Friday, April 04, 2008

Wake Up, People!

“The Judds worship money. They make it a stand-in for all the other qualities of life. If you can be nice, or have money, take the money. If you can be brave, or have money, take the money. If you can have friends or have money, take the money. They’re like that. They don’t even hide it. Take the money.” —Excerpted from Dark of the Moon, by John Sandford

There’s something inherently wrong with a system that trades real wealth for the illusion of wealth. That so many people subscribe to the illusion only compounds the problem.

Monetary wealth, as most people know, never trickles downward. Instead, it works its way upward, pulling poverty along behind it. This kind of wealth redistribution is acceptable to the privileged and powerful. The kind of wealth redistribution that’s not acceptable to them is the kind they fear the most, the kind that takes money out of their pockets and into the hands of the lower classes.

The wealthy class does whatever it takes to protect its wealth and accumulate more; lie, cheat, steal—even kill when it’s expedient. The dominant mindset of the fabulously wealthy is that no amount of excess is excessive, no amount of greed inexcusable, and that too much is never enough.

We live in a broken world, a world that humans broke by using a symbiotic combination of unbridled capitalism and rampant greed. With global rainforests in decline, ocean ecosystems in disarray and on the brink of imminent collapse, and agricultural land threatened by encroaching population growth and the attendant pollution and resource exploitation that inevitably leads to desertification— all for the sake of personal and corporate profits—we’re quickly reaching a point beyond which the damage is irrevocable and our chances of recovery nil.

As currently practiced, capitalism is nothing more than a high-stakes Monopoly game in which the more one acquires the more one is able to acquire. Money begets money begets power begets more of each, ad infinitum.

It’s precisely this kind of wealth accumulation that disenfranchises a huge majority of the population, that allows public infrastructure to crumble, the quality of education to decline, the number of living wage jobs to plummet; it fuels inflation, stifles economic competition, drives housing costs into unaffordable territory for many, and puts health care out of reach for many more.

One of the major flaws of capitalism is that it overvalues money and undervalues or refuses to recognize other forms of wealth; healthy ecosystems, unpolluted air and water, pristine environments, biological diversity, food and water security, and sustainability are prime examples of various forms of wealth that are given short shrift in capitalism’s marketplace.

But capitalism has other flaws, too, some of them fatal. Although you’ll never get hardcore capitalists to admit it, capitalism’s primary fatal flaw is that it eventually consumes all of its capital, including material resources capital, environmental capital, and human capital. For the capitalist economic model to succeed, it must rely on an endless supply of resources and increasing numbers of consumers, neither of which are possible on a finite world.

Capitalism works just fine as long as there are plentiful resources and a small population with room to expand, but when resource scarcity becomes widespread and population numbers reach the limits of sustainability, it quickly falls apart. When an economic system excludes or disenfranchises large numbers of citizens while simultaneously heaping unearned or undeserved rewards on a much smaller privileged class of citizens, it sets itself up for an avalanche of unintended consequences, including poverty, homelessness, increasing crime rates, infrastructure breakdown, and periods of recession, inflation, and stagflation that eventually end in economic depression.

Tension between a relatively small class of over-privileged rich people and a huge class of marginalized poor people is building. At some point a clash between these two diverse groups is bound to result.

In one scenario of such a conflict, the rich eliminate the threat posed to their wealth simply by disposing of the poor and large segments of the middle class—in other words, the mass extermination of as many as 5.5 billion people worldwide. In another scenario, the poor eat the rich.

There are other ways this can play out, but for peaceful resolutions to the problems presented by wealth disparity to come about, people on both sides of the issue must first come to their senses. Maintaining the status quo is no longer an option.