It’s Not Just the Economy Silly, It’s Capitalism

MediaMouse.org contributor Jeff Smith’s latest column for Recoil argues that the economic problems in the United States aren’t simply related to the “economy” but are rather a consequence of the exploitative nature of capitalism.

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The economic crisis isn't simply a problem with the economy, it's the capitalist system

It’s mid-December and I just sat down to watch a few minutes of the Lions game and right away there is a commercial break. I wanted to watch the game to be part of history. The first commercial was for Verizon with that creepy guy who can only say one thing and his horde of support staff. The rest of the commercials were all holiday themed with happy music in the background and assurances that all the products were bargains that would “make our holidays special.”

The best commercial by far was the new Cadillac ads promoting their red-tag sale. Using pseudo-democratic language, the commercial tells viewers that they can pick their own price tag at Cadillac.com. I was feeling in the mood to be seen in a new Cadillac so I went online and filled in the fields which gave me “my” price tag for a 2008 Cadillac Escalade for just $72,000. But wait, the company was offering $10,000 cash back, so I could be styling in a new ride at a mere $62,000.

Apart from the fact that spending $62,000 on a car would be utter absurdity, the idea that these companies would continue to try to convince me and everyone else that their holiday joy will be intimately connected to what I buy is disgusting. Add to that the fact that the economy is in the shitter and such commercial appeals are nothing more than corporate arrogance.

However, despite the fact that poverty rates in the US are growing and unemployment/underemployment is skyrocketing, the market keeps telling us to buy crap that we do not need. Everywhere you look commercialism is rampant. According to the Media Education Foundation, the average American will encounter about 3,000 commercial ads per day. On top of the obnoxious ads on TV, we see them on billboards, in movies and video games, online, and on the radio.

Open The Grand Rapids Press on any given day of the week and you will be slapped in the face with the amount of ad space. In the Sunday, December 14 issue of the Press, the Home & Garden section provided readers with details on how to decorate your house for the holidays, which of course required you to purchase electrical lighting. In the Travel section the lead story is how your family can have an affordable vacation on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia. This is not only arrogance on the part of the Press to suggest that working people can vacation with the entire family in the Caribbean it is an affirmation that the Press is not only a product of capitalism, but an ardent defender and promoter of the “free market” system.

The Grand Rapids Press, like most mainstream media, has a business section in their daily paper. However, mainstream news sources do not have a workers section of the paper nor do most news agencies have a labor beat reporter. Doesn’t this seem odd to you? I mean, aren’t most of us working people? Why have a section for business owners when they are clearly in the minority? The answer should be clear. We live in a business run society. This is why stock information is scrolled across the bottom of the screen and not information of working people’s wages.

In the past few months with the news coverage focused on the Wall St. disaster, the banking scams and the proposed auto industry bailout when have you hear or read a news story that even questions the system of capitalism? You just won’t find those perspectives in mainstream media. In early October, I attended a forum organized by the Siedman School of Business of GVSU at the downtown campus. The forum was on “Understanding the Economic Crisis,” yet there was only one perspective represented on the panel. All six of the panelists were either financial consultants or bankers. The only thing they could agree on were “the market is ok, we just need to stabilize the economy” and “don’t do anything without consulting your financial advisor first.”

Ok, so a show of hands…how many of you have a financial advisor? And while we are on it, what the hell is a financial consultant anyway? Do they advise you on what not to buy or inform you that the average salary of CEO in the US is 344 times more than the average worker? Hell no, they tell you what stocks you should invest in or they will be out on their 3 piece suit-wearing asses.

In early November, the Project for Excellence in Journalism produced a study on how much news coverage was devoted to the recent economic crisis. The study showed that while all forms of news media were repeatedly reporting on the economic crisis they relied exclusively on financial experts, business leaders or elected officials. The only time that working people were cited in stories is when reporters wanted to know how they would survive if laid off or how much shopping they were hoping to do for the holidays. Apparently, working people do not have an opinion on the current economic crisis. However, most absent from the coverage were the voices of those who say that this recent wave of the economic crisis is a natural outcome of capitalism.

Capitalism, by its very nature, is predatory. The goal is to make more, to put profits before people and to have an ever-expanding market. A good example is Nestle, which bottles spring water from Michigan. Nestle does not have a plan to sell 50 million bottles of water and be content with that. They want to constantly expand their market, even if it means environmental destruction. Nike wants to charge you $120 for the new LeBron sneakers, even if it means using sweatshop labor in Vietnam. You can buy a Toyota Prius and feel better about fuel efficiency, but the reality is that these cars are made by workers who are forced to work in difficult, and at times, repressive circumstances.

In addition to the brutal and repressive treatment of workers in a capitalist system, the state is a necessary tool for it to continue. Don’t you find it interesting that corporation, bankers, and other financial institutions are begging the state to bail them out with public funds? Even when these institutions are not in crisis, many of them survive off government welfare, usually referred to as subsidies. In fact, according to the Project on Corporations, Law & Democracy if corporate welfare ended over half of the Fortune 500 companies could not survive.

Considering that things are not likely to get better anytime soon, what is it that we can do to confront capitalism and maybe even create economic systems that are not based on exploitation? Some are putting their hope in the new administration, despite the fact that his economic advisors and appointments, like Lawrence Summers, Robert Rubin and Tim Geithner. These guys are the same ones who pushed for deregulation of the market during the Clinton years, policies that helped to create the economic mess we have now.

The other option would be to begin to reject capitalism and create economic systems that are based on justice and equality. This kind of action requires that we work on this together and not as individuals. I in no way want to suggest that I have any answers here, but maybe there are efforts we can look to for ideas.

We could begin by being inspired by what the workers did in Chicago recently, when they decided to occupy the Republic Windows and Doors factory as a response to the company’s decision to shut down the factory. Legally, workers do not have the right to engage in these kinds of actions, thanks to the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, but that didn’t stop them from doing what is right. We can all take a lesson from these workers.

Other campaigns and movements we can learn from are the World Social Forum, an international gathering in response to the G-8 nations and the World Trade Organization. There is also the Project for Corporations, Law and Democracy, a group, which educates people on the origins of corporations and provides resources on challenging corporate charters. Next, we could learn from the investigative work of groups like the National Labor Committee, CorpWatch.org and Corporate Crime Reporter. Once we have a better analysis of capitalism, we can participate in actions by looking to Infoshop.org, which has a wealth of information on anti-capitalist and anti-globalization movements. Another great resource is Root Force, which provides information and analysis for taking direct action against capitalism. Locally, there is the Really, Really Free Market, which provides an opportunity for anyone to share goods and resources and not participate in the capitalism model and The Bloom Collective, which has numerous anti-capitalist zines, books, and DVDs you can check out.

“One day we must ask the question, Why are there forty million poor people in America? And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org