Few people agree with me (or want to admit) that capitalism in its present form is the source of most of our economic, environmental, and institutional ills. We want desperately to cling to our belief that the "American Way" is the *right* way, the *best* way, the only way; but we might be wrong. At the very least, we have an escalating problem with the sheer scale of capitalism. It no longer benefits everyone, and that puts at risk something far more sacred than capitalism: democracy.
Let us look at what corporate capitalism has done for us (or to us) lately:
- Reduced consumer choices
- Suppressed technologies
- Fewer consumer, labor, and environmental protections
- Corporate Welfare
- Perpetual definition of the "American Dream" as the attainment of material wealth
- Increased stress and decreased physical health
The bigger the corporation, the fewer the choices for the consumer. What results from mergers and acquisitions is the illusion of choice. Take television for example. Mergers of various networks insure that we will see the same content distributed over several channels instead of new content on those other channels. Sports are increasingly televised on stations for which the consumer must pay extra as part of a cable or satellite package. This amounts to consumer coercion, whereby formerly free broadcasts are now held in virtual ransom. More disturbingly, news media are being concentrated into fewer and fewer outlets controlled by corporations that filter the news to further their own corporate, political, and economic agendas; or distract us with fear-mongering and celebrity status reports.
When you have an existing industry firmly entrenched in the status quo of the marketplace, it will exercise all its power to maintain its dominance. Hemp is an example of a raw material that would compete very favorably with cotton, paper, even plastics and some metals. Those existing industries act to suppress the hemp industry through lobbying our government representatives and agencies, and spreading false information to consumers. Hemp is a relative of the marijuana plant, but contains only a fraction of the chemical compound that gives marijuana its pharmaceutical and recreational properties.
Only recently have alternative, sustainable, and clean energy technologies been allowed to blossom. Even these have come under attack because of the scale of those enterprises. Giant windmills kill birds and bats, but all resources for wind energy are directed to those large-scale models. Bird-friendly, small-scale alternatives are ignored.
Most major corporations on the Wall Street scale honor only their monetary bottom line and increased revenue for shareholders. The consumer, employee, and environment all take a distant back seat to those goals. To that end, lobbyists argue for erosion or outright repeal of existing laws aimed at affording labor, consumer, and ecological protections. "Studies" are rigged or altered or biased to reflect business interests. Conflicting research is suppressed. Recalls of dangerously defective products are postponed. The Clean Air Act is constantly under fire, as well as the Endangered Species Act and other landmark legislation that is arguably among the best ever enacted by *any* government on a national scale.
The welfare distributed to individuals and households in poverty is nothing compared to the dollars delivered to corporations and industries annually. We pay lip service to, and worship, the "free market" as the God of the economy which, left unfettered by regulation, will allow businesses to flourish; yet we prop up failing industries with subsidies, tax breaks, and bailouts that seem to always be lavished on CEOs and shareholders without even a trickle down to workers and consumers. We protect ailing industries with import restrictions and tariffs. Left to the "free market," those American industries would wither and die. They do anyway, of course, as manufacturing is transferred overseas to cheaper (read "substandard") labor forces.
It can be argued that the accumulation of wealth is in itself a goal not worth pursuing, and at worst a lifestyle that threatens the well-being of others, and even the planet itself. Consumption and economic growth as we are accustomed to in this century are definitely not sustainable, and take resources away from more vulnerable human populations. One would be hard-pressed to refute the idea that the Earth could benefit from fewer numbers of Homo sapiens, and certainly from less "development" of natural resources.
Our physical and mental health are at risk from social, cultural, and economic pressure that are inflicted upon us or that are self-generated. We are valued in the marketplace only for what we can consume, not what we can produce, unless it is more consumers in the form of children. Our labor is consistently undervalued to the point of corporations balking at a raise in the minimum wage; and suppression of collective bargaining to insure workplace safety and fairness. The end goal of industry is production without labor, but the unemployed cannot afford to purchase products.
How we value ourselves is just as important as cultural expectation. I, myself, constantly struggle with the idea that my wife is the major breadwinner in our household. This flies in the face of the "standard" I was brought up with. It takes a major effort to remind myself that my ego is not the point of our marriage; and money is not what strong relationships are built on in the first place.
There is reason for hope. All is not lost. In fact, there are surprising trends that indicate a potentially bright future ahead. Community gardens and farmer's markets are springing up almost daily, taking our food production back from corporate agri-business and returning it to local roots (literally). The "tiny house" movement is spreading, and demonstrating that a lifestyle with fewer material possessions means stronger personal relationships and an enhanced sense of community (while going off the grid in many cases). There is increasing demand for better public transit, more walkable neighborhoods where one can work, live, and play without dreadfully long commutes in a vehicle powered with fossil fuels. We still have power, folks, beyond the voting booth, and the internet age allows us to quickly find friends and support for what we believe is important. Thanks to crowdfunding, we can even find money for making those inventions and community projects happen, without dependence on institutions firmly entrenched in the status quo. Go for it!