Obama and Romney: capitalism’s race downward

The presidential election is heating up, and the candidates are putting forward their best solutions to our country’s economic woes, complete with fake smiles and faux concern for common people. From a quick perusal of Mitt Romney’s campaign website, he prescribes more of the same, sick medicine economists and politicians have been shoving down our throats for the last 40 years: more trade, lower taxes, and fewer government regulations.

Barack Obama, for his part, signed free-trade agreements with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea last year; Bloomberg News reported last October that Obama approved 5 percent fewer government regulations than George W. Bush; and Obama’s campaign website notes that his administration wants to increase taxes on Americans with incomes over $250,000 a year. Like Romney, Obama wants more trade and fewer government regulations but differs with him with regard to taxes.

Their respective positions can be summed up as follows: Romney wants your children to work in the mines all day. Obama, on the other hand, being the generous man that he is, wants your children to work in the mines for only 12 hours a day and with a 30 minute lunch break. Yes, they’re different positions, like being hit by a bus or a car is different.

Americans have a problem and they’re loath to admit it. That problem is the social and economic system in which they exist: capitalism. Unfortunately, Obama and Romney, with their similar platforms, can do nothing about our Big Problem because both candidates are products of the systems’ beneficence. Romney made millions by buying companies and firing its employees. Obama political career was bankrolled by people like Romney.

Americans are in a state of denial. Unfortunately, that state of denial has been enduring for decades. American values of industriousness and rugged individualism are inextricably bound with capitalist notions of private property and free enterprise. To say that capitalism is a problem is like saying there’s something wrong with America. Utter sacrilege.

Capitalism is the most productive social system ever devised by humanity. Even Karl Marx could not help but laud its achievements in the Communist Manifesto while simultaneously condemning them. Productive though it may be, capitalism has also wrought tremendous environmental damage, fostered a poisonous work ethic, and trapped us in a neverending spiral of consumption and debt accumulation. Many college students are especially sensitive to this, seeing as how their new purpose in life is to pay off the loans accumulated throughout their college career. Moreover, capitalism has condemned the laboring classes to a bitter struggle with employer class over basic needs, such as better pay and better health care.

To give but one example of this bitter struggle, Mike Elk, labor journalist for “In These Times,” reported on May 17 that the industrial conglomerate Honeywell suspended operations on May 10 at its Metropolis, Illinois, uranium conversion plant and told all of its employees to leave the premises. In the days that followed, most of Honeywell’s nonunion workforce was allowed to return to work while its 168-member union workforce was not.

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Capitalism embraces vicious values that emphasize competition over cooperation, hierarchy over equality, and greed over sharing. Life is treated like a sport in which everyone must beat and dominate all others. With unemployment currently at 8.1 percent, it’s no wonder that people are scrambling to climb over the backs of their fellow workers for the chance to work and make a living. How can you blame them? We are what we emulate.

Capitalism has only existed for some 500 years, a mere blip in the course of human existence, which stretches back approximately 250,000 years. During that time, humanity proceeded through tribal, slave, and feudal societies, each embracing different kinds of social relationships. If we recognize that capitalism is a historical system with a historically conditioned set of social relationships and values like all the others, we can imagine a future in which equality and cooperation are the salient values. If we can imagine it, we can then fight for it. Obama and Romney do not seek to usher in those values. They seek to preserve the status quo and its Machiavellian values.