Capitalism has been defined by adherents and detractors: Milton Friedman said, "The problem of social organization is how to set up an arrangement under which greed will do the least harm, capitalism is that kind of a system." John Maynard Keynes said, "Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone."
Perhaps it's best to turn to someone who actually practiced the art: "Capitalism is the legitimate racket of the ruling class." Al Capone said that.
Graffiti on Factory for Sale (flickr image By Ann Douglas)
Capitalism is a cult. It is devoted to the ideals of privatization over the common good, profit over social needs, and control by a small group of people who defy the public's will. The tenets of the cult lead to extremes rather than to compromise. Examples are not hard to find.
1. Extremes of Income
Our unregulated capitalist financial system allows a few well-positioned individuals to divert billions of dollars from the needs of society. If the 400 richest Americans lumped together their investment profits from last year, the total would pay in-state tuition and fees for EVERY college student in the United States.
2. Extremes of Wealth
The combined net worth of the world's 250 richest individuals is more than the total annual living expenses of almost half the world - three billion people.
Within our own borders the disparity is no less shocking. For every one dollar of assets owned by a single black or Hispanic woman , a member of the Forbes 400 has over forty million dollars . That's equivalent to a can of soup versus a mansion, a yacht, and a private jet. Most of the Forbes 400 wealth has accrued from nonproductive capital gains. It's little wonder that with the exception of Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon, the U.S. has the highest degree of wealth inequality in the world.
3. Extremes of Debt
Up until the 1970s U.S. households had virtually no debt . Now the total is $13 trillion , which averages out to $100,000 per American family.
4. Extremes of Health Care
A butler in black vest and tie passed the atrium waterfall and entered the $2,400 suite, where the linens were provided by the high-end bedding designer Frette of Italy and the bathroom glimmered with polished marble. Inside a senior financial executive awaited his 'concierge' doctor for private treatment.
He was waiting in the penthouse suite of the New York Presbyterian Hospital.
On the streets outside were some of the 26,000 Americans who will die this year because they are without health care. In 2010, 50 million Americans had no health insurance coverage.
5. Extremes of Justice