American democracy has been conclusively conquered by American capitalism. Government has been disabled or captured by the formidable powers of private enterprise and concentrated wealth. Self-governing rights that representative democracy conferred on citizens are now usurped by the overbearing demands of corporate and financial interests. Collectively, the corporate sector has its arms around both political parties, the financing of political careers, the production of the policy agendas and propaganda of influential think tanks, and control of most major media.When I was growing up, my dad was a small businessman, and a Republican. You know the type-- fiscally conservative, unconcerned with social issues as "none of his business." I remember hearing him talk with my mom about making sure his employees had health insurance. He would (and did) cut his own pay to keep the company afloat. In Dad I saw a formidable work ethic and a deep sense of personal responsibility. I even started my voting life as a Republican. (That didn't last long.)
What the capitalist system wants is more—more wealth, more freedom to do whatever it wishes. This has always been its instinct, unless government intervened to stop it. The objective now is to destroy any remaining forms of government interference, except of course for business subsidies and protections.
Now, we live in an era of vast consumption. I heard on the news that there are record profits in corporate America, and we are to expect a wave of buyouts and takeovers. Seems companies saved a lot of cash by cutting all those jobs. Wall Street is also awash, and massive bonuses once again the norm. Never mind that a sober report finds that the economic downturn was avoidable. Never mind that insatiable greed is really at the root of this. Wall Street is doing great. Who cares if the jobless rate is north of 10%?
A few years ago, I was at a conference center in the UK, where I noticed that the women cleaning the rooms moved with a slow pace, with tea breaks and chats interspersed. At first this annoyed me, typical American that I am, because it was so inefficient; surely they didn't need that many staff if they just worked at full speed. Then I realized that it wasn't such a bad thing. So the profit of the center was a little reduced. But more people worked, and they were able to have a little human contact in their jobs. The rooms still got cleaned.
I think of this when I phone a help desk and talk to a person in India. Aren't there people in Indiana who could answer the phone just as well? It might cost a little more but shouldn't we feel a responsibility to our own citizens and communities?
So how much profit is enough? The Republicans rage on about "no taxes" , and "no regulation". They extend tax breaks for millionaires, and give corporations the rights of citizens. They vote against environmental protection and health regulation. They succeed in getting millions of fearful citizens to vote against their own economic interests.
But really, does it really matter to the Koch Brothers, in any noticeable way, if their billions are reduced a fraction? Does any banker or broker really need, let alone deserve, a bonus in the millions of dollars? Do we really have no other way of rewarding merit than counting stacks of gold and enabling conspicuous consumption?
States are eviscerating education, public safety, and public welfare programs because they can't afford them. They are cutting into the bone of our society. There is enough money in Wall Street bonuses to make a difference. But of course, that won't happen, and those billions in bonuses will be squirreled away. Human greed is rapacious. And our political system has devolved into a servant of that greed.
We need thriving businesses for a thriving economy, of course. But our concept of "profit" needs to expand beyond mere money.
We need more CEOs like Aaron Feuerstein. Profit must include responsibility for and well-being of all our citizens, our culture, and our planet, and not just more gold bars in the strong room.