You Can’t Call America Capitalist Until Suffrage Is Universal

It’s something more like slavery and controlled accounting fraud.

It is nothing short of astonishing to me to see how reluctant Republicans in the US Senate have been to help Americans deal with the pandemic. They are very much intent on getting Americans back to work with proposals like unemployment benefits that will only restore 70% of wages lost due to the pandemic. It’s kind of like a giant game of chicken, with each side daring the other to move first.

I only need to look at the charts to see that I’d rather not be working near or close to anybody else. Even if I have a mask, clear plastic barriers, and other means of protection, I can see the charts showing the number of cases approaching 80k on a daily basis. I can see another chart showing the number of deaths reported on a daily basis rising above 1k again. In less than a month, we added a million new cases.

There is a reason why they’re calling this a pandemic. It is a disease spreading on a scale that dwarfs the flu. Judging from what I’ve read about people who’ve been sick with coronavirus, this one can leave you with serious internal organ injury. And that means a very high potential for chronic illness. Medicare for All is coming, but not without our participation to get it.

How did we get here? I think if I had to sum it up in a few words, I’d say, “It’s a lack of suffrage.” In this world, I see a very small group of very powerful people strutting around, acting as if they are the only people who have a clue about what to do, but whatever they’re doing, it’s not working. I see it in the White House for sure. I certainly see it in the US Senate. These are people who can’t set aside their puritanical hobgoblins long enough to figure out that we’re going to have to take a break until we know for sure what to do. They also seem awfully sure that suffrage should not be universal or else they’d be calling for nationwide voting by mail.

Remember what suffrage is? It’s the right to vote.

How is it that productivity can go up every year at a rate that outpaces wages and prices keep going up? How is it that companies that are about to declare bankruptcy can dole out bonuses during a recession brought on by a pandemic? How is it that stocks are holding as much value as they have managed to retain during a recession with 40 million people unemployed? Only a small number of people have a voice in all those decisions, that’s how.

The protests in the street are a clue. The surge in labor strikes in the workplace for the last two years is another clue. The lack of any meaningful restraint on executive salaries is a clue. The lack of a clear, concerted, and nationwide leadership effort to deal with the coronavirus is a clue stick. And we’re on the business end of that stick. That’s all about suffrage or, a lack of it.

Elon Musk earned $770 million in stock options earlier this year. He is on track to earn another $2.1 billion in stock options in a couple of weeks. Amazingly, his compensation package was approved by shareholders in his company, but seriously, nobody “earns” that kind of money. Not in a lifetime, much less a decade or a year.

I’m a big fan of Tesla and Space-X, but I just don’t see that kind of compensation as an efficient allocation of capital. Yet, through the magic of legalese and corporate governance, a handful of men get to decide how much they’re paid because CEO pay is largely a matter between friends. I doubt Musk could extract that kind of money from the business he built with help from lots of other people, if labor had a say in the matter.

Much of the suffering we see in the world today is a result of a lack of suffrage. Our elections are routinely sabotaged by people who believe that they’re doing the right thing. Not counting ballots. Stopping recounts. Large deviations between exit polls and the election results. Foisting vulnerable voting machines on the voters. I used to think that long lines were just for communist countries. In this capitalist country, you wait in long lines just to vote.

Is it capitalism when a measurable share of the population has been denied the right of suffrage? It’s clear that the people in power would rather not have the rest of us vote for our president or we wouldn’t have an electoral college. Is it capitalism when labor is not even represented on the board of directors of publicly traded corporations? Is it capitalism when the laws are designed to hinder the formation of unions? Is it capitalism when people with money can reliably pass legislation against the wishes of the people who do not have as much money?

It seems to me that since the days of Ronald “Grandpa” Reagan, we’ve been told that it’s harder and harder to start a business due to government regulation. But if we look around, we see monopolies everywhere and many of the easiest monopolies to spot are relatively recent. Just think Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Apple. They all enjoy a certain monopoly status and they are not old money businesses.

The monopolies we don’t usually see concern energy, commodities, and real estate. We don’t see them much in the news because there is little interest in exposing them to scrutiny.

The implied assumption we’re being asked to make in a capitalist economy is that everyone has freedom of choice in the market. But a company seeking to establish a monopoly in any realm is not interested in capitalism. That company is pursuing slavery. A company with no viable competition can assert not just a monopoly, it can assert monopsony to set prices for supplies and labor. If the only people who have a say in how that company runs is the board of directors, where do the consumers go for alternatives? Where does labor go when they disagree with management?

In Germany, public corporations with more than 2,000 employees are required to give labor 50% of the seats on the supervisory board (kind of like a board of directors here). For more than a century, they have made it a point to give labor representation in their largest companies to avoid a socialist revolution. Yeah, you can thank Bismarck for that idea. The Germans seem to understand suffrage better than we do. Perhaps that’s because they understand better than we do, what happens if you take suffrage away from people: you get revolution.

We are in the throes of a slow revolution. The revolution had been coming all this time, for the last 40 years, accelerating in the last 3 years, and it is still accelerating. The intensity of the news is indicative. The pandemic has only made the revolution more apparent. Few are calling it a revolution but I think we’re going to see that word in the news soon.

In a capitalist country, it is assumed that people are free to choose where they work, what to buy, and what to pay for what they buy. It is assumed that there is healthy competition in the market place. But judging by the way wealth is concentrating in America today, we don’t really have a free market. I’m not even sure that America can be called a capitalist country anymore, for capitalism assumes freedom of choice. Whatever we have here, I’m not even sure what to call it.

But if workers don’t really have a say in how the country is run, and it’s clear that they don’t at the moment, yet are being asked to choose between work and safety, then that would be quite another thing from a “free market economy”. If the only people who get to decide what they’re paid is the board of directors and the CEO, and labor doesn't have a say in the matter, then I guess we’d have to call that “slave labor”.

Labor can’t organize into unions. Labor has no say in what management is paid. Labor has no say in how much they’re paid. Labor has no suffrage. That would explain 40 years of wage stagnation very well.

If I wanted a socialist revolution, I’d want these kinds of conditions to persist over decades. Yet, everything that has been done to improve conditions for business over the last 40 years has only been kindling for smoldering embers that are lighting up today. We see those flames on TV, the Wall of Moms, the Naked Athena, The Wall of Dads, and we’re just getting started.

America is not a capitalist country precisely because suffrage is not universal. As far as I can see, America is in the early stages of a rather peaceful socialist revolution because, despite all the pretenses, no one really believes that America is a capitalist country anymore. I don’t. I don’t think America has ever been a capitalist country. I’m beginning to wonder if it is possible for a country to be capitalist with universal suffrage. I guess capitalism and universal suffrage are mutually exclusive.

Write on.

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