29, 2006, Volume 13 Nr. 47, Issue 215
Capitalism and The Moral Poverty of Nations
Bargains and Disposable Human Beings
(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 America's twin
gods of Capitalism and Consumerism. As an increasing number of
individual proprietors are driven to extinction, Wal-Mart,
McDonald's, 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 Consumerism's
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 "blessings" 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 "blessings"
bestowed upon the middle class wage earners by the high priests of
Capitalism and Consumerism.
How did this nightmare
As the Magna Charta emerged and
evolved, and the United States Constitution was conceived and
implemented, "feudalism" 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
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.
America's 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
"enlightened values". 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 Women's 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, America's 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 "of the people" from meddling in
the wealthy elite's obscene human and environmental exploitation.
America's plutocracy was living large while the rest of the
population struggled and suffered.
For years, America's 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 "feel good" propaganda intended to keep us
pacified, working, and consuming, there is a very dark side to the
much vaunted American Way.
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 America's socioeconomic system, a
system which enables a privileged few who "play the game"
well to mercilessly pursue their personal interests, amass private
fortunes, and hoard the lion's share of "America's
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
After years of gains for the poor,
women, minorities, and labor throughout the Twentieth Century, a
champion arose for America's White Capitalist Patriarchy in 1980.
When Ronald Reagan took the driver's seat, he wasn't content to
simply return justice and compassion to the back seat. He threw them
in the trunk and left them there to rot.
Reagan's 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 "join the club" 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
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 "rags to riches" 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
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
In 2004, the United States had 374
billionaires and 7.5 million 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
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
"...the class of
modern capitalists, owners of the means of social production and
employers of wage labour."
Whose function is:
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
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
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
1% of Americans own more
stock than the 90% of us who dwell at the bottom of Bush's
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
As the semblance of a meritocracy in
America succumbs to the forces of plutocratic ambition and greed
under the Bush Regime, American economic system's "noble and
fair" reputation is dutifully maintained by genuflecting
mainstream media pundits. Yet there is one particularly shameful
stain which not even master propagandists can mask.
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. America's homeless are living testaments
to the gross injustices of Capitalism, even in an economy tempered
with elements of government-funded social programs and regulations
"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, "Disposable" Human Beings?
Homelessness is not limited to the
conventional notion of people sleeping in a cardboard box or on a
park bench. America's 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
"three hots and a cot".
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
1960's, 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 America's 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 yesterday's 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
America's "booming" 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
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 elites' 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 world's largest prison
population (5% of the world's 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 "benevolent" 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 "camping", initiating
frequent police sweeps of public areas to arrest or
"evict" homeless persons, and selectively enforcing
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 poor's and middle class's 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 email@example.com
or comments on his blog, Thomas Paine's Corner, at http://civillibertarian.blogspot.com/.