New Capitalism

Some things should not be for sale on the free market: Education, for example. Health care. Civil liberties. CItizenship.

Gérard Dépardieu’s shift from citoyen to comrade to avoid President Hollande’s 75% tax rate on the rich comes as no great shock. Yet something is morally awry. I’m not saying Dépardieu shouldn’t be allowed to emigrate to Russia. But he should have to wait his turn, behind others already desiring a Russian passport. In a fair system, money shouldn’t buy him first place in line.

As Vadim Nikitin explains in his op ed in The New York Times, it’s just capitalism.

I would extend Nikitin’s argument to this explicit judgment: there should be limits to capitalism, and that is the government’s role. Should American corporations benefit from fleeing Democracy’s shores, abandoning its labor force for cheaper, more totalitarian states? Currently, they go abroad to hire cheaper labor, and we pay the price through loss of employment opportunities. How can we talk about job creators in a system where there are no incentives to hire domestic workers? Capitalism has run amok.

U.S. health care is another example of capitalism run amok. A Wahington Post myth busting” article making the rounds on social media points out that the U.S. spends a greater percentage (compared to other industrialized nations) of each health care dollar on administrative costs, and that we are the only “developed” nation that has a for-profit health care system. Yet our overall health care was ranked 37th in the world in 2000, according to the World Health Organization. Insurance companies profit from our personal health woes, yet pundits and politicians scream at the thought of government playing a role in moderating the system. And citizens are continually denied coverage for the health care they have, in many cases, already paid for through Medicare payroll deductions or private insurance premiums. [See a Forbes.com article on the doomed insurance model we currently espouse and a New York Times article from 2007 about the state of our health care system.] There outta be a law…

I’ve already written on the subject of education and the failure of our nation to provide the financial resources necessary to ensure that our students learn the skills they need to be productive citizens. People talk about school vouchers and privitization as solutions to our education challenges. Why not just provide proper funding for our public school system? Why not pay teachers a competitive wage to attract the best and the brightest to the profession?

A recent Ohio law requires that third graders read at grade level in order to move on to fourth grade. In theory, this sounds great: no child left behind. In practice, it’s a potential disaster: limited resources do not allow for enough reading specialists to help the students at risk of being held back. Districts are stealing tutors away from other students in need to funnel those resources into the new reading program. A child who has to repeat third grade will likely feel the stigma of stupidity, leading to low self-esteem, which sets up a vicious circle of future failures. Why not move the struggling children along with their peers while providing the reading support they need over the summer, in the fourth grade, and onwards? It takes money to pay teachers to address these inequities, and incredibly, people don’t want to spend more money for learning.

As Nikitin points out, democracy is expensive: in order to maintain our freedom and civil liberties for all, some government oversight is necessary. The profit motive of capitalism will not self-adjust for fairness: quite the contrary — it’s a self-described competitive system where there will be winners and losers. When it comes to basic human needs, our leaders must step in to ensure that profiteers do not abuse the system. A look at 19th-century industrialism and the subsequent need for labor unions to lobby for sane working conditions should have taught us something. The repercussions of the deregulated lending market and financial meltdown should be ringing in our ears. Yet my friends and I continue to work long hours in salaried positions (i.e., no overtime), sacrificing health and family time in order to earn a living wage.

And those who can afford it will continue to abandon their countries for greener pastures: off-shore accounts, cheaper labor abroad, lower taxes … The free market isn’t really free to all.

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