Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Capitalism is not the greatest engine for freedom

I hear people say that capitalism has been the greatest engine for freedom. I strongly disagree. The greatest engine of freedom throughout history has been the people standing up for themselves and gaining control over their lives. No economic system has been an engine for freedom; capitalism is no different. Capitalism started out on the foundation of the slave trade, indentured servitude, child labor, and hostile working conditions. When slaves and indentured servants were no longer an option, freed slaves, immigrants, and children still labored under whatever conditions employers desired. It wasn't until the rise of unions that child labor and safety regulations were put into place, not to mention controls on hours and overtime. It wasn't until the civil rights marches and the feminist movement that minorities and women started to turn the tide of discrimination and unfair pay practices that still exist to a smaller degree today. Hell, women had to stand up and fight to get their right to vote--and they endured plenty of hardship during that fight. Capitalism didn't cause these freedoms to exist; capitalists are slaves to profit, and capitalist organizations (aka businesses) have a tyrannical or oligarchical structure--unless they are well-regulated. How are they regulated? By having the people stand up and vote for it.

Under capitalism, the practice of seeking out and exploiting cheap labor sources continues. It went over borders into Mexico, then India, then Malaysia (outsource to India and they may actually outsource to Malaysia in turn), then China and the Philippines. Jewelry companies have been known to trade in conflict diamonds, mined by what are essentially slaves.

Capitalists seek to use their financial influence to affect the political process, and they often do. They employ lobbyists to grab the ears of our elected representatives, so they have the ears of the people for whom we voted far more often than we ever could. We can't sit down to dinner with a member of Congress or have coffee with one on a daily or weekly basis. We hold down full time jobs--sometimes more than one job--while they have as their work the promotion of the best interests of makers of profit, not earners of wage. In the process of promoting what's best for the bottom line, lobbyists have manipulated statistics and studies, demonized science, and engaged in spin to influence people who are not experts--and who don't bother to consult them every time, either.

I don't hate capitalism, but it must be tempered with the people standing up for themselves, or we face tyranny. What's best for the bottom line isn't what makes you happy, or keeps you fulfilled, or raises your kids properly, or keeps you close to your family and friends. We need to temper capitalism with what's fair for labor, what's right for citizens, what's best for the continued comfort and safety of our species and all species on the planet. Profit isn't a dirty word if it's tempered with generosity, compassion, and reason. We just have to remember to stand up for ourselves. That's our engine of freedom.
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