Monday, November 26, 2012

Is Capitalism Really Good for America?

In an attempt to slowly bring myself back to the reality that vacation time is over and I must get back into the routine called "Life" on Monday morning, I decided to treat myself to one last movie night. Up on deck was Tower Heist, staring Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller. The film revolves around an ultra-luxurious New York City residential skyscraper that is home to some of the most wealthiest individuals.  The movie is supposed to be an action/comedy and serve as a feel good movie, but for me it was more serious than that. This movie gives you an in-depth look at what's wrong with society as a whole, and gives you a front row seat as you witness the flaws of capitalism and why it may not be good for America. 

The building's wealthiest resident Arthur Shaw who serves as the protagonist, is a Wall Street tycoon who fictionally has the sticky fingers and business acumen of Bernard Maddoff, the aloofness and sense of entitlement of Mitt Romney, combined with the charisma of Bill Clinton. He successfully confuses the audience and garners doubts regarding the fraud and financial deception that lead to his arrest, and receives a mild dose of sympathy until the true checkmate moment in the movie happens. In a scene where Shaw is face to face with his victims, he delivers what I proclaim to be the money quote of the movie. "See you people are working stiffs, clock punchers, easily replaced and erased. You just know that while you all are sitting in jail, I'll be right up there in the penthouse of the Tower doing what I do best." Ladies and Gentleman here is the problem with Capitalism. It removes the element of humanity to an extent where we truly become broken down into classes and the higher class believes themselves to be superior to all, and even above the law. Unfortunately, this is nothing new and is very reflective of our nations history. 

I am a big fan of the History Channel and love period pieces, especially biographical recounts. I recently watched the series "The Men Who Built America," and was really blown away, yet given a perspective on why our economy continues to behave the way it does. The series connects the dots on our nations economic founding through the stories of (L-R in Photo as depicted in the series) Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, JP Morgan and Henry Ford (not pictured). From the very start of this "American Story" the element of humanity and dignity for life is removed. Vandebilt had the Railroads, Rockefeller had Oil and Carnegie had Steel. 

Cornelius Vanderbilt known as the commodore, was the king of the American railroad system and could be considered the person who single handedly modernized the transport of cargo, taking it from the waterways to land. Vanderbilt is labeled by historians as someone who was "ruthlessly competitive," I'd prefer the term "greedy and doesn't give a shit." Vanderbilt didn't know squat about the definition of competition, because if he did, he would have understood that you need other players in the game in order for there to be some sort of competition. Enough was never enough for him and he wanted to be the only person and the richest person. So instead of competing, he put his competition out of business or swiped their pieces from the board and put them on his side. However, as ruthless and greedy as Vanderbilt was, he was a choir boy compared to the likes of John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. Let's just say that John D. Rockefeller killed an entire industry and Andrew Carnegie killed people.  

Unlike Vanderbilt and Rockefeller before him, Carnegie lacked the gravitas and moral compass to do his dirty work himself. In 1889 Carnegie was looking to expand his companies and knew in order to do so he would need to take his company down a road where regard for human life would not be of importance, only the increase of his balance sheet. Carnegie needed to break up the union. He couldn't carry out these deeds himself, so he hired someone who was considered to be the most ruthless businessman of the time, Henry Frick. Frick served as Chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company, and his time served was nothing short of death, profit and scandal. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's anti-union stance is nothing in comparison to Frick's. Frick set hazardous working conditions, longer but reduced hours and pay. What began as an attempt to renegotiate a collective bargaining agreement for union employees of the Homestead Steel Works, ended with at least 15 people dead and over 60 wounded. All this happened while Carnegie was away and not accountable for the actions of his Chairman. All the workers wanted were better wages and working conditions, amid a time when company production and profits were at a record high. However, it was just too much for Carnegie and Frick to do the right thing and pay their employees. I guess it did make more economic sense to lose production and spend money to hire contract killers to address the problem. 

I guess I can't really be upset with John Schnatter, CEO of Papa John's Pizza who recently proclaimed that due to implementation of the Affordable Care Act, he would be "forced" to reduce employee hours and raise prices on his menu's. Granted Papa John's follows a franchisee model, Schantter's comments indicate that as an overall company at the corporate level he is not willing to offset the additional costs to franchise owners. Something he can easily do, if he cared about his employees, the overall growth and image of the company. Piss on the employees who are responsible for your earnings. After all this is the Carnegie/Frick way of doing business. Andrew Carnegie and Henry Frick are revered as Philanthropists and "Men Who Built America,"maybe John Schnatter can look forward to the same 100 years from now. 

Schnatter is not the only businessman today who puts profit over employees. Walmart felt it was perfectly okay to require their employees to report to work on Thanksgiving day, so they can get a head start on Black Friday. Employees across the country who were tired of this decided to strike in hopes of  hitting Walmart where they would hurt the most, their pockets. Sadly, the strike has been labeled an epic failure because it had close to no impact on Walmart's overall sales on Black Friday. I guess having a flat screen television or the latest toy for your child on Thanksgiving evening is more important that some Walmart employee having the opportunity to spend time with their family. 

By the way, we cried about "Citizens United" and the unfair advantage that money lends to our political system. This is nothing new. In the 1896 Presidential Election, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan got their Karl Rove on and funded the campaign of the pro-businessman Governor, Republican nominee William McKinley. McKinley was thought to be the candidate who was better suited to address the issue of monopolies in The United States. 

This is Capitalism! Money supersedes everything. This is how the "country was built" and how it will continue to go unless we the people, the consumers, the true power holders, do something about it. All of our problems, especially our economic problems are man made. Literally by a man, and all in the name power and greed. 

In the words of the late great US Senator of Massachusetts Ted Kennedy, "When Does the Greed Stop?"

It it just me? Tell me what you think. 

1. Is Capitalism good for our country?
2. What are the good sides of Capitalism that you would like to see remain?
3. How can we bring our business practices closer to an economic system that still turns a profit, but also gives equal importance to humanity and the well being of employees?
4. Have you seen Tower Heist? If so, what did you think of Arthur Shaw?
5. Have you seen the History Channel series "The Men Who Built America?" If so, what were your thoughts on these men and their business practices?

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