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The capitalism espoused by Rush Limbaugh is a zero-sum fallacy

By | December 05, 2013 | Opinion

Rush Limbaugh hasn’t gone too far with his comments about Pope Francis. He’s simply fortified the safe-bunker he’s been building in America’s right-wing soil.

On Wednesday, Limbaugh said President Barack Obama was “having an orgasm” over Pope Francis’ recent comments on capitalism. 

The pope was quoted as saying that the “opinion” that “economic growth, encouraged by the free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness…. [has] never been confirmed by the facts.”

He continued by saying that “unfettered capitalism” is the “new tyranny” and “idolatry.”

Many critics have decried the pope’s words saying he should be thankful for market-economies (I like calling it that, because “capitalism” is actually Marxist terminology… does Limbaugh know this?). Limbaugh referenced the fact that the Catholic Church owns more land in Manhattan than any other entity.

Interestingly, the pope never said he hates supply-side economies (another term for “capitalism”). He simply stated a truth.

Capitalism (Marxist terms are so much easier) has not brought about greater justice and inclusiveness. It simply has not. Does that mean it’s bad? Not necessarily. We live in a world in which inherently selfish humans run amuck.

The pope used the phrase “unfettered capitalism.” That’s very specific. He did not say “capitalism.” The word unfettered means unrestrained or free to do as it pleases. Most people should be glad to have their capitalism fettered or regulated.

Without regulated capitalism, Rush Limbaugh wouldn’t exist. The Federal Communications Commission would not exist. Limbaugh’s critics could make up any number of lies and accusations about him and go on the air saying them.

Pope Francis is correct in saying that unfettered capitalism has not proven itself capable of providing inclusiveness and justice.

There are many people who have had their hopes and dreams crushed by capitalism. Someone opens a small business, but another business beats them to profits and then buys them out.

An American clothing company doesn’t want to pay a living wage to American laborers, so it outsources the manufacturing to Southeast Asia or Latin America. Many of those workers are paid a pittance. They sleep on a mat and eat barely enough to survive.

That doesn’t sound at all inclusive or justified for the foreign workers AND the American laborers.

The same consequences hold true for “unfettered capitalism” of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Think of the American coal mines of this period. Workers were almost literally enslaved to the coal companies. They were required to live in company housing — which were basically shacks—and use their paychecks at the only store in town, the company store.

Until the unions fought for workers’ rights, the mines were incredibly dangerous. Due to the time constraints brought on by companies’ hefty coal quotas, shafts were built quickly and often incorrectly,  and new mines were not investigated for gas leaks and cave-ins were numerous.

That was as unfettered as capitalism can get, and it definitely was not a vehicle of justice. How could it be? Those coal miners were simply people working their fingers to the bones for compensation that could barely feed their families.

It wasn’t until the unions and federal government began instituting safety and monetary regulations that the coal mines became lucrative places of work, albeit dangerous.

Now that these companies have to follow regulations, workers are included in the company’s success. Their labor is justified because they are paid a competitive wage.

Granted, there are numerous problems with regulated capitalism. To continue on the coal tangent: environmental regulations are killing the coal industry and thus the economy of the Southern Appalachia.

The coal companies either don’t have enough buyers due to the considerable anti-fossil fuel sentiments pervading the developed world or the laws on land and water use are causing mines to shut down.

But here again, are those laws so awful? Should we not protect the water supply from carcinogens?

Here’s where Limbaugh is wrong and his ethos is right.

“Unfettered capitalism” is a good thing. It keeps workers from being taken advantage of. It can protect our natural resources. It facilitates integrity. It ensures that competition remains dignified and free of tyranny.

But sometimes, regulation goes too far. It jumps past the needs of the company and its workers. Regulation keeps jobs from good people and dividends from investors who were willing to take a risk.

This is the problem with America’s political pathos. We follow extremes. Someone owns a business and relies on private investment, so they agree whole-heartedly with bullhorns like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. They are unread pundits who repeat talking points and call them undeniable economic facts.

Someone espouses social justice and workers’ rights. They automatically assume all banks and investors are evil because they want/need to meet a bottom line.  They forget that management and proprietorship provide a means of employment for the workers.

The solution comes in the form of understanding that the relationship between money and justice is not a zero-sum game. The goal should not be ignoring one to bring about the other, because inevitably one demographic will be the victim.

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