A Different World is Possible
You should believe it.
Given my last two posts heavily criticized the way most private businesses are run by the people who own them and the overall failure of neoliberal capitalism to satisfy the needs of the vast majority of the world’s population, I received the expected responses.
The criticisms I received on both pieces followed a similar line of attack: the government is bad and anything that enlarges its role in society is necessarily going to take away freedom and make life worse.
Now, I don’t have all the answers. I can’t counter every argument, at least not immediately. I don’t pretend to know exactly how to fix the system. I do know that it can be fixed, though. And that’s the main thing I’m trying to communicate: this isn’t the only way things must be. We don’t have to live in a world based on competition and individualism at the expense of most individuals and the planet. We can tweak the systems, we can throw them out, we can add in new mechanisms.
You may disagree there’s a problem, but I think the majority of people who are living under debt, facing an uncertain retirement, unable to access medical care, working themselves to the bone to get by — those people, they get it. They know there’s a problem. Deny it, if you like, but everyone knows.
My second point is to personalize it. These things happened to me. They happen to others. You may not know people like us, but we exist. There are more of us than statistics may suggest. More of us are “underperforming” than you might think.
We’re not just your political opponents. We’re not bad people. We do our part, if not more. We’re not slackers or leeches on the system. We’re core pieces in it. Without us, it doesn’t function. And the things that are “our fault” — illness with lack of insurance, unemployment, stagnant pay, high debt and other negative life experiences — are, ultimately, going to rebound on the system that has taught us to blame ourselves. Once we’ve realized the gig is rigged or we’ve died from malnutrition or lack of medical care, we won’t be working and consuming.
More important, we’re just people trying to get along in an increasingly unstable, seemingly hostile world. Given that instability, I think it’s understandable that some — nay, many — of us seek out some protection by the only organization offering it that we even remotely control: the government.
Then, the criticism devolves into strawmen descriptions of the supposed “Big Government” I support: my career field (marketing) wouldn’t exist in a socialist country because everything is planned (a fundamental misconception). A larger question they should ask is whether I value my career field. I didn’t go to college to become a marketer. I fell into it, the same way many people find their careers. I’m rather of the belief that it’s a bullshit job. I don’t think content marketing is a necessary part of a fulfilling world. Sorry. But, to completely demolish their argument, what do they think propaganda is?
It’s clear the market can’t adequately distribute that which is required to sustain life. It can’t even regulate itself. The market isn’t something that operates separate from the government (the state, if you will) or society or acts as some organizing force over both. Rather, the “free market” relies on the state to bail it out, as seen repeatedly over history and most recently in 2008. The state doesn’t just enforce contracts. It enforces contracts, the majority of which are heavily weighted in the wealthy’s interests, detrimental to most peoples’ lives because it is controlled by the wealthy.
The criticisms conveniently overlook the private governments we live under every day. That is, the government of our workplaces, which exercise greater control over our lives (both in and out of the office) than probably ever before. Only now can the employer reach into your home and monitor you. Even the serf likely had more privacy. Given the ubiquity of mobile devices and their attachment to work, serfs may have even had more time off. (Let’s be clear that I’m not romanticizing the life of a serf, but neither am I putting on rose-colored glasses to look at our current world either. It can still be improved. Yes, I have greater expectations than those of serf.)
That was one of the funny things about a response to my universal health care essay: it isn’t my business how much my employer profits off my labor, but it is completely his business to know my wage and hold it down rather than adequately compensate me. It isn’t my business to know how much he or she makes off me? Why not? Moreover, that implies I should have no interest in knowing. Well, as Robert Ingersoll wrote in 1880, “Whoever produces anything by weary labor, does not need a revelation from heaven to teach him that he has a right to the thing produced.” So, I won’t explain my interest. Especially not when I’m required to log every minute of my workday and expected to work 44–45 hours a week. Talk about regulation.
Another thing is the valuing of profit and capital over health and stability. Employers once took responsibility for their employees by providing decent health care, long-term career options, education, pensions and the like. Most employers have now abdicated that responsibility and pushed it onto workers and the state. Those in control of most private enterprises haven’t increased wages to cover those costs and, now, they want to cut the social support services provided by the state (the only organization large enough to constrain the wealthy’s ability to literally enslave us), so they can sell them to people instead. This is neoliberalism in a nutshell.
Then it is suggested that I “agreed” to that wage. More like, I agreed to take a job because the other option was unemployment. That’s the case for most people. Even moving to a new company with an assured position, as I explained I did in that essay, doesn’t mean you can truly negotiate for anything more than a higher wage. Benefits packages, even when you ask, aren’t always clearly explained.
I can only roll my eyes at those who would tell me it’s my fault I was born with an illness and, thus, I am an unnecessary burden to both employers and the state and I deserve no help with managing my illness, which requires money to pay exorbitant health care and medication costs. First, clearly, I do provide value or I wouldn’t be employed. I roll my eyes because the people who make such claims were long ago laughed away as social Darwinists and Nazis and either can’t see a world in which managing my illness doesn’t cost $2,200 a month for over-priced drugs or simply oppose people receiving health care in the event it costs them anything. That’s truly sociopathic.
And I roll my eyes because I know most people aren’t like those who level such critiques. It’s also easier to say such things over the internet. They’d likely be a bit less vocal in front of a crowd of their peers. Unless those peers happen to all be members of the sociopath’s club, in which we can already include Wall Street financiers, most CEOs, everyone with a hidden overseas bank account or massive landholdings in major cities and many more.
Finally, as I intimated above, neoliberal capitalism will kill us. It will destroy the planet — and in increasingly short order. “The market” does not and cannot accurately price the cost of depleted non-renewable resources, environmental damage and health issues caused and so much more. It can’t take those things into account. If it did, it would stop operating in a way that allows those with money to earn more by doing less.
It would require true innovation. Not new apps revolutionizing the way we do things we already do. We need new goals and new ways to accomplish them that don’t destroy the planet or peoples’ livelihoods and lives.
A better world is possible. But, if we’re to even start building such a world, you must believe it’s possible, too.