In a successful capitalist system, people become meaningless.
To followers of Ayn Rand and Ronald Reagan, and to all the business people who despise government, ‘community’ is a form of ‘communism.’ Even taking the train is too communal for them. Americans have been led to believe that only individuals matter, that every person should fend for him/herself, that “winner-take-all” is the ultimate goal, and that the winners have no responsibility to others.
To the capitalist, everything is a potential market. Education, health care, even the right to water. But with every market failure it becomes more clear that basic human rights can’t be bought and sold like cars and cell phones. The pursuit of profit, when essential needs are part of the product, means that not everyone will be able to pay the price. Some will be denied those essential needs.
Capitalism hasn’t been able to control runaway global inequality. For every $1.00 owned by the world’s richest 1% in 2011, they now own $1.27. They own almost half the world’s wealth. Just 70 of them own as much as 3.5 billion people.
Capitalism has not been able — or willing — to control the “race to the bottom” caused by “free trade,” as mid-level jobs continue to be transferred to low-wage countries.
Nor has capitalism been able to control global environmental degradation, with trillions in subsidies going to polluters that don’t even pay their taxes, and with corporations ignoring any semblance of social responsibility as they seek ways to profit from global warming.
Job Creation Failures I
With or without globalization, middle-class jobs are disappearing, even higher-end positions in financial analysis, medical diagnosis, legal assistance, and journalism. Artificial intelligence is making this happen. Millions of Americans have had a role in the great American productivity behind this technological takeover, but capitalism allows only an elite few of us to reap the disproportional profits.
Reports of job recovery are based on low-income jobs, many of them part-time. Layoffs are cutting into the military and technology. Gallup discounted Wall Street’s job-creating ability. As noted by former Wall Street Journal Associate Editor Paul Craig Roberts, the US rate of unemployment is 23 percent when long-term discouraged job-seekers are included. That’s close to the unemployment rate of the Great Depression.
Job Creation Failures II
Closely related to employment woes is the collapse of corporate investment in new product R&D, from 40 cents per dollar in the 1970s to 10 cents now. CEOs are choosing instead to spend almost all of their profits on buybacks and dividends to enrich investors.
Health Care Failures
The capitalist profit motive allows the cost of a hepatitis pill that costs $10 in Egypt to sell for $1,000 in the United States, and the cost of a blood test to range from $10 to $10,000 in two California hospitals (a 100,000% markup at the second hospital).
Patent abuse is one of the factors making this possible. Pharmaceutical companies can tweak a drug with a minor change to create a “brand new” drug with a new patent.
Another health-related scam that affects most of us is bottled water. According to Food & Water Watch, about half of it is filtered tap water with fancy names, as evidenced in one case by an actual “tap water” label on a company’s product. Yet with the demise of community water fountains, and the barrage of advertising for “safe and pure” drinking water, unsuspecting Americans pay dearly: for the price we pay for a bottle of water we would be able to fill up that bottle a thousand times with tap water.
Because of the “invisible hand” of the free market, in just 35 years the investment wealth of the super-rich has gone from 15% of middle-class housing to almost 200% of middle-class housing.
A remarkable story of privatization failure is told in the story of charter schools in Florida, where Jeb Bush still holds dear to his delusions of free-market educational success.
That’s just one example. In general, charters are riddled with fraud and identified with a lack of transparency that leads to even more fraud. Since 2001 nearly 2,500 charter schools have been forced to close their doors, leaving over a quarter-million schoolchildren between one bad business decision and the next. A report from PR Watch summarizes the billions of dollars spent on charters without accountability to the public.
Chris Hedges wrote: “Human life is of no concern to corporate capitalists. The suffering of the Greeks, like the suffering of ordinary Americans, is very good for the profit margins of financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs.”
People become meaningless in a successful capitalist system.
Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.