That's right, I said it. And I know there's a million people out there who would immediately disagree with my premise for actually welcoming the destruction of the modern American economic paradigm, but before you say something like: "Won't all the people who already suffer under this system be adversely affected too?" here me out.
Here is my simple premise:
There is not one major problem of humanity, be it environmental degradation, inequality, poverty, the digital divide, education inequality, prison justice, access to health care, care of the elderly, or any other major imperative of human kind that can be adequately addressed until we first address the issue of the rampant concentration of wealth within the United States - and indeed much of the rest of the world - into the hands of an ever shrinking minority of uber-wealthy individuals.
I am asserting, perhaps very similarly to that of Karl Marx, that the last stage of "free market" capitalism as a working system is some form of plutocracy. Simply defined, plutocracy means rule by the wealthy (1). Lenin stated that imperialism would be the last stage of capitalism (2), but many people refute that statement, saying instead that imperialism might be more the sign of the coming end to capitalism, but that the last stage would be social revolution by necessity. I fall into that category of thought. Now, going back my initial statement in this paragraph, namely that plutocracy is the last stage of capitalism, in its working form (depending on your definition of "working"), we might as well say we are there.
According to John Cavanagh and Chuck Collins in their Nation Magazine article The Rich and the Rest of Us, "The richest 1 percent of Americans currently hold wealth worth $16.8 trillion, nearly $2 trillion more than the bottom 90 percent. A worker making $10 an hour would have to labor for more than 10,000 years to earn what one of the 400 richest Americans pocketed in 2005.(3)"
Take a moment and read that statement over a few times. After you've done that, think about the implications of that statement.
There is an inherent conundrum in all of this. That is, the system cannot in any real way continue to operate like this, for numerous reasons, without a massive failure.
First, the only reason the United States has managed to develop this massive separation between the super-rich and EVERYONE else, is by way of the government (from Reagan through George W. Bush) in collusion with the owners of industry convincing the vast majority of the American people (or at least the mainstream media, which they own) that taxes are bad and the market is good. I would argue there has been a steady propaganda campaign put fourth upon the American electorate for more than twenty years with the primary goal of dismantling the very societal notion that the role of government is to provide for the common good. So, in other words, everything that the history of political and otherwise economics has taught us, is wrong in the eyes of the current power structure of the United States and the economic system they preside over. So-called "free market capitalism" literally depends upon its consumers believing that the only true role of government is keeping the enemy at bay, which is in itself a clever ruse to put more money in the pockets of more giant corporations. The primary operating necessity of this kind of system is a totally revisionist math that takes all but completely takes away the role of government in providing an economic and social safety net for the engine of industry - the people; the laborers.
Second, the system depends upon people somehow remaining happy with the idea of debt. That is, as long as people (like myself) continue to drive cars and live in houses with big payments, without the slightest intention of actually paying them off and instead "trading up" when they want a different one, or selling when the market is right, the system will continue to operate. Without a constant flow of interest, fees, and outlandish speculation, this system just crumbles.
We have already begun, in my opinion, to see the beginning of the end of capitalism in the way we have become acquainted with it. Most every highly regarded economist of note the world over would agree that a capitalism system, coupled up with a governmental regime that ensures some of the basics of life, such as education, health care, clean water, food, and housing is ideal. While I routinely quote Marx, and I would call myself a socialist, I do not believe that capitalism is itself the enemy. In fact, I would argue that capital is the enemy, not the trading of money for labor and goods. It makes much more sense to have no capital, but a high standard of living, than it does to have a ton of capital with the rest of the population living in constant debt and fear of bankruptcy. As long as we continue to lower, and in most cases totally get rid of, taxation of the wealthy, the majority of the population will continue to get poorer while the minority rich will get richer.
This brings me to the third and final reason I think we are witnessing the last stage of American free-market capitalism. Progressive taxation is an absolute necessity for any society that boasts any recognizable level of equality. I will spare the long rhetoric about Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and so on. Instead, I will just say that a system in which middle income earners (like myself) are taxed at damn near 20+ percent and people who make $500,000 are getting tax breaks, sometimes bringing them to less than 20%, is a pyramid on its head. In fact, it is this backward ideology that has us in the pickle we are in now. Health care in America is a great example of this trend. Doctors are awarded and receive bonuses not for healing patients ahead of schedule, but for selling certain drugs over others, and indeed for denying service. Because the system is profit driven, the more service that is provided means the less profit brought in, as a result of expenses. So in the end, the success of a hospital or an individual doctor has little to do with the quality of care and much more to do with how cheaply it was provided. Every time someone is rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, for example, profits are made from a multitude of sources, including the patient. This same discussion can be had about the airline industry, the higher education system, and the prison system. In all cases, rewards are given for service provided at the cheapest possible level, with little to no focus being on the actual quality of service.
Here is, in my mind, the silver lining. Because of the deplorable mismanagement of the economy by the neoliberals that have been at the helm of this government since the 1980s, and their insistence that the market will look out for the common good better than the government - exactly what it was invented for - we are now reaching a stage that could be called the awakening. People are beginning to look around and take note of how they live their lives. The average person who makes less than $300 thousand or so is in debt up to their eyeballs for the most part. Those who make $40,000 feel the same as those who make $25,000 because they have about the same amount of expendable cash. Furthermore, because of their income level, folks in this tax bracket are unable to get help paying for school other than loans, and they are far from the qualifying point for any kind of government aid.
This awakening to the fact that the vast majority of Americans are being screwed out of a life they deserve, a life that any person who works 40 hours per week - and a hell of a lot more for many of us - should have is creating a new generation of people who are basically now unafraid to go bankrupt; unafraid to lose their home; unafraid to simply give up on the "American dream". This is when people of like mind can come together to demand a better world view on behalf our government. Without the docile participation of the majority of Americans in this clearly inhuman economic system, the system fails, and rapidly at that.
So I say, bring it on. Bring on the big one. Bring on the collapse of all collapses. I'd love it if all the banks in American came crashing down. Repossess my car please! Take away my credit cards. The list goes on and on. The point here is simple: If the system as we know it comes crashing down around our feet, we get to rebuild it. And I think it is pretty damn safe to say that when we get the chance to rebuild, we will do it in a way that is more humane. Plus, imagine the feeling of watching America's most filthy rich falling from grace right before our very eyes. Some of that is happening already.
To the people of America: DEFAULT ON YOUR CAR LOANS! LET YOUR HOUSE GET REPOSSESSED! RUN UP YOUR CREDIT CARDS TO THE LIMIT AND THEN TOSS THEM IN THE RIVER! THROW AWAY YOUR COLLEGE LOAN PAYMENT INVOICES - IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN FREE TO BEGIN WITH! PULL ALL OF YOUR MONEY OUT OF YOUR BANK!
Sometimes the best way to fix a structure is to tear it down and rebuild the whole thing in a completely different way. Imagine the powerful feeling of a movement by the people to tear down the structure that systematically keeps us docile!
(3): The Nation Magazine, June 30, 2008 :: p. 11