Collapse of Capitalism, Part IV: Razor Wire and Wealth
By Phil Polizatto,WWH/CJE - When Egyptians rose up to oust the decades-long, brutal, dictatorial rule of Hosni Mubarak, one of the first acts of the government was to order the police and the army to protect multimillion dollar homes and neighborhoods in the hilly suburbs outlying Cairo. How very typical. It is my experience that in every developing country I’ve been to, and there have been quite a few, regardless of how poor a city seems to be, how dirty, how gaunt, hungry and sick the people, there’s always a neighborhood that could be anywhere in upscale America.
They have wonderful supermarkets with the best produce and vegetables and imported delicacies from around the world. In addition, there are delicatessens, cafes, and the best bakeries. There are designer apparel shops and expensive jewelry stores. There are quaint streets with beautiful mansions hidden behind tall walls. The inhabitants of these neighborhoods are usually the American state department employees, American businessmen, rich European businessmen and diplomats, local politicians at the higher levels of government, and the wealthiest of the country’s families.
Oh, and this neighborhood is invariably in the hills surrounding the city, or the penthouses of the inner core. Either way, the residents symbolically and literally, look down at the rest of their countrymen. They are required, however, to top their walls with razor wire, have armed guards in front of the Supermarket and in front of their homes or high-rises 24 hours a day, and live in the kind of fear the owners of those multimillion dollar homes on the outskirts of Cairo must have feared. Are they afraid that the ones they have looked down upon for so many decades might rise up? Are they afraid that these, their brothers and sisters, who do the consuming and the working, might resent this upscale neighborhood, while a thousand others way below live in squalor? If they aren’t afraid, they should be.
In developing nations, the disparity of wealth and the chasm between rich and poor is more readily visible than in the U. S. or other industrialized nations, but not for long. The differences will become more noticeable as our middle class continues to disintegrate and wealth and power are held in the hands of a very few. The reason is simple: Capitalism. Capitalism as an economic system depends on two primary demographics: the owners of the means of productions and resources, and the workers/consumers to produce and purchase the goods in question.
That Capitalism and Classism go hand in hand is a given. The riches of many a well-known family was made off the sweat and blood of the worker. For a while in the United States and elsewhere, there were a number of classes, each climbing over the backs of the ones below them. Fortunately, for many years, we enjoyed a thriving middle class and strong unions. The difference between the rich and poor was obvious, but it hadn’t yet reached the pinnacle of gluttony until the rise of corporate capitalism after the Civil War, and today’s global economies, which make the divide larger and larger.
Supply and Demand, one of the mainstay principles of Capitalism, is anachronistic. Each can be manipulated by other than market forces, which more accurately reflect true human behavior. This is especially true as companies and banks continue to merge, grow, eliminate competition, etc. The effect is to deplete the middle class even further, until there are only two: the very poor and the extremely rich. But the real irony is that Capitalism is doomed to collapse if we cannot maintain a healthy middle class upon whom the owners of resources and production depend. And if not purely on financial grounds, one would think morality plays some role, minor as it unfortunately appears to be.
Some of our wealthiest Americans understand that they cannot thrive knowing others are suffering. That it is to their benefit to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. Not just because it will prevent an Egypt-like uprising, but because they have come to know their lives can not be enriched as long as others are suffering.
We need to start asking ourselves what are the things Common to all human life. We all cherish good health. We all need enough food and water to sustain ourselves. We all need shelter and clothing to shield us from the cold. We all need transportation to get to work. We all wish we could enjoy our old age. These are The Common. They are certainly not The Extraordinary.
This past Sunday, I heard Senator Boehner being interviewed. He was none too pleased with the projected spending cuts that Obama will be advising. No, he says, we are in deep trouble and “now it is time to call upon all Americans to share the pain.” Oh, I get it! We may not share in the wealth, because that would be socialism. But we can share the pain because that is patriotic? Extending the tax cuts to the rich was sharing the pain? Even though it may have avoided cutting vital programs? WTF?
These past weeks I have been ranting and railing against Capitalism, and often using the word Socialism as a model for a preferable system. But fear not all of you in your mansions hidden away from the madding crowd. I for one, have no intention of trying to steal your lifestyle. I merely wish to provide those things which we shall call The Common. Once you start to think about it, you will realize we all have much more in common with each other than not.
Imagine a young girl has a birthday party. All the classmates are invited. They are sitting in a circle when Mom brings in the cake and places it before the Birthday girl. But instead of letting Mom cut the cake into enough pieces for everyone, the girl decides to keep the whole cake for herself. The other boys and girls will be crushed with disappointment. Depending on how disappointed they are, they might start misbehaving; getting angry. They might even take her cake away from her. Or, maybe they will just sit there stifling tears. Some party!
But maybe, just maybe, the girl willingly shares her cake. She may even get a larger piece than the others because it is her Birthday. What does she discover? What does she learn? She learns that everyone is happy which makes her happy which makes her Birthday a huge success and in the future she is invited to other kids’ parties. Wouldn’t it be nice if she came to the conclusion to share her cake voluntarily and not because Mom walked in and scolded her, or because her peers glared at her and wagged their fingers in disgust?
It would be so lovely to have those with extraordinary wealth share just a smidgen of it voluntarily to help meet the needs of The Common. However, voluntary philanthropy, unless it is to get a tax break, is very rare. Nevertheless, I end this series by reminding you that life is short and could be sweet for everyone, if the super wealthy realized we do not want to take their cake or toys away, we just want them to come to the party and all of us enjoy it together.
To contact Phil or find out more: check out his website and blog For a copy of HUNGA DUNGA
Phil Polizatto is a graduate of The School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. He was a feature writer for the overseas division of UPI, a copywriter for CBS, and an award-winning corporate film producer. Mr. Polizatto is a published poet and a regular contributor to Worldwide Hippies as well as a variety of other arts and literary journals. Hunga Dunga is his first published novel. He resides in the Pacific Northwest.