The great American free enterprise capitalist system was built upon the ideals of this country being the land of opportunity, where anyone could essentially build something and fulfill a dream of making it in America. The common challenge was to either start a business, or become a loyal employee in a solid company and persevere toward success. Either pursuit allowed one to be a stakeholder in America. A routine of putting money in a bank, a savings account, insured there would be a secure personal fund whenever needed. This was the middle class practice and credo in a system that been working well for decades: a proven formula. This being a process built upon cooperation and support toward the common good.
This is no longer the case. It appears that the practice of free enterprise has proven to be detrimental by its cutthroat applications. It is imploding in itself and threatens to bring this country to its knees. I have become greatly concerned that this practice has become a cannibalistic predatory dog-eat-dog norm that is at the heart of all our problems. Business monopolies, self-made or legally sanctioned, are welcomed where there once were laws that prevented this.
Amazon has become a giant with a ceaseless appetite to devour all in its path by controlling all possible markets. Its gluttony knows no bounds as it seeks to rise to the top of the heap in the name of real business American style.
Apple has been accused of price fixing, certainly not the first major American based corporation attempting to stifle the competition. Its place in the global economic pyramid is securely at the top. Why then, continue to screw consumers and smaller technology companies while the billions continue to pour in as the stock price rises? Why not be content with the success that it is with its vast holdings, and pursue greater quality control and fine customer service?
How many mom and pops have been put down by the quest of the Walmart dynasty to conquer all, by offering the lowest possible prices to customers? The few heirs of Sam Walton now hold more billions then they could ever hope to count in their lifetimes. How about a rise in the minimum wage to its workers and shore up benefits? Surely this can be affordable while the profits continue to flow. Is it solely about the bottom line?
There appears to be no end in sight to the greed that has pushed America to kill the competition at all costs. Our American capitalist system based simply upon conquest and hording has gotten us into a mess that looks irreversible. Am I such an oddball to think that pursuing wealth in a more shared and equitable process of cooperation could achieve prosperity? I dare say that greed; in the name of the American capitalist free enterprise system is the root of all problems in this country. For that matter this unbridled lust drives much of the world, as newer economic powers rise like China and India, all vying for the top rung, inspired by America’s example. When and where did we ever go so wrong in leaving behind the workers – the middle class that built this country?
I have my theories and those more learned and experienced than I point to the Carter and Reagan eras as origins of deregulation. Learned economists like Robert Reich and Hedrick Smith have well exposed the origins of this wrongful course with an obsession for power, power so often defined by a love of money. I fear our business schools continue to instill this same narrow separatist path toward the attainment of boundless wealth, lacking any sense of ethics or concern for such grave consequences and fallout. I believe a new set of ethics is needed to frame the standard business curriculum.
I doubt my bold words here are new or unique, as many will agree I expect, that there are indeed problems. But who will stand and say enough. I have enough. And now let me express concern and share for the common good.
For sure, these words here reek of socialist leanings, of concern for the welfare of others who can barely stand from their economic battle wounds, and lack of a level playing field. We have got to find another way for I fear all will be lost by the chaos, the injustice, and the gluttony. Anger will only continue to mount and rise lacking constructive solutions. The American dream is diminishing as some outdated romantic lullaby. There are however, some bold individuals possessing vision and courage and determined to help us to help ourselves.
Not long ago, a new President came to our University at Roger Williams who spoke of a utopian plan, a dream of sharing at the top. He mentioned the possibility of a Harvard, the wealthiest of all schools with its endowment receiving regular annual returns of 25% and more, of starting a new practice of enrichment. What if he claimed, what if, among the 5-6 billion added to the vast endowment each year, that Harvard set aside 1 billion, or 500 million, targeted to assist less wealthy colleges and universities, perhaps targeted to assist scholarships for the millions of folks who desperately need tuition assistance. There would be no end to the usefulness of such money. Would Harvard suffer by such an act of kindness, and generosity? I dare say it would not. And what if other very wealthy institutions followed suit? Can you imagine what might happen? It’s too good to even describe, as it would exceed our wildest dreams.
This same President also chose to freeze tuitions for incoming classes at RWU, assisting families to better plan the great expense of financing an education. It has helped to increase retention at the University and is slowly gaining some attention among other schools.
Several years ago in 2011, I gave a Commencement talk at a small New Hampshire college to a graduating class of forty students. They had a miniscule endowment, and an appeal when out for help, which could not be found. The class of 2012 was the last, as Chester College of New England no longer exists.
There are a growing number of quality schools that are struggling to maintain enrollments simply because people cannot afford to pursue higher education, most especially in non-business paths. The business school numbers generally remain steady and outweigh other choice majors. Most young people figure that they too, might succeed by choosing an Amazonian path: to learn how to kill off or starve the competition. The thinking is that this skewed path offers the best chance of survival, the best chance at a job that won’t go away. It matters little how many others lose jobs along the way. This is a fear based belief operation that is counterproductive to long-term growth and sustained stability.
America today is quite angry, full of rage brought on by economic pressures. We have increasing violence introduced by gang warfare, or the lone depressed one, often reeling from economic stress. This is an effect of the cause stemming from a gluttonous system that offers people little hope, as the message is clear: We want all and we don’t care about you. Fend for yourself. In fact they do, quite brutally.
We need to change this message. We need to effect change and the best examples would be coming from the top, like a Warren Buffet or Bill Gates seek to do, by sharing a bit of the wealth and gains. We need a Harvard to take an extremely bold step and set up a new system of wealth distribution. We need an Amazon to do an about face and realize it can stand securely, even more so by less strangulation of the competition. Why not say to a Penguin or Random House: how can we best work together to benefit the authors, the readers, the consumers, the economy, and yes, the country. Such a reversal of direction and radical shift is what is needed to turn us around. Economic salvation may best be achieved by a new view and practice based upon an ethic of concern. Collective enrichment, rather than self-enrichment, must become our new goal for the greatest success.
American capitalism must revolt upon itself, and change the perverted cannibalism by finding a new way of knowing when enough is enough. And enough may be best attained by cooperatively working together to insure jobs for ourselves, jobs for each other. Let us turn away from the fear and embrace each other in helpful ways. It is our best chance of not only surviving, but also truly living.
Adjunct Professor of Aesthetics
Roger Williams University