Unmitigated capitalism is the freedom from regulation for corporations that own an authoritarian government. Mitigated capitalism is the regulation of corporations by a publicly-owned popularly-elected government.
The Republican Party of the United States is the political organization of unmitigated capitalism in America. Since the Reagan Administration, it has been especially fervent in its agitation for the immediate gratification of unrestrained greed by the wealthy. The logical political terminus to this obsession would be a slave-owning plutocracy structured as a club of corporate members that own the government. For many people, this seems to have already come to pass.
That the Republican presidential candidates of 2015 all seem to be delusional, deranged, sociopaths, psychopaths, and completely out of touch with the realities of life for much of the pubic, is not of any concern to these candidates because they are entirely focussed on gaining the only votes that count in their quests for personal power, wealth and notoriety: the Citizens-United-sanctioned, money-is-no-object free-pass vote-endorsements of Big Capital. These candidates are not seeking to represent the interests of masses of working people, nor to lead mass movements for socio-economic improvements, they are seeking to be the glove decorations of the cold hard fist of Big Capital, whose only interest in humanity is to squeeze it dry of labor and squash flat all its aspirations.
The Democratic Party of the United States is the political organization of mitigated capitalism in America. Since the Roosevelt Administration it has based its popular appeal on mitigating capitalism’s natural tendency toward inhuman excess (ultimately chattel slavery), so that much of the public could experience a greater degree of prosperity and security than would otherwise be the case.
What the two major American political parties share is a commitment to capitalism and corruption, which philosophically could be seen as synonymous. Elected officials of both parties avidly play the game of “pork barrel” politics, of siphoning public money into local subsidies with the subsequent effect of increasing the popularity, wealth and political power of these elected officials. See the Oscar-winning “best picture” of 1949, “All The King’s Men,” for a powerful and vivid depiction of this eternal dynamic of all politics, here set in the American South of the mid 20th century. To make a broad generalization: Republicans will vote for pork barrel to “upload” public wealth into Big Capital corporate hands, while Democrats will vote for pork barrel to “download” public wealth into community-based populist hands (of course any individual politician will have a mix of these).
The wide popularity of Senators Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) spring from the fact they are today’s most forceful electorally-successful advocates for the magnanimous expansion of government policy for mitigation, regulation and prosecutorial action regarding the conduct of American capitalism. Bernie Sanders is presently the leading contender to be the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party in 2016 (whatever Hillary Clinton says and however much the corporate media evade the fact). If he can inspire a tsunami of electoral support (votes, and as this is the U.S. also piles of money) to be elected president, and also help carry many like-minded congressional candidates into office with him, then we could see — at most — a moderate “revolution” with a bit of “socialist” flavor akin to the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt. While I and others “out in left field” believe that a real plunge deep into socialism would be a wonderful thing for the American people, those of us who think this way should not let our unrealistic dreamy longings for nirvana make us disdain the realistic possibility of a Sanders Administration, and through it new attempts to expand simple decency, justice and compassion in American socio-economic life.
The possibility of magnanimous mitigators like Sanders and Warren surfing a popular electoral tsunami into national political power is one that unites all the political wings of Big Capital into opposition (stronger for some than others). These corporate political wings are: the unmitigating Republicans, and the two factions of minimally-to-mildly mitigating Democrats: the Obama-Biden and Clinton factions. The Clinton faction has been notoriously chummy with Big Capital for a long time (as Donald Trump has so colorfully affirmed earlier this year), and it is difficult to see deep and sustained mitigating efforts coming out of the Clintonites.
The Obama Administration has exercised the mercy of a Mother Teresa in its compassionate restraint from prosecution of the Wall Street banksters who stole and crashed the American economy in 2008. The Obama Administration’s pursuit of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement is entirely a project of unmitigated capitalism, and contrary in spirit to some of the worthier actions of this administration. So, it is beyond doubt that a Sanders Administration would be the best alternative possible for the American people (discounting third party miracles), however such a Sanders Administration actually turns out.
The fundamental fact about the economy today is the expansion of the scale on which personal wealth is measured between impoverishment and opulence, with the main flow of population being toward lower economic classes. The residents in America’s economic Tower of Babel are falling into the basement even as the Penthouse and its happy denizens lift off into the stratosphere of unlimited indulgence. A symptom of this societal disorder is “gentrification,” the removal of working class communities, which are also often of ethnic minorities, from their traditional urban neighborhoods because large infusions of money by domestic and foreign real-estate investors (who may reside), speculators (absentee landlords) and tourists (Airbnb) drastically raise property values and consequently rents. People are being priced out of their neighborhoods by invasions of vastly superior wealth. The process can be quite ugly, for example the eviction of decades-long renters who are disabled and aged, so landlords can double and triple rents.
Frederick Wiseman’s new documentary “In Jackson Heights” focuses on the details of gentrification in one New York City neighborhood (Louis Proyect describes this new movie.). Another recent news story by Kim-Mai Cutler describes how Airbnb (an internet hook-up site for travellers and ‘homeowners’ to arrange for individual ‘vacation’ rentals) is exacerbating the housing crisis in San Francisco by putting local renters into unfair competition with distant wealth for a limited stock of increasingly expensive rental housing. Money has no borders internationally, and no sympathy or loyalty locally.
While Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have captured the attention of the millions of Americans who have come to understand the dysfunctional nature of unmitigated capitalism from direct experience, and who find it an affront to their sense of fairness, it has been left to Donald Trump, primarily, to gain the support of incoherent right-wing populism, the bottled-up frustrations of downwardly mobile white supremacists. Trump is held in jealous awe by avaricious under-performers, and he has gained the adulation of his populist following by mirroring their bilious misogyny and choleric bigotry. Trump, or some subsequent Republican tout for Big Capital, should have little trouble leading this right-wing populism on by periodically pushing its prejudice buttons to short-circuit any critical thinking about the true causes of its deepening enslavement. We can hope that the slap-in-the-face of worsening personal reality will wake up more of the right-wing populists from their self-defeating negativity.
While there is much truth in the idea of a “1%” class of avaricious über wealth that is victimizing the “99%” mass of the world publics, I resist the idea of blaming the rise of unmitigated capitalism over the last 36 years exclusively on the predation by neoconservative Big Capital on a vast working-class herd of the naïve and blameless.
It is my belief that the fundamental cause of our political problem of chronically dysfunctional economics is due to an insufficiency of strong moral character throughout the American population: not enough of us are willing to forgo taking advantage of others, not enough of us are willing to see past our excuses, too many of us acquiesce to inequities that do not directly affect us. A society of people who are primarily concerned to “play by the rules,” who “don’t cheat,” who “try to get along” and “do the right thing” and “do things well,” instead of being obsessed with “me first,” “getting ahead,” “making it” and “getting away with it,” and who “don’t notice” anything that is in any way inconvenient to notice, is less likely to elevate morally weak intellectual mediocrities and unethical careerists into positions of greater political and economic power. Such a society is more likely to effectively defend civil rights and to oppose schemes of economic exploitation by Big Capital. In today’s America, we are all being chain-ganged down-river economically with shackles clamped around our individual cupidity and self-absorption. Getting past that self-absorption is what Bernie Sanders’ “socialism” is all about.
Election Day is one year away.