I recently received a financial newsletter forwarded to me by a dear friend who asked what I thought of it. It basically described the end of the world and life as we know it due to the stock market, the US Treasury, the debt crisis, and so on. I responded with a heavy heart as follows:
I looked thru it quickly. And I actually agree with him on just about everything. HOWEVER, having said that… please allow me to quote from one of my favorite movies of all time, Men In Black:
Kay: We do not discharge our weapons in view of the public!
Jay: Man, we ain’t got time for this cover-up bullshit! I don’t know whether or not you’ve forgotten, but there’s an Arquillian Battle Cruiser that’s about to…
Kay: There’s always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet, and the only way these people can get on with their happy lives is that they DO NOT KNOW ABOUT IT!
Now then, throughout time there has always been an Arquillian Battle Cruiser posed to destroy the earth, mankind, or the economy. And yet somehow we’ve survived for hundreds of thousands of years. For thousands of generations. While it is true that we now have the technology to theoretically enable one person or a small group of people to destroy all life on this planet (or the planet itself)… I am reminded of the Nazi general (Dietrich von Choltitz) who refused to destroy Paris. Maybe people will restrain themselves from destroying life as we know it. On the other hand, Dietrich von Choltitz did destroy Rotterdam, which was arguably an important military target. (Still, my husband was born there, so we’re a bit touchy on the subject.)
This is one of those YES, but ON THE OTHER HAND type of things. I don’t know which economic story is right. I see economic disaster all around us. But disaster has always been there and always been a possibility. I see “advances” in technology that can make bad people more powerful than in the past. I see social patterns that weaken the majority of people economically and intellectually. But I still wonder that maybe we ARE like cockroaches… very hard to kill. I’m not sure, but I cling to a hope that things will straighten out, that our politicians will right some wrongs eventually, that a leader will emerge with the cojones to put us back on the right track, for a while, until the next mess. As dear, sheltered, Emily Dickenson wrote:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.
I can’t give up hope. I still fill the hummingbird feeder.
That addresses the emotional content of these economic disaster newsletters, but the harsh reality is that maybe capitalism doesn’t work so well. It harnesses so many aspects of human nature, that it seems like it should work. And democracy seems like it should work. In theory it appeals to our better nature. But when you put the two of them together, we observe corporations buying politicians, buying the Supreme Court, Congress, and certainly influencing the White House. The Supreme Court saying it’s ok for corporations to spend money to influence their best interests in elections? Come on. I don’t think the founding fathers had that in mind. I hope that US citizens in their late teens, twenties, and older will take back the country.
Looking around the net for places where folks are considering the topics of democracy and capitalism, I found some fascinating things. I am reminded that the internet provides us with this wonderful, open communications medium to discuss our concerns, refute questionable facts, and share ideas. I’m still not convinced of what caused the “Arab Spring” this year, but if the answer is young, educated, unemployed citizens, the topic of democracy and capitalism deserves a whole lot of consideration. It may be time for a serious adjustment. Mind you I love my country, but I don’t believe we’ve been on a constructive track since Bill Clinton was president. And we need to think it over. What has made us successful in the past and what will make us successful in the future?
The first interesting article I’ll mention is Democracy and Capitalism, Why in the end the two are incompatible. This is a British blog (Socialist Standard), and I don’t think Socialism is the answer, but the piece makes some good points and is worth reading.
Now here’s a url for you: http://anticap.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/capitalist-democracy-as-organized-combat/
Anyone whose WordPress blog is titled ANTICAP may be a bit predictable, but you have to check out the great editorial cartoon on this page! It’s the lead-in to a short blog titled ‘Capitalist democracy as “organized combat” ‘. The focus is on the links between inequality and the current economic crisis in the United States with pointers to the work of Jacob S. Hacker (of Yale) and Paul Pierson (of Berkeley), full article HERE. (It requires some effort to get to the full article, so I’ve linked to it directly.) It is true enough that while economists have noted the increasing wealth disparity in the US, “students of American politics” have been remarkably quiet on the topic. (And that’s why I’m collecting and writing this, of course.) It’s a long, detailed read, but the best analysis of the current US economic and political situation I’ve seen.
Then there’s Henry Lamb on Capitalism’s Impending Demise. The point here is that there is no longer a free market economy in the US. It begins something like this: “Labor unions and government regulations have put an end to that era.” and goes on to bemoan the loss of streets paved with gold due to the evil Democrats. Yeah. Labor union membership has been declining every year since the government started keeping records, bozo, so you are – shall we say – full of it. But then my convictions are to support labor. Organized labor IS part of a free market economy, guys. The US Dept of Labor Statistics supplies this information: “In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1%, and there were 17.7 million union workers.” and this: “In 2010, the union membership rate — the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union — was 11.9%, down from 12.3% a year earlier.” More than half of current union members are public sector employees, by the way. Draw your own conclusion about that.
The Economist in June 2003 ran an issue with the cover article: Capitalism and Democracy, which article I found on Bill Emmott’s website, as he is the author and editor of The Economist. If you have the time and patience to read it, it’s fantastically good. He agrees that however dark it looks, somehow good times seem to recur eventually. This time the abuses from inside the financial system have been worse than usual and the political backlash has not hit as strongly as one might expect yet. And that was written in 2003. Where’s the backlash? I don’t know, but the question is excellent.
Then there are some blogs which would appear to be fermenting the next American Revolution. Worth looking at (great layout and illustrations): Norman D. Livergood’s Completing the American Revolution. I don’t agree with everything here by any means, and I don’t think Obama is a fraud, BUT democracy and capitalism don’t seem to be working for the majority of people in the US. At the very end of the piece, he admits that the US government provides more freedoms than other governments and has done some very good things. So I present this as another “ON the one hand, ON the other hand” state of human/US affairs.
The Daily Kos has a blog entry titled Why Capitalism Is Evil, which might better be titled Capitalism can be proved Evil beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s lengthy, but well argued and well researched with pointers to other books as well as Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story. I admire the effort here and agree with much of it, but like most such excellent pieces, I am left wondering …. what do we do now? If we agree that capitalism, as practiced, does not work, keeping in mind that it did create the greatest nation on the planet, what do we try next?
I’m amused that a right wing website called NewsBusters which has the subtitle Exposing & Combating Liberal Media Bias (I could write a whole book on that topic alone, summary: balderdash) write what they consider a scathing review of Michael Moore’s Capitalism and it reads as a fairly great review. Their complaints don’t ring as bad things. Until the last sentence which attempts to dismiss Moore entirely. I don’t particularly recommend reading this piece, except to note that it quotes Michael Moore as saying he doesn’t have the answer to what’s next, either.
Last reading assignment (ha… are you still with me here?) is a short blog entry in a blog titled PEACE IS POSSIBLE. Simple statement of why capitalism is not equal to democracy. Amen.
While I don’t have the answers, the questions and the people considering them are important. I’m a fan of Adam Smith and The Wealth of Nations. Peace.