Monday, March 21, 2005
Karl Marx was one of those writers who spite the dismissal of his observations by capitalist has been proven correct on certain aspects. Many of his comments must be taken into context of his time. He wrote during the beginning of the industrial revolution. A time when child labor was common place, work hours were grueling, and conditions extremely hazardous. Wages were barely enough for subsistence and rarely did one escape the class of their birth.
Karl realized many of the evils of capitalism in its purest sense. He understood that capitalism was a mechanism for greed, that those with the wealth and power were not obliged to deal fairly with those without. He saw it as a subtle form of feudalism. Corporations took the place of empires, bankers and merchants took the place of Knights and servants of Nobility, and workers took the place of serfs and peasants.
Alienation and disease was also a prediction of Karl's genius. He postulated that workers being forced into meaningless work, due to the inherent nature of the system, would eventually become alienated from themselves. They would suffer from bouts of melancholy or bad humor, in other words mentally and physically ill.
Perhaps not all of Karl's predictions have been fulfilled, but there have been and are currently many signs that deserve comment and consideration. To accurately critique these observations however, we must first acknowledge that we have seldom experienced a truly pure capitalist system in this country. Similarly there has never been pure forms of Socialism nor Communism, that is, in the theoretical sense. The closest to any pure form of any of these systems would have been the American Indians whose tribal life was a good example of Communism.
It has been apparent to anyone who has lived in the United States since before the revolution up to our present day, that we have a class system. Unlike the caste system of India, we typically may move from one class to another, although it is much easier to move down than up. Their are two major obstacles for moving up, one is wealth the other is power. One may immediately come into a fortune like winning the lotto for example, but if they do not have the capacity to hold on to it or make wise investments they will soon find themselves within the binds of there former class. Further, money alone does not automatically open doors into all social circles.
Spite popular belief, money and power are not two sides of the same coin. One can have power without money, or money without power. Two examples would be Mother Teresa and John Kerry. Mother Teresa obviously had no money, but affected millions of people throughout the world. Likewise, John Kerry was a billionaire, but could not get himself elected in this past election. Their are limits to both power and money. When we realize this we can make more efficient decisions.
It would be erroneous to say that money in a capitalist society would be of no significance. It is not the money for money's sake that builds wealth, but the opportunities it represents. Many people have become successful without money; artist, writers, and sports figures for example. It is however much more difficult to do so. The best way to reduce your risk of failure is to increase your access to money. Then again, what is success?
Success to most people is to fulfill all of their dreams and desires. What those dreams or desires are depends on the individual. If you are not sure what they are there are plenty of advertiser to tell you what you want. For some people success may be a home, a job, a meal, or a friend. Other people may feel success is 4 million dollar home with a tennis court, pool, horses and 10 car garage. One's point of view is usually a reflection of their character, current and past status, and education. One's character is what determines their course of action, status is what determines the courses available, and education widens perspective.
In Karl's time, capitalist were not concerned about educating their workers beyond what was necessary to complete the task at hand. Similarly, today our Universities and Community Colleges typically only offer courses in their curicullum that support the general industry in the region. For example, in my lifetime I have held well over 7 different careers, partially because I was not content in a specific line of work, but mostly because each time I persued the popular career choice that market eventually became saturated or obsolete. The thing I was not told when I took the advise of counselors was that markets shift and jobs become obsolete. Wages decrease and unempolyment is a norm, not an exception. As the world becomes a new global economy, much more of these trends or worse shall come to bare ill fruit.
Another of Karl's predictions that is obvious is the sick society we live in. We have become a society increasingly dependent on pills to exist. Bipolar disorder, depression, obsessive compulsive, to name a few mental disorders. Obsessed with our appearance, weight problems, and disease. We spend billions of dollars on the treatment or prevention of all these malady's. Are we truly ill or is it because we are alienated from ourselves? I am concerned for those children we decided were abnormal and placed on Ritalin only to discover years later that Ritalin is linked to cancer. Perhaps some are necessary, but the statistics seem extremely high for a healthy nation.
I would like to end this brief discussion with a note about our current politics and the capitalist question. Throughout our brief history in this country some times more closely resembled the pure capitalist model and other times favored a hybrid socialist and capitalist model. Although our economics system is based on capitalism, our government chose to initiate some socialist ideals to offset the uglier side of pure capitalism. Welfare, social security, public parks, interstate highways systems (DOT), Federal Reserve, SEC, FAA, and many others are government attempts to take public control over necessary aspects of our economy that if left to private capitalist could threaten the integrity and security of our nation. After all, what would it be like to negotiate a price for each road you drove on, or discovered your dollar changed value depending on which bank it came from? Each agency was created as a response to a crisis or the wreckless and ruthless exploitation of innocent individuals by devious capitalist. It brings me to recall another time when some of these agencies did not exist and capitalist were free to exploit any person willing to trust them, 1929, the great depression!
At the risk of being an alarmist, I do not want to imply that there are not certain safeguards in place that did not exist in 1929, like the FDIC for example. There are however several things happening that make it all the more alarming. First, we were not a debter nation. The trade deficeit was not nearly the size it is today. Secondly, we were at the beginning of the industrial revolution and had a strong hold on the production of goods. Today much of our production is being moved to overseas competition. Third, even if we do have the FDIC, it does not cover the investments on Wall Street. Most people have there retirement savings in Wall Street not a bank. Lastly, what will happen when all of that capital leaves Wall Street as baby boomers retire? Sure it will be slowly spent back into the economy, but many will move it into several different banks where each $100,000 is insured. Then again, that is only if a recession or depression is not a result of the capital loss on Wall Street. If that money is to be replaced it will have to come from foreign governments because the standard of living wages in this country are on the decline. Thus, I bring into question the loyalty of corporations to our country and people when they are so quick to sell us out to the highest bidder!