The Second and Last Death of Capitalism

—We study history in order to better understand what is going on now, to be better able to look into the future. —

The Great Depression was a manifestation of the utter and complete failure of capitalism. Social Security, unemployment, and Welfare were implicit admissions of this failure. Capitalism had spectacularly failed to provide for labor, therefore capitalism should have borne the cost of Social Security and Welfare. The capitalists, with no real hand, but with a few politicians up their sleeves, won the hand; got labor to pay for half and more of the fix.

Today, as in 1929, we sit on the brink of another spectacular failure of capitalism. As then, only worse, fully forty percent of American workers have no savings and no way of getting anything to save. They don’t make enough to get by, let alone to save toward retirement, for anything.

Which means that within the coming years, at least forty percent of Americans will be without sufficient means for any minimal standard of living. In those years, as the workforce and labor share diminishes, the contribution of labor to Social Security will be less and less; the mistake of labor paying for part of capitalism’s failure will, already has, come a-haunting.

The next logical step is basic income, universal healthcare, free childcare. On childcare, the US ranks about 40th out of the top 41. As to family-friendly, the US is dead last amongst OECD countries. On healthcare, we are 11th on a list of the top 10. Those really dumb Europeans, yet somehow always ahead of us, are already doing something about these things. If we’re really, really lucky, we will become the wiser and figure out a better way to distribute wealth before the Great Depression II. Looks like it may be a real doozy.

In the US, among politicians on the right, capitalism is worshiped: is more important than democracy. In the US, capitalism can perhaps be best described as the deification of wealth. Religion is for the masses. Capitalism is for the wealthy. Always was; they paid for the privilege. American economists pay only lip service to labor; spend most of their time trying to keep capitalism afloat. None dare question its relevance, ask the proper role of an economy. They know which side of the bread is buttered.

For many politicians, capitalism pays for their ticket to ride. As proven by: tax loopholes for the very rich, business-friendly legislation, subsidies to business, … Welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, … are subsidies to the Walmarts of the world. So the HIB laws to the Microsofts of the world. In the US, a majority of Senators are wholly owned subsidiaries of big business and wealth. So it is that is so difficult to get healthcare reform, gun control,… The WTO agreements were bought and paid for by wealth and business; they were never about the good of the American working class, the Nation.

China is on top today because it was in the interest of wealth and big business for it to be so. Because of WTO. If the Chinese populace is better off because of all this, it is by happenstance. Easy enough to correct; simply close the ports to Chinese goods. Will never happen. Business and wealth profit too much from the manufacture of goods with the cheap labor and lax environmental standards of China.

In what is now a race to the finish, which will be the first to go, capitalism or the earth?

Capitalism has wealth on its side. Wealth that fights to stave off the diminished use of fossil fuels; any reduction in consumerism; any transfer of wealth to the bottom half.

Consumerism, the five-hundred-pound canary in the room, is unsustainable in any possible way. It would require four, maybe five, more planet earths for the rest of the population to be able to consume as much as the average American. Consumption requires a lot of energy. Much of which is produced by burning fossil fuels. Consumption is a major driver of greenhouse gas production; of global warming.

Which brings us back to capitalism. Capitalism requires growth. When this growth comes in the form of increased consumption, growth means more greenhouse gas emissions; which is how we got into this mess we are in. The earth can’t provide for 7.5 billion people at the present levels of consumption; not even close. The earth’s atmosphere can’t tolerate the greenhouse gas emissions produced by producing the goods for consumption at anywhere near present levels. Yet we hear that capitalism and its requisite growth are sacred. Deity indeed. Those folks on Easter Island were mere pikers in comparison to this worship of capitalism. The consequences are the same.

Right wing think tanks, the Swiss Guards of capitalism, are all too quick to demand cost-benefit analysis when it comes to workers’ benefits, social spending, etc.; not quite so much when it comes to calculating the true costs of global warming. What is the true cost of the global warming caused drought in the western states that caused the forest fires; the loss of the forests? What is the true cost of the increased frequency and intensity of other climatic catastrophes like the hurricanes, tornadoes, torrential rain-caused floods, sea-level rise, … we have seen over the past 30 years?

Nearly 100 years later, history still struggles to find the causes of the 1929 Crash. What caused the hyper-inflated stock market, the speculation, the proliferation of debt, the low workers’ wages, the excess of large bank loans, … of then? Somehow, it all seems so very familiar.