…owners always think of workers as just another cost to be reduced. ~ Malcolm Harris
The concrete, physical reality of inequality is visible to the naked eye and naturally inspires sharp but contradictory political judgments. Peasant and noble, worker and factory owner, waiter and banker: each has his or her own unique vantage point and sees important aspects of how other people live and what relations of power and domination exist between social groups, and these observations shape each person’s judgment of what is and is not just. Hence there will always be a fundamentally subjective and psychological dimension to inequality, which inevitably gives rise to political conflict that no purportedly scientific analysis can alleviate. ~ Thomas Piketty
July 2022, much of western Europe is experiencing the hottest weather ever recorded for that area.
What is the root cause of this extreme heat?
With metrics focused on maximizing profits for shareholders and unrealistic and insatiable perpetual growth, our system of capitalism does not take into account “real costs” such as depleting rain forests, exhausting soil of its nutrients, emitting methane into the air, destroying the ozone layer, polluting oceans, and draining lakes and reservoirs. In short, capitalism (along with other even less sophisticated human economic systems in non-western societies) is primarily responsible for a massive disruption to our ecosystem, not to mention previous human costs such as slavery, upon which our entire system was constructed.
The bottom line of our system is measured only in dollars. One tangible price that most of us are now paying is the discomfort of climate change, i.e. record temperatures and natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, etc. But this article is not regarding climate change. Climate change is but a symptom. This article questions how we will attain the next stage of human civilization, how can we maximize happiness rather than numbers on an electronic spreadsheet? How are we going to learn how to interact more compassionately with each other?
Will we require a violent revolution to attain the next stage of human civilization or can we do it peacefully? And if we can do it peacefully then what are the actionable steps we can take NOW?
Winston Churchill famously said that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” I would say the same about capitalism. It’s the worst system of how human beings relate to each except all of the others. It is a system that propagates the oppression and exploitation of laborers. Greed is not good.
Capitalism is a system, just like feudalism was a system. And without dynamic regulation, all systems become corrupted. But for the last 50 years corporations have lobbied our leadership to unfetter them so that they could maximize growth and profits.
And by “lobbied,” I mean “bribed.”
Specifically, our brand of capitalism exploits young people and immigrants by scamming them into “proving themselves” through working countless hours in the false hope of climbing up some mythical ladder of success. This is compounded by a press that favors reporting on outliers because these “work hard and you will be rewarded” narratives stimulate readership and helps sell advertising. But it is easy to argue that meritocracy is a fantasy used to lure people into self-exploitation: the vast majority of people born in the lower class will die in the lower class. Ditto for middle and upper class people. The zip code in which you were born is a better indicator of what type of life you will experience than how many hours per week you work. Most Americans look down their noses at India’s caste system, but when you do the math, generational transfer of wealth and nepotism are greater drivers of financial success than the .1% of Horatio Alger “self-made” economic heroes.
The original mandates of our Western systems such as healthcare, farming, law, higher education, democracy, social media and romantic love were noble. However, today Big Pharma, Big Insurance, Big Law, Big Agriculture, Big Education, gerrymandering, Cambridge Analytica, and billions spent on marriage and divorce have rendered all of those systems deleterious to a growing number of people. These systems, despite their originally admirable intentions, have become corrupted.
However, people fear change. They would prefer to continue to believe in ideals and fictions then disrupt their homeostases.
Again, July 2022, much of western Europe is experiencing the hottest weather ever recorded for that area. Wealthy people can stay inside and enjoy air-conditioning. Laborers who must go to work outside in order to feed their families will suffer. The 2003 European heat wave led to more than 70,000 deaths.
When will the laborers say, “Enough!” like they did during the French Revolution and start pulling the oligarchs and capital owners from their cool estates and start beheading them?
The inequality between capital owners and laborers grows wider every day and the quality of life for the majority of people continues to decline. Supposed “inflation” will only exacerbate the situation — but how are the corporations posting record profits while normal life becomes more and more expensive and challenging for most people?
Our current financial system is a house of cards. Any day there could be another run on the banks. The total sum of “money” doesn’t exist, not anywhere, not even in the FDIC.
Cryptocurrency is a large Ponzi Scheme in which the people who can afford to lose the least will lose the most.
In our corrupt system, the rich are getting richer as the poor get poorer. This is indisputable.
If our society doesn’t collapse from the top down, then maybe increasing income disparity will come to more greatly resemble slavery and incite a revolution. When poor people have no more water or cannot afford electricity what will stop them from reaching for their guns?
Or possibility a hitherto unseen natural disaster will decimate Seattle or Los Angeles? On December 26, 2004, 227,898 people were swept into the sea during the Indian Ocean tsunami. What will happen if that occurs on the west coast of America and there is no electricity or sanitation or Internet (things we rely on) for millions of people for months?
Or will people finally get fed up that they pay more taxes than large corporations and wealthy people pay?
We need to lessen inequity of wealth and power and have a greater respect for real costs such as natural resources — that would help smooth out the transition to the next iteration of society.
T.S. Eliot wrote, “This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper.” However, when I read the paper this morning, it appears as if old Tom might have been incorrect.
Progress to the next iteration of civilization is going rather bumpily right now. In America, reasonable changes such as supreme court judge term limits, eliminating the electoral college, voting by mobile phones or computers, rent control and affordable housing, eliminating churches and private universities as 501c3 organizations that shield them from paying taxes, civil rights for all, women’s right to control their own bodies, are not moving forward in a timely fashion.
I am optimistic that human beings have learned from their mistakes and that the next iteration of civilization will be less oppressive and exploitative; however, I am pessimistic that our currently polarized leadership has the ability to guide us there peacefully.
We are not having the right conversations.
It is time for us redefine the axes of the solution space.
There is no “us” and “them” anymore. It’s just “us” and “us.”
Both individuals and corporations need to stop concentrating on maximizing financial profit and growth.
Our children’s and grandchildren’s survival depend upon it.
Previously Published on Medium