Sunday, March 24, 1996

Naked Capitalism: the Dream Team

Mothers avert your eyes -- for this is an essay on Naked Capitalism!
OK, OK. Laissez faire. Libertarian. Whatever you want to call it. A society with next to no business regulation, worker rights, minimum wage, FDA or EPA standards or government safety inspection, etc, etc. Ayn Rand's wet dream, basically.
So why is this a good idea?
The Right Wing’s rationale for laissez faire Capitalism is usually presented in utilitarian terms. Capitalism is a lousy economic system, but it’s the best one we’ve got. Despite all its inequalities, it makes people work smarter and better, thanks to Darwinian competition. Communism (which is supposed to make people equal) leads to a desperately poor society with a few party elite at the top. Capitalism (which doesn’t believe in equality) generates the most wealth possible for everybody. Thanks to Capitalism, the slices of the pie aren't equal -- but it's an insanely huge pie and there's more slices for everybody! “The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” is just the price we pay for all that pie. And if Capitalism is good -- Naked Capitalism is even better.
This may be. But it’s a window dressing argument. If you dig deep, the elite has a different logic -- the logic of a lion with his teeth in an antelope’s haunch. I think a lot of the people at the top think they deserve to be there, and see life in terms of winners and losers. They’re the winners, of course. They don’t want a fair society. They want it all. They’re not utilitarians. The greatest good for the greatest number? Fuck that shit. A broad middle class? Fuck that, too. They could live with a nation of beaten-down lackeys with no rights, voice or power.
They don’t believe in Naked Capitalism because it’s the best system for everybody. They believe in Naked Capitalism because it’s their right. The lion’s share is their right. Because they work harder; they’re smarter; they made better decisions in life; they’re more religious and ethical and have higher values and standards than the great unwashed. The poor deserve to be poor. The rich deserve to be rich. They’re the Dream Team.
Speaking of which, in my miserable experience as a Jr. High football coach, the badass players were constantly begging me to let them get together and form a “Dream Team” so they could stomp all the runts. I told them this was a bad idea because, well, they’d stomp all the runts. Number one, that’s bad sportsmanship. Number two, the runts would lose motivation and not want to participate in sports. Come on, coach! No. I wanted the teams to be fair. I always divided them up by ability and the better players hated it – and hated me. Please coach, please. We wanna have a dream team. I sketched out my idea for a Dream Team. Just once. Please coach, please. They hammered me day after day and – in one disgusting moment of weakness in my character, I let them have their Dream Team. They stomped the runts. It was ugly.
Communism is a lousy idea. Socialism is a lousy idea. But so is Naked Capitalism. Basically, the rich form a Dream Team and stomp all the rest of us into the dirt.
Call me a radical, but I think FDR had the right idea.

Saturday, March 23, 1996

A beautiful day in the Magic Kingdom

I remember a trip to Disney World with my two boys back in the summer of '87. I was in my early 30s and poor as bloody hell -- various family members had scraped the bucks together to send us all there. So there we were. I noticed a Brazilian family. I could tell, by the prominent Brazilian logo on their t-shirts. Smiling man and wife, my age, pushing a baby stroller loaded up with balloons. They were rich. Every they had told me that. Shoes, clothes, sunglasses, various Sharper Image-type gear – it was all new and shiny. Their baby stroller probably cost more than my car.

It occurred to me, shit, over in Brazil, these are the people at the top of the pyramid. And here they are in Disney World having the time of their lives. They don’t give a shit about all the peasants combing through garbage dumps in the shack cities around Rio.

Then it occurred to me, shit, I’m no better. America keeps its cheap labor overseas, out of sight, out of mind. Our Triangle Shirtwaist Factories are in China someplace. That doesn’t let America off the hook.

Then it occurred to me, if the American economy ever collapsed – if there was a big fucking shake-up and we wound up like Brazil, the people at the top would go on smiling through their lives – just like this young, pretty wealthy Brazilian family smiling its way through the Magic Kingdom. Let’s say America has another Great Depression and the fatcats yank the New Deal/Great Society rug right from under our feet and we all fall on our collective ass. Let’s say America winds up with big mass of poor people, a desperate sliver of a middle class hanging on for dear life and a few fats at the top of the pyramid. Americas rich could live with favelas and not lose a minute of fucking sleep. They’d keep on smiling. Enjoying the good life and feeling entitled. Shit, they’re walling themselves up in fated communities right now.

If that ever happened, I wondered which one of my rich friends would let me sleep in the garage. Assuming I had any rich friends left.

Saturday, March 9, 1996

Friday, March 8, 1996

What, me racist?

Re: Bilestew

Aw crap. You had to bring it up. Fine. OK.


Jesus Christ …

Since nobody else is going to say anything...

Racism. OK.

Racism qua racism isn’t necessarily the shared perception of racial superiority by this group or that. The Star Bellied Sneetches don’t have to think “We’re superior to non-Star-Bellied-Sneetches” to be racist. They simply have to think, “We’re going to structure laws, government, culture, religion and informal human relations to give the Star Bellied Sneetches the advantage every time. Go team!”

Racism, in other words, is tribalism. It’s group selfishness. I.e.: asserting the interests of your “race” ahead of all others. That advantage is what counts. The pursuit of that advantage is the essence of racism. The crackpot theories of Hitler, Gobineau et al are a means to that end. But you can be a perfect racist and not have a drop of perceived racial superiority in your secret heart of hearts.

“What, me racist?”

If you favor legal and social systems that gives your “race” a leg up on the other bastards, yeah, you’re a racist.

Racism the perception of racial superiority.

Racism = the relentless pursuit of racial advantage.


A government of laws and not of men is the ideal. But men create laws. And they create them to their advantage. More specifically: groups of men create laws to the advantage of their particular groups.

So, black people (men and women), when they look at the majesty of the Law, tend to see a stacked deck in which the odds are usually in favor of white people. White people say, “Nah, the law is color blind.” Black people say, “If the Law’s so !@#$ colorblind, how come it always kissing your white ass and throwing my black ass in jail?” To which the white person responds, “You’re not saying I’m a racist, are you?”

That’s where Derrick Bell, Cornell West, etc. are coming from. White folk say America’s a color-blind society. They say it’s not. For white people, the dice comes up 7, 7, 7. For black people, it’s snake eyes, snake eyes, snake eyes. They’re suggesting it’s not a coincidence.

I wouldn’t call that “reverse racism.”

I’d go with “intelligence.”