Saturday, May 14, 2005


My friend Judy wrote: last year Scott Lee Jr., Wal-Mart's chief executive, was paid $17.5 million. That is, every two weeks Mr. Lee was paid $725,000, about as much as his average employee will earn in a lifetime. From this excellent, tell it like it is, Paul Krugman article Always Low Wages. Always

My response: Outrageous and obscene... I am beginning to despise capitalism but the alternatives don't seem to work either... They just raised the minimum wage here in Florida to $6.15 an hour... it took them years and years to get this piddling amount for the working poor and it still is not a living wage??? The inequalities and money disparities between the classes are so disgusting in a modern world...why isn't there a fairer way to share the wealth??? THE BIGGEST CAPITALIST THIS SIDE OF EDEN, Bush is soooooooooo worried about the social security system (I think it is one of the best ways there has been so far to distribute the wealth but the rich are even protected from giving their fair share on this program by capping their share of contributions on their enormous incomes at an insubstantial 90,000 dollars) THIS MAKES ME SO CONFUSED, you would think the rich would want to contribute more since they have so much more??? I just Googled capitalism and came up with this site on the very subject... quite interesting. ThinkingBlue

PS: I found this site which sums it up so eloquently...


On the foolishness of American capitalism by Atomicktom, March 3, 2005

I’ve been meaning to point out how enjoyable your cyber couch has become lately. It seems that each day, I spot a new visitor, adding compelling discussion to a riveting virtual neighborhood (do you have any idea how many people are visiting Unknown News these days?). [We get a fairly steady 3,000 or so visitors daily. ] Although reticent of late, rest assured that I’ve bee curled up in the corner the whole time, keeping an ear tuned to the latest rants while sipping my coffee and reading my book.

Now that Mr. Nietzsche has steered the conversation towards Capitalism, though, I want to raise my hand. I have no axe to grind with Mr. Nietzsche’s conception of capitalism, as I have no great love for this particular pillar of Americana and the numerous wars it has spawned (for any who might suggest that war isn’t fought for money, I might remind them that the Cold War was a battle against a particular economic idea, communism, instead of a particular form of government, like totalitarianism).

Nor do I have any great desire for a communist/socialist model, though. While I have great sympathy for Karl Marx’s observations about the depravity of the industrial movement’s burgeoning capitalist system, I think history has demonstrated the impracticality of his proposed solutions.

Indeed, I have little tolerance for dated labels, in general, since they are rarely relevant in our modern, dynamic society. As has been ably noted by our Canadian friend, the individual results of economic theorizing tends to be unique in each particular circumstance. In Canada (while progressive minded Americans can only dream of better days), that application includes some integration of state involvement in universal concerns like health. In America, obviously, the system operates according to different dictates.

America is hardly laissez faire, though. Although we are generally taught to believe that the US capitalist system empowers individuality (having some shit to do with “bootstraps”, which I don’t believe have been worn in a century), the facts are far different. As Noam Chomsky has pointed out repeatedly, in America we socialize the risk and privatize the reward. It’s a system with its own socialist functions, but they accrue to very particularized interests. To cite one memorable example, hundreds of millions of dollars were apportioned to the struggling airlines following the events of 11 September 2001 (I detest referring to it as 9/11, as if to give any event, no matter how traumatic, some reverential label to act as a shield against honest analysis), but I heard of no particularized concern for all of the hourly wage workers laid off due to the closing of the Ronald Reagan National Airport. To cite another ongoing, egregious example, a political policy of “war on terror” (a.k.a. World War IV) exists as a perpetual subsidy for the private war machine gorging on the teat of federal welfare.

It is important to realize that this is not the same exact capitalist system that existed at the beginning of the 20th century, just as it will be different 50 years from now. Like any artificial concept (economics is, after all, just an idea of how to distribute resources), capitalism faces the inescapable test of time. The meaning of 'capitalist' must continue to evolve in order to accommodate the demands of those people subsisting within its rubric, lest it by replaced by something more useful. The applicable label, be it capitalist, socialist, or progressivism (how’s that for our newest economic mantra?) is immaterial; our time is far better spent conforming the new definition to our needs. It is not for us to argue whether change is likely, for change is as inevitable as the passage of time. Instead, let’s anticipate where those changes will go and seek to refine that direction.

Those who crafted the American government did so with the clear intention of steering their economic system towards their own self interests. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the founders’ motives were hardly altruistic (just ask their slaves), but instead designed to provide legal enforcement for preservation of their wealth and privilege (just ask their slaves).

From this beginning, law and its processes have served as one source of social mediation (along with the church, school, television, and other forms of mainstream indoctrination) designed to resolve the struggle between these elitist interests (who have always sought to control the means of production) and the rest of us (who are the means of production). Sometimes, society concedes to pressure from the masses (by emancipating slaves or granting weekends away from work, for example) simply to avoid revolt, but it almost always responds with retribution, both formal and informal (such as Jim Crow laws and the consistent pressure to spend Sundays worshiping false idols, be they football players or martyrs) in order to maintain the exclusivity of its hierarchical distribution.

Like many classic ideals, this mentality has long been demonstrated to be disastrous. There are millions of casualties that lie in the wake of American excess, and the responsibility of that destruction can be laid at the door of a society whose institutions have long been designed to rape and pillage the world for immediate consumption and exclusive hegemony. While the means of conquest may have changed to take advantage of human innovation, we remain fixed in a pattern of perverted, self defeating logic that has lasted at least as long as the legacy of the good ole’ US of A.

What is so perplexing about the typical allegiance to this system is its level of inefficiency. I have often noted how little intellectual development came from the antebellum South (which was tying its brains into logical knots trying to justify the ownership of fellow humans), and the rash of abusers, addicts, and assholes roaming American streets almost certainly has some correlation to the violence we routinely pursue as official government policy. Meanwhile, our standing of living, although clearly better then it was centuries ago, slows its appreciation to a perpetual crawl. Jobs are outsourced, health issues predominate, and the rumbling of riot or reform once again agitates the gross inequities within our society.

I have no reason to doubt Mr. Nietzsche’s characterization of the American capitalist system as one of rampant consumption, to the detriment of any resource in its way. While this seems true (and, indeed, I believe Karl Marx predicts that capitalism eventually leads to monopoly), it also seems counterproductive. I was always under the impression that the virtuous “invisible hand” that turns individual effort into collective merit was Competition. When a business runs all of its competition out of town, haven’t we suddenly lost that essential element to this fundamental capitalist principle, threatening the business’

Perhaps these notions have already been resolved by minds far more cultivated then my own, but my rudimentary understanding of capitalism is this: Society is bettered by individual businesses pursuing their own success. Individual profit motive guides a business. Profit is generated by a balance of revenue and expenses. Maximize revenue, minimize expenses, and you have successfully generated profit. Revenue is generated by demand for your products or services. Demand is generated by innovation (which occurs by creating new products or services or improving the quality of old products or services), but it wanes over time as new innovations become common accouterments available everywhere. Innovation is the result of competition between different businesses seeking to acquire the same demand by coming up with new ideas or improvements on old ideas.

If we lose that competition, we lose the innovations that drive demand (and, as a result, revenue). Instead, a business is left to generate demand artificially (through a coercive pop culture infusing certain useless “wants” into society, for example) or suffer a stagnation in revenue. Stagnating revenue has a deleterious effect, since it jeopardizes the profit motive, the lifeblood of the business. Without increased revenue, profit must be manufactured through fraudulent reporting (WorldCom or Enron, et al) or a reduction in expenses (every other company that relies on outsourcing and other wage slave practices).

In other words, Wal Mart was a great corporation when it was an upstart, relying on the ingenious ideas of Sam Walton to expand across America. It represented a fruitful example of a burgeoning capitalist enterprise. Similarly, Oil Companies are fine as long as oil is one of many different sources of energy being marketed to the consumer. But when Wal Mart comes into a town, closes down the competition, employs the residents at poverty wages, and sells a bunch of shit nobody really needs, it’s a cancer on the community. And when Oil companies provide the incentive to literally destroy the world (which is literally what I meant,
Hyper :), we are all slated for an untimely demise.

Competition, then, is at the crux of a properly working economy. Competition, though, is but one component of the much broader concept of cooperation, for competition is a form of cooperation. Does that sound counter-intuitive? Perhaps not, if you consider this example. The hyper-“competitive” world of pro sports relies on an agreed upon set of rules, as adjudicated by neutral officials, with conditions that are equivalent for both sides, in order to determine a winner. If you take away these elements (either by bribing officials or giving one team ineffective equipment), the competition becomes a sham and the integrity of the winner is compromised.

The same factors hold true throughout society, and especially at its basic economic level. The problem, though, is that the American system is rigged. Some people get ready for competition in the same room as the officials, while others can’t even get on the playing field. I have no lobbyist in Washington talking to the “officials”, and I’m almost certain that my Florida absentee ballot (wasted, sadly, on a shitty vote) was never counted in the last presidential tally. Any pretense of a competitive balance is manufactured to create the plausible belief of legitimacy, while the results have already been decided among the elite, colluding among

I don’t mean to sound conspiratorial, as I have no specific knowledge of any back room dealing. But I do think it takes just a little observation to see the extent of how which way our society has been skewed. Be it George W. Bush or Ashlee Simpson, our most ubiquitous influences are routinely pre-screened for their applicability. Behind their prefabricated persona is a status quo smugly ensconced in its inequities and far removed from any ideology devoted to free market

Sadly, this formula has disastrous consequences. Stagnation and innovation, along with dollars and cents, may get easily lost amidst the rhetoric as mere theoretical conjecture. But it does have very real consequences. Ultimately, individual profit motive is about expanding the collective wealth. And wealth is not just a financial calculation. It is also a real indicator of our life span, our health, our comfort, and our potential for future invention.

But wealth is also a relative term, and anyone who is smugly content with their level of wealth within our callous world should be aware of this. Would you rather be the richest man in Europe in AD 1500 or a middle class American in AD 2005? Wealth is not always about cash in the bank, you see, and also includes the technology that lets people live into their 80s, take hot baths in the morning, communicate instantly with friends on the other side of the planet, and otherwise take advantage of the innovations that came before them to enhance the world that they will inhabit

When we are talking about economics, we are potentially talking about a way to integrate all people together in order to make everyone’s lives better. A system that wants to monopolize the world is not just harsh and brutal, it is also contrary to the goal of expanding the wealth, so that people live even longer, at a better standard, everywhere. It is so sad when I hear about wars and famine where untapped geniuses, capable of curing our most perplexing diseases and advancing our most innovative ideas, are struggling to merely survive. Any idea dedicated to perpetuating this process is clearly foolish, and, indeed, may be fatal.

We need to remember that cooperation is worthwhile, and for purely selfish reasons like improving your own life. Nor is competition anathema to a cooperative society, when that competition operates according to fairly crafted rules that apply equally to all sides, implemented for the betterment of all participants. Competition is what forces horse carriage manufacturers to start building cars and competition is what invents technology that lets us all sit together in this virtual world despite our geographic proximity, and it is competition that should force music companies to find new ways to generate revenue (besides selling the music) and allow natural solutions (like hemp) to challenge artificially crafted products (like petroleum based plastics) for a share of the market.

Competition is not the problem with our society; rather, it is the lack of a true, meritorious forum where all citizens can participate which threatens our existence. Similarly, cooperation around the world will not cripple America’s stance as a land of opportunity. When each part of the world can realize its own competitive advantage by contributing its maximized resources (including, most importantly, the brain power of its residents) to a worldwide marketplace, every country can benefit. And when direct self interests are represented, no part of the world is going to waste its own assets so some distant potentate can enjoy fleeting prosperity. The problems we face are not due to capitalist theorizing, but rather to monopolistic practices.

America is no more capitalist then it is democratic (even our pledge is to a “republic”), and has long squelched the notion of freedom through the careful creation and application of rules and procedures that were always intended to ensure biased privilege. I don’t offer this as a sad prediction of what will be, but rather as a comprehensive reminder of what already is, so that we can craft a more profitable future. Much Love,

P.S. I am sympathetic to the argument that water is likely to become as coveted a resource at the end of the century as oil is now. But don’t hydrogen fuel cells produce water vapor as an emission? If we could fully harness that technology, it seems we could generate more water while also overcoming the death grip that oil companies have on our government policies. Innovation is always just around the corner, and things are always impossible before we do them.
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