Sunday, March 15, 2015 11:53 AM
When speaking of Capitalism we must be specific as to which Capitalism we mean. Fresh Capitalism is a wonderful ideal, but then so is Democracy, Communism or Socialism—as ideals, they’re all good. The question with any system is how does it age? Communism aged badly—the corruption and the power-struggling began before the ink was dry on new governing policy, and a police state (as we are learning) never helps matters much.
Socialism seems to be working well with parts of Europe, but xenophobia, greed, and lust for power have their ins into that system as well. Democracy holds off corruption the longest, because it makes power contingent on popularity, which curtails the worst, most open examples of tyranny and self-enrichment. But Democracy is like a business—easily managed when it’s young and small. Once a democracy becomes big and mature, complexity starts to mask some of the corruption, and makes it easier to confuse the electorate.
But Democracy, for a long time, was like a well-ballasted ship that would right itself no matter how hard we pitched to one side or the other. Freedom of speech got people talking whenever things didn’t smell right—and in a country where you can’t jail your opponents for criticism, it’s hard to be a real bad guy and keep your office. That this is no longer the case today has a lot to do with Capitalism, the worm in the apple.
We always speak of the Industrial Revolution—but that era was about much more than inventions and assembly-lines. All business was privately owned, or a government franchise—and bookkeeping was art, performed in various styles, with various techniques, depending on the performer. But railroad tycoons wanted the riches of owning their railroads without the hassle of having to run the business themselves—which gave birth to the stock market. And business owners of constantly-growing businesses became frustrated by the elusiveness of valuation at any given time—which spawned the invention of double-entry accounting, the system we still use today to account for a business’s every penny spent and every penny earned.
So, the Industrial Revolution was dogged in its steps by the Business Revolution. Systems for trading in cash and in assets, systems for keeping precise track of it all, even new systems of business ownership, were all invented due to the increasing complexity of industry. Capitalism began to resemble the monarchies that Democracy was supposed to replace—and monopolies were a constant threat to the claim that Capitalism creates an even playing ground. Abusing the masses through draconian working conditions and meager wages was there, too—but people are strangely reluctant to complain about labor practices when starvation is still a significant cause of death.
Besides, monopolies are a rich person’s problem, and rich people had no problem getting the ear of government to urge that limits should be put on how unfair one rich guy could be to another rich guy. However, monopolies are also a rich person’s tool, so debate on how to limit it dragged on for decades—and continues today.
One area where pro-monopolists have always had more influence is that of communications and entertainment. Ironically, this is because a Democratic system places greater value on a microphone—or mass media, as we call it today—due to its potential to influence voters. The value of owning a TV station goes well beyond its monetary value—it grants editorial power over which news is reported, how it’s reported, and even in pure entertainment, ideas and messages supporting the interests of the owner can be promulgated without dissent.
This situation isn’t that important in an environment that contains many competing TV stations—when one station goes too far outside of observed reality, their competitors can capitalize on that cognitive dissonance by branding the offending station as untruthful. However, if all the TV stations are owned by one entity, dissent in public discourse is, at best, muddied, and at worst, completely squelched.
This brings us to today, where in many states, the constituency is mostly encouraged not to bother voting, or to vote for a brain-dead, bought-and-paid-for criminal. And given that environment, it’s getting mighty hard to find a candidate who isn’t a brain-dead, bought-and-paid-for criminal. This doesn’t ‘break’ Capitalism, but it does break Democracy as we know it.
No, Capitalism is eating its own guts in different ways—suborning the government is just one of them. But it is key, in that it allows the other extremes—the failure to adequately tax the rich and the corporations, the failure to pay decent wages, and the failure to protect the vulnerable from the influence of the super-wealthy and from Wall Street’s predations. We’re starting to talk about income-inequality, but due to the monopoly on mass media, it comes out as ‘class warfare’. Yes, equality isn’t fairness to the poor—its ‘war’ on the rich. Sure, I’ll swallow that—I’m hungry and there’s nothing else to eat.
But seriously, what Capitalism’s big winners fail to realize is that destroying the government’s ability to govern has consequences beyond the immediate financial success they are enjoying at this moment. The GOP, money’s representative in Washington, have shut down the government repeatedly. They’ve stymied any significant legislation for almost a decade, not to mention the appointees they leave un-appointed—causing no end of government dysfunction.
And just recently, they put out a masterstroke of foreign policy obstruction—an open letter to Iran that has convinced most of the world, overnight, that the US is not to be trusted. That they revealed themselves to be seditious, ignorant troublemakers is beside the point, though it doesn’t help much, since they are our elected ‘leaders’, and the world has gone on quite oblivious to the fact that we’ve always had a pack of morons constituting our congress, until now.
Yet what bothers me most is that ‘honesty’ in media has become a punchline, where it was once considered of real value. Without truth as a touchstone, we are left with pure entertainment. But you can’t inform an electorate with entertainment. You can indoctrinate them, you can influence them—all good news for the fat cats trying to turn your head around, but not so good for real democracy. Democracy without information is just tyranny through convoluted means—and monopolizing the news to hide the truth is pretty convoluted. Luckily for the filthy rich, convoluted is confusing—and we are confused—too confused to call them out on their lies, too confused to take back our democracy—even too confused to vote for an honest candidate. Just don’t look to the mass media to straighten it all out—they were part of the solution, but now they’re part of the problem.