Greed: The Achilles Heel of Capitalism
Seventeen months after the onslaught of the worst economic crisis since the 1930's, if you think we're well on the way to solving the problem, think again. Recent developments tell us it's not so. The real source of our financial woes, individually and as a country, hasn't been touched. It's called greed.
Illustration #1 - The U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling that corporations and other groups can spend as much money as they wish in support of political candidates' campaigns. The reason given is the protection of free speech. The truth is, speech is no longer free; it's been sold to the highest bidders, which means the voices of individuals and small groups won't be heard. Instead, influence will be bought in even larger chunks that favor the economic interests of the privileged, not the concerns of the masses.
Illustration #2 - Folotyn, a newly approved chemotherapy drug, is now available through Allos Therapeutics as an aid in fighting "a rare and usually aggressive blood cancer" according to the December 5, 2009, New York Times. Good news? Not for the patient, unless he/she has $30,000 to spend each month. (Even if on Medicare, the drug would still cost patients $6, 000 a month.) The really good news is that the drug company will be bringing in lots of money, despite the claim of Allos Therapeutics that every dime the company makes goes into supporting that drug. Why the high cost? Here's one reason, as the Times reporter writes: "For investors, a high price is usually a good thing."
Illustration #3 - A few weeks ago I received a letter from one of the banks that issues a credit card my wife and I have, but seldom use. It was a letter much like those that millions of other people have gotten recently, and began with a comment something like this: "In order to give our long-time customers the best possible service we are announcing a new APR of 25.99%, beginning January 15th, 2010." Now, let's see if I understand this. Should I make a purchase with that card, my annual interest rate will now be 25.99% instead of 8.99% and that's done to cement my relationship with this firm. Did I get that right? Is it possible that a new law from Congress that will soon put limits on credit rates and fees might have a little something to do with my receiving that letter?
Illustration #4 - Just this week it was announced that Wells Fargo intends to pay 16.2 billion dollars in bonuses to all its employees. Maybe we should all apply for a job there. Or better yet, why not spread that money around to all U.S. citizens. That would amount to a little over $5,300 for every man, woman and child - if my math is even close - and speaking for the rest of you, I sure could use it.
Illustration #5 - On January 20th President Obama reaffirmed his intention to put stricter rules in place, regulating banks and financial institutions. The result? Bank stocks went down and the DOW sunk - losing over $400 this week. So the message seems to be: let the banks make as many risky loans and investments as possible without any checks and balances, so they can make as much money for themselves and their stockholders as possible. Of course those who are out of work, can't pay their mortgages, are losing their houses, and have no health insurance can fend for themselves - unless the government bails them out (like the banks!) so free-marketers can cry again about the scandal of huge deficits.
Illustration #6 - On January 22nd the New York Times reported that Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has introduced a resolution to prevent the EPA "from taking any action to regulate carbon dioxide and other climate-altering gases." Does she think global warming is a hoax? Is she aware of the plight of polar bears, or the trash build-up in the Antarctic, or the melting ice fields and glaciers (like "Salamander" in Glacier National Park in Montana)? We don't know. All we know from Sen. Murkowski is: "Make no mistake, if Congress allows this (action to curb greenhouse gases) to happen there will be severe consequences." And what were those consequences she mentioned on the floor of the Senate? The Times reporter tells us: "Businesses would be forced to close or move overseas, domestic energy production would be curtailed, housing would become more expensive and agricultural costs would rise." Get the message? Clean air is bad for business and the economy.
So the message through all this is, in the now-legendary words of James Carville, "It's the economy, stupid!" Except that this time the meaning has shifted. It's not a concern for jobs and profit margins in order to win an election. This time it means that money is the bottom line of . . . everything in these semi-United States. It would seem that many of our secular and religious and political leaders are willing to sacrifice anything - health care reform, clean air, the middle and lower classes . . . you can add your own items to the list - for the sake of making more money, mostly for those who already have it.
The title of this article says it all: Greed is the Achilles heel of capitalism.