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Mon Feb 18, 2013, 02:03 AM


The Insidiousness of Unchecked Capitalism (Continued)

Many Americans have difficulty answering the question, how much is enough? Paraphrasing Paul Krugman, op-ed columnist for the New York Times, in 1980 chief executives at large companies earned 45 times as much as non-supervisory workers. By 1995 the ratio had increased to 160; and by 2000, though profits hadn’t increased significantly, it had increased to 458.

Relying on charity to help the impoverished can put those that do give at a disadvantage to those that don’t.

Churches, other religious institutions, public charities, other charitable organizations, corporations, businesses, and individual charitable contributors have played an important part in helping those in need, as have taxpayer-subsidized programs.

Further, government serves as a mediator between special interests and the people at large. John Rawls points out in his second principle of justice that if members of society were free from selfish motive—as would be the case if they made decisions regarding all members from behind a “veil of ignorance,” where theirs and others’ individual life circumstances are unknown—they would agree to allow the least well-off and the most well-off equal access to government offices. Were people to more often use the thought experiment of making decisions regarding all from behind a “veil of ignorance” when voting and judges, legislators, and other officials to more often use it when executing their duties of office, more just results might be achieved and our common interests better served.

Ronald Dworkin reasons those who meet with adversity should be provided with resources in an amount provided for by a “level of insurance of different kinds we can safely assume that most reasonable people would have bought if the wealth of the community had been equally divided among them and if, though everyone knew the overall odds of different forms of bad luck, no one had any reason to think that he himself had already had that bad luck or had better or worse odds of suffering it than anyone else”

Some argue that the free market should not be interfered with by the government providing subsidies, yet as Noam Chomsky points out in Understanding Power, in the past the U.S. government has subsidized industry to develop aircraft and computers. Similarly, subsidies can and should be provided to help the impoverished. As Hubert H. Humphrey said, we should judge a government on how it “treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” A society as wealthy as American society can provide the impoverished with the help they need without an undue burden on the economy, and the opportunity provided to the impoverished as a result of their being helped can result in a contribution to the economy in the long run.

By James Schacht, author of The Future of Democracy in America and the World: A Few Possibilities, see more at TheFutureofDemocracy.org

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