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God, Greed and Politics - Part 1: Greed

Exerpted from my book A Better Way


Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate.

Bertrand Russell

Next is greed. Some call it consumerism, some call it capitalism. By whatever name, it is one of the least appealing aspects of the United States. It is what gives the United States a less than stellar reputation in the rest of the world. It is why I was reluctant to bring my children up here. I have to tell you that the inequities and frequently reprehensible money-making practices in this country are making communism seem very attractive. I don’t mean Marxism or Maoism, or even the hippy communes of the sixties. But life based in and on communities is increasingly appealing.

I was shocked to read a few years back that the basic principle of the Harvard Business School is that the only thing that matters in business is profit. What an utterly appalling idea. But how widely it has been adopted! Ethics, concern for the worker or the environment, fairness, equality be damned. All that counts is the bottom line.

I’d like to know where the other entrenched business principle comes from, namely that bigger is better, comes from. (I think it was Adam Smith).

These two ideas have turned the United States into something that is far from a democracy, if by democracy one means majority rule. Dubya was not elected by a majority. That is a fact, but not one that I can easily tie to my current theme of greed. I can’t actually point to any one special interest group that bought his election. That is due to my ignorance, not to the fact that it didn’t happen.

This country is no longer a democracy. It is not so much an oligarchy (although the 1% certainly are in control) as it is a corporatocracy, to coin a phrase. Corporations buy politicians who will then enact the legislation that serves their interests.

Republicans rail about government overreach and how smaller government is the only way to move the country forward. This is one area where I actually agree with them as the rules and regulations we are subjected to are unnecessary at best and oppressive at worst (see Regulations). However, the cynical among us tend to agree with this idea put out by the proponents of virtuous cycle economics: “Small Government” is Conservative code talk for Corporate dominance. Boardrooms don’t have to listen to a thing you say. They will eradicate every law on the books except those that protect and increase their wealth and profit.”

And… The idea that government is essential to the function of complex societies should be immediately evident to any thinking person. It is similarly clear that letting money-seeking transnational corporations rule as best suits their financial interests has disastrous societal consequences.

Entirely missing from the debate is the extent to which it is the growth of corporate size and influence that creates the need for big government to limit corporate excesses, clean up their messes, subsidize their operations, and field the military and police forces required to protect their global and domestic properties. The subsidies include welfare for underpaid employees, unemployment for those whose jobs they outsource abroad or displace with robots and migrant workers, and medical insurance for those they fail to insure.

Without the burden that monopolistic and predatory corporations place on society, government, particularly national government, could be dramatically downsized and public debt largely eliminated.

An abstract debate over the size of government is a pointless distraction—as those who promote it are likely aware. We should instead ask, “Does our federal government represent the interests of the United States and its people and is its size appropriate to that task?” Tragically, the answer for the United State is no.

Although the American people pay the bills, it is a government of, by, and for the United Corporations of Planet Earth and their needs, not a government designed to meet the needs of our people. We could do nicely with a far smaller federal government, if we limited the size of corporations and structured their ownership to assure that they are accountable to the people of the communities in which they do business.

How I wish that I had the knowledge and the skill to have written the above words! They were actually written by David Korten, co-founder and board chair of YES! Magazine, and author of When Corporations Rule the World, now out in its 20th anniversary edition.

What a pity we didn’t listen to him two decades ago.

I suppose one can’t actually eliminate the stock exchange, although I wish one could. It is irrelevant to the vast majority of Americans who do not have any disposable income to invest, while small investors are at the mercy of speculators who manipulate the market for their own gain. The price of stocks can so easily be affected by positive or negative reports (which may or may not bear any resemblance to the true situation) that the real value of a company is often obscured.

So is the Stock Exchange actually a good idea? It has become one giant casino, a word carefully chosen to represent not only a gambling den where the odds strongly favour the house, but also the less well-known Italian meanings: casinò = the gambling place; che casino = what a mess, guadagnare un casino = to earn a helluva lot of money and casino = a brothel. So whores earning too much money and making a mess, just about sums it up.