Capitalism has produced more wealth than any other form of economy, beyond anyone’s imagination. In the U.S., gross domestic product, what we produce annually, is over $20.5 trillion dollars. At levels of moderate growth, pre-coronavirus, we were on track to add roughly $1 trillion to the economy. There are so many zeros in the number twenty trillion that it reminds me of looking up at the stars at night and trying to count them all. Good luck.
Our success, however, is also our failure. High concentration of wealth, widespread poverty and inequities, and environmental degradation are cause for reflection. Consider that the U.S. exhibits wider disparities of wealth between rich and poor than any other advanced industrial economy; both in income and assets.
The top one-tenth of one percent of Americans, for example, takes nine times as much income as the bottom ninety percent (Inequality. Org). An estimated 147 million Americans are defined by U.S. statistics as poor or low income. They are one or two steps away from the street. These are not issues that can be resolved by simply making health care plans more widely available to individuals and families.
Coronavirus is challenging our traditional economic habits which gives us the opportunity to ponder what’s next; opening opportunities to own more of the value that we produce and that belongs to us. The road to a more equitable society starts with observations, and the courage to question the given.
Value and Inequality:
Our economy is premised on accumulation. Making money is the supreme value of society. Common knowledge has it that the more money that individuals make the better, and the less interference by government and laws the better. The personal, social, or environmental costs of such beliefs are not what matters, as long as profit is generated.
Changing the purpose of the economy from accumulation by individuals to producing wealth to share and enrich life is a good start. The entire economy could become more like a giant social enterprise, rather than a factory for accumulation for the few.
Sustainable social and economic innovation lies in the concept of value that reflects what employees are creating for employers. It means that a host of super-wealthy individuals would be compelled to share their wealth and not hoard its accumulation.
The concept of value lies at the crux of the matter. Let’s say, for example, that your labor, or counterpart across the globe, helps Nike produce a pair of athletic shoes for $2.00 cost of labor (Sole review online). It then, in turn, sells that pair of shoes at retail for $150.00. Everyone in this labor chain suffers or ‘gets by’, according to where they live. This includes the community that Nike depends upon to operate, locally and globally. Nike, with sales of $39 billion, is not different than other known brands, for example, Amazon or Apple computers.
Put simply, for example, if you are paid $12.00 or 15.00 or $30.00 per hour but generate $200.00 worth of value, then the company might owe you an additional $25.00 per hour and the community an extra $100.00 per employee for infrastructure. The point is that inequality begins with the theft of your labor and the dollars ripped out of communities.
Why is that American corporations can steal your labor then hoard $1.75 trillion dollars overseas? Apple is notorious for this cycle of underpaying employees and hiding their portions of this financial game.
Why can these corporate captains of industry avoid taxes on $10 billion in profits? These corporations find ways to ‘legally’ dump high levels of poisonous gases in the atmosphere for free, like every mining company in the U.S. and globally.
According to the Wall Street Journal, state officials in New York offered Amazon $800 million more in incentives than was previously known to win its second-headquarters context. That means that state officials lied about the use of tax dollars. Amazon avoids taxes, puts competitors out of business, and turns to state treasuries to get subsidies. It’s like socialism for wealthy companies. We all pay the price. Studies indicate that in Southern California Amazon’s distribution facilities lowered the standard of living in specific geographic areas, not raised it.
The value of your expropriated labor is the cornerstone of our economy and inequality. Key questions for you to ask revolve around who owns the value created by your labor; how much is owned by you, how much by employers, and by the community at large?
Companies will not take questions around the actual value of your labor seriously or sitting down. Superiors will claim that you have no right to confront them with these questions, let alone demand answers and change. They reserve these rights for significant owners or major institutional investors who can ask whatever questions they want because they have the power to gain control of the company.
Even companies that take pride in supporting something they call ‘conscious capitalism’ will avoid these questions, silence you, or provide lame excuses about levels of profit required to satisfy shareholders.
Occupy Wall Street:
Occupy Wall Street, a protest movement against economic inequality, and corporate pillage had the collective courage to confront these issues, in New York in 2011. It spread to over 43 countries in a matter of months. They hit a chord that is undeniable in our economy and economies worldwide.
While their analysis was accurate, their strategies and the repression that was unleashed against them proved overwhelming. In the end, even the so-called liberals like President Obama or Chuck Schumer turned their backs on them. It didn’t resonate with the corporate bunch that supported them financially and paid for a good deal of their elections.
Reclaiming the actual contribution of your labor to the success of the enterprise and the contribution to the community would alter the personal wellbeing of tens of millions of individuals and families.
According to David Webber, author of The Rise of The Working-Class Shareholder: Labor’s Last Best Weapon, a 5 percent shift in the nation’s total business income from business to labor would amount to well over $500 billion dollars annually. Imagine that this percentage was raised to 10 percent, the owners keeping 90 percent. What a large impact that would make for hard-working individuals. Those that create value are rewarded with the easy, chump change of $1 trillion dollars and throw in unpaid tax monies for the community; for schools, rapid transit, medical clinics, and green space.
Reclaiming Your Wealth:
Life is unlike a movie, there are no re-runs: The time and money that has been stolen from you, from all of us, is significant. When I say “us”, I mean those of us who have spent years working for a living. It’s not just about “what’s in it for me”, rather companies that avoid taxes, get tax breaks for locating in certain geographic areas, hide wealth overseas, and fail to contribute financially directly to communities on all levels, are guilty of piracy.
Here’s what you can do:
- Open a conversation with friends on labor and theft. Be prepared to face resistance. Not everyone is open to freedom. Don’t buy into “after all companies take risks”. Remember, wage slavery is a modern form of slavery.
- Secure a copy of your company’s financials. See how much it cost to produce a product, and determine what percentage salaries are of product or service sales—it’s your life, it’s your salary.
- Calculate what a 30 percent raise would mean to you in one year, five, and ten years. You might be pleasantly surprised or horrified.
- Calculate the financial effects on your community of Amazon paying zero tax. Now you’re charged 20 percent tax on its profit of $10 billion dollars, that translates into $2 billion, or Apply to pay tax on roughly over $50 billion that it shelters. You get the picture: huge rip-off.
- Start a letter-writing campaign to get all major companies to pay their fair share — do the research.
- Start commenting on social media. Your wages feed the ability for companies to make money; shelter it; and deprive you, your families, your community, and the economy of money.
- In the story of Jack and The Bean Stalk, get the gold, defeat the giant.
- Stop shopping Amazon and find an alternative. Your financial support to these greedy corporations only makes them stronger.