What the majority of people need in this country is a financial system that incorporates social justice. In calling it “just capital,” I’m aware that the phrase plays into the hands of free-market true believers. They want just capitalism – meaning nothing but – without a conscience. In prosperous times a rich society pays a much lower price for doing business without a conscience. That time has passed, however. For America to regain its footing, three aspects of social justice must be addressed:
1. Income inequality – Capitalism has been described as the best system for building wealth and the worst for distributing it. The right wing uses “redistribution of wealth” as a curse leveled at the Obama administration. Yet their howls of protest mask sheer greed and moral callousness. The upper 0.1% of income earners, who largely live off dividends, should do their part in keeping society fair. Wealth carries moral responsibility. Arguments against this principle, although couched as conservatism, are pure injustice of the kind that leads to a society unraveling at the seams.
2. Cronyism, corruption, influence peddling and power mongering – Washington has always looked corrupt from outside its borders, but the rise of influence peddling and cronyism under Tom Delay’s tenure as majority leader has become institutionalized. Government posts are simply the gateway to riches earned as a lobbyist and consultant. The fact that a Newt Gingrich can brazenly thrive through influence peddling is a sign that an immoral, unjust system has reached the breaking point.
3. Anti-democracy – In some countries like Japan and Russia, the ruling elite is unchallenged in their role as managers of corporate, government, and military life. America isn’t supposed to be one of those societies. Our democratic ideals demand a more open system, in which every person has the opportunity to rise through merit and success. The Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court allowed micro-elites in the billionaire class to openly sway our elections. But democracy was bought and sold long before that.
I’ve picked these three issues because they broadly affect all of us. Clearly they reach beyond Wall Street, but financiers are deeply implicated in influence peddling, micro elitism, and of course income inequality. The received opinion is that nothing can be done about the present state of affairs, which is the same as conceding that American society is fated to be unfair, paying lip service to ideals that are betrayed by Congress, K Street, and both political parties. The public doesn’t play an innocent role in this decline from justice. By allowing itself to be manipulated through deception, fear, war-mongering, and reactionary “family values,” the 99% has conspired in its own downfall. As the richest become richer by huge margins, the middle-class has remained stagnant, at best, and recently saw the most discouraging data: household wealth has fallen to levels not seen in twenty years (largely due to a drop in housing prices as well as the inroads of recession-era unemployment).
So what to do? The first step is to shed light on the current state of affairs. That is being done with a vengeance, but the ruling elite protects its own, which is why Wall Street hasn’t been held accountable for bringing down the global economy. Regulation has been stone-walled, and the bitterest irony is that the public disapproves of the very consumer protection that is aimed at bringing more justice to the system. All of which leads to a discouraging conclusion: Telling the truth has set no one free, not yet at least. The Occupy Wall Street movement finds itself in a position rather like the reform movement in Egypt, where the Facebook generation fomented change but failed to elect any of its members to high office, leaving a gap for the far left and the reactionary right to duke it out.
Here we have stasis. Having folded its highly visible tents over the winter, the Occupy movement has become as dormant as the marginal anti-war movement that tried to bring sanity to Bush’s disastrous incursion into Iraq. The right wing smirks at this; the various elites no doubt breathe a sigh of relief. But it wasn’t the job of the Occupy movement to bring about reform, only to cry out for justice. The role of the elites is to insure justice. That’s their responsibility once money, power, and privilege are in their hands. Otherwise, we revert to a winner-take-all system that betrays the whole idea of a fair working democracy. Our only hope is that collective consciousness shifts. We need an American spring as much as the Middle East needed an Arab spring. Will a shift toward just capitalism occur? I can’t predict the future, but I hope there are many more blogs and posts focused on this vital subject.
(To be cont.)