God, greed and Government part 2

Next is greed. Some call it consumerism, some call it capitalism. By whatever name, it is one of the least appealing aspects of the United States. It is what gives the United States a less than stellar reputation in the rest of the world. It is why I was reluctant to bring up my children here. I have to tell you that the inequities and frequently reprehensible money-making practices in this country are making communism seem very attractive. I don’t mean Marxism or Maoism, or even the hippy communes of the sixties. But life based in and on communities is increasingly appealing.

I was shocked to read a few years back that the basic principle of the Harvard Business School is that the only thing that matters in business is profit. What an utterly appalling idea. But how widely it has been adopted! Ethics, concern for the worker or the environment, fairness, equality be damned. All that counts is the bottom line.

I’d like to know where the other entrenched business principle comes from, namely that bigger is better, comes from.

These two ideas have turned the United States into something that is far from a democracy, if by democracy one means majority rule. Dubya was not elected by a majority. That is a fact, but not one that I can easily tie to my current theme of greed. I can’t actually point to any one special interest group that bought his election. That is due to my ignorance, not to the fact that it didn’t happen.

This country is no longer a democracy. It is not so much an oligarchy (although the 1% certainly are in control) as it is a corporatocracy, to coin a phrase. Corporations buy politicians who will then enact the legislation that serves their interests.

I suppose one can’t actually eliminate the stock exchange, although I wish one could. It is irrelevant to the vast majority of Americans who do not have any disposable income to invest, while small investors are at the mercy of speculators who manipulate the market for their own gain. The price of stocks can so easily be affected by positive or negative reports (which may or may not bear any resemblance to the true situation) that the real value of a company is often obscured.

I live in a company town funded by an amazingly innovative company which has quite literally changed the world for the better at least four times. But, every time they announce some new positive development, the stock goes down. How can that be? Surely, positive announcements make the company more attractive, and so the stock should go up? It doesn’t seem so, and the CFO of the company explains that stock values have nothing to do with the intrinsic worth of the company, instead it is at the whim of the mutual fund managers.

So is the Stock Exchange actually a good idea? It has become one giant casino, a word carefully chosen to represent not only a gambling den where the odds strongly favour the house, but also the less well-known Italian meanings: casinò = the gambling place; che casino = what a mess, guadagnare un casino = to earn a helluva lot of money and casino = a brothel. So whores earning too much money and making a mess, just about sums it up.

Yet, the concept of the stock exchange has allowed gamblers to make a huge amount of money. It is no longer the mechanism to invest in promising or successful businesses. Rather it has become a market for speculators who don’t make anything and don’t build anything. They mess with other people’s money to make themselves rich. And they are aided and abetted in this legal but largely unethical scheme by the government which gives tax breaks for gambling debts and other financial losses, while capping the tax on capital gains at a mere 15%.

Maybe one way to curb greed is to tax all unearned income (including inheritances and stock options) at, say, 80%, as has happened in the past. A small per transaction tax on stock trades wouldn’t hurt either.

There is no shortage of corporations whose greed and reckless disregard for the effect they are having on the economy, the environment and political stablility is bordering on criminal.

I am not among the 58% of Americans who believe in the Devil, but there is one corporation that is truly evil. One which we’ll call They Who Must Not Be Named, because otherwise they are likely to sue (and win).

This corporation’s development and marketing of genetically engineered seed and bovine growth hormone, as well as its aggressive litigation, political lobbying practices, seed commercialization practices and “strong-arming” of the seed industry have made the company controversial around the world and a primary target of environmental activists. As a result of its business strategies and licensing agreements, the company came under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department in 2009. (Thank you Wikipedia for a very well-documented entry).

This company is nasty. It is the epitome of the “we’re here to make money and damn the consequences” mentality that is destroying the fabric of American life. They have chuckled gleefully (on tape) over their price-fixing policies and feel that they “should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food (because their )interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is FDA’s job.” The FDA can cite and chastise, but when you have the deep pockets and huge legal department that Mon…… (oops) has, you fight every case and if necessary pay some pathetic little fine and move on.

Other nasty corporations are (many) banks. We – stupid us – lend our money to banking institutions so that they can play the markets and make lots more money. I don’t have a huge problem with that as a deal, but in return I would expect a few basic services, such as giving me access to my money when I need it. I have a problem with a bank that cannot move my money somewhere else when I ask it to, that speeds up my withdrawals and slows down my deposits so that it can charge me hefty NSF fees on multiple withdrawals because they process the largest check first.

Stories of bank insanities are legion and they are all about giving back to the depositor the least possible amount of his or her money.

None of this nickel and diming is necessary, as long as the banking institution is content with good profits instead of usurious ones. We have a flourishing (the second largest building in town) Credit Union, which offers excellent customer support and every service that a customer could possibly wish for (but even they have difficulty moving my money to foreign parts because of more and more onerous “security” regulations.)

And I won’t even touch on insurance companies because the very thought sends my blood pressure soaring and I almost start to froth at the mouth.

#Occupy Wall Street is underlining the evils of corporate greed very well and the movement raises many questions that need to be considered very carefully:

  • What will the workforce of 2020 look like, where are the jobs
  • Is capitalism the only way to go
  • Is socialism really that evil (WWJS)
  • Is the Stock Exchange a good thing for the country
  • Should banks be more regulated
  • Are banks necessary
  • Should stock options be abolished
  • Should stock transactions be taxed
  • Is bigger better
  • Is there an alternative to a wealth tax
  • Is it right that I have and you don’t
  • Isn’t ethical more important than legal
  • What about the common good

And so on. I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I would sure like to see people talking about them.

 

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