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The Berlin Wall of Capitalism

Almost 20 years ago the Berlin Wall came crashing down on top of the Communist system which had dominated eastern Europe for most of the 20th Century. Soon the zealots of capitalism were crying for joy that their religion had triumphed and that socialism had failed.

Capitalism, often mistakenly equated with free market economics, has indeed been a positive force for change in western Europe and North America. The high standard of living which we enjoy has been created by the forces of capitalism which have channeled the desires of millions of individuals and organized the sources of production to provide those individuals with both the needs and the desires of their choosing. When compared to the life styles of the rest of the world we are indeed fortunate and much of that can be attributed to the sheer power of the capitalist system.

Free market economics has proven to be an excellent means of making economic decisions. It allows each person to make the individual decisions that best suit that person and the aggregate of those decisions to come together to make the economic decisions that power the economy. There is no better system to couple with a liberal democratic political system which values individuals and believes that each individual is the best person to make decisions for him or herself.

Having admitted that capitalism and the free market economic system which nurtures it have worked to provide us with an excellent standard of living however does not mean that it has worked without problems. However, the believers in the church of Free Enterprise will never make any admission which is critical of their religion. That is unfortunate.

Suddenly the world seems to have realized that global warming is truly a problem and that we as citizens of the globe are the causes of the problem. With this recognition the wall of capitalism has fallen on top of the western economic system and we can not fail to ignore it.

Even Prime Minister Harper seems to have been forced to admit that there is a problem here. If a committed priest of the religion of capitalism is able to recognize the problem, can the rest of the committed be far behind?

Global Warming is the first issue to bring this realization home, but it is not the only one. Coupled with it are the dwindling supply of oil and other resources, the extinction of species, the over fishing of the sea, the lack of places to dump our refuse and the huge disparity of wealth between the peoples of this planet. Not only has capitalism failed to solve these problems, it is the direct cause of them.

According to free market theory each individual goes in search of the greatest individual good, whether as a consumer or producer. The result of this is that no one looks at the long term effect of his actions, only at the immediate gratification of his needs. Modern capitalism has relied on that effect to power its growth through advertising and the mass media, to encourage consumers to buy products as quickly and as often as they can. Every year more goods are produced and more goods are sold, many of them unnecessary in the grand scheme, but all filling some individuals sense of needs satisfaction. The result - we are using up the resources of this earth faster and faster and at the same time creating larger and larger amounts of waste material that must be disposed of in more and more difficult ways. We have reached the age of disposability where our greatest duty as a citizen is to consume greater and greater amounts of the raw materials of our earth and produce greater and greater amounts of rubbish.

This must end. The realization that global warming is real and that we humans are the causes of global warming is the first of a series of realizations that are going to bring the capitalist system crashing down as we replace the duty of a citizen to be a consumer with the duty of a citizen to be a steward of the environment. The religious zealots of capitalism are going to resist this change, but the wall has fallen.

2007/02/17


Sam Lived in a Large House on Top of the Hill

Sam lived in a large house on top of the hill. From his favourite seat in the living room he had a view of the entire valley with the ocean in sight several miles away. From his breakfast table he had a view of the town with which he had a mutual dependence. While Sam viewed his home as a modest house for which he had worked hard, to most of the inhabitants of the town it was referred to as “the mansion”.

The river which divided the house from the town was wide, but the flow of people and ideas across the river was incessant.

Sam had grown up in the house and town, as had his father, although his grandfather would not recognize the house if he were to return to see it. It had undergone many changes, in technology and in design as the younger owners had modified it to suit their needs and their perceived notions of their place in the community.

The house had begun as a simple structure lacking the comforts of running water or indoor plumbing. Slowly through the years, as the Allen family prospered, the house had grown with new wings spreading out to the west and a large verandah where family members could go when they wished to look out upon the world, a world which they now dominated and which they quietly considered to be their own. Now the house was the largest one in the community and had many conveniences and technological devices that could not be afforded by most of the other people in town. They looked upon the house with envy, but not resentment, feeling that it was a goal toward which they could work.

When Sam had been born his father had determined to name him after one of the most famous of American generals, Ulysses Simpson Grant. While his mother was sympathetic to this desire, she understood that no boy could venture into a schoolyard as a Ulysses, nor as a Simpson. Consequently she had called him Sam, a corruption of Simpson, from the beginning.

As a boy Sam had enjoyed many privileges not available to his friends and playmates from school. His parents were egalitarian and encouraged Sam to bring his friends home to play with his toys, many of which could not be afforded by their parents. In turn Sam would often travel to their homes and neighbourhoods, realizing that he would not have the conveniences of his home, but relishing the chance to adventure in these unfamiliar environments.

Sam was no angel. At times he would taunt his friends with their lack of nice things and would demand that they follow him when they embarked on their adventures together. He was always “captain” and would seldom admit that another boy’s idea was better than his own. This was the ugly side of Sam’s personality.

Sam did not offer forgiveness easily. After a dispute with one Hispanic boy, over who would be president of their fort in the woods, the boy’s father had to get involved and sent Sam home. Sam never forgot the embarrassment of the day and refused to ever go back to the fort or to ever allow the boy to visit in his home. In fact Sam discouraged all of his friends from ever having anything to do with the boy.

However, Sam was also well liked by the parents of his friends. He was helpful around their houses and would join in to complete the tasks that were required in these simple homes, from carrying water into the kitchens to helping the men erect new buildings on their property. He was known to stop in at the homes of some of the old people and leave gifts of cash to help them meet their daily needs. He was quick to help his friends with their homework or even to give them his expensive toys. Because of this Sam developed a reputation as a good person and was often regarded as a good Samaritan.

Sam had taken over as the owner and operator of the family mill which manufactured bedding from cotton and linen imported from outside the region. Most of the people in town worked at the mill and were dependent upon Sam for their livelihood. Those townspeople who didn’t work in the mill ran or worked for businesses which provided goods and services to the mill or to the people who worked there. It was an arrangement that was good for everyone and had been in place for over a century.

The Allen family mill stood on its own property a short distance from the house. While it was invisible to anyone in the house, or to anyone in town, its presence was felt by everyone. It was located near the river and a short bridge connected it to the town so that the workers who lived in the town could cross over for work each day. This bridge had been built in the early days of the mill and there were many stories about people who had crossed over to get a job and had gone on to provide themselves and their families with an improved lifestyle as a result of the trip. These people were thankful for the opportunity to obtain a job at the mill and proudly defensive of the mill, Sam and everything connected with them.

John Castor had long been Sam’s cousin and best friend. While Sam had been one grade ahead of John in school, they were always found together, engaged in one activity or another. John was an independent sort of person and easily found his own niche in the world. He looked up to Sam like a big brother and was quick to agree to be a part of most of Sam’s schemes. Over the years they had had many disputes, but only one fight of any significance. That had occurred when they were teenagers and both interested in the same girl. After rolling around in the dirt, throwing a few punches and some name calling, they both got up to find the girl had left and neither of them had benefited from the spat. They never saw her again.

John grew up to be a successful businessman in his own right, never as wealthy as Sam, but comfortably well off with no need to have more. Raw materials from his company kept Sam’s mill in operation. He also owned several cotton fields of his own and brokered cotton from other farmers. The result was that Sam never had to worry about having enough cotton to produce the fabric in his mill. In addition John had control of a large supply of silk so that he was able to supply the mill with all the silk it needed to produce their high end fabrics as well. This mutual need for one another for businesses purposes cemented their relationship, but John was more committed to it than Sam who continually searched the world for new and cheaper sources of material for his mill. Just as in childhood John remained slightly in awe of his older cousin and while from time to time he would search for another buyer of his materials he never seriously doubted that the long relationship between the two of them would remain the source of business for his firm.

John was always there for Sam. He was the first to arrive on the scene when a hurricane blew down the barn at the back of Sam’s property and he was the one to rescue Sam’s youngest son when a kidnapper had locked him in an abandoned office building in a nearby town. Still when things got tough for Sam he often overlooked his cousin and sought assistance elsewhere.

It was 22 years after the kidnapping that the mafia became involved. Sam had laughed when they offered to protect his plant for a small monthly fee. In fact he accused them of being a bunch of lazy individuals who were not able to earn a living on their own, but existed off the wealth of the hard working people of the community. One week later a bomb blew up in the factory and killed every one working there. One of the victims was a cousin of John’s who was regarded with respect as an up and coming manager who was capable of doing great things in the future. John grieved for him.

Sam became crazy with anger and grief. He wanted to raid Little Italy on the west side of town and run all of the mafia and its supporters out of town. He appealed to everyone in the area for help. John counseled caution, but was immediately rebuffed because of Sam’s intense anger.

Before long Sam had rounded up a band of vigilantes which included several members of the local police and began a raid on little Italy. Many people were killed and most of the buildings were burned to the ground. Several of Sam’s band also died in the warfare that ensued. Mafia members were among the people killed and injured, but most of their members lived in secret in another city and were untouched. John worked with Sam to help the police investigate and locate the secret mafia members who had planned the attack, but Sam was not mollified. He would not countenance the moral support of anyone who wanted him to deal with the mafia in a legal way, but who were unwilling to get their hands dirty along side him in the battles of Little Italy. He called John a coward and turned his back on his oldest friend when they met at a meeting of the local Rotary Club.

Other citizens of the town were divided. Some agreed that Sam had the right to attack Little Italy because it was the centre for mafia activity. The feeling was that the police would not be able to do anything and if they could attack the mafia at its roots they would end the lawlessness which the mafia represented. Innocent people were bound to be killed, but that was the price they paid for hiding mafia members and failing to co-operate with Sam’s attempts to root out the perpetrators of the explosion in the mill. Other people thought it was wrong for Sam to take the law into his own hands and that ascribing mafia sympathies to all the members of the enclave was wrong. They expressed their disaffection in public and were soon scorned by Sam’s supporters.

Sam continued to be the most important person in town. He hired many people and did business with many others. He was not averse to boycotting a business whose owner was a part of his opposition and so turmoil in the town grew greater and greater.

Over the next eight years the conflict in Little Italy got worse although the intense battles quieted down after a while as most people were too exhausted and poor to continue the fighting that been a part of the initial phases of the struggle. Some of Sam’s supporters dropped away, but no one was willing to take the chance of losing his business to say too much in public. In private however, more and more people were questioning his sanity. It was clear to most people that John had been right in the first place and yet no one was willing to admit that the eight years had been a waste.

Eight years after the bombing Sam passed away. Mourners came from many different places and many different factions. They had kind things to say and buried him with the greatest of honour. Two of Sam’s children were in line to succeed him. His daughter promised to bring changes to the company, but promised to continue the campaign to gain revenge and bring the mafia to justice. The son called for reconciliation with other members of the community and to bring peace to the fight with the inhabitants of Little Italy. He vowed to continue to lead a fight to bring the bombers to justice, but called for a dialogue with all of the other members of the community and to bring healing to the relationships which had been damaged by the long dispute.

The people of the community watched the succession with a great interest. Many company shareholders wondered why there was so much interest from people who were not involved in the company. They did not understand the conflicting emotions which caught at the community as people were torn between envy at the success of the Allen family and resentment at the way in which the family had abused their privilege to achieve the success they had.

Shareholders of the company would have to make a choice. The future of their company would be decided by the choice which they made. The future of the community would be decided by the impact which the choice would have on their company.