Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Greed is Great!

A while back I was playing a game with a friend where you pick from categories on a card to ask each other hypothetical questions to get to know each other better.

One of the questions was something along the lines of "if you had $1 million to donate to a cause, what would it be?"

I said I would give it to the American Association of the Advancement of Sciences or the National Science Foundation, since the  acquisition of new knowledge is something I value as a societal good.

When I posed the question to my friend the response was to give the donation to an organization promoting capitalism.

At the time I thought it was a curious response, but I couldn't quite put my finger on what was peculiar about it. I value making money just like anyone else. And despite what the wingnuts on the right would have you believe, one can fall left of center when it comes to politics and not be a died in the wool communist. Indeed capitalist economies have proven to be effective in generating robust economic growth. Capitalism has generally served society well. Generally.

And that's why I found it a peculiar answer to choose to donate to an organization promoting capitalism.  While it can create economic growth which is, all things being equal, undeniably "good", all things are not always equal.  Namely, human rights are not always commensurate with economic interests.  

For example, in an unregulated free market economy without child labor laws, children, especially of poor parents, could be exploited to be compelled to work at the expense of gaining an education.  This is exactly the case in many parts of the world...and not just in third world countries.  Indeed just this year the Missouri legislature attempted to enact a bill with an amendment that would literally remove all child labor regulation:
SB 222 – This act modifies the child labor laws. It eliminates the prohibition on employment of children under age fourteen. Restrictions on the number of hours and restrictions on when a child may work during the day are also removed.
I think most people recognize the importance of having a well educated workforce (the sponsors of this amendment notwithstanding).  But when framed in the context of defending capitalism, such a blatant violation of what most would otherwise consider disgustingly exploitative is seriously considered.  Certainly one could understand a poor husband and wife who have limited earning capacity, without foresight or care for their child's future, enlist them into providing for the family.  

However, it would be ludicrous to think that it is the powerful Poor Family Lobby is promoting such a deregulation of child labor laws. It seems so obvious that while capitalism, per se, isn't in conflict with human rights or other societal goods, it can certainly create conflicts with the interests of society at large.  Capitalism is the pursuit of profits, which as I've said above isn't in itself a bad thing, but without the appropriate regulations, it has the potential to create human suffering.

I was reminded of my friend's response by PZ Myers' post of George Carlin giving an epic rant on "The American Dream":

The real owners are the big wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions. Forget the politicians, they’re an irrelevancy. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations. They’ve long since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the statehouses, the city halls. They’ve got the judges in their back pockets. And they own all the big media companies, so that they control just about all of the news and information you hear. They’ve got you by the balls. They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying ­ lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want; they want more for themselves and less for everybody else.
But I’ll tell you what they don’t want. They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That’s against their interests. They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they’re getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fucking years ago.

You know what they want? Obedient workers ­ people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork but just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, reduced benefits, the end of overtime and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it. And, now, they’re coming for your Social Security. They want your fucking retirement money. They want it back, so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street. And you know something? They’ll get it. They’ll get it all, sooner or later, because they own this fucking place. It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it.
You and I are not in the big club.

This country is finished.
One more thing - I remembered reading about an amusing encounter between a vendor and an out-of-town Tea-Bagger (from DCist):

A couple, both wearing "Palin for President AND Vice President 2008" shirts, are buying a 12 pack of Budweiser.
The clerk tells them it's $9.50. The couple then starts complaining that they're gouging people in town for the rallies, demands to speak to the manager, and that it's un-American.
Cashier: "No sir, that is capitalism."

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