“Economic injustice is perhaps the most obvious evil of our present system. It would be utterly absurd to maintain that the men who inherit great wealth deserve better of the community than those who have to work for their living. I am not prepared to maintain that economic justice requires an exactly equal income for everybody. Some kinds of work require a larger income for efficiency than others do; but there is economic injustice as soon as a man has more than his share, unless it is because his efficiency in his work requires it, or as a reward for some definite service. But this point is so obvious that it needs no elaboration.”
—Betrand Russell [1872–1970],
“Capitalism and the Wage System,” Chapter II
Political Ideals (1917)
“We are inclined to confuse freedom and democracy, which we regard as moral principles, with the way they are practiced in America—with capitalism, federalism, and the two-party system, which are not moral principles but simply the preferred and accepted practices of the American peoples.”
—James William Fulbright [1905–1995],
“Speech in the U.S. Senate, ”March 27, 1964
“Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.”
—Erich Fromm [1900–1980],Escape from Freedom (1941)
So, here is the interesting part. Although not always put in such crude words, such a view is one commonly held by a good number of persons in America, even if they themselves are being exploited or on the receiving end of said injustice. This is an absurd belief, no doubt, but capitalism continues to be strongly supported, which says much about the system’s strong-hold on people, who fear any change to it, even if it improves their lot. The truth is that very few will succeed, and effort has nothing to do with it. The system is structured to favour the already-wealthy and their children.
Even so, millions of people try at the exclusion of everything important. When a society is structured like this—and America is only the prime example; there are many others, including my country of Canada—human solidarity, which is not only necessary for society, but also for individuals, becomes eroded. Friendship is a good example of social solidarity. Many men today have forgotten about, even denying themselves, friendship in pursuit of financial goals. They have, in effect, traded love, friendship and solidarity for the pursuit of money, often doing so with an insatiable appetite. This is akin to a man eating a large meal alone in a restaurant.
Whether it is greed or gluttony, excesses have long been rewarded in America, hence the poor state of affairs, making America an unhealthy divided nation, where greed is rewarded and economic injustice is ignored. In The Art of Loving, published in 1956, Fromm states such a truth, one that is still true and even more relevant today than when it was written, because we have moved further away from the individual and the solidarity of individuals that makes up a well-functioning society. The individual has been subsumed, and in his place is the automaton:
Our society is run by a managerial bureaucracy, by professional politicians; people are motivated by mass suggestion, their aim is producing more and consuming more, as purposes in themselves. All activities are subordinated to economic goals, means have become ends; man is an automaton — well fed, well clad, but without any ultimate concern for that which is his peculiarly human quality and function. If man is to be able to love, he must be put in his supreme place.
The economic machine must serve him, rather than he serve it. He must be enabled to share experience, to share work, rather than, at best, share in profits. Society must be organized in such a way that man’s social, loving nature is not separated from his social existence, but becomes one with it. If it is true, as I have tried to show, that love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence, then any society which excludes, relatively, the development of love, must in the long run perish of its own contradiction with the basic necessities of human nature.”The system, however, has not perished, but has become emboldened and stronger, despite the inherent contradictions. It is strong and it survives, but survival does not mean that it is humane, nor excellent nor even good. Despite it being only an economic system, capitalism has been made into a virtue, a noble belief system, notably in America.
It is true that a few can and do live by such a harsh and unforgiving system, but many good and hard-working individuals cannot, many sensitive, intelligent and creative souls cannot. It is understandable that all beliefs fail when they serve only the few instead of the many. Such is the case of American Capitalism. It has contributed to much unhappiness, disappointments and mental breakdowns, without acknowledging its responsibility in the matter.
It has contributed to health problems and a litany of social ills, including making or compelling people to be cruel, nasty and inhumane in the service of the economic machine. Every year, studies show that most Americans hate their jobs. It is the same year after year. People who hate their jobs have difficulty hiding it, and it comes out when serving customers and clients. It has infused and infected every aspect of life in America, not only business and politics where it predominates, but also education, religion and family. It has made intelligent people stupid; and honest people into liars.
The sane, who criticize the staus quo, American Capitalism, as greatly contributing to poor mental health, depression and loneliness, are viewed as malcontents and curmudgeons and, of course, mentally unfit. (“They are just not tough enough.”) In short, such persons, if they are deemed still useful are often managed with a patronizing pat on the back reserved for the dull-witted and the imbecile. The rest are medicated or ignored.
There is no forgiveness in American Capitalism; there is no love in American Capitalism; it is but an unfeeling automaton. When I was young and naive, I used to favour capitalism, even the American kind; then as I got older I saw what it does to people, and how people suffer, often unfairly and unjustly. My heart became alive, and I, too, began to change my thinking. An unease and a dissatisfaction with the staus quo then set in. In other words, I became human.