Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Capitalism, American style

The Walton family, owners of Wal-mart, are worth as much as the bottom 41.5% of Americans combined. Meanwhile, the business they own is running a food drive for its employees so they will have enough to eat over the Thanksgiving holiday.

As one tweet going round today so memorably puts it,

While the Cold War was on, saying "under capitalism, supermarket workers will need charity to buy food" would have been laughable propaganda

But that's the modern reality. Without the need to convince people that they're better than the alternative (or the threat of a peasant revolt) capitalism is free to be indecent. And any attempt to fix it is thwarted by either buying politicians, or threatening them. As the original article notes:
When the Washington DC city council passed a living wage bill requiring Walmart to pay workers a minimum of $12.50 per hour, the chain threatened to shut down its new stores if Mayor Vincent Gray didn’t veto the bill. Gray vetoed the bill.

And so workers literally starve while their fatcat bosses get richer and richer and richer. Americans need to get angry about this - very angry. And given the total dysfunction and unresponsiveness of the US political system, the only outlet for that anger looks to be lynchings and mansion-burnings.

And lest anyone think this is a uniquely American problem: here in New Zealand, its not just beneficiaries who are forced to rely on foodbanks. The disparities aren't so obscene, but we have the same indecent situation of rock-bottom wages driving people into poverty. Fortunately, unlike America we have a functioning democracy, making peaceful change possible. Our political parties are already feeling the pressure on the living wage; all we need to do is keep it up.