Biting the Hand That Feeds Me?

By Bill Moore

Posted: 16 Sep 2012

Let me be clear: "I DON'T HATE CAPITALISM!" But I also think it needs to be bloody well "rehabilitated."

I got an email this week from a former reader of EV World telling me that he didn't want to hear my political and presumably anti-capitalist view points. He informed me that if I wanted my 'magazine' to succeed, I shouldn't be "biting the hand that feeds it."

I am not sure what I wrote or said that prompted him to assume I was against capitalism. Still, I've stewed over that email for a couple days and decided that if not for his benefit -- presumably he's going to get his EV world news somewhere else -- at least for the benefit of the handful of readers who may still be out there reading EV World -- thank you -- I'd take a couple minutes to share my personal views on capitalism.

Actually, I like the idea of capitalism, generally speaking. It certainly is an improvement, generally speaking, over what the folks on the communist side of the fence had. They got planned economies, gray apartment blocks, dead-end government jobs, and Lada automobiles. Now they've got a dozzie of an oligarchy with billionaire monopolists calling the shots economically and politically, sort of like where our own homegrown billionaires want to take us, I would argue.

But I don't believe that capitalism -- now dominated by soulless corporations controlled by interlocking boards of privileged elite and absentee shareholders with no vested interest in the business other than the money it makes them -- is the be-all and end-all of economic theory. As with any tool, it has both its good side and its bad. On the plus side, it has enriched the lives of millions of people and propelled the global economy to previously unimagined heights. It has also generated its share of war, poverty and environmental degradation. And as it's currently structured in the West, its flawed 'trickle down' theory not only enables an ever greater concentration of wealth and, thereby, political power into fewer and fewer hands -- but it also is eroding the very concept of democracy. It has become a system without a soul. That is what I reject.

And here I am not alone, by any means. William Greider perceptively wrote in his 2003 best seller, The Soul of Capitalism, "that a more contentious time is approaching, when big questions about American economic life are back on the table again for serious consideration."

Modern capitalism, "the engine that reliably produces 'more' and distributes its goods so broadly", Greider continues, "is the same engine that devours nature at a pace that logically cannot continue. It is the same economic machinery that cannot be slowed down without severely injuring masses of ordinary working people. And yet, even in its most robust phases, it generates an every greater maldistribution of assets and incomes and, not coincidentally, imposes on most citizens a sense of loss of self-sufficiency and independent control over one's own destiny."

We recently learned that in terms of income inequality, the gap between the richest and the rest in the United States has continued to widen, despite the struggling economy, and the key factor has been tax cuts for the wealthy. [Tax Cuts for Wealthy Linked to Income Inequality - Wall Street Journal].

A Pew survey released last month finds a growing number of Americans becoming increasingly resentful of the rich for not paying their fare share, among other findings [http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/story/2012/08/27/us-wealth-gap-rich.html].

Want a even more eye-opening revelation, especially in the light of the protests in Egypt this past week? In terms of income inequality, the United States has more of it than Egypt. In fact, America ranks 43rd among the nations.

Now consider this little gem. The wealth disparity in 21st century America is wider today than in 17th Century, aristocratic England, which was ruled by 186 Lords and some 1,400 baronets and knights. [http://www.the-crises.com/income-inequality-in-the-us-3/]. The 17th century was the age of Cromwell and the growth of private corporations that colonized the Americas and began the economic and political subjugation of India.

I don't know about you, but I don't think an America that is worse in terms of income inequality than 17th century England is good thing now, nor for the long term prospects of the country. Our economic system and the engine that drives it has become seriously out of whack.

I am not opposed to capitalism. Like William Greider, as well as other authors like Gar Alperovitz (American Beyond Capitalism), I believe it needs an overhaul. There are lots of individuals and groups, some with serious financial clout today, pioneering ways to give capitalism a soul. As I am developing my new ePEDALER retail spin-off from EV World, I am taking cues from some of those ideas, especially the concept of employee-ownership that is the core of John Abrams' Companies We Keep.

No, dear reader, I don't hate capitalism and I have no desire to 'bite the hand that feeds me.' I just want it to find a heart, a soul, and maybe its 'groove.' When it does, we'll all be better off for it.

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