Capitalism’s gross national product is greed. Most Americans imagine that capitalism and democracy are integral to one another. The root of [the word] capitalism, like the root of all evil, is “capital”—AKA money. So are they Siamese twins?
The first democracy emerged in Athens in 507 BCE, although manifestations of it date from longer ago than that. Capitalism, on the other hand, emerged only in the mid-nineteenth century. All of which suggests the two may be separated without killing both.
The argument for capitalism and the “free market” its practitioners defend runs like this: In the absence of competition, citizens become lazy and unproductive. In a capitalist state, incentives to innovate guarantee cutting edge products with “natural” price controls, i.e., competition. In short, everybody prospers. So why aren’t we prospering?
The urge to make that first million does excite inventors and investors into a form of productivity. A few flaws in this model immediately rear their snakelike heads. Profit margins trump quality and competition can be undersold (a la Walmart) until it shrivels and eventually dies (a la mom and pop businesses and thriving downtowns).
Marrying capitalism to democracy means extending the power of the almighty dollar into the political system. The result? Our politicians come all but exclusively from the economic top one percent.
You might balk at a blanket criticism of wealth accumulation. In fact, you’re likely to because we’ve all been carefully taught that (1) wealth is good; (2) poverty is bad; (3) wealthy people are superior to poor people; (4) anyone can acquire wealth if they work hard enough.
While we easily dismiss the first three as bigotry, we cling to the fourth. Witness billboards inviting the masses to seek consultation on how to make their wealth grow. Taxing the wealthy might seem unpalatable to anyone but those who know, for instance, that class status in the United States inhibits mobility more fiercely than in the UK. The top 1%, far from growing, have shrunk into a smaller and smaller elite vacuuming up a larger and larger portion of the country’s gross revenue.
The lower 50% struggle to feed their children and hold onto their homes while luxury goods, in the words of a New York Times piece, are “flying off the shelves.” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/04/business/sales-of-luxury-goods-are-recovering-strongly.html
But it’s not their Prada, their Rolexes, and their Gucci that undermine our democracy, sadly tethered to the economics of gluttony. It’s their Citizens United, their Patriot Act, their de-regulation of air, water, earth, working conditions and finance. According to ABC and Forbes, forty-seven percent of our esteemed representatives are millionaires. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/11/47-of-congress-members-millionaires-a-status-shared-by-only-1-of-americans/
. . . Congress tends to be the domain of the wealthy (at last count, 46% of the House and 54% of the Senate are millionaires). Turns out the Supreme Court is too.
The average sitting Supreme Court justice is worth at least $2 million and possibly as much as $20 million a piece according to annual disclosure statements filed by the nine-member court. http://www.forbes.com/sites/brendancoffey/2011/09/07/how-rich-are-the-supreme-court-justices/
And how many of our Presidents have been millionaires at some point in their lives? Only eight “got by” on under $1,000,000, and before you dash for the tissue, note those lower income presidents were not poor or even middle class. Compared to the average American, they were very well off, even Mr. Lincoln. Here’s a tally:
George Washington $525,000,000
Samuel Adams $19,000,000
Thomas Jefferson $212,000,000
James Madison $101,000,000
James Monroe $27,000,000
John Quincy Adams $21,000,000
Andrew Jackson $119,000,000
Martin Van Buren $26,000,000
William Henry Harrison $5,000,000
John Tyler $51,000,000
James Polk $10,000,000
Zachary Taylor $6,000,000
Millard Filmore $4,000,000
Franklin Pierce $2,000,000
James Buchanan <$1,000,000
Abraham Lincoln <$1,000,000
Andrew Johnson <$1,000,000
Ulysses S. Grant <$1,000,000
Rutherford B. Hayes $3,000,000
James Garfield <$1,000,000
Chester Arthur <$1,000,000
Grover Cleveland $25,000,000
Benjamin Harris $5,000,000
William McKinley $1,000,000
Theodore Roosevelt $125,000,000
William Howard Taft $3,000,000
Woodrow Wilson <$1,000,000
Warren Harding $1,000,000
Calvin Coolidge <$1,000,000
Herbert Hoover $75,000,000
Franklin D. Roosevelt $60,000,000
Harry Truman <$1,000,000
Dwight D. Eisenhower $8,000,000
John F. Kennedy $1,000,000,000
Lyndon B. Johnson $98,000,000
Richard Nixon $15,000,000
Gerald Ford $7,000,000
Jimmy Carter $7,000,000
Ronald Reagan $13,000,000
George Herbert Walker Bush $23,000,000
William Clinton $38,000,000
George W. Bush $20,000,000
Barack Obama $5,000,000
What does it mean that our leaders and our judges are rich beyond the average American’s dreams? Well, as the saying goes, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist so do the math.
It means tax loopholes that result in Mitt Romney paying less than 14% in income tax. This year General Electric paid 9.4%, beating its goal of 15%. In fact, the top 30 corporations paid an effective tax rate of 16%, lower than the average middle class American.
The tax rate paid by these companies has plunged – from 23.6 percent in 2009 to 19.9 percent in 2010 and 16 percent in 2011. The hypothetical top corporate tax rate of 35 percent is almost entirely a fiction.
The tax rate paid by Apple, the world’s most valuable company with a stock valuation that passed $500 billion in March 2012, has dropped even more dramatically. With profits soaring past $34 billion last year, the company’s tax rate fell from 24.8 percent in 2009 to 14.7 percent in 2010 and 9.8 percent in 2011. Apple’s tax rate over the last three years was less than that of middle-income Americans with average household incomes of $64,500 per year; its 2011 tax rate was lower than that of American households making an average of $42,500 per year. http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2012/04/18/465792/apple-tech-tax-dodgers/
Yet we do not find this obscene--or even much worth commenting on--during an economic crisis created by many of these corporations.
With profitability an incredible “personal best” for almost every major corporation, with taxes an incredible “personal best” as well, corporations can “downsize” while selling the notion that higher taxes would have a chilling effect on employment. For some reason, many of us believe that.
In fact, nearly every American—from bank presidents to file clerks, from tycoons to stock boys, and from priests to parishioners—celebrates greed.
To learn more about how we’ve been systematically brainwashed, listen to the story of “bacon and eggs” and Freud’s nephew: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4612464