For a political science class, I was asked to investigate the relationship between democracy and capitalism; the quality of democracy is heavily influenced by capitalism, but to what extent? In “Democracy for the Few”, Michael Parenti discusses the relationship between “want” and “wealth” in a capitalist society. To Parenti, “want” is concerned with genuine human needs, while “wealth” is merely the concern of profiteers, and capitalism allows the subordination of “want” to “wealth”. He explains how a capitalist society creates an endless cycle in which the rich continue to vigorously prosper, while average citizens (the majority of people) are exploited, underpaid, or otherwise neglected. “The top 1 percent [of Americans] own between 40 and 50 percent of the nation’s total wealth” (Parenti 8). Parenti argues that capitalism allows for the undermining of labor’s value since the ultimate goal is profit.
Furthermore, he is troubled by the nature of the “free market” and the careless greed exhibited by large corporations; instead of concerning themselves with human need, corporations focus only on their profit. “When asked what they were doing about the widespread hunger in the United States, one food manufacturer responded with refreshing candor: If we saw evidence of profitability, we might look into this'” (Parenti 15).Parenti criticizes capitalism (and the inevitable “wealth vs. want” issue it produces) in a democratic country because, while democracy promises equality and fairness, the very nature of capitalism spoils and corrupts democracy’s efforts. Since the incredibly wealthy have managed to grow their roots so deep in financial security, any economic crisisin which the bulk of a country becomes vulnerablewill further add to the power of these tyrant corporations. “For the big capitalists, economic downturns are not unmitigated gloom. Smaller competitors are weeded out, unions are weakened and often broken, a reserve supply of unemployed workers helps to further depress wages, and profits rise faster than wages” (Parenti 12). Capitalism affords a grotesquely unequal distribution of money, and the majority of people afflicted with joblessness, homelessness, and/or starvation are simply products of its insufficiency.
In “Stupid White Men”, Michael Moore expresses his frustration with the kind of corrupt politics that are influencing our government and ruining America; he believes the three fundamental principles of democracy were violated in the 2000 presidential elections since the majority of people wanted Gore for president, but got Bush instead. Bush has a lot of powerful connections that were able to manipulate the election results. It is troublesome that big businesses neglect and abuse their workers, and it is worse still that these tyrants often fund political endeavors, which inevitably influence political decisions, and thus secure their reign. It is curious that “the third largest contributor to Bush’s campaign was able to work a loophole into Texas environmental regulations that allowed Alcoa [the world largest aluminum manufacturer] to emit 60,000 tons of sulfur dioxide each year” (Moore 54). If we cannot count on the government to uphold truth and fairness, then the world seems a scary and chaotic place in which only the super wealthy can ever hope to attain security and happiness.
Although both Parenti and Moore make compelling arguments, Moore’s information seems only a bit more disturbing because he is picking apart and criticizing the very foundation through which the state of our lives depend: the government. Moore contends that the election of George Bush is a sham; he maintains that Gore was the rightful winner of the 2000 elections. The Florida scandal robbed 173,000 people of their voting rights; the manipulation of the absentee votes in which “344 ballets had no evidence that they were cast on or before election day;” and the sloppy design of the voting ballets “which made it easy to vote for the wrong person because candidates’ names and punch holes were crammed unevenly onto facing pages” all contributed to the false election of Bush. Furthermore, Bush’s connections with Fox crippled Gore’s chances of winning because they prematurely announce Bush as the winner before it was confirmed; “Nothing was more psychologically devastating for Gore’s chances of winning than the sudden perception that HE was being the spoiler by asking for recounts” (Moore).
I agree with both Dr. Parenti and Michael Moore; they both highlight the faults and hazards within our government, and the threat these issues impose on democracy. Dr. Parenti’s discussion of capitalism was maddening. He elaborated on the laborer’s burdens and the sort of “glass ceiling” that holds people in their initial economic class. I have had jobs in which I felt completely dispensable and under the mercy of my employer. No matter how qualified and excellent of an employee I was, questioning my pay and benefits threatened the security of my job since so many other peopledesperate for jobswould be willing to settle for less. It seems Dr. Parenti was right: “unemployment is functional to capitalism. Without a reserve army of unemployed to compete for jobs and deflate wages, labor would cut more deeply into profits” (Parenti 12). Furthermore, the fact that “At a plant in Iowa, 4,000 people applied for 53 jobs” suggests that there is more to the problem of unemployment besides human laziness (Parenti 19). Michael Moore explains how elections and other political endeavors can be manipulated by the wealthy: “The Schering-plough pharmaceutical company contributed $50,000 [to John Ashcroft] perhaps as a thank-you for the bill he had introduced that would have extended the companies patent on the allergy pill Claritin” (Moore 52). The Florida scandal, along with the rest of Bush’s devious political schemes, was absurd. Furthermore, we had to “look to a country 5,000 miles away to find out the truth about our own election” (Moore 32). As an average American citizen, I can’t help but feel somewhat helpless when I read about these regrettable facts.
The small fraction of wealthy people holds the most influence in the political arena and on the economy. Big corporations make big donations to political activities, and therefore are able to manipulate political results, ensuring their own security. It is a vicious, and seemingly unbreakable circle of tyrants. When this country is said to be a democracy, I often wonder for who?