According to Wikipedia, Capitalism is an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. There are variations on capitalism on how constrained business is by governmental regulation including tariffs and environmental laws, labor rights and other forms of regulation. “Free Market” is often idealized and strived for by the capitalist class.
According to Wikipedia, the Free Market is defined as, “an idealized system in which the prices for goods and services are determined by the open market and by consumers. In a free market the laws and forces of supply and demand are free from any intervention by a government…and are allowed to reach their point of equilibrium without intervention by government policy.” A free market values transactions weather they be of strawberries or visits to the chemo ward. It doesn’t care.
A free market is what Keynesean economists and big business leaders say they strive for, but there are always rules to the economy including restrictions on particularly damaging products as well as tax breaks for some types of businesses and tariffs for some imported products. And these regulations are manipulated by lobbyists who infiltrate government and get particular benefits for their business or industry. We have gotten to the point where it seems business interests supplant the interests of the common citizen and are superior to the rights of nature.
I see the stage we are in of capitalism as a crisis period, when the snake is literally eating its tail, where big business is destroying the future means of production and the very biosphere, we all rely upon to survive. Government, the mechanism for the expression of the will of the people and the proper regulator of big business and capitalism is feebly inadequate to the task.
Capitalism’s penchant for concentrating benefits and externalizing costs are a big part of this looming crisis that I mention. While concentrating wealth is the desire for the owners of capitalistic ventures, wealth must be taken from some place. The waste products of the massive production operations must be put someplace. There is no away.
Most wealth is not just created anew and fresh. Most wealth is taken legally or illegally from and to the detriment of people, governments and the environment. Some wealth is created when new techniques or technologies are employed, and greater power and freedom comes available. When an inventor is motivated and rewarded for his/her invention by capitalism that is seen as good. Wealth is created, industriousness is rewarded.
When nature appeared boundless, the natural world could be mined of its riches and the benefits concentrated to those intrepid capitalist individuals without undermining natural capital in a significant way. Now humans are so numerous, and our technological use of machines and interlocking systems of production so powerful and efficient that we are affecting the very biosphere that all God’s creatures rely upon for survival.
One of the challenges I see with changing the economic system I have been describing is that we in the US do benefit from the status quo, from cheap goods supported by foreign manufacturing, from access to cheap oil and from not factoring the true cost of cradle to grave manufacturing that should be the standard. We benefit, in the short term by being able to travel on airplanes cheaply, by being able to have incredible choice of foods and technology products, most all shipped long distances and packaged in and or made with non bio-degradeable synthetic materials. We also have a government that is still in the predatory conquest mode as an unending series of wars and approximately 700 oversees military bases can speak to.
As Dickens wrote more than 150 years ago, “It was the best of times; It was the worst of times.” While that may have been true for the bustling, crowded and quickly industrializing Victorian England, it is also true today. We can order most anything we want and get it shipped to our door, yet, we can’t protect the polar bears or seem to be able to stop climate producing gasses from spewing, or forests from being felled, or another Walmart from opening. We can watch most any show ever created yet many of us suffer from anxiety and depression over the existential threat we all live under.
I have gnawed on these topics for years. How can I not be part of the problem? I spoke with a wise friend about it last recently. He feels that we are all part of the problem and we must through our consumer dollars choose better, buy less plastic wrapped products and use less gasoline (to make a short synopsis of what he said). While I try to do these things and think we all should do better in these matters, I really think the problem is so much bigger than making better individual choices. We must make better collective choices. We as citizens in citizen groups and through local, state and federal government have the responsibility to our future generations to try to reel in the beast of unfettered capitalism.
There is a responsibility of government to regulate industry and protect the citizens from undue harm and protect the land and its productivity for generations in the future. Yet government doesn’t seem to be up to the task.
Let us call out capitalism for what it has become, more destructive than beneficial. Let us not shy away from the words, regulation and socialism. Let us be what Ralph Nader espouses as the best highest form of societal duty, civic minded citizens who are participants in the decisions of our time from a local school board to if a Walmart should be built or a highway expanded from two to three lanes. Civic participation is one antidote to the death of our democracy by under regulated capitalism.
I believe we need to re-localize. A positive future is not one where we and our goods are madly zipping around the globe at great speed. A positive future requires us to slow down and root down and get connected in our place in our community. If we produce our own things nearby, we won’t stand for dumping the toxic waste in the river or ocean, we wont stand for huge open pit mines, we won’t stand for damming another river for power at the cost of a salmon run. If we have to deal with our waste instead of shipping it to China will we continue to allow the disposablization of most things? We, must learn how to live within our means, and we must learn how to challenge big capitalism.
Finally, somethings in the economy are too important to be left to the capitalists. These are the items that support survival. I believe in rent control, in limiting capital appreciation in some ways, in taxing financial transactions and in limiting weapons production. I believe in socialized health care. Some things are too important to leave to the market. It is hard to fight when you can’t pay your rent, but of course the big business capitalist know that.
There is a battle going on. We are in it and part of the crisis of capitalism. Can we transform it before it wipes out everything we care about?