Posted by: Kristen Hicks | June 16, 2010

Capitalism Trumps Democracy

The media and politicians in this country have done a superb job of conflating the concepts of capitalism and democracy.  They’re often used as though they’re interchangeable or, at the very least, entirely dependent on one another.  Not only is this entirely false, but it’s been downright destructive, in my opinion, as this conflation has lead to a political culture in which capitalism completely trumps democracy.

Would you like evidence? Do you even need it?  Well, here are some wildly obvious examples:

1)  The Wall Street bailout (and the financial industry in general)–I’ve been told by people more informed about economics than myself that the wall street bailout was actually necessary. I don’t know enough to be confident one way or another about this, but I know it was absolutely not necessary to give so much money to the companies whose greed crashed our economy without any strings attached.  What our government opted to do in this situation combined the worst parts of nationalization with absolutely none of the benefits.   As we all know, the banks who committed the worst offenses in the last several years are happily making billions while the rest of the country watches unemployment and sleazy bank fees rise while salaries decrease.  All the while, somehow the media manages to paint things so that spending money to keep American citizens from grave illness and death seems obscene, while billions to keep sick and corrupt banks afloat is just business.  As if none of that’s offensive enough, nothing has really changed on Wall Street.  No one has been punished.  Finance reform somehow remains controversial in Congress and nobody’s bothered to fully ban or reform the types of greedy practices that resulted in the current recession to begin with.

2) The BP oil spill (and the oil industry in general)–Apparently the government organization that was supposed to be in charge of the oversight that would have kept something like this completely catastrophic spill from happening was too busy literally sleeping with the oil executives to make sure the necessary precautions were taken.  Now, everyone acts shocked that an oil spill of this size this could have happened even though it happens throughout the world pretty regularly (don’t believe me? this isn’t even the biggest, it’s not even top 10) and BP doesn’t have a particularly good record on either prioritizing the environment or policing itself.  Now, Louisiana loses entire industries and species on account of a resource a company from another country had laid full claim to without taking proper responsibility, and our country watches helplessly because our government was far more focused on helping one of the richest companies in the world make a profit than it was on ensuring our own land and people are properly protected.

3) The food industry–There are two primary issues with how our government deals with the food industry.  The first is lax food regulation which leads to disease outbreaks in our population several times a year.  The conditions that the animals people eat are kept in before slaughter are deplorable and introduce all manner of bacteria and waste into what eventually becomes food.  Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems with our meat industry, but is made even worse that the problem often extends to our produce industry as well.  The second is the way our food subsidy system works.  Do you ever wonder why organic produce costs so much more than processed foods?  Our government disproportionally rewards the farmers producing food that uses the most energy, creates the most waste and produces the least healthy items for our population with  subsidies.  There’s a whole host of problems with our current food industry, some more complex than others, but for me the most frustrating aspect of these issues is how they’re compounded rather than aided by the influence of our tax dollars.  By paying taxes, I have to accept that I’m contributing to the systemic problems that are causing us untold health defects and and an overall decrease in our quality of life.  Thanks, capitalism.

Any power our vote may have once has has been largely washed away in a sea of corporate money.  This is partially a result of our current two party system and, while I disagree with much of what the tea party stands for, I’m grateful that someone has begun coming out and suggesting that neither political party is doing an  adequate job of representing the interests of the greater population.  I wish I knew how to get a comparable movement going on the other side of the spectrum so we could all begin working towards knocking the corporate representatives out of our political offices to replace them with candidates more willing to represent those of us without billions (and with scruples).

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