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Propping Up a Broken Capitalism


Five years ago it would be unthinkable that a harsh critique of capitalism would attract a mass audience. But this is exactly what Michael Moore’s new movie — Capitalism: A Love Story — has done.  The source of Moore’s success is his willingness to focus on what the media ignores: the human faces behind unemployment, bankruptcy, foreclosures, evictions, etc., and the faces benefiting from this misery — the corporate-elite sitting atop the financial system.

This reality has quickly educated millions of Americans, who now understand that our economic system is dominated by a tiny crust of super-rich individuals, bailing themselves out with taxpayer money while playing deaf to an exploding social crisis.

To combat these truths, the corporate-elite are planning a pro-capitalist media blitz.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is an organization where the biggest U.S. corporations come together to chat, organize, and throw money at politicians.  Now, they are launching their “dream big” campaign, with the aim of “…preserving and advancing the American free enterprise system [capitalism].” 

This $100 million campaign — as explained on the Chamber’s website — will focus on “national advertising,” “grassroots advocacy,” “research and ideas leadership” [think tanks and universities], and “Citizen, Community, and Youth Engagement” — combining “…outreach to governors, mayors, and young audiences…” with “…online social networking” (Facebook).

Aside from saving capitalism, the campaign aims to save “… the 7 million jobs lost to the current recession and create the 13 million new jobs that will be needed over the next decade.”

But as Albert Einstein pointed out, “no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”  No serious economist is predicting that the economy is going to start pumping out jobs, let alone 20 million of them. 

The Chamber of Commerce isn’t the only entity trying to shore up the profit system.  Corporate-oriented pundits and politicians are falling over themselves to sing high praises to our troubled economic system.

Bush gave such a speech shortly after the system crashed, where he admitted that people were beginning to equate the market economy [capitalism] with “…greed, exploitation, and failure.”  This was wrong, Bush claimed.  Instead, regulation was the culprit, a simple, easy-to-fix problem. The giant banks and other mega-corporations — owned and controlled by tiny groups of ultrarich individuals — could remain in place.

Another rescuer of capitalism is Newsweek Editor and savvy politician, Fareed Zakaria, who wrote a Newsweek article entitled, The Capitalist Manifesto.  In it, Zakaria explains, “What we are experiencing is not a crisis of capitalism. It is a crisis of finance, of democracy, of globalization and ultimately of ethics.”  To further obscure the problem, he concludes that the banks and corporations are not to blame… everybody is:

“… there is enough blame to go around and many fixes to make…But at heart, there needs to be a deeper fix within all of us, a simple gut check. If it doesn’t feel right, we shouldn’t be doing it.”  (June 13, 2009).

Of course not every defense of capitalism is as ridiculous as Bush’s or Zakaria’s.  A more nuanced approach can be heard by both Ariana Huffington and Ron Paul, who both share the same perspective: capitalism did not fail because capitalism did not exist — “corporatism” did.

Assuming that Paul and Huffington are defining “corporatism” as an economy dominated by large banks and other corporations, they’re right.  They’re wrong to think that “corporatism” and capitalism are mutually exclusive.  In fact, capitalism has been dominated by large corporations for over a hundred years, with the advent of the “robber barons” — monopoly corporation owners like Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, etc.

At its foundation, however, capitalism hasn’t changed.  The system has always produced goods for the purpose of private profit, not people’s need, and the people who profit from capitalism have always been those who own the wealth, machines and buildings that produce these goods, whether they be cars, computers, or loans.

Although capitalism’s essence remains intact, its appearance has morphed over the years.  In the early days, small businesses dominated, alongside small banks.  But as transportation and technology developed, the world seemed to get smaller, while more and more goods were being produced.

This created the conditions that led to a capitalist free for all; a relentless battle to out-sell the others on the global marketplace. The big dogs ate the little dogs, and became bigger and bigger dogs — super-corporations that now span the globe, with gigantic facilities producing unimaginable amounts of commodities.

This is the world we live in today.  These companies wield absolute power over political and social life: their tremendous wealth enables them to purchase politicians and army generals, while keeping certain topics in Congress “off the table.”  This is the reality of capitalism as it exists today, a fact that must be acknowledged by anybody offering a credible solution.

We cannot regulate capitalism to meet our needs when we do not control the system; those who own the banks and corporations do.  Real social change will require that this dynamic be smashed, so that socially precious institutions are not the property of any individual or small group.  Any entity that seriously affects the general public should be run in the interest of the public, and thus owned by no one.

 

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org).  He can be reached at [email protected].

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