There is a dirty word that I have been hearing a lot of lately. A word that causes the coldest executive heart to shudder, the bravest CEO to cower in fear. The word has been used to describe Barack Obama, several state and local Democratic candidates, and even the current administration in the face of the bailout that has been in the news recently. It is the "S-word" that the censors allow but which has ended political careers under so much as a slight hint of being one.
Socialists. They are trying to ruin our country.
The biggest new face on the political landscape is Joe the Plumber, a tax-evading, non-licensed sorta-plumber from Ohio that attempted to trip up Barack Obama by asking why he'd have to pay more taxes if he bought the plumbing business that he works for, thus negating the American Dream. Obama answered clearly and correctly, once using the phrase "distribution of wealth." It was almost as if McCain had a political TV spot waiting for just such a moment. The Republicans immediately seized on this all-out push to completely eradicate free market capitalism in favor of hammer and sickle Communism, old Russia style. The use of attack ads from the Republicans calling out Democratic "socialism" have not subsided.
Let's take Joe's scenario as an example. The average journeyman plumber makes under $50,000 per year. While many of us would be delighted with that income, we'll go ahead and classify that as lower-middle class, as that is well within the accepted range for this class. At his wage, he is "getting by." He can afford a mortgage and reliable transportation. He may even be able to put his kids through college with the right scholarships, a couple of years at community colleges, and a balanced budget to account for loans. One weak area for his income level may be retirement. Joe may need to keep plumbing well into his 70's if he expects to keep getting by as old age deals him a hand of higher medical expenses not covered by any sort of universal health care.
Fast forward a few years and ignore the obvious logical reasons that Joe won't actually be able to afford to buy his employer. Joe made around $48,000 a year in 2009 and 2010 and paid around 15% in income taxes under Barack Obama. This tax rate allowed him to get by while more well-off Americans (such as his employer) paid a higher share because they could, and because it was their duty to give back to a country that had given them the opportunity to get so rich. Now, Joe is making over five times what he used to pull in. Suddenly, it's a bigger house, two luxury cars, a week in an exotic location every few months, and all the other staples of the "good life." The tax bill comes and Joe owes the federal government 25% of his earnings. Anger overcomes him as he doesn't realize that he is still coming out way ahead of the poor schmucks that still make a paltry $48,000 a year.
It's easy to see why the richest ten percent of our country wants John McCain to win the election. After all, if it weren't for all those poor people, would the rich really get to feel... you know, rich? If it wasn't for me in my 1998 Sunfire with the rust spots on the doors, would the hedge fund manager in the Lexus really feel as if he was better than everyone else? We can't have these poor millionaires feeling like regular people, that would be devastating to their collective ego.
Give me a break. Google Warren Buffet's secretary and you'll see that the richest man around even gets it.
This country has amazing intellect, work ethic, resources and wealth at our disposal. Unfortunately, much of the first is abusing the second and third to capture a disproportionate amount of the fourth. The financial elite of the United States must recognize that they have reached their potential for things like margin enhancement, growth, market share and other such numbers that are now measured on a daily basis to help determine what numbers will need to be fudged to placate the stockholders so everyone at the top can pocket a little more money. Eventually, you've grown so much that you've drained the bottom ninety percent and you can only "grow" by killing and eating your competition. We've reached that point.
The point of all this is to bring up a statement that has been oft-repeated by acquaintances in recent weeks. It's one of those self-righteous, illogical phrases that American citizens seem to cling to regardless of how idiotic it can make one sound. No, I'm not talking about "Freedom Isn't Free..." However, that one's right up at the top of the list as well. I'm talking about this gem:
"Capitalism rewards people for their hard work, and that's the American Dream."
Jim, Rob, Alice, and Christy sound like good, hard working Americans, right?
Jim, Rob, Alice, and Christy are siblings. Their claim to fame is that they inherited something that was good, friendly, and a sign of how capitalism was supposed to work in the favor of the American people. They inherited that enterprise and turned it into a bloodsucking black hole that swallowed local competition, lowered local wages, destroyed local economies, and then packed up and left every time the tax abatement expired. The empire they created in the new image of capitalism opened a store in Canada... but when the employees unionized, the company literally just turned out the lights, locked the doors, and left town.
That company is Wal-Mart, and the name alone disproves the "rewarding people for their hard work" sentiment that is used to defend our broken capitalist economic system. One need only visit the local Wal-Mart to find dozens of "hard working Americans" that aren't being rewarded. However, a quick trip to Bentonville, Arkansas will show you who is being rewarded for all that hard work at the bottom... four kids whose daddy left a legacy. They took that legacy and turned it into a monster, and now we have citizens working three jobs just to pay rent on the bad side of town and keep food on their plate while we have a few billionaires who do nothing more than devise new ways to stifle competition and increase profit so that they can continue to drive our country straight into third-world status.
The hard-working Americans are not being rewarded under this version of capitalism. You may find yourself believing rhetoric such as "socialism punishes those who are destined for success," but in a capitalist world where so much wealth is already concentrated amongst so few, the barrier of entry to anything successful has reached a height that few working class Americans will ever be able to obtain, regardless of their passion and work ethic. There is simply too much money and power at the top, so much that they control everything: their own industry, related industries, the federal, state, and local governments and more.
"The greatest danger to capitalism is unbridled capitalism."
This recent collapse has EVERYTHING to do with the upward funneling of money from the many to the few. Capitalism can succeed only with ethics, morals, and values that our American society has long forgotten. The key to these ethics, morals, and values, though, is that they are inherently socialist... and that is why we have moved away from them in the first place. Once a man gets a taste of money and the "good life," he wants more and he does what he has to do. Ethics, morals, and values go out the window because we're a capitalist nation. It's an excuse, a blatant excuse for unethical behavior. We tie capitalism to patriotism in order to keep the poor in line, just as we do with war in order to solidify the allegiance of the lower class so we can turn them into toy soldiers to fight for the rich. Screwing your neighbor is not patriotic. It's disgusting.
You can keep your current form of capitalism if you want it, but we've come too far and lost too much to make it work. The capitalist structure of America has collapsed. From here, we can continue falling all over ourselves with our false patriotism, clinging to the free market as we continue to spiral downward into a third-world economy, or we can start turning things around by implementing policies similar to the New Deal socialist ideologies which dug us out of the last true depression. Barack Obama's "distribution of wealth" is just what this country needs. Not socialism, really, but a real, honest, old fashioned American attempt to bring back the ethics, morals, and values that made the 1950's such a prosperous time.
It may be the most used quote about the current state of affairs, but Warren Buffett is among the richest men in the world and, even at that level of financial accomplishment, he understands what needs to be done to fix this country. He said it a full year before the collapse began and the world noticed, but only Obama has addressed it in his bid for the White House:
"If you're in the luckiest 1 percent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 percent."