Known also by traditional codes like “the market,” or “the free market”, capitalism at its core truly is not the demon it has created over the last several decades. Capitalism in 2011 isn’t an anonymously controlled market, which booms and busts and self-corrects the way classical liberals envisioned it. It isn’t characterized by laissez-faire economic theory, wherein small businesses in small towns compete to see who can create the best Product X.
That’s because capitalism unregulated gives birth to a far more sinister reality — Corporatism and Corporatocracy.
What’s that? It’s why the biggest banks and insurance companies were indeed “too big to fail” during the early months of the 2008/2009 recession. By the logic of the free market, those companies fucked up. They should have failed. The prevailing concept of market economics dictates that business booms as long as the quality of the product remains, well, quality. And who insures that? Government does, by regulating the ways in which businesses seek profit. However, the last 30 years or so has evoked a general mistrust of government, and more importantly, a blind worship of profit — by any means necessary.
I don’t begrudge globalization for teaching us that the universe doesn’t revolve around the United States. But I absolutely fault corporate tycoons for outsourcing American prosperity in search of cheaper labor and higher profit. I fault corporations like Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, for being stocked with roughly 70% of products made in China. No shots to the Chinese, but quality hasn’t traditionally been their strong-suit, quantity has. Thus, quantity translates as more to sell; more to sell means more money to be made. And those product recalls for toys and food and cribs and playpens, they don’t matter much. As long as you can get them for cheap, right?
I fault Agribusiness for turning food into a business, and disassembling almost entirely our personal connection to it — our ability to know with certainty that the fruits and vegetables and meats we consume were harvested in earnest. They were un-fucked with seeds that grew out of un-fucked with soil. I want to be able to trust that the fried chicken wings I go weak in the knees for aren’t the size of turkey wings because they’ve been injected with growth hormones, and matured weeks or months faster as a result. You wonder why your little girl is damn near a D cup at 7? Check your chicken, mama. In the quality triangle — fast, cheap, and good — you only get two of the three. And there are consequences to choosing unwisely. If you haven’t seen Food, Inc., rectify that immediately. It should change the way you look at food, and the way you look at business. Here’s a little to chew on, til you get your Netflix situation together.
Corporatism is unregulated capitalism’s obnoxious ass baby. The operative phrase here is unregulated capitalism, because the former doesn’t simply appear out of thin air. Corporatism is a political construct. It is the end-game of a ideological perspective that has whole-heartedly succumbed to the notion that “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'” That is corporatocracy — business runs government, and so its purpose is to ensure the prosperity of the profit — by any means necessary. Or more directly, by ensuring that the officials elected to represent us in Congress, represent their moneyed interests instead.
Last year, the Supreme Court decided in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations could spend unlimited amounts of money to air campaign commercials in support or in opposition of political candidates. The problem here is that the cash cache of corporations outweighs cash contributions from individuals by leaps and bounds. Succinctly put, a Congress elected by corporations has no incentive to be accountable to you, the individual. If an energy company pays a significant sum to elect representatives in the Gulf Coast states, and they happen to be averse to stiff regulations on, say, off-shore drilling, then local and national elected representatives in, say, Louisiana/Mississippi don’t get to posture politically when the Deep Water Horizon explodes in the Gulf, sending millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. And no one, not even the company drilling has any idea how to stop it. This is what happens when the motive is purely profit, and regulation gets in profit’s way. The video below is worth watching to the end if you really wanna know what corporatism and corporatocracy looks like outside of ideological debate.
To be sure I am an unabashed capitalist, because I believe in good, better, and best. I’m not completing a PhD to be on equal footing intellectually or economically with cats whose ambitions failed to launch. But as a student of history, I recognize that the concept of capitalism went awry when politicians deferred to private industry in the interest of expediency, and then looked away when fast and cheap birthed shitty results. Pay attention. Profit isn’t always the bottom line, especially if the bottom 90-something percent of Americans are suffering because of it.