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Steve Lambert, an artist living in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, created this sign in 2012 to find out from people in the Greater Boston area what they thought of this question. (Photo: Nate Goldman/WBUR)

Capitalism in America: Giving Crazy a Bad Name While Subverting Democracy

John Atcheson

Ever since Milton Friedman’s series of essays on Capitalism and Freedom, conservatives have tried to link democracy and capitalism into essential handmaidens.  But as the evidence shows, it’s a reality-busting bundle that only a psychotic could love.  Or believe.

The fact is, capitalism as practiced in America – far from being democracy’s handmaiden -- is anathema to freedom, and ultimately, impoverishing to the vast majority of its citizens.

And it’s driving us crazy.

Let’s Take a Look at Crazy

Destroying the Climate for Fun and Profit:  Sometime around 2050, large portions of many of America’s coastal cities will become uninhabitable due to periodic floods of epic proportions, unless we spend trillions of dollars on sea walls and pumping systems.  Think Katrina and Sandy occurring every year in the majority of our coastal cities.

The coastal flooding will be accompanied by droughts, huge forest fires, famine, massive migrations of climate refugees, and extinction of up to half the world’s species.  Oh, what the hell, throw in widespread pestilence, too.

But of course, the most ardent believers in capitalism say we can’t afford to take steps to prevent this – even though clean energy systems would create more jobs and economic growth than continuing to use fossil fuels.

So, what’s a psychotic to do?

Well, the true believers are in denial, with some even trying to pass laws prohibiting people from acknowledging the reality of climate change, which is the cause of all these catastrophes. Or, in the case of Florida – the State which will suffer the most – the governor is prohibiting state employees from using the words “climate change” or “global warming.” 

Yeah, that’s sane. 

Any objective look at this kind of behavior would have to label it as certifiable, mandatory lock-up, straight-jacket worthy insanity. 

But it gets worse.

Starving the Future for Profit:  You’d think preserving the capacity to feed people would be pretty much an imperative.  But you’d be wrong.

As George Monbiot pointed out, the UN estimates we will need about 6 million hectares of new farmland each year to keep up with population growth – instead, we’re losing 12 million hectares to depletion. 

Why? Because the consumptive monocultural approaches we use are “profitable,” according to capitalism.  So, basically, capitalism is setting us up for starvation and calling it profitable. 

Let Them Eat Jellyfish: Meanwhile, we’re turning the oceans – the main source of protein for more than a billion people – into sterile acidic and nearly lifeless crypts.  Already, fisherman across the globe are pulling up nets fouled with jellyfish, which will dominate the seas in the not too distant future.  

Another clear sign of psychosis.

Can’t Use the Oil We’ve Found, So Let’s Look for More: Then of course, there’s the fact that Obama is proposing aggressive measures to cut carbon at the same time as he’s permitting exploration for more oil in the Arctic, even though we know we have to leave most of what we’ve already found in the ground or risk global catastrophes of biblical proportions.

Yeah, that makes sense.

Let’s Elect the People Who Hate Government to Govern: We the people share a big part of the blame. While the Plutocrats take over the country, we keep electing people who hate government and want to turn it over to the private sector – aka the plutocrats -- to run government.  Yet government is the only force capable of stopping the march of the fat cats and olgarchs.

At the state level, we’re seeing the fruits electing fruitcakes to run the state and the economy. In Kansas, they’re so hot to cut taxes that school systems can’t even finish the year.  And once promising Ohio has been consigned to the trash bin of economic history by this counterfactual clap trap, while Wisconsin – another bastion of conservative psychosis, lags far behind the nation in job growth and wages.

Crazy? It doesn’t get any crazier.  OK, now let’s move on.

How Capitalism Subverts Democracy

For starters, let's acknowledge that in the United States, the interests of Big Money routinely trumps the will of the people. Here’s the proof:

The list could go on and on.  Over the years Americans have favored an end to fracking, single payer health care, greater public investment in infrastructure, an increase in minimum wage, and an end to the perennial wars and removal of all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet Congress and the President routinely ignore these wishes at the behest of monied interests.

So much for the will of the people. 

Stacking the Deck in Favor of the Plutocrats: Democrats received 20 million more votes for Senate than Republicans in 2014, yet Republicans hold the majority of seats.  Similarly, it only takes about 48% of the popular vote for Republicans to hold a majority in the House.

Why? Because a sophisticated cadre of the ultra-rich have been on a 30 plus year campaign to buy government.  Think tanks, corporate “free” speech, Democratic complicity, and a bought and paid for media has resulted in a gerrymandered map, a stacked Supreme Court and elections in which money trumps the wishes of the people, and routinely puts the will of a tiny rich minority over those of the majority

From Democracy to Oligarchy: By any measure, the US is an Oligarchy, not a democracy. This too, is a result of our doctrinaire belief in unconstrained capitalism, which inevitably results in grotesque income inequalities, and – ironically – economic collapse.  Pushed by an unholy alliance of true believers and rich special interests, we’ve tried unconstrained capitalism three times now, and each time it has obliterated the middle class, and wrecked the economy.

Welcome to the New Dark Ages – where belief trumps facts; where wishful thinking beats reality

 The facts show that pure unadulterated capitalism not only limits freedom and destroys the planet, it is self-extinguishing.

But facts have little sway with the true believers. Like inmates in the asylum, the plutocrats keep pushing the very thing that will destroy them.  Unfortunately, they’re taking us with them.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson, 1948-2020, was a long-time Common Dreams contributor, climate activist and author of, "A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, "WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track". Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson. John was tragically killed in a California car accident in January 2020.

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