I’m Ready if You Are

“Multinational corporations do not have a great deal of national loyalty and even less loyalty to Southern West Virginia”–E Morgan Massey in a letter to the Charleston Gazette, 1985

To Thomas Jefferson, the biggest threat to his new nation was capitalism, though he never used the 19th century terminology. In 1810, he wrote to a friend,

“Money and not morality is the principle of commerce and commercial nations… Justice, honor, faith, must yield to the necessity of keeping themselves in place. The question whether a measure is moral is never asked, but whether it will nourish the avarice of their merchants, or the piratical spirit of their navy, or produce any other effect which may strengthen them in their places… This is the true character of [such governments] in practice, however different [their] theory; and it presents the singular phenomenon of a nation, the individuals of which are as faithful to their private engagements and duties, as honorable, as worthy, as those of any nation on earth, and whose government is yet the most unprincipled [ever] known.”

Jefferson believed that a society based on personal profit would undermine republican principles like independence, virtue, and patriotism.

Was Jefferson right?

Is the man who has to work 60 hours a week to pay the rent really independent? Are the corporations who destroy the environment and cheat workers really virtuous? Are the companies who ship jobs overseas really patriotic?

It turns out that capitalism is very bad for a society, primarily because it allows a minority of people to control most of the resources. By resources, I mean the land, raw materials, industrial infrastructure, and technology. And in a capitalist society, the economic elite who control these resources do not use them to advance a common need; on the contrary, they use them against the rest of society to exploit and acquire yet even more resources. Don Blankenship, the infamous CEO of Massy Energy, put it best when he said, “Unions, communities, people, everybody has to accept that in the United States we have a capitalist society and capitalism from a business point of view is the survival of the most productive.”

When a small minority is allowed to control the bulk of the wealth, society is prevented from using its resources to address shared and vital needs: full employment, leisure, a healthy environment, a tofu chicken in every pot, etc.

To put it bluntly, capitalism precludes any possibility for democratic rule. Those with more resources necessarily have more power. In America, the decisions of corporations often have more impact than the decisions of government. In a major way, the economic elite determine the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. They control the quality and availability of jobs. They control the interest we pay on our loans. I could go on. (For reasons that reek of fascism but are beyond the scope of this entry, the decisions of big business and our government often correspond).

Unlike elected officials, the economic elite are not hampered by checks and balances or political accountability. Unfortunately, a society with capitalism resembles a dictatorship more than a democracy. In both, the resources are controlled by a small minority and power is effectively insulated. But at least in a dictatorship, the resources are sometimes used to advance a common good. If a common good is achieved by capitalism, it is only coincidental and subject to change.

Is it time to give Jefferson a second chance? Is it time to give socialism a fair try? Is it time for a second American revolution? I’m ready if you are.

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