Tag: Economy

We Do Not Live in a Plutocracy

It irritates me when people say we (in the U.S.) live in a plutocracy, but only because it seems that more often than not that viewpoint is their excuse to give up and not even try to prevent that from becoming a reality.

There are plenty of checks on corporations that are not only essential to our quality of life, but that we also take for granted, and that would no longer exist if this were actually a plutocracy. Such checks and protections include the following facts:

  • False advertising is still illegal (and it’s enforced well enough that it’s not really a common thing)
  • We can still sue corporations (and sometimes win)
  • (For the most part, at least) you’re not forced / coerced / legally required to purchase things that you don’t want to
  • Products come with an implied warranty
  • Employees have rights, including the following:
    • Sick leave (unpaid)
    • Worker’s compensation (except in Texas)
    • Overtime pay (for certain categories of workers)
    • Minimum wage
    • Child labor laws (in the form of restrictions on age and work hours)
  • Food and drugs have to be determined safe for consumption by the FDA (with the notable exception of vaccines; and yes, the FDA is becoming increasingly corrupt)
  • Contracts between companies and consumers and between companies and employees are more-or-less reasonable and tend to be honored/enforced
  • There are environmental protections in place that of course run counter to the interests of corporations
  • There are laws against anti-competition and monopolies
  • Essential companies can be categorized and regulated as public service companies
  • Basic human rights still exist within the context of corporations—for example a company can’t issue corporal punishment against its employees, can’t threaten or kill people who go against them, etc.

If you think these rules still exist just because of the goodhearted nature of corporations, that’s very naive thinking. A corporation’s top priority is to make money in any way they possibly can, including exploiting or subverting people, communities, resources, the environment, and the government whenever they can. The only thing holding them back is the law, except in those cases where they think they can get away with breaking it. When a company does display goodhearted behavior, it’s generally in the interest of public relations. So the very existence of the checks and protections listed above is evidence that we do not (yet) live in a plutocracy or oligarchy.

Now I’m not trying to say that there isn’t a problem or that we’re not under threat of becoming a plutocracy eventually—the reason for my complaint is that when people assume we’re already a plutocracy, they give up and are disinclined to help prevent that from happening, which is badly needed. They also unthinkingly take for granted all the graces we actually still have..

Acting to help prevent the country from becoming a plutocracy is so badly needed because we’re on the road to becoming one quickly. Through campaign contributions, paid lobbying, media manipulation, political bribes, etc., corporations and other private interests are essentially buying legislation, and this will only spiral out of control because the more private interests affect the government toward their own ends, the more avenues they’ll create or unblock for further manipulation, which will enable them to create and unblock further avenues, and so on and so forth. We’ve already begun to see this process in action with the invention of super PACs. And the growing disparity between the classes will, of course, exacerbate the problem.

So please, don’t commit the sin of throwing your hands up and saying it’s hopeless because we’re already a plutocracy. Go out and vote. Write your congresspeople. Donate to political causes. Talk about what needs to be done with others. Because considering it a lost cause already is too easy.


Contrary to popular belief, a strong economy is not a good sign, and that which aids the economy is not by that virtue good.

Of course a strong economy means that more work is being produced and more things are being bought.

But in our utopian ideal of The More the Better, we overlook a few key factors.

A. Producing more means working more. We don’t like our work generally, and it’s only because of routine that we can tolerate fiddling away a third of our lives doing that. Once we’ve already put a pay period’s worth of hours into this danse macabre, it seems worthwhile to spend all that money we’ve gained on certain material goods and services: “ahh, I can spend the remaining half of my waking life in front of a bigger TV.” And of course, to keep up our level of expenditure it only seems necessary to continue working as much as we do. The point is that since we’re virtually blind to how much time we’re throwing away it’s hard to tell if it’s really worth it. We start because ‘that’s how it’s done’ and continue because by that time we’re used to it.

B. Buying more stuff means more opportunity to give in to looking for happiness outside of ourselves and outside of simple social interaction. I.e., it makes it easier to get lost in our already-characteristic consumerism.. trying to find temporary highs against the humdrum of a life that we subliminally know is lacking in some very vital ways. This consumerism is driven in part by the manipulation of the people who really want you to buy their products. So again, we come full circle, and it would seem that while that wheel is spinning, the hamster is dead, or at least he’s not really getting anywhere.

C. There are costs to the earth itself of conjuring up this cornucopia of goods.

C1. We take resources, some of them replenishable, most of them not. What does it mean when our entire civilization depends on constantly reaping resources that will eventually run out? Screw you, grandchildren?

C2. In our transmogrification of those resources, we pollute the planet. We pollute the air, resulting in acid rain, smog, various diseases, and global warming; we pollute the water, poisoning the fish; and we pollute the land.

C3. We consume land, not just by inhabitance but by mere depletion. 80% of our forests have already been destroyed. We wipe out animals by the species. By some analyses what we’ve caused amounts to a worldwide catastrophe tantamount to the that which caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. In fact, experts say species are dying out at a faster rate now than they did in any other mass-extinction event in the planet’s history.

In no way is a stronger economy a better thing. It is the orgy of our psychotic delusion regarding what makes a ‘good life’. It’s not good for the planet, and anybody who’s wise knows that that means it can’t possibly be good for us.

So the next time someone impels you to buy something that you may not have otherwise bought just for the sake of ‘helping the economy’, thereby creating demanding the fulfillment of more miserable labor and consuming more resources and polluting the planet that much more, don’t fall for such convoluted logic.

Even beside the massive strain on the earth, the logic is convoluted because people don’t like working (especially at, say, factories), and they have to work to create that product you didn’t even want that much in the first place. If you really want to spend money to help your country, it would probably be better just to give it away than to buy something you didn’t want, or maybe volunteer some labor by, say, helping build housing for the poor..

Cheap labor vs. jobs

Imagine you have a servant who does all the stuff you don’t particularly want to do for, say, 5 cents an hour. He vacuums your house, he builds your furniture, etc. Or even imagine that you have a person you can buy a new car from for $100. Now imagine that, instead of the subjects being you and your servant, they are your country versus another country that gives your country goods and services for really cheap prices. How could this possibly be a disadvantage?

The problem—or at least the widely-perceived problem—is, of course, that when people get goods and services for cheap from overseas, they no longer pay the people in their own country to do the work, so people lose jobs. This is why we have protectionistic measures in effect such as tariffs, quotas, etc. But the same very basic principle that makes it a benefit to an individual person to receive the benefits of labor for little cost should logically also apply to an individual group of people or country, therefore the concern that receiving the benefits of cheap labor overseas somehow harms us is fundamentally irrational.

The only difference in the case of the whole country from that of the individual is that in this case, some members will gain the benefits from this type of transaction while others won’t, i.e. those who don’t can’t buy anything because they’re unemployed. Therefore, if only the benefits of this kind of transaction are absorbed by the receiving nation wisely, or in other words, if the received goods and services are distributed evenly (or evenly enough) among the country’s populace, it should be an overall boon to the country and everyone should benefit.

The reason this isn’t the case is that, under our current capitalistic ideology, we’re way too afraid of the idea of giving anyone economic benefit who didn’t earn it through labor. If we simply accept that we can be wealthy enough as a nation for some people to live well without having to work, then the availability of cheap labor overseas should never be a problem..

The same principle above applies to the threat looming on the horizon—and to some degree happening now—of robot labor replacing our jobs.

Of course, the details of how to wisely redistribute the wealth resulting from cheap labor would probably be complex, especially due to the issue that if nobody has any incentive to work, due to being able to receive economic benefit for free, then the country as a whole won’t have anything to offer foreign countries in exchange for goods and services; but I believe the problem is solvable and should be solved.

The details of how to wisely redistribute goods are outside of my intentions for this article, but one thing I will mention is that if people are guaranteed a sufficient, but minimal, living (such as shelter, food, water, clothing and possibly basic medical care) without the need to work, then the desire to have a much better living might still act as a sufficient incentive for a sufficient number of people to join the workforce.

I suppose a legitimate concern might be “what if there aren’t even enough jobs available for those who want to work to support the whole nation because they’re all replaced by overseas jobs?” And given that jobs could be done for lower wages to create more openings, I think this is equivalent to (or isomorphic to) the concern that our own labor may become too cheap due to its naturally shrinking until it matches the price of overseas labor.

To this concern I would say that there must be something already advantageous about the natural resources, infrastructure, government, culture, education, intelligence, place within the international community, or something of the country receiving the benefits of cheap labor that affords it its superior economy, or in other words that gives its people the luxury of working for higher wages or gives the country a stronger currency; and this has to be some advantage other than simply a practice of paying people more money to work, because doing that would end up simply causing prices of all goods and services to go up and hence raising inflation and weakening the country’s currency. And therefore, whatever advantage that country has already would remain even if they adjusted distribution and the workforce so properly reap the benefits of cheap labor overseas.