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BK Blog Post
Posted by Max Dunn, Digital-Editorial Intern, Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
An open letter to America:
I recently read Ayn Rand's "Capitalism: The unknown ideal." In my defense, it was my first Rand. I didn't know she was an educated Ann Coulter. I also don't know how she dares call herself a Philosopher. Admittedly, I am a little naive when it comes to Rand, Economics or the morals of economics, however, I am well versed in the logical determination of morality and I still fail to see how Rand could be considered objective. (Is that ironic or is she misrepresenting herself?) Furthermore, this collection of essays was begun in 1946 and published throughout the early 60's in Rands' "Objectivist Newsletter," so I feel it fair to assess them as dated, Cold-War era, quasi-propaganda. So, why is it then, that we find similar objections to altruism expressed today? Why is it that so many are beating drums to the tune of "Selfishness is good?" (Harold Bloom) and others are calling Capitalism evil, (Michael Moore.) Let's take a look at Capitalism with the type of eyes it seems Rand wishes she had and without being a boorish idiot. For the individual, capitalism is politically liberating. If someone in a capitalistic system wishes tostart a business selling square wheels, this person is free and able to do so. This might seem like a silly analogy but I see it as being no different than clothes for dogs, electronic goldfish or decorative spatulas, at least in terms of necessity, but probably also, in utility.
This freedom is a grand and great gift for the enterprising individual but it, in no way, signifies any value other than that which has a dollar sign in front of it. In such a system there are going to be boons
and bombs, but the deciding factor isn't going to be measured in necessity or utility, but rather in desire. For example, "Mr. Square Wheels" isn't going to do very well, yet if a famous young pop singer decides it would be cool to appear in a video with one of his pant legs missing and for some reason it catches on, you aren't going to have to wait very long before one legged pants are available at your local clothing shops. Is this a good thing? Bad thing? Is it stupid? Does it matter?
Capitalism doesn't care what is true, right, good or ideal. Capitalism doesn't ask, "What does the world need?" It asks, "What can I capitalize on?" Although providing opportunity for individuals in a free market, this does, or at least can do, nothing for the people as a whole. This is what Rand refers to as "the concrete bound considerations of the immediate moment." It is what keeps us selfish and this is what keeps the gears of business greasy. Who really cares to make a "green car" when there's so much easy money to be made selling dirty cars? Who wants to cure a disease when there is so much easy money to be made selling treatments for it? Who wants to develop clean, natural energy sources when there can be no ongoing supply issues? Once you sell a solar panel, your transaction is done and you have lost the monthly fees you used to collect? How are we going to keep the coal industry alive this way? These institutions are in place,steadfastly.
This illustrates the problem with Capitalism, it belongs to the whims of Capitalists and Humans are stupid, greedy creatures with little foresight. (Unless you consider selfish foresight, which asks, "How am I going to cash in for the long run?") However, even with accepting this philosophy as reality, it is not the reason that we find ourselves, (in the western world,) in our current predicament. It is no mistake that Rand named her book "Capitalism: the unknown ideal." It is, in fact, unknown because it is missing controls to ensure that the initial goals it had for itself, could be met. Capitalism was supposed to be the promise of the middle class, a vehicle by which we might "make it." As it is an American experiment, one only needs to look at the history of the government to see the history of business. Somehow, these roles have reversed. Thus, Capitalism, as it should be, doesn't really exist. The following, as usual, is going to be considered crass by some, even flippant. I think, however, that if Ann Rand can be considered a Philosopher and Ann Coulter has people willing to pay to listen to her speak, you can afford to keep reading. It might piss you off, but that doesn't make it any less true and at least I won't charge you...
Once upon a time there was a teenage country called America. It had a nice constitution, reasonable laws and seemingly endless possibilities. After World War Two it also had a lock on GDP. (There was no reasonable competition left, it had been destroyed because, at the time, Germany and Japan had made enemies of themselves.) This worked very much in the favor of Americans. People had jobs, the products they made were selling. Large profits were being made. Taxes were paid by those who could afford them and the poorer folks got the breaks they needed. There were Unions to protect workers. Workers could afford cars, homes, vacations, education for their kids. It was a beautiful, innocent, squeaky clean time, but Americans were about to cross over, into the dark side.
Datsun (which became Nissan,) Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, are four American swear words. (Not that these companies are an inception of something, but rather, examples of it.) The 50s had ended. The innocence was over. Competition had returned. China could produce all the useless trinkets Americans were producing for far less. This was because, at the simplest level, they paid their workers less. The result was, Capitalism had to either increase profit margins, (price) or reduce costs, (quality.) Young Americans were looking around wondering, "Where is mine?" There began to be a new philosophy in Washington that proposed "Invention and ingenuity are on the way out, productiveness and profit are on the way in. Competition is what matters. Competition drives an economy." (Here, Iwill skip over Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, although these too were business decisions.) Until finally, Americans found themselves in line ups for gas, underemployed and facing bankruptcy. The cheques t! The country had written since WW2 had been cashed. Larger cities like Detroit and New York became havens for crime and corruptibility on the street level, because the "have nots" were unwilling to lie down and die. Something needed to give, but not anything as brazen as the changesKennedy was suggesting. After all, let's not forget that it was not the ordinary American who stood to lose anything from the promotive changes suggested to contrast the norm. It is not the ordinary American who knowingly pulls the trigger on their own hopes and dreams. So while people like Johnson and Nixon kept the military industrial complex chasing the "new Camelot created by war" paradigm, dissent was building.
The business of murder was beginning to lose its grandeur. Hippies were born and the dream was over. Warnings were either denied or brushed aside. Politicians who dared to suggest something needed to be done about the influence of business on policy are branded conspiracy nuts and are! either ignored or removed for reasons that have nothing to do with performance. (Beliefs, drugs, business deals, sex, etc. Yet today, somehow, the largest crime ever committed goes nearly unexamined?)
The 1970s created a desire to re-examine Capitalism, it no longer seemed to be working. So business moved into Politics.Ronald Reagan became the first bought and paid for puppet president of the United States and they since haven't had one that wasn't. (Including Obama.) It is interesting to note that many of the same "behind the scenes" players that were found under Nixon were still found under
George Bush Jr. and everyone in between. (If you would like to examine the forces behind the White House, or the Senate for that matter, look at the staff of the offices, look at the lobbyists, look at the corporations that sponsor the running of the politician, look at the men standing to the right of the President, leaning in to whisper
instructions into wrinkled, dumb ears, look at that Presidents' appointments to key financial positions.) It isn't hard to see how Reagan is the beginning of the end of the middle class. Hippies become Yuppies who cry, "Me, me, me!" (Which is absurd in and of itself.) Tax breaks for the rich are dumped onto the workers, stagnant wages stall under crushing cost of living increases, Unions begin being dismantled, a near insistence that workers use credit to stay afloat becomes the norm, these are the hallmarks of American Capitalism since the'80s. We have gone from, "How can I make a buck?" to "How can I take your buck?" Competition determines everything and price determines competition. It doesn't matter if Americans make XYZ trinket better or worse than Chinese factories do if they can't afford to work at the wages they're given.
America's GDP, as I write these words, is less than the personal debt of its inhabitants. What are you going to do if your lenders want to collect? Lose your businesses, homes, opportunities, lives? Yes, you are.
What has changed in the last thirty years? We bail out industries that have no basis in reality, no need for existence, only to find out that they have had record profits since then. (I might add, with no rules governing what they are to do with this bailout, nor expectations of recompense.) What is a Bank if itis not able to loan? What is insurance if it doesn't respond to crisis?
These institutions, like all capitalist endeavors, are designed for one purpose, to make as much money as possible. They don't care about anything else, including their customers. In reality, they are unable to do what they were designed to. Why are we helping them?
America has an unhealthy trust in authority and an expectation for personal success, but when you boil it all down, greed is greed is greed. For the have-nots, I can only ask, "What we're you thinking?" For the haves, I ask, after your income passes your expenses what are you accomplishing with your excess? I'm turning 38 this year and although I may be a little paranoid and jaded, I expect nothing from anyone. I pay into a pension that I may never see, I live paycheck to paycheck, I don't own my home. I haven't had a vacation and I have no savings. (And Ilive in Canada, a country, according to Republicans, that is nearly Communist, but in actuality, quietly strives to be as crooked as its neighbor.) Again, I have no expectations beyond getting screwed, therefore I have never been disappointed. Do I want to be a millionaire? Probably. Do I wish I was doing more than scraping by? Definitely.
There are people in America who know what is really happening. They come from the rich, the poor and everywhere that is left in between. You might even have seen them in the Senate, hopping up and down, red-faced, weeping, pointing fingers at empty chambers, warning us. Ask yourself, "Why is there no one showing up to work here? (And what do their income tax returns look like?) Why are the people who make sense, such a minority?" The answer, of course, is that those of us who have it, want to keep it. It is the "Golden Rule." There is no change necessary for those of us whom have it good, or have it all. Change is uncomfortable, it's hard work, just ask anyone who doesn't believe in it. The people who seek change in this instance are in the right and the change they desire is inevitable. One way or another, the American economy in particular, will continue to disintegrate if things continue along this track, it is only a question of time. All the juice has been squeezed out of this lemon.
Capitalism isn't evil, it's stupid in the same way a computer is. It can only be what you make it. Therefore, what is evil is how you have either used it, (if you are a have,) or allowed it to be used, (if you are a have-not.) I feel sorry for those of you stuck in the middle because to make the necessary changes is going to be difficult. However, one can only help those who are willing to help themselves. If you won't exercise the power you have to create the change you need, then you deserve what you're going to get, more of the same.
What are you waiting for?
This conversation continues at my blog,