- (I am dedicating this essay to the memory
of the millions of victims of the Capitalist Imperial wars of conquest
waged by the United States under the patently false pretexts of spreading
freedom and liberty).
- Rolling through virtually any reasonably
populous city or town in America, one encounters a surreal landscape blighted
by grotesque temples to America's twin gods of Capitalism and Consumerism.
As an increasing number of individual proprietors are driven to extinction,
Wal-Mart, McDonald's, and hundreds more leviathan corporations continue
their rapid construction of more houses of worship to serve their zealous
congregation. Once inside, many Americans gleefully sacrifice an abundance
of their greenbacks at altars attended by Consumerism's unwitting acolytes.
- For appallingly meager wages and benefits,
the cashiers tending the sacred Churches of Capitalism and Consumerism
gather the offerings which enable their fellow faithful to reap the fruits
of practicing their devotion.
- Good little Consumers can receive a veritable
cornucopia of "blessings" which include working in jobs amounting
to indentured servitude, obesity, insurmountable debt, insularity from
the rest of the world, unwitting support of a merciless militaristic regime
which is evolving into fascism, idolatrous worship of celebrities and money,
facilitation of obscene concentration of wealth into the hands of a few,
and participation in the severe desecration of our environment.
- They may exist in a spiritual wasteland,
but at least those Americans who are fortunate enough to find themselves
in the shrinking middle class have access to basic human necessities, some
creature comforts, and relative stability and safety (at least for the
short term). However, a growing number of Americans find themselves wandering
in a barren desert, lacking both sustenance for the soul and the corporeal
"blessings" bestowed upon the middle class wage earners by the
high priests of Capitalism and Consumerism.
- How did this nightmare evolve?
- As the Magna Charta emerged and evolved,
and the United States Constitution was conceived and implemented, "feudalism"
and monarchy began to gasp their dying breaths. Ostensibly, the rule of
law was superseding the rule of men to deliver a sound measure of justice
- In truth, humanity simply traded one
set of tyrants for another. To this day many still cling to the myth that
the United States is the nexus of freedom, equality and human rights. Yet
the constitutional republic of the United States was forged primarily by
White men, many of whom were wealthy land-owners looking to free themselves
from the tyranny of King George while preserving their narrow interests.
The fact that there was significant resistance to the inclusion of the
Bill of Rights in the Constitution speaks volumes of the priorities of
many of our Founding Fathers.
- In creating a powerful federal government,
minimizing the decision-making power of the poor and working class to occasional
elections of representatives (while limiting the impact of their votes
by forming the Electoral College), barring women from political participation,
ignoring the Native American population, and maintaining the legality of
slavery, our founders created a nation which afforded freedom and equality
almost exclusively to White males who possessed a measure of wealth.
- America's propertied ruling class quickly
learned to manipulate their laws to exploit the rest of the population
in ways not unlike their predecessors who reigned from thrones. As they
lived like lords and kings, the elites of the United States basked in the
glow of admiration of their "enlightened values". Over the years
they showed their true colors to the world by engaging in numerous imperialistic
endeavors, nearly wiping out the Native American population, and fighting
progressive movements like Abolition and Women's Suffrage with virtually
every fiber of their collective being.
- Capitalism: Economic Rule of the Rich,
by the Rich, for the Rich
- Founded on the principles of individual
liberty and self-determination (for White male property owners), the nascent
United States provided fertile ground for the seeds of Capitalism. Conditions
such as slavery, explosive growth in the number of banks, America's powerful
drive to expand its territory, neutral trade during the war between Great
Britain and France, and ultimately, the Industrial Revolution enabled American
Capitalism to grow into a thriving jungle.
- By the late Nineteenth Century, trusts
and monopolies flourished. Laissez faire economic policy prevented the
government "of the people" from meddling in the wealthy elite's
obscene human and environmental exploitation. America's plutocracy was
living large while the rest of the population struggled and suffered.
- For years, America's schools and media
have inculcated us with the notion that Capitalism is the superlative socioeconomic
system in the history of humankind. In spite of the "feel good"
propaganda intended to keep us pacified, working, and consuming, there
is a very dark side to the much vaunted American Way.
- "America's abundance was created
not by public sacrifices to the common good, but by the productive genius
of free men who pursued their own personal interests and the making of
their own private fortunes."
- Thank you, Ayn Rand, for affirming the
naked brutality and avarice of America's socioeconomic system, a system
which enables a privileged few who "play the game" well to mercilessly
pursue their personal interests, amass private fortunes, and hoard the
lion's share of "America's abundance".
- The economy of the United States, which
possesses many elements of commonly accepted definitions of Capitalism,
is tempered to some degree by components which would more appropriately
be attributed to Socialism or Progressive Utilization Theory (PROUT), socioeconomic
systems devoted in large part to ensuring the welfare of society as a whole
and which value humans as sentient beings rather than commodities.
- Unfortunately, by and large, Capitalism
predominates in the American socioeconomic system and represents a substantial
portion of our national character (or lack thereof). America embodies ruthless
exploitation of humanity and the Earth. In the capitalist paradigm, human
beings and the planet are simply material objects which exist to fulfill
the desires of the bourgeoisie masters. Imperialism and Neoliberalism go
hand in glove with Capitalism. Insatiable greed and objectification do
not respect borders or boundaries.
- Cruel and brutal as the United States
is, imagine how ruthless it would be were the Social Darwinists of the
upper stratum of our society given free rein to implement their Hobbesian
- Relentless Momentum
- After years of gains for the poor, women,
minorities, and labor throughout the Twentieth Century, a champion arose
for America's White Capitalist Patriarchy in 1980. When Ronald Reagan took
the driver's seat, he wasn't content to simply return justice and compassion
to the back seat. He threw them in the trunk and left them there to rot.
- Reagan's successors, Republican and Democrat
alike, have worked feverishly to refortify the Capitalist bulwarks of privatization,
property laws, deregulation, cuts in social spending, and free trade agreements.
- American Capitalism is a pyramid scheme
shaped and forged over time to ensure that a small minority of principally
White males garner a majority of the wealth. A few token minorities are
allowed to "join the club" while some women enter the upper stratosphere
(usually by virtue of their birthright and inheritance), but by and large,
the White Patriarchy maintains its strangle-hold on choice properties like
Boardwalk and Park Place. A majority of Americans wind up holding Mediterranean
- You Might as Well Stand Around Waiting
to be Struck by Lightening
- Horatio Alger wrote over 130 very popular
fiction novels in the Nineteenth Century. Unfortunately, his ideal notions
of attaining "rags to riches" success through hard work and determination
in the Capitalist system were principally fiction too. Calling him a useful
idiot would be unfair because his heart was in the right place, but his
works did provide very useful propaganda for the wealthy ruling class who
wanted their modern day serfs to believe they had a realistic chance of
rising to the top of the economic or political food chain. Undeniably there
are those who started with virtually nothing and accrued vast fortunes
or became powerful people, but for each one who did, millions failed. And
the same is true today.
- He Who Has the Gold Makes the Rules
- Consider that over half of our presidents
came from families ranking amongst the wealthiest 3% of Americans while
at least a dozen sprang from the loins of elitists in the top 1%.
- In 2005, 143 of 435 US Representatives
and one in three Senators were millionaires.
- Statistics from 2002 indicate that eight
of the fifteen wealthiest individuals in America had acquired their fortunes
through inheritance. Five of these eight were Waltons. The other three
were progeny of the founder of the Mars Candy empire. Three of the top
fifteen derived their fortunes from the same company, Microsoft. No concentration
of wealth in the hands of a few there, is there?
- Reports from 2002 also indicate that
Bill Gates had acquired as much wealth as the bottom 40% of US households.
And the Walton clan possessed 771,287 times the wealth of the average US
household. Here is to the land of equal opportunity!
- In 2004, the United States had 374 billionaires
and 7.5 million millionaires (about 2% of the population). The wealthiest
Americans possessed $11 trillion in assets. Meanwhile 13% of Americans
lived below poverty level. What was that Horatio Alger myth again?
- Yes, the bourgeoisie is thriving and
dominating in the United States. We are indeed experiencing the dawn of
the Second Gilded Age.
- According to Friedrich Engels, the bourgeoisie
- "...the class of modern capitalists,
owners of the means of social production and employers of wage labour."
- Whose function is:
- "...the appropriation and therefore
control of the labour of others and... the selling of the products of this
- And who are differentiated from the small
proprietors (which their massive corporate entities often crush) by:
- "capitalist production requires
an individual capital big enough to employ a fairly large number of workers
at a time; only when he himself is wholly released from labour does the
employer of labour become a full-blooded capitalist."
- More staggering statistics demonstrate
who reaps the bounty in a Capitalist system (even one constrained by elements
of more just and humane economic systems):
- More than 99% of American businesses
have fewer than 500 employees and account for less than 37% of all business
- Elite corporations (those employing more
than 5,000 people) comprise a fraction of the remaining 1% of American
businesses, yet ring up over 40% of sales.
- Within specific business sectors, corporate
monopolists shine brightly. The fifty largest banks control over 35% of
bank assets in the United States.
- The largest 100 corporations alone account
for over 46% of corporate net income after taxes.
- 1% of Americans own more stock than the
90% of us who dwell at the bottom of Bush's "ownership society".
- While a tiny segment of the US population
becomes increasingly powerful both economically and politically, working
class families continue to rely on two incomes to make ends meet while
13% of the population lives below the poverty level.
- As the semblance of a meritocracy in
America succumbs to the forces of plutocratic ambition and greed under
the Bush Regime, American economic system's "noble and fair"
reputation is dutifully maintained by genuflecting mainstream media pundits.
Yet there is one particularly shameful stain which not even master propagandists
- Material Prosperity.Spiritual Bankruptcy
- In a self-proclaimed Christian nation
awash in a sea of money, guided by allegedly noble principles, and purported
to have a Manifest Destiny to convert the world to the American Way, a
significant number of discarded, hopelessly poor human beings are living
proof of the cruel hypocrisy of the ruling elite of the United States.
America's homeless are living testaments to the gross injustices of Capitalism,
even in an economy tempered with elements of government-funded social programs
and regulations on businesses.
- "Let all bear in mind that a society
is judged not so much by the standards attained by its more affluent and
privileged members as by the quality of life which it is able to assure
for its weakest members."
- --Javier Perez de Cuellar (former PM
of Peru and Secretary General to the UN)
- Each year 3.5 million Americans experience
homelessness. Of these unfortunates, 750,000 are chronically homeless.
49% are Black while only 35% are White (which represents an obviously gross
disproportion when compared to the racial make-up of the general population).
A startling 40% of the homeless include families.
- Who are these Nameless, Forgotten, "Disposable"
- Homelessness is not limited to the conventional
notion of people sleeping in a cardboard box or on a park bench. America's
homeless people include those who live in their cars, abandoned buildings,
cheap motels called flop-houses, and train or bus stations.
- Many homeless maintain jobs making sub-standard
wages. Other ways the homeless obtain their meager incomes is through begging,
street performance, selling street magazines (written and distributed by
the homeless), and selling their blood plasma. In their desperation, some
feign illness to gain admission to hospitals while others commit crimes
so they can get "three hots and a cot".
- Those with untreated mental illness are
amongst the most vulnerable of our society. Tragically, the mentally afflicted
comprise 25% of the homeless population. In the 1960's, the United States
government de-institutionalized many suffering with chronic mental illness.
Our ruling elites at multiple levels of government failed (and continue
to fail) to establish and fund adequate community service programs necessary
for these people to achieve stability in their lives. Without adequate
support systems in their communities, many mentally ill individuals wind
up living on the street.
- At least 38% of the homeless are reported
to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to escape the misery of their situation,
thus greatly diminishing the likelihood they can reclaim stable lives.
- About 5% of the homeless are runaway
teens. It is a travesty that due to a dearth of government social safety
nets, many of these children fall prey to drugs, street gangs, prostitution,
or the pornography industry.
- Representing a particularly searing indictment
of America's Capitalist constitutional republic are the 500,000 US military
veterans who experience homelessness each year. Conscripted or manipulated
by propaganda to fight in wars of imperial aggression (like Vietnam), homeless
veterans were used by the elites and cast aside like yesterday's garbage.
The Veterans Administration only provides housing for veterans who are
chronically ill, has severely neglected the needs of those with mental
illness, and cut most Vietnam War Veterans adrift with no job training.
Risk your life to expand the American Empire and you get to spend the rest
of your days eating out of trash dumpsters.
- Many choose homelessness, at least temporarily,
because they are unable to make a living wage in America's "booming"
economy or find themselves completely unemployed. Offshoring of American
jobs, stagnant wages, the soaring cost of housing, and the agonizing loss
of industrial sector jobs with healthy wages are leaving many Americans
vulnerable to financial disaster. Overwhelmed by bills and crippled by
insufficient income, some Americans are forced to choose amongst basic
necessities. Naturally housing goes before food and clothing, leaving people
living on the street, or if they are lucky, in their cars.
- Natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina
can add dramatically to the number of homeless. At least 50,000 Katrina
victims remain homeless. New Orleans is a particularly instructive case
because it clearly demonstrates the Capitalist elites' obsession with property
rights and their callous disregard for humanity. Our Constitution charges
the federal government with promoting the general welfare. Yet the Bush
Regime had cut funding for the levees despite warnings of the impending
disaster dating back to 2001, provided a slow and anemic relief effort
by utilizing a FEMA entity which they had gutted, and patrolled the streets
with heavily armed Blackwater contractors to secure property and assets.
- Principally because of its draconian
crack-down on non-violent drug-users, particularly in the Black community,
the United States has the world's largest prison population (5% of the
world's population and 25% of the prison population: more evidence that
preservation of the propertied class and their holdings must come before
all other considerations in a nation dominated by Capitalist elites).
- Since the American justice system emphasizes
punitive measures over rehabilitation, many of the two million incarcerated
face bleak possibilities once they have completed their sentences. Lacking
job training and adequate social coping skills while bearing the stigma
of a felony conviction, former convicts find it extremely difficult to
reassimilate into society. Many wind up homeless, living with the friends
with whom they got into trouble in the first place, in homeless shelters,
in flop-houses, or under bridges.
- Their Milk of Human Kindness Soured Long
- As the moneyed class strengthens its
dominance over our society, the plight of the homeless is worsening. The
US Conference of Mayors (representing 270 cities) reported that the demand
for homeless shelter space increased by 13% in 2001 and by 25% in 2005.
22% of those seeking shelter in 2005 were refused.
- Demonstrating the depths of their compassion,
our "benevolent" leaders have begun to criminalize homelessness.
Of the 224 American cities that participated in a recent National Coalition
for the Homeless survey, approximately 30% are taking measures targeting
the homeless, including banning pan-handling and "camping", initiating
frequent police sweeps of public areas to arrest or "evict" homeless
persons, and selectively enforcing loitering laws.
- While our heavily entrenched corporate
elites and affluent decision-makers cut their own taxes, reduce spending
on social programs, and lavish insane amounts of the working poor's and
middle class's tax money on a military which exists to protect and expand
their pecuniary interests, they offer the weakest members of our society,
our homeless people, a quality of life that would repulse a sewer rat.
- Thanks to the pathological greed unleashed
and rewarded by Capitalism, America has forged a Faustian Pact. It is inevitable
that Mephistopheles will come to collect his due. Or perhaps he already
- Jason Miller is a 39 year old sociopolitical
essayist with a degree in liberal arts and an extensive self-education
(derived from an insatiable appetite for reading). He is a member of Amnesty
International and an avid supporter of Oxfam International and Human Rights
Watch. He welcomes responses at firstname.lastname@example.org or comments on
his blog, Thomas Paine's Corner, at http://civillibertarian.blogspot.com/.