“Capitalism is a beast that must be guarded carefully and secured by strong bonds lest it break free and consume not only the people but those who think of themselves its masters.”
Ernie Romans 2018
While I am no fan of US Free Market Capitalism, I have come to realize that it’s all we have right now and we need to get it under control and soon. My statement above is not one of current circumstance, but rather, one that hopes we can arrive at that circumstance. I have seen how corporations manufacture need, how corporations promote consumption, and how corporations work to maximize profit, not for the individual or family or community, but rather for corporate or company profit. Capitalism recognizes one thing… the Bottom Line. In all of its operations, it is designed to extract the maximum profit for the least amount of cost. Even the more ethical, and I use this term loosely, companies are focused on maximizing profit and will do so at some human cost. To change this we will have to shift our focus from viewing corporations as people and focus on the human cost of buying that TV or that cheap T-shirt, or our food. When we look at that bargain, we have to take account of how that product came to us. My Hebrew professor in Seminary, when talking about the vocabulary practice required to learn, said, and I paraphrase here, “It’s not sexy, it’s not exciting, it just has to be done if you’re going to pass this class.” This topic is such an animal… It’s not sexy, or exciting, it just has to be done if we are going to succeed at humanity and reign in this beast we have turned loose on the American people.
First and foremost I think that we will need to have a heart to heart discussion with ourselves. We the people have to change our thinking when it comes to consumption. We are a nation of consumers and we consume without regard to the cost of that consumption. We need the latest iPad, the latest big screen TV, the latest thing that will make our lives better, we need it for the cheapest price possible, and we need it now. If we are to change the system, we will need to focus less on things and more on real living, living in community and within our environment ethically and humanely. It’s not all about me, it’s about us and how we can best live into our humanity. It is also living as a citizen of a planet that needs to be protected and cared for. Our decisions on consumption need to be prefaced on: Is humanity or the environment being damaged by my consumption? If so, how can I mitigate that cost? What can I do to live ethically and authentically in a diverse world? How can I leave the world better than I found it?
In this heart to heart conversation, we need to become actively involved in who represents us in government. I mean we can’t do it all, we have to delegate some of this work and those whom we choose to represent us have to reflect these values of humanity and environment over corporate interest. There is no good reason why a company can’t operate ethically and environmentally responsible and still not make a profit. There is, however, such a thing as too much money, too much profit and we need to make sure that our delegated representatives act in the best interests of the people first to reign in the rapacious nature of this beast called Capitalism. One of the ways we can change this is to demand public funding of elections and get the corporations out of buying our representatives. Another good way is to make all elections a holiday and maximize the opportunity for voter registration/turnout. We also have to vote. Period. We don’t get to complain if we aren’t working to change the system…
One of the topics about which we will have to have a real discussion is the Minimum Wage. We need to redefine this term. If you’ve read my Decline and Fall piece, you will see that I advocate for an $18.00/hr minimum wage (although $22.00/hr would be better.) This also includes an assumption that we have universal health care. That wage also assumes that the employee is working a 40 hr week. Part of our re-definition has to include the premise that anyone making this wage would not need public assistance to eat, would provide a wage in which the earner can afford a home (either rent or home ownership) and have more than just the basic necessities of living. In other words, live and live decently. That minimum wage has to be tied to cost of living increases otherwise it becomes wage theft. If a company cannot afford to pay its employees a living wage, they have no business being in business.
We have to, if we are going to reign in this beast, support labor and the collective bargaining process. Remember, Capitalism’s main goal is to reduce costs, at all costs. It will not willingly provide better wages unless it is mandated by law to do so or the laborers themselves actively work to secure this wage. Right to work laws support no one but the corporate interest and unless labor can protest and bargain for greater wages and benefits, we will fail. In the 80’s President Reagan successfully began the process of breaking the unions and we need to reverse that if we are going to secure honest wages for honest work.
The beast is loose and threatens to consume us utterly. No one person can subdue it, but if we all work together, we can get the harness back on it and get it to working for us instead of taking the last bit of our wealth, which is our lives lived fruitfully, and get it to work for us instead of consuming us. It is a beast, one that needs to be guarded carefully and secured by strong bonds.