People’s Capitalism Is Dead!

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September 2, 2011 · Posted in Commentary 


With two of the three leading Republican candidates for president threatening to set up a new Christian theocracy, this next election may be our last. We know that it will be brutal, the Republicans will use every cheap bullying lie and tactic that they can, and we’ll end up with America’s first fascist state if they prevail.

It’s obvious that the Republicans were so anxious to get rid of the nation’s first black president, they decided to go for tanking the economy before the next election. In another day and age, when Republicans took seriously their own claims of patriotism, they would not have committed such treason. For treason it is. They decided to throw away the term “loyal” from “loyal opposition.”

On some level, most Americans long ago figured out that American corporations have no loyalty. For them, the only legitimate purpose is seeking the holy grail of profit. If that means screwing their own people, they do so without hesitation.

Sinister can be conscious or unconscious. Something sinister is running through America. That something sinister may be the biggest Emperor’s New Clothes around. Capitalism, at least in its present form, has run its course, but no one dares to say it out loud.

Back when the United States was locked in mortal combat with Soviet communism, our official line was something called “People’s Capitalism.” To a nation that was going through the Gilded Age as the 1800s became the 1900s, and then suffered through the ‘20s and the Great Depression of the ‘30s, the term “People’s Capitalism” that evolved in the 1950s was a nice reassuring lyric.

And it was believable. Back in those days, time was not quite at such a premium. You pulled into a gas station, and a nice young man would come out and ask you what you wanted, and wipe your windows and check your tires. It took time, but it was nice.

There were rarely lines at the banks, and groceries were processed quickly and efficiently, not like today’s grocery store lines where you can wait forever.

In those days, America could point the finger at communism and say that the system produced long lines in the markets and post offices. Now we have the long lines and lousy service because capitalism doesn’t have to make a case for itself anymore.

Try picking up a phone and talking to someone at a bank or an insurance company without going through the indignities of a rat’s maze that operates by making you spend a lot of time so they can employ fewer people.

“People’s Capitalism” in the ‘50s and early ‘60s was mostly the quaint notion that in the new America capitalism, everything was owned by the widows of factory workers. The tale was repeated so often it was accepted without discussion. Besides, it seemed to be true.

Today, however, the argument that the market is the best mechanism to determine the value of things is a supposition just not supported by the truth. The market is about profit, but not inherent value.

Despite all the noise, there’s nothing in the Constitution which outlaws the idea of democratic socialism, which might prove a much better match to America than capitalism ever was. The country was founded in the world’s first real egalitarian revolution. So why if capitalism can’t work anymore do we still owe it our allegiance. So the rich can get richer, the poor poorer forever? It’s a situation that inherently produces instability.

Despite the fact that the question of capitalism is rarely contemplated in the mainstream media, America has been down this road before.

In the early 1930s, President Roosevelt was sworn in as capitalism was in massive collapse. In Europe, the choice was stark — fascism or communism. In the United States there were similar forces at work. There was a powerful fascist force, similar to today’s Tea Party, with men such as Huey Long, Father Coughlin, Gerald L. K. Smith, matching the likes if not the gender of today’s Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, or Rick Perry and Rush Limbaugh.

The left also was busy, organizing farm workers, longshoremen, the auto plants, and the like. The left’s influence was particularly felt in the country’s culture. Almost all America’s great writers have been on the left.

Roosevelt got the idea of a third way, neither fascism or communism. He chose capitalism, but capitalism regulated to prevent the capitalism of the robber barons and the Gilded Age, which crushed and killed without control in the pursuit of profits. Under the New Deal, he sought to harness the best attributes of capitalism, but modified so that labor had a right to organize and social security and unemployment insurance came into existence. In other words, he set up a safety net.

Roosevelt also wanted a national health system, but even the great Roosevelt didn’t have the power to set one up.

Roosevelt himself was from the ruling class. He was hated by other members of the ruling class who thought he was out to destroy them. They regarded him as a “class struggle.” But the irony is that they misunderstood him. He was saving capitalism, saving the coupon clippers so they could carry on their plush well-lubricated lives. He was just democratizing it a bit, modifying it, making it a little fairer.

Nearly a century later, the fight is still going on. The Republicans are contemplating how to replace the New Deal with a vision of things which only a bunch of sinister Texas billionaires could truly appreciate.

If their vision triumphs in 2012, Roosevelt’s original intent to modify capitalism so that it could survive in a more progressive mutation will be lost and we will slip over into the fascism he feared. The ideas of the Enlightenment on which this country was founded will be lost forever, and we will slip back into a new Dark Ages.

Now logically, the only people who should be Republicans are the owners of insurance companies, banks and oil companies. Everyone else who joins up is a fool. But there are obviously many fools.

Then there is always the riddle of why people are left wingers and others are right wingers.

I have known right wingers who were decent people, and until more recently, believed in the American dream that grew out of the enlightenment, and believed in universal free education, the eradication of ignorance and knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

They might have been a little cheap about their money, especially when it was mostly inherited money. But they weren’t pushing for a return to the Dark Ages.

I suspect that left wingers are left wingers and right wingers are right wingers partly because some folks are sharper than others. Most folks who vote Republican don’t own insurance companies or banks—so one could reasonably conclude they just aren’t the sharpest knives in the kitchen else they wouldn’t be so anxious to vote against their own economic interests.

It could be what some folks claim, a matter of right-brain vs. left brain. Still, it makes no sense for people who depend on Medicare and Social Security and hold aloft signs that say, “Keep government hands off my Medicare!”

In the past, there were Republicans who believed in the American dream, in universal free education, the eradication of ignorance and even had genuine loves for science and even literature and music. At worst, they were maybe a bit cheap about paying taxes on their own money, most of which was usually inherited.

Inheriting money comes with a real sense of entitlement, and it’s so human to be that way it’s almost excusable. Maybe if I owned an oil company or a bank, I would be a Republican. But before this, they weren’t so open about expressing their belief of entitlement–that just because we are rich, we should get to pay a lot less income tax than others. That statement shows, if nothing else, an incredible amount of gall.

A war is going on, and they even shamelessly demand everyone else pay for it, not them.

Trying to make sense of it isn’t helped by the massive amount of obfuscation going on here. It is not an accident the mass media suddenly started writing that “people were angry at the politicians in Washington D.C.,” not the Republicans in Washington D.C.

Despite what they teach in journalism school, two sides are not always equal. There are two sides, and in this case one of them is venal and reprehensible.

They are no longer the loyal opposition. When S&P executives downgrades American debt because they know the government has been investigating its role in the 2008 financial collapse, you know there are some heavy politics going on.

The rich are holding back on investing their trillions until Obama is defeated.

You can argue Obama hasn’t been strong enough in his negotiations for progressive causes, but he has taken seriously efforts to regulate the financial industry and they don’t like that, in a big way.

So if the masters of the universe want to withhold their capital to get their way politically, why can’t we answer, “Hey bud, put up or shut up.”

Granted, we have a political democracy — but we don’t have economic democracy. When the Supreme Court determined that money trumps citizen rights, it guaranteed that the rich will get richer and the poor poorer in the future. Political democracy is bound to get trumped. What the Republicans are now doing to disenfranchise voters is evidence of that.

The billionaires pulling the strings in the tea party are dedicated to the notion that the only thing people do that’s good is done for profit. The quaint notion that museums, libraries, police, roads, passenger trains, universities, basic science research, literature, music, the arts, are good and valuable for human life is one that eludes the market.

You’ll never see those things on the stock exchange.

We should not be afraid to discuss the fact that this may be the end of capitalism, and we need to discuss what’s next. What for sure we don’t want is a tyranny instituted by capitalism that flops around in its last gasps and stings us.

No, now is the time to discuss these things openly.


Lionel Rolfe is the author of “Literary L.A.,” about which a documentary is being made ( ). Many of his books, including “Literary L.A.,” “Fat Man on the Left,” “The Menuhins: A Family Odyssey” and “The Uncommon Friendship of Yaltah Menuhin and Willa Cather” are available digitally in Amazon’s Kindlestore.


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