A critique of U.S. capitalism

“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

U.S. citizens accept freedom as a birthright, yet a capitalist economic system makes actual freedom an illusion as it fails us in four key areas.

They are:

  1. Endless war
  2. Inequality
  3. Environmental crisis
  4. Undemocratic

Endless war: Capitalism starts with the premise that individuals have the right to own the earth and its resources. Violence has always been used to enforce this alleged right. Prior to capitalism, empires were not subservient to the capitalist market imperative of continuous growth and profit. Armies largely disbanded at the conclusion of a war. With the advent of industrialization and capitalism’s need for ever expanding profit, the Military-Industrial-Political-Complex was born. The result: endless war, an arms race against ourselves and the overt and covert overthrow of foreign governments that refuse to accept the rule of U.S. capitalism. Any people whose nation is in a constant state of war are not free.

Military coups against 15 democratically elected governments supported by the CIA

Cuba (1952)
Iran (1953)
Guatemala (1954)
Zaire (1961, 1965)
Dominican Republic (1963)
Brazil (1964)
Indonesia (1965)
Greece (1967)
Laos (1967–1973)
Ecuador (1961, 1963 and unsuccessful 2010)
Chile (1973)
Nicaragua (1979–1990)
Haiti (1991, 2004)
Venezuela (unsuccessful 2002)
Honduras (2009)

The CIA’s activities are hardly limited to the above 15 countries. These are just the democratically elected governments that were overthrown with the assistance of the U.S. CIA. This also speaks to the issue of democracy. How can we support democracy at home, while covertly denying it to others abroad?

Inequality: Capitalism differs from the feudalism it replaced by its inherent dynamic force to create an ever expanding accumulation of capital in the hands of a few, begetting a natural rhythm of boom and bust cycles. Our current depression is the 11th major economic catastrophe in our capitalist country’s history.

  1. Panic of 1785–1788
  2. Panic of 1792
  3. Panic of 1819–1822
  4. Panic of 1837–1843
  5. Panic of 1857–1861
  6. Great Depression or Panic of 1873–1878
  7. Panic of 1893–1897
  8. Panic of 1907
  9. Great Depression 1929–1941
  10. Recession of the mid 1970s
  11. Neoliberal Depression of 2007-?

Greater and greater inequality between the capitalist class and the poor and working class is fundamental to capitalism’s DNA. The U.S. is not only the most unequal industrial democracy on earth, it now has the least social mobility for the poor and working class to improve their lot. This creates plenty of freedom for the 1%, not so much for the rest of the heap.

Environmental crisis: Capitalism has breached or is breaching Nine Planetary Boundaries crucial to livable human life on earth.

  1. Global warming and climate change resulting in the melting of the polar ice cap and the rise of the oceans.
  2. Species loss resulting in the loss of biodiversity necessary to sustain life.
  3. Nitrogen and phosphorus cycles disrupted causing ocean dead zones.
  4. Ocean acidification will cause a massive die down of shell fish.
  5. Increased human fresh water use will cause a collapse of terrestrial/aquatic ecosystems.
  6. Increased percentage of land used as cropland having a catastrophic effect on ecosystems.
  7. Chemical pollution poisoning the earth.
  8. Atmospheric aerosol loading, increased particulate concentration in atmosphere disrupts weather patterns, causes health problems and interacts with climate change.
  9. Stratospheric ozone depletion, now under control, but the damage from the sun’s ultraviolet rays will continue for decades at the poles

*Based on research by James Hansen, Paul Crutzen, Johan Rockstrom of Stockholm Resilience Center and presented in The Ecological Rift—Capitalism’s War on the Earth, John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York

An economic system based on ever expanding profit for a few cannot begin to be regulated sufficiently to halt this crisis. Forget half-baked carbon trading and green jobs schemes for corporate profit, human society needs a paradigm shift from individual men owning and exploiting the earth for profit to mankind being stewards of the earth, its resources and ecosystems.

A socialist economic system based on people’s actual needs, including a healthy earth rather than corporate profit, is the only type of system that can address the enormity of the crisis. Ask those displaced by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans or those whose homes have been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey about the freedom they are currently enjoying.

Undemocratic: A system that sends the fruits of our labor and the bounty of the earth’s resources to a handful at the top is anathema to democracy.

“We can have a democracy or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. We cannot both.”—Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

Lincoln defined democracy with simple eloquence as “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” Capitalism’s “government of the wealthy, by their bought and paid for politicians and for the continued accumulation of the 1%” fails on all three counts.

Concerned citizens search for answers such as a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court Ruling that granted corporations personhood and allows them to spend unlimited sums advancing their political agenda or a repeal of the Senate Filibuster Rule which allows a minority of senators to block legislation supported by the majority or the gerrymandering of congressional districts that gives the Republicans a significant majority in the House of Representatives, in spite of the fact that Democrat Party House candidates received more total votes in the last election than did Republicans.

These anti-democratic rules, laws and rulings are abhorrent, but fixing them will not change things. Other rules, laws and rulings will simply come forth from the capitalist class through their two corporate political parties. If we want a democracy we must have a vastly more equal citizenry. Only then can we become a truly free people.

Another world is possible; peaceful, equitable, sustainable and democratic, but only with a democratic economic system that makes a commitment to leaving no one behind: socialism.

Nick Egnatz is a Vietnam veteran. He has been actively protesting our government’s crimes of empire in both person and print for some years now and was named “Citizen of the Year” for Northwest Indiana in 2006 for his peace activism by the National Association of Social Workers. Contact Nick at OccupyNick@yahoo.com.

7 Responses to A critique of U.S. capitalism

  1. This is a nice statement. Mr. Egnatz has spent many years declaring what is wrong with America. The points he makes have validity. But it seems to be a bit —”chicken little”. He says socialism is the solution, but offers no suggestion as to how to achieve his view of socialism. Note: We already have some socialism in this country.

    • - some thoughts on ‘how’ – more of a Canadian context, but similar things are necessary anywhere the capitalist false-democracies are the ruling power – Democratic Revolution – now or never http://www.rudemacedon.ca/vgi/backgrounders/revolution.html

    • A short history of Hank Paulson (aka King Henry)1) King Henry takes over Goldman Sachs in 1999 and cpmnaoy debt is 20 Billion2) King Henry leaves Goldman Sachs in 2006 the cpmnaoy debt was 100 Billion3) His tenure at Goldman Sachs was all about inventing new and “innovative” ways to take on more risk while maximizing profit off those risks (e.g. crap RE loans)4) During the later years of his tenure with GS top executives received record pay/bonuses 5) Its 30,522 employees earned an average of $600,000 last year an average that considers secretaries as well as traders.6) When he was tapped by Bushco to become Treasury Secretary Business Week had a headline “Mr. Risk Goes To Washington” A bigger Wallstreet shark there is not. A perfect fit for Bushco.So one of the very architects of inventing ever more risky investments comes up with THE PLAN to bail out his WallStreet/Banker buddies due to the very risk instruments that he helped invent???And why is it we should be just a LITTLE bit suspicious of this guy?Wallstreet induced huge risk and paid huge salaries/bonuses during the last few gravy years. And it turns out, it was based on almost worthless assets. So in essence they charged everything to the future while partying NOW. Perhaps they knew they would never be held accountable and have to pay a dime back.Why? Because they own our government (Bushco is full of exCEOs and Wallstreeters) and as such, they own us.Don’t you just love having to pay the credit card debts of some coke-snorting rich guy?And now WE, the American People, are being stuck with the bill for their excesses.So let’s just take what King Henry crams down our throats like good little tax payers.

  2. Freedom and liberty, as used in the US, is freedom of capital, not people.
    As someone once said, “America is a free country, and the more money you have the freer you are.” The inverse could also be said. The less money you have the less freer (enslaved) you are. Tommy Rimes

  3. If I may respond to Mr. Roseen. Hi Jim, I hope I am Chicken Little and the war and peace, severe inequality, environmental and democracy crises are not as great as they appear.

    True I did not offer the solution of how we can achieve a socialist society. All I can give here is a first step. Repudiate capitalism, empire, our capitalist economy’s war on the environment and our undemocratic democracy. Educate and encourage others to do likewise.

    From there let the words of Tom Murillo, musician and activist guide us, “The road I must travel is the road I cannot see.”

  4. Jim, you note that we already have some socialism in this country. What little we have is very rapidly being privatized. From tollways to parking meters to the workers that pick up our garbage to fire fighters, paramedics and those that teach our children; they are all on a fast tract to privatization. In the strictest sense of the word, these are government workers not socialist workers that own the means of production. But they are the closest we have to socialism and they are going the way of the Dodo Bird.

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