Sean Hannity spent this past week talking about the wonders of what’s possible in a government when capitalists are free to do their thing without the shackles of regulation holding them back. He continually pointed out that most of our history has been spent living this way and that it’s been a huge success story. Of course this is about as accurate as a description of the world as seen by someone who only looks at the sky why surrounded by trash.
Fans of his point of view believe that, left to their own devices, capitalism is self-balancing, self-righting and self-monitoring and that nothing else is needed. If one company exploits another will come along to win consumers over to them driving the first out of business—or so the myth goes.
Yes, we spent the majority of our history with capitalists free to do what they felt was right without interference from the government. So can someone once again explain how capitalism saved the day with respect to slavery, racism, sexism, ageism and any other -ism we can come up with?
Where would we be without child labor laws? We had children not even in puberty working in coal mines for 16 hours a day and the capitalists saw nothing wrong with it—unless it was their kids.
Where was the balance of capitalism to free us from the chains of slavery? That one took a war and 600,000 lives to correct all because those wonderful capitalist rednecks in the south could only see African Americans as property. The will of the majority of the population couldn’t wake these people up. If not for the government we might still have slavery today. Don’t laugh. As you get older you realize that 1861 wasn’t really all that long ago. We still have many things today that came directly from that era.
It took the government to get big tobacco companies to finally explain to consumers that their product was dangerous. It took government to break up Standard Oil. For those that don’t know the Standard Oil company, suffice to say that Exxon, Mobil, Amoco, Chevron and many other of the biggest oil companies were all once Standard Oil. Their abuses were so blatant that the government finally stepped in and broke them up in 1911. Standard also made the way for the robber barons among others.
For a more recent example it took the government to break up AT&T and look at what’s happened to phone prices and features. An even more recent example is the current mortgage fiasco. Almost everyone in the field jumped at the chance to take their cut of the pie looking the other way while they approved loans for people who had no means to repay them. This is what unbridled capitalism bears. Government isn’t always the answer as it took government to allow AT&T to gain the very monopoly they later broke up but it is essential in keeping things in balance. Don’t even get me started on the Enron‘s of the world.
Today you’ve got doctors causing the deaths of patients because they’re paid by insurance companies to deny claims of the very people they swore an oath to heal. Are you kidding me with this? People love to talk about the big bad government. Yet the tune of these very people change at the first sign of trouble. Nearly all of us have been aghast at the total lack of compassion and understanding that capitalism can bring. A building that has no working sprinklers that kills dozens in a fire. A product made with inferior parts to save a penny or two against some lost lives. The bean-counters at these companies that decide that a cheaper gas tank costs them less in “accidental” death cases than to use a safer, more expensive design.
History teaches us that without government regulation and government oversight capitalism doesn’t self-balance. They instead collude against the populace all in the name of the almighty bottom line no matter what the costs. Capitalism is also extremely near-sighted—often lacking any desire to think for the long term because it’s often about getting the money while the getting is good. Meanwhile the Hannity’s of the world continue to act as if all of this is acceptable and, in fact, preferable to the evil specter of “socialism”.