On the surface, Americans appear to be living in idyllic times:
Our economy is robust, and the United States is the world's only
superpower. Yet the growth of the economy has concentrated power
in the hands of a few individuals and corporations (the top 1 percent
now owns nearly half the wealth). Economic globalization has resulted
in transnational organizations that operate above the law with unchecked
power. Washington is awash with lobbyists representing the rich
and powerful, while cynicism about the democratic process grows.
We are at a crossroads where we must decide between plutocracy––government
controlled by the wealthy––and real democracy. To defend real democracy
and act for the common good, we must begin to make systematic changes
in our economic system.
The social justice movement has made progress on civil rights,
but there has been little progress in the arena of economic justice.
African-Americans and Latinos are still paid less than their white
counterparts in a broad range of job categories. There has been
slow progress in making the minimum wage a living wage. Yet the
social safety net has frayed, disproportionately impacting single
mothers and their children. When multinational corporations move
jobs out of the United States to foreign plants, the workers most
affected are those with fewer skills and those from low-income families.
While the impact of the growing chasm between the rich and the
poor is well documented in these arenas, the impact on the environmental
and peace movements is often more subtle.
The growing economic divide is illustrated within the environmental
movement in the living conditions of the poor: Toxic dumps are found
in their neighborhoods; they are more likely to live adjacent to
plants dealing with hazardous substances; and their children disproportionately
suffer from chronic health problems. Polluting corporations have
lobbyists who represent their interests with government officials,
but the poor lack this representation, thus they have a diminished
ability to ensure clean air and water for their families.
Meanwhile, the United States now spends more on research and testing
of nuclear weapons annually than it did on average during the Cold
War--$5 billion now versus $3.7 billion then in constant dollars.
These funds could be used to improve the living conditions of our
society's working poor instead of financing nuclear weapons tests
on the land of indigenous people, such as the Western Shoshone in
Seeing this widening economic gap, it becomes apparent that powerful
forces have arrayed in opposition to a morality of fairness. Some
of this is attributable to the rich and powerful being unwilling
to give up their privilege. But much is due to the "free market"
mentality incorporated in transnational corporate capitalism that
values profits over people. This mentality opposes efforts to raise
wages and expand the social safety net, for to do so is seen as
a threat to corporate profits.
We need to attack the proposition that market values supplant human
values. To get at this directly, we must go to the source--"corporation
think," the free market mentality commonly advanced by the captains
of industry and their publicists. It follows that, in addition to
a belief in fundamental equality and an understanding that the widening
gulf between the rich and poor threatens our social fabric, the
third unifying principle of the left is opposition to corporate
capitalism. Unfettered corporate capitalism threatens democracy.
Corporate power must be checked.
We need to expose the prevailing economic myths of the "self-regulating
marketplace," "corporation as person" and the "level playing field"
as hollow and undemocratic. We need to change the rules that govern
our society so that they benefit all the people.
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