. Eichmann in Jerusalem, Epilogue (1963)
To what extent is the "system" responsible for the corruption in our political and economic systems, and to what extent are the individuals responsible?
If a large-scale human system is put together in such a way that the only way to function within that system, let alone succeed, is to act in a corrupt or evil fashion, ignoring the best interests of the majority of our fellow human beings -- how much do we bear responsibility not only for our own actions in that system, but for a failure to attempt to change that system into something that is more functional and life affirming?
There can be no doubt that the laissez faire system of capitalism is a complete and utter failure in a nation that wishes to be governed "of the People, by the People, and for the People," as President Lincoln stated in his immortal speech at Gettysburg. It leads to the devaluation of both the individual and humanity as a whole, while exalting a thing -- wealth. To quote the poet Shelley, "The odious and disgusting aristocracy of wealth is built upon the ruins of all that is good in chivalry or republicanism; and luxury is the forerunner of a barbarism scarcely capable of cure;" (A Vindication of Natural Diet, a Note in Queen Mab; 1813).
The Harvard Business School mentality is what I call it -- where the bottom line the next quarter is of paramount importance; the bottom line next year is of secondary importance; and the bottom line in 10 years matters not a whit. Such mentality has destroyed America's economic and industrial base. I am not certain at this late date if the American economy can recover in less than 20 years.
This is due to one simple fact. As Lenin predicted nearly a century ago, we are seeing the subordination of the production and distribution of material items made here in this country as the basis for our nation's wealth, to Wall Street and the banks accumulating profits based solely on the purchase and sale of paper instruments which are backed by assets that have little -- if any -- of those instruments' stated value, e.g., the derivatives market.
As I have stated in many articles in the past, all power is phantasm, based solely on the belief in its existence. If tomorrow, everyone in the United States believed I was king, I would be king. If tomorrow, everyone in the United States quits believing in the lies that Wall Street, the major financial institutions, and the government puts out, we won't have to worry about brokers and financial wizards jumping off ledges. They'll be hanging from lamp posts.
I hope that doesn't happen. As I have said before, I am a believer in evolution, not revolution, in society and government. A violent reaction, like the one I describe above, would probably create for the United States a worse set of political and economic problems than the ones we have now.
Ask yourself this: would an Adolf Eichmann be able to assist in the murderous excesses of the Holocaust without the corrupt system of Hitler and the Nazi Party? Would a Lavrenti Beria be able to run his KGB torture chambers, and engage in his massive orgy of pedophilia and the murder of young girls, without the corruption of Stalin and his Communist Party? Would Mao Zedong have been able to engage in his acts of pedophilia in his old age, without the godlike aura he had with the young people in Red China?
I don't think so.
It is our laissez faire capitalist system that not only permits, but encourages the corruption we have seen in the last 30 years. From Michael Milken and Charles Keating to Jeffrey Skilling and Bernie Madoff, the underlying script of the American finance and business sector has been screw the little guy and the unwary investor, bribe the so-called watchdogs to tell the public what you want them to hear, and the odds are pretty good you'll never be caught while you became a billionaire. If you have the stomach, lack of morals and human empathy to pull it off.
The emphasis on wealth as the sole arbiter of success has accomplished another unforeseen catastrophe -- a gap in our home grown American Science and Engineering sector. Part of this is due to the insane levels of debt under which we place our college graduates, especially compared to the other Western Democracies. Part of this is due to American companies slashing Research and Development funding, as well as entry level salaries for engineers and scientists. This slashing of entry level salaries has led to outsourcing our R&D to other countries or importing scientists from other -- usually Third World -- countries.
Some people try to blame this on the American educational system. But an educational system that has been continually undercut in terms of finances and public support for 40 years by block grants, little if any public support for teachers, and a population which has shifted from the Rust Belt of the Northeast and Midwest, where the need for getting a good education was drilled into kid's heads, to the Bible and the Sun Belts of the South and West -- where any but the most rudimentary education has always been the province of the elite has worked its dark sorcery, destroying all of the push that was given to improve American education by the post World War II G.I. Bill and the Sputnik scare.
Others try to blame American unions. But the American union is hardly a shadow of what it was 40 years ago when one out of three American workers belonged to a union. It is now one out of every 12, and if you exclude government workers -- including teachers -- it is fewer than one in 20. This, despite the fact that polls show roughly half of all American workers would join a union if they could.
Over the last 30 years, American unions have accepted pay cuts and wage stagnation in order to maintain benefits for their workers and retirees. As airlines, railroads, trucking companies, and heavy industry (including big steel, aircraft manufacturing, and the automobile industry) have downsized, merged and disappeared, those companies' pension funds and health care for workers and retirees have disappeared in the process; their pension funds and health care trusts stripped of assets by the mavens of merger.
I am not arguing that the unions are without fault. Corrupt unions like the Teamsters and Longshoremen have caused all unions to be smeared with a broad brush. Too often, senior officers of even the union locals lose touch with their membership. In the trade unions (carpenters, plumbers, electricians, machinists, etc.) advancement from apprentice to journeyman to master -- and the ability to start your own union shop business -- requires too much time, more than many young people are willing to invest.
However, as Western Europe clearly demonstrates, a strong system of labor unions is the only sure way in to maintain a decent wage and benefit base for all the workers of a nation, as well as a political counterpoint to giant corporations.