Capitalism gave us all the toys we could want, for those with money. But it also gave us overwork, stress, and inequality. Is this what winning looks like?
Many Trump voters, but clearly not all of them, are starting to realize they’ve been had. Despite promises to bring us back from “American Carnage,” his budget plan does pretty much the opposite of everything he promised Middle America on the campaign trail. He promised to Make America Great Again for coal miners, but is instead cutting programs that promote job training, entrepreneurship, and broadband in Appalachia. He promised to grow the economy bigly, but such rampant growth is increasingly unlikely. His government is a morass of ethics issues, scandal, and plutocracy. Is this what winning looks like? Are we winning yet?
For ages, fiscal conservatives have told us that there is no alternative to unfettered, free market capitalism for bringing prosperity to the masses. This also seems to be Trump’s plan. Since he doesn’t know jack about running a government of any size, and doesn’t seem terribly interested in the obligations of governing as much as he is in playing golf and basking in public adoration, he’s turning the reins (and REINS) over to the very interests who stripped the nation’s middle class of their wealth (since the poor didn’t have any, anyway) and jobs, depositing the proceeds offshore for tax purposes.
For those whose livelihoods have been outsourced to sweatshops overseas or automated away in the name of next quarter’s profits, capitalism has little to offer. The market doesn’t solve problems for you unless you have money. Cities like Detroit, whose tax and manufacturing bases eroded together, have schools filled with rodents and fungus, but not with toilet seats or decent plumbing. For many, the United States is becoming a third world country. Lacking stable employment, desperate people stitch together “gigs” – jobs with no benefits, no retirement, no paid sick days, and no defined work hours (if you’re lucky, it’s all work). Is this what winning looks like?
Have those who played along with the capitalist plan found the American dream? It depends on your definition. We’re told that capital plus innovation will bring us trinkets galore, and it has. We’re swimming in a sea of stuff! In 2012, social scientists from UCLA studied 32 middle class families in Los Angeles. They found that managing the sheer mass of our hoards of consumer goods was leading to stress overload and a deteriorating quality of life. Is this what winning looks like?
In order to buy all this stuff, and hoping that they won’t be included in the next round of layoffs, workers are ceding ever more time and mental bandwidth to their employers at ever more pointless jobs, to the point where it’s hard to put more effort into dinner than it takes to microwave some protein nuggets. No wonder our health suffers. Even more, traditionally “Red” (Republican) states have more workplace deaths per capita. They’re literally dying for capitalism. Is this what winning looks like?
Socialism is growing in popularity, especially among Millennials, and no wonder. Stress, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, insecurity, and inequality are all unhealthy, yet the plutocratic health plan involves insurance rate hikes, anemic coverage, and uninsurability if you have pre-existing conditions, and who doesn’t? Universal health care, while imperfect, can’t be much worse. Even if our national debate suffers from misunderstanding the scare-word “socialism,” this might be what winning looks like.
Even socialism (and its political cousin, communism) is based upon the same industrial culture that is robbing us of our environment and wellbeing. Perhaps we should look a bit further back, to a time when we still had everything we needed, even if we didn’t need so many toys. As author Lynn Parramore observes, the Kalahari Bushmen don’t have rockets, but they do have two-and-a-half-day workweeks. This could be what winning looks like.
As the Trump administration sells us out to his lobbyist friends over the next four years or so, it’s clear that we’re on our own and will have to find our own solutions to our problems. Ideas have begun trickling in from places like Gary, Indiana, whose residents saw their future in art, to third world countries that provide examples for our third world counties: build food forests. Our religious institutions could facilitate people teaming up to help each other and help their communities live in a new/old way. This, readers, is what winning looks like.