The concept of a “capitalist” first appeared in Holland in the early 1600’s, was developed in France during the 1700’s, and appeared in England in 1792. The first use of the term “capitalism” was by Louis Blanc in 1850, by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in 1861, and established by Karl Marx in 1867. In all cases and especially with Marx, “capitalism” referred to a method of production. Present day treatments of capitalism provide a laundry list of human social constructs as “prerequisites” for the practice of capitalism: a willing labor force, a centralized government, a banking and legal system, free public infrastructure, technical expertise, etc. In no case is an abundance of natural resources listed as a prerequisite. Perhaps it is a given. But capitalism as a method of production requires proximity to a natural resource that can be processed into a commodity of value in a market place. Despite being new and untested, capitalism has millions of ardent supporters who have bet our destiny on its never ending success. No one knows what happens to capitalism when the resources are depleted, but the inhabitants of North America are finding out.
The United States of America went all out to win World War II. This effort consumed an enormous amount of natural resources while the technology required to extract and process these resources took a quantum leap forward. The euphoria of victory segued into an economic boom as the returning soldiers entered the labor market with a can-do attitude. The network of federal highways constructed during the 1950’s accelerated the production of and demand for goods. By the middle of that decade, the limits upon the remaining resources were being felt, so the U.S.A. colonized Central America and claimed the resources there in a desperate effort to keep it all going.
Fifteen years later the Factory Belt was rusting, arguments over which trees should be cut were erupting, and the rivers were burning. "Environmental protection" became an issue for those concerned about the long term effects of run-away extraction. This resulted in the enactment of the National Environmental Protection Act(1970), the Clean Water Act(1972), and the Endangered Species Act(1973). This was balanced by the federal government's interest in protecting corporations from liability (they are persons, too). This resulted in a zero enforcement policy. This does not mean that the federal government was either unaware of the rapid depletion of America's natural resources or denying that they were in danger of being utterly consumed. Both of these facts were recognized within the language of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 which established "strategic reserves" on behalf of the federal government itself. The citizens were free to filter their air and buy bottled water (a capitalist's wildest dream come true).
During the 1960’s, the capitalists realized that there was only one available resource left: humans. They began the extraction of the wealth and equity from the labor force that had been built up during the post war boom and used the proceeds to relocate American industries closer to cheap labor. Banks and public colleges and universities began to charge fees. Health care was replaced by health insurance and insurance in all forms began to be required by law. Bank of America launched the first universal credit card in 1958. The laws prohibiting usury (enacted by the several states) were not enforced. No one asked where this would end up; they just wanted to get there as soon as possible.
During the 1990’s, the capitalists prepared for the final assault by causing the central government to turn against its citizens. The last hindrances to extracting money from humans were removed:
1992: established by federal charter in 1972, Sallie Mae was privatized and began brokering high interest student loans
1994: Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act began the federal control of local law enforcement
1994: Prison Litigation Reform Act prohibited appeals to sentences resulting from the above Act
1994: Blue Cross Blue Shield divested their nonprofit assets and status to become a private for profit. Begun respectively in 1929 and 1938, Blue Cross and Blue Shield licensees were tax exempt under 501(c)(4) as social welfare plans; the two partnered with the federal government during the 1960’s to administer Medicare and merged in 1982; licensees still enjoy tax privileges.
1994: NAFTA went into effect putting the labor force of the U.S. on a par with that of Mexico.
1996: Telecommunications Act of 1996 removed all restrictions on the media and absolved it of any responsibility to act in the public interest.
1996: Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act or “welfare reform” was motivated by neither welfare nor reform, but by the desire to dump 5 million unskilled workers into the U.S. labor market.
1996: The Supreme Court ruled in Smiley vs. Citibank that states cannot regulate credit card interest and that “interest” includes fees.
1997: Established by federal charter for the public benefit in 1968 and 1970 respectively, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac entered the subprime housing market.
1998: The federal government began contracting with private prisons.
1999: The Glass –Steagall Act was gutted allowing banks to grow without limit and to sell insurance including credit default swaps.
2000: Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act was passed by Congress (enacted in 2005) at the behest of credit card companies to greatly curtail access to personal bankruptcy; allows creditors to pass debt on to the next generation.
All of the above was presented with many pretty words and great sincerity masking many a wink and many a nod. The inhabitants of North America could not and later refused to believe that the incredible abundance of an entire continent could be squandered in a span of less than five generations. And, of course, no one wants to admit to being used. All discussion of such depressing topics was universally discouraged.
Today, banks have access to 3,200 different fees with which to extract loose change from their depositors; money deposited in a U.S. bank immediately becomes the possession of the bank and will be used to meet the obligations of the bank when the next failure occurs so that the shareholders can maintain their dividends and the corporate officers their annual bonii. Banks pay no interest on the money deposited with them while often charging a fee for each check cashed: banks are no longer about investment, but are only about extraction. Bankster schemes have become so unremarkable that they include line items for fines as a cost of doing business. The Supreme Court has been used to legalize the defunding of pension plans so that these trust accounts can be converted directly into profit thus blessing the extraction of foregone wages bargained away in good faith.
Today, student debt averages around $50,000 upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree. Health insurance has entirely replaced health care and total credit lines have replaced savings plans. The treatment of cancer has become a growth industry. “Recessions” were actually milestones upon the road to ultimate extraction; each was supposedly caused by differing factors, but all had the same result: banks controlled more and more of America’s equity after each one. U.S. citizens, having allowed themselves to become cash cows plodding amenably down that road, marveled greatly at the pretty lights when they were smacked in the head and are now meat swinging on a hook, gutted and left to cool. What market have the capitalists developed to sell us to? Perhaps the next trade agreement will provide some clues…if we are ever allowed to read it.