Components of Present-day American Capitalism and Related Problems
The industrial revolution, post WW II technology and scientific advances down to mind-boggling applications in electronics and space technology today can be seen as forming the dense root-system for modern-day capitalism. It dominates our economic behaviour not merely at home but its tentacles now reach into almost every crevice on the planet, affecting the lives of all participants, active or passive, willing or unwilling. All that in little more than a century with the threat of serious ecological imbalances, attributable to related environmental impact, already looming.
Massive, large-scale agricultural production, industrial garment manufacture, mass production of industrial and technological equipment, of housing, advances in medicine, availability of commercial and personal mobility with petroleum processing and refinement at its base – all have facilitated the shift from a rural, relatively self-reliant population to ultra-highly dependent urban mass existences, mostly engaged in specialized employment within the framework of opportunities. Close to half of the world population is now operating within these systems which, when working smoothly and efficiently, provide access to sustenance, utilities, energy, housing, education and schooling, employment and healthcare and relative safety and security to cover these needs and others partially created by this conglomeration.
Psychological elements active in drawing folks into urban life were and still are found primarily in the desire and sense for increased opportunities in employment and economical engagement, direct access to goods and services, to housing, freedom of personal expression, chances for socializing in an atmosphere of diversity and personal contact, entertainment and diversion – along with some, less savoury engagements. Key factor for maintaining these urban and suburban living conditions is the continuum of functioning systems, while economic growth (or at least the promise of it) provides the incentive for further activity, investment and speculation. Stagnation or worse, recession, are undesirable developments and may be quite de-stabilizing in a purely capitalist system. Market saturation and the failure to provide new economic outlets may be a leading element in triggering such a condition.
We have to recognize the role modern, American capitalism plays in today’s world. It actually distinguishes itself significantly from other nations (especially those in the developed world, with the majority of them sporting a fair amount of socialism in their systems), by literally “spearheading” the creation of new markets and theatres of operation and, more likely than not, being the ones initiating the “dirty work”. Support in these campaigns by other growth oriented nations is usually not overt and, more likely than not, limited to token support and action, securing at least, when successful, some opportunity for subsequent market participation. Operating under the virtuous banners of “democracy”, “freedom” and “free trade” our actions are made palatable to Americans and the rest of the already well established “Free World”. Creating new markets and economic foothold in desirable regions worldwide, while gaining access to available human and material resources with the help of “installed” or “persuaded” leadership, is now “old hat” in the history books. Already existing, (preferably) militarily impotent, corrupt, dictatorial, fascist or otherwise repressive regimes are (and were) the easiest targets.
The main components of our system – a modern-day imperialism based on rewards and deprivation – are as complex as they are simple: Increased participation (induced or forced, nationally and/or globally); Increased volume of activity (consumer targeted speculation and production); Privatization (maintenance of and control over subsistence needs, de-regulation to provide unobstructed field for speculation and operation); Monetary Credit System (the fuel for the cycle of speculation - investment – indebtedness – obligation – employment - consumerism); Supportive/Compliant Government and Media (with maintenance of a co-operative military and intelligence and source for “enemies”, real or created).
Increased participation primarily includes the creation of new markets, nationally and globally, wherever and whenever possible - preferably along with access to needed resources,material or human and interest for speculation. Desirable and potentially lucrative ventures offer themselves in other countries mainly during times of existing, emerging or manufactured instability, through expulsion of repressive regimes stamped unacceptable or through tailored back-door deals with susceptible, corruptible leaders or potential lackeys already at the top. The persuasive methods we use for forcing ourselves into power positions there, often with the complicity of the incumbent military, are well documented. Success most likely also brings into the game our smiling military establishment, ready to create or bring up to snuff existing defence forces to prescribed standards, often along with sales of our phased-out military equipment and hardware. A winner on all levels!
Increased volume of activity goes hand in hand with new participation – an inseparable mix which today fills the halls of induced global consumerism. The industrial fabric now includes in its mesh privately supplied and controlled subsistence needs that go way beyond traditional, survival essentials such as sustenance, shelter, clothing and security. In addition it encompasses today all the industrial and technical support systems required for production and distribution, hopelessly mixed in with the creation of mountains of desirable but non-essential goods, engagement opportunities and related jobs. It is the steam-roller of consumerism, continuously setting new material and psychological standards for affluence and status while fuelling the economic machine. Moral virtues, honesty, ethics and integrity are out the window – cunning, cleverness, shrewdness, manipulative ability and a sharp eye for opportunity are no longer undesirable personal traits but are admired and seen as talents and strengths worth emulating in a competitive world.
Competition is promoted as the cornerstone of healthy capitalism, with co-operation usually limited to collective profit scheming. It is, not undeservedly, lauded as the driving force for innovation and excellence – not to forget all the awesome, destructive military crap now in our arsenals as a result of it. Inferior, mediocre and shoddy production was intended to be filtered out through scrutiny by a discerning public. That modern methods of advertisement play the gullible and vain psyche of relatively unknowledgeable and unsuspecting customers like a fiddle, goes largely unnoticed and rarely throws a damper on these notions – while still being great for sales.
We still live on the spoon-fed ideologies of democracy with global free markets and trade as the engines that are humming to facilitate a smooth road toward perpetual employment, stability, security and affluence – an extension of the original promises of the industrial revolution: Less toil and labour and more free time. (What happened to that, by the way?)
In recent history, in our world and abroad, new and complementing essentials have emerged alongside traditional ones through continuous industrial, mechanical and scientific innovations and applications that have become a major element in supporting and facilitating the phenomenon of urbanization. Maintenance of commercial and personal mobility, communication, access to housing, utilities and energy sources now play an indispensable role in the maintenance of functioning systems and produce a stabilizing effect as long as economic growth can be realized. The creation of psychologically induced, non-essential consumer goods and services aids tremendously in floating the system but indebtedness associated with it gobbles up most of the spill-over energy emanating from scientific progress and advances - with most folks just barely managing to make ends meet – providing they have a job or two. (There goes the promise made by the industrial revolution).
Our governmental sources that, along with fueling the arms industry, create, finance and maintain military establishments, mercenaries and/or private companies to facilitate international management ambitions, present other, highly profitable areas of engagement and employment. Alongside systematic approaches in the U.S. toward global military and economic control, hefty sums are forked over to also cover technology needed for dominance on the ground and in space with the Defense Dept. spending a lion’s share of available tax money – mostly for unidentified or “secret” projects.
In active participation, financial success and ensuing political and private power may well be the top personal motivation factor for entering the arena of value manipulation for one’s benefit. Investment of assets or borrowing to invest or to produce is usually based on visions of economic and political stability including growth – not merely a continuum. While economic stagnation is, at best, alarming it may well lead to panic and withdrawal, as we have seen recently, negatively affecting the performance of stock markets world-wide, with the hope for recovery uncertain, at best. We should remember that private enterprise with its casino style mentality is not designed to play a preventive or protective role for national employment and stability. When engagement becomes unprofitable the player just walks away from the table and goes to, let’s say, China?
When we went into Iraq, the Republicans thought we’d get away with a quadruple whammy: After getting rid of our turned “recalcitrant” golden boy (the insipid dictator who fought some seven years on our behalf against the Iranians, sacrificing scores of soldiers and innocent people on both sides), we’d get our hands on the most important and (beside nuclear) filthiest resource sought after world-wide, we’d indebt them forever by rebuilding “for them” what we had bombed to smithereens to begin with, we’d manage their new economy and infra-structure with the help of our installed lackeys and we’d finally get our long desired foothold in the region for further economic adventures. All this without shedding a tear for all the human suffering and casualties in this new space war experiment based on bogus and falsified information fed to the American public and the world.
The situation has taken on a different face since our initial involvement there and our failures have given rise to humanitarian crises not only in Iraq but neighbouring states are now also destabilized by regional conflicts, re-empowered and unbridled religious fanaticism and often indefinable loyalties and coalitions. International forces in Afghanistan find themselves in a decentralized quagmire with limited hope for success in dowsing the continuously re-emerging violence and human rights abuses now spilling over into Pakistan and affecting other neighbouring states off and on. Although the hope for it hasn’t died, our activity is no longer identifiable as a purely capitalistic venture while withdrawal from it is sure to leave a bitter taste in the mouths of our supporters.
Disengagement from this scenario without substitute would, unfortunately, also mean taking the wind right out of the sails of our military-industrial complex – and that not without chilling consequences for the economy and the employment sector. Political and military failure to set up our new frontier (or to come up with another one) brings with it the unsettling threat of destabilization of considerable magnitude at home. Folks unable to cover their mortgage obligations amidst a shaky financial system are only the first signals of a gathering storm.
Withdrawal would also bring with it the need for alternative approaches and compromises in the petroleum sector – a development certainly not unwelcome by environmentalists. But it’s not only oil for fuels, highway construction and energy. Production related to petro-chemicals reaches way into our daily existences. Enormous, highly polluting industries have emerged, alongside fuel-driven transportation and machinery, around agriculture through the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, in the garment sector, for packaging and containers (one of our “silent” industries) and a host of other, high-tech products emanating from sophisticated refining techniques. The pressure for keeping all this going is tremendous and the pipedream through Afghanistan and demand for off-shore drilling are probably not yet off the table.
But we’re at cross-roads and a decisive time in history.
The voices for environmental concerns are getting louder. Concepts for recreating natural balances and sustainable living conditions worldwide are increasingly emerging on all levels. Doing our part and channelling our behaviour not only to avert economic breakdown at home but also to become a responsible partner worldwide in passing on a liveable and still beautiful planet to our progeny and future generations must be the prime objective for leaders emerging out of this election. Or else we may well leave the “legacy” of being the most unconscious and destructive force ever to hit the earth.
In Europe the financial crisis has brought already with it mandates for government participation in creating and maintaining stabilities in the marketing sector and intervention in case of high-risk speculation and investments as a condition for their bail-outs.Although the jury is still out on whether this particular action abroad represents a workable solution for us over time, we’d do well to start looking across our borders to see how problems in general are solved in other parts of the world, mainly now in the realm of environmental protection. That the special nature of our system demands special approaches and adjustments in certain areas is a given – but we’re not that far apart from the rest of the developed world. It seems somewhat paradoxical, however, that our present approach allows for first bailing out the banks, then failing industries and finally the consumer, to come full circle.
Proposed Adjustments and Solutions
To avert further economic deterioration, while avoiding isolationism, we must commence with negotiations for suspension of military activity in the Middle East without compromising international efforts in human rights protection and –
1) Embark on the most massive Public Works Program ever. The government has to initiate, finance and/or subsidize and implement the complete modernization of our railway system for goods, freight and high-speed passenger service within a framework of establishing criteria needed for reduction down to and maintenance of a subsistence economy. Tax money is invested in upgrading, repair and new construction of such an integrated system along with subsequent upkeep. Nationalization of tracks and stations should represent a tax payer investment and be handled similar to exerting tolls and fees for private and commercial usage of our highway system, resulting in a return for taxpayers. Usage is negotiated on a contract basis for privately and commercially owned railroad cars, with states, counties and municipalities limited to negotiations for passenger service, except in emergency situations also for freight. Most success in such implementation can be found in Europe, with France perhaps serving as the best model. National and local engagement in affordable public transportation is in tune with efforts already underway internationally in the reduction of greenhouse gases and global warming attributable to extended private and commercial vehicle usage. Action in this area would, along with major new employment opportunities, serve as a decisive factor in reducing our dependency on oil along with recognition by other nations for responsible behavior in curbing environmental impact.
2) Initiate and produce a contingency plan identifying criteria needed for secure reduction down to a national subsistence economy in case of threatening or impending economic break-down or depression. Speculative capitalistic activity is prevented from operating within the parameters of this protective measure. Basic elements within this plan encompass: price ceilings for staple goods with protection of related transport and distribution; operation of affordable public transportation; situation adjusted price caps for utilities, energy supply and rental housing; affordable national healthcare; unemployment insurance; welfare program with government subsidized emergency health care; access to emergency housing.
3) Produce a study, plan and program for realization of gradual, deliberate and intelligent de-urbanization. This includes national support and subsidies for individuals and organizations advocating and being active in shifting from systems dependency (especially in urban areas) toward realization of personal self-sufficiency, self-reliance and participation in or creation of small, local co-operative business ventures. Further financial incentives should be offered to operations meeting desired sustainability criteria along with demonstration of substantial environmental impact reduction. Incentives and subsidies should also be made available to municipalities, townships, villages, subdivisions, Home- and Property Owners Associations, businesses and individuals in their efforts to replace conventional utilities with alternative, clean energy production such as solar and wind energy, to facilitate rainwater and surface run-off collection, to establish re-cycling operations, alternative waste disposal and composting operations and to promote the use of indigenous materials in building and construction. Governmental dissemination of relevant information and political advocacy toward self-reliance and co-operative non-profit efforts is seen as desirable.Without compromising the health and safety of its citizens, the government should also be instrumental in reducing the abusive powers of Home and Property Owners Associations and other non-governmental regulating agencies that cater to the interests of developers, banks, builders, realtors and utility companies, often creating a repressive and discouraging environment for self-reliance and self-sufficiency that may be necessary for environmental impact reduction.
4) Produce a comprehensive plan for our role in global environmental land and oceanic protection
5) Set goals for the reduction of greenhouse gases, following European models.
6] Immediately initiate scientifically based federal study on the effects of genetically modified organisms with follow-up regulation, if required.
7) Initiate a ban sugar cane, corn and sugar beets for production of bio-fuels. Although they represent a clean fuel source, it is unconscionable to produce these problematic mono-cultures on agricultural land desperately needed for food production in the face of starvation, as presently exists in many underdeveloped countries. Brazil serves as a perfect example for avoiding this type of production that has already resulted in serious water depletion causing food shortages there. New directions must include the continued exploration for employment of algae growth for fuel and energy processing, the development of geo-thermal energy sources, of the hydrogen fuel cell and the creation of incentives for invention of other clean fuel sources.
8) Produce moratorium on energy production through nuclear fission methods; re-initiate international negotiations on global nuclear disarmament; ban the use of nuclear propulsion for space exploration until safe employment methods can be achieved.
9) We must publicly distance ourselves from the notions and ambitions expressed in Republican think-tank products such as “Project for the New American Century” and “Vision 2020” that advocate space operations and strategies leading to and assuring U.S. economic, scientific and military dominance globally. This action is very important to help re-establish trust internationally and to serve as demonstration for our willingness to reduce the threat we already pose with our super-destructive weapons arsenal at hand.
10) Announce moratorium on “National/Theatre Missile Defence” – seen as posing another major international threat since it allows its employment for other operations as well.
11) Work toward a method of introducing a workable solution in our election process for forming political party coalitions as an effort to break the two-party system and to produce true democracy and representation. It is extremely discouraging to see the highly important agendas of the Greens and Nader simply evaporate without receiving their well-deserved voice in the legislative process.
12) Develop a federal study and evaluation for creation of a politically neutral agency that sponsors and finances access to and distribution of international productions of educational and informational visual material. While playing an augmenting role in the efforts of public and private schools it is also intended for mainstream media engagement as a public service toward raising general, national educational standards. PBS alone can't handle it. Television stations throughout Europe are offering daily hours of government sponsored, top-notch production in the fields of science, history, culture, innovation, the environment and nature as well as contemporary issues - usually backed up by incredible photography.There's a wealth of stuff out there ready to be tapped into - much better than oil and money-making.
The expression of capitalism that relies on accelerated growth for its survival stands almost totally incompatible with efforts related to limiting our environmental impact through reduction of escalated activity tied to economic growth consumerism. This constitutes a main dilemma at a time when the validity of international concerns for collective responsibility in global environmental degradation is scientifically established, most of it attributable to global human hyper activity and population increase.
In a setting of continued urbanization linked to functioning systems dependancy of consumers, only gradual, stability oriented adjustments are possible although they are actually already desperately needed now for us to come in line with sustainability and ecological balance. In this process compromises will have to be made mainly to avoid systems collapse or instability with the aim of industrial activity reduction beginning with impact adjusted taxation for non-essential goods and engagements - putting to the test the survivability of the old "for profit" machine. Steering clear of economic disintegration may well require timely governmental response by advocating, facilitating and subsidizing decentralized, local production and local economic engagement linked to individual and family self-reliance and self-sufficiency as a transitional tool toward survival and sustainability.