Ponzi Capitalism and the Deepening Moral Crisis


Today we are faced with a major economic crisis, but along with it there is also a deepening moral crisis of US capitalism. However, the people who are always finding fault with poor people, from teen pregnancy to deadbeat dads, are not speaking out about the immorality of the sub-prime robbery that resulted in mass foreclosures, especially for Black and Latino families. They say nothing about the moral aspect of the crisis of over 12 million working families who are now stuck with overpriced homes. The growing poverty and unemployment is 'not their thing.' They want to define immorality in terms only of their opposition to gay marriage, their dislike for welfare cheats and fear of street criminals. But crime in the suites is of little concern to them.

According to recent polls, only about 20 percent of the American people today identify with the Republican Party, because GOP policies have nearly destroyed the country. We are in the fix that we are in because of the actions of greedy capitalists who put their profits before people and the money they collect from interest above the national interest. These are the big moral problems, problems that are rooted in an economic system that creates the conditions that destroy families and whole communities and, place tens of millions of working people of all races and nationalities at risk. These are the big moral questions. What are the policies responsible for turning poor communities into fertile ground for drugs, crime and broken homes? What is the ideology that has led to gross underfunding of public schools, millions without health care, and 2.5 million prisoners behind bars? Need we mention the immorality of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have cost us dearly in blood and national treasure?

Capitalism has always had its crooks, conmen and swindlers since its inception. The very nature of capitalist exploitation at the point of production is a form of robbery. Modern US slavery was more barbaric then ancient Greek and Roman slavery, because it was forged under capitalism and was the source of the wealth that laid the basis for modern US capitalism. It was the commoditization of human beings during slavery that created the material incentives for capitalists to promote systemic racism.

In a recent issue of Business Week there was a very telling piece which illustrated how capitalism is morally corrupt and getting worse. The tobacco companies are still killing people. Even while cigarette smoking is on the decline in the US, it is growing around the world, especially in Asia and Africa, as a result of very aggressive advertising campaigns by the tobacco companies, particularly Philip Morris USA, the makers of Marlboro. As one high school student in Japan put it, 'Marlboros are cool.'

During the past 30 years of right-wing dominance our economy has become a haven for thieves and crooks, and the working class is the greatest victim. I feel sorry for the bankers who took their own lives and those of family members because they were ruined. But in their quest for more and more money they created the conditions that cost a whole lot of working-class lives as well. Bernard Madoff couldn’t have gotten away with his Ponzi scheme if people didn’t trust him, if they didn’t hold him in high esteem. He was respected and admired by investors, bankers, politicians and by some of the nation’s top universities and private social welfare and charitable institutions. He particularly targeted Jewish individuals and institutions, appealing to their religious and cultural identity, and their support for Israel, no doubt. People were convinced that Madoff was so rich because he was so smart. After all, he found a way to make money despite the ups and downs (really anarchy) of the capitalist system. They were wrong. They were hoodwinked, fooled and deceived, and they lost billions.

The whole Madoff case and what Wall Street has been doing to Main Street for 30 years raises serious questions about the growing lack of morality and integrity in the way capitalists, particularly US capitalists, do business. These people are supposed to be “pillars of the community” and “upstanding citizens” but they increasingly act like criminals. There has always been a 'lumpen' element in the capitalist ruling class. In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852), Karl Marx refers to the lumpenproletariat as the 'refuse of all classes,' including 'swindlers, confidence tricksters, brothel-keepers, rag-and-bone merchants, beggars, and other flotsam of society.' Today it seems like these types have gained sway over the whole capitalist class.

I am convinced that the crisis in the US economy is rooted in the anti-working-class, anti-people policies of the extreme right wing that have dominated the political process in our country for the past 30 years. Thirty years of right-wing neocon policies laid the basis for what could be called 'Ponzi capitalism,' a fraud-based financial system that has become the main source of wealth accumulation at the top.

What does this have to do with morality? Everything! When Reagan ran for president, he kicked his campaign off at Stone Mountain, Georgia, the birth place of the Ku Klux Klan. After his inauguration (in contrast to Obama’s rousing speech at the AFL-CIO convention in Pittsburgh) his first major action was to crush the air-traffic controllers union (PATCO). Both of Reagan's acts were immoral. Like George Wallace when he stood in the doorway at the University of Alabama to stop Black students from integrating that institution, Reagan was sending a message. It was a declaration of war on civil rights and labor rights, and the captains of industry got the message. They also got the message when Congress passed the Crime Bill under Clinton, and they got the message when they abandoned tens of thousands of poor people, mainly African Americans, to their fate in the flood waters of Katrina. That was immoral.

Many on the religious right, who claim to have a exclusive hold on morality, became dominant in American political life once they took over the Republican Party. They were an essential part of the cheering section that encouraged privatization and unregulated markets – the style of capitalism that brought on the most severe economic crisis since the 1930’s. Today, while many clergy are speaking out against the unscrupulous money-grabbing on Wall Street, the religious right is not among them. They define morality as denying women the right to choose, while supporting the death penalty and Bush’s genocidal wars. Considering their support for the slaughter in the Congo raging over coltan (an essential ingredient in cell phones) and the role of AFRICOM (the United States African Command), their crusade for “life” has a potential body count in millions. That is immoral! This is the same mentality that promoted the massive export of jobs and the closing down of whole industries, leading in turn to the collapse of entire cities and regions.

Incarceration rather then education, job creation and rehabilitation is also immoral. Putting two and a half million people in jail mostly for nonviolent offensives associated with drug addiction is immoral. To add salt to the wounds, the basic supply of drugs is controlled by international cartels in partnership with sections of the military, corrupt law enforcement, and those in finance who launder drug money. These drug kingpins rarely go to jail, but the lives of the disproportionately Black and Latino small-time pushers and users are being ruined by the millions each year, as they die violent deaths or are packed away in the nation’s overcrowded prisons, with no possibility of a decent job or a future.

As an essential part of the huge cleanup job that the Obama administration has to do, there must be a reversal of the effects of 30 years of the intensely immoral economic and military policies of the neo-cons. While the results of the last election will certainly make things better for America's poor and the working class, the deeper moral problems that persist are a basic part of the capitalist system, and the struggle against them is a long-term struggle. The fight to end capitalism's social and economic immorality, which is so destructive to our society, is necessarily a long-term fight, because the problems we face are deeply rooted in the capitalist exploitation of the working class and the super-exploitation of workers of color.

Obama won the presidency because he provided a ray of hope. He therefore can be be a powerful force for change, a leader who represents the renewal of the best ideas and moral standards of our nation, a morality based on a spirit of caring and deep concern for the wellbeing of all people, a morality based on putting peace and negotiation before war and aggression, which defines patriotism in democratic terms, and promotes racial unity instead of strife. Putting the rights of working people and their unions in the forefront is essential for real economic growth. Withdrawing from Iraq and seeking what ultimately will be a nonmilitary solution in Afghanistan are also crucial. The people rallied around Obama because he was restoring a sense of real morality to the soul of our nation. By doing so, he stopped the capitalist fundamentalists dead in their tracks. Now it is time to rally the people to provide mass support for the forward-looking, morally-based programs of the Obama administration, and to apply friendly pressure when we don’t agree. Obama believes in capitalism - but because it is not the capitalism of Bush and the neocons, the change he represents is a big step in the right direction.