Sunday, October 4, 2009

Covering Capitalism

Many years ago, when Laurie was just a friend of mine, one evening at a study she told me a story about when she was a teenager and they unplugged a jukebox at a camp because the kids kept playing "One Tin Soldier" over and over and over. She was amazed that I had never heard One Tin Soldier. I think later that night I drove down for one of my Orange Country trips (which I used to do when I was single - leave to drive to OC at 9pm and get there just before sunrise.) Within 24 hours I was at a friends house and asking them about One Tin Soldier. It turned out everyone else on Earth had heard the song before, but I got the strange idea in my head that I should record a cover of the song, never having heard it before, of what I might suppose it might go like. I envisioned a whole album of covers of songs I'd never heard. My version was highly percussive and had a lot to do with Red Buttons making time go slow and Jonathan Winters' head rising like the sun.

I'm about to do something similar and, probably, about to finally write the post that will make everyone furious with me. Deo Volente, Laurie and I are spending the last of our movie theater gift certificates tomorrow to go see Michael Moore's new film "Capitalism: A Love Story." I thought I might say a few words here in the autumn of 2009 just before seeing the film; and then after seeing the film I can write a review and see what the two entries look like next to one another.

I've enjoyed some of Moore's films and I would direct you to my recent post of separating art from artist. I thought Sicko hit the nail right on the head; and I cried most of the way through Bowling For Columbine. And when I disagree with him, he at least gets us thinking and talking about why, which I think is always good. In the end, I like his op-ed pieces. I take them as op-ed pieces, (not as journalism) regardless of what I think of him or how much or little I agree with them. At the very least, I think he puts on a good show and sparks some nifty conversations. And sometimes he hits it hard and he hits it exactly on the head.

Now, to Capitalism as an economic system. Here's a clip of Senator Sanders responding to a question by Michael Moore:

I don't think Capitalism is necessarily a great evil in and of itself. Like Moore, I understand that it is not by necessity the American Way. Democracy is The American Way. We can have whatever economic system we choose. I have no problem with rewarding good production and hard work. In fact, I would like to see that.

It's always puzzled me how a first world country, born from The Enlightenment, can have people who die of heart attacks because they don't call the ambulance because their family could not afford the medical bills. Or how there can be people, like me, who desperately want to work, when clearly there is an abundance of work that could be done to build our nation, but are unable to find work because no one is hiring. Or that people who want to work lose their houses and cannot afford food. Meanwhile, the top 1% gets a new, bigger flatscreen iTV. I'm inclined, with Senator Sanders, to agree that a lot of Europe seems to put us to shame. Not that I think Europe is some Utopia by any means. Also, upon consideration of the temperature set by television's screaming heads, I should probably add that I love my country.

It would seem to me that our country could be a hot-bed of progress, innovation, ideas, culture, and philanthropy. At the moment, I think we're slouching toward the polar opposite. There could be jobs for all! When I took a business leadership course in college (I think I was planning on using the concepts in stage management) I did a report on Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream and their corporate structure, which includes taking scrupulous, almost Nordic, care of their employees, and the CEOs not making more than seven times what their lowest employees was paid (I say "was" because they eventually ended up having to sell the whole company to Hagen Das in one of the more depressing bits of business news of the last 20 years.)

I'm not here for an anti-capitalism rant. I do think capitalism can be a good incentive system. I think that people striving for better stuff is fine, so long as one's not glutting while someone else willing to work, unable to find work, is outside starving, sick without means for medical care and being foreclosed upon. And so long as the people who are doing the work that deserves the rewards are getting the rewards, but that is so very rarely the case. Unfortunately, unfettered capitalism seems to have led to a sort of Social Darwinistic economy where the "fittest" are either:
1) those born to rich parents;
2) those so brutal, amoral, and backstabbing that they politic, coerce, and destroy their way to the top or;
3) the kind of entertainer or athlete that advertisers and corporations feel okay backing because they do nothing to disrupt the culture of consumption.

I am achingly aware that money does not really exist. It is merely an agreed upon idea. However, as most of you who have reached adulthood have probably noticed, even in America you can die from a lack of agreed upon ideas.

So, as with Twitter, I don't think Capitalism is in and of itself evil, but the people who wield it often are. The way we use it often is. The top feeders in modern America seem to have come from the Charles Dickens Villain School of Business and Economics. The recent bank bailout debacle serves to illustrate again that people are not inclined to do the right thing.

Yesterday, I had a whole post on Classicism worked out in my head until I took the dogs out and a truck drove by. The truck was playing music of a man screaming as though he were about to kill people and the discordant cacophony behind his vocals were tailored to a pace to mimic a heart that is about to explode in panic. I thought about how things are getting kind of bad around here, and are in fact getting kind of bad all over the place. I don't come from a great golden age of decency. I am a child of the '80s. But I can say that things did not used to be as bad in America as they are now. People did not behave in the manner they now behave. Entropy ravages our closed system. And I started thinking about the murderous, vile, selfish hearts of humanity. But, 'twas ever thus. The murder in the hearts of those walking around, the selfishness and hatred, could be a fitting description of the days of Noah, or of the men of the city that Lot and his family fled in Genesis.

My brother brought up this morning in conversation how the church should take care of its own. I agree! Last night Laurie was asking me if I regretted that I don't have money and travel; and I said words to this effect: "Laurie, I am a man with a lot of regrets from his time in this world thus far. That is not one of them. I am very smart and could have sought after money and travel. But what is this world to me? Without Christ's abundant grace, I have nothing."
And again I would point out that we can talk about economics until doomsday, but a world without Christ is going to be wicked and sinful. A world without Christ has no hope. Without Christ, all is worthless.

I would also point out that the Bible doesn't command me to endorse a particular mode of government or economic structure.

But don't let's just tear down. When the economy collapsed, I thought it seemed like a very good time to re-organize, re-think, and re-structure. The video below is an interview (it's about 15 minutes long, but way better than whatever you were going to do with those 15 minutes anyway) with Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglizt about the gross mishandling of the banking crisis, how the economy really looks now, and some archaic aspects of our current economic structure (although I was laid off from a business with the 19th century mode of ownership that he was talking about. The dis-unity is a bit of a problem too, especially when you have 19th century style businesses competing with slick 21st century structured businesses and then wondering why they're having so much trouble.) To those already made politically uneasy by some of what I'm saying, I would point out that Stiglitz criticized Obama just as much as Bush. (Lately I've been using the word Carter-esque way more than I ever hoped to use it again in my life.) I thought it was a fair and thought provoking analysis of the current economic situation, which included some solutions which I don't think even went far enough and won't happen anyway. But, I thought I would pass it on.

You know, this is such a wonderful country. I love this country dearly. So much so that I think it would be an enormous tragedy to see it fall over something so stupid as the mismanagement of the economy. We wouldn't be the first to fall in such a way. The Roman Empire had a more dignified death.


  1. What is happening in our country is scary. From your perspective as a man wanting to work. From our perspective of having reached retirement after experiencing the time of WWII, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Hippie era, the 1980s, working in the fields as teens, working low-end jobs at a grocery store, getting a good job quite by accident (actually God's providence), watching pennies carefully in order to save for college, going to college myself as a single adult while working a 40-hour week job, investing in a home and repairing every aspect of same, saving towards retirement, helping grandkids think of and move towards college (or job), 9/11 and all its aftermath, demographics, the present economy. It's bewildering and it makes me believe that there will be a major shift, major, soon. And yet not sure from which direction or what arena it will occur. What is even more disconcerting is to see young folk like yourself recognizing the same instability and danger that we recognize. Our bank failed. The only bank in our state to fail in nine years. Kaboom! Thank you, FDIC. Or I should say, thank you Mr. Taxpayer. (sigh of concern) One thing I do know is this...we cannot spend our way out of a hole. More of us will simply fall in. The debt over this economic debacle will undo us. It's complex and it is not benign.

  2. Yes, I would agree first and foremost that these are scary times. Also, I think you hit it right on the head that a major shift seems to be coming by necessity. I'm not sure what that shift is going to be.
    Aside from being laid off myself and unable to find work for many months, I think part of what makes me so uncomfortable is knowing probably about 2 dozen people in the exact same situation as me.
    We had a couple of banks in town that closed on a Friday as WaMu and opened on Monday as a Chase bank.
    But His eye is on the sparrow and now I am in a position where I get to see my faith tested, to see how much I really do trust God.

  3. They don't bloody deserve you Paul... they r just bloody salespeople who never read a book except to pass an exam... but my good wishes are with you.... obviously u r entrapped in a system.. in a way i can relate to you because I dropped journalism as papers were no longer interested in serious things only movies and scandals.... I suggest you start selling stuff online... I saw on TV I think on Discovery that some people are making a lot of money that way....
    I think things are rather better in India for genuine intellectuals though if I went out to find a job I doubt if I will get a decent one..

  4. I read this one again and was going to comment again but noticed my comment above and well...the above is still what I have to say about this!