Nel's New Day

December 14, 2013

Protect Capitalism

The term “unfettered capitalism” has been frequently heard since Pope Francis said this practice is destroying our culture through rapidly increasing income inequality. Yet the practice of uncontrolled capitalism is highly popular with politicians whose campaigns are supported by the wealthiest, the CEOs who make hundreds of times more than their workers, and the wannabe wealthy who have this dream that they become richer because of capitalism. The other 99.9 percent of the population knows that unfettered capitalism is unsustainable.

Currently global capitalism—also called growth capitalism—is based on economic growth into perpetuity, one that consumes all possible resources. The planet on which we live, however, is finite and cannot support infinite growth. This has been obvious for several decades through climate change, increasing inequity with its extreme poverty, resource scarcity with food and water shortages, species extinctions, and the ever frequent financial crises. A high degree of dysfunction comes from the perpetual growth in consumption spurring a corresponding growth in public and private debt to fuel that consumption, roiling financial markets and sovereign finances across the globe.

At the same time, the current economic system fails to distinguish between investments that support the earth and the general welfare and those that increase income inequality, destroy the environment and earth, and damage public health. Unfettered capitalism cares only for the short-term effects and profits with no regard for long-term consequences. The mantra is “more and more stuff.” Even the country’s economic growth is based on people buying more and more things that they cannot afford. Politics is based on wealthy people and corporations buying politicians.

An alternative to unfettered capitalism is sustainable capitalism. Joe Keefe, president and CEO of Pax World Management, writes:

“Sustainable capitalism may be thought of as a market system where the quality of output replaces the quantity of output as the measure of economic well-being. Sustainable Capitalism ‘explicitly integrates environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors into strategy, the measurement of outputs, and the assessment of both risks and opportunities…. encourages us to generate financial returns in a long-term and responsible manner, and calls for internalizing negative externalities through appropriate pricing.’ (“Sustainable Capitalism,” Generation Investment Management LLP, 2012, p. 2).

“Essentially, business corporations and markets alter their focus from maximizing short-term profit to maximizing long-term value, and long-term value expressly includes the societal benefits associated with or derived from economic activity. The connections between economic output and ecological/societal health are no longer obscured but are expressly linked.”

During the 1960s, environmental and social justice movements addressed the problems of unfettered capitalism. Slowly some of the worst pollution was cleaned up, and the civil rights movement began integrating racial minorities into the mainstream. Without regulations, industrial economies would have continued to degrade the earth. The costs in protecting the environment and enfranchising people were rejected in the early 1980s, and the country has been in denial about its reversal for the past three decades. Today’s economic chaos began 30 years ago.

The bursting of the dot.com bubble in the late 1900s led to Wall Street’s unethical financial house of cards in the 2000s, when people still ignored reality. Irresponsible borrowing and spending led to the economy’s collapse, and the lack of renewable energy sources development contributed to the global climate change caused by fossil fuel reliance. The income inequality is now the worst in a century. Even former Fed Reserve chair, Alan Greenspan, said that the income gap may  “threaten the stability of democratic capitalism itself.” A democracy based on exploitation is not sustainable.

As John Ikerd wrote:

“Capitalism was conceived during a time when the resources of nature seemed inexhaustible and society seemed invincible. We know now that both are finite and limited in their capacity to generate economic value. A sustainable economy must renew and regenerate as least as much as it extracts and exploits. We ultimately must confront the disquieting reality that an unbridled capitalist economy is not sustainable.”

“Spreading the wealth” is not to punish the wealthy but to keep society productive and stable. The wealthy depend on such a society.

The basis of sustainable capitalism requires a shift in thinking. As Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Economic development in the last two centuries has depended on a mechanistic view with humans the cogs in a machine. A continuation of our society depends on the concept that humans are interconnected with the world as a natural living ecosystem.

Even the writers of the constitution understood the importance of people working together for the benefit of all when they wrote “promote the general Welfare.” Classical economists understood an economy must function within the social and ethical bounds of an equitable and just society. If people lack sufficient food, housing, health care, education, and a healthy environment, they cannot contribute to a healthy society.

With sustainable capitalism, competitive markets guide the use of natural and human resources in the pursuit of individual self interests without diminishing the well-being of society or humanity. If this is not achieved, a society will lose all capitalism. With no regulations, capitalism lacks ethics and morality, becoming self-destructive.

Instead of the goal of maximum linear growth in GDP, sustainable capitalism considers the maximum wellbeing for minimal planetary input. Businesses are challenged to go beyond efficiency gains and redesign their business models. For example, businesses might move from selling products to leasing them.

Joe Keefe wrote that “that the greatest impediment to sustainable development across the globe is gender inequality. Advancing and empowering women and girls is not only a moral imperative but can unleash enormous potential that is now locked up in our patriarchal global economy.” For that reason, Pax World has developed the Global Women’s Equality Fund that supports the belief that gender equality needs to be a pillar of Sustainable Capitalism.

Another way to support sustainable capitalism is the public funding of federal elections. As long as lawmakers are held prisoners by the interests that they were elected to regulate, they will continue to support the wealthy. Third, asset management firms like Pax World, with $2.5 billion in assets, need to craft persuasive messages, launch new products, form new partnerships, and fashion distribution strategies and alliances to raise the industry.

The problem with a shift to sustainable capitalism is that businesses get caught in the rut of temporary success without thinking about their impacts. New developments are looked upon with suspicion. One company, Kingfisher/B&Q, began considering the sources of wood in its garden furniture during the 1980s and then moved on to peat-free compost, cleaner paint, and helping customers “ecovate” their homes. That led to partnerships with other corporations believing in sustainable capitalism.

In Maryvale, Conscious Venture Lab is searching for companies practicing sustainable—or responsible—capitalism, businesses with aims that include but aren’t limited to profits. Howard County funded the group with $750,000 for two years, one of many efforts to “prod corporations to do good while doing well.”

Unilever CEO Paul Polman, a top sustainable company among the multinationals, said one result of gridlocked governments is that “the need for change increasingly has to come from responsible business.” Companies that stop focusing on short-term profits to the exclusion of all else actually make more money.

A recent study by business professors from Harvard University and the London Business School concluded that “high sustainability” companies “significantly outperform their counterparts over the long-term.” Authors wrote:

“A more engaged workforce, a more secure license to operate, a more loyal and satisfied customer base, better relationships with stakeholders, greater transparency, a more collaborative community, and a better ability to innovate may all be contributing factors to this potentially persistent superior performance.”

In 2010, Maryland became the first state in the country to allow companies to form as “benefit corporations,” protected from lawsuits over decisions that put workers, customers or similar interests before profits. Much of the country has followed Maryland’s suit, either passing or considering such legislation.

It’s a start.

December 8, 2013

Religious Figures at Odds with Each Other

Is the GOP obsession with religion dissipating? One piece of evidence comes from the response to Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AK)’s statements television ad for his re-election campaign in which he said:

“I’m not ashamed to say that I believe in God, and I believe in His word. The Bible teaches us no one has all the answers. Only God does. And neither political party is always right.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee responded, “Is [the Bible] really not a good rule book for political issues and decisions made in the Senate?” Even Rep. Tom Cotton, the Republican running against Pryor, took his side, calling the NRSC’s response “incredibly bizarre and offensive.” Cotton’s campaign spokesperson added, “We should all agree that America is better off when all our public officials in both parties have the humility to seek guidance from God.”

Most likely Cotton is pandering for votes. His statements follow Pryor’s campaign manager’s ire toward the NRSC: “It’s frankly despicable that Congressman Cotton’s Washington allies are manipulating quotes to question the sincerity of Mark’s religious beliefs. Tom Cotton needs to step up and denounce these shameful attacks on Mark Pryor’s faith.” Cotton did, but it probably won’t help him with NRSC support.

Rush Limbaugh also got excited about Pope Francis’ denouncement of unfettered capitalism (sometimes called extortion) by saying that “this is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.” Catholics in Alliance took umbrage at Limbaugh’s take on the pope and called on “Catholics and other allies throughout the nation to support the Holy Father.” Their petition states:

“Francis’s critique of unrestrained capitalism is in line with the Church’s social teaching. His particular criticism of ‘trickle down economics’ strengthens what Church authorities have said for decades: any economic system which deprives the poor of their dignity has no place within a just society. Contrary to what Mr. Limbaugh suggests, the Catholic Church isn’t built on money, but on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ.”

Other conservatives have joined Limbaugh in expelling bile about Pope Francis’ belief that unfettered capitalism is tyranny. World Net Daily (WND) published a cartoon portraying the pope as a socialist based on the non-biblical saying “Teach a man to fish.”

pope fish

WND author Jonathan Moseley used Luke 12:13-14 in a misguided attempt to prove that Jesus believed in unfettered capitalism:

“Someone in the crowd said to Him [Jesus Christ], ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But He said to him, ‘Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?’”

Moseley continued by declaring that Jesus is opposed to greed but doesn’t see that hoarding the family inheritance shows greed from unfettered capitalism.

A short lesson in “isms”:

  • Socialism: an economy in which the community as a whole or its government owns and controls production.
  • Communism: both political structure and economic production are owned by the government.
  • Capitalism: people own and control production to create more competition with the goal of low prices and high pay.

Capitalism, which allows people to own and control production, is based on competition which should keep prices low and pay high. Unfettered capitalism leads to the reverse—high prices and low pay because monopolies and collusion between companies prevent competition.

Moseley also assumes that crony capitalism comes from corrupt government’s involvement in business. It’s actually the reverse when business gets too involved with government. An example of crony capitalism is the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and the watering-down of the Dodd-Frank Act. Financial regulators don’t regulate, and Citigroup wrote legislation to strip the remainder of Dodd-Frank. Pope Francis rejects crony capitalism and rejects the monopolies created by unfettered capitalism.

U.S. Catholic bishops, however, are staying mum on the subject. Perhaps they’re preparing for the endangerment lawsuit against them.

Last year, millions of people in the world were outraged after they learned of a pregnant women in Ireland who died after miscarrying a 17-week-old fetus. A Catholic hospital refused to terminate her pregnancy. Abortion is legal in the United States, but one-sixth of all hospitals, because they are Catholic, refuse to provide this surgical treatment for women, even to save their lives.

Three years ago, Tamesha Means went to the nearest hospital after her water broke when she was 18 weeks pregnant. In pain and with no care, she was sent home from the Michigan hospital to await a miscarriage, despite the high risk of infection from the broken water sac. An 18-week-old fetus is at least one month before viability, and a non-Catholic hospital would offer her an abortion or induce labor. The nearest hospital, however, was Catholic based.

Means returned to the hospital for help a second time and was again sent home without any. Only on her third visit when she had an infection and was delivering the fetus was she permitted to stay. Now, in conjunction with ACLU, she is suing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It is because of the Conference’s directives, forbidding any abortion or delivery of an infant pre-viability even to save the woman’s life, that the hospital could not help Means.

Many people are not aware of the way that the Catholic Church has taken over U.S. health care and the dangers for people because of religious mandates for hospitals and doctors taking precedence over the best interests of patients. Despite the religious control over patients, billions of dollars (over $45 billion in 2002 alone) come from taxpayer funding.

Bill O’Reilly is also an authority on religion. He claims that his book Killing Jesus was divinely inspired, so it’s no surprise that he also knows what Jesus thought. In an interview with Pentecostal Pastor Joshua Dubois, O’Reilly shared his knowledge about how Jesus didn’t mean alcoholics and drug addicts to have food stamps:

“The problem I have, as I stated is that you’re helping one group by hurting another group and a bigger group, and so I don’t know if Jesus is going to be down with that.”

Dubois didn’t accept O’Reilly’s conclusion:

“Jesus would be down for the poor. He would want to make sure every single person in this country had enough food to eat. And the bottom line is if you add up every single private charitable dollar that feeds hungry people in this country, it’s only 10 percent of what we would need to make sure everyone has food in their stomachs. The rest comes from the federal government.”

After O’Reilly tried to educate Dubois about how all those bad people are just going to “buy booze and drugs” instead of food, Dubois patiently explained:

“With all due respect, there’s a lot of misconceptions in what you just said. The vast majority of that program goes to elderly people, people who are disabled, 46 percent are children and most people are working families.”

In another “misconception,” Fox network is complaining the Sharia law is “changing everything,” according to Heather Nauert. She is complaining about a weekly swim practice for Muslim Somali-American girls at a St. Paul YMCA in partnership with the police department to allow for the girls’ modesty and religi8ous beliefs. Shall we wait for them to complain about Christian law “changing everything”?

Their next complaint will be the takeover of “Satanic law” if the Satanic Temple follows the “freedom of religion” amendment to install a memorial on Oklahoma statehouse grounds next to the state’s display of the Ten Commandments.  Anton LaVey, founder of the Church Of Satan in 1966, has based his beliefs on Ayn Rand’s Objectivism that celebrates selfishness as a virtue. People may be more familiar with Rand’s works after Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) extolled Rand’s virtues.

In contrast to the fundamentalist belief in selfishness, today, December 8, is the Buddhist holy day of Rohatsu, or Bodhi Day. Celebrated as the day that Buddha attained enlightenment while meditating under the bodhi tree, Buddhists meditate, study Buddhist texts, chant, or perform acts of kindness to others. Lewis Richmond wrote, “Living in the light of humility, kindness and compassion is the deep lesson and timeless inspiration of Bodhi Day.” Christians could take a lesson from Buddha instead of restructuring their Jesus into a macho, judgmental warrior.

The best religious news for the week: The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a petition filed by the Christian Liberty University to stop the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act for each person to purchase health insurance. It leaves intact the ruling from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowing this mandate. All SCOTUS has left to decide is whether corporations—those people, you know!—can be religious and refuse contraception to its employees.

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