Duh What’s the economy?
Is it a democratic economy to pool our resources and labors to benefit the majority in the fairest way possible?
Or is it a corporate economy designed to benefit the rich in the most effective way possible at the expense of the majority, unless the majority unites for a token amount of benefit which will be lost the moment they stop paying attention?
Have the corporations created a capitalist cult?
In order to have a democratic economy the public has to have an education good enough to understand what is going on and they have to have access to the information they need to make rational decisions. This means that they need to understand the basics of how the economy works. The economy is supposed to help us work together so that the quality of life can be improved in the most effective way possible. This shouldn’t mean creating just any jobs or buying and selling just anything. Jobs or trade that do little or nothing to benefit the consumer aren’t helping the majority improve their quality of life they are just enabling the corporations to profit by conducting business at the expense of the majority. For the last fifty years if not much longer the economy has been presented to the public as either a capitalist system or a communist system both of which pretended to look out for the best interest of the public neither of which actually did when they were put into practice; nor did either make much of an effort to teach the public how to understand either system in a way the public could understand it. In both cases they presented their system by using hype and propaganda and many conflicting versions of each system. A democratic economy would explain the basics of any given business to the public so that they can understand which system is most effective at accomplishing the goal of each business. In some cases a totally different system might be the most effective way to accomplish any given goal but in order to figure that out it will be necessary to sort through the details first in a way the public can understand it.
If any given business provides little or no benefit to the public like smoking gambling and insurance then a democratic economic system would teach the public what if any value these industries have and only the worthwhile ones would survive. This wouldn’t necessarily be because the government outlawed them but because once the public understood that something like smoking provides no benefit they would stop buying cigarettes and the tobacco industry would go out of business. In the case of tobacco it is easy to see that there is no benefit to the majority for this product, if used as directed instead of improving the quality of life for the consumer it makes it worse. This also leads to much higher health care costs. The only reason some members of the public thinks it is pleasant is because the tobacco companies have become experts at advertising and they found out how to take advantage of its addictive characteristics and hook children when they are too young to understand. Gambling isn’t much if any better for the public. It is often billed as entertainment but if you don’t enjoy losing it isn’t entertaining. Even though it is billed as entertainment most heavy gamblers don’t gamble for that reason, they gamble because they want to get rich quick. Gambling isn’t the way to do this except in a few extremely rare cases where someone wins big at the expense of many more people. If the odds weren’t fixed heavily in the favor of the controlling institutions they would go bankrupt. If the lottery advertisers were required to inform the public on a regular basis that the average consumer receives no more than about seventy-five cents on the dollar few people if any would play but instead they repeat over and over again phrases like “you can win” and play on the wishful thinking of the public. Even the few people who do win often don’t improve their quality of life for long. This is a result of what has been called “The Curse of the Lottery”. It basically means that the few people who actually do win are usually those that play on a regular basis which means they aren’t very good with their money. Just because they win this doesn’t change the fact that they aren’t good with their money and they often waste it at an amazing pace and wind up as poor as they were before sometimes even going into bankruptcy or even getting into legal trouble for related crimes often involving drugs or violence. Insurance is similar to gambling in some ways but it does serve some purpose. Insurance is supposed to provide a safety net if something bad happens but administrative costs don’t help that therefore when this is used they should be kept to a minimum. It isn’t in the best interest of the consumer to buy any more insurance than they need despite all the hype and advertising that comes from the insurance companies. This is explained more in other blog entries found in the table of contents.
When it comes to groceries and other necessities a democratic economy would help the consumers obtain what they need in the most effective way possible for them not the most profitable way for the corporations. Corporations have been packaging things, which used to be made in the kitchen from scratch, in a way that is supposed to be easier for the consumer. In many cases this may be partially true but what has happened is that many people have forgotten that they can make many of these products cheaper and better by doing it themselves, and in a few rare cases they can even do it with less work, although it usually takes some additional time to cook from scratch but not necessarily much. If the public was more familiar with a simple cookbook they could often obtain their meals in a better quality manner and at a lower price. The only reason this isn’t happening is because of the nonstop indoctrination from the commercial media that has kept the public busy and changed their way of life without the input or understanding of the public. Corporations are constantly increasing their profits buy manipulating the way these things are packaged so that the public doesn’t realize they are getting less for their money. One of the most common ways of doing this is downsizing where they gradually make the content of packages less, then after it gets to small they introduce new bigger sizes. In other cases it is more insidious like when they gradually increase the volume of water in a battle of shampoo then eventually come up with new and improved shampoo by putting it back. In many cases the secrecy they use to hide their new inventions is actually designed to hide the way they manipulate old technology to make it seem like something new. They get away with this because the public has little or no knowledge of how business operates and the public would need to be very vigilant to keep track of the many things that have a trivial impact on their life independently but the cumulative impact is much bigger. Since the any given corporations focus a lot of attention one product they can profit by skimping a little off of millions of people.
Diet information is something that is rarely if ever presented in a rational manner to the public any more. It used to be that everyone understood that if you wanted to lose weight the way to do it was simple just eat less and exercise more. Implementation may have been a little more complicated but the basics never changed. That is no longer the case. If the public eats less and exercises more this does little or nothing to improve the profits for corporations in fact it will actually make it worse. If people eat less they spend less money on food and that reduces the profits for food distributors. If they exercise more without buying equipment then it may take time away from other activities that the corporations charge for one way or another. This is one example where the best interest of the consumer doesn’t help the corporations make a profit so they have created a massive advertising campaign used in many different ways to confuse the issue and convince many of the most naïve that they can eat as much as the want without gaining weight or if they want to exercise they have to buy equipment which often makes it seem easy. These methods of losing weight rarely if ever work as well as the advertisements imply which actually works to the advantage of the corporations since many consumers will just try another method that costs money and doesn’t work. One option which is never advocated by the corporate media is the possibility that people can get together at their local school and use the gym for a private exercise club. If this is coordinated with the school board people can lose weight as a community at little or no cost. They could do this when there are no other school activities scheduled and perhaps collect modest donations for the school. They shouldn’t have to pay much if anything since the school is already financed by their tax dollars, they might as well get their moneys worth. They could pick a different volunteer to head the exercise group each session some of which will work the group harder than others and they will also develop stronger community ties that aren’t under the control of the corporations. This would be frowned on by the most powerful corporations since they seem to want to use all activity to make a profit and whenever they pass up an opportunity to take a cut they consider it a loss of potential profits. Furthermore once the public does something like this for one activity they may realize they can do it for another without giving the stockholders a cut of everything.
Appliances are another product that is rarely produced in a way that is in the best interest of the consumer. In many cases these can be made to be much more efficient and last a much longer time but this doesn’t happen. In many cases these items are almost certainly made so that they won’t last to long in a process called planned obsolescence. If they break down after a period of time long enough that they won’t try to return it under warranty then they have to buy more. Something as simple as a coffee machine can be made to last a long time but many of the cheapest ones last no longer than a year. Slightly more expensive ones may last two or thee years but except for commercial coffee machines which aren’t marketed to the public they rarely last longer than that. They get away with this because it seems so trivial and the public doesn’t understand how they work. A democratic economic system would benefit from a consumer protection agency that benefits from the help of someone who understands any given industry.
Consumer safety has also taken a back seat to corporate profits in many cases in the past. The recent recall due to a sticky accelerator pedal is just one of many examples where a safety problem was ignored until there was a case so big they couldn’t ignore it and it led to many more people coming forward and saying they had the same problem. There was a similar problem with firestone tires ten years ago. This type of problem isn’t limited to the auto industry; it has been very common in the past. When the media has covered them they have often waited until it was too big to ignore then treated them as somewhat isolated incidents. They have never done a review of all the past incidents and created a complete list or even close that I know of. Some low profile consumer groups almost certainly have to the best of their ability, but they have few resources to get their message across to the public without the help of the Mass Media. Without a Media that does more than pay a token amount to the best interest of the public few problems like this can be addressed in a reasonable manner.
Electric utilities are also another industry where little or no effort has been made to explain the basics of how it works and how to make it the most efficient for the consumer. The free market promoters have attempted to convince the public that unregulated industry that is held accountable by competition can work just as well with utility companies as it does with goods and services. A closer look at how it works clearly indicates that this isn’t true nor can it ever be made to work. Utilities are generally broken up into two different sectors, power plants to generate electricity and a distribution infrastructure to deliver it to the public. The delivery infrastructure involves running wires all over the country. In order for two or more companies to compete at this they would each have to run their own wires to areas they cover. This would involve much more work to enable more than one company in the market and therefore it makes in impractical and prevents competition from keeping costs down. There has been some attempt to convince the public that at least the production can be competitive but no system has been set up to enable the public to receive the information they need to make these choices and they have no way of confirming much if anything the generation companies do. They have attempted to convince the public they could choose the company that produces cleaner energy at a higher cost. In some cases this could be wind or solar for part of it. However if the corporations want to keep the supply of these down the costs will remain high even if it becomes more economical. They can use the good intentions of some consumers to justify higher costs without actually providing cleaner energy. This has made competition meaningless.
This also comes at a great cost to the environment which is often ignored. This isn’t just the utility industry but many other industry damage the environment without paying as they go to eliminate or repair the damage before it accumulates. In the long run the human race will not survive if the environment is destroyed and this is being done gradually by many industries of which the utility industries are the greatest. There has always been a law protecting property owners from having their property taken away from them without due process. This has rarely if ever been used to protect the poor from having the environment they depend on being taken away. For someone to interfere with industry has often been considered depriving property owners of their rights; however when they deprive others of the necessities of life the same doesn’t go especially if the victims have little or no political power or access to lawyers. In a democratic economy there could be some attempt to respect the environment. This may not always involve never doing any damage although that would be preferable but it could involve setting up a system to repair the damage as it goes along. If it was necessary to damage the back yard of corporate board holders to accomplish their goal this would never be considered acceptable; therefore in a democratic economy it wouldn’t be acceptable to damage the environment in the neighborhoods of poor people whether it is in urban slums or rural part of the USA or countries like Nigeria, Columbia, Indonesia or many others. The assumption that US corporations should be allowed to do anything they can get away with in countries with weak enforcement is highly undemocratic. This is especially true when these corporations help keep tyrannical regimes in power.
War profiteering is a major obstacle for any form of a democratic economy. The most effective way to address this is to figure out how to minimize or eliminate war by setting up systems of government that give the public control over their own governments in any part of the world. Any efforts to accomplish this has been hampered by profiteers that benefit by selling arms to both sides of any given conflict or benefit in many other ways like mining diamonds with slave labor provided by a tyrant who maintains power by using diamond money to buy arms. The US government has often been one of the worst profiteers inciting or participating in many wars to protect the best interest of many US companies. One of the clearest instances was when the US provided arms at various times to both sides of the Iran Iraq war. This enabled both sides to maintain power and keep fighting at the expense of the public which was caught in the middle. A democratic economy would have to expose this in the most effective way possible. The majority of the public receives no benefit from this constant fighting quite the opposite. This is being used as an excuse to keep many things about security secret but over the years an enormous amount of this has already leaked out. The most effective way to reduce or eliminate this practice will involve collecting this data and organizing it in the most effective way possible, then presenting it to the public. If the public has the education and information they need they can do much more to reduce war. This can’t be left in the hands of the politicians if there is going to be a democracy.
Crime profiteering has often created many of the same problems as war profiteering but it receives much less attention. Any company that makes a profit from crime indirectly and benefits as long as the rate of crime remains high could be considered a crime profiteer. Brinks security could be considered one example of this. If it isn’t excessive it may not be a profiteer but if they offer solutions that only protect the public from the symptoms of crime without addressing the root causes of it they will profit from crime without actually doing anything to reduce it in the long run. This is what their home security systems do. They offer those that can afford it protection as long as they continue paying for it but do nothing to address the social causes that lead crime. The richest and most powerful people get the most effective security systems. This enables them to pursue economic policies of their choice without worrying about those that are put at a disadvantage getting angry and striking out at them. There have been many examples, including the most recent case of Joe Stack flying a plane into a building, where some people angry about a system that appears stacked against them strike out in anger and if they can’t get to the ones responsible for their predicament or they can’t even tell who it is they may strike out any way they can. Security systems and access to politicians and media help the most powerful avoid accountability. The gun industry has also been accused of crime profiteering with some good reasons since they have fought to keep the loopholes that make it easier for criminal to get crime and when criminals get these guns and use them they often lead to scares among the public who buy more guns for protection. In "Outgunned: up against the NRA: the first complete insider account of the battle over gun control" (2003) by Peter Harry Brown and Daniel G. Abel they describe how the NRA and the gun manufacturers have manipulated the public and the government withy distorted information and by appealing to the emotions of people to make it easier for criminals to get guns and enable the gun manufacturers to profit from high crime rates. Investigating services can also be a form of crime profiteering. This is generally available only to those who can afford it so it helps keep the lower classes poor for the benefit of the rich. These investigative services can be used to investigate people whoa are mostly poor but they are much less likely to investigate the crimes of the rich. In the few exceptions it cost much more to investigate the rich. The biggest crime profiteer may be the Mass Media. They make an enormous amount of money selling advertisements to many shows that address crimes in a manner that is designed to scare the public and keep them obsessed with it without actually educating them about the most effective ways to minimize and prevent crime. They have been entrusted to provide community services when they received free access to the public airways and they attempt to convince the public that they do this but they do very little to present information from the most credible academics to prevent crime. A democratic economy would have to have a media system that helps educate the public about long term crime prevention in the most effective way possible. This would involve teaching them about the small things like child abuse and how it escalates to much more serious crime.
In a capitalist overdrive system like what we have wound up with it becomes clear that some people are more concerned about making money at the expense of anyone they can no matter how much damage they do to the majority. This is like the game of monopoly only they do it for real with real monopolies. In the game of monopoly the person who winds up with everything and drives everyone else into bankruptcy wins; that is essentially what the most powerful are trying to do to the majority of the word. They don’t want to totally destroy their opponents; but they do want to come close. They want to make sure that the poor have just enough to survive and stay complacent. They have done this by consolidating the biggest corporations and taking advantage of the control over the Mass Media to prevent the majority of the public from knowing what is going on with business deals to complex for them to understand. The competition that is supposed to make the capitalist system so much better than the Russian version of the communist system no longer has any way to hold the industries accountable. We are now seeing a steady decline in the quality of consumer products as well as variety. This hasn’t been accompanied by much if any effort to allow any other accountability system to take place. This enables the riches to ensure that they can obtain high profits indefinitely; however if they continue to try to increase them beyond the capacity of the economy to sustain them something has to give and this may collapse one way of another. In fact to some degree it already is. If they only provide a token amount of effort to fix it they will only set society up for another collapse a few years down the road which could be worse.
The systems of monopoly aren’t limited to any one industry in fact the majority of the industries and other powerful institutions, including government and even schools, are primarily controlled by a small percentage of the public. Most of the activities they conduct are done with little or no input from the public. In the game of monopoly both the winners and losers can go to the refrigerator and get something to eat after the game is done and play other games after all it’s only a game. In the real life version of monopoly the losers often go without much if any food, clothes or shelter etc. They often can’t get clean water or breathe clean air. In many cases they live in constant fear of their lives if they live under the control of any of the worst tyrants in the world. Even some of the people in the USA live like this if they happen to be raised in one of the roughest gang infested parts of the country. The winners are under no obligation to pay any attention to this unless perhaps they want to downplay the problems because it may interfere with their profits which many of them do. The most powerful people once used company towns to control the entire economy when people didn’t travel as much. At that time they often gave the workers credit to buy at the company store which charged higher prices than most other stores. This ensured that when someone came in poor and needed food they would have to get an advance on their pay after their first day and they would often never be able to work their way out of debt. These aren’t as common as they used to be but they now have more complicated systems to accomplish the same job.
Advertising is another industry with simple basics that are being ignored by the naïve. The goal of the advertiser is always to make a profit the most effective way possible for the customer which is the company trying to sell the public something. They don’t accomplish this by focusing on the flaws of the product quite the opposite they focus on the best aspects of the product they are selling and try to make it seem better than it is. The best way to keep profits up for both the advertiser and the vendor is to convince the public they are getting a good deal without actually giving them a good deal. The advertising industry is much more concerned with good images than providing good products or services. If the public has only advertisements to base their decisions they will never be able to do a good job finding good deals. The industry often uses many methods like marking up to mark down and other tactics that often make things seem more complicated than they are. A quote from Charles Manson indicates the way advertisers work very clearly. He once told Vincent Bugliosi "You can convince anybody of anything if you just push it at them all of the time. They may not believe it 100%, but they will still draw opinions from it, especially if they have no other information to draw their opinions from." This is a very effective indoctrination method which he understood. Hitler also made similar quotes; they both used their indoctrination methods to take out their anger on the world. The advertiser use similar methods for a different reason, profit; however the price the public pays is high in both cases but much more insidious in the case of adverting since the damage remains hidden for much longer. From the point of view of the consumer they shouldn’t buy anything unless they truly understand what the benefit is and that it is worthwhile. Advertisers have learned to prey on the least educated, most insecure and most compulsive members of the public that respond to hype much more than they respond to logical deduction. They have successfully marketed many items that have little or no value to the public or some items like collectible silver dollars that they can charge more than the face value of the item. They have advertised many collections of perhaps a dozen silver dollars for a low price of 29.95 marked down from 39.95 or something like that in many cases. Any rational person will realize that the value of a dollar whether it is silver or not is a dollar. The same thing is done for commemorative plates and many other things that seem great when you buy them but have no practical purpose and do nothing to improve the quality of life. The right to free speech for advertiser has effectively given them the right to defraud the most naïve members of society. There is little or no money available to explain to the public how ineffective these things are and with the capitalist economic system money is a necessity when it comes to getting a message across to the public. Most people have forgotten that in the sixties when there was an uproar over tobacco advertisement the solution they initially came up with involved including health warnings to give the consumer a fair amount of information about what they were buying when they bought cigarettes. The tobacco companies knew this would devastate their business so rather than give the public information from both sides of the issue including the truth about the damage cigarettes do they agreed to give up their rights to advertise on TV. They have often tried to imply that this was a generous act on their part without reminding the public that they only did this to avoid something they considered worse. In 1976 the Supreme Court interpreted the constitution in a way that indicates money equals fee speech in Buckley etal v. Valeo. This effectively means that if you have enough money your right to lie to the public as long as it is in a confusing way is more important than the right of the poor to tell the truth. This may not have been intended to apply to advertisements but it has anyway. This also applies to many academics who have some very good work to contradict many of the propaganda put out by corporations but they don’t have the money to get their message to the masses. In some cases even when there is enough money to pay for ads the biggest media outlets reject them with a claim that they don’t do issue ads or things that offend some people; which sounds better than they don’t want to accept ads that challenge their authority. In a democratic economy there should be some kind of institution set up to help consumers obtain rational accurate information that isn’t controlled by the corporations. The corporations now have a growing amount of control over the Mass Media so that the public can no longer rely on them for much if any help to expose misleading advertisements.
The biggest corporations are even trying to target their ads to children as young as possible with or without the permission of the parents. This could essentially result in partial indoctrination of these children. Media ads alone can’t apply for complete indoctrination but it can be an important part of a bigger effort to manipulate the public. They try to reach these children as young as possible because they know that they often develop their tastes early and if they can get them to become loyal to a product young enough they can have a customer for life. They are even flooding schools with advertisements now. In one absurd case in Georgia when a school was having a promotional campaign for coke they suspended one student for wearing a Pepsi shirt. They have preyed on the desperation of many schools for funds to make them dependable on things like advertisements or funds from the lottery both of which give schools incentive not to challenge the corporate system. When corporations have too much control over schools they can preempt what could and should be the most effective way of educating the young about the flaws of unchecked capitalism.
They also try to ensure that children are accustomed to buying what they need by making credit cards available to them at an early age especially if they are college bound. This practice has encouraged college kids with little or no income to spend a lot of money ensuring that they will start out in debt from the beginning and constantly be trying to catch up. The lenders are often relying on the assumption that these children will be earning more money than those without a college education and that if necessary their parents may help them out if they wind up in trouble to protect their credit scores. They are currently coming out with more rules to limit this practice but this is probably only because they know they have gone too far and it is in their own best interest not to lend too much to higher risk people. They may present this as a way to stand up for the best interest of consumers but it is probably the best interest of the stockholders that they are concerned about as usual.
This can be even more damaging when they have trouble with children that are overactive. Instead of encouraging parents and teachers to spend more time with these children they diagnose many of them with attention deficit disorder or ADD. Some of these diagnoses may be legitimate but there is ample evidence to indicate that in many cases it is just easier to diagnose them this way than to spend more time with them. This adds one more way for drug companies to make a profit but they are doing it by experimenting with the health of children.
When radio first developed there was an attempt to use it for education. Some people from the academic community recognized that this had a large potential to educate the public and improve the quality of life. There was a debate over this in the 1930’s. There were two groups, NCER and NACRE, which advocated for more education. NACRE was financed by the Carnegie foundation. This group was more inclined to work with business. NCER was more adamant about giving more time for education and they were portrayed as extremists. NACRE wound up lasting longer and they provided some educational, material controlled primarily by the broadcasters and the corporations. When they no longer needed them for public relations they wound up fazing them out. This is described in “Strong Media Weak Democracy” by Robert McChesney. The excuse they used to let the commercial interests control the radio is that they were the only ones without an ideology they were trying to push on the public. This implies that capitalism wasn’t an ideology which is of course false. What wound up happening is that the ones in power managed to deny their ideology and shut everyone else out. This meant that only one ideology was presented to the public in an overwhelming manner over the radio and later TV for decades without anyone to challenge the mistakes. This included the McCarthy era when there was a virtual witch hunt for Communist collaborators based on emotional grounds. When this came to an end it wasn’t accompanied by an effort to review the Capitalist ideology and fix the mistakes, instead they just swept it under the rug and continued promoting the Capitalist ideology unchallenged in a slightly more subtle way. In order to repair the damage that was done it may help to review this situation and find a way to devote much more Media time to education that ids controlled by academics and members of the public. The corporations have proved that they can’t be trusted to provide educational material on their own; if encouraged to do so for political reasons they may only do so as long as people are keeping them accountable. A system needs to be set up where the people choosing the programming are accountable to the public.
The excessive reliance on the commercial ideology has created something that could be considered a capitalist cult. This may not fit all definitions of a cult, for example if you consider a cult a group that blindly believes a cult leader worshipping a fringe God this wouldn’t apply. However if you consider a cult a system that uses indoctrination tactics to manipulate the public and dictate the truth about a given subject this would fit the definition of the capitalist ideology and the way it is being currently implemented in the USA. The Mass Media and the advertising industry is flooding the public with an enormous amount of propaganda promoting the pro business ideology that does very little to look out for the most effective way of improving the quality of life for the majority. Instead they are getting a message across that all business is good even if the consumer doesn’t get much if anything for their money. This is repeated over and over again and anyone that attempts to provide an opposing voice is either censored or their voice is drowned out so that very few people will remember it. This capitalistic cult is backed up by powerful people that control the most important institutions in the world including many colleges and religions.
The only way to fix this situation involves educating the public in the most effective way possible. This would have to include new laws to make any necessary information the public needs to make decisions available to them in the most effective way possible. The most powerful corporations have all the information they need to make their decisions but they withhold most of it from the public. They justify this with claims that imply protecting privacy should be sacrosanct. What they don’t mention is that one of the things they use their right to privacy for is to keep track of what their customers are doing and what their tastes are. This essentially means that the right for the public to privacy isn’t as important as the right for powerful institutions to privacy. This is the opposite of the way a democracy is supposed to work. The public should have the right to know what their government and the most powerful institutions are doing so that they can know how to make their decisions. A democracy should have a system where the public has control over the interview process for applicants for political office. Instead of treating elections like a campaign controlled by the candidates it should be an interview system controlled by the public. No business owner would ever allow the job applicant to control the interview process yet that is exactly what has been happening with campaigns for public office. The public needs to be educated so they can understand how to participate in this process. Some people could be chosen to arrange for the interviews before a large audience where their would be certain fixed questions on an application that the applicant would fill out ahead of time and the public would ask more during the interview. If an applicant for office refused to participate in this system his name should be dropped from the ballot. No employer would ever hire an applicant who refused to fill out the job application.
In order for a system like this to be truly democratic the public would have to understand it and they would have to have an opportunity to amend it if there are any problems. It wouldn’t be in the best interest of the public for them to make their decisions based on false beliefs so it would be important for the public to keep an open mind and try to recognize their own mistakes when necessary. Once they understood this and fixed all the unaddressed issues and when necessary corrected the flaws then there would be a truly democratic system.
This post was originally posted on tripod on 2/19/10
For follow up on this post see: Are job losses good?
To read Supreme Court ruling see the following:
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