Thursday, September 27, 2007

Supercapitalism and the Poor

This week I've been reading Robert Reich's Supercapitalism, which argues that capitalism and democracy have basically come unhinged. Democracy may need capitalism, he says, but the evidence that capitalism needs democracy is less and less convincing all the time. While the market has become remarkably responsive to consumers and investors, the mechanisms that promote a sense of the common good have been fatally weakened. Legislative battles, he says, are almost always fights between huge corporate interests that dress themselves up as upholding the public interest for rhetorical effect. But whatever real public interest that exists and attempts to make itself felt is generally radically outgunned by superior resources and clout, and is a mere sideshow to this self-interested clash of corporate titans.

It's a sobering view of the world, and one that begs a number of uncomfortable questions about how the market responds or does not respond to poverty. There is the prison-industrial-complex, of course, which is increasingly privatized and predatory all the time. There is also the payday loan industry, which has proven notoriously difficult to regulate. When one looks at these issues through the lens of not only who benefits, but also who weighs in and how much do they pay and to whom, then things start getting more clear. Depressing, but clear.

The market responses to the housing issue are interesting to look at as well. How did we get to the point, for example, that more than three federal housing dollars go to subsidizing homeownership through tax breaks for every dollar that houses the poor? When the feds decided to get out of the housing business and began to disinvest in public housing in the late-70s, who were the corporate interests that stood to benefit from that and what role did they play? Its more than interesting that federal disinvestment coincided with the shift to approaching housing as a speculative commodity.

It's been said that in a system where housing is produced for profit, those who can provide no profit get no housing. At least they don't get it consistently. And when they do, they generally pay way too much for it.

But they provide profits in so many other ways. As objects of predatory lending. As consumers of overpriced and substandard housing. As widgets that get processed through our prisons and jails, our substandard schools, and our poverty industries on a per body basis. You could add to the list.

1 comment:

Anitra said...

The wave of democratic revolution in the 18th century -- including the American Revolution -- did not give power to "the people" in general. It moved the major focus of power from political aristocracy to the merchant class. We have not yet had the revolution that will move power from owners-of-wealth to all people equally.

A truly egalitarian society, in which resources are used to improve the lot of each individual to the height of their personal ability and ambition, would result in the most productivity for the whole and the most prosperity for all. If we were a truly rational species, that is what we'd work toward.

In reality as it is, as long as those who currently hold wealth and power do not suffer the immediate consequences of letting the rest of the world go to hell, they are most likely to use their wealth and power to maintain their privilege -- the hierarchical, centrally controlled corporate capitalism that is the antithesis of democracy and the dead end of our species.

Easter Island on a global scale.

All that we can do is do all that we can -- and then see how it plays out.