Do Americans live in a democracy or in an economy?

William Blum, Anti-Empire Report, 29 March 2008

The Dow Jones industrial average of blue-chip stocks:
On March 19 it increased 420 points
On March 20 it went down 293 points
On March 21 it increased 261 points
Do the economic fundamentals change dramatically overnight? Or is our economic system as psycho as John McCain?

The US economy is teetering on the edge of recession because for a long time banks and others were selling mortgages at subprime rates to people who were bad credit risks. They sold them the mortgages anyhow because they knew they could combine these questionable mortgages into bundles and sell them to financial speculators higher up on the food chain. The higher speculators in turn sold bundles of various debt instruments to other speculators. The supposedly objective credit rating agencies told everyone that these firms and their bundles were good investments, but the credit rating agencies in fact had played a role themselves in putting some of the bundles together. This convoluted system created such complex and deliberately opaque financial vehicles -- all devised to make someone a buck every time they swapped some paper -- that they long ago had lost track of the papers' true value. We had a financial system terminally choked with worthless paper "instruments". A genuine house of cards. It fell.

We go from the dot-com bubble to the stock market bubble to the Enron bubble to the housing bubble to the credit bubble ... capitalist growth increasingly being driven by speculative bubbles, which invariably burst, and with each burst many thousands lose jobs, and, currently, their homes.

Can anyone say with any kind of precision how the price of gasoline at the pump is arrived at each day? And exactly what the relationship is, if any, between that price and the price of oil on the mercantile exchanges which are regularly announced as the "official" price of a barrel of oil? And why the speculators who spend their days playing buy-and-sell games at these exchanges -- while having no actual personal contact with barrels of oil -- should have such a profound effect upon our daily lives? And why gasoline is priced at $3.40.9 per gallon? Or $3.24.9 per gallon? That's 9/10 of a penny.

And while we're at it ... Why is almost everything in American society priced at amounts like $9.99, $99.99, or $999.99? Or $3.29 or $17.98?

"If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion." -- George Bernard Shaw

Marketing is about creating emotional, even irrational bonds between your product and your target audience. There was a time when capitalism strove, much more than now, to meet the real needs of people. Now its forte is creating artificial needs with advertising and filling them, like bottled water. And how do they get away with it? Because you'll believe anything. Even that bottled water is purer than tap water.

"It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper." -- Rod Serling, famed TV writer

"Get off this estate."
"What for?"
"Because it's mine."
"Where did you get it?"
"From my father."
"Where did he get it?"
"From his father."
"And where did he get it?"
"He fought for it."
"Well, I'll fight you for it."
-- Carl Sandburg

Can it be imagined that an American president would openly implore America's young people to fight a foreign war to defend "capitalism"? The word itself has largely gone out of fashion. The approved reference now is to the market economy, free market, free enterprise, or private enterprise. This change in terminology endeavors to obscure the role of wealth in the economic and social system. Simply naming the system, after all, might imply that there are others. And avoiding the word "capitalism" sheds the adverse connotation going back to Karl Marx.

At some unrecorded moment a few years ago, the egg companies of America changed their package labels from small, medium and large to medium, large and jumbo. The eggs remained the same size.

"The Federal Trade Commission concluded that there is very little connection between what drug companies charge for a drug and the costs directly associated with it."

"The makers of aspirin wish you had a headache right now," says the graffiti.

Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property and corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person.

"The private-benefit corporation is an institution granted a legally protected right -- some would claim obligation -- to pursue a narrow private interest without regard to broader social and environmental consequences. If it were a real person, it would fit the clinical profile of a sociopath." -- David Korten

Ralph Nader once charged the Justice Department anti-trust division with going out of business without telling anyone.

Capitalism as practiced in the United States is like chemotherapy: it may kill the cancer cells of consumer shortages, but the side effects are devastating.

Many workers are paid a wage sufficient to allow them to keep on living, even if it's not a living wage. Here's a radical solution to poverty -- pay people enough to live on.

"The paradox is that, three centuries after America's colonial beginnings, wealth and income are more unequally distributed in the 'New World' than in most of the nations of Europe."

How many Americans realize that they have a much longer work week, much shorter vacations, much shorter unemployment coverage, much worse maternity leave and other employee benefits, and much worse medical coverage than their West European counterparts?

Expressing elementary truths about the oppression of the poor by the rich in the United States runs the risk of being accused of "advocating class warfare"; because the trick of class war is to not let the victims know the war is being waged.

What do the CEOs do all day that they should earn a thousand times more than schoolteachers, nurses, firefighters, street cleaners, and social workers? Re-read some medieval history, about feudal lords and serfs.

The campaigns of the anti-regulationists imply that pure food and drugs will be ours as soon as we abolish the pure food and drug laws.

"American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, US Airways and Continental Airlines raised round trip fares $10 on most domestic flights to take advantage of strong demand" -- a news item from late 2006; similar items can be found before and since. Is that not odd? Raising prices because of strong demand? Raising prices even though they're already making more money as a result of the increased demand? So the more someone wants something, or the more they need it, the more they have to pay. Yes, it's the good ol' law of supply and demand. Economics 101. You have a problem with that? You should. What takes place in the world of economics is 60% power/politics/ideology, 30% psychological, 10% immutable laws. (These percentages are immutable.)

The more you care about others, the more you're at a disadvantage competing in the capitalist system.

To say that 1% of the population owns 35% of the resources and wealth, is deceptive. If you own 35% you can control much more than that.

How could the current distribution of property and wealth have emerged from any sort of democratic process?

The myth and mystique of "choice" persuades us to endorse the privatization of almost every sphere of activity.

A study of 17,595 federal government jobs by the Office of Management and Budget concluded that civil servants could do their work better and more cheaply than private contractors nearly 90 percent of the time in job competitions.

Communist governments take over companies. Under capitalism, the companies take over the government.

The American oligarchy has less in common with the American people than it does with the oligarchies in Japan and France.

If you lose money gambling, you can't take a tax deduction. But you can if you lose on the glorified slot machine known as the stock market; your loss is thus subsidized by taxpayers.

If the system should cater to selfishness because it's "natural", why not cater to aggression which many people claim is also natural.

Do the members of a family relate to each other on the basis of self-interest and greed?

"The idea that egotism is the basis of the general welfare is the principle on which competitive society has been built." -- Erich Fromm, German-American social psychologist,

Capitalism is the theory that the worst people, acting from their worst motives, will somehow produce the most good.

"The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy." -- Alex Carey, Australian social scientist

And this, dear friends, is the system the American Empire is determined to impose upon the entire known world.

"The country needs to be born again, she is polluted with the lust of power, the lust of gain." -- Margaret Fuller, literary critic, New York Tribune, July 4, 1845

"When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living in society, they create for themselves, in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it." -- Frederic Bastiat, "The Law" (1850)


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