Updated: Sep 24, 2018
Guest post, Byron Stookey, retired social studies teacher
The key is fairness.
Since arrival of the Europeans the economic system in this country has not been fair. It became less fair gradually until the industrial revolution brought large-scale capitalism, which in recent years has been out of control.
In modern capitalism most means of production are owned and controlled by big corporations. Some are fair-minded, but more are dominated by the interests of their executives and shareholder-owners. Interests of their workers and the public are secondary.
Those are the big corporations with "means of production." But equally important are the corporations that produce nothing. Or not a lot other than financial commotion. Some, like Wells Fargo, exploit the less well-off. Others and their lawyers do well by being a fraction of a percent cleverer with money than their competitors.
As with corporations that produce things, mega- financial firms sometimes serve the public good. They provide needed capital for producers of useful goods or (profitably) underwrite public projects or services. But the bottom line of mega-finance is always the bottom line.
'Main Street' capitalism has been a different story. In small towns and urban neighborhoods the retail or service owner and employees have often felt some responsibility to each other. And profits may be equitably shared. But those businesses and their towns and neighborhoods are rapidly being decimated by mega-capitalism – Walmart and now, especially, Amazon.
And so with Main Street financial enterprise. Locally owned banks often are community-minded. And community development credit unions serve low-income people. But local banks get bought by chains. And all are threatened by new mega-merchants' decimation of their Main Streets.
Meanwhile democracy, too, is being ravaged by uncurbed capitalism.
• The Congress and some state legislatures now hardly serve the public. Steered by PAC's and out-of-control lobbying, they serve instead the interests of big business and big money. And that won't change until election campaigns are publicly funded and serious restraints placed on lobbying, including prohibition of lobbying by ex-legislators.
• Then it may become possible to increase our obscene federal minimum wage, at the urging of big business held for years by Congress at $7.25 an hour.
• Democracy requires us, also, to write the fairer tax code that's always promised. If it were practical, the income tax should be changed to a wealth tax. But in any case the very-well-off
should be taxed more than at present. Exemptions that privilege the better-off, like the mortgage interest deduction, should be abolished or reduced. The estate tax threshold
should be lowered and the tax rate raised. And corporate taxes should be reformed and enforced. But, for now, real tax reform is unlikely. It isn't wanted by big business or big
• The alternative of co-operative business ownership should be facilitated by the government.
• And labor unions should be encouraged, not obstructed in the interest of big business as at present.
Our present capitalist system is more unfair than fair.
Unfair, too, in its grudging support of public needs and services. including help for those whom poor pay, prejudice or circumstance has disadvantaged. People live in unaffordable or shabby housing because adequate housing is low-priority for moneyed interests at the White House and Congress. Health care assured by government is blocked by mega-capitalist insurance, pharmaceutical and medical interests. Repair of public infrastructure including transit is blocked by other wants of big money. Along with better support for public schools and higher education. And the greed of moneyed interests blocks desperately needed attention to global warming. (Do ExxonMobil executives and Congresspeople not have grandchildren?)
The profit motive is not in itself a bad thing. But in the long run capitalism can't work as it now operates in this country.
A more fair kind of capitalism could work – if we can reform the way big business is done and the ways it now subverts democracy and disserves people.
Retired high school history teacher