Steve Ralls

Capitalism Smashed?

Filed By Steve Ralls | August 21, 2007 1:07 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: barbara ehrenreich, capitalism, economic policy, steve ralls

I've always taken a little offense to the stereotype that the LGBT community is somehow wealthier than the rest of America. Despite plenty of research to the contrary, there still exists a popular (mis)conception that we, as a community, have more disposable income than we know what to do with. And for too long, our national organizations have ignored those in the community who have "less than," perhaps because they cannot write checks, set up endowments or leave a legacy behind.

But now, thankfully, there is news that the poor - and one hopes, the LGBT poor, too - are unintentionally rising up and shattering the system.

Writing at HuffingtonPost.com, Barbara Ehrenreich notes that the recent stock market troubles, spurred by the doldrums of the mortgage industry, may finally be showing what happens when we take advantage of the working class, rather than offering a helping hand.

"The American poor, who are usually tactful enough to remain invisible to the multi-millionaire class," she writes, "suddenly leaped onto the scene and started smashing the global financial system. Incredibly enough, this may be the first case in history in which the downtrodden manage to bring down an unfair economic system without going to the trouble of a revolution."

"First they stopped paying their mortgages, a move in which they were joined by many financially stretched middle class folks, though the poor definitely led the way," Ehrenreich posits, " . . . Then, in a diabolically clever move, the poor - a category which now roughly coincides with the working class -- stopped shopping. Both Wal-Mart and Home Depot announced disappointing second quarter performances, plunging the market into another Arctic-style meltdown."

But unlike the epidemic of global warming (which is bringing us the 24-hour Weather Channel coverage of Hurricane Dean), this melting may not be entirely disastrous.

Capitalism has long been the tool by which the powerful impoverish the masses. Those who "have" have set up a system in which they barely move those who "have not" through that system, sentencing those who begin life less fortunate to end life that way, too. NAFTA, CAFTA and all the other -AFTA pacts have only led to sliding wages, substandard working conditions and a continuance of the perpetual cycle of beating down the "little guy."

There are few other inanimate grim reapers that so impact so many lives.

Meanwhile, other economic systems have led to a generally healthier quality of life, including universal healthcare, a bearable work week and adequate childcare and education. Capitalism, on the other hand, has set up a modern-day caste system that constantly punishes those without access to power or privilege. And that's patently inhumane.

And though, as Ehrenreich points out, the government is quickly coming to the rescue of the precious money markets, we may be seeing a powerful lesson to the powerful: the poor, too, have the means (made possible by attempts to strip them of the very same) to facilitate economic karma. And their un-revolutionary revolution may just smash the system, and the power-hungry forces that put it there.

That's a wake-up call that could be music to our ears.


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Eric Georgantes | August 21, 2007 9:05 AM

Capitalism smashed is perhaps going a bit far.

If it were, however, what would it be replaced by? Something very different, or a tweaked version of itself?

This is one terribly annoying post, on many levels.

NAFTA, CAFT, etc are not capitalism, which is free trade. Those pacts have a million conditions, many of which do oppress.

Indeed, the beauty of capitalism is the freedom to not participate in any transaction. Capitalism is they one system that does not oppress, mainly because it involves no ability to compel. Don't like the product? Walk away. If you don't like the terms an employer offers, walk away and take the best job you can find. Or, better than that, start your own enterprise, where you set the terms. In fact, at that you can even be the enlightened kind of employer you idealize.

Government on the other hand has the power to use force to compel. Stop paying your taxes for a demonstration.

But as for the plight of the little guy, that's largely self-made. For anyone who wants it, I can land you a job starting at $20/hour. You have to show up every day, five days a week. On time. Sober. Mon-Fri. You don't need to be able to read, or even speak English. No education required. No special skills or training required. If you can carry materials on job sites ten minutes out of every hour, you're on your way to $40,000/year. And yet, my friend has trouble keeping people employed- because they don't show up every day, or they show up intoxicated, making the workplace situation unsafe for them and others.

You can call that oppression if you wish. I call it opportunity lost, and misplaced judgment. And not too much to do with LGBT issues, besides.

Oh, come on Mike. I know you're libertarian, and I know what that means, but I thought that you were special.... :)

No coercion in capitalism? Oh, my. Tell that to the over 250 Million Americans coerced by capitalism every day. You can just walk away from a job that you don't like? Not if you don't think you'll find another one! Not if walking away means taking several months without a paycheck and you can't go that long! Not if you live near only one job that you're qualified for! Going to protest a company by not buying it products? Not if you can't sit and figure out every other company it sells its products to!

A friend doesn't particularly like her employer, but had to "evaluate" him and gave him a shining evaluation (he reads them with names, of course). She's in her 50's - is she going to find another job if he gets mad at her? Or if she leaves because she just can't take it anymore, what's she going to do when she has to eat again?

I know that government makes you pay taxes, and I'll hold back my tears here to point out that at least we have a voice in government's workings, and no voice in private actors workings (and don't tell me that we "vote with our pocketbooks" when it comes to private business - it's not democracy when 50% of the population owns 97% of the wealth!).

And those sound like great jobs. According to 2001 statistics, about 50-55% of American workers could have improved their lot by making that sort of income. So I hope your friend has at least 100 million positions to fill! And that's just for Americans, the residents of the richest country in the world. Considering what people make in other countries (capitalist countries like Nicaragua and Liberia), he should have around 4 billion positions ready to solve all of their problems. We can give your friend a year to get ready for the influx in labor as you and me, Mike, go around the world telling everyone in the world about the great $20/hour jobs that they can have if they just gave up the hooch, dammit!

Oh, and nice touch at the end of your comment there. It always makes me feel good when a straight person tells me what's a queer issue and what's not, and I'm sure Steve feels the same way.

Alex, you sound as though you're speaking from the prospective of a man in the Yukon rather than in a large metropolitan area. No jobs that one is qualified for? I'm sorry, but that's one wreck of a human being. Most jobs require a person who can learn a specialized skill or two in a very short period of time.

The job I speak of is with a utility construction company. All the entry-level laborer needs to do is pick up plastic pipe from a truck and feed a machine. Push a shovel to finish backfill. Carry tools to and from the truck. Their biggest problem with staffing is that people don't show up every day, or they show up intoxicated. They have so many people come and go within two weeks, it's astonishing. Anyhow, this employer is beginning to improve the world's employment lot, as he hires a fair number of "undocumented guest workers". They work every day, show up on time, and are sober. They're grateful for the opportunity. I can't say I blame him.

Frankly, I think our society tends to put the blinders on ourselves when we consider our workforce- to our detriment. The willingness to do jobs that would pay is so scarce, and dwindling, despite the wide availability of jobs. I have a hard time with that mindset- being unwilling to take a job that pays a good wage, and then slamming capitalism, or rich bosses. But then, I worked in sewage treatment at the entry level, many years ago. Jobs others turn their noses up pay pretty well. Worked it as a bridge until I could get something better. There's a reality check available there for anyone who wants it.

And I am special. Thank you for noticing! :-)

Steve Ralls | August 22, 2007 3:25 PM

I echo everything Alex said, and add that there is nothing that makes me more upset than blaming the poor for their own poverty. It's complete bullshit; no one 'chooses' to be poor or likes living that way.

Americans who live in poverty are, by and large, good, decent, hardworking people who have never been given a fair shot at getting ahead. Contrary to what Ayn Rand thought, free-market capitalism can't solve anyone's problems . . . but it sure as hell can create quite a few.

BTW: Isn't it just a LITTLE ironic that the company in charge of the Deutsche Bank building in New York, where two working-class firefighters recently lost their lives, was managed by the JOHN GALT company?

What perfect irony that the company named after Rand's libertarian hero oversaw the (literal) crushing of real working class heroes.

Steve, Alex- I apologize for my offence. I certainly didn't mean any, but on the re-read, I can see how it landed.

I'm going to jump in a little late to this game but I just wanted to touch on something Mike said earlier...

But as for the plight of the little guy, that's largely self-made. For anyone who wants it, I can land you a job starting at $20/hour. You have to show up every day, five days a week. On time. Sober. Mon-Fri. You don't need to be able to read, or even speak English. No education required. No special skills or training required.

I say this with the utmost respect, Mike, but what utter bullshit. My 70 year old mother needs a job now that her old employer terminated her pension. She'd like to apply. She's never made that much an hour in her 70-some odd years. My next door neighbor is unemployed - she twisted her knee on the job and her employer fired her rather than keep paying insurance premiums (that have now gone up) for someone who can't work the old position she used to. She'd like that job too, I'll bet. My teenage daughter is getting ready to enter the workforce, but she'll be trying to balance school and work. Can I sign her up for $20/hr? None of them would get the job and you know it. More than likely all three will end up working either retail or fast food - where the pay is NEVER $20/hour.

Steve, true enough, nobody says, "when I grow up, I'm going to be poor!" However, people every day make decisions that lead them straight to poverty- excessive drugs, drink, gambling, under-education, unwillingness to work late or at all, and a thousand other self-indulgences. To not acknowledge this is some kind of willful ignorance.

But that pales in comparison to the truly outrageous notion that capitalists enjoy or work for the death of people. You totally lost me there. I'm a capitalist, and I support no such thing.

Bil, that's stunningly disingenous, don't you think? Do you really think that in my portrayal of the little guy, I'm talking about a teenaged girl? Who on earth expects her to be providing for herself? Or a 70-year-old retiree? Or a disabled person? I'm talking about able-bodied, prime-of-life fit enough adults who could do the work but don't.

Bil, why cherry-pick examples you know couldn't begin to fit into what I'm talking about?

Why is there this desperation to paint capitalism as this evil? Consider this: What you think of capitalism is what you think of the human condition. For, capitalism is the voluntary commercial interaction that takes place outside the scope of force.

I'm not meaning to try and get your goat or piss you off or anything. I'm not even arguing against the real merits of your argument about how necessary capitalism is. I just thought your example was rather implausible. I AM the little guy. And I'm disabled. I have a 70 year old mother and a neighbor and a daughter. We're all little guys. While I've had salaried jobs that paid more than $20/hr, I've never had an hourly job that paid that high. They just had to raise the minimum wage and that has affected how many little guys? I'm just saying that the opportunity to get a $20/hr job isn't exactly as easy as you're making it out to be. Instead, most folks will end up at McDonalds, Wal-Mart, 7-11s, and other assorted crap jobs. And their are quite a few of us out here that haven't just ran right out to pick up a $41,000/year job - instead $8/hr part-time at Wal-Mart will get you more like $12,500/yr for 30 hours per week (when more hours would qualify you for insurance!).