God bless capitalism?

By Damon Krane
February 8, 2001
The Post (Athens, Ohio)

*******************

I’ve been one of a number of local progressives and radicals who, for better or worse, have kept their distance from the anti-Wal-Mart campaign. Personally, I can understand if people working two minimum wage jobs to support their families would like a place to buy cheap goods. That doesn’t mean they are bad people. It doesn’t mean they like sweatshops. It simply means that they’re poor.

But just because some people would like to shop for less doesn’t mean they share Adriel Shearer’s enthusiasm for the economic system that keeps them poor.

Shearer’s January 30 editorial takes on a quasi-fascist tone as he calls his opponents “anti-American” in a piece entitled “On the seventh day God created Wal-Mart.” Apparently Mr. Shearer thinks John D. Rockefeller died for our sins, and his saintly apostle Sam Walton has shown us the path to redemption.

Shearer also seems to think that “America” and “capitalism” are synonymous.

“I am an American, I am a capitalist, and I want a Wal-Mart,” Shearer proudly proclaims to “all of you anti-capitalism/ anti-American folks.”

But insofar as the US has anything to do with democracy, this country is far from synonymous with capitalism. Few things are as anti-democratic as the top-down structure of authority within a corporation, and you are unlikely to enjoy much in the way of self-governance while working for someone who has the power to terminate your source of income at will. Without even pointing to the disproportionate influence that concentrated wealth has on our political process, the contradiction between democracy and capitalism is clear enough to anyone who has ever worked for a living. And no amount of references to god and country, or McCarthyist name-calling, changes that simple fact.

Nevetheless, Mr. Shearer does make one good point in suggesting that those opposed to an Athens Wal-Mart “should go for a ride out in the hills and tell these families that they should not have a Wal-Mart. Tell them they should not get a chance to save on groceries.” Given the self-righteousness and insensitivity some in the anti-Wal-Mart camp have displayed (despite their totally legitimate criticisms of the megastore), perhaps they should take Mr. Shearer’s advice.

But just to be fair, I think Mr. Shearer should do a little traveling himself. Perhaps he could also tell these same families “out in the hills” that they deserve to be poor. He could tell them that if they can’t pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, then it’s their own fault. If they can’t compete, then they just aren’t as good as rich and middle class folks.

From there, maybe Shearer could travel to a Salvadoran garment factory where he could tell the 14 year old girls assembling Wal-Mart clothing that they should have to work 12 hour shifts at starvation wages. He could tell them all about the horrible injustices he has to endure without a Wal-Mart in Athens. You know, the ones Mr. Shearer outlined in his editorial – like having to drive all the way to Lancaster to find the right pair of
“silver strappy shoes.” I’m sure these young workers would sympathize with his plight.

If it were only possible, Shearer’s final stop could be Ludlow, Colorado, in the year 1914. There he could tell striking miners that they and their families would have to be gunned down by the Colorado State Militia, just as countless unionists would have to be killed during the history of U.S. capitalism in order to protect an economic system that concentrates wealth and power in the hands of the few. After all, some kinds of competition just can’t be allowed within our system of “free” enterprise.

But of course all this is a small price to pay for an economic system historically maintained by state and private violence, which creates vast wealth and power for an elite few while requiring the majority of the population to rent themselves out as part-time slaves in return for the delightful struggle of making ends meet. At least some of us can still content ourselves with just the right pair of “silver strappy shoes.”

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