Seeing the Round Corners

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December 14, 2021


Most readers of this type of column are “older folk.” To the chagrin of today’s young, many parents firmly believe the young folks of today have way too much in the way of “things” – electronics, clothes, gadgets, toys – not necessarily identifying such as greed, just overly . . .  .

Greed has been with this country since its founding days when the rich and the aristocrats of England and Europe discovered America. Their obsession with becoming richer and controlling more property (and thus people) accompanied the new immigrants   arriving from countries with little or no regard for the resident people of America, (white and others such as the American Indians).

Readers may remember their school civics from high school. The wealthy offered to pay poor citizens of those countries the price of the fare to America in return for a period of labor until the amount was paid off. Such a practice came to be known as indentured servants and was a precursor to slavery, a much harsher, more cruel tactic. The indentured servant worked years and years laboring before the debt was paid off, if ever.

All this to introduce this week’s subject:  Greed’s Control of America. The column from this writer’s archives appeared on August 22, 2011.   

August 22, 2011

Like it or not, America has always had a class system.  While such a comment would be met with great disdain in most conversational circles, America has always had one.  And like it or not, the driving force has always been the amount of money a person has. 

In early-day America, those with money came to America believing their fortunes could be greatly expanded in the New World as America was once referred to. The lower class, those who wanted to come to America but could not afford to, came to this country as indentured servants, forced to work for the person who paid the cost of passage. 

President Obama has been crucified mercilessly and unfairly for policies meant to “redistribute the wealth,” amid accusations of socialism.   

A basic principle of capitalism is raising the standard of living for all. There’s even the reference to equality in America’s founding documents, but as statistics show, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Clichés abound with “you can’t ever be too rich” probably being the most repugnant. 

For most of its history, America has been the envy of the world.  But thanks to the media, the rest of the world seldom if ever sees the horrendous number of homeless in America, the veterans forgotten and ignored by the system and the elderly who make choices every day of their lives between paying for medications and eating properly. 

Ironically, the wealthy give new meaning to poverty with some sociologists equating poverty to cowardice in the olden days of warriors. 

Perpetuating the class system throughout the settling of America was the means by which the wealthy maintained control with indentured servants at the mercy of employers. Company stores served as another way of controlling workers. Field workers in the rural South and miners were paid with scrip that could only be spent at company stores for necessities at grossly inflated prices. 

Even in the late 1800’s, banks played a huge role in control over the working class by making mortgages on newly-cleared farmland that farmers could not repay due to poor crop production.  

The conduct of banks at the time served as the impetus for farmers getting together and forming farmers’ cooperatives. Farmers then joined with railroad workers striking over low wages. Wealthy railroad barons as they were called at the time used local sheriffs to quell strikes and corporate power increased as railroads spread throughout America. 

In the early nineteenth century, English philosopher Herbert Spencer came up with the term “survival of the fittest.” Spencer made the rounds on a lecture circuit of America where he actually justified the conduct of wealthy industrialists who exploited workers and got rid of poor factory workers as merely “weeding out the weak members,” the unfit poor.  Spencer’s callousness is typical English arrogance lamenting that charities only encouraged the poor to “multiply and spread their unfitness.” 

Laissez-faire was a term used to describe a time in America’s history (the 1860s through 1920s) where the “bigger was better mentality” took over in business. It was a time of poverty and despair for workers who died on the job or were maimed by unsafe working conditions in industries such as mines, rail yards and foundries. Businesses got by with no compensation for such injuries or deaths based on the argument that workers chose to work at such jobs. 

Such abuse of workers was finally reined into control through Supreme Court decisions lead by Justice Brandeis who viewed the laissez-faire philosophy as an “eventual threat to democracy.” 

So how does laissez-faire figure into today’s world? Unfortunately, it seems to be on the rise again.  Laissez-faire capitalism is the foundation for libertarianism. From the book Libertarianism:  A Primer, this description of what laissez-faire capitalism is:  “The answer to everything because it brings incredible wealth to all.” “All human relationships should be voluntary . . . there is a natural harmony of interests among people.” 

Next week, more on greed in America.

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