Capitalism Has Failed

In the seventies, I was privileged to hear the British economist E.F. Schumacher — author of “Small is Beautiful: A study of economics as if people mattered” — speak in Palo Alto. Schumacher observed that we were all living in the new age of dinosaurs, where our economy is ruled by giant corporations that roam the earth crushing everything in their path.  Schumacher cautioned his audience to be prepared for the day when corporations collapsed. That’s where we are now: giant corporations are beginning to disintegrate.  Capitalism has failed and the end times have come for mega corporations.  Donald Trump is a harbinger of the death throes of capitalism.

Even though the holidays are just around the corner, December 2019 has been unusually depressing.  Every day we receive new warnings that the environment is in perilous straits (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/10/arctic-sea-ice-cover-falls-to-alarming-low-as-temperatures-rise). There are riots throughout the world.  And, of course, there’s the omnipresent news about mad emperor Trump.

These aren’t isolated events.  Global Climate Change is the result of unfettered capitalism; corporations pillaging the planet.  Social unrest is most often the result of economic injustice produced by the unequal distribution of income and capital that are the byproducts of the dominant economic system.  And, as Robert Reich notes (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/08/donald-trump-citizens-united-anti-democracy-decade?), Donald Trump is the logical consequence of unfettered capitalism.

Rather than dismiss Trump as a pathological politician, it’s necessary to see him as the extreme symptom of unfettered capitalism.  It’s important to defeat Trump in 2020, but even more important to address cancerous capitalism that threatens the soul of democracy as well as the well-being of the planet.

There’s a lot to say about Donald Trump, but we can begin by recognizing that he’s the consummate capitalist.  In all circumstances, Trump places his own interests above other ethical (and legal) considerations.  (Donald favors the crony capitalism, corporate bailouts, and corporate welfare that characterize capitalism in 2019.)  Trump is resolutely committed to the maxim: “the ends justify the means.”  (This explains his astonishing willingness to lie, as well as his predilection for self-dealing.)  And Trump typifies the paternalism that permeates giant corporations.

The fact that Trump is the consummate capitalist shouldn’t come as a big surprise.  It explains his appeal to his base. UC Berkeley Sociology professor Arlie Hochshild’s epoch study, “Strangers in Their Own Land,” explicates the strange hold that Trump has over his followers — the cult-like aura that’s been created.  Hochschild had lengthy talks with a broad spectrum of southern voters living in some of the most polluted areas of Louisiana.  The interviewees in “Strangers in their own land” blamed government for their lack of success.  Their sole hope for salvation was big business — capitalism.  Hochschild observed that her interviewees “identify ‘up,’ with the 1 percent.” In other words, Trump supporters identify with Donald and believe he will provide their salvation.

Of course, this is a position taken out of desperation.  Trump voters cling to a “leader” who steadfastly represents the capitalist interests that are destroying their lives.  It’s collective insanity.

I’m traveling down this sad road to make a point to Democratic voters: when you consider which candidate to support in the upcoming presidential primaries, it’s not sufficient to stop with the notion of who can beat Trump.  Most of the Democratic candidates can beat Trump —  a recent Quinnipiac poll found that all the major candidates beat Trump by 4 to 9 points.  Since Trump is an extreme symptom of America’s dysfunctional economic order, the key question to ask is: which candidate is best prepared to change unfettered capitalism?

Seven candidates have qualified for the December 19th Democratic debate: Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Steyer, Warren and Yang.  Tom Steyer, and Michael Bloomberg who hasn’t qualified for the debate, are billionaires; they have progressive policies on many issues but not on fundamental reform of corporations.  Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar are self-identified “moderates;” none of them advocate elemental reform of corporations.  (Nor does Andrew Yang, although he leans in that direction.)

Both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have a lot to say about corporate reform.  Senator Sanders has a long record speaking against giant corporations and monopolies.  “Corporate America doesn’t give one damn about workers.”  He favors measures to increase corporate accountability, to shift the wealth of the economy back into the hands of the workers who create it.  For example, he would, “Give workers an ownership stake in the companies they work for.”  If he became President, there’s no doubt that Bernie Sanders would work for drastic reform of corporations.

Nonetheless, the most expansive corporate-reform proposals has been developed by Elizabeth Warren. “We need courage to take on corporate monopoly giants… big, structural change.”  Senator Warren has a lot to say about the problem of unfettered capitalism.  In her position paper, “Empowering Workers through Accountable Capitalism” (https://elizabethwarren.com/plans/accountable-capitalism/?) Warren has four key proposals:

“1. Require very large American corporations to obtain a federal charter as a “United States corporation,” which obligates company directors to consider the interests of all corporate stakeholders, not just shareholders.  2. Empower workers at big American corporations to elect no less than 40% of the company’s board member. 3. Remove bad financial incentives by restricting directors and senior executives at big corporations from selling company shares.  And, 4. Ensure corporate political spending reflects the interests of workers: Big American corporations must receive the approval of at least 75% of their shareholders and 75% of their directors before engaging in any political expenditures.”

Capitalism has failed.  We’re entering the end times for giant corporations.  Nonetheless, in 2020, Donald Trump will run as the champion of corporate interests (monopolies, bailouts, corporate welfare, and “pay to play” political influence).

It’s essential to both defeat Trump and to elect a Democratic president who will advocate significant corporate reform.