When I was in graduate school, one of my friendly acquaintances, to research a Master’s Thesis, grew a weeks beard, bought old rag clothes, got them greasy dirty, and spent the better part of the summer in the slums of Chicago. I would not have had the guts, but he panhandled, begged, applied for jobs, hung out with gangs, and blended in. According to our discussions when he came in, he had managed to pass as one of the street people.
The stories were not pretty. He saw some people managing to rise above such environment, but many failing. The successes fell into two main classes: those who escaped honest and those who escaped criminal. Based on my friend’s experience, I don’t think anyone could melt into the cesspools of poverty, live the life and then come back, feeling that all the poor need do… is rind the win to do. Some honestly succeed and some fail honestly. That division defies any parsing based solely upon how hard they had worked, or which church they attended, or how honest they were. And even those who chose crime as escape found no easy road. A lot of it was just plain luck.
Because of these thoughts, I would like to propose a premise. From that, I would like to expand the microcosm to broader themes. I suggest that the absolute worst vampires of the slums, are those whose survival and welfare (within or* escaped from the ghetto) rests upon the backs of their own neighbors. It is important to also agree, that oppression is a spectrum, a range, and a variety. Not all bullies are equal. Not all politicians are bad and not all good. The corner grocer who extends credit may be a savior today and tomorrow an opponent cuffing portion or rigging scales in attempt to buttress his own existence.
I would also like to suggest a broad definition of oppression. If the grocer overcharges and gains undue profit because people are starving, he is not quantitatively along side the thief, but he is on the same continuum. Loan sharks may rob without a gun. Any of these predators are, when feeding on the weakness of the community, examples of the dark side of the existential economic system. If we assume that “”law”” is itself a continuum of evolution and change, this daily demonstrated fact of pressure, leverage, and give and take life creates and opens the door to a further question: in a capitalistic society, who determines what the law is or is not?
When we attempt to strip away treasured mythology and history about the success of Capitalism, we find that many Americans have difficulty extracting Capitalism from the essence of the United States. Let’s assume that they do so without thinking, but many citizens, knowingly or unconsciously, assume that Democracy comes from Capitalism. Those who hold this opinion probably equal, or possibly outnumber, those who feel the reverse. I endorse the other view; Democracy allows Capitalism. Democracy leases space to Capitalism, not from. Those who would mortgage Democracy to Capitalism have no license to do so. Should vigilance fail and we find Democracy in thrall to the market, we have then returned to the ghetto. We the people, we the Democracy, we are the “” we “” who determine where “” Law has been, is, should be, and will be.
Why? If we go back to the beginning of this essay, I suggested that the thieves and con men are the most destructive aspect of the ghetto. If we apply our lofty terms and test our discussion against a ghetto where Capitalism defines Democracy, we will find the thieves and robbers in absolute control. If we choose, without restraint, to judge community and government by and within the tenants of Capitalism, we will inevitably find the best of the thugs, card sharks, and loan sharks, as the recognized community leaders. Anytime and anywhere we remove the control of Democracy, Capitalism soon becomes a rapacious and ultimately self consuming system.
I am not advocating an alternate to Capitalism. Rather, I contend that any Economic Theory, as the source of government, is doomed to oppression and ultimate failure. But I do wish to warn; Capitalism too, has a dark side. It must be controlled by the extension of “”we””, which we call Democracy.
Why? Let’s consider the concept of “”free markets””: that constant drumroll, litany, and petition from the high priests of Corporations. The first trouble is that no market is, or ever will be “”free”” if left in the hands of Capitalism. The first move any strong business (individual or Corporate) will attempt at any found “”free market”” is to attempt to control. The call for “”free market”” is really code for “”get out of our way so we can control””. The very people who preach the benefits of free market are the first to attempt to eliminate the freedom. If cornered the proponents and evangelists of free market answer all cautions, critiques, and warnings by the assurance and assumption that the many competitors will neutralize each other to the final benefit of the consumer. If we extract the jargon, they are assuring us that an unpoliced jungle is safe because the Tigers will be eating each other… rather than us.
As example, let’s consider the ascendancy of Enron that paragon of corporate design, consolidation, and manipulation. Over a period of years the edifice as structured, grew on the foundation of bribery, shoddy accounting, and then, with deregulation patiently achieved by Conservative politics in California, the trap was sprung. We all know the windfall profit, the price gouging, the employee rape, and the collapse. Let’s put this in terms of the ghetto: the neighborhood dope dealers had elected an addict as President and were looking to do to the United States what their own prior California governor had engineered for that state. The analogy of down and dirty street level control in the ghetto holds; when Capitalism consumes Democracy the market is everything but free; the people are bound.
So, is there any possible way to preclude further such manipulations? Yes, if we are ever again able to assemble the votes in Washington, there is. And it is very simple, but it will require a rewriting and redefinition of Federal Law about Corporations.
I find it amazing that for some crimes we can, and maybe should have, as final recourse, Human Execution; but why does our Law stop there? Why do we not also have the ability to execute Corporations? The Capitalist’s knee jerk reaction is that burden of responsibility for Corporate wrong doing rests upon the executives (and sometimes, some stock holders) of the corporation. They are at risk and accountable for criminal action. Yes, that is the case in our current system. It is considered an adequate solution. Unfortunately, the all too often and usual outcome of such events is that the good-ole-boys at the top of the Corporate ladder pick one of their own (sometimes from the top) who, willing or protesting, is served up as sacrifice. Then, after a cooling of public interest, the corporation (possibly still corrupt as found) regroups to steal, ravage, pander, and rape again.
Suppose we could and did actually “”Kill”” Corporations! If I understand what I have been told about Corporations, they have a sort of legally established existence as an individual. If we begin to treat the Corporation as we treat individuals, we can gain control. If we shut them down, if we distribute the liquidated assets to damaged parties or to all of us as a nation, if we quite literally dismember, disassemble, close down, and eliminate all Corporations which violate properly designated Corporate Capital Offence Laws, then, I think, rapes such as Enron would cease.
Yes, it would put people out of work, and yes, it would severely wound the stockholders. But, the current resultant situations and possibilities are, in many cases, no less harsh. Exactly that has happened in the Enron debacle. In fact current parameters are particularly harsh for the employees and smaller stockholders who are weak and targeted by existing laws and traditions.
Under the current practice and law, there is little to prevent additional events like Enron. Future reoccurrence is almost invited because the Corporation survives. But if we start Corporate Executions including appropriate punishments for involved individuals, a very few examples would, I think, cause the stockholders to rise up in blood anger to reaffirm their control and authority. With corporate liability established, we could eliminate further “”Enrons””.
To return to our original introduction, not all ghetto people are con men, thieves, and dope dealers. So also, not all Corporations are Enrons. But like my earlier labeling, the arrogant uncontrolled Corporations (at home and internationally) whose profits are gained by damaging their own neighbors and markets are the “”absolute worst”” vampires of this community we call Democracy.