The greed and selfishness that the free market capitalist economy inspires impact just about every area of social and commercial interaction in consenting societies, it seems. It’s not just Wall Street and government leaders caught in the trap. It’s the entire system in terms of the way that it’s set to run, which moves the money ever more to the top economic tier by siphoning it from the bottom and middle ones.
Since there is a relatively fixed supply of money, it stands to reason that the more that one sector of society gets of it (often through economic disaster schemes in the patterns that Naomi Klein describes) — the less that exists for other sections. So in the end, the country increasingly becomes a banana republic with a huge lower class, a greatly affluent upper class and not much in between.
Years ago, the founder of central Massachusetts’ food bank told me of the obscenely high salaries that the directors of a major, well-known Massachusetts charity providing funds for hungry Americans received every year, an amount that was purposefully not readily made public. The reason is that all of the volunteers for this charity, that raises millions of dollars each year, would be greatly dismayed that around a fourth of them were, actually, working to enrich upper management.
In other words, approximately a quarter of the money raised went to salaries and much of the rest went into advertising so that, in the final reckoning, only a modest amount, actually, helped to provide food security. What a seamy racket! The unwary public, eager to work hard to uplift starving Americans, was (is), obviously, duped in the process.
Granted, the charity’s directors who we were discussing were talented in terms of advertising and, in other ways, promoting the aid organization. However, can’t competent executives and other upper tier staff be found that are willing to work for much less than this bunch due to a devotion to the causes that they are advancing?
In the end, is it really just about the money that’s a primary motivator for the people who plot, scheme, climb and claw their way into the top positions in organizations in an outright self-enrichment gambit? If so, what a sad state of affairs even if they have the skills and understandings to be greatly adept in their jobs!
In addition, what does such a situation imply about the underlying social values, ethics and principles that guide all manners of social affairs in countries whose public condones such a pattern? Would you want to venture a guess?
Perhaps the general situation is somewhat best summed up by John Berger as follows:
“The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.”
Of course, the drift of this overall discourse begs several other questions. They are: Do we really imagine that executives of businesses like the aforementioned Massachusetts charity and Boys & Girls Clubs (“Senators question $1 million pay for charity’s CEO”) want to self-police to avoid blatant financial abuse when it is potentially so personally lucrative not to do so? Do government representatives want to provide this service when they, indirectly, benefit in myriad ways from lack of corporate regulation?
In relation, does free market enterprise without tight controls really represent the best way to serve societies as a whole? Does the prevailing model of capitalism in general create benefits for the majority of people and preserve an intact natural world despite that gain of maximal profits derive from taking advantage of both? Lastly, on what patterns relative to eco-systems and working populations is economic growth founded?
Emily Spence is an author living in Massachusetts. She has spent many years involved in human rights, environmental and social services efforts.