The 5 Biggest Obscenities of Capitalism Today
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Committed capitalists don't seem to recognize that people depend on each other, and that individual success is a result of collaborative effort, usually over a long period of time. The less free-market thinkers are regulated, the less they seem to care about others. They ignore the fact that America's most productive eras were driven by progressive taxes that funded entrepreneurship in the middle class. And they fail to see the deficiencies in a system that relies solely on profit-making to the exclusion of social responsibility.
Like the images of a dreaded disease, their beliefs might best be defined as obscene.
1. The Market Works. Just Wait.
Capitalists have a remarkable capacity for groundless trust in the efficiency and egalitarianism of the free market. It started with Milton Friedman's contention that "The free market system distributes the fruits of economic progress among all people." Then on to 1998, when the New York Times cheered the breakup of the Glass-Steagall Act as having "temporarily demolished the increasingly unnecessary walls built during the Depression to separate commercial banks from investment banks and insurance companies." Post-crash, in 2009 and thereafter, the capitalists noticed cracks in the foundation, but relied on self-correction. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein assured us that "The financial system may have led us into the crisis but it will lead us out," and the Chicago Tribune echoed his sentiment: "Western-style private enterprise, despite its penchant for booms and busts, will lead the world out of the mess it led the world into."
Even after 30+ years of free-market failure for the majority of Americans, the business people refused to surrender. Growing inequality had become a certainty. But Goldman Sachs adviser Brian Griffiths explained that "We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all."
2. Taxes: Who Needs Them?
"Zero!" said Honeywell CEO David Cote when asked what the corporate tax rate should be. Misinformation about taxes may have started with Arthur Laffer's napkin demonstration, which convinced Republicans for nearly forty years that lower taxes alchemistically result in higher revenues. Wealthy capitalists have come to believe that everyone benefits from tax avoidance. Said Charles Koch: "I believe my business and non-profit investments are much more beneficial to societal well-being than sending more money to Washington."
Even the biggest tax avoider, Apple Corporation, which according to its CEO Tim Cook "has a very strong moral compass," is fanatically defended for its nonpayment, despite the fact that taxpayer money paid for the development of transistors and integrated circuits and networking hardware and software that allowed the company to exist. Rand Paul fumed, "I’m offended by the spectacle of dragging in Apple executives. What we need to do is apologize to Apple and compliment them for the job creation they’re doing."
Rand Paul may have been referring to Apple's self-congratulatory claim of 500,000 jobs added to the U.S. economy. But Apple only has 43,000 U.S. employees. It is estimated that the company makes $400,000 profit per employee while paying an average of $12 per hour for its store workers.
3. Global Warming is a Hoax
According to Republican Senator James Inhofe, it's "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." He would go on to reflect, "My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous." Rick Santorum called environmentalism "one of the favorite tricks of the left," and Fox News reported that "Global Warming Stopped 16 Years Ago."
Those not in complete denial offer profit-centered solutions. Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson calls global warming an "engineering problem" with "engineering solutions," and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce insists that "Populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological and technological adaptations." The cheery Chamber even posits that warming could be "beneficial to humans" because of reduced wintertime mortality.
Other environmental problems flash yet more dollar signs before businessmen's eyes. Larry Summers recommended outsourcing our toxic waste problem: "I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to it." Regarding the water shortage, Energy & Capital suggested that "If you play it right, the results of this impending water crisis can be very good."
Monsanto stands out, below everyone else, in its report to the SEC: "We are committed to long-term environmental protection.."
4. Students Are Our Finest Product
The big names produce the biggest absurdities. A well-intentioned Bill Gates proposes quality control for the student assembly line, with video footage from the classrooms sent to evaluators to check off teaching skills.
Michelle Rhee said, "I think that we are doing the wrong thing in our society when we are congratulating mediocrity and participation." Of course students should strive to go beyond mediocrity. But education is never an individual achievement. On the contrary, great individuals are the product of people working together, sharing ideas, filling in the missing gaps in others' work.
But we hear the sounds of ca-ching rather than of society working together. Koch-funded Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast said, "We see vouchers as a major step toward the complete privatization of schooling...they are the only way to dismantle the current socialist regime."
5. Money Can't Buy Me Gov
Deception, delusion, denial. Capitalists have completed all the steps of their free-market program. Billionaire Kenneth Griffin believes that the wealthy "have an insufficient influence" on politics today. The Chicago Tribune concurs: "What's so terrible about the infusion of so much money into the presidential campaign?......that's not a bug but a feature...it's the sound of democracy."
It's a little like having an obscene gesture thrust in your face.