by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
April 7, 2007
IN DEFENSE OF CAPITALISM
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Was I sleeping? When did they revoke capitalism in Brattleboro? When did "profit" become a dirty word?
In this neck of the woods, it seems, many people take a dim view of those who make money. Instead of trying to make some, too, they blame the few who've succeeded at it.
First it was blaming Fulflex, Inc. for wanting to sell the field in front of its building. Then it was the Windham Foundation for wanting to build a cheese factory on farmland it owns just outside of Brattleboro. Now it's Cersosimo Industries, Inc., which wants to develop land it bought a few years ago near Orchard Street. And there's always a lot of blame put on teachers, who, because they have a union, are paid better than most of the rest of us.
It was only a little while ago that Fulflex was going to pull out of Brattleboro entirely. Then, thankfully, it rethought its plans and decided to stay. The decision directly preserved about 72 jobs and indirectly helped vendors of gasoline, stationery supplies, lunches, etc. True, the field was for many decades the community's beloved sports field, and it's a shame the town can't buy it and preserve it. But shouldn't we thank the company for letting us use the place for so many years, and move on?
The Windham Foundation's decision to shut down a working dairy farm on the outskirts of town was not a deliberate slam at farming. It's the sad reality of Vermont farming today that it was losing money every year. To the foundation, it makes more sense to make cheese there - and it will add more jobs. OK, we all loved wincing at the bracing stink of the cows in the field on our way home from work. It made us feel "rural." But none of us could step up to guarantee the difference between what the farm costs to run and what it makes. How could we? We're underpaid. So it was the foundation's decision, not ours.
As for Cersosimo, which announced it wanted to develop some land that's traditionally been used for cross-country skiing, it responded to complaints almost immediately by promising to preserve some of the more important trails.
When you're dealing with capitalism, public protest can be useful as a check and a balance. It can control unbridled growth, as Act 250 often does. It can gain concessions, as it did with the trails. And I still have some small vestige of hope that the vigorous protesting of Entergy's plans for Vermont Yankee will force a complete inspection, if not the shutting down of the plant.
Like it or not, capitalism is the name of the game in this country. If you own the land, you can do what you damn well please on it. And in the backwoods of Vermont, a lot of people keep shotguns to make sure "bleeding heart liberals" or "the new world order," whatever that is, don't come anywhere near.
I'm not a big fan of "free-market capitalism," or the unbounded, unregulated, winner-take-all, the-guy-with-the-biggest-greed-lust-wins kind of capitalism that we suffer from in the U.S. today. I think the idea of equating corporations with people when it comes to protected speech is an evil joke, and the loony U.S. Supreme Court which created it has come close to destroying our democracy.
Then America turned around and sold unbridled capitalism to the world. Some of the results, for Americans, have been disastrous. One of the gurus of globalization, Alan S. Blinder, the Princeton University economist who sold NAFTA for President Clinton, believes that as many as 40 million American jobs are at risk in the next decade or two, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Oops! We see it in Brattleboro every day. It used to be manufacturing. Now, because of the Internet, it's banking, book editing, medical diagnostics, airline reservations - pretty much everything. True, we can't outsource our local doctor. But if we don't have jobs, we'll have to pay him with a chicken.
Business, by definition, isn't bad. It can be creative. It can be fun. It can be a positive force for change. Take the explosion of socially responsible and "green" businesses in Vermont.
Profit isn't inherently bad, either. I like the idea of regular old capitalism, the kind of market capitalism which I've enjoyed around the world. I need to eat, you need to eat, I have a tomato, you have a salad, we meet in the middle and trade fruit for money. This system works deep in the heart of the Amazon jungle as well as in India and the Paris flea markets. It's trade, it's human, it's universal.
When capitalism is kept on a human-to-human level, there's nothing wrong with it. We all hope to profit from our labor, buy food and shelter for our families, enjoy a little leisure time, put a little money away.
The problems come when capitalism starts gobbling up everything in sight. CEO salaries, sports star salaries, Hollywood salaries - they're obscene. They benefit the richest 1 percent (Al Gore warned us, people), while the rest of us are lucky to see a 2 percent cost-of-living increase every year, if that.
So instead of screaming at the teachers, shouldn't we be cheering them on? Shouldn't we hope that we're all better rewarded for our labors - and the sooner, the better?