Ugly Face Of Capitalism:
A Blight On The World
By Emily Spence
14 August, 2007
In Massachusetts of late, there's
been a recurrent radio commercial. It goes something like this: There
are some great deals on foreclosed homes -- really GRRREAAT! Someone
had a loss and that is sad, but YOU can greatly benefit by the wonderful
opportunity. So, please call [telephone number]. You will be happy you
did. Imagine how well YOU can make out and win BIG! Boy, do we have
a bargain for you!
When I hear this, I'm repulsed and don't think about how well I could
gain off of other people's tragedies. Instead, I think of the plot of
"The House of Sand and Fog," an account in which an incredible
amount of pain and deaths result from, amongst other causes, decent
people trying to take advantage of a system gone terribly wrong.
I, also, think of our already overburdened US homeless shelters and
food banks trying to deal with an ever greater need now that so many
families have, recently, been ejected from their lodgings. (There are
80,000 homeless in LA alone of whom many are mentally impaired and living
on streets as there, simply, are not enough shelters to accommodate
them all.) I, likewise, think of kinfolk living in cars. Further, I
think of dilapidated welfare motels and seedy single room occupancies
wherein relatives are crammed together in tiny rooms amidst grime and
decay. I think, as well, of the shortage of low income housing that
exists in tandem with foreclosed mega-mansions sprawling across the
American landscape. In addition, I think of the kindly (although resentful)
relatives, who have to put up their siblings, nieces and nephews due
to the evictions. At the same time, I think of the deal that some renters
make to turn their garages into flophouses with cots lined up every
which way on the concrete slab. On top of this, I think of the other
renters, the ones called "Eight-fors." (They allow people
to sleep in their living rooms and use the household bathroom from ten
PM to six AM, although without kitchen privileges... This is a particularly
helpful arrangement in wintertime wherein some individuals could, during
the coldest hours of night, freeze in the streets of northern US.) Simultaneously,
I think of the information that I read concerning one in every ninety-seven
US homes being foreclosing in 2006. (Supposedly rate of loss is high
in 2007, too.) Afterwards, I think of the suicidal pregnant widow, who
I'll call Jane and who, recently, was locked out of her home. Yet, a
mere year before, she had been so happy!
Indeed, how much a contrast her current plight was to her circumstances
twelve months earlier. Then a radiologist, she had just gotten married
to a lawyer. Happy together and on top of the world, they, subsequently,
purchased their first (small) house with their trusted realtor assuring
them that they made the perfect choice, by accepting a variable rate
mortgage, amongst many confusing options. Shortly thereafter, they were
pleased to find out that Jane was pregnant. Although not intended, they
welcomed this new imminent life. Then, both Jane's and her husband's
old cars broke for which two replacements were required.
...Although money was going to be tight, they figured that, if they
were extremely sensible, the could still make out all right despite
the home, car payments and baby because they both had good paying jobs,
right? Determined, they were sure that they could somehow manage despite
their new unplanned circumstances.
Then out of the blue, Jane was laid off. Moreover, there were no other
jobs available nearby in her line of work. At the same time, many others
at her company were laid off, too.
In the meantime, what potential employer would not chose someone else
equally qualified over a pregnant woman, who would need lots of time
off due to medical appointments, birth and recovery, and so on before
the year was through? Even if there were any job openings suitable for
Jane, she would certainly not be first pick.
Although alarmed at this new worrisome turn of events, Jane and her
spouse, again, recalculated their finances and reckoned that they could
still do "OK" by getting rid of all excesses. So, they would
simply use all the money from the husband's salary for basic necessities
-- food, electricity, home heating, car travel related to work, water
bills, insurance coverage, car payments, mortgage payout. Yes, it would
be extraordinarily hard, but everything could still work out if they
acted very, very frugal.
Then suddenly without any warning signs, Jane's husband died from a
heart attack. This event was quickly followed by their cars being repossessed
and their home being foreclosed on top of her dealing with a tremendous
load of grief, fear and uncertainty about the future.
Dazed and in deep turmoil, Jane wondered about how she would pay for
neonatal care and grief counseling since her medical insurance coverage
now was gone. How would she pay for a baby sitter when she was out hunting
for a job -- any job? How would she get to job interviews and her eventual
job without a car? Where could she live with no money? How would she
feed herself and her baby? This all in mind, her problems became terrifying
and overwhelming. No wonder that she began to consider ending it all.
Fortunately, friends of mine helped Jane to find housing in an already
over-packed shelter, assisted her in filling out the voluminous forms
required to receive medicaid coverage, food stamps and other forms of
material assistance. In addition, they offered to drive her to interviews
and, later, her work until she got on her feet monetarily so as to be
able to again afford a car. They, also, arranged for her to receive
psychological counseling from an expert therapist reserving some pro
bono clinic hours slated for indigent individuals. Meanwhile, the shelter
could provide free infant care. Therefore, Jane's, eventually, became
a success story of sorts. She did, after a while, manage to find employment,
a cheap used vehicle and a small studio apartment to rent.
All the same, there are too many Janes (and John counterparts) out there
in America desperately needing help and there are not enough people
like my friends, who possess sufficient caring and time to help the
large numbers of thoroughly down and out strangers fanned out across
Meanwhile, mortgage and assorted other fiscal institutions worldwide
are reeling under the shock of the US housing market collapse. While
some reaping income from these mortgage companies, before the collapse,
were (and still are) on limited fixed incomes such that they require
the loan earnings in order to make ends meet, others were (and still
are) quite affluent despite the downturn.
For example, I was shown an ocean-side vacation home covering ~ ten
acres on St. John's (US VI) by the caretaker, who had his own three
bedroom home on the estate. Rarely in use (except for several weeks
a year), the main house was surrounded by tennis courts, gorgeous fresh
water ponds (despite that desalinated water is in short supply on St.
John's) and a lavish swimming pool all of which were accompanied by
lovely dramatic sculptures by well-known artists. Meanwhile, the homes's
owner, a day trader living in Connecticut, was much admired and fawned
upon by associates for being someone, who knew how to make "the
system" work for him.
Furthermore, many of his ilk often don't contribute much to society
(other than briefly providing jobs for architectural firms, construction
companies and interior decorators except in the case of the ones who,
at a modest salary, hire and house caretakers). Other than that, they
simply use up resources -- use them up at a tremendous rate in their
travels between vacation homes, purchase of more objects to fill their
digs and so on. At the same time, to live like this man and his wife
is the dream of many people worldwide and many will do almost anything
to achieve their level of wealth.
More aptly put, this statement pretty much sums up the gist of the situation:
"I want what I want when I want it and there is a corollary to
this. I don't want what I don't want when I don't want it. Do you get
it?" (This remark was made by another financier to me -- one who
spends a few hours a week moving money from certain money market accounts
into others to accrue more income. Other than that, he is free to do
whatever he wants for his own self-gratification and he feels good about
himself, i.e., charitable and benevolent, since he, periodically, donates
a modest sum to an animal shelter and offers several hours a month in
volunteer work at his town's library.
All considered, let's call the above situation like it is: For the most
part, the pecuniary institutions that foster such success stories, simply,
are tantamount to legalized, socially sanctioned theft. The reason that
this is the case is as follows...
It is because big business, the transnational kinds, operate on a model
wherein cheap resources are taken from one part of the world (with the
hope of their being close to the labor supply in order to cut down on
transportation costs). Workers are, then, paid the lowest salaries possible
-- a dollar or two a day -- to create goods. Then, the finished products
are shipped to first world markets where the mark up can be extraordinarily
Yet, despite the rise, the products, nonetheless, looks like a bargain
or, if not quite a bargain, constituting something that's is much coveted,
anyway. Thus, sneakers, costing a dollar to produce per pair, get sold
at around 100 dollars. Blue jeans, that cost forty cents total to be
produced, get sold for eighty dollars, etc. In such a vein, Starbucks
coffee growers command approximately eight cents per pound and so on.
Moreover, the inflation for products, even when they are made in the
country using them, can be out of this world.
For example, consider Prozac: Consumer markup is roughly 224,973 percent
as customer price in US is roughly $247.47 per hundred of the twenty
mg. tablet size while cost of general active ingredients is
$0.11. If this seems like an isolated incident or some sort of quirky
fluke, think again as another perfect case in point is provided by Xanax
with its consumer price per 100 at around $136.79 while the cost for
active ingredients is a modest $0.024, which all together creates a
markup of approximately 569,958 percent for the one mg. size .
On account, first world patients are watching funds drain to pharmaceutical
business owners and stock holders. At the same time, no wonder that
China has a humongous trade excess of $24.4 billion! No wonder (aside
from the fact that mortgage loaners have charged, in many instances,
usury rates) that many Americans, despite that they work hard and long
hours, just can't seem to locate affordable house, nor can avoid staggering
debt. Then again, who can make ends meet in a country that has roughly
seven dollars set for minimum wage and housing costs, even for small
rental units, often exceeding gross annual income? All considered, the
economic lower and middle classes are, financially, losing ground .
Besides, how could these two classes get ahead with global economics
operating out of the patterns explained above and while, even on the
home front, unjust business models are in play? For example, owners
of companies (often for which they provide not even one hour of work
a week) can legally reap fifty percent or more of the income gained
by their skilled workers, who are often so poor that they have to take
on second jobs and live in cramped trailer parks. At the same time,
many would be laid off and easily replaced by other desperate laborers,
ones out of work, if they were to complain about pay. (Aren't there
some sort of pertinent conclusions that can be drawn relative to population
growth and the available job market given that excess numbers of potential
employees, generally, tend to drive down salaries?)
Simultaneously, many of these unscrupulous business owners have nonworking
relatives on the pay role as "business consultants." In short,
it is all a big racket while being, at the same time, largely legal
and socially condoned. As such, one wonders about the role of government
and business oversight groups in regulating price, monopolies (called
business empires in former times) and other mercantile matters. Just
where are they -- these so-called overseers? Do they perform any meaningful
actions at all?
If the above backdrop isn't bad enough, we can add onto it that capitalism,
in practice, thrives on finding new markets, is predicated on using
up increasing resources to provide for these and relies on an increase
in population to buy the goods, as well as to provide cheap labor. Therefore,
is it any wonder that many business owners look forward to an influx
of immigrants? Is it any wonder that multiple groups and individuals
around the globe are outraged at the current world trade arrangements
in use, the glutted upper class, activities at banking institutions
and government leaders that all too eagerly cozy up to big business?
(All considered, events like the demise of the World Trade Towers, as
utterly unconscionable and devastating as they are, were just waiting
to happen.) One can only imagine the degree of fury that many people
across the world feel when one considers that three billion people (almost
half of humanity) subsides on less that three dollars a day even though
many work with frantic fervor to improve their lots in life.
Yes, many of them work hard for their wages. Furthermore, many deeply
resent having to take charitable aid from food banks, medical providers
and homeless shelters. In a similar vein, when the poor pay for bread
made by SS. Francis and Therese Catholic Workers (which is provided
at no set price in MA), they often pay far above the cost of manufacture
as a matter of pride. Meanwhile others, easily able to afford more,
pay greatly lavish amounts to purchase the bread in the thought that
the excess always goes back to serving the Catholic Worker shelter and
other good works provided by these openhanded bread makers. (Most people,
if given a chance, want to be altruistic, helpful and supportive toward
those who provide for the underclass, it would seem. I suspect that
this is in part because, deep down in their understanding of our capitalistic
system, they know that the whole shebang is unjust and leads to incredible
level of misery for some members of society -- ones generally in dire
straits, just like Jane, through no fault of their own.)
All in all, what can be done to correct the grievous and immoral wrongs
perpetuated by the capitalist structure -- a ruthless structure that
operates by grandly providing for some by harming others, an unfair
system that is guaranteed to create gross income inequity, and a pernicious
system that causes many people to forget about their common humanity
and interdependence, sense of morality, as well as the undeniable value
of compassion? Moreover, capitalism embodies a set of norms that perpetuate,
for some, lavish lifestyles inconsistent with protection of the environment
since most resources (other life forms, for the most part) are regarded
almost solely from the standpoint of whether a profit can be gained
from their destruction (i.e., whole huge forests turned daily into advertising
flyers and catalogues).
As such, humankind is using up resources faster than their renewal rates
in the natural world. Simultaneous to this occurrence, we will soon
have to deal with the gruesome effects caused by greater global warming,
dwindling fossil fuel supplies, subversion of food and fodder to biofuels,
increased population and ozone layer decimation .
In short, capitalism is driven by economic growth achieved by nearly
any means possible and this central aim is by no means compatible with
people willingly embracing moderate lifestyles, regarding the Earth
as more than one giant commodity, and whose function is to personally
provide for one's selfish advantage irrespective of the impact that
this choice has on the social and ecological whole. In this sense, capitalist
protocol, with its setup to always accrue greater revenues based on
ever expansive provision of products to an ever enlarging population
cannot be sustained. In the end, the price for doing so is just too
Nonetheless, business is all about and only about lucrative outcomes
and this, then, is wherein legislative bodies, regardless of which political
party rules, often plays out an active role to create ever stronger
dictatorial oligarchies in support of the laws and actions (such as
preemptive strikes in countries with oil) supporting petroleum companies
and other multinational conglomerates (such as Walmart), which parasitically
prey upon poor and rich alike. On account, any toll exacted in human
or environmental realms is merely paid lip service (if even that) in
most governmental circles.
This in mind, big business and governmental leaders, largely, operate
to back mutually self-serving ends. Everyone else is pretty much out
of the loop unless they, like some military personnel and low level
lackeys, manage to marginally advance from the overall scheme.
In other words, capitalism creates a backdrop out of which many governmental
representatives and management from global corporations work in tandem
for their own mutual benefits. At the same time, average citizens are,
largely, a matter of indifference since the ultimate prize is global
domination of goods, services, workers and income. Whomever might live
or die, suffer or make out in the process is largely immaterial relative
to the main objectives at hand. As such, one has to seriously question
whether this state of affairs represents the type of economic policy
that he, personally, wishes to support. One has to, likewise, ask whether
the traditions foisted by capitalistic prototypes are congruous with
the sorts of ethical principles and practices that he, personally, condones.
All this in thought, it is only when enough people get fed up with our
current system that the likelihood of constructive change can occur.
Only when enough individuals reject our current way of conducting commerce
will alternatives be possible. Meanwhile as insinuated above, we cannot
expect governments to be of much support. Indeed, Anthony Brooke, a
peace advocate, mentioned almost fifty years ago, "...the solutions
cannot come from government or governments. Peace and all our solutions
must come from those who are not in government."
Moreover, his understanding blends very well with comments made by Eleanor
Roosevelt to my parents in the 1940's... At the time, my father was
Dean of Students at City College of New York and Eleanor Roosevelt came
to CCNY to give a speech in conjunction with a military rally and drive
Afterwards she, deliberately, went to my parents and said, “I
have heard about you two.” (My parents were fairly well known
conscientious objectors, who were involved in assorted initiatives to
promote local, community and world peace.) Then, she went on to say
that she didn't have a lot of time between her engagement at the college
and her next one at the Cloisters, but wanted to talk with them both.
So, she suggested that my parents drive her (in my father’s old,
beat-up jalopy) to the Cloisters. Next, when my mother wanted to slip
in the backseat due to her being almost nine months pregnant, Eleanor
refused and had her squeeze in next to her on the front seat…
All considered, the threesome must have been quite an unusual sight
while squashed into each other and surrounded by police cars with sirens
turned on while moving up Broadway. In any case, Eleanor said to my
parents that, although she didn't agree with all of their positions
on assorted issues, she respected them very much. She, also, suggested
that conformity was very important to keep society intact – except
in matters of conscience.
Her description of this outlook went as follows: If it is the custom
in a community to plant bulbs in the town square in the fall, then you
do it, too. If the standard involves bringing chicken soup to a sick
neighbor, then you do it, too, as such actions keep the fabric of society
whole and beneficial to all.
Indeed, conformity, in such
circumstances, is vital to maintaining an interconnected, ordered and
mutually uplifting community. Likewise, it will foster altruism. Furthermore,
it will help ensure that a member, who deviates from the norm (when
one does do in matters of conscience), will not be dismissed as a kook
or weirdo. In other words, when one goes against the common standard
in his views and behavior, another person cannot, then, say of him that
he was always a bit “off,” and therefore his current position
is merely emblematic of his not being an integrated community member
in good standing.
Instead his position would
warrant consideration due to his having been temperate and like-minded
in other matters. “In other words,” she adamantly remarked,
“conform, conform, conform except in matters of conscience. Then
be willing to go against your country, your religion, your community,
your family or any other group that has sway over you.” Indeed,
Eleanor continued that it is one’s absolute duty to stand up for
justice, peace, and other issues that relate to uplift of humankind.
And one must do so even when doing so goes against the mob mentality
or the common standard.
After her impassioned outlay,
the three, then, went on to discuss the actions in which my parents
were involved… Afterwards, she thanked them for upholding the
benchmark that she expects of freethinking, ethical individuals with
humanitarian concerns, in that these sorts are the ones who have the
best chance of slowly changing society, as a whole, for the better…
The message here, she summed up, is: Be conventional in order to strengthen
social structures, but be prepared to bravely stand against prevailing
tradition in moral stands, and in matters of principle and honor.
Yes, in the final reckoning, we cannot expect our governments to provide
for us the necessary changes to improve the quality of life for the
majority of humanity. It is up to us to do so and, as Eleanor Roosevelt
so rightly points out, doing so IS an ethical imperative!
This in consideration, we, as much as possible, must consider the purchase
of locally produced goods, reject their obtainment from huge conglomerates,
procure fair trade merchandise, press governments and corporations toward
accountability and share information with others so they, too, can become
more greatly aware of the manner in which capitalism functions. Without
our doing so, we can simply expect that all will be only more of the
same business as usual, but on an ever enlarging scale. This, of course,
Emily Spence lives in Massachusetts and deeply cares
about the future of our world.
 Please see both of these for a balanced overview of US drug costs:
Ageless Marketing: "Let's Hear It For Costco!" (agelessmarketing.typepad.com/ageless_marketing/2)
and Boycott Watch - Cosco Prescription Drug Email Is A Hoax (www.boycottwatch.org/misc/costco1.htm).
 Please refer to: China's July trade surplus $24.4B - NewsFlash -
 Detailed assessments of division of wealth, along with trends for
US and elsewhere in the world, are provided at: Distribution of wealth
- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distribution_of_wealth)
and Encyclopedia on Political Economy / V thru Wealth / Producti...
 A succinct analysis of this topic and related critical ones is available
at: Causes of Poverty - Global Issues (www.globalissues.org/TradeRelated/Poverty.asp),
ASIA Less than two dollars a day for a billion people in Asi... (www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=5594)
and Biofuels And Global Hunger By Fidel Castro « Dissident (http://dissidentnews.wordpress.com/2007/04/03/biofuels-and-global-hunger-by-fidel-castro/).
 For a discussion of some of these areas of concern, please go to:
SteveLendmanBlog: Resource Wars - Can We Survive T... (sjlendman.blogspot.com/2007/06/resource-w),
Culture Change: Global Change (anthro.palomar.edu/change/change_5.htm)
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