Why So Many Americans Defend the Failed Capitalist Experiment

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit Author, editor, expert on income inequality

Why So Many Americans Defend the Failed Capitalist Experiment

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.

***

This has been reposted from Common Dreams.

***

Photo from Thinkstock.

Paul Buchheit teaches economic inequality at DePaul University. He is the founder and developer of the Web sites UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org and RappingHistory.org, and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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