Editorial & Opinion

The Scam of Capitalism: How We Get Duped Every Day

In the quest for never-ending profit at any cost, capitalism has invaded nearly every aspect of life here in the US. Yet, it benefits only the capital class (those with the money) at the expense of everyone else.
Photo for The Scam of Capitalism: How We Get Duped Every Day

Published on October 19, 2021
By Greg Brailsford

Capitalism is defined as “an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state”. In the US, it seems that nearly everything is controlled by private owners for profit. This includes but is not limited to prisons, food inspection, and even the courts. In the quest for never-ending profit at any cost, capitalism has invaded nearly every aspect of life here in the US. Yet, it benefits only the capital class (those with the money) at the expense of everyone else.

I should preface this editorial by noting that I have been a “capitalist” since I was 18. I started my first business during my freshman year of college and produced over $1 million in revenue in its first year. Ten years later, we made some bets on new technology at the exact moment the economy was collapsing – and I got to experience one result of unregulated capitalism: the closure of my business alongside tens of thousands of others as credit dried up and customers vanished. A few years later, I started the company I now run with the lessons learned from my first go round. We have experienced growth each year and our model has allowed me to take on other projects like Uprise RI and RI Rank. The takeaway here is that I am calling out capitalism as a scam from the vantage point of someone who excelled within it for the better part of 25 years.

Capitalism for the vast majority of working Americans is not a whole lot different than slavery. We are told America is a “free country”. But are you really free if, for five days a week – 260 days every year, you spend the better part of each weekday helping somebody else make money? If you quit working tomorrow, would you be able to feed your family and provide a roof over their head? If the answer is “no”, you are an unwilling slave to capitalism. Sure, they pay you a tiny percentage of the money you make them for your work, but you don’t really have a choice, right? It is sort of like being in prison. You may not be in a locked cell, but you cannot just leave the workforce, right? Americans are scammed into believing it will all be worth it – if you just work hard and do right by the company, you will someday be well off and retire with money to burn. But many of us know that this is not the case. Employers will lay you off on a moment’s notice to save a dollar whether you have been with the company for 30 days or 30 years. Loyalty is seldom rewarded, yet employers have the audacity to claim workers don’t stick around at a single company like they used to. Why is that? Maybe it is the lack of yearly cost of living raises? Maybe it is the lack of a pension? Are you offering generous paid vacation and sick time? Is there an employee ownership program? Do you make employees feel like they are an important part of the company rather than an expendable cog that is easily replaceable? Most of these ideas are an investment in people – a short term expense for long term gain. But the capitalist class does not think this way. Today’s capitalist is all about short term thinking. Save a buck now and worry about the future later. Our capitalist-friendly government seems to share that sentiment.

Capitalism and its short term thinking are why supply chains worldwide are experiencing unmitigated disaster and you cannot find the groceries you need. In an effort to be as efficient (i.e. profitable) as possible, companies sacrificed capacity and left themselves in a position where every part of the supply chain has to be working perfectly. Before, companies would order large batches of [x] and use it up over time. With the “Just In Time” (JIT) manufacturing process that so many large firms now use, only what is needed that week/month is purchased. The company spends less money upfront, but must count on every part of the supply chain operating perfectly. Once the pandemic introduced cracks in the supply chain, the entire process fell apart. Now, these companies who only ordered enough [x] for a week are left without [x] and cannot supply their product to retailers, grocery stores, car manufacturers, and so on.

This same short-term thinking is why many businesses “cannot find” employees. Stuck in their old ways expecting a never-ending stream of potential hires to show up magically, they are unwilling to accept that this trend has vanished. Thanks to the pandemic, today’s workers are realizing their power and are demanding to be paid what they are worth and be given the flexibility to not feel like slaves. However, instead of playing the free market supply/demand game they rave about, businesses are choosing instead to sacrifice their entire reputation in an attempt to get away with not paying for proper staffing. We have all been to local restaurants recently and witnessed all sorts of oddities, from servers being allocated far too many tables to provide proper service to facilities actually closing half the floor due to lack of staff. Is it really the inability to find staffing? Of course not. It is lack of wanting to pay wages that would bring in staff. If I offered you $100/hr to work at Taco Bell (or any other restaurant), you would probably go for it, right? How about $50/hr? Pretty likely, yes? So, clearly there is an hourly wage somewhere between [what they offer now] and $50/hr that will provide them with all the staff they need. But see, restaurants are used to not only paying minimum wage but tipped minimum wage (a whopping $3.89/hr here in RI). Their unique business model dictates that you the customer pay for food and overhead, and the labor separately. But rather than adjust to the times, many have stubbornly stuck to their guns and operate half-staffed, watching employees leave in droves, service and/or product quality erode to trash, and then wonder where all their customers have gone as they slowly go out of business.

Speaking of tips, tipping is another racket capitalism has pushed onto you the consumer. Why pay employees a living wage when businesses can pay them the bare minimum, and then ask you the customer to make up the rest? Sure, labor costs are supposed to be built into the price of goods and services, but that is not as profitable. So, capitalism figured out a clever way to guilt you into paying the business’s labor costs as well. On one hand you could fight the concept of tipping as a subsidy for businesses by not tipping. But this hurts the worker, who did nothing wrong. In order for this to be effective, all the other patrons would have to do the same, consistently. Unfortunately, they won’t, so you just end up looking like an asshole. Capitalists have figured this out and have started to heavily push tipping not just at sit-down restaurants but at fast casual and fast food restaurants as well. As is the running theme here, it is short term thinking with bad long term results.

Capitalism is why mainstream “news” isn’t really the news, but rather a propaganda machine with the bare minimum of actual information to throw you off the scent. Whether you watch CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, or WJAR you are being fed carefully curated stories told from a capitalist angle to promote an agenda – keeping you informed is not that agenda by the way. Local news largely helps to promote two classes: law enforcement and local sports franchises, both important parts of the capitalist system. By over-covering local crime and framing police as the heroes, it manufactures consent from you the viewer that cops are a benefit to you, when in fact the main purpose of the police is to protect the property and money of capitalists. By over-covering local sports, the news provides millions and millions of dollars in free advertising to what are all private businesses, owned and operated by billionaires. This in turn builds sympathy and support for these private corporations so when the time comes for their new stadium/arena, you’ll be more than willing to throw your tax dollars into their hat. In fact, the Pawtucket Red Sox nearly pulled off this coup before moving to Worcester and, fortunately for us, duping that city instead. It is OK to be a Patriots (or any other team) fan, provided you understand that the team does not give the smallest shit about you except to the extent that you will buy their tickets and merchandise, and watch the ads that air during their games.

National news works to promote corporate interests and the national security state. By covering overseas news from a pro-military standpoint, they help build support for our insane military budget, much of which is funneled directly into the coffers of a handful of private contractors. Networks like CNN and MSNBC are masters at this art, frequently hiring ex-CIA and other military leaders as panelists without disclosing their background, and then feeding them softball questions that allow them to promote unending war overseas. The average viewer has no idea that the whole newscast is propaganda to increase the share value of US defense contractors. The networks happily play along with this ruse in exchange for tips (which they can parlay into stock trades), leaks, and access – allowing the circle to repeat itself forever.

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If you are getting the feeling that capitalism seems more like socialism for corporations and special interests, you hit the jackpot. Capitalism claims to embrace the “free market” while constantly relying on handouts from the government and its citizens. Low taxes for business means you make up the difference. You subsidize big business by filling in that tax gap. Fossil fuel companies that refuse to change their ways and help exacerbate climate disasters? You subsidize them by bearing the brunt of these floods, hurricanes, forest fires, and extreme temperatures. Why should they change their business when you will always be here to suffer the consequences for them?

Capitalism is why we do not have a national healthcare system. Health insurers and pharmaceutical companies, both of whom would suffer immense profit erosion under a Medicare for All or single payer plan have bribed members of Congress with millions in exchange for blocking any attempt to nationalize or improve healthcare in any meaningful way. Voters who oppose a national healthcare system, a benefit provided by virtually every other developed country, have been scammed into believing that private industry, whose only purpose is profit, is better at administering healthcare than the government, which has no vested interest in profiting off its citizens. Crazy, but that is the power of media propaganda.

Capitalism is why we do not have high speed rail in the US, as many other developed countries pass us by with state-of-the-art maglev trains that can exceed 300MPH. High speed rail would erode the profits of airlines and the oil industry as travelers choose to avoid the hassles and 4th amendment violations of air travel for the ease of rail. As a result, members of Congress are bribed (er, lobbied) by these heavily-capitalized organizations and industry-friendly think tanks to shoot down any ideas for high-speed rail. Seeing a pattern? The “free” market isn’t very competitive when left to fight on its own. The “free” market seems to require the government’s help quite often to stay afloat.

Capitalism is why you are not even allowed to repair your own cell phone. Dozens of manufacturers including Apple, John Deere, and Toyota have fought hard in court and directly antagonized their customers (see the above video link) by intentionally breaking functions if a repair is not done by an authorized service center, even when the customer is using genuine parts. In fact, McDonalds ice cream machines are intentionally over-engineered to break down so that the manufacturer and McDonalds can then profit by forcing franchisees to pay for expensive repair agreements. Yes, capitalism is so perverted that McDonalds actually makes enough money on repair contract kickbacks for its ice cream machines that it does not have to care if they are working or not.

Capitalism is why we do not have government-owned high-speed Internet or cell service, a benefit offered by China, Norway, France, Germany, Malaysia, UAE, India, and many other advanced countries. In fact, we could build a state of the art nationwide 5G cellular network to equip everyone with wireless high speed Internet and fund it all in one year, but instead we happily hand those funds over to a handful of defense contractors, and you receive nothing in return.

I could go on and name another 100+ examples of nice things we cannot have because capitalism’s greed says so. In the interest of keeping this column as short as I can, I won’t do that. The point here is that capitalism benefits less than 10% of the population, yet the wealthy and their vast media empires have successfully scammed an overwhelming majority of conservatives and a small but not insignificant number of liberals into believing that a system in which they receive no benefit and in fact endure real harm is beneficial to them. These same people have been fooled into believing that hard work is the key to a good life. Enduring pain (hard work means painful, right?) for money is a positive thing? I don’t know about you, but as someone who has put in his share of 80 hour work weeks over the years, I would much prefer to enjoy my life every weekday from 8a-5pm rather than work. Anyone who can make the money to live comfortably without working hard, or at all – and did it all themselves without an inheritance, has accomplished a significant goal, folks. Breaking your back for 40+ hours a week for less than $20/hr sucks, but if you support capitalism, then you support this rat race.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We still have a democracy and real progressives run in plenty of important races to foment change. When progressives are voted into office and voters see what they are capable of, they often dominate their re-election. But you have to vote for them. Voting for the candidate(s) the media pushes perpetuates the cycle and prevents change. Despite fear-mongering by the capitalist class, most progressives want to bring forth changes that reflect the Nordic model in Scandinavia – capitalism but with a significant social safety net, powerful worker protections, and regulations to protect us from the harms capitalism can fester. The results do not lie: their system produces happier citizens, stronger employment, and far more return for their tax dollars. We can have this here in America. We just have to ignore the noise and vote for it.

Rear View

  • A few months back I wrote about my experience getting COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated. I wanted to give a quick update because the ordeal did not quite end when I thought it did. Weeks after I “recovered” from the worst symptoms, I endured random bouts of labored breathing where it felt like there was a small weight on my chest. I experienced headaches any time I enjoyed physical activity (basketball, going to the gym, etc.). The most odd thing was the gastrointestinal issues. I would frequently feel trapped gas in my stomach that was difficult to burp out. Also, eating any type of tree nut made this 10x worse – and I could eat a whole container of nuts without issue prior to this. It took 2 months after infection before these symptoms all went away. I cannot fathom why anyone would prefer this aggravation over a harmless vaccine, but just like with capitalism, the media holds far more sway over certain types of people than we realize.
  • It was in the news recently that Brown University’s endowment has grown to a mind-blowing $6.9 billion. Despite this, the university receives significant welfare from the city in the form of a property tax exemption. As BG’s Alexa Gagosz points out, the university pays just 3.5% of the property tax they should pay, in the form of the overly-generous “in lieu of taxes” program. The approximately $46.3 million they skip out on each year is essentially stolen from both Providence taxpayers and the state, which partly compensates Providence for the program. As word spreads that Brown is a tax deadbeat, the university’s image will continue to erode and more students will choose to get their education elsewhere. If you ever get the feeling that the folks that run Brown University are “smarter” than you, just remember that an organization with $6.9 billion on hand is more than willing to destroy its goodwill and reputation as a community asset for a mere $46 million a year.

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