Ayn Rand and Paul Ryan: An Unhealthy Love of Capitalism

Ayn Rand, Paul Ryan and the right wing’s unhealthy love of capitalism is on the rise. Obviously there are many things capitalism has done which deserve a noting, but unfortunately it’s simply only the good parts we’re told of. I’d like to focus on the aspects of choices and concentration, because capitalism does not always work for the consumer, the employee or the whole of society. What the end results bring is a bit of a mixed bag:

• Products, although they may enhance the quality of life, are designed to break down; for once wealthy consumers are able to buy what they need, similar products or replacements would become irrelevant. Vance Packard wrote in great detail of this in The Waste Makers. Studying business practices he found that in order to continually make more money year after year, products follow three general criteria:

“Obsolescence of function.” A relatively similar product outdates the older model.

“Obsolescence of quality.” The product breaks down or stops functioning in the not too distant future.

“Obsolescence of desirability.” In consumer perception, a company “wears out” their former product.

• Job opportunities with businesses are limited to the point where outsourcing or automation is possible. Outsourcing is quite a disgusting aspect of wealthy business practices. The “Made In America” stamp is dwindling in the United States. In fact, it’s now somewhat noble, advertisement-worthy, if your business hires American workers. To automation, although many people don’t actually see the vast transfer of automation replacing once manual jobs, such as the self-checkout, the sophisticated ATMs which require no human involvement replacing what only a teller could just years ago, the annoying pre-recorded options almost every business uses if you’ll contact by phone, automation in manufacturing is immense and slowly creeping into other sectors. An article published by FOCUS entitled “The Automated Workplace: Robots On The Rise” found that in the industrial workplaces world-wide 454,000 industrial robots were in use in 1990, but by 2009 1 million were in use and by 2013 1.2 million would be in use. Although, the total amount of robots in the world, taking jobs humans once did, is estimated at 8.6 million. The article stated that, “in Japan for every 1,000 workers there are 34 industrial robots performing similar tasks.” As of 2011, in the automotive industry, 33.1% is robotics, 9.9% in electrical and electronics, 9.3% in chemical and rubber/plastic and machinery is 4.3% controlled by robotics. The findings estimated that by 2025, half of all jobs in the United States will have been replaced by robotics. The South Korean government has predicted that by 2018 robotics will routinely perform surgery, by 2015 the U.S. Department of Defense plans that one third of their military fighting force will be composed of robots. Not to convey that robotics is a bad thing, if wealth did not continually funnel to the top in business this aspect might not be a problem soon to be dealt with.

• When corporations become large enough, their influence over government is immense. Politicians in America’s current electoral process rely heavily on donations from these institutions to be considered serious candidates. When large enough, these corporations have the opportunity to lobby and design legislation solely benefiting their operation, sometimes conflicting with societal betterment:

- Wall Street and the big banks (the reversal of “Glass-Steagall” and the deregulation of the financial industry)

- The healthcare industry in its constant fight against substantial reform by the government (Medicare is not allowed to negotiate drug prices, insurance companies fought against the “Public Option” while medical bills are the number one cause of bankruptcy in the U.S. and annually 45,000 people die because they do not have coverage)

- The military industrial complex: The U.S. has spent $1 trillion since September 11th 2001 just on weapons and annually outspends the rest of the world combined on its “defense” budget. The U.S. has approximately 900 bases around the world in 38 different countries and continually gives contracts to businesses producing aircraft and vehicles no other nation could rival, these war machines are never used, and virtually never apply to current foreign policy tactics. ABC News reported in 2011, “More than five years and nearly $80 billion after the world’s most expensive fighter jets joined the U.S. military fleet, the high-tech stealth F-22 Raptor has yet to see combat—despite the U.S. Air Force’s involvement in three simultaneous major combat operations.” Essentially, the U.S. maintains a highly sophisticated and powerful military to fight enemies which don’t exist.

- Big energy (stagnation in government-funded alternative energy, constant initiatives by republicans to defund or get rid of the E.P.A, renewable energy must compete against non-renewables (which are subsidized) for application even though the severity of continuing to use non-renewable energy threatens the sustainment of a habitable atmosphere.

- For-profit prisons: The U.S. has the largest prison population in the world. By making incarceration profitable, especially with the War on Drugs, non-violent and frivolous “criminals” are sent to jail unnecessarily with the costs billed to the tax-payers.

• Greed in economics is not only an urge, but also a law. If publicly traded companies do not maximize profits, in whichever way they can, they are liable to be sued by their shareholders making morality an irrelevant aspect in a boardroom.

• Most importantly, treating the earth as a giant candy store, where the store itself is the trashcan, is clearly affecting the climate.

Inequality is then a consequence of ownership, meaning the economy is exploitative in its nature if how we raise standard of living is through purchasing one, which can only exacerbate the firm inequality already.

The total gross world product in 2010 was $63.17 trillion according to the CIA—roughly $9,000 for every human being on earth. Since how we’ve determined earth-ownership is through purchasing power, the richest 1% of people in the world now own 40% of all the wealth on the planet, according to the U.N. Additionally stunning, 10% of the wealthiest adults in the world own 85% of global wealth, the bottom 50% of adults own just 1%. In the United States, just the top 400 richest individuals have more wealth than the bottom half (150 million) combined.

What we’ve created is a system of economics continually extracting wealth and power to those who already have insane amounts of money in the first place, So then, what return would one expect comes out of this system?

The United States is the richest country in the world, yet among the industrialized nations has the widest gap between rich and poor. Interestingly, the financial capital of the world, New York City, has the widest gap among any other metropolitan areas in the nation housing also 40,000 homeless. According to a Human Development Report by the U.N. in 1998, “Globally, the 20% of the world's people in the highest-income countries account for 86% of total private consumption expenditures - the poorest 20% a minuscule 1.3%. More specifically, the richest fifth:

• Consume 45% of all meat and fish, the poorest fifth 5%.

• Consume 58% of total energy, the poorest fifth less than 4%.

• Have 74% of all telephone lines, the poorest fifth 1.5%.

• Consume 84% of all paper, the poorest fifth 1.1%.

• Own 87% of the world's vehicle fleet, the poorest fifth less than 1% “

According World Watch Institute (2011):

• “The United States, with less than 5% of the global population, uses about a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources—burning up nearly 26% of the coal, 26% of the oil, and 27% of the world’s natural gas.

• As of 2003, the U.S. had more private cars than licensed drivers, and gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles were among the best-selling vehicles.

• New houses in the U.S. were 38% bigger in 2002 than in 1975, despite having fewer people per household on average.”

At the same time,

• “An estimated 65% of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, leading to an annual loss of 300,000 lives and at least $117 billion in health care costs in 1999.

• In 2002, 61% of U.S. credit card users carried a monthly balance, averaging $12,000 at 16% interest. This amounts to about $1,900 a year in finance charges—more than the average per capita income in at least 35 countries (in purchasing power parity).

• As many as 2.8 billion people on the planet struggle to survive on less than $2 a day, and more than one billion people lack reasonable access to safe drinking water.

• The U.N. reports that 825 million people are still undernourished; the average person in the industrial world took in 10 percent more calories daily in 1961 than the average person in the developing world consumes today.”

In 1998, Europeans spent $11billion on ice cream, Americans purchased $9 billion worth of cosmetics and $17 billion by both people was spent on pet food ($37B total). That same year a Human Development Report also found that to provide basic education, health and nutrition, as well as clean water for all the developing nation’s peoples would cost $28 billion. UNICEF has said, “Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.”

Out of the 100 largest economies in the world, the majority (52) are corporations, while at the same time employing an extremely small percentage of the global population; the largest private employer in the world, Wal-Mart, employ approximately 2.1 million people in a world where over seven billion people exist. When in the United States corporations have more money than entire nations, the question should be asked whether or not this is of any value to society. If workers are going to be paid the lowest amount possible dictated by law by some of the richest corporations in the world, and while CEO/corporate profits sky-rocket meanwhile compensating their employees with indefinitely stagnant wages, is this of any value to the people at large? Especially considering that, by law, these corporations have to increase profits for shareholders by any means possible, driving the globalization and outsourcing to lower paid workers in foreign countries that lack decent pay and rights.

As supposed, capitalism should create competition in areas of business thereby lowering costs and providing better quality in the products and services we all buy, although, the results of capitalism are to the contrary. Competition among the most fundamental features in the economy happens not between vast arrays of business models, but what are clubs of corporations with like interests. Sure there might be competition between local mom and pop businesses, but the fundamental choices among the most crucial aspects of the planet, bought and then sold back to us through purchasing these resources, is severely lacking.

• Although there are alternative news sources such as NPR or listener-funded programs such as Democracy Now!, independent publications and podcasts, most of the information in the media is concentrated among just five, or six, corporations. The television mainstream media (Viacom, AOL/Time Warner, Disney, News Corp, General Electric) is limited between a handful of mostly political-party-orientated opinion and news. Whether it is credible, reliable or informative broadcasting is questionable, but the fact that there is such a lack of choice is outstanding. This does not just apply to television, newspapers fall into the category of these corporations as well, and among the papers themselves there’s concentration; the New York Times owns The Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune. Most Americans claim they get the majority of their news from television, with radio and newspapers (some part of these same corporations) close behind. The Internet is coming up fast as a new alternative, but what comes from these 5 corporations is quickly being pasted onto this new medium.

Such concentration of opinion and fact leave Americans with little choice and relevant knowledge about what is going on in their country or the world. A study by Fairleigh Dickinson University which surveyed 600 New Jersey residents found that, “…people who watch Fox News, the most popular of the 24-hour cable news networks, are 18 points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government than those who watch no news at all.”

During the run up to the Iraq war, the concentrated mainstream media asked almost nothing of importance until later towards the last years of Bush’s term when the casualties and money spent became overwhelming. Whether or not this is due to other factors that influence the media’s coverage on what they chose to report as examined in Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent, the American people might have been asking the tough questions they are now if the large amount of information about that war had not been so concentrated.

Journalist Dan Rather, while on David Letterman’s show after 9/11 said, “George Bush is the President, he makes the decisions and you know, as just one American wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where.” Anti-war was nowhere in the air. Whether or not this was due to the magnitude of horror the country felt which exchanged intellectual thought traded for violence and revenge, it should not have granted journalism an opt-out. On the most watched network at the time, and stillFox, Bill O’Reilly had said that if Afghanistan did not extradite Bin Laden (who was most likely never hiding in refuge in Afghanistan, but in Pakistan), “the U.S. should bomb the Afghan infrastructure to rubblethe airport, the power plants, their water facilities, and the roads.”

A study done by FAIR released in 2003, analyzing the war coverage by leading news networks from both political spectrums and PBS, found that,

“Nearly two thirds of all sources, 64 percent, were pro-war, while 71 percent of U.S. guests favored the war. Anti-war voices were 10 percent of all sources, but just 6 percent of non-Iraqi sources and 3 percent of U.S. sources. Thus, viewers were more than six times as likely to see a pro-war source as one who was anti-war; with U.S. guests alone, the ratio increases to 25 to 1.”

As of 2012, a pro war stance on Afghanistan or Iraq is not just toxic for politicians, but media outlets from both spectrums. Barack Obama was elected in no small part for his anti-Iraq war stance. Only until later when these wars were so detested was it that the media then began to report, then dissentingly, the death-tolls, the money spent, the corruption, lie about WMD’s and torture at Abu Ghraib.

In comparison, WikiLeaks has released more classified documents than the entire world press combined. Julian Assange responded to this by pointing out that, “…the rest of the world’s media is doing such a bad job that a little group of activists is able to release more of that type of information...” They’ve been credited as one factor that led to the Tunisian revolution by releasing information on rampant corruption the people suspected, but could now be sure of. One of their cables shows a U.S. helicopter gunning down unarmed civilians in Iraq who were casually walking down the street, two of which were Reuters journalists. In fact, when WikiLeaks got ahold of millions of emails from the global intelligence agency, Stratfor, they did not send them to the mainstream press but to the Rolling Stone; which shows just how much whistle-blowers trust the media to report their story.

• In oil and gas, the fundamental energy needed to power society, 4 companies control a little over half of all the oil reserves in the world (Saudi Aramco, National Iranian Oil Company, Qatar Petroleum, Iraq National Oil Company.) Although these are state-run, publicly traded oil and gas companies consist of just a handful of players as well. Meaning, the most vital resource to our societies is controlled by a handful of corporations and/or dictators. In the 2006 American election cycle, $19 million was spent on political donations; most of it going to republicans wherein cutting or abolishing the E.P.A is a regular talking point. Under the Bush administration, Exxon had been consulted on climate change negotiations during talks about the Kyoto Protocol. As the U.S. winded down its operation in Iraq, the Wall Street Journal ran a story with the self-evident title, “U.S. energy firms move into Iraq as troops leave”.

• A study from the American Medical Association done in 2007 on competition among healthcare insurers found that,

“…the two largest health insurers, Aetna and United, had a total membership of 32 million lives. As a result of mergers and acquisitions since 2000, the top two insurers today, WellPoint and United, each have memberships, respectively, of 34 million and 33 million, totaling more than 67 million covered lives. Together, WellPoint and United control 36 percent of the national market for commercial health insurance. In 2004 and 2005, 28 mergers valued at a total of $53.8 billion were completed or announced…”

Their study finds that, state by state, virtually two insurers control the market. In Alabama, Blue Cross Blue Shield controls 83% of the market. In Rhode Island, it controlled 79%.

According to The Center For Public Integrity, during the negotiations on the passage of the “Affordable Care Act” in 2009, 4,525 lobbyists were sent to congress (8 for every member) by various companies to influence the bill, a bill that started off with a universal healthcare program.

• In what we eat? Found by ETC group (2008), in the seed industry, just three corporations control 47% of the global market, Monsanto (nearly a quarter alone), DuPont and Syngenta. Mother Jones published in 2010 that;

“Just four companies—Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, and Louis Dreyfus—control up to 90 percent of the global trade in grain. In the United States, three of those firms process 70 percent of the soybeans and 40 percent of the wheat milled into flour. The bulk of corn and soy grown by US farmers ends up feeding animals in vast factories, and here, too, the consolidation is dramatic: Three companies now process more than 70 percent of all beef, and just four firms slaughter and pack upwards of 58 percent of all pork and chicken.”

If suddenly there was an outbreak in the concentrated food industry far more people could be exposed rather than contamination on a small farm that fed a few hundred people. In 2011, Cargill recalled 36 million pounds of turkey for salmonella; Tyson Foods recalled 131 thousand pounds of beef for E. Coli.

• In the financial industry we have corporations deemed “too big to fail”, certainly an aspect utterly devoid of what free-markets should encompass. Senator Bernie Sanders wrote in the Boston Globe (2011):

“Believe it or not, the country’s six largest financial institutions (Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs) now have amassed assets equal to more than 60 percent of our gross domestic product. The four largest banks issue two-thirds of all credit cards, half of all mortgages, and hold nearly 40 percent of all bank deposits. Incredibly, after we bailed out the behemoth banks that were “too big to fail,” three out of the four are now even bigger than before the financial crisis.”

During the financial collapse, Goldman Sachs and others were given bail-out loans through the Federal Reserve at rates sometimes as low as 0.01% interest when just before these banks were charging homeowners and students outrages interest rates at 20% and even higher.

• Of course I couldn’t leave it out, and I’d argue this aspect is not necessarily a direct result of the economic system we practice but linked nonetheless; there are only two…just two, political parties. Are two, limited in scope, political parties supposed to encompass the ideas of the most diverse country on the planet with a population of 300 million people?

Google or Yahoo, Verizon or AT&T, Microsoft or Apple, Toyota, G.M or Volkswagen; in nearly every area of businesses not just in the United States, but also now in a global market, oligopolies prevail. From the airline industry, to telecommunications or the auto industry, a handful of large companies dominate the market leaving the quant but false notion that capitalism will bring a vast array of choices nothing but a talking point.

This value in economics one sees to be justified has another factor which is currently indicating that we rethink the candy store economy. Climate change is going to destroy our societies if we remain thinking capitalism may forever produce unlimited resources under a roof of delicate earth systems. The function of capitalism, socialism, communism, or any economic system, if not respectful to this circumstance, is at odds with climate change and thus at odds with the only true working system on the planet.

Wearing a blindfold, deriving all of your opinions based on what the richest man in society has just told you might conjure up in the mind the institutionalized vision of working hard, playing by the rules and getting ahead in life—the American dream. Although, major flaws in this system of economics prove it to be mostly a falsity. For the idea that human beings are not naturally incentivized to survive, we must provide that incentive to create by placing dollars around what needs to get done. Yet, what we get out of this experiment is vast wealth inequality, a propaganda-like vision of the benefits of trading earth’s gifts through capitalism (what are actually limited choices) and planetary destruction by pretending this economic system is sustainable in the long-run. Especially in the United States, this economic theory is applauded over and over from left to right, yet the large majority Americans continue to see less benefits as all other alternatives are demonized.

• Ownership over resources and the means of production and technology means that automatically the large portion of society is exploited through inequality as they’re forced to work for those who “own” pieces of the planet and society they had little to do with in creation, for there can be only so many owners.

• Especially in the United States, capitalism has nearly devoured democracy. The corporations and owners have such a radical stranglehold over policies and politicians that the voices of the rest of us have been drowned out by cash.

• An economy based on persistent growth means that the earth’s resources and caring capacity must also be pushed continually towards the brink.

One might say that business does produce goods and services the public enjoys in the form of technological appliances, transportation vehicles, the unique goods and services only capitalism can produce, and that they and their companies supply us with the energy to power society. This is true, but in a capitalist economy while they earn 300× that of their workers, and wherein 40 million out of 300 million live in poverty while just 400 at the very top collectively own $1.25 trillion isn’t the only way to drill for oil or build a computer. It certainly isn’t common sense, nor is it valuable. It’s outstandingly obvious capitalism is not a system that works for the people, and it is not the only system available.

The metals inside the earth do not belong to a handful of individuals, nor do the vaccines, nor does the food or the cotton we make our clothes with or the land we’re forced down upon by gravity. Who owns the clouds or the sun or the refreshing smell of spring? Who owns the rain or the winter? Should we pay an individual for our earth systems no one has or had anything to do with in their creation? Should someone own feelings of happiness, love or sadness, because after all they’re part of our world, and shouldn’t someone then claim ownership to them as they have with drinking water, vegetables, animals, energy resources created by billions and billions of once living creatures and the electricity we use to light and heat our homes with?

I don’t propose abolishing a capitalistic approach towards economics, but that especially in the right-wing realm of politics, it has become comparable to religious doctrine. Now with the Romney’s VP pick of Ayn Rand-loving Paul Ryan and the propaganda rhetoric of labeling rich people “job creators”, the destructive and inefficient side of unfettered capitalism is proposed to be welcomed with arms wide open by some very powerful people. The 21st century’s idea of democracy isn’t going to coalesce with the extremes of capitalism.

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