First, the obligatory (and corny) shout-outs: to everyone at The Sun — especially Carlos, Olivia, Erica, Jonny, Michael and Rebecca. To everyone in the activist community here in Ithaca — especially my ISO comrades. To anyone who’s ever taken the time to help me develop a column, edit or deal with the political fallout — especially Bekah, Kristen and David. And finally to anyone who’s taken the time to read my column over the past year — thank you and keep fighting!
Imagine no possessions/ I wonder if you can/ No need for greed or hunger/
A brotherhood of man.
These days, wishing for a better world seems limited to a traditional playing of John Lennon’s classic during a sports montage at the Olympics. Too often, people are considered idealistic — and thus unrealistic — if they seek to change the world. This type of thinking is said to be reserved for the impractical dreamer, the naive college student.
For the vast majority of ordinary people, the world today is not one that we can accept, let alone be proud of. The world is filled with injustice: war, poverty, racism and sexism abound. Now, we cannot simply wish for these problems to go away — that would truly be idealism at its worst. In order to find a way to solve these problems, we must look beyond the mere symptoms of them to the cause.
And at the base of so many of these problem is one system: capitalism. To many readers, this may seem too broad a generalization. Although I stand by my original assertion, it is certainly ambitious to prove it in around 900 words.
However, at its essence, capitalism is simple. It is a system defined by its ability to provide for the few at the expense of the many. Although defenders of capitalism refer to this simply as “competition,” it takes a truly atrocious form in reality. The facts speak for themselves: In the U.S. alone, 34.6 million Americans lived below the poverty line in 2002, 8.5 million of whom held jobs, according to Americans for Democratic Action. At the same time, CEO pay has increased by 300 percent over the last 15 years. Beyond that, more than a third of the world’s people live on less than two dollars per day. This is not a case of some having a lot while others have little. This is the minority having a lot because the majority has so little.
Consider this: according to the United Nations Development Program, we could meet the basic needs of the entire world — food, shelter, clean water, basic medical care and primary education. The cost: an additional $80 billion per year — a tiny sum when you consider the 2005 U.S. defense budget was $500 billion. Thus, despite the concerns of “scarcity” we hear in Econ 101, we no longer live in a time where we do not have enough to provide for all our people. Instead, we live in time where the political-economic system we live under prevents us from distributing these resources in any remotely equitable way.
Any why does this minority have so much? We’ve all been told its because they have worked hard to achieve it — in this country, the myth is encompassed in “the American dream.” In reality, social mobility is a utter rarity in the United States, as fictional as the Horatio Alger stories that fed the dream to so many. Those who are able to rise out of poverty and obtain economic success are the rare exception, not the rule. Success in capitalism is akin to winning the lottery — a few can win only because so many play and lose. In reality, our multi-millionaires and multi-billionaires are wealthy not because of what they produce, but simply because of what they own. While the rich own the instruments of production — the factories, the raw materials — it is the rest of us who actually produce the goods and services that we need to survive — those who grow our food, who produce our goods and who teach our children.
Alongside this obscene wealth is poverty. One particularly heinous facet of capitalism is the creation of the “working poor” — a term describing those individuals who have jobs, but are paid so poorly they are unable to provide for themselves or their families. This is not a small section of our population, considering that a Jobs with Justice study found that 74 percent of jobs with the highest growth in the 1990s paid less than a living wage. How is this justice?
But poverty is not the only outcome of capitalism. Even a cursory glance at the U.S.’s foreign interventions in the past few decades clearly show that our government is concerned about expanding its empire and maintaining its geo-political dominance. Make no mistake — these forays benefit only those in the ruling elite of our country. At the same time, domestic funding for education and health care are cut to pay for our interventions abroad.
The dirty little secret of capitalism? Divide and conquer. The best way to prevent workers from recognizing that they are the ones producing the wealth, and therefore should control it, is to ensure they are segregated by hatred. Dividing workers on any and every basis possible — race, sex, religion, immigration status — ensures the capitalists a docile working class.
We can no longer accept capitalism as the status quo. The time to change things is running out, as this system driven by profits is rapidly destroying the lives and livelihoods of millions of people, while propelling our environment toward utter destruction.
As generations of the past have done, we need to stand up and demand a system that puts people over profit. And we must use the only power we have: our numbers. Through mass demonstrations and strikes, we will collectively make our voices heard and forge a new world. We will fight for human need, not corporate greed. A better world is possible!
Laura Taylor is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kind of a Big Deal appeared Tuesdays.