Illusions in America Today #2

When you look over the course of your entire life to date, what has given you the most unbridled joy? What was it in your life that made you so happy or had such worth that you would preserve at all costs?

I would guess that most of you thought about things like family, love of a partner, children, and accomplishments. I would also guess that few of you thought about acquiring some amount of money, buying an expensive car or appliance. We live in a society that espouses a capitalist economic philosophy, and yet, the truly important events and experiences in our lives rarely have anything to do with money or the acquisition of wealth. But, a huge proportion of our lives seem to revolve around getting resources and obtaining commodities.

We have all read statistics about how a tiny proportion of people in our society control a massive amount of the wealth. We read these statistics and we shake our heads at the economic injustice that creates poverty, and its affiliated afflictions of racism, inequality, and hopelessness. But, we continue to buy insurance, invest in mutual funds, and buy brand name products of things that we “need” at Wal-Mart and its clones. Have you ever asked yourself why you do this?

We do this because, from childhood, we are taught that these are the behaviors that make our society healthy and strong. And who teaches us this lesson? Who owns the vehicles of this message and propogates this philosophy on every billboard, web site, television show, and magazine? The answer is people who have money and want to acquire more money. So, if their goal is to procure our resources to fill their coffers, should we not question the basic assumption about whether our current form of capitalist economy is indeed in our best interests?

You may ask, what is the alternative? Let me respond with a series of questions.

  • If you lived in a community where your well being was guaranteed by the community, would you need medical insurance?
  • If you lived in a community where, upon your early death, the well being of your dependent loved ones was guaranteed, would you need life insurance?
  • If you lived in a community that valued the elderly and fully integrated their lives in rewarding and meaningful pursuits, would you need retirement plans?
  • If you lived in a community that guaranteed a basic level of a satisfactory lifestyle to every citizen contributing to the welfare of the community, would you need to spend the majority of your life pursuing the acquisition of wealth?

Now, you may well be thinking that this sounds like communism and that we have seen that communism does not work. You would be right in that this sounds like communism at first. But, here is the difference.

  • In this society, you keep your earnings – up to a certain level – and those earnings are yours to spend as you wish.
  • In this society, you are free to pursue the occupation of your choice, with rewards given to those whose activities exemplify social responsibility, justice, and community health.
  • In this society, you will give up unlimited choice of consumer products in return for lower prices and preference given to a market basket that is produced ethically and responsibly.
  • In this society, all market choices are made publicly and disseminated freely by democratically elected citizens (to be more fully discussed in another posting).

Is it possible? Once we shed the illusion that the capitalist system that we have in 21st century America is actually working for the good of all, perhaps such a vision is possible. But it will not be easy. Citizens entering this community must agree to limit their annual income to a cerain level, with amounts exceeding that level going to the community as a whole. The assumption here is that very few people (if anyone) “hit the jackpot” of the American dream, or that they ever do it alone. This model also assumes that the possession of was sums of wealth by any small minority of private citizens is inherently bad for the community, no matter how magnimous those people may be.

Once a caring community of responsible citizens comes together in common purpose, do you really need to buy security? Once you can depend on your neighbors, do you really need more than one home? Once your community functions ethically and responsibly, do you really need the status symbols of wealth? Because, like it or not, our participation in our current system of economics make us complicit in the ongoing poverty and oppression of millions in this country. Until we create an economy that is just, ethical, and compassionate, we will continue to spend most of our time earning money just to buy things and keep us away from the people and experiences that truly bring us joy in life. Until the priviledged in this country sacrifice their “earning potential,” that is their ability to acquire more wealth than they would need in a rational and loving community, then the poor will remained consigned to lives of desparation, class systems will perpetrate economic injustice, and people will continue to hate each other merely on the basis of skin color, physical appearance, or accent.