If cancer could grow as large as it desired without harm or imposition to other living organisms, one hardly would notice its highly consumptive nature. Alas, one’s body needs all its space and functions for other purposes. Cancer can’t have free run of the body.
Regarding consumptiveness, capitalism is a lot like cancer. From its inception the American experiment has let capitalism grow at will; for many generations capitalism wasn’t bothering anyone or any systemic functions of economy. In fact, capitalism is what brought the United States to the top of the international arena. But no one noticed how consumptive capitalism was.
It was unbelievably good fortune that Europeans landed on the shores of a virgin continent. There was enough room to spread out to the point that many early colonies had their own flavor of Christianity and variety of government. Entrepreneurs could consume endless virgin forests, endless water, abundant minerals were harbored in the continent’s soil and rock. Blessed by a favorable temperate climate, agriculture had no bounds. Wildlife from shellfish to grizzly bears were more than plentiful. Even before the eastern continent was full, the US acquired the Louisiana Purchase, Texas, the Gadsden Purchase, territory from the Mexican and Spanish cessions, and cut a deal with Britain for the Northwest. The entire Forty-Eight were in place – with no industry, a few native indians, no Europeans, nothing but space, nature’s riches and an ethos based on freedom of everything, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 200 years after the first settlers, land still was in such abundance the government had programs to give away land to those who would claim it.
It would take an unleashed capitalist economy to leverage the virgin riches of the continent. With good timing the Industrial Revolution came along with steam and oil and trains, planes, automobiles, and highways. Consumption of America was feverish and overwhelming compared to normal circumstances in the rest of the world. Even continuous war every few years with other nations would not make a dent in growing GDP. No one noticed the greed and hoarding – necessary side effects of capitalism.
But then, suddenly, the continent was full. 350 million people; no extra land; overcut forests; polluted streams and rivers; overfished lakes and oceans. Still, capitalism raged on with its consumptive behavior funneling more and more resources to the wealthiest capitalists to sustain profits.
Today, the greedy aspects of capitalism are noticed. Corporations merge with corporations just to sustain record profits. But a strange thing happened in the 1980’s: profit was no longer driven by production and labor. Instead, wealth invested in other wealth by using the stock market and a plethora of profit-taking maneuvers engineered by the banking industry and US Federal and state governments. Consumption is so important to capitalism that the United States can no longer afford high concepts like freedom, life, liberty and happiness – they are too expensive because unlimited resources no longer exist. As fewer and fewer resources are available, capitalism is a victim of its own strength: expansion. Profit and assets must continue even without resources. All that is left is the assets of the public. Fringe benefits and salaries suffer; human dignity is unaffordable. Oligarchy and kleptocracy emerge as the pressure mounts to sustain capitalism.
Pure economies of government, capitalism, communism, socialism, and all the derivatives, are not healthy. Left to perform unopposed, any single form of economy will run amok. Any effort at modifying American capitalism will take years of pain in the public sector but they must prevail if a new American ethos is to emerge that will focus on freedom, life, liberty and happiness.
For the next decade or two, capitalism will find profits in computerization. More important to the public sector is that they will be part of the solution. Else, as in the previous post, change will be devastating.