The Betrayal of Capitalism

June 22nd, 2004

by Barbara Rubin

Americans are a funny group. Our arrival on these shores, originally rooted in the search for religious freedom, led to concepts of an entrepreneurial culture in which social strata were based upon success rather than birthright. However, our industrial orientation has evolved to the point where it can no longer be correctly referred to as capitalism. A component of “gangsterism”, resulting from the successful collusion among corporations and between government and business, has diminished consumer control of the marketplace. ‘Demand’ no longer regulates supply in an era of subsidies for unsustainable businesses (e.g. agriculture) and consumer ignorance of product quality due to incomplete and misleading labels.

One holdover of our religious roots is the resigned acceptance by Americans to the burdens of life’s less pleasant aspects. This is evidenced in the lack of overt response to our increasing rates of ill health. Alternately viewed as a burden we are “meant ” to bear or evidence of our own faulty lifestyles and weak minds, we can be sure such factors were not bred into us by our hardy forefathers. We have failed to see the effects of the degradation of capitalism as an inciting factor in our apparent acceptance of chronic illness and pain as our heritage. Yet these are intimately related events.

We shudder to recall the black death, which claimed a quarter of Europe’s population. Yet we ignore the statistics of the Census Bureau which tell us that one-fifth of American adults (16-64 years of age) suffer chronic illness/disability. This alarming number does not include the enormous numbers of disabled children born each year or account for institutionalized adults, disabled military personnel and the elderly infirm. Those additions raise that statistic to astronomical proportions for a “modern” society.

The suffering of the multitudes is no longer heralded by a smell of smoke, the squealing of rats and cries to “Bring out your dead.” Instead, this photo’s caption is written on tickertape stemming from Wall Street’s acknowledgement of health care as our fastest growing industry, comprising 15% of the GNP. We are simply not that weak a species and this explosion of allergies, cardiac and respiratory ailments, chronic fatigue, cancers, autoimmune diseases and premature central nervous system degeneration (e.g. Alzheimers) is recent in our history. It does not appear attributable to living longer. We simply live longer with our illnesses. Case after case of poisoned towns (e.g. Anniston, Love Canal, Woburn) indicate the race is on to make Forest Lawn our best selling realty company.

The reason for this is a decades-long, illicit affair between industry and government. Industry provides the ads needed to whitewash the reputation of that union’s bastard child – preventable disease and disability. Numerous administrations told us we possessed a free market system which needs no regulation since capitalism is self-regulating: If the product is no good, no one will buy it. This mistaken view of capitalism as practiced in this country has actually destroyed our health and, subsequently, the economy. We turn a blind eye to the fact that nearly a third of our work force will experience disability PRIOR to reaching retirement age and yet still expect the GNP to recover. We also returned the spiritual outlook of a modern nation to a feudal acceptance of suffering as either a normal state of being or a by-product of a weak mind/soul which cannot purge itself of self-destructive tendencies. Stress must be the author of all ills. Pass the prozac please.

Industries band together to lobby for the right to keep toxic ingredients off product labels under the guise of “trade secrets”. We are not allowed to know what is in our fragrances (e.g. toluene), pesticides (e.g. inert ingredients often more toxic than the active ones), foods (e.g. fish DNA in our tomatoes introduced by means of a viral carrier organism), building materials (e.g. formaldehyde in our wood products), fertilizer (e.g. containing a large percentage of industrial waste products permitted by law) and so forth. Industry refrains from competing to make the best product possible, opting instead for reducing competition by using similar quality of formulation and relying upon price wars (and price fixing) to share the consumer marketplace. Losses can be made up through government tax breaks, creative bookkeeping and slashing salaries and benefits for workers. If workers go out on disability, so much the better – more where they came from. And don’t forget the dead peasant’s insurance policy.

Conventional farming only continues by virtue of subsidies, given the expenses of GMO production costs in patented seeds and expensive chemicals – not because “modern” farming is economical. Attempts to educate the consumer and increase production of unadulterated food yields harassment by the FDA and law suits by corporate giants. One must not advertise foods as being free of GMOs lest one suggest to the consumer that GMOs might be undesirable. Truth in labelling has become an actionable offense in our economy and the US seeks redress for this criminal truthfulness via the WTO in international arenas when Europe bans or labels their US imports to reflect their higher standards. The USDA has forbidden a meat producer from testing each head of their cattle for Mad Cow Disease, even thought it would be at the company’s own expense. Foreign markets demand such care and would more than make up the expense in paying custom to a good producer they could trust…a basic capitalistic choice. No, says our government. What happened to laissez faire policies?

The EPA warns us that indoor air quality is now our worst enemy with 2 to 5 times the concentration of contaminants than outdoor air supplies. The pollutants are brought into our homes by ignorant consumers who assume the EPA would not let sources of these contaminants remain on the market to be brought into our homes. Denial becomes a way of life.

Genuine capitalism requires variety and true competition to create a “better mousetrap”. Then consumer choice supports the superior industries who can expand etc.. Capitalism was not intended to support a huge trough from which all manufacturers can feed. Happy and heathy consumers earning a decent wage are required to support the best industries in a “trickle up” model of economics. This country is losing its consumer base to poverty, illness and ignorance.

A dwindling tax base will not cover the costs of medical benefits for those who cannot work and require housing vouchers, food stamps and other supports. Social security/medicare was designed as a cushion for the elderly with inadequate means for a lengthy retirement and to sustain the disabled who lacked sufficient time to build up a retirement nest egg. It was not meant to sustain a society where a third of us cannot produce and another third has lowered productivity due to failing health on their way to disability or retirement. The remaining third is left to bear the burden of a country betrayed by empty promises of their right to pursue life, liberty and happiness while their pension funds are raided by CEOs who pay no taxes. Even Ayn Rand would be nauseated by what passes for a “free” market under this system.

What is done to one is done to all in the final analysis, a fact well known to the founding fathers. It is time to include the Bill of Rights in our litmus test of commerce issues to insure that disease and poisoning are recognized as impediments to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. Full disclosure of product ingredients and corporate structures is required to restore capitalism to its original checks and balances…choice by consumers to support the best run companies with the best product lines with their dollars.

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