Paul Buchheit
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Monday 21 January 2013
Our unregulated capitalist financial system allows a few well-positioned individuals to divert billions of dollars from the needs of society.

The Extremist Cult of Capitalism

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A 'cult,' according to Merriam-Webster, can be defined as "Great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (and) a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion."

Capitalism has been defined by adherents and detractors: Milton Friedman said, "The problem of social organization is how to set up an arrangement under which greed will do the least harm, capitalism is that kind of a system." John Maynard Keynes said, "Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone."

Perhaps it's best to turn to someone who actually practiced the art: "Capitalism is the legitimate racket of the ruling class,"Al Capone said.

Capitalism is a cult. It is devoted to the ideals of privatization over the common good, profit over social needs, and control by a small group of people who defy the public's will. The tenets of the cult lead to extremes rather than to compromise. Examples are not hard to find.

1. Extremes of Income

By sitting on their growing investments, the richest five richest Americans made almost $7 billion each in one year. That's $3,500,000.00 per hour. The minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 per hour.

Our unregulated capitalist financial system allows a few well-positioned individuals to divert billions of dollars from the needs of society. If the 400 richest Americans lumped together their investment profits from last year, the total would pay in-state tuition and fees for EVERY college student in the U.S.

2. Extremes of Wealth

The combined net worth of the world's 250 richest individuals is more than the total annual living expenses of almost half the world—three billion people.

Within our own borders, the disparity is no less shocking. For every one dollar of assets owned by a single black or Hispanic woman, a member of the Forbes 400 has over $40 million. That's equivalent to a can of soup versus a mansion, a yacht, and a private jet. Most of the Forbes 400 wealth has accrued from nonproductive capital gains. It's little wonder that with the exception of Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon, the U.S. has the highest degree of wealth inequality in the world.

3. Extremes of Debt

 Until the 1970s, U.S. households had virtually no debt. Now the total is $13 trillion, which averages out to $100,000 per American family.

Debt appears to be the only recourse for 21 to 35 year olds, who have lost, on average, 68 percent of their median net worth since 1984, leaving each of them about $4,000.

4. Extremes of Health Care

A butler in black vest and tie passed the atrium waterfall and entered the $2,400 suite, where the linens were provided by the high-end bedding designer Frette of Italy and the bathroom glimmered with polished marble. Inside a senior financial executive awaited his 'concierge' doctor for private treatment.

He was waiting in the penthouse suite of the New York Presbyterian Hospital.

On the streets outside were some of the 26,000 Americans who will die this year because they are without health care. In 2010, 50 million Americans had no health insurance coverage.

5. Extremes of Justice

William James Rummel stole $80 with a credit card, then passed a bad check for $24, then refused to return $120 for a repair job gone badly. He got life in prison. Christopher Williams is facing over 80 years in prison for selling medical marijuana in Montana, a state that allows medical marijuana. Patricia Spottedcrow got 12 years for a $31 marijuana sale, and has seen her children only twice in the past two years. Numerous elderly Americans are in prison for life for non-violent marijuana offenses.

Banking giant HSBC, whose mission statement urges employees "to act with courageous integrity" in all they do, was described by a U.S. Senate report as having "exposed the U.S. financial system to 'a wide array of money laundering, drug trafficking, and terrorist financing'" in their dealings with Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, which is considered the deadliest drug gang in the world.

HSBC received a fine equivalent to four weeks' profits. The bank's CEO said, "We are profoundly sorry."

In the words of Bertrand Russell, "Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate."

Accurate to the extreme.



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ABOUT Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit is a college teacher with formal training in language development and cognitive science. He is the founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, RappingHistory.org, PayUpNow.org), and the editor and main author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.

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15 comments on "The Extremist Cult of Capitalism"

hwteenstars

January 28, 2013 11:21am

The thing that irks me most about capitalism and that isn't mentioned enough is how much of it is simply fraud and the perpetual perpetration of schemes that deliver neither goods or services for time or labor. Within this complaint is the rationale for regulation yet if the capitalists are in control of the regulations they merely become the cornerstones of yet other schemes. Our most recent financial meltdown is an example of such a perfectly executed scheme that left average people bereft of their homes and savings and burdened with the debt created while the government assured that the rich were kept whole and debt free. It was a most excellent scheme that corrupted our entire society while assuring those who caused it could never be prosecuted.

Jerry Brown

January 23, 2013 11:43am

And so we should just eliminate capitalism - and replace it with what?
I'm not aware of any system that has worked better at generating wealth.
Why not reform it and regulate it. And while we're at it, we might want to learn a little from capitalists about ways to make social programs more cost effective.

csbrudy

January 22, 2013 8:28am

It was either Thiel who said: "Democracy is incompatible with libertarian capitalism". That's the whole attitude of the rich, in a nutshell.

socrates2

January 21, 2013 11:58pm

As I posted elsewhere in the www, "By now it should have become pretty obvious that Capitalism is an ideology that uses politics, a privatized banking/monetary system, and especially the law as a political weapon to coerce and oppress the propertyless. Fingerpuppets for the elites, such as Reagan, were among the most effective instruments ever used in a thinly veiled, out-and-out class war. We have been witnessing the results these past three decades. Please see Economist Richard Wolff's 'Capitalism hits the fan'.

"It is a tribute to Bernaysian conditioning (yes, as in Pavlov's dog) techniques applied via television, radio, movies, and newspapers across the land that folks in the main take it all in as in 'the nature of things'. 'False consciousness' is understatement.
The contradiction between the aspirational myths many are _conditioned_ to believe and the economic reality they actually live inevitably leads to a suicidal or anti-social 'epiphany,' if not outright defeatist apathy. Take a guess as to why 50% of the eligible population does not bother to vote..."

Rick La Pointe's picture
Rick La Pointe

January 21, 2013 3:51pm

This have never worked in the past, the French Revolution is a fairly modern,
be it brutal example of what inequities in wealth and power bring. When the downtrodden feel there is nothing to lose, there is going to be a " lot of loss".

Tom Magstadt

January 21, 2013 1:44pm

The numbers are astonishing. There's no question about the injustice of such a system. No question that Capitalism has been totally discredit as an economic model, that it's an extremist ideology in the same sense that Communism was a cynical political tool that distorted and discredited democratic socialism. The fact that so many continue to confuse the victims with the villains is testimony to the success of the Capitalist propaganda machine.

Dave Moff

January 21, 2013 1:05pm

We do not have a capitalist economy in the United States. No major corporation or similar entity is operating without tax breaks, subsidies, or other direct or indirect assistance from the United States government. In a capitalist economy, such assistance would not exist.

In order to sustain a capitalist economy, you need to: 1. produce a product and 2. have a population that can afford that product. The ultra-wealthy today have produced nothing--they have made their money by shifting money back and forth and skimming a bit off with each transaction. Our manufacturing capacity is at an all-time low. And how many who work at Wal-Mart can afford to shop there?

Some of you may recall the Wal-Mart of Sam Walton's day--the store carried only American-made products. He sold goods which created jobs which paid workers who could afford to buy what he offered for sale. He EARNED his wealth. The Wal-Mart of today buys from Asia and by some accounts gives out food stamp applications to new hirees (effectively receiving a government subsidy). That is not capitalism. And I will not shop there.

Jeffrey Hill

January 21, 2013 11:25am

As billionaire Warren Buffett said, "There is class warfare , and the rich have nuclear weapons."

ChetDude

January 21, 2013 11:09am

"By sitting on their growing investments, the richest five richest Americans made almost $7 billion each in one year"

"Until the 1970s, U.S. households had virtually no debt. Now the total is $13 trillion, which averages out to $100,000 per American family."

Connect the dots, folks. The "investments" mentioned in the first sentence are the result of the DEBT caused to increase the wealth of the .1% and that's expected to be PAID BACK by those mentioned in the latter.

The whole Ponzi-Scheme that feeds the uber-rich is based on debt that is expected to be paid to THEM by the other 99.99 percent of the population...

As Warren Buffet said, "There's a class war on and (the most upper of upper classes) is winning!"

a former 60's lib

January 21, 2013 10:56am

CAPITALISM IS THE WORST SYSTEM, EXCEPT FOR ALL OTHERS. while examples of abuse can be found, we created for the first time in human history a 'middle class'. We created products and services people wanted to buy and therefore benefitied them and ourselves.

Now we hate the rich (expcet Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates- you hypocrites who practice class warfare). I am not rich and old enough to know i will never be but i DO know i benefited by a system that is as simple as ours where if you produce something of value you benefit). Now you lib's are all about 'hate the rich' as if tearing down someone else is going to benefit YOU. It's absurd.

All you do is chase away the creators of jobs. We are doing a fine job of THAT. in this era, anyone who opens a business is a fool given the over regulation.

Talk everythign from the rich. take it all. And then you will truly have killed that goose which laid the golden eggs which made America a place people risked their lives to come to.

You nanny state, give me free stuff, socialists have destroyed a great system. Keep those food stamps coming. Soon enough you will see that nobody will produce anything and the takers will have nobody to take from.

Lightning Joe

January 27, 2013 9:25pm

"Now you lib's are all about 'hate the rich' as if tearing down someone else is going to benefit YOU. It's absurd. "

It's NOT absurd, unless you confuse your terms, as you did here.

I DO hate the rich, but I don't hate them because they have "made it good." I hate the rich because they have (institutionally) tramped all over the quality of my life, and many many others as well, to make their life better.

If that is too subtle a difference for you, then maybe you ought to start paying attention.

tonenotvolume

January 21, 2013 12:55pm

1. The absurdity is your mindset. If you believe "socialist" safety nets are the downfall of this country you obviously have a math problem
2. Products and services created suggest a stronger economy and middle class. Hasn't happened as the super-rich rig the system in their favor and keep the money out of circulation by sending it into hiding.
3. The problem with the golden goose analogy is that no one talks about where the nutrients for the eggs came from...they come from the middle class consumers and employees. And now the goose's owner is keeping most of the eggs AND squeezing that poor animal until it dies. I suggest you look carefully at the information given in this article and others like it (check out Matt Taibbi's work and others). Keep an open mind (read - pull your head out of your...) and figure it out. You're being robbed and then thanking the robber.

TW1948

January 21, 2013 12:21pm

The middle class did not really emerge with any significance - until after the Union Movement - and the PostWar tax rates of 90% during the 50s.

ChetDude

January 21, 2013 11:08am

"CAPITALISM IS THE WORST SYSTEM, EXCEPT FOR ALL OTHERS"

Yeah, right (NOT!)

That's why the most successful, happy, sustainable countries on Earth could be classed as more Socialist than "capitalist"...

As for your attempt at defining the current USAmerican Ponzi-Scheme capitalism as a "meritocracy", the vast majority of the uber-rich got there the American Way -- they were born into it... And THEY are the "takers", not the bottom 99.99% who are oppressed to feed their greed...

Nice try... But why do you hate yourself so much when your capitalist masters are so benign (according to you)...

Capitalism = "The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate."

davidmintz

January 22, 2013 7:16am

"A FORMER 60'S LIB" is merely repeating tired old right-wing screeds about the job creators and the social moochers (i.e., bottom 99%) for the sake of his/her own gratification. Perhaps the only point worth elucidating is as follows: in the post WW II boom you did see rising living standards and an expanding middle class, so capitalism might appear to have been working just fine. But that's not the whole story. Rising living standards for the many depended on reforms enacted through decades of struggle driven by -- guess who! -- socialists.