The misguided war on capitalism

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, February 21, 2023, 8:42 PM | comments: 0

Bernie Sanders has released a book called, "It's OK To Be Angry About Capitalism." I know that Sanders means well, and while I haven't read the book, the title feels like the political baiting that frankly the nutty right-wingers are known for. The distaste for capitalism is completely misplaced.

I am generally in the camp of people who wants more equality, less discrimination and hate in the world. The aforementioned righties tend to scapegoat all kinds of people that are different from them, based on race, gender, identity, religion, ethnicity and nationality. We know, because we engage in critical thinking, that the scapegoating is irrational and not rooted in any real fact. So it's surprising then when people at the other end of the spectrum do the same thing, directed at people who have more than they do. This hostility ignores two realities they are often not interested in considering. The first is that rich people are not inherently evil, nor have they necessarily acquired their wealth by immoral means. The second problem is that their very existence, and possession of their wealth, does not necessarily come at the expense of the poor. Let's break those down a bit.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you that the "American dream," with its tales of bootstrapping and tenacity, is real. It is absolutely a myth. Your birth lottery has a lot to do with how you get to that mythical success. Despite that, some people, often, but not always, in advantageous circumstances, achieve a level of wealth and economic prosperity that is disproportionately higher than average. It doesn't mean that they cheated or exploited anyone. It's pretty lazy thinking to generalize that the rich all got there by nefarious means. It's even worse to assume that they are immoral or terrible people. I can tell you from hanging out in certain philanthropic circles that very well off people tend to open their wallets pretty freely. They are not immoral people.

As for the rich existing at the expense of the poor, that too requires a fundamental misunderstanding of the choices that our society has made. Especially in wealthy nations, the existence of rich and poor people in the same place is the result of societal decisions. It is not a zero-sum game. We as a society choose not to address poverty. The people who often make the decisions that lead to these choices are not necessarily rich themselves, but they are certainly influenced by the idea of the dream myth, and probably by people and corporations that handsomely reward their election campaigns for their resistance against addressing poverty. That in turn happens because people who vote don't feel it's important enough to elect candidates willing to do something about it (and generally, they seem to vote for people who fuel rage over offering solutions).

So what does a society do about it? I don't have all of the answers. I think it starts with finding novel ways to either keep money out of politics, or bring it to a completely new level of transparency. I get it, because of the Citizens United decision, corporations are people, and entitled to free speech protection. It doesn't mean that you can't require extraordinary disclosure from SuperPACs about where they're spending money. Remember the time before candidates were required to say that they "approve of this message" and it was required to state, even in small text, who paid for ads? We could take that further by requiring to declare where the money came from. Free speech is protected, while transparent.

We can certainly close all of the loopholes in the tax code that allow the rich and corporations to pay relatively little, in terms of percentages, compared to ordinary people. A vast portion of the populace continues to vote for candidates against that, despite it being in their self-interest (because the same people are against the gays and people of color, of course). That's a somewhat more challenging problem, because getting the revenue side of government, which can head off poverty (as we saw during the pandemic), is only half the story. The other side is to be critical of spending. We exponentially spend on the military every year without consequence, and we're not even at war with anyone.

Healthcare is an enormous drain on the economy, and we don't do anything about that. Our outcomes are at the bottom among wealthy nations, while we spend more per capita than the next several nations combined. This isn't a zero-sum game either, but when a fifth of your GDP is spent on healthcare, clearly something could give.

What really gets me though is the scapegoating. We can't solve problems by looking for people to blame, we can only solve them by exploring solutions.


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