Capitalism Vs. Capitulation

Something is seriously wrong here. I’m completely confused by what I’m seeing on Wall Street and across the nation. As protesters flood in, the “Occupiers” tell us the system is broken. They complain that corporate profits rose as working wages stagnated, and we’re told that capitalism is failing. When wages did go up, corporations desperate to maintain prices in a cost-conscious market used more automation and shipped more jobs overseas. But, when unemployment went up, we were told that the real culprit was corporate greed.   Then, to save those American jobs, the government stepped in and gave billions to companies that had already mismanaged millions, and they told us it was because the free market didn’t work.

As the housing boom erupted, property values went up, but people complained that the rising prices were unfair to lower income families, and that the American Dream was dying. So Congress passed laws that made money easier to lend, kept interest rates low and mortgages cheap, then told us everyone should be able to buy a house. But cheap money made for risky lending and a bubble that eventually burst. And now millions of people who borrowed money they didn’t have for houses they couldn’t afford have defaulted on loans they never would have taken in the first place had they not been convinced it was their right. And, while properties are foreclosed and the investments evaporate, it’s the banking practices that are most often condemned.

Education is important, but as tuitions rose we were told it was unfair that not everyone could afford to go to college. So, politicians pushed for more student loans to make higher education more attainable for lower income students. Schools with limited facilities were increasingly flooded with willing applicants, and yet, somehow people are surprised that universities that cannot turn people away for any other reason use an increase in tuition and fees to keep their enrollment in check. So as more and more kids graduate with debt that far outweighs any job their degree might possibly validate, we’re told it’s the lenders that need correcting and the loans that need forgiven.

Credit cards are now an integral part of an economy where once cash was king. Savings accounts and layaway were quickly discarded as the “need it now” mentality took us from planning for what we could afford to arranging for what we could finance. Through a downward spiral of personal debt, families became apathetic to the thought of throwing thousands of dollars a year out the window on interest payments alone. Yet, when the credit limits were maxed out and the payments brought too much pain, it was the ethics of the lenders that came into question. So regulations were changed and limits were set on how much a bank could charge, but as fees were raised to cover the resulting loss in revenue, even if it was well within the new rules, the customers continued to cry foul.

Years ago a man would work until one of two things happened: he either saved enough to retire or his dwindling faculties forced him to. But over the years we convinced ourselves that the realities of self reliance were oppressive. So the government stepped in with the promise of social security. But the safety net was judged as too small, so taxes were increased to care for those who couldn’t work. And with a continuing call for compassion the benefits were expanded to the point where half as many workers are now footing the bill for twice as many recipients, but when anyone dares question its solvency, they’re called heartless, callous and cruel.

Something IS seriously wrong. But it’s not the system. Blaming capitalism for a recession is like blaming gravity for a plane crash. Claiming the free market has failed because unemployment is high is like cursing electricity when your light bulb burns out. And protesting the rich for the plight of the poor is like hating the Yankees because the Indians didn’t win.

Every year I hear more and more complaining that the outcomes are unjust because the rules are unfair. So the rules get changed and the system becomes more complex, and red tape and bureaucracy ensnare a whole new class of victim. So agencies are created and civil servants are brought on board to shepherd the unfortunate flock. But the only result seems to be an ever increasing dependency on the assistance of others, so more is drained from those who produce to care for the needs of those who consume. And, as the disparity between the two groups increases we’re once again told that it’s unfair. We’re told we are victims. And we’re told that the rich are to blame and that the system is broken. So the masses protest and the rules are changed and the whole thing starts again.

Something is very seriously wrong, but it’s not with the system, it’s with the society. Capitalism isn’t failing us, we’re failing it. Our economy wasn’t established on the basis of fairness of outcome but equality of opportunity. And, if we’re not happy with the results we have no one to blame but ourselves. We keep changing the recipe and tweaking the rules and now we’re complaining that we can’t make clam chowder out of cake mix.

Step by step we’ve surrendered a system of limitless possible gain for the desire of a system promising limited potential loss. We’ve sacrificed much of the capacity for individual prosperity but have yet to realize the end of collective misery. We’re told that we can’t do it without government intervention, with their corrective legislation and compassionate regulation. But, with the growing demonization of success we submit more and more to mediocrity and fall further and further from being a nation where happiness was once a protected "pursuit".

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Volume 7, Issue 21, Posted 7:12 PM, 10.19.2011