Capitalism Left Unchecked Spreads Disease

The patchwork nature of American politics makes it difficult to stay ahead of the smaller indignities that the capitalist system imposes on its subjects. Issues are subdivided in a taxonomy of specificity.

A hard line/border is imposed keeping us from looking at issues within a larger context of economic interest.

The warning issued May 6 by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome is a perfect example. She told the meeting that food shortages and rising prices could have a destabilizing effect around the globe and that steps need to be taken to prevent riots and other violence.

“We must act now, effectively and cooperatively, to blunt the negative impact of rising food prices and protect people and communities,” she said at the FAO’s headquarters in Rome (Huffington Post). Nations need to avoid hoarding and export bans, which only lead to scarcity, which in turn also drive prices up.

While Clinton may paint an accurate short-term picture and offer necessary short-term goals, it is clear that the larger economic structure drives food prices up and down.

Capitalism is about profit, about maximizing the return on investment. You do that by charging the absolute most you can get away with charging for goods while doing everything you can to keep costs down. And when costs rise, you pass those costs along to the consumer, usually with a premium attached.

The nexus is not difficult to discern: Our oil addiction creates massive profits for the oil companies, fouls the air and water, leads to the destruction of pristine land, drives our foreign policy, enriches arms companies and the military contracting and consulting business. High gas prices — a result of the addiction and a driver of profits — drives up food prices and the cost of all goods, which in turn raises costs for business, which in turn cuts into profits and leads to layoffs. Oil exploration damages land and water that produce food, driving up prices just as much as transportation costs drive up prices.

National security and war issues are separate from environmental issues, which are separate from the question of jobs, which is separate from immigration policy, which is separate from the political corruption of our campaign finance system. The fact that the same people benefit from decisions made across these categories gets forgotten — or is purposely hidden.

But the problems we see — poverty and hunger, climate change, war, illegal immigration — are the symptoms of the larger disease of corporate capitalism. We must fight the smaller battles, but we can’t lose sight of the larger cause of what ails us. It is not about the labor, the environment or the military. It is about all those things and much more.

It is about capitalism. That is the disease that ails us. Until we start fighting the disease, we have no hope of making long-term gains in those smaller fights.

Hank Kalet is regional editor for in New Jersey. You can email him at

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2011

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