6) Economics

“You know, whenever you’re exposed to advertising in this country you realize all over again that America’s leading industry is the manufacture, distribution, packaging and marketing of bullshit. High quality bullshit, world class designer bullshit to be sure, hospital tested, clinically proven bullshit, but bullshit nevertheless.” – George Carlin

Economics is the key to our system in that, just as the autoexec file in a computer, it controls the operation of all the other systems within  the sphere. Thus progress in education, health, scientific frontiers,  government, foreign relations, etc. are basically dependent on economics;  namely, the control and distribution of wealth in a society. Thus  alterations must be made in that key area if we are to expect to  effectively utilize the latter areas (which are wanting) in dealing with  the impending dangers to our survival on Earth. These dangers include  rising levels of alienation, overpopulation, increasing environmental  destruction, and loss of control of the burgeoning technological revolution.

Here a generally accepted philosophy, as well as banks and systems,  will be considered as an institution. Thus, in America Free-enterprise  Capitalism might be looked upon as the major institution guiding our  economic policies. The Free-enterprise system is also generally viewed as  the source responsible for the many personal freedoms enjoyed in America.  However, we must also realize that Socialism is also, and in many cases,  unavoidably entwined and included in our system. The military, post office,  public education, etc. are examples.

To the apostles of “Free-enterprise”, all the wealth, the material  comforts, even the abundance of natural resources we exploit and share in  America we owe to that system. Whatever shortfalls may appear in the  society tend to be viewed as the fault of “big government”, or “creeping  socialism”. The Avant-Guard of this capitalist- free-enterprise philosophy, referring to themselves as libertarians, tend to believe that if only we  could somehow eradicate those compromising, parasitic elements of socialism  from our system, all the world would traverse the path towards “wine and  roses”.

The practitioners and material benefactors of capitalism, inevitably,  through the ages, would acquire many high priests and philosophizers to  support and to justify their position. At the core of this justification  theory lies the famous “trickle-down” idea espoused by such names as Adam  Smith, Nelson Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Ronald Reagan (ie. The more  wealth gained by those at the top, the more would sift down to those below,  and the final result would be greater benefit for all). No doubt very  appealing logic for those on top! Carnegie found wide public acceptance  among the successful for his “American Beauty Rose” theory, where he  related socioeconomic progress to Darwin’s “survival of fittest” theory.  By culling out the lesser roses in his garden, Carnegie could produce a  finer strain of rose. Similarly, reasoned Carnegie, in business, if left  unrestricted by governmental interference competition would weed out the  weak, resulting in the most productive and beneficial outcome for all!

The ensuing “Great Depression” of the ‘30’s, and Roosevelt’s  socialistic cures put such theories on hold, and showed that life and  economics was not so simple. Of course, the resurgence of prosperity in  the ‘50’s thru the ‘80’s, led to renewed sounds of “Social Darwinism”!  Yet, the great S&L debacle of the eighties accompanied by the quadrupling  of the national debt bestowed again a sobering effect on most. (Refer to  section on S&Ls).

However, relative to the overall issue  of human survival, these arguments over the  efficiency of supply-side economics (modern  euphemism for trickle-down) misses the point.  The question that remains, is are we  producing things that are in our best  interest? Are we allocating our labor and  resources sufficiently to such urgent needs  as education, health care, and housing?  J. K. Galbraith, in his best-selling book,  “The Affluent Society”, written in the late  ‘50’s, documents his point that at least  three-fourths of our production consists of  “manufactured needs”, directed by “Madison Avenue” (the advertising  industry) which contribute nothing to our general welfare. To cite one  example, more money is spent annually on alcohol and tobacco in America  than is spent on public education.

Again, the words of Walter Cronkite, that trusted icon of American  journalism, “Today”, he says, “We see the extreme strain which all the  presumably strongest economic powers are suffering from an effort to  support both the free independence of capitalism and the costs of humane  social welfare. With scarcely an exception, the democratic nations are  failing to support both. So a different system is going to be required.  …We may have to find some marvelous middle ground between capitalism and  Communism.” (LA Times Mag. Jan. 21, ‘96)

An even more serious consideration asks: How does this intense  devotion to economic competition and struggle affect our ethical and moral  concepts? Does this cutthroat competition lend itself to the development  of the attitude of brotherhood, cooperation, and human compassion. Might  not justice, and fair treatment inevitably take a back seat in the arena of  dog eat dog, unregulated free enterprise systems? After all, “how many  times must a man turn his head” not to notice that unethical practices  often have an edge in commercial and financial competition? It would seem  that it would require a rather large degree of naivete to deny that this  type of commitment to economic competition would not have an important  place in the shaping of “human nature”, especially regarding the value and importance of taking time to participate in the democratic process.  Finally, in this age where the primal need is to develop individuals who  can find satisfaction in serving others, more than just themselves, simple  logic seems to tell us that the American “love affair” with unlimited  free-enterprise has become seriously antiquated.

A. Rankin (LA Times, Feb. 16, ‘96) reports on the growing gap  in wealth between the relatively rich and everyone else in the U.S. “The  average blue-collar worker’s weekly wage peaked in 1972 and has fallen  18.5% since then, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The U.S.  economy has grown 30% since 1980, but almost all the money made off that  growth flowed to the richest 20% of U.S. families, according to the U.S.  Census Bureau. Sixty percent of U.S. families actually made less money in  1994 than in 1979…Meanwhile the richest 5% enjoyed a 44% increase in  income over that period, census data show.”  Real, and effective cooperation among the citizens of America, and  also among peoples of the world can occur only when a climate of mutual  trust is created. For this to happen people must first be both willing and anxious to treat each other justly and fairly. These are simply not  values fostered by Capitalism. After over two hundred years of  trickle-down in America we find that only 5% of the people possess 95% of  the wealth. It’s little wonder a large portion of Americans don’t buy the  Horatio Alger fable. Many have little trust for others in the society.  Economic disparity leads to periodic riots and insurrection in the cities.  Economic disparity and its inevitable partner, unequal opportunity, are  directly correlated to a climate of hate, violence, and crime of all sorts.  How could we not expect to find arsonists who would find satisfaction and  joy in the burning of expensive homes during the firestorms of Southern  California?

In reality, the inevitable outcome of a reliance on the capitalist  structure is to produce a social system designed to condition the minds and  limit the opportunities of the populace in such a way so as to protect and  enhance the existing imbalance of wealth. The conventional wisdom in  support of maintaining this structure can always cite the great progress  in material comforts achieved. Yet, while the capitalist free-enterprise  system provides extraordinary economic benefits for some, and a comfortable  living for many in “western countries”, there, nevertheless, exists a  serious downside to the picture. (unsurprisingly, generally ignored by  those of affluence) While perhaps but a quarter of the inhabitants of the  U.S. live below the poverty line, over three quarters of the people of the  world live in poverty. Since the inception of the Industrial Revolution,  and the advent of capitalism over three hundred years ago, such conditions  throughout the world have not improved.

As the ‘80s flowed into the ‘90s, the interlocking relationship  between politics and economics became dramatically apparent as the great  S&L crisis began to unfold, as well as did the entanglement between  politics, economics, and foreign relations during the Persian Gulf War.

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