Capitalism:  What is it?  

by Polly Mann

For more years than I care to admit a small group – six to twelve – have been meeting for breakfast at Curran’s restaurant on Nicollet in South Minneapolis.  The ensuing conversations are always lively and often so loud I suspect they disturb patrons at nearby tables.

Recently, one of the group, an elementary school teacher, mentioned that a relative just out of college was offered a job at a bank for $65,000 a year.  The discussion then flew to teachers’ salaries, Wisconsin and Governor Walker. We were just beginning to debate the comparative worth of bankers and teachers to the society when the group broke up for the day.

At home with the conversation still in my mind, I picked up the New York Times of March 25th containing an article about the General Electric, which “had a very good year in 2010.”  And how “good” was that year?  It showed profits of $124.2 billion of which $5.1 billion came from its operations in the United States.  And how much taxes did it pay in 2010?  That’s right.  You got it.  None, absolutely none.

I think of GE  as the manufacturer of  refrigerators, dryers, and stoves. That’s small potatoes. It makes jet fighter engines, helicopters, and  is the owner of   the Raytheon company.  Plus – get this – it makes those darling drones – that unmanned aircraft that accidentally kills Afghanis  –  almost daily.  There are hundreds of such armament makers:  Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Gruman and General Dynamics to name a few. 

I cringe when, every so often, I read of a contract between one of these behemoths and some underdeveloped, poverty-stricken country.  In the last ten years the following African countries have bought weapons when what their people needed was medicines, food, transportation, housing and education:  the Sudan, the Congo, Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Chad and Brazzaville.

Getting back to the first paragraph and “more years that I care to admit,”  those years can produce facts of which younger people are totally unaware.  Such as – that during the years of World War II there was an excess profits tax of 95 percent on corporate profits. Tea party members would probably go into convulsions if such an idea were proposed today,

There’s  talk from all sides and both political parties about the United States’ reputation for its generosity and concern about human rights and freedom – PUHLEEZ!!  The rest of the world is wising up to us. We’re too often an uninvited guest that won’t go home. 

What would happen If you gave U.S. citizens the choice between spending money on “liberating” people in other countries from  dictators and actually “meeting” needs at home.  “Defending freedom” too often means defending the freedom of U.S. corporations to “do business” in these “unfree” countries where there are no labor unions and natural resources can be exploited by under-the-table payments to corruptible officials and leaders. 

We elect public officials believing that they will represent our best interests.  And who is “our”?  That’s the majority of us who are either middle class economically and down the economic level to outright poor . . . Newly-elected office-holders are almost always in the middle economically. But not for long.  In 2009, 44 percent of U.S. Congress members were millionaires; that’s 237 people and who have little understanding of those of us who l live much farther down on the economic ladder than they do, facing foreclosures, unemployment, unpaid medical bills and driving 25-year-old cars. 

In  their defense, these politicians are besieged by hordes of lobbyists trying their best to influence them to support legislation favorable to their corporate employers.  The result?  There’s big trouble,folks – not just in River City – but on both coasts and in the “fly-over” area.

The gap between the earnings and wealth of the poor and the rich is the highest it has ever been. Today a fraction of people at the top earn more than the bottom 120 million. The percentage of gross profits of the top 200 U.S. corporations have gone from 13 percent in 1950 to 30 percent in 2008.  One percent of Americans are millionaires.

The War Resisters League 2011 chart entitled, “Where Your Income Tax Dollars Go,” shows that 48 percent of those tax dollars – $1,271 billion – go  to pay for past and present wars.  These wars could hardly have been called “defensive”  The U.S. is the mightiest nation in the history of the world.  Did they bring democracy to the country attacked ?  Does one introduce democracy through war?  No. But those dollars do protect something, and that something is U.S. overseas businesses. 

Next question.  Why do overseas U.S. business enterprises need protection?  Because far too often they take advantage of local situations by:

1)  hiring labor at abysmally low wages in countries where unions are illegal,

2)  exploiting natural resources such as oil, minerals, agricultural land (for exports not local food crops), etc., and

3)  supporting leaders who are easily bought off to favor corporate interests.

When the people who are affected object to the U.S. plunder of their natural resources and the exploitation of their labor and their government ignores their complaints, they revolt. At this the country’s leaders get in the act. They call in the troops.

What troops ?  Perhaps their own, armed and  subsidized by the United States, or U.S. troops from one of one thousand military bases across the world. What happens next depends on lots of things.  The usual scenario is that the United States stands up for its fully paid-for “rascal,” the country’s leader – that is, until public protest grows too strong.  Then the leader might be abandoned – e.g., Noriega , Saddam Hussein, Mubarek, etc. 

Disjointed it may appear, but the above is my description of how the capitalistic system works, or shall we say, does not work.  Thus it is that I have decided I am a non-capitalist.  Some think there could be a concerned humane capitalism. Not me. In my mind there’s no question about it. Capitalism is an unfair, classist, demeaning and cruel  system under which democracy cannot survive. 

Polly Mann is a co-founder of WAMM.

If you are looking for a comfortable place to eat traditional food and good pie, Curran’s, on 42nd & Nicollet, supports the WAMM auction.

By Published On: June 14th, 20111 Comment

One Comment

  1. charles bloss June 15, 2011 at 12:14 PM

    What would we do without those in our midst who have been observing “for more years than I care to admit” like Polly Mann.
    The Polly Manns of this country keep us focused on the things that matter; on the reality of the events that surround us; and of the corruption in our midst.
    Thanks,Polly, for your voice and for speaking Truth to power.
    Charlie Bloss

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