[Religion News Service] Now that the financial industry and major corporations have successfully lobbied Congress to make more people poor and to keep them that way, they are discovering the downside of unbridled greed: people are too broke to buy their products.
Heavy discounts were necessary to stimulate sales on Black Friday — a stimulus that lost steam as the big shopping weekend proceeded. Now further discounts will be required. That bodes ill for retailers, as well as for their suppliers.
It’s one thing to own Congress, but it’s something else when consumers refuse to buy. They’re staying home, maybe shopping online; they’re not investing, not saving, not selling their houses, not feeling confident about their own jobs.
In a freer free-market economy, competitors would emerge to resolve these problems. But corporate giants do everything possible to stifle competition. Consider Verizon’s bid to buy $3.6 billion of unused wireless spectrum to prevent anyone else from having it.
Thus we see the demise of modern capitalism, brought down not by socialists or fringe elements, but by the capitalists themselves.
Their self-defeating behavior — like that of any addict — has led them into the delusional belief that they can have it all. They can kill prosperity, stifle competition, rig capital creation into an insider game, undermine countervailing forces — and yet somehow the great market will continue to shower wealth on them.
The problem is, when the only ones who have money are the ultra-wealthy, those who actually make the economy work — small business, merchants, job-creating employers, innovators, government agencies — are starved. Despite the relentless right-wing drumbeat on tax policy and government spending, the villain in that starvation drama is the greedy 1 percent.
GOP strategists have concluded that the way to defame Occupy Wall Street is to brand them as “anti-capitalist.” In fact, they’re mostly job seekers who would be thrilled to see our free-market economy succeed and put them to work. Their protest isn’t against capitalism; their protest is proof that capitalism isn’t working, a victim of delusions in high places.
The problem, you see, isn’t the economic system as such. It’s the shortsighted, avaricious people who are running the system.
It began years ago when they decided to pad profits by squeezing labor costs, thus shrinking the middle class. Then they padded their own salaries by juicing stock prices at the expense of long-range thinking, thus discouraging innovation and capital investment. Next they crippled regulators, thus undermining confidence and inviting corruption; and finally demanded tax laws that benefit only them, thus diverting spendable money into their bank accounts.
What did they think would happen? If no one wins except a very few, the economy stalls. With all the incremental wealth in a few pockets, who is left to buy $200,000 houses or $20,000 Chevrolets or even $200 lawn mowers?
How did these leaders make it out of business school, law school and glossy colleges without any understanding of the fundamentals? The system has to work for everyone, or it won’t work at all. The enemy of democracy is an entrenched elite, and the enemy of a free-market economy is greed.
Where is God in this? Where God has always been: telling the rich to share, exposing delusions like bigger and better barns and Mammon-worship, standing with the poor and hungry, and demanding justice.
— Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. Visit his website. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.