September 25, 2007

The Unbridled Free Market Suffocates Democracy

Industrial Workers of the World, 1911

By David A. Love
Published in The Black Commentator
September 20, 2007

The recent decision by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee to hold an investigation into the collapse of a Utah coal mine, amid allegations that six miners were buried alive due to a desire by the mining company to maximize profits, not to mention lax federal regulators and an administration that was rewarded handsomely by the mining industry, is further proof that corporate greed is hurting the country. The pursuit of profit above all else, including the interests of people, unbridled, unchecked and unregulated, is an internal threat to democracy. Corporations have a stranglehold on America. They are sucking all the air out of democracy, or what is left of it, making it difficult for the rest of us to breathe freely.

The evidence of this crisis abounds:
  • Foreclosures are on the rise, as unscrupulous, predatory lenders, who took advantage of average citizens of meager means, seek a bailout, now that the subprime mortgage market has bottomed out.
  • Hard-earned pensions are eviscerated.

  • College students cannot afford an education, and amass prohibitive amounts of debt, as tuition rises far above the inflation rate.

  • The $85 billion student loan industry makes inside deals with college officials.
The U.S. is the only nation in the developed world without free universal health coverage. Nearly 47 million Americans, or 16 percent of the population, were without health insurance in 2005. And the Bush administration plans to cut the State Children's Health Insurance Program, a popular federally-funded initiative that provides coverage to six million children.
One of the main points of Michael Moore's film, Sicko, is that the collusion between politicians and the healthcare industry is a barrier to having a free and universal health system. Moore's exposé on the crisis of health insurance in America is an indictment of the healthcare corporations that deny medical treatment to the ill, and allow people to die, all for the sake of profits.

Meanwhile, the world's most advanced nation has a crumbling infrastructure. The deadly bridge collapse in Minneapolis, and the breaking of the levees in New Orleans two years earlier, occurred in the midst of a war in Iraq that could cost the taxpayers as much as $1.5 trillion.

That unpopular war has been promulgated by an administration with more than tenuous ties to the oil and defense industries, and war profiteers such as Halliburton. The president, an oil man in tune with the financial interests of that business, repudiated the Kyoto Protocol and the scientific realities of global warming, and allowed the clock to tick on climate change.

Overcrowded prisons are bursting at the seams and prison spending exceeds funding for education in state budgets throughout the country. Encouraging economic development through the captivity of others is an unseemly activity. The for-profit prison industry trades on Wall Street, as did, years earlier, businesses involved in the slave trade. With factory jobs exported overseas, spanking new prisons built in predominantly white communities — filled disproportionately with men of color from the inner cities — are the new company town.

During the Jim Crow era, a collusion of lawmakers, law enforcement and industry resulted in the convict lease system. Unjust and arbitrary laws resulted in incarceration and forced labor for poor former slaves, and profits for industry. Similarly, today's special interests favor draconian get-tough-on-crime drug policies that target and warehouse African Americans and Latinos. These policies fail to address rehabilitation and the root causes of society's ills, but fuel the burgeoning $60 billion a year prison engine.

Meanwhile, Bush's pro-business Supreme Court has made it more difficult for employees to sue for discrimination, has overturned a century-old antitrust precedent that barred price-fixing collusion between manufacturers and retailers, and tossed out damages awarded to the widow of a smoker, against Philip Morris. Globalization has meant a downward shift in wages, outsourcing, poisonous food imports and lead toys from China.

Something is wrong in the self-described land of opportunity. Although Americans are the hardest working people on the planet, the American Dream, it appears, is elusive. As the Pew Charitable Trusts recently reported, there is far less economic mobility in the United States than was previously thought. In fact, America is less economically mobile than many other nations, including Canada, France, the Scandinavian countries, and Germany. As the United States is experiencing the most dramatic shift in wealth in the nation's history, exacerbated and hastened by Bush's regressive policies, never have so few owned so much. And never has an administration manipulated the apparatus of government to such an extent for its own financial and political gain.

Median household income has declined over the past three decades, and the present generation is worse off than the generation that preceded it. Between 1972 and 2001, the income of people in the top 1 percent grew by 87 percent. For people at the very top - the 99.99th percentile - the income gain was 181 percent. By contrast, the bottom 20 percent grew by only 3 percent.
The top 1 percent of households owns almost twice as much of the nation's corporate wealth as they did 15 years ago. Between 1978 and 2005, CEO pay increased from 35 times an average worker's pay to 262 times, making more in an hour than a worker makes in a month. Meanwhile, in 2004, 23 million people used food stamps, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, up from 17 million in 2000.

Perhaps the most troubling and most significant chapter of the G.O.P. legacy has been the attempt to erase all traces of the New Deal and the Civil Rights era. Denigrated and dismissed by conservatives as archaic and part of the bloated welfare state, the New Deal provided the nation with Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission, relief for the poor and unemployed, and public works and jobs programs. This represented government intervention that served to balance the power relationship among business, labor and agriculture. The New Deal provided relief, recovery and reform for an economic system run amok. It saved Americans from capitalism and the effects of an unfettered and unregulated free market, and saved capitalism from itself.

But nowadays, who will save the people, and democracy, from capitalism? For all of its lofty democratic rhetoric, the U.S. is turning into an oligarchy, and the concerns of people are taking a back seat to the needs of corporations. Surely, there are higher values than profit for profit's sake, in a nation that has profited from just about everything, including human bondage, war and misery. Morality dictates a higher standard.

On April 4, 1967, at a meeting at Riverside Church in New York, Dr. Martin Luther King said, "we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a 'thing-oriented' society to a 'person-oriented' society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered." Although America has failed to heed Dr. King's words 40 years later, perhaps it is not too late.

Copyright © 2007 by David A. Love

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