09/06/2006 18 min #1182

American Capitalism and The Moral Poverty of Nations

American Capitalism and The Moral Poverty of Nations

Of Faustian Bargains and Disposable Human Beings

By JASON MILLER

5/29/06

(I am dedicating this essay to the memory of the millions of victims of the

Capitalist Imperial wars of conquest waged by the United States under the

patently false pretexts of spreading freedom and liberty).

Rolling through virtually any reasonably populous city or town in America,

one encounters a surreal landscape blighted by grotesque temples to

Americaıs twin gods of Capitalism and Consumerism. As an increasing number

of individual proprietors are driven to extinction, Wal-Mart, McDonaldıs,

and hundreds more leviathan corporations continue their rapid construction

of more houses of worship to serve their zealous congregation. Once inside,

many Americans gleefully sacrifice an abundance of their greenbacks at

altars attended by Consumerismıs unwitting acolytes.

For appallingly meager wages and benefits, the cashiers tending the sacred

Churches of Capitalism and Consumerism gather the offerings which enable

their fellow faithful to reap the fruits of practicing their devotion.

Good little Consumers can receive a veritable cornucopia of ³blessings² which

include working in jobs amounting to indentured servitude, obesity,

insurmountable debt, insularity from the rest of the world, unwitting

support of a merciless militaristic regime which is evolving into fascism,

idolatrous worship of celebrities and money, facilitation of obscene

concentration of wealth into the hands of a few, and participation in the

severe desecration of our environment.

They may exist in a spiritual wasteland, but at least those Americans who are

fortunate enough to find themselves in the shrinking middle class have

access to basic human necessities, some creature comforts, and relative

stability and safety (at least for the short term). However, a growing

number of Americans find themselves wandering in a barren desert, lacking

both sustenance for the soul and the corporeal ³blessings² bestowed upon the

middle class wage earners by the high priests of Capitalism and Consumerism.

How did this nightmare evolve?

As the Magna Charta emerged and evolved, and the United States Constitution

was conceived and implemented, ³feudalism² and monarchy began to gasp their

dying breaths. Ostensibly, the rule of law was superseding the rule of men

to deliver a sound measure of justice and equality.

In truth, humanity simply traded one set of tyrants for another. To this day

many still cling to the myth that the United States is the nexus of freedom,

equality and human rights. Yet the constitutional republic of the United

States was forged primarily by White men, many of whom were wealthy

land-owners looking to free themselves from the tyranny of King George while

preserving their narrow interests. The fact that there was significant

resistance to the inclusion of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution speaks

volumes of the priorities of many of our Founding Fathers.

In creating a powerful federal government, minimizing the decision-making

power of the poor and working class to occasional elections of

representatives (while limiting the impact of their votes by forming the

Electoral College), barring women from political participation, ignoring the

Native American population, and maintaining the legality of slavery, our

founders created a nation which afforded freedom and equality almost

exclusively to White males who possessed a measure of wealth.

Americaıs propertied ruling class quickly learned to manipulate their laws to

exploit the rest of the population in ways not unlike their predecessors who

reigned from thrones. As they lived like lords and kings, the elites of the

United States basked in the glow of admiration of their ³enlightened

values². Over the years they showed their true colors to the world by

engaging in numerous imperialistic endeavors, nearly wiping out the Native

American population, and fighting progressive movements like Abolition and

Womenıs Suffrage with virtually every fiber of their collective being.

Capitalism: Economic Rule of the Rich, by the Rich, for the Rich

Founded on the principles of individual liberty and self-determination (for

White male property owners), the nascent United States provided fertile

ground for the seeds of Capitalism. Conditions such as slavery, explosive

growth in the number of banks, Americaıs powerful drive to expand its

territory, neutral trade during the war between Great Britain and France,

and ultimately, the Industrial Revolution enabled American Capitalism to

grow into a thriving jungle.

By the late Nineteenth Century, trusts and monopolies flourished. Laissez

faire economic policy prevented the government ³of the people² from meddling

in the wealthy eliteıs obscene human and environmental exploitation.

Americaıs plutocracy was living large while the rest of the population

struggled and suffered.

For years, Americaıs schools and media have inculcated us with the notion

that Capitalism is the superlative socioeconomic system in the history of

humankind. In spite of the ³feel good² propaganda intended to keep us

pacified, working, and consuming, there is a very dark side to the much

vaunted American Way.

"America's abundance was created not by public sacrifices to the common good,

but by the productive genius of free men who pursued their own personal

interests and the making of their own private fortunes."

Thank you, Ayn Rand, for affirming the naked brutality and avarice of

Americaıs socioeconomic system, a system which enables a privileged few who

³play the game² well to mercilessly pursue their personal interests, amass

private fortunes, and hoard the lionıs share of ³Americaıs abundance².

The economy of the United States, which possesses many elements of commonly

accepted definitions of Capitalism, is tempered to some degree by components

which would more appropriately be attributed to Socialism or Progressive

Utilization Theory (PROUT), socioeconomic systems devoted in large part to

ensuring the welfare of society as a whole and which value humans as

sentient beings rather than commodities.

Unfortunately, by and large, Capitalism predominates in the American

socioeconomic system and represents a substantial portion of our national

character (or lack thereof). America embodies ruthless exploitation of

humanity and the Earth. In the capitalist paradigm, human beings and the

planet are simply material objects which exist to fulfill the desires of the

bourgeoisie masters. Imperialism and Neoliberalism go hand in glove with

Capitalism. Insatiable greed and objectification do not respect borders or

boundaries.

Cruel and brutal as the United States is, imagine how ruthless it would be

were the Social Darwinists of the upper stratum of our society given free

rein to implement their Hobbesian vision.

Relentless Momentum

After years of gains for the poor, women, minorities, and labor throughout

the Twentieth Century, a champion arose for Americaıs White Capitalist

Patriarchy in 1980. When Ronald Reagan took the driverıs seat, he wasnıt

content to simply return justice and compassion to the back seat. He threw

them in the trunk and left them there to rot.

Reaganıs successors, Republican and Democrat alike, have worked feverishly to

refortify the Capitalist bulwarks of privatization, property laws,

deregulation, cuts in social spending, and free trade agreements.

American Capitalism is a pyramid scheme shaped and forged over time to ensure

that a small minority of principally White males garner a majority of the

wealth. A few token minorities are allowed to ³join the club² while some

women enter the upper stratosphere (usually by virtue of their birthright

and inheritance), but by and large, the White Patriarchy maintains its

strangle-hold on choice properties like Boardwalk and Park Place. A majority

of Americans wind up holding Mediterranean and Baltic.

You Might as Well Stand Around Waiting to be Struck by Lightening

Horatio Alger wrote over 130 very popular fiction novels in the Nineteenth

Century. Unfortunately, his ideal notions of attaining ³rags to riches²

success through hard work and determination in the Capitalist system were

principally fiction too. Calling him a useful idiot would be unfair because

his heart was in the right place, but his works did provide very useful

propaganda for the wealthy ruling class who wanted their modern day serfs to

believe they had a realistic chance of rising to the top of the economic or

political food chain. Undeniably there are those who started with virtually

nothing and accrued vast fortunes or became powerful people, but for each

one who did, millions failed. And the same is true today.

He Who Has the Gold Makes the Rules

Consider that over half of our presidents came from families ranking amongst

the wealthiest 3% of Americans while at least a dozen sprang from the loins

of elitists in the top 1%.

In 2005, 143 of 435 US Representatives and one in three Senators were

millionaires.

Statistics from 2002 indicate that eight of the fifteen wealthiest

individuals in America had acquired their fortunes through inheritance. Five

of these eight were Waltons. The other three were progeny of the founder of

the Mars Candy empire. Three of the top fifteen derived their fortunes from

the same company, Microsoft. No concentration of wealth in the hands of a

few there, is there?

Reports from 2002 also indicate that Bill Gates had acquired as much wealth

as the bottom 40% of US households. And the Walton clan possessed 771,287

times the wealth of the average US household. Here is to the land of equal

opportunity!

In 2004, the United States had 374 billionaires and 7.5 millionaires (about

2% of the population). The wealthiest Americans possessed $11 trillion in

assets. Meanwhile 13% of Americans lived below poverty level. What was that

Horatio Alger myth again?

Yes, the bourgeoisie is thriving and dominating in the United States. We are

indeed experiencing the dawn of the Second Gilded Age.

According to Friedrich Engels, the bourgeoisie are:

"...the class of modern capitalists, owners of the means of social production

and employers of wage labour."

Whose function is:

"...the appropriation and therefore control of the labour of others and...

the selling of the products of this labour."

And who are differentiated from the small proprietors (which their massive

corporate entities often crush) by:

"capitalist production requires an individual capital big enough to employ a

fairly large number of workers at a time; only when he himself is wholly

released from labour does the employer of labour become a full-blooded

capitalist."

More staggering statistics demonstrate who reaps the bounty in a Capitalist

system (even one constrained by elements of more just and humane economic

systems):

More than 99% of American businesses have fewer than 500 employees and

account for less than 37% of all business sales.

Elite corporations (those employing more than 5,000 people) comprise a

fraction of the remaining 1% of American businesses, yet ring up over 40% of

sales.

Within specific business sectors, corporate monopolists shine brightly. The

fifty largest banks control over 35% of bank assets in the United States.

The largest 100 corporations alone account for over 46% of corporate net

income after taxes.

1% of Americans own more stock than the 90% of us who dwell at the bottom of

Bushıs ³ownership society².

While a tiny segment of the US population becomes increasingly powerful both

economically and politically, working class families continue to rely on two

incomes to make ends meet while 13% of the population lives below the

poverty level.

As the semblance of a meritocracy in America succumbs to the forces of

plutocratic ambition and greed under the Bush Regime, American economic

systemıs ³noble and fair² reputation is dutifully maintained by genuflecting

mainstream media pundits. Yet there is one particularly shameful stain which

not even master propagandists can mask.

Material ProsperityŠ.Spiritual Bankruptcy

In a self-proclaimed Christian nation awash in a sea of money, guided by

allegedly noble principles, and purported to have a Manifest Destiny to

convert the world to the American Way, a significant number of discarded,

hopelessly poor human beings are living proof of the cruel hypocrisy of the

ruling elite of the United States. Americaıs homeless are living testaments

to the gross injustices of Capitalism, even in an economy tempered with

elements of government-funded social programs and regulations on businesses.

"Let all bear in mind that a society is judged not so much by the standards

attained by its more affluent and privileged members as by the quality of

life which it is able to assure for its weakest members."

--Javier Perez de Cuellar (former PM of Peru and Secretary General to the UN)

Each year 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness. Of these

unfortunates, 750,000 are chronically homeless. 49% are Black while only 35%

are White (which represents an obviously gross disproportion when compared

to the racial make-up of the general population). A startling 40% of the

homeless include families.

Who are these Nameless, Forgotten, ³Disposable² Human Beings?

Homelessness is not limited to the conventional notion of people sleeping in

a cardboard box or on a park bench. Americaıs homeless people include those

who live in their cars, abandoned buildings, cheap motels called

flop-houses, and train or bus stations.

Many homeless maintain jobs making sub-standard wages. Other ways the

homeless obtain their meager incomes is through begging, street performance,

selling street magazines (written and distributed by the homeless), and

selling their blood plasma. In their desperation, some feign illness to gain

admission to hospitals while others commit crimes so they can get ³three

hots and a cot².

Those with untreated mental illness are amongst the most vulnerable of our

society. Tragically, the mentally afflicted comprise 25% of the homeless

population. In the 1960ıs, the United States government de-institutionalized

many suffering with chronic mental illness. Our ruling elites at multiple

levels of government failed (and continue to fail) to establish and fund

adequate community service programs necessary for these people to achieve

stability in their lives. Without adequate support systems in their

communities, many mentally ill individuals wind up living on the street.

At least 38% of the homeless are reported to self-medicate with drugs and

alcohol to escape the misery of their situation, thus greatly diminishing

the likelihood they can reclaim stable lives.

About 5% of the homeless are runaway teens. It is a travesty that due to a

dearth of government social safety nets, many of these children fall prey to

drugs, street gangs, prostitution, or the pornography industry.

Representing a particularly searing indictment of Americaıs Capitalist

constitutional republic are the 500,000 US military veterans who experience

homelessness each year. Conscripted or manipulated by propaganda to fight in

wars of imperial aggression (like Vietnam), homeless veterans were used by

the elites and cast aside like yesterdayıs garbage. The Veterans

Administration only provides housing for veterans who are chronically ill,

has severely neglected the needs of those with mental illness, and cut most

Vietnam War Veterans adrift with no job training. Risk your life to expand

the American Empire and you get to spend the rest of your days eating out of

trash dumpsters.

Many choose homelessness, at least temporarily, because they are unable to

make a living wage in Americaıs ³booming² economy or find themselves

completely unemployed. Offshoring of American jobs, stagnant wages, the

soaring cost of housing, and the agonizing loss of industrial sector jobs

with healthy wages are leaving many Americans vulnerable to financial

disaster. Overwhelmed by bills and crippled by insufficient income, some

Americans are forced to choose amongst basic necessities. Naturally housing

goes before food and clothing, leaving people living on the street, or if

they are lucky, in their cars.

Natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina can add dramatically to the number

of homeless. At least 50,000 Katrina victims remain homeless. New Orleans is

a particularly instructive case because it clearly demonstrates the

Capitalist elitesı obsession with property rights and their callous

disregard for humanity. Our Constitution charges the federal government with

promoting the general welfare. Yet the Bush Regime had cut funding for the

levees despite warnings of the impending disaster dating back to 2001,

provided a slow and anemic relief effort by utilizing a FEMA entity which

they had gutted, and patrolled the streets with heavily armed Blackwater

contractors to secure property and assets.

Principally because of its draconian crack-down on non-violent drug-users,

particularly in the Black community, the United States has the worldıs

largest prison population (5% of the worldıs population and 25% of the

prison population: more evidence that preservation of the propertied class

and their holdings must come before all other considerations in a nation

dominated by Capitalist elites).

Since the American justice system emphasizes punitive measures over

rehabilitation, many of the two million incarcerated face bleak

possibilities once they have completed their sentences. Lacking job training

and adequate social coping skills while bearing the stigma of a felony

conviction, former convicts find it extremely difficult to reassimilate into

society. Many wind up homeless, living with the friends with whom they got

into trouble in the first place, in homeless shelters, in flop-houses, or

under bridges.

Their Milk of Human Kindness Soured Long Ago

As the moneyed class strengthens its dominance over our society, the plight

of the homeless is worsening. The US Conference of Mayors (representing 270

cities) reported that the demand for homeless shelter space increased by 13%

in 2001 and by 25% in 2005. 22% of those seeking shelter in 2005 were

refused.

Demonstrating the depths of their compassion, our ³benevolent² leaders have

begun to criminalize homelessness. Of the 224 American cities that

participated in a recent National Coalition for the Homeless survey,

approximately 30% are taking measures targeting the homeless, including

banning pan-handling and ³camping², initiating frequent police sweeps of

public areas to arrest or ³evict² homeless persons, and selectively

enforcing loitering laws.

While our heavily entrenched corporate elites and affluent decision-makers

cut their own taxes, reduce spending on social programs, and lavish insane

amounts of the working poorıs and middle classıs tax money on a military

which exists to protect and expand their pecuniary interests, they offer the

weakest members of our society, our homeless people, a quality of life that

would repulse a sewer rat.

Thanks to the pathological greed unleashed and rewarded by Capitalism,

America has forged a Faustian Pact. It is inevitable that Mephistopheles

will come to collect his due. Or perhaps he already has.

Jason Miller is a 39 year old sociopolitical essayist with a degree in

liberal arts and an extensive self-education (derived from an insatiable

appetite for reading). He is a member of Amnesty International and an avid

supporter of Oxfam International and Human Rights Watch. He welcomes

responses at willpowerful@hotmail.com or comments on his blog, Thomas

Paine's Corner, at http://civillibertarian.blogspot.com/.

Fair Use Statement

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 of US Copyright Law, this

attributed work is provided via Thomas Paineıs Corner on a non-profit basis

to facilitate understanding, research, education, and the advancement of

human rights and social justice.

POSTED BY JASON MILLER AT 6:34 PM

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