Oops… I did it again. Finally… how hard is it to write words?
In Capitalism vs. Democracy only one will survive
I never thought I’d write this, or even think this. After all, nothing is more American than Capitalism and Democracy walking hand-in-hand to bring a better, brighter world for everyone, right? Not so much, really. I mean, looking at history you definitely get the sense that pure play Capitalism was as often at odds with Democracy as it was on the same page. Slavery, the Gilded Age, every economic downturn (including the Great Depression, Housing Crisis and Great Recession, and of course, now with the Pandemic). History shows us that at each of these pivotal times a fight ensued between better worker pay, conditions, protections and rights, and businesses pushing back hard to continue what they were doing regardless of who gets hurt along the way. Cash is King, right?
Today, we face two crises, the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic (brought about not just by the economic and social shutdowns but the human toll and permanent loss of income for so many) and a major political party that not only has moved further to the political Right, but has been actively pursuing racist policies while pushing, promoting and outright supporting authoritarian politicians, from presidential candidates on down, aided and supported by big money donors, specifically the very wealthy and big business. (Fascism and Dictatorship is back in fashion, folks! Come and get yours today! Only available at your local GOP office or unregulated militia.)
We in the United States have come to a place in our history where we have to decide which we love more, Freedom or Capitalism. Our Constitutionally guaranteed inalienable rights or money. (Let me pause here for a second and make very clear that this is not an either/or, these two things should not be mutually exclusive, rather this is about priorities.) Do we continue toward the path of a More Perfect Union that embraces, extends and guarantees individual rights and freedoms, or do we charge down China’s path and its relatively unregulated capitalistic economy coupled with an authoritarian regime, allowing our civil liberties to be quashed and extinguished? If you listen to the Republicans and read between the lines, you’ll see that they have a love affair with China and Russia, with an authoritarian government that brooks no dissent but allows private enterprise to run wild with no leash, no guardrails, or consequence for disobeying the rules (as long as those companies glorify the State and President). If you listen to the Republicans, American Democracy is dead while Holy Capitalism lives on. Jesus has found the American Dollar.
In order for America to survive as a real, functioning Democracy two things must occur. First, corporate money in politics has to be removed. At the very least the Citizens United decision, which is proving disastrous, must be overturned through legislation (a Constitutional Amendment would go all the way, but, of course, in this political climate isn’t very likely to gain the needed traction). Of course, this would ultimately be challenged in court, winding its way back to the Supreme Court, but I believe a well thought through, well written piece of legislation that significantly tightened corporate contributions to political groups without outright banning them, and carefully sidestepping any First Amendment concerns would ultimately find itself upheld by the Supreme Court. This would remove unlimited corporate money from invading and skewing our elections away from the will of the people, or so we hope.
Second, in order that we keep our Democracy and the capitalistic mechanisms that underpin our economy and way of life we need a wholesale change of our society and what we hold dear. Upending and shifting 400 plus years of rugged individualism toward being more socially conscious and engaged won’t be easy, but it’s happening. Nor will upending this belief that business, unfettered and unchained from social responsibility, will ultimately better society and lift all through profit. Pushes for change have been ongoing fights for generations, along with every fight undertaken to become a more democratic, inclusive society.
But, in order for America to survive greed and self-serving monied interests we must move away from this idea, this foundational layer of Exceptional American Capitalism that a company’s sole responsibility is to make profit (and, in doing so, enrich the C-suite and investors at the expense of those who do the day-to-day grunt work, thus ensuring those profits). Rather, we must become a nation that sees companies as integral to the fabric of everyday Society, not just the economy. That companies, whether your local grocer or a massive multi-national, must be forces promoting the common good through what I call Social Capitalism. Not just through jobs and reluctant wage increases, but as members of a Society that see their place as givers, as providers, as leaders that push for more inclusiveness, not less. That strive to enrich their workers and surroundings, not syphon money away from the people and destroy the very environment we all rely on. That see charity not as a PR move, or as something to engage in as a way to virtue signal, but as something responsible corporate entities must do to better the lives of those they ultimately serve; the people who live with, purchase and utilize those companies’ goods and services. Not the boards, not the already well compensated C-suite, and not the investors.
Companies, from the most minuscule to the most massive must embrace Social Capitalism. A system wherein companies behave in ways that give back to their communities, local and national. They give back to and take care of the neighborhoods they inhabit, the places they live in and breathe. They give back so that everyone who has a stake in the company, from the customer to the janitor, from the intern on up to the CEO, find themselves financially better off for the efforts. When done right everyone gains, everyone benefits. I’m not talking about charity, or charity only. I’m speaking of real wages, real support, a more equal financial foundation between those who run the companies and those who make the dream possible through long hours, hard work and sacrifice.
Only through this wholesale switch, from a mindset that declares “All is good as long as I’ve got mine” to one that declares “I am good with what I have so I can help lift others, help them realize a good life like mine” will America survive. Lincoln said it, “A house divided against itself can not stand”. Back in 1858 Lincoln was speaking of the divide between slave and free States. Today, I speak of 350,000,000 Americans, along with millions of companies big and small, who stand all on their own, many of them standing against all others. While Lincoln did not believe that the Union would break, he saw that the nation had to become one thing or another, Slave or Free, it could not endure forever as both.
Today, I speak of a nation divided along racial and gender identity, along religious and secular beliefs, along ideals of who and what is considered an American, a Whole Person. We are ever more divided along the lines of wealth, who has it, who deserves it. That somehow it is only those with wealth that are hard workers, better people, more deserving and that the poor are lazy, undeserving of any help, only wanting handouts. And, as we bicker among ourselves the middle class slowly evaporates, has been for decades, leaving more and more poor, fewer and fewer wealthy. Yet, somehow, someway, miraculously the wealth of the nation increases.
Not since Lincoln have I seen this nation so divided. If we continue down the path of “What’s mine is mine, get out of my way” we will fail. We will fail at economic growth. We will fail at educating our children. We will fail at repairing and renewing our environment so that we can all have a brighter tomorrow. We will fail ourselves, our health, economic security, our happiness, our families. We will fail our future. Each and every one of us must do better to take care of each other. Each and every one of us must demand more from the companies that take so much, but give so little. Social Capitalism isn’t just another feel good idea, it’s a way forward, a way for the country to do right by its citizens, for the companies that rely on our money and good will to give back and support those whom they ultimately rely upon. As we demand more from our elected and appointed government representatives and officials, as we demand better from our police and health care providers, we must demand more from our employers, our companies, our financial institutions, our selves. We must demand that Capitalism turns away from a Winner Take All attitude and embraces Social Capitalism, embraces the idea that we all gain when those who have the most give back to those who have less. We must see that we are no longer a nation facing a wide open West with an unlimited horizon and land to be had (at the expense of the Indigenous peoples). We are a settled nation. We are a connected nation, from coast to coast, border to border, sea to shining sea. We must demand that we ourselves, our friends, family, neighbors, governments and businesses start treating each other as one, and work to provide for each other so that we may all benefit from and reap the rewards of our collective hard work, ingenuity and prosperity. Otherwise, this House can not stand.