Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Capitalism and Patriotism

This will be the third (and final, for now) part in my recent discussion of capitalism.

I would imagine that the following definition of capitalism would be accepted by most as accurate: Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned and operated for profit, usually in competitive markets. I would also imagine that the vast majority of people would respond that capitalism is a key element to the success and growth of America. In contrast to most people's perception of socialism or communism, capitalism provides us with a means for individual success (or failure) based on competition with others in a fair market environment. The concept appeals perfectly with the American belief in the strength of the individual to pull up his boot straps and make it on his own. It also ties in nicely with our faith that our god will reward those who help themselves.

As I have said before in reference to other large topics, capitalism is the worst economic system, except for every other one. What I mean with those words, is that no economic system is perfect because its execution is dependent upon men, therefore all economic systems have their flaws. In the case of capitalism, many consider it the least worst when compared to others.

Yea, I know, words, words, words.

Lets look at it this way then. As a husband or wif, you love your spouse. As a parent, you love your children. As a brother or sister, you love your siblings. As a true friend, you love those few lifelong friends. Yet, there may be times when you are critical of your spouse, children, brother, or friend. When you feel compelled, out of that love, to express criticism of their actions or choices, constructive criticism, to help them get back to a path that will promote happiness rather than sadness.

But what method of criticism is there for an economic system (or any system) when it begins to harm the very people it should help? When its execution has evolved into a system where too many cards are held by too few players?

Like a family, it is generally accepted that the more effective criticism will come from within. Parent to child, brother to brother. In the case of capitalism then, it seems clear that the best form of criticism should emanate from the citizens who exist within its system. Like your family, when you hear criticism of your brother, you instinctively defend him, even if the faults described are true. So it follows that a Marxist pointing out the problems with capitalism will be demonized, his words ignored regardless of their accuracy.

I have a nagging suspicion that our current perception of capitalism has become immune to criticism because it has reached an almost religious status among its adherents. It has become beyond reproach. Expressing a negative opinion has become tantamount to hating America; those who do not support capitalism are not patriotic. And that is the danger.

Today's form of capitalism, has taken the belief in the individual and conferred it on a belief in a corporation. It has taken the faith that profit is the reward for success, and allowed it to become the only measure of success. It has evolved into the most basest form of the strong over the weak, and then, with a cynical connection to religion, determined that the weak deserved their fate because they are lazy, uninspired, unloved by god.

By granting the rights of individuals to corporations, we are assuming that they will act as collective people. But as I have pointed out in capitalism and profit, they do not treat their employees as people but as liabilities. All obstacles to a higher profit margin need to be addressed, even if those obstacles are the very people who do the work of the corporation. What else explains today's rising stock market, higher corporate profits yet continued unemployment?

In my mind, today's form of capitalism is anti-American, anti-patriotic. When a multi-national company is allowed to reap billions of dollars in profit yet pick and choose which country it shall pay taxes to, it has become anti-American. When any corporation places its own profit margin over the welfare of its employees, and even rewards its executives when they achieve those margins, by any means, it has become anti-patriotic.

Patriotism includes the concept of self-sacrifice. I am not a big believer in war, but have great respect for those who serve in our military because they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Why then do we not expect our corporations to sacrifice a few percentage points of profit to employ some more people or keep prices to the consumer in check?

When does profit become anti-American? When gas prices increase 25% while energy companies achieve record profits? When the very people who need health care services the most are the first to be denied health care insurance by an industry that turns billions of dollars in profit per quarter? When those making minimum wage are asked to do with a little less while those making $1250 per hour are exempted?

I think we need to turn a page in our adoration of capitalism, discuss frankly its problems, and act as a family to make corrections to its tenets that ultimately do not help America as a whole but instead reward too small a segment at the expense of too many.
And in doing so, demonstrate that we love our country more than we love capitalism, or corporations, or profit.

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