Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Our Collective Sickness

The American brand of capitalism is, in my judgment, the source of our collective malaise. The profit motive has become the essential driving force of our culture; it informs almost all aspects of our cultural life and does not seem to recognize or accept any ethical boundaries. It appears that those who live in the rarefied atmosphere of wealth and power feel that they are somehow exempted from the fundamental concepts of ethics and social responsibility that are essential for a society to be truly harmonious. There are many examples that adequately demonstrate this point -
• The financial debacle that has driven so many individuals and small businesses to ruination was powered primarily by the greed and unprincipled and arrogant behavior of the manipulators of capital. In spite of the horrendous damage that their behavior has visited on the financial well-being of the nation, the prime movers of this debacle have remained essentially unscathed. The corrupt Congress helped facilitate this catastrophe in many subtle and not so subtle ways.
• The abuse of the public trust perpetrated Corporate America as exemplified by Enron – the energy company that shamelessly boasted about the extent to which they screwed over California rate payers.
• The CEOs of major corporations who fashion golden parachutes for themselves while simultaneously disregarding the conditions of the very workers who are responsible for the actual productivity of their organizations. This includes the reprehensible behavior of the CEOs of the for-profit health insurance companies who put in place business practices whose primary function is to purposefully deny as much coverage as possible to their clients who fall seriously ill. The purpose of this draconian way of doing business is to ensure good returns to their stockholders and riches beyond the imagination to those in charge (estimates are that William W McGuire of United Health Group received 1.7 billion dollars worth of compensation, a value that represents one dollar out of every 700 dollars spent on health insurance in the entire nation).
• The many substantial corporations that have taken advantage of loop holes in the Federal Tax Law that result in avoiding entirely the payment of income taxes. There is apparently a complete lack of any sense of personal and social responsibility.
• The tobacco companies who continue to produce addictive products that are known to kill those who use them. It is estimated that approximately forty thousand people die each year from pulmonary diseases caused by tobacco. It seems that life is apparently not that sacred after all, especially when juxtaposed against the prospect of making huge profits.
• The military-industrial complex that in many ways coerces the nation into choosing armed conflict as the essential means to achieve political ends.
• The many corporations whose practices have burdened the planet with an array of dangerous chemical compounds, including, of course, greenhouse gases without any regard for the resulting damage to the public health and the global environment.
• The extent to which corporate money has corrupted local, state and federal governments and significantly eroded the public trust.

Commerce permeates nearly every aspect of modern living, and the will to profit inundates us all. In the long term, this worldview will bring the peoples of this nation and, presumably, the world to grief, for it is unsustainable.

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