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Capitalism Kills - The Other Side of the Tracks - By Perry Redd - Columnist

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If anyone ever tells you to support free market capitalism and oppose regulation of corporations, make sure you think long and hard before you respond. Think even longer if you are tempted to respond “Okay.”

The Ayn Rand theory of “letting the free market police itself” has been criticized for decades. It’s been lauded by conservatives and demonized by progressives. Where qualified judgments are to be made are in the fact-based evidence. In a civilized democracy like the United States, the common good is the determinate factor of how we execute free market capitalism.

Free market capitalism consists of a free-price system where supply and demand are allowed to reach their point of equilibrium without intervention by the government. Productive enterprises are privately-owned, and the role of the state is limited to protecting property rights.

Of course, I am of the mind that every existing entity that is set up as a for-profit entity to sell and trade products and/or services to the general public, should be subject to oversight and accountability. That methodology works for the common good. In contrast, there are those who believe that regulation of markets is overbearing and an affront to the concept of free market capitalism. Those in the contrasting camp are the ones destroying this country.

Whenever we have allowed “the market to police itself,” it has failed to do that very thing. It runs wild - and costs the American working class an arm and a leg. From Enron’s price collusion schemes - a violation of one of capitalism’s chief tenets - to the April 2010 West Virginia coal mine disaster, in which the owners skirted government regulations to maximize profits and consequently caused the largest mining disaster in U.S. history, I know that unbridled capitalism kills (it dashes hopes, dreams, aspirations). And, let’s not forget the BP oil spill…the capitalist principle of laissez faire - to leave alone - allowed BP to bypass safety regulations, causing the worst oil disaster in U.S. history.

Allowing corporate CEOs to be paid exorbitant salaries has been a major cause of employee layoffs. A chief executive officer of a Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index company was paid, on average, $9.25 million in total compensation in 2009. At the same time, millions of workers in that company, and others like it, lost their jobs, their homes and their retirement savings in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Executive pay has taken center stage since the $700 billion government bailout of financial institutions. Americans expressed outrage as big banks helped create the financial crisis, took billions in taxpayer bailouts, paid out billions in pay and bonuses and are now lobbying against financial regulatory reform. But people still support capitalism.

My theory is that people have embraced the “Oprah Dream.” That is, they will work as hard as they can, be compensated accordingly and get rich in the process. What they fail to realize is that in a country of 330 million people, the number of U.S. households with a net worth of $1 million or more - excluding wealth derived from a primary residence - is 7.8 million as of last year. That comes to just over 2% of the entire U.S. population. Most of the millionaires that Black people know are singers, talk show hosts, politicians and athletes. Simply put, if it can’t run, jump or act, you’re a worker bee. The “Oprah Dream” is just a dream.

I’m not discouraging anyone from dreaming, but what I am saying is that in an overtly racist country, the Oprah Dreamis unrealistic when working class people - the overwhelming majority of U.S. residents - must fight for access to equal education, more affordable housing, and the right to collectively bargain for wages and benefits (don’t forget the unemployment rate is just under 9%). Currently, 14.3% of all Americans live below the poverty rate. That’s beside the fact that over 25% of this country’s Blacks and Hispanics live in poverty. “Getting Oprah” is a sliver of a chance.

We all should profit from the production of our economy. Many of us put our money in Bank of America (BOA) accounts. BOA makes money off our deposits. The tellers make between $9-$14/hour dealing with the ground-floor customer, yet BOA CEO Thomas Montag made $29,930,431 in total compensation in 2009. Many of us struggle to fill up our gas tanks, as gas is averaging $3.67/gallon. There’s no oil shortage and ExxonMobil profits rose 53% or $9.25 billion - on our backs! Its CEO’s recent annual salary was between $22-$25 million. Capitalism works…if you’re the one capitalizing.

With those facts in mind, we cannot continue to act like crabs in a barrel, clawing at each other, as we race for the imaginary top. The system is designed to keep the privileged class in the top percentile of wealth holders. This is a product of capitalism. Every now and then, they’ll create an Oprah. This equation will only change if the masses of Americans are properly educated on the topic, but those that benefit from capitalism are the ones who approve the lesson plans. Their well is tainted. We must get our information from a different source. In the meantime, don’t drink the kool-aid cause capitalism kills. Columnist, Perry Redd, is the former Executive Director of the workers rights advocacy, Sincere Seven, and author of the on-line commentary, “The Other Side of the Tracks.” He is the host of the internet-based talk radio show, Socially Speaking in Washington, DC. Click here to contact Mr. Redd.

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Mar 31, 2011 - Issue 420
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