Losing at the great American lottery.

I’m a liberal. No doubt. I absolutely believe in capitalism as the best economic system to raise the median standard of living for a lot of people. But therein lies a major reason why I’m a liberal. Capitalism raises the standard for most people. There are scores of people for who capitalism actually prevents upward mobility.

Capitalism relies on capital – both inanimate and animate – to generate revenue.

I’m a restaurant guy. I owe allegiance to investors, and have a mission before me to make restaurants sustainably profitable.

I charge my guests as much as I think they’ll pay without balking and choosing my competitors. I pay my people enough to motivate them, but as little as I think I can pay without having them balk and choose my competitors, too…and I pay them based on what I can get away with charging, as well.

I rely on human beings, being paid as little as I can pay them, staying as long as I can get them to, to give service and food worthy of my guests’ dollars. And I pass those dollars right along to rich people, for whom those dollars represent incremental gains well beyond utility.

In other words – by ensuring that I minimize labor, I take dollars that I would be paying employees at the lower rungs of the economic ladder – dollars that would be immediately spent in the economy, and pass them to people who will likely save/invest them instead of spending them.

Now, multiply that same calculus times millions and millions of businesses.

How the rich get richer

The rich utilize the work of the poor to get richer, and slowly but surely drain the “spending” class into eternal poverty.

They use their decision-making power and influence in government to parlay their power into even more lopsided policies.

They privatize student loans, medical insurance, prisons, hospitals, you name it, all to make a profit off of the people for whom “choice” in the marketplace is an illusion.

They rely on “aspirational” voters. They preach the “prosperity gospel”. You, too, can someday be rich, and the fact that someone is rich means God herself has blessed that person due to that person’s own faith and works. And, in a twist of false logic, when you see someone is poor, God herself ordained that poverty due to that person’s own lack of faith and personal choices.

The top economic rung of society uses each of us as capital to generate MORE capital for themselves. And that’s totally okay, within reason. But we’re rapidly losing our grip on reason in this nation.

Our society will continue to decline as long as the richest people have a sycophantic, uneducated, angry populace taking the bait that “the poor deserve to be poor.”

Our society will continue to decline as long as the baseline belief is that unfettered and unregulated capitalism is sanctioned by Jesus himself.

Our society will continue to decline as long as the quality of your primary and secondary education is funded by the tax dollars assessed on the property values of your neighborhood.

But you, too, can be rich!

If you are anything other than an industrialist wearing a monocle and a top-hat, I urge you to stop and think about the last 20, 30, 40 years of your life. At the heart of the argument of the conservative movement is the idea that you, too, can someday be rich. They tell you the rich are rich because they worked hard. They say the wealthy are wealthy because they are savvy and smart. They assure you the upper-class is in the upper-class because they earned it.

And you know what? Some of them are. And some poor people are poor because they are lazy or inept.

But when you’re talking about an entire society, don’t let your prejudice, your anecdotes, and a slick sales pitch trick you. The likelihood of becoming really, really wealthy is slim. And it gets slimmer with each law written to make the rich get richer off of your hard work.

If we want to progress as a nation, we have to enact policies that give the most people the most chances to have adequate disposable income and assurance that the income will continue throughout life. That’s not mutually exclusive with a chance to put your hard work and brains to a for-profit entrepreneurial endeavor, and perhaps get rich if the market rewards you. That’s actually congruent with intelligent capitalism.

Think I’m wrong? Name a business model that doesn’t need a steady flow of customers.

If you want to help the economy and help society at the same time, the answer isn’t in making sure you help the rich get richer. The answer is in making sure the average person – you, who will likely never be rich – has fair and rising wages, easy and inexpensive access to education, and guaranteed health care so poor folks aren’t permanently derailed by illness or injury.

Our society will continue to struggle as long as the poor and lower-middle class vote against their own self-interest out of a delusional idea that’s what’s best for the rich is ultimately best for them, too.

Our society will continue to backslide as long as white poor and lower-middle class voters are duped into thinking they have more in common with the rich white folks than with poor and lower-middle class people of color.

Our society will continue to flounder as long as we value our own lottery-level chance at riches more than we value well-being for ourselves and our neighbors.

We can do better, but only if we admit that we’ve been tricked into screwing ourselves over for someone else’s benefit.


4 thoughts on “Losing at the great American lottery.

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