Sunday, April 17, 2011

Socialist Leanings

Cuba looms large in the imagination, disproportionate to its size and population, as large in most Americans' imaginations as Mexico, at times larger than Russia or China.  Its history is linked with ours--New World colonies (Cuba's independence lagging over 100 years after ours), shared ethnic heritage (like ours, its culture is a distinctive blend of native, European, and African influences), and shared economic interests in the first half of the twentieth century, especially for the decade after World War Two, when US investments enriched the island nation and Havana was a playground for rich American playboys.

At the time that the Batista regime (i.e. those most enriched by US investments) fell to communist guerrillas, the US was succumbing to what President Eisenhower shortly thereafter warned was the malign influence of "the military industrial complex."  Fidel Castro governed Cuba through the ups and downs of nine, ten, or eleven US Presidents, depending on whether one counts Eisenhower and Obama (whose inauguration preceded Castro's retirement by a month).  [Point of interest:  if we go with the number eleven, Castro's presidency equals a quarter of total US Presidencies since Washington.]  Reportedly, Castro survived 638 assassination attempts by the CIA--arguably, if one is prone to see history as Oliver Stone envisions it (and, frankly, darkly, his view of things strikes me as often fairly close to the mark), that's 638 more than JFK.  At 84, Castro still casts a daunting shadow over US capitalism.  His death, inevitable if not imminent, even at such a great age, will no doubt be treated by the American political right as a godsend equivalent to the unforeseen (and, as yet, unexpected) capture of Osama Bin Laden.

Much is made of Cuba's human rights violations.  They are indisputable.  I should note, however, that the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered have been protected under Cuban law since 1979--24 years before the US Supreme Court overturned states' sodomy laws criminalizing the lives, liberties, and pursuits of happiness of America's equivalent citizens.  On Saturday, Fidel's brother and successor, Raul Castro, announced further democratizing steps--limitations on presidential terms (to no more than two five-year terms per president) and continued support of loosening restrictions on private enterprise and decreasing government subsidies where such funding tends to diminish citizens' drive to work. 

The catch, as one commentator on public radio expressed it, as I was waking up this morning, is that Castro wants to put caps on the amount of wealth an individual can acquire.  Three years ago a reader of this blog called me a socialist because I suggested that it might be reasonable to cap CEO salaries at no more than 100 times what a company's least well paid employee earns--so that if the lowliest receptionist earns, let's say, $25,000 a year, the company's highest paid employee should earn no more than $2,500,000.  The proposition still strikes me as generous--but then I do favor unions over Wall Street--and an even lower cap at 50:1 still seems generous (and fairer) to me.

I can't say I'm a particularly adept socialist.  My knowledge of economics is all but nonexistent.  I have a pretty good bullshit detector, though, and most of the cant I hear through the American media sets its alarm off.  I can't see how, for instance, advocates of the idea that all Americans should be responsible for themselves, especially those advocates who claim we all have the capacity (on a "level playing field," no less) for pulling ourselves up into wealth by our own bootstraps ... I can't see how these same advocates can complain about inheritance taxes (what the right likes to peg as "death taxes").  Why should a billionaire's children inherit anything at all?  Isn't it the billionaire's responsibility to train her or his children to make their own billions?  When a billionaire dies, what's wrong with cashing in the estate, minus a generous allowance for a surviving spouse, if incapable of maintaining an independent living, and putting the money into public works--hospitals, schools, military, highways, national parks, air traffic control, fire departments, and so forth?

While I am confessing my failure to understand the US economy, let me pose three more questions:  At what point in history, ever, has the wealth of the wealthiest in America "trickled down" to the poorest?  And, two, how is it possible that businesses must be ever-growing and ever-expanding to survive, when resources and demand have natural end points?  And how, if capitalism's "invisible hand" ensures that the ready, useful, and hard working are rewarded as they deserve, did we ever reach the point where WWE wrestlers make more money than nurses--or Jersey Shore cast members (presumably both untrained and relatively inexperienced as entertainers) make more than police officers?

I may be a "socialist" for just asking such questions, but at what point does somebody become a "greedy capitalist pig" for expecting the poor to work two or three jobs to make ends meet, and still plummeting deeper into debt, while letting GE not pay a cent in federal taxes for 2010 and pampered heirs of adult age, already privileged with tony business contacts and legacy admission to the country's best universities, claim billions as their own, to the earning of which they contributed nothing?

[Note: The chart at the head of this post is dated 2009.  It is used only to prettify the post, and I make no reference to it whatsoever.]

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...