“Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?”
- Paul Gauguin
Who’s this handsome young white dude, and what’s he doing dressed up like he’s in the 19th century?
Maybe I was fool enough to give my life for the Confederacy, but I’m not so dumb, deaf and blind not to see what’s going on in this country today.
As much as I’m devoted to fighting the injustice still suffered by people of color in our country—the result of our undeniably racist history, something that someone with a past like mine knows a lot about!—with each passing day I grow more concerned about the social and economic inequality suffered by the vast majority of citizens, regardless of their skin color. In a country that prides itself on liberty and justice for all, increasingly we settle for inequality for all.
Let me say flat out that I’m not advocating socialism, so don’t go accusing me of that. Back in the 1850s when I was a cadet at West Point, my roommate unfairly accusing me of being a socialist, a communist and an abolitionist (okay, it’s true that I was a closet abolitionist, but that’s another issue). Now, with more than 150 years having transpired, we’ve seen far too many examples that prove socialism doesn’t work. As for communism, from what I can tell, it was total bullshit and not worth any further consideration. The fault, most likely, isn’t with the socialist model, but with flawed, greedy, selfish, narcissistic humankind. But since we’re seemingly stuck being flawed humans, I’m convinced that socialism will never work.
The problem right now in this country is that we have socialism for the rich, but cold, brutal capitalism for everyone else. To be more specific, just about everywhere you look the top 1% is enjoying the benefits of socialism, the next 10% enjoys a comfortable illusion of free markets, and everyone else suffers under the weight of supporting all those illusions and benefits. To say the system is “rigged” is a gross understatement.
Here’s why “socialism for the rich” is more than a catchy slogan. There are almost too many examples to mention, but let me start with access to health care, something that in my opinion should be a right, not a privilege. Big corporations like Walmart and McDonalds (fast food chains are major offenders in this regard!) pay their part-time employees minimum wage (or close to it!) and don’t even provide them with health insurance. Make no mistake, they deliberately keep their employees “part-time” so they don’t have to pay for their insurance. This is where socialism for the rich comes into play, because guess who pays for those people’s healthcare? The American taxpayer, that’s who! We taxpayers (I’ve been dead over 150 years, but even I pay taxes!) pay for Medicaid, the subsidies provided by the National Health Care Act (“Obamacare”), and an almost infinite number of state programs. While executives make huge salaries and bonuses, while their stock and bond holders reap profits from money those executives should have used to pay for their employees’ healthcare.
How dare they dump responsibility for their employees off on the public dole and act like they REALLY made a profit? Who made up those rules? I’ll tell you who—the lobbyists they pay to influence our government, our so-called democracy. On top of all that, we’re supposed to hold them in esteem and admire their success. It’s a success that everyone else pays for.
Some of the biggest companies in America have only achieved their success because they’re continually subsidized by the rest of us. Amazon.com, which avoided paying sales taxes in all states up until 2017, is a prime (pardon the pun) example, but I’ll go into that charming example in another time and place. On top of that, these same companies (their PR departments, that is) have the audacity to claim they’d have to raise their prices—and we’d all suffer—if they had to pay for their employees’ health insurance, never mind higher wages. One gets the impression that cutting the top executives’ salaries is out of the question, as though the group at the top is capitalism’s sacred class.
And then there’s the ridiculous premise that shareholders, the “average investor” (is there such a thing?), benefits from the largest corporations’ success. While it’s true that, if you include their participation in mutual funds and pensions, more than half of American families own “some” stock, that figure is grossly misleading. The fact is, over 50% of the stock is owned by just the top 1%; think of it, more than half of the corporate wealth is owned by just 1% of the population! What’s even worse, 84% of the stock is owned by the top 10%. That means that the entire 90% only owns about 15%! A pretty sad state of affairs if you ask me!
Finally, let’s not forget my personal favorite, the sacrosanct imperative of increasing, and protecting, shareholder wealth. If any phrase ever rolled off professors’ tongues at our nation’s top business schools, that was it. And If ever there was a crock of shit that puts communism to shame it’s the ridiculous premise that any and all corporate actions are justified in the name of sacred shareholder wealth. The personal interests of the executives who make the decisions, or course, are usually aligned with those of the shareholders, but no matter. At what point will they stop? Would they justify murder in the name of shareholder wealth? Well, if you look at the decisions corporate executives have made adversely impacting public health and safety, including the environment and the calamitous threat posed by climate change that, the answer is a resounding “yes.”