The greed and selfishness that the free market capitalist economy inspires seem to impact every area of social and commercial interaction in consenting societies. It’s not just Wall Street and government leaders caught in the trap. It’s the entire system that is set to keep moving ever more money to the top economic tier by siphoning it from the bottom and middle ones.
Money/wealth expands relatively slowly, so that when one sector of society appropriates more of it (as, for example, through the patterns of economic disaster schemes Naomi Klein describes), then the remaining sectors must make do with less. Ultimately, the country increasingly becomes a banana republic with a huge lower class, a hugely affluent upper class and not much in between.
Years ago, the founder of central Massachusetts’s food bank mentioned obscenely high salaries that directors of a major, well-known Massachusetts charity providing funds for hungry Americans received every year an amount purposefully made difficult for the public to access, since all the volunteers for this charity, which raises millions of dollars each year, would be greatly dismayed to learn that around a fourth of those revenues were enriching upper management.
In other words, approximately a quarter of the money raised went to salaries and much of the rest went into advertising so that, in the final reckoning, only a modest amount actually helped to provide food security. What a seamy racket! The unwary public, eager to work hard to uplift starving Americans, is duped in the process.
Granted, the concerned charity’s directors were talented in terms of advertising and promoting the aid organization. Yet it is difficult to imagine that competent executives and other upper-tier staff willing to work for much less out of devotion to the cause that they are advancing could not be found.
In the end, is it money only that’s a primary motivator for the people who plot, scheme, climb and claw their way into the top positions in organizations as an outright self-enrichment gambit? If so, what a sad state of affairs even if they have the skills to be adept in their jobs!
In addition, what does such a situation imply about the underlying social values, ethics and principles that guide all manner of social issues in countries whose public condones such a pattern? Perhaps the general situation is best summed up by John Berger:
“The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.”
Do we really imagine that executives of businesses like the aforementioned Massachusetts charity and Boys & Girls Clubs (“Senators question $1 million pay for charity’s CEO”) will self-police to avoid blatant financial abuse when it is potentially so personally lucrative not to do so? Do government representatives want to regulate abusive executive compensation in either the profit or non-profit sectors, when they themselves indirectly benefit in myriad ways from lack of organizational governance and regulation?
Finally, does free market enterprise without tight controls really represent the best way to serve societies as a whole? Overall, does the prevailing model of capitalism benefit the majority of people and preserve an intact natural world when a small segment of people wielding economic and political power derive so much gain from taking advantage of their position? Can current patterns of economic growth and management be just to the eco-systems and working populations on which it depends?