Capitalism has worked for big business and for the people with stocks and estates. But for the past 35 years our economic system, stripped of sensible regulations, has poisoned the nation with deadly inequality and driven much of middle America to an ever-widening lower class.
Yet for much of the nation the delusion persists, against all common sense, that deregulated free-market capitalism works, that it equates to true Americanism, and that people have only themselves to blame for their failure to thrive in this expanding world of wealth. The reasons for this delusion are not hard to determine.
1. The Rich are Easy to Understand: Capitalism Justifies Selfishness
Studies have consistently shown that increased wealth causes people to turn inward, to believe more in their own "superior" traits, and to care less about the feelings and needs of others. This anti-social attitude blends well with the Ayn-Randish "greed is good" message of unregulated capitalism.
Other studies have determined that money pushes people further to the right, making them less egalitarian, less willing to provide broad educational opportunities to all members of society, and certainly part of the reason that our investment in public infrastructure as a component of GDP dropped by 60 percent from 1968 to 2011.
2. The Would-Be Rich: Dollar Signs Dance in Their Heads
Capitalism allows profit-seekers to view students as sources of revenue, and to drain money from the public school system. Jeb Bush likened schools to milk cartons in a supermarket aisle: "I wish our schools could be more like milk...You can get whole milk, low fat milk or skim milk...chocolate, strawberry or vanilla...milk alternatives, like soy milk, almond milk and rice milk...Who would have ever thought you could improve upon milk? Yet, freedom, innovation and competition found a way."
Bush's milk alternative is the charter school business. David Brain, head of the tellingly named Entertainment Properties, called it "a great opportunity set with 500 schools starting every year. It’s a two and a half billion dollar opportunity set in rough measure annually."
But the money didn't start rolling in until the public school system began to be starved. The U.S. Department of Education reported that $197 billion is needed to repair the nation's K-12 public school buildings. The public system is going broke, deprived of tax dollars that go to charters. State budgets are providing less per-pupil funding for kindergarten through 12th grade than they did six years ago - in many cases far less.
And the results of the capitalist school experiment? Still coming in, although evidence is quickly accumulating that many charter school systems are mired in fraud and secrecy, and shaping up as a prime example of the folly of treating human beings like products to be bought and sold.
3. The Rest of Us: The Media Keeps Telling Us that Capitalism is the Only Way to Live
The mainstream media's unwillingness to state the truth about inequality has led people to vastly underestimate the wealth gap in our country, guessing that the poorest 40 percent own about 10% of the wealth, when in reality they own much less than 1% of the wealth. Out of every dollar, they own a third of a penny.
Conservative writers overwhelm us with their capitalist-loving mantras:
- Income inequality is simply not a significant problem. (The Wall Street Journal)
- Income inequality in a capitalist system is truly beautiful... (The Washington Post's George Will, quoting John Tamny)
- Capitalism has worked very well (Bill Gates)
- A free market system...ensures a fair, democratic process (Sarah Palin)
- Let the market do its job (Chicago Tribune)
Many of them believe that the state of America is reflected in the stock market. But the richest 10% own over 90 percent of the stocks and mutual funds. No problem for the Koch Foundation. They comfort us with the knowledge that If you earn over $34,000 a year, you are one of the wealthiest one percent in the world.
4. Anyone Above the Lowest Class: It's Empowering to Look Down on Someone
Members of the sinking middle class in our pathologically unequal society may well find it convenient to blame people in lower economic classes, who are unlikely to fight back. Guidance for such condescension comes from libertarian write Charles Murray, who apparently doesn't understand the family stress caused by the lack of educational and employment opportunities. He accuses the poor of having a "genetic makeup that is significantly different from the configuration of the population above the poverty line." And, he adds, "Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn't hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms."
This inspires people like Paul Ryan and Scott Walker, both of whom compared the safety net to a "hammock," and John Boehner, who explained the thinking of poor people: "I really don't have to work...I think I'd rather just sit around."
The critics of struggling Americans should be reminded that the cost of the entire Safety Net is only about ONE-SIXTH of the $2.2 trillion in tax avoidance that primarily benefits the rich.
A good American capitalist like Republican Senator Lindsey Graham would say, "It's really American to avoid paying taxes, legally...It's a game we play."
It's a game for the people looking down on a troubled nation.