Posts Tagged With: socialism

THE STATE OF WORLD INEQUALITY

An interesting statistic was published recently that didn’t get near the publicity or commentary that it deserved. According to a published report, 62 individuals who occupy this planet have accumulated the same amount of monetary wealth as half of the planet’s population. That’s over 3.5 billion people. In other words, 62 individuals have the same amount of material resources as do the economically lower half of Earth’s populace. Thus are the wonders of world capitalism that goes largely unrestrained. The breathtaking enormity of the implications behind this statistic should give pause to anyone that considers what it means to be part of the human condition at this point in time at this particular spot in the universe.

The absurdity of such wealth inequality can be best illustrated in current lifestyles prevailing among Earth’s continents. While millions in the U.S. and much of Europe fret that their lives have become almost meaningless because Apple still hasn’t put the new I-Phone 7 on the market, huge chunks of Africa, as well as large parts of Asia and Latin America, still lack electricity, sanitary drinking water, and decent bathroom facilities. For these people, a computer would be as foreign an object as a a meteor that came hurling out of the sky. Many on this planet working full time, still earn less than a dollar a day, and live under the most wretched of conditions.

To understand how all this came about, one has to return to the early days of the industrial revolution that began unfolding in the 19th century. Until that point most of the world’s population was employed as either farmers or shopkeepers, and poverty dominated in virtually all societies. Large concentrations of wealth at that time also existed among the few, who were generally monarchs and royalty that ruled most nations. But as the U.S. began its expansion in the 1800s, and with a democratic, laissez-faire government ruling the country in lieu of a monarchy, the landscape was fertile ground for development of the industrial revolution. Suddenly, a powerful force of energy known as electricity was discovered. It was discovered that oil could be excavated from the ground instead of having to rely on the killing of whales. New-fangled electronics such as the teletype, telephone, photography, and the electric light-bulb began coming on the market. A railroad system that would eventually run from coast-to-coast was in the making. And then, toward the end of the 19th century, a mammoth innovation took place with the invention of the horseless carriage. Mankind, at least in the U.S. and Europe  was on a roll, or so it seemed.

The unquenchable demand for all this output added great wealth to many societies, as capitalism provided the economic fuel that underwrote the industrial revolution. But the problem was that while certain people had an inherent talent for exploiting the industrial revolution to become fabulously rich, such as the John D. Rockafellers, or Andrew Carnage’s, others were not so fortunate. Most people who participated in heady times of 19th century industry worked for what became known as “coolie wages.” Coolies were mainly Chinese immigrants brought over to the U.S. to lay track for the developing coast-to-coast railway system. They were paid virtually nothing, and were given dismal, ramshackle quarters to sleep in, some unrecognizable slop to feed on, and usually worked 12-14 hours daily. Most died at an early age. From clothing sweatshops in Manhattan to to the drudgery of coal-mining in West Virginia, most of what was known as the working class faced similarly dismal conditions, and could be considered as capitalism’s casualties.

When Henry Ford started mass producing his automobiles in the early 20th century, he  introduced the concept of paying his employees a “living wage” which he figured was $5 a day at the time. It was good for business he claimed, besides being the decent thing to do. Thus, over the next century, many of capitalism’s rough edges started to smoothen out. Legislation was passed halting the exploitation of children in the garment and other industries. Labor unions became legal as did the right to strike for better wages and working conditions. Safety standards were established to minimize workplace accidents and casualties. The list goes on. Unquestionably, workers today in the U.S., Europe, most of Asia and parts of South America face far better working conditions and earn far better wages than their 19th century counterparts. Still, in many parts of the world, mind-numbing poverty and the most wretched living conditions continue to exist. The problem is inherent in the very nature of capitalism.

Some people’s genetic makeup is tailor-made to exploit a capitalistic economic system. Wall Street bankers and investment firms, hedge fund managers, venture capitalists, etc. generally thrive, (at least monetarily) under capitalism; while others, such as artists, writers, musicians, sculpturers, etc. generally do poorly under the same economic order. The artist may posses the same intelligence as the successful financier, but his or her mind is not made to undergo the rough and tumble competition it takes to succeed in a capitalistic society. Vincent Van Gogh or Edgar Allen Poe may have turned out the most brilliant pieces of art and literature, but both died penniless because the didn’t know how to function in a world predicated on laissez-faire capitalism. Success usually requires knowing how to defeat the competition, and artists tend to be very non-competitive. The 62 people I mentioned earlier that have as much wealth as over 3.5 billion individuals, obviously have the genetic talent to totally exploit existing capitalistic societies.

Actually, capitalism, and its inherent wealth inequality, is based almost totally on the random nature of human existence. Go into any children’s cancer ward in any major hospital, and ask why those children are  lying there bedridden or dying, while their former classmates are chasing each other around the school playground in perfect health.  All part of the randomness of the universe which doesn’t care or seek involvement in the turmoil of the human condition.

 

 

 

Categories: Economics, human affairs, politics, the Depression, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

CAPITALISM’S CONTORTIONS

The best example of unbridled capitalism here in the U.S., has occurred within the last 10  years in the oil and gas industry, through a process of hydraulic fracturing, or better known as fracking. This process, which uses millions of gallon of water, and a huge array of chemicals, allows energy companies to drill horizontally into shale rock in a manner that releases vast amounts of oil and gas, previously thought to be unreachable. It has supposedly been a huge economic boon to energy giants such as Exxon, as well as to local economies where this type of shale rock is located. For example, North Dakota, previously known only for its cold and snow, found that huge deposits of shale subject to fracking lay beneath its frozen tundra. Hence, energy companies have made a mammoth investment in fracking these ND deposits. Tens of thousands of new jobs were created, as the unemployment rate in that state became virtually non-existent. The same held true for Texas which already had developed an enormous oil and gas industry. Many other states similarly cashed in on the action. With new, huge oil deposits being brought to the surface, the U.S. was able to significantly cut back on importing oil, especially from the volatile Mid-East. Hundreds of thousands of new jobs were created across the country. The price of gas at the filling stations dropped significantly, helping middle-class consumers. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, not quite.

Due to the vagaries of the way capitalism functions, serious problems soon started afflicting the oil and gas industry. Because of all this new oil that began flooding the market, the price per barrel, which was over a hundred dollars about 2-3 years ago, has now dropped to less than $50. While this sounds great for car owners, it’s not so great for Exxon and other oil companies, as well as oil exporters such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia. Who cares, as long as I can get cheap gas at the pump, might be your first reaction. Well you should care, because as a result of this world-wide oil glut, thousands of workers who thought they had secure, well-paying jobs in the fracking industry, have suddenly found themselves unemployed. The oil industry has had to significantly reduce its oil exploration and development, laying off a ton of people. And its not just energy companies. By reducing oil extraction and exploration, less orders for heavy rigs, drilling equipment and other huge and expensive machinery have also occurred, causing the producers of such heavy metal to also cutback their payrolls in order to stem the tide of red ink. Adverse reactions from cheap oil have reverberated throughout the entire U.S. and Canadian economies. Under a capitalistic system, what’s good for the goose is apparently not always good for the gander.

While the world has always experienced capitalism to some degree, this form of economic wealth distribution didn’t swing into high gear until the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Huge industrial developers  realized that vast fortunes were to be made by exploiting low and middle-class workers in the energy, railroad and other industries, as well as in the banking and securities trading markets. Most of you are familiar with the term “coolie wages” denoting minuscule amounts paid to low-income workers. But how many know that the term dates back to the middle of the 19th century when people from China and India were imported into the U.S. to perform back-breaking labor for little or no pay. Labor that most Americans didn’t want anything to do with.

Chinese workers were first imported into the U.S.during the 1849 California gold rush. These “coolies” were often victims of thugs and bigots, and were relegated into the most menial of jobs for little or no pay. They lived in the most dismal of shantytowns and ate scraps of food left over by others. Their life-expectency was obviously quite short. In 1865, more Chinese immigrants were imported to help build the Central Pacific Railroad, and were required to perform back-breaking work from dawn to dusk, while earning the most paltry of livings. Far less than what white workers earned while putting in much fewer hours. One could say that our continental, coast-to-coast railroad system was built on the backs of such coolie labor. One could also say that the very cornerstone of our capitalistic system is built on a foundation of exploitation.

Of course, over the past century and a half, the rough edges of U.S. and European capitalistic societies have been considerably smoothened by government welfare, retirement and health care programs. Although there is still significant worker exploitation, those that can’t compete (such as artists, musicians, writers, etc.) or are too old to function under a competitive, labor-intensive, meritocracy demanded by capitalism are often provided for by their government, at least to some extent. More so in Europe than the U.S., however. Those that advocate for capitalism point out that the alternative, i.e. socialism, has been a huge failure wherever its been tried. That’s true for the old USSR, Cuba, North Korea and a few other places. But the Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland have incorporated much socialism into their economic operations, and seem to thrive quite well. My own belief is that socialism requires people to work for the greater good; and that humans have not yet evolved to that point. They will work for themselves and their families, but not for the greater good. That will require about a few thousand more years of human evolution.

Winston Churchill once said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for every other that’s ever been tried. Substitute the word capitalism in place of democracy, and you’ve about hit the nail on the head.

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