Who Does Capitalism Really Work For?

In an October 27 column in The Tech, Ryan Normandin argues that “state capitalism” is right for America. Capitalism works, but for whom? Let’s us look at some numbers. The top 1 percent richest people own approximately 25 percent of all wealth in the US as of 2004 and that number has likely gone up. The bottom 80 percent of people own less than 20 percent of the wealth (Economic Policy Institute’s “State of Working America” 2009). So whether the current system works depends on whom you ask. Does the system work for the millions of uninsured, unemployed, and homeless?  How about for the millions of hard working people that barely make ends meet? 

Corporations have steadily increased their profits while working hours have increased and wages have stagnated for decades (see “State of the Dream, 2009” by United for a Fair Economy). So if you are a CEO, the system is not all that bad, but if you are a wage worker (wage-slave, to be exact), well, you may not be thrilled when someone tells you this is as good as it is going to get. 

Under current estimates approximately 12 percent of our population lives in poverty (remember that we are the wealthiest country in the world). This is a vast underestimate because of the way the poverty level is estimated, and the official poverty line is around $24,000 for a family of four. Anyone with a sense of reality will know that this number needs to be doubled to be realistic. The median household income in the U.S. for the past few years has been in the range of $55,000, or about the realistic poverty level for a family of four. So the conclusion then must be that about 50 percent of the families in the U.S. live in less than comfortable conditions, while some actually live in complete misery. We also have the highest rate of incarceration in the world — not a statistic to be proud of. 

It is shameful that the richest nation in the world has the worst healthcare system among industrialized countries, and a school system that is less than impressive. So under the current system of corporate control of the government, we have money, but we do not spend it on the health and education of our population. Instead, our money and resources get shunned into the coffers of corporations and into illegal wars that defend the interests of the same corporations. From the perspective of the average U.S. citizen, this is hardly a system worth defending. Now, if you were running a multinational corporation, it would be a completely different ball game.

To understand the system we need to look at the words of our founding fathers: “Those who own the country ought to run it” (John Jay). Since corporations own the country, they run it. And since corporations have nothing but one goal — to make profit — our country is the way it is.

Actually, it could be worse. But thanks to the millions of dedicated activists, this country has obtained some degree of civility. But these vestiges of fairness and equality, which were won with extraordinary sacrifices and dedication by working people, are under constant attack. Those parts of the government that do indeed serve the interest of the population in general have been under severe pressure for privatization, reduction ,or destruction: social security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment benefits, protection of worker rights, environmental protection, and more. These are still areas that could be exploited for profit; there are still hard working people that could be robbed of their savings and security! We need “flexibility of the work force,” to quote Alan Greenspan. 

Michael Moore, in his new movie, does not actually say that the alternative to capitalism is “socialism.” He says it is “democracy.” We cannot defend a system that puts profit before people! It is our responsibility as citizens to come up with something better. Whether we call it “Socialism” or “Fried Beans” is not important, but protecting and providing justice, equality, and the defense of human rights is.  

As a last point, I would like to mention that the examples usually given for what socialism is like (i.e. Soviet Union and Communist China) are not appropriate since neither of the two regimes is or was really socialist or democratic. No self-respecting socialist will be arguing that we embrace such system. A much better example might be what was in Catalonia, Spain, for few months in 1936–1937 (See Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell). Of course, that is rarely discussed since people may get the “wrong” idea: that a democratic and fair society is possible (See Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship by Noam Chomsky).

What I have written here is hardly original. Pick any of Noam Chomsky’s books, read Z Magazine, or listen to “Democracy Now!” to see how the world works.  

Alexi Goranov is a postdoc at the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.