Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thoughts on American Capitalism

   I haven't posted anything here in a little while because I've been preoccupied with the Occupy Wall Street protest. Personally, I think it's high time Americans stood up and said, "We've had enough!" and I think it's great that the movement has gone global. Thomas Jefferson said, "I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.", and, "The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the Atmosphere." What's happening now is a good thing.

   I wanted to take some time today to offer some ideas on why this rebellion has risen up. I am in no way a spokesperson for any Occupy event/movement, so don't misunderstand, these are just the thoughts of one citizen.

   I believe far too many Americans believe that we have a capitalist economy. Far too many Americans believe we have a democracy. Both of these are false and I believe that the misperceptions of these two things have helped politicians to polarize party lines.

   The U.S. government was not founded as a democracy. The founding fathers did not trust the average citizen to not be taken in by a silver-tongued devil. Looking at the country and it's media today it could be argued that the founding fathers were ahead of their time. Democracies had been shown to be too chaotic to be sustainable so they set up a republic wherein we the people get to elect representatives to make decisions and run the country on our behalf. What that means for the average citizen is, if you are not satisfied with the way your representatives in government are running things, you need to communicate that to them and if they don't listen you need to elect someone who will. I know this is more work than most Americans want to do, but if you let the government run itself it will act in it's own best interest (as it has).

   (The good news is that this is much easier to do today than it has been in the past! I would recommend going to and signing up for updates on what your representatives are voting for and against. While you're at it look up some activist sites that concern themselves with things you care about and sign up with them. Many send out petitions and letters on key issues that you can sign and follow. Get your representatives' email addresses and phone numbers and contact them directly. Tell them what you want and ask for explanations if they don't do it. Keep them accountable!)

   Capitalism. Look around. This is not what Adam Smith had in mind. Before anyone starts quoting The Wealth of Nations out of context let me just remind everyone that Smith first wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments -- his own personally favored work -- and The Wealth of Nations was intended to be considered as the next chapter to The Theory of Moral Sentiment, not as a stand-alone piece.

   That said, do we really have a capitalist system where one person can build a business and thrive? In some cases, yes. In most cases, though, no and the odds are looking more and more like those on a lottery ticket. Assuming that one does have the resources and talent to build a business and make it successful, navigating through government regulations and personal and business litigation, that business will likely have to compete with one or more huge corporations that are likely deemed "too big to fail" by their board members in Washington D.C. The deck has been stacked and the game is not the same as it was in the late 1700's.

   I recently read an argument that if you took someone from the "rich 1%" and took away everything, they would not complain that they couldn't find a job, they would make their own job and create more jobs in the process. I feel this is oversimplified and that if you put this imaginary person into similar circumstances as the average American (i.e. school loans, children, hospital bills, auto repairs, etc.) the story might vary. But let's assume it's absolutely true. Why should we be content with a system that rewards a single talent on the backs of those with other talents? I know some people who are very good at business. I know more people who have had businesses that either failed or never fully supported them. Most of the people I know are very good at things other than owning and operating a business. Why don't we reward the people who teach the next generation or farmers who create our food supply in the same way we reward someone who can find loopholes in the tax code, has a talent for stock speculation, or is willing to neglect their health and family for the almighty dollar? Isn't the person who drives a truck or the person who builds and maintains the road an important part of the distribution system on which many businesses are built?

   The fact that our transportation and energy systems have not really changed all that much in the past one hundred years is an indicator of how we have all become complacent. The system is antiquated and it's high time for an update. Our country needs a reboot. Two hundred and some years ago when the U.S. was being established there were those who believed we should be a simple, agrarian society and not be too involved in the world's affairs. Others wanted something that looked more like England's empire. When decisions were made, guess who came to the table?

   It's time for us all to show up to the table and make our voices heard.

No comments:

Post a Comment