Capitalism, Income Inequality and Civil Rights
In a speech yesterday, US Federal Reserve chairperson, Janet Yellen, voiced concern about the unprecedented level of wealth and income inequality and its harmful effect on the U.S. Economy. While economists occasionally give such warnings about the adverse effects of such widening inequality on the economy, for political reasons, the social and political ramifications and consequences of it are generally ignored and avoided. I’m not talking about the direct and well known correlation between poverty, on the one hand, and crime and incarceration, on the other. That, too, gets acknowledged, if not by government officials, but by social scientists, who occasionally are quoted in the media. What usually gets left out from discussion is the effect such accumulation of wealth has on civil liberties and democracy.
Basically, a class society has an inherent contradiction with true democracy. As wealth gets accumulated in fewer and fewer hands, so does power, which naturally limits participation in decision making and leaves the task of setting policy and priorities to fewer and fewer powerful individuals – or rather corporations – who through their bought out politicians, end up making all policy decisions and charting course for the entire nation, which given their global reach, power and influence, affects much of the world. This narrowing of political clout and influence, in turn, creates the grounds for even more wealth accumulation and income inequality, which consolidates the power of those at the top even further, making it virtually impossible to effect any meaningful change in overall policy. Within such socioeconomic conditions, politicians cannot be independent of the ruling class or represent the will of the majority. If a political party, which relies on the help and support of the powerful ruling minority to get elected, tries to undermine their power or not act in accordance with their interests or agenda, it will quickly lose that support and become irrelevant. To remain relevant, it must fall in line.
Concurrently and in parallel, as more and more segments of the population join the ranks of the poor and struggle to survive and as the middle stratum empties and polarization intensifies, the ruling minority of multibillionaires gets nervous about revolts and takes steps to preempt and prevent any challenge to their rule and power. As this trend continues and the vast majority are stripped of rights to political participation, they are also gradually stripped of their civil rights. The reason is rather obvious. Civil rights only have meaning in relation to political influence and participation. One needs such rights only for effecting political change and if that’s forbidden and prevented, there are no civil rights or democracy to speak of. If you try to organize and agitate for change in policy or priorities – such as against war or against the so called “free trade”, etc. – that will affect their bottom line, or if you challenge their power or rule, you will be stopped.
In order to effectively predict and prevent any serious attempt at causing change and to always stay one step ahead, they will naturally gather intelligence on the public and monitor their activities, especially anyone who might lead such effort. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was routinely pursued and spied on by the FBI and was even on their list of individuals to be eliminated. The court hearing the civil lawsuit brought by his widow and family for his death, mentioned the collusion by some “unnamed government agency” in bringing about his assassination. After him and Malcolm X, who were obvious targets (not to mention the Black Panthers whose members were openly assassinated by the FBI), the leaders, organizers and activists of every social movement in recent history have been pursued and spied on and sometimes jailed on fake charges. The FBI or the local police has even inserted spies within anti-war and social justice organizations and movements, including the movement to end the war in Vietnam in late 1960’s and early 70’s, the movement for nuclear disarmament in the 80’s, the “antiglobalization” movement (which throughout the 1990’s, had gripped the US and its European allies for their neoliberal policies of imposing devastating austerity on the poor of the developing nations through “free trade” agreements), the movement against the war on Iraq and the latest Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011. Even environmental and animal rights organizations have not been spared. During the demonstrations against Iraq war in 2003, Los Angeles Times reported that LAPD had inserted one of their own into an anti war organization. New York Times reported in 2011 on the role of the CIA in monitoring the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York. And these were in addition to the NSA’s massive spying program, which had gone on for many years and were made public by Edward Snowden.
Social media has been a double sided sword. While it has given the public freer and more unfiltered access to information and analysis, which it used to get exclusively from corporate and Pentagon friendly mainstream media, it has also given the government of the billionaires the means to closely monitor the discussions among and even thoughts of the citizenry. The Occupy movement, in particular, which for the first time, raised awareness of the class divisions between the “1% and 99%” and connected the income and wealth inequality to capitalism, served as a warning shot to the government, which after going on offensive to crack down on the movement, it quickly passed the NDAA, which gave the President the right to order the military to detain anyone, indefinitely and without charges or due process. In addition, the police whose numbers have steadily grown, have also been given more latitude and freedom to conduct searches and make arrests. High number of incarceration is yet another aspect or form of increasing level of social control, which stems from widening gap between the rich and the poor and consolidation of power at the top.
While capitalism emphasizes the individual and individuality, breaks down sense of community and cooperation and advocates the rights of the individual in the abstract and in theory, in practice, it continues to chip away at democracy and democratic and civil and privacy rights of the people and frets at and tries to prevent unity among the population. Capitalism, despite its empty claims, it’s inherently and naturally irreconcilable and in conflict with true democracy. Democracy is only meaningful in as far as it allows and encourages the participation of the majority to exert influence on policy for the interest of the largest majority and to raise the living standards and level of comfort and security of that wide majority, rather than make them subject to the rule of a tiny minority of super wealthy and powerful individuals who hold all levers of power and control, which allows them to suppress and control the majority for their own selfish interests.
The discussion on income and wealth inequality must also include and be viewed in the context of perpetual wars, which are conducted for expansion of the corporate Empire and consolidation of power globally over as many people of the world, as possible, who like the working people of the US and its allies, are viewed as nothing but subjects to be controlled, suppressed and exploited by transnational corporations, who rule through installed dictators. The dichotomy between imposing ruthless and heavy handed dictatorships in client countries by the Empire, on the one hand, and a seeming though fake and deceitful democracy at home, is not to and cannot last for long, even in its fraudulent and hollow form. The tendency and move towards stripping away the rights of working people at home, as their economic situation continues to worsen and nears those overseas, is unmistakable and unstoppable within the current system.