America’s love affair with capitalism a fatal attraction?

capitalism: a love story. poster

Byron DeLear, who I knew when we both lived in LA and he ran for a House seat as a Green, just kicked off his debut in Examiner with a column on Michael Moore’s new movie.

The failures of the S&L crisis, Enron, subprime mortgages, Bear Stearns, Lehman, AIG, reveal a deeper social pathology; an epidemic of self-serving materialism, eating away at the soul of America.

“Capitalism: A Love Story” challenges a morally complacent and slumbering nation unaware that the compound depredations of excessive profiteering and consumerism just don’t jive with our most revered ethical and religious teachings.

I disagree a bit with the assumption the nation is slumbering. It’s more that people don’t quite know what to do yet. They see the corruption and fraud, the gaming of the system by an elite few, the compliance by D.C. to do what financial interests want – and it angers them. What they aren’t sure of yet is what the solution is.

As for the economic royalists who attempt to control us now DeLear offers this quote;

“These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power.”

That quote was from a speech by FDR in 1936. The genuinely patriotic thing to do in such cases is remove from power the slime who are corrupting the country as they enrich themselves.

With my ear to the street, I sense a fight like no other welling up in the people. The folks in upper echelons of national power need to honor their commitments and start serving their real master, the American people, or we will find a different crew.

I agree. Let’s get it done.


  1. Bob, thanks for pushing the debut out there a little more.

    As a clarification, the slumbering referred to most adherents of religion in America, of all shapes and sizes, not recognizing widening incongruities between the trends of turbo-capitalism and how people are taught to behave.

    It’s a chasm, it’s there, many don’t get it, or are unwilling to face the music. Zzzzz, or ostrich.

    • As DJ noted here recently, that 52% unemployment rate for the young here is frightening. Unemployment like that was one of the triggers for the Sri Lanka civil war.

  2. Before we talk about America’s self-destructive love affair with capitalism, we need to define it. So many still fail to make the distinction between capitalism, as envisioned by its “father” as markets regulated by a central government, and economic anarchy envisioned by Rand. Adam Smith would be appalled by so many aspects of what passes for capiralism in the U.S. today. Even Keynes envisioned economics as local and national, not global.

    First and foremost, selfish and immoral (or at least amoral) greed had no place in Smith’s theory– the whole intent of “self benefit” was not just personal wealth, but a stable market and a strong society, both of which benefit the economic actor. To do otherwise qualifies as economic terrorism. Smith wrote an entire (little-read) volume about how morals were an essential part of capitalism.

    Secondly, Smith realized that government MUST perform certain functions that the market cannot efficiently perform. Public education, roads, etc are essential public works that can only (fairly) be provided by the government. The drive for privatization of everything has nothing in common with capitalism.

    Thirdly, Randian anarchists favor more subsidies and less regulation. Talk about looting the treasury! Smith envisioned the opposite: a strong central government that could manage a market to prevent it from getting out of control. Today we subsidize the powerful– banks, oil and coal, mega-farmers– giving them a competitive advantage, despite the fact that we know their impact on our society is negative. And we demand little in return.

    Fourth, progressive taxation was one of Smith’s brilliant features. It helps prevent too much wealth from accumulating at the top. The flat tax, the efforts to reduce taxes on the rich, these are NOT consistent with a healthy capitalist system.

    Capitalism isn’t perfect. But lately it’s not even practiced.

    • That’s for the info on what capitalism was envisioned as being. Which is far away from the gangster capitalism / theftocracy we have now.

      • So, why call it a “love affair with capitalism” when it’s really a love affair with selfish greed? Having established that they’re not the same thing, we continue– perhaps intentionally– to confuse them. That may play well for those socialistically inclined, and those (both for and against) who want us to believe greed is the only alternative to socialism. But there is a middle ground (or perhaps an alternative ground) that we would do well not to forget.

        • Good comments DJ, the middle ground is a mixed market economy, where we are today.

          The conclusion in my article emphasized the “unholy romance” between Wall Street and Washington. This is the love affair that needs to be broken up. It’s every bit as much the worst and most destructive monopoly this nation has ever seen, as it monopolizes the mechanisms of power.

  3. Michael Moore points out that 95% of the wealth is now controlled by only 1% of the population in the United States. Does this statistic bother anybody? Imagine an elementary school class room at the beginning of the year. The teacher lays out a whole years school supplies on a large table. Then the teacher ask the students to collect the supplies they need. But instead one student rushes over to the supply table and grabs 95% of the paper, crayons, binders, pencils, text books, erasers etc. Then that student turns to the largest bullies in class and tells them to beat up anybody that tries to take my stuff!
    If you are born into a country with natural resources and wealth, at what point does that wealth belong to the commons and at what point does it belong to a very few powerful individuals who have the political clout and power to keep it for themselves? There is no such thing as a rugged individualist who made it on their own. People who are super rich got that way by exploiting the commons and tipping the rules in their favor.
    The oil in the ground does not belong to a few individuals who happened to come along at the right time and exploit it. The top soil does not belong to a few wealthy individuals who want to use it up for short term profits. The air and water do not belong to a few individuals who pollute it at the expense of future generations.
    Americans need to stop catering to the super rich and powerful and stand up for what is right.
    All wealth is accumulated at the expense of the commons. Wealth is created where there is an educated work force. Wealth is created when there are controlled market places, when there is a controlled monetary system, when there is a police force, when there is government sponsored research, when there are laws governing ownership and contracts, when there are roads and highways, when there are managed natural resources. All of these are a result of the commons. One person does not have the right to exploit the commons while huge numbers of citizens become poor and the environment is destroyed.
    The only way to reverse this trend is to tax the super rich and spend that money wisely by using it to promote sustainable economic activities.
    During the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s the top tax rate for any individual who made over 3.5 million dollars a year ( adjusted for inflation ) was 95%. That effectively caused the longest continued expansion of economic growth in American history. When wealthy individuals are forced to reinvest their wealth back into their companies or give it to the commons in the form of tax’s revenues than the greatest benefactor is the middle class.
    The legislative branches of our government are being controlled by a small number of individuals who have accumulated unprecedented levels of wealth. This is evidence by the fact that the American tax payers recently bought 2 trillion dollars of junk mortgages from the banks to protect the losses of the investor class, but only gave 1 billion dollars to the cash for clunkers program to increase employment on main street.
    We need a Sustainable Economic Activity Initiative Ballot in every state. The goal of the Sustainable Economic Activity Ballot Initiative would be to dramatically raise the state tax’s on the wealthiest individuals and corporations and redistribute that wealth to small businesses that promote sustainable economic activity within each state.
    The revenues collected should be distributed to the counties based on population. The individual counties should have the power to decide which sustainable economic activities they want to promote and how the funds are to be spent.
    The initiative needs to clearly define how the additional revenues are to be collected and what the new tax rate will be for the wealthiest individuals and corporations. The initiative needs to clearly define what is considered a small business. The initiative needs to give general guidelines to the counties defining what is considered sustainable economic activities.
    I believe this will create huge voter participation in local county politics as small organizations and businesses attempt to lobby each county government to support their particular concept of sustainable economic activities.
    In 1979 1% of the population received approximately 37% of all the income in the United States. Today 1% of the population receives approximately 57% of all the income in the United States. The unchecked growth of wealth accumulation by a very few super rich individuals is destroying the economy and our democracy. Over the last thirty years the middle class has seen a significant decline in long term asset accumulation in exchange for leveraged debt. At the same time the lower class has become increasingly poorer.
    The United States economic system and democracy where founded on principals that favor a strong middle class and a strong democracy. In order for a strong middle class and democracy to flourish all levels of economic activity must adequately support a sustainable commons and infrastructure. The end result of our current economic policy is wide spread debt peonage and a reduced standard of living for everyone but the very wealthy. At the same time we are experiencing extreme world wide environmental degradation.
    The true unemployment and underemployment rate is closer to 25%. The number of bankruptcies and foreclosures are at the highest rate since the great depression. The percentage of incarcerated citizens is also at an all time high. Environmental degradation has reached a level that seriously threatens long term climate stability and even long term food security.
    The influence of well financed lobbyist has made it virtually impossible to pass meaningful legislation that will reverse these figures. Participation of the general population in the political system is very low and could ultimately result in major unrest.
    Over the last 30 years worker productivity has dramatically increased. Yet at the same time average wages have dramatically decreased. The super wealthy pay a much lower tax rate and the middle class pay a much higher tax rate.
    The Sustainable Economic Activity Ballot Initiative is designed to bring about a major shift in economic and environmental policy by transferring the control of resources away from the new American oligarchy and into small scale and local businesses that practice and promote sustainable economic activities.
    History has shown that widespread poverty and injustice goes hand in hand with a few privileged individuals accumulating a disproportionate control over a countries resources. Super wealthy individuals tend to accumulate additional assets from predator lending practices, monopolistic businesses, bribery, favored tax status, corporate welfare, insider trading, financial market instability, control of the media and financial market gambling.
    Wealthy individuals, corporations and cartels favor privatizing any profits that can be squeezed from the needs of the commons and socializing losses once the commons have been stripped of their vitality. These activities are apt to devastate the long term viability of the economy and environment. An analogy can be made to a tape worm that drains all the life out of its hose but leaves its host just barely alive so it can continue to drain additional vitality in the future.
    The Sustainable Economic Activity Ballot Initiative will appeal to those citizens who feel powerless and presently disenfranchised from the political system. The proposed change in the tax structure is designed to significantly increase honest employment in areas that will encourage improvements in the natural environment, energy security, food security, economic stability and holistic health.
    The ballot initiative is intended to significantly increase the collection of tax revenues from the super rich and transfer that wealth to small businesses and non profit corporations as direct subsidies and grants to support long term sustainability and growth in the private sector.
    The current tax structure encourages debt accumulation at the expense of asset accumulation and savings. It also favors short term profits over long term sustainability. Businesses that make money by selling financial services are taking away investment in real goods and services. Corporations and industries that damage the environment are lowering the standard of living for generations to come.
    Wealth accumulates from the exploitation of natural resources at the expense of the commons. Therefore the only way to sustain viable economic growth is for the commons to benefit from wealth accumulation.
    Industries and activities that encourage long term sustainability often require a larger investment of manpower. Subsidies and grants from tax revenues is the only way to encourage promoting activities that require additional manpower over activities that depend on depleting finite resources such as oil, top soil, clean water, and forest.
    It is easy to cut down a forest and sell the lumber. It is more expensive to replant the forest. But over the long run an economy that replants its forest will be much healthier for everyone.
    The local counties are best suited for making any final decisions as to which businesses and organizations will best serve improving the long term wealth and sustainability of the commons. This will encourage additional participation in local democratic institutions. The initiative specifies that tax revenue’s are to be distributed to small industries and non-profits to better facilitate a more fair distribution of recourses. Small companies and organizations produce more overall employment and economic diversity than large corporations. Large companies and organizations tend to create monopolies that stifle ingenuity and crush competition. Large businesses and organizations tend to outsource employment while small companies and organizations tend to hire local employees which has the added benefit of an economic multiplier effect. Large companies also tend to overpay top level executives through capital gains at the expense of poorly paid and expendable employees.
    The initiative needs to be simple and to the point. We need to place a huge tax on the very wealthy, and transfer that wealth to the commons. But it needs to be invested in promoting sustainable economic activity so that the investment promotes additional economic activity over and over and over. We need to make sure the initiative is legal and can not be arbitrarily knocked down by the courts at a later date.
    For example it has been shown that every dollar of government subsidy spent on promoting ethanol fuel has a multiplier effect of around 21 times in the local economy and returns between $4-$8 in additional tax revenue dollars.
    All of the money gained from increasing tax revenues from the super rich needs to go towards creating long term sustainability and economic activity that will create jobs and increase tax revenues from the middle class.
    I believe the middle class would not rebel against paying more tax’s if the rate of unemployment where closer to zero than to 20%.
    The super rich have made it impossible to enforce existing antitrust legislation designed to prevent an American Transnational Oligarchy from controlling our legislature and laws. For years progressives have talked about taking away the tax incentives to large corporations who send our jobs over seas. But nothing ever happens. For years progressives have talked passing legislation to promote using renewable resources. But very little has been accomplished. For years progressives have talked a national health care plan. But if the middle class is becoming too poor to pay for a national health care plan, than it will also never happen.
    The goal of the initiative is to put the power to control our destiny back in the hands of local governments.
    For example solar voltaic panels and wind mills pay for themselves after a number of years. After that they supply relatively low cost and clean electricity. Over time the cost of energy goes down and the standard of living goes up. Over time the cost of cleaning up global warming and pollution also go down.
    The only businesses that increase employment are small businesses. Therefore the transfer of wealth needs to be to small businesses that promote sustainable economic activity.
    Another example is growing organic fruits and vegetables. The meat and diary industries receive so many subsidies that some economist estimate that the true cost of meat should be around $95 per pound. Counties could choose to set aside funds to subsidize fruits and vegetables that are grown organically and farmers that use perennial poly culture techniques that build top soil and reduce our dependency on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Over time this would lower the cost of healthier foods, it would lower the cost of health care, it would lower of the cost of cleaning up water, air and soil pollution, it would create more labor intensive employment, it would increase middle class tax revenues, it would have a monetary multiplier effect on other support industries and lower the cost of restoring our topsoil.
    Another example is recycling industrial waste. The initial cost of recycling industrial waste streams is usually more expensive than just storing waste in toxic land fills. But ultimately recycling industrial waste is actually very cost effective and would pay for itself many times over. Please send any comments on this idea to

    • While I do have a problem with the accumulation of wealth that has occurred during the past three decades of increasing economic anarchy, I have a problem with the figure Jeff attributes to Michael Moore (I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t comment on Moore’s figures).

      According to a UCSC study, as of 2007, the top 1% of the population controlled 43% of the wealth– not 95%. The top 20% controlled 93%, leaving only 7% for the bottom 80%.

      Zfacts, using Treasury figures, puts the top 1% percent’s wealth at 33%.

      I can’t find any source that corroborates the assertion that the top 1% controls 95% of the wealth– not even close.

      So, do the statistics bother me? Yes, even though UCSC shows that it’s the next 19%, not the top 1%, that have gained at the expense of the bottom 80%.

      “Americans need to stop catering to the super rich and powerful and stand up for what is right.” That’s easy to say, but we are a nation that wants wealth. If someone offers the average American a chance to get more money, they’ll take it, regardless of the cost for someone else’s children.

      I call that a spiritual void– a hole inside we’re trying to fill up with money that can only be filled up with something beyond materialism. Maybe what we’re really looking for is nature or God or love for fellow humans, or something else. But whatever you call it, our craving for wealth is a sickness, and the rest is just symptoms.

  4. No, but so many of us are still trying.

    I would argue that some folks use shallow religion in the same way– perhaps because, as many know who have adopted (or tried to adopt) a spiritual path as a way of life, it’s not easy. Drugs, money, workaholism, power, shallow religion, sex, status– are all so much easier, yet so unfulfilling.

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