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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 8/17/20

Capital in the American economy acts like a virus

Message Brian Cooney
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(Image by CDC/Alissa Eckert, MSMI; Dan Higgins, MAMS)
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The life of our society seems to be ebbing. There is a pervasive sense of vulnerability, no matter how healthy we may be at the moment. A ubiquitous but invisible enemy may sicken and even kill any one of us. Workplaces are dangerous. Jobs are disappearing. People are losing access to affordable health care when they are most at risk. Schools have become threatening places for children and teachers. Face masks and distancing protect but also alienate us from others, from their touch and exhalations.

The sickness weakening our national community is more than just the coronavirus. What a virus does to our bodies is similar to what we have allowed private capital to do to our social and economic institutions.

A virus is not by itself alive. It is a complex molecule that replicates itself by getting into a living cell and hijacking its life-sustaining metabolic processes to make multiple copies of the virus (which can then go on to infect more cells). This is what you experience as 'coming down with a cold.' Viral infection is a process of converting living cellular organisms into inert matterlife into death. The only 'goal' of its activity is quantitative increase--growing the lifeless 'viral load.' It is the biological correlate of capital as it functions in today's neoliberal economy.

'Capital' in this context means the money used to produce goods and services. Neoliberalism is the dominant ideology in our economy. Its highest value is freedom, as reflected in GOP groups such as The Liberty Caucus and The Freedom Caucus. These ideologues see the prime example of freedom in the act of buying or selling independently of any coercion (especially by government). They argue that people wouldn't engage in these transactions unless they expected to gain (profit) from them. Therefore, the more profits are made, the better off we all areeven if my choice is between working for less than a living wage and starving.

To avoid the coercive grip of government, they want goods, services, and institutions such as education, health care and transportation to be privately owned. Neoliberals believe that competition for profit in a free market liberates the creative abilities of the best and brightest and benefits society far more than government programs. It follows that the best scorecard for national well-being is GDP--the total monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country's borders in a specific time period. If we ever stop growing the GDP, our society will stagnate.

One of the charter documents of neoliberalism is a 1970 essay by Nobel prize winner Milton Friedman: "The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits." Friedman argued that the only "social responsibility" of corporate executives, as employees of investor-owners, is "to conduct the business in accordance with [the owners'] desires, which generally will be to make as much money as possible while conforming to the basic rules of the society."

Competition for profits concentrates capital in the hands of a shrinking number of winners. The 'creative ability' that this competition promotes is above all money-making. The winners become ultra-rich donors financing the elections of pliant politicians. These show their gratitude by adjusting "the basic rules of society" so that "conforming" to these rules is as easy as possible for investors. Trump's dismantling of environmental regulations is just one example. In the last four decades, Democrats and Republicans have acted as if the primary "social responsibility" of government is to maximize corporate profits.

The owners of a business, Friedman tells us, have as their goal to make "as much money as possible." It's not about providing an excellent service or product of which they can be proud, in which they can find satisfaction for its contribution to the lives of others. Production is a means, and "as much money as possible" is the goal. Capital in the hands of investor-owners is like a virus approaching a cell. It is a formula and mechanism for appropriating a society's life-sustaining means of production in order to endlessly grow itself in the form of profit.

A virus sickens an organism by using its internal resources and metabolic processes to create lifeless molecular replicasa--virus load. Neoliberal capitalism has sickened society. It has converted much of our social capital (human labor and natural resources) into a dead mass--a wealth 'load--of private capital withheld from the health, education, and self-development of the vast majority of people. Even in this time of economic depression and soaring unemployment, neoliberals call for cuts in social programs and tax cuts for the wealthy in order to foster private investment and GDP growth.

Here is an update from INEQUALITY.ORG on wealth inequality in our society: "U.S. billionaire wealth went up $685 billion between March 18 and August 5. Over this same period, over 158,000 people have died from the Covid-19 virus and over 30 million remain on unemployment." Three billionaires (Bezos, Gates, and Buffett) continue to own as much wealth as the bottom half of all U.S. households. According to an April 23 Institute for Policy Studies report, "Between 1990 and 2020, the U.S. billionaire class has seen its net worth increase over 1,130 percent. . . Billionaire wealth has grown 210 times faster than median wealth."

For-profit health care is about profit, not care or health. It is designed to enrich pharmaceutical, health-insurance and hospital corporations. That is why we pay twice as much per capita for medical care as people in the rest of the developed world. When so many have lost their jobs and joined the ranks of the uninsured, the case for universal health insurance (Medicare for All) has never been more obvious.

Although any reasonable person must vote for Biden over Trump, the refusal of Biden and the Democrats to support Medicare for All is an example of the moral blindness induced by neoliberal capitalism. Greed, like all vices, dulls the intellect.

(Article changed on August 17, 2020 at 04:14)

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Brian Cooney Social Media Pages: Facebook Page       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

I'm a retired philosophy professor at Centre College. My last book was Posthumanity-Thinking Philosophically about the Future (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004). I am an anti-capitalist.

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