Coastal Post Online


February, 2004

Capital Punishment
By Frank Scott

The primitive American welfare state that followed the great depression of the 1930s, and was extended by the great society of the 1960s, served to thinly mask the worst aspects of uncontrolled capitalism. These had nearly brought the nation to revolution during the most miserable economic chaos, and for more than generation, Band-Aids applied to the worst wounds stopped some of the system's bleeding. But that mutated welfare state has since been under steady assault, and it presently hangs by threads, where there once were bandages. With neoliberal politics in control, public services and government supports are being forced back to the domain of the market. The political economics of capitalism are revealed, as never before, in all their ugliness.

Among the weapons of mass destruction inherent in this system, none is more deadly than its assault on the planetary life support system. Global warming is only one aspect of its attack, though it may pose the most long term danger. But there are others which are more important in everyday life, in that the collateral damage they cause is more visible than the less obvious environmental ruin. These other endemic ills of capitalism are more costly in the short term, but just as threatening to our long term future. They should be uppermost in the minds and actions of those who wish to improve the status of the human race, rather than simply use most of it, politically, to pay the costs of benefiting only some of it, economically.

Economic inequality has been the hallmark of capitalism since its origins. It has never been more prevalent or obvious than in modern times. Previous generations may have suffered in general ignorance of the root cause of their problems, but the present generation has no excuse. In recent years , though we have experienced a steady rise in middle class life styles, there has also been a material decline in quality of life for many Americans, and for most people in the rest of the world.

While the benefits of material progress have improved for many, they have stayed the same for many more, while the costs have increased for the majority who supply the profit margin. Progress has been real for the developed world, but nonexistent for most people, even some here in the USA. An example is in the fight against racism, an issue at the core of America's origin and development. Economic advances through legal civil rights have helped bring more blacks from the under class into the middle class. But poverty, school segregation and jailing rates among blacks are the same, or even worse than during the time of Martin Luther King.

Those blacks who have been affirmed by social action to become "African-American" have done better, but those left behind by the system's unequal benefits have done worse. In this they are not substantially different from whites whose move up the economic ladder is balanced by a move down for someone else. This is the nature of our amoral and color-blind capitalist economics, and its politics operate to disguise that nature with myths about equality and democracy.

When awareness of class differences grow, the affluent are mobilized to protect the system which has brought them rewards. More cosmetics are applied to social problems, but they are even less helpful than bandages, which might aid healing; makeup only covers ugliness. Thus, we face cosmetic campaigns for the presidency, with no mention of a needed radical transformation in the basic structure of social reality. Come November, we may change the executive staff of the massive conglomerate that is corporate America, but we will do nothing about changing the nature of the business. And that business is to create profit for some, loss for most, and danger for all.

That loss can be the ultimate one, as in the dead and suffering in nations like Iraq, Palestine, Columbia and Afghanistan, to mention only a few places where capital's punishments are overt. The loss can seem less bloody and more covert, when it involves jobs, health, housing and the other necessary means that sustain life. Those means, under capital's rules, create profits for a minority which owns or invests in the commercial entities and institutions that control them. But heaven help those who have to work for and purchase from those profiteers, if they can't afford the product.

The loss can be in human and civil rights, creating profits for the commercial structure of political law, with its subdivisions of police, courts and prisons. At every layer of economic society, there are costs and benefits, but their unequal distribution creates pain for the majority who absorb the cost of creating benefits for the minority.

This is the system that is punishing a global majority through war, debt and starvation, while it endangers all humanity as it damages air, water, the food supply and the earth itself, even where minorities live seemingly affluent lives. Reforms will not really make things better, unless they are part of a larger program for radical transformation of the system of political economics. Anything less will amount to applying porous bandages to wounds that are gushing blood .

Humanity is fast reaching a point at which individual life may not be maintained unless collective life is organized to democratically change the foundation of our political economic system. The World Social Forum now in progress in India, may have more meaning for our future than the American presidential primaries which will dominate news for the next few months. But while the world needs to mobilize to confront the American Empire from outside, it is more important that Americans mobilize to confront their system, from within. Capital's punishment of the planet is the problem, and Americans must ultimately play a major role in providing a solution. If we don't, they will, so we'd better.


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