Of Faustian Bargains and Disposable Human Beings
(I am dedicating this essay to the memory of the millions of victims
of the Capitalist Imperial wars of conquest waged by the United States under
the patently false pretexts of spreading freedom and liberty).
Rolling through virtually any reasonably populous city or town in America,
one encounters a surreal landscape blighted by grotesque temples to America’s
twin gods of Capitalism and Consumerism. As an increasing number of individual
proprietors are driven to extinction, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, and hundreds
more leviathan corporations continue their rapid construction of more houses
of worship to serve their zealous congregation. Once inside, many Americans
gleefully sacrifice an abundance of their greenbacks at altars attended by Consumerism’s
For appallingly meager wages and benefits, the cashiers tending the sacred
Churches of Capitalism and Consumerism gather the offerings which enable their
fellow faithful to reap the fruits of practicing their devotion.
Good little Consumers can receive a veritable cornucopia of “blessings”
which include working in jobs amounting to indentured servitude, obesity, insurmountable
debt, insularity from the rest of the world, unwitting support of a merciless
militaristic regime which is evolving into fascism, idolatrous worship of celebrities
and money, facilitation of obscene concentration of wealth into the hands of
a few, and participation in the severe desecration of our environment.
They may exist in a spiritual wasteland, but at least those Americans who are
fortunate enough to find themselves in the shrinking middle class have access
to basic human necessities, some creature comforts, and relative stability and
safety (at least for the short term). However, a growing number of Americans
find themselves wandering in a barren desert, lacking both sustenance for the
soul and the corporeal “blessings” bestowed upon the middle class
wage earners by the high priests of Capitalism and Consumerism.
How did this nightmare evolve?
As the Magna Charta emerged and evolved, and the United States Constitution
was conceived and implemented, “feudalism” and monarchy began to
gasp their dying breaths. Ostensibly, the rule of law was superseding the rule
of men to deliver a sound measure of justice and equality.
In truth, humanity simply traded one set of tyrants for another. To this day
many still cling to the myth that the United States is the nexus of freedom,
equality and human rights. Yet the constitutional republic of the United States
was forged primarily by White men, many of whom were wealthy land-owners looking
to free themselves from the tyranny of King George while preserving their narrow
interests. The fact that there was significant resistance to the inclusion of
the Bill of Rights in the Constitution speaks volumes of the priorities of many
of our Founding Fathers.
In creating a powerful federal government, minimizing the decision-making power
of the poor and working class to occasional elections of representatives (while
limiting the impact of their votes by forming the Electoral College), barring
women from political participation, ignoring the Native American population,
and maintaining the legality of slavery, our founders created a nation which
afforded freedom and equality almost exclusively to White males who possessed
a measure of wealth.
America’s propertied ruling class quickly learned to manipulate their
laws to exploit the rest of the population in ways not unlike their predecessors
who reigned from thrones. As they lived like lords and kings, the elites of
the United States basked in the glow of admiration of their “enlightened
values”. Over the years they showed their true colors to the world by
engaging in numerous imperialistic endeavors, nearly wiping out the Native American
population, and fighting progressive movements like Abolition and Women’s
Suffrage with virtually every fiber of their collective being.
Capitalism: Economic Rule of the Rich, by the Rich, for the Rich
Founded on the principles of individual liberty and self-determination (for
White male property owners), the nascent United States provided fertile ground
for the seeds of Capitalism. Conditions such as slavery, explosive growth in
the number of banks, America’s powerful drive to expand its territory,
neutral trade during the war between Great Britain and France, and ultimately,
the Industrial Revolution enabled American Capitalism to grow into a thriving
By the late Nineteenth Century, trusts and monopolies flourished. Laissez faire
economic policy prevented the government “of the people” from meddling
in the wealthy elite’s obscene human and environmental exploitation. America’s
plutocracy was living large while the rest of the population struggled and suffered.
For years, America’s schools and media have inculcated us with the notion
that Capitalism is the superlative socioeconomic system in the history of humankind.
In spite of the “feel good” propaganda intended to keep us pacified,
working, and consuming, there is a very dark side to the much vaunted American
"America's abundance was created not by public sacrifices to the
common good, but by the productive genius of free men who pursued their own
personal interests and the making of their own private fortunes."
Thank you, Ayn Rand, for affirming the naked brutality and avarice of America’s
socioeconomic system, a system which enables a privileged few who “play
the game” well to mercilessly pursue their personal interests, amass private
fortunes, and hoard the lion’s share of “America’s abundance”.
The economy of the United States, which possesses many elements of commonly
accepted definitions of Capitalism, is tempered to some degree by components
which would more appropriately be attributed to Socialism or Progressive Utilization
Theory (PROUT), socioeconomic systems devoted in large part to ensuring the
welfare of society as a whole and which value humans as sentient beings rather
Unfortunately, by and large, Capitalism predominates in the American socioeconomic
system and represents a substantial portion of our national character (or lack
thereof). America embodies ruthless exploitation of humanity and the Earth.
In the capitalist paradigm, human beings and the planet are simply material
objects which exist to fulfill the desires of the bourgeoisie masters. Imperialism
and Neoliberalism go hand in glove with Capitalism. Insatiable greed and objectification
do not respect borders or boundaries.
Cruel and brutal as the United States is, imagine how ruthless it would be
were the Social Darwinists of the upper stratum of our society given free rein
to implement their Hobbesian vision.
After years of gains for the poor, women, minorities, and labor throughout
the Twentieth Century, a champion arose for America’s White Capitalist
Patriarchy in 1980. When Ronald Reagan took the driver’s seat, he wasn’t
content to simply return justice and compassion to the back seat. He threw them
in the trunk and left them there to rot.
Reagan’s successors, Republican and Democrat alike, have worked feverishly
to refortify the Capitalist bulwarks of privatization, property laws, deregulation,
cuts in social spending, and free trade agreements.
American Capitalism is a pyramid scheme shaped and forged over time to ensure
that a small minority of principally White males garner a majority of the wealth.
A few token minorities are allowed to “join the club” while some
women enter the upper stratosphere (usually by virtue of their birthright and
inheritance), but by and large, the White Patriarchy maintains its strangle-hold
on choice properties like Boardwalk and Park Place. A majority of Americans
wind up holding Mediterranean and Baltic.
You Might as Well Stand Around Waiting to be Struck by Lightening
Horatio Alger wrote over 130 very popular fiction novels in the Nineteenth
Century. Unfortunately, his ideal notions of attaining “rags to riches”
success through hard work and determination in the Capitalist system were principally
fiction too. Calling him a useful idiot would be unfair because his heart was
in the right place, but his works did provide very useful propaganda for the
wealthy ruling class who wanted their modern day serfs to believe they had a
realistic chance of rising to the top of the economic or political food chain.
Undeniably there are those who started with virtually nothing and accrued vast
fortunes or became powerful people, but for each one who did, millions failed.
And the same is true today.
He Who Has the Gold Makes the Rules
Consider that over half of our presidents came from families ranking amongst
the wealthiest 3% of Americans while at least a dozen sprang from the loins
of elitists in the top 1%.
In 2005, 143 of 435 US Representatives and one in three Senators were millionaires.
Statistics from 2002 indicate that eight of the fifteen wealthiest individuals
in America had acquired their fortunes through inheritance. Five of these eight
were Waltons. The other three were progeny of the founder of the Mars Candy
empire. Three of the top fifteen derived their fortunes from the same company,
Microsoft. No concentration of wealth in the hands of a few there, is there?
Reports from 2002 also indicate that Bill Gates had acquired as much wealth
as the bottom 40% of US households. And the Walton clan possessed 771,287 times
the wealth of the average US household. Here is to the land of equal opportunity!
In 2004, the United States had 374 billionaires and 7.5 million millionaires
(about 2% of the population). The wealthiest Americans possessed $11 trillion
in assets. Meanwhile 13% of Americans lived below poverty level. What was that
Horatio Alger myth again?
Yes, the bourgeoisie is thriving and dominating in the United States. We are
indeed experiencing the dawn of the Second Gilded Age.
According to Friedrich Engels, the bourgeoisie are:
"...the class of modern capitalists, owners of the means of social
production and employers of wage labour."
Whose function is:
"...the appropriation and therefore control of the labour of others
and... the selling of the products of this labour."
And who are differentiated from the small proprietors (which their massive
corporate entities often crush) by:
"capitalist production requires an individual capital big enough
to employ a fairly large number of workers at a time; only when he himself is
wholly released from labour does the employer of labour become a full-blooded
More staggering statistics demonstrate who reaps the bounty in a Capitalist
system (even one constrained by elements of more just and humane economic systems):
More than 99% of American businesses have fewer than 500 employees
and account for less than 37% of all business sales.
Elite corporations (those employing more than 5,000 people) comprise
a fraction of the remaining 1% of American businesses, yet ring up over 40%
Within specific business sectors, corporate monopolists shine brightly.
The fifty largest banks control over 35% of bank assets in the United States.
The largest 100 corporations alone account for over 46% of corporate
net income after taxes.
1% of Americans own more stock than the 90% of us who dwell at the
bottom of Bush’s “ownership society”.
While a tiny segment of the US population becomes increasingly powerful both
economically and politically, working class families continue to rely on two
incomes to make ends meet while 13% of the population lives below the poverty
As the semblance of a meritocracy in America succumbs to the forces of plutocratic
ambition and greed under the Bush Regime, American economic system’s “noble
and fair” reputation is dutifully maintained by genuflecting mainstream
media pundits. Yet there is one particularly shameful stain which not even master
propagandists can mask.
Material Prosperity….Spiritual Bankruptcy
In a self-proclaimed Christian nation awash in a sea of money, guided by allegedly
noble principles, and purported to have a Manifest Destiny to convert the world
to the American Way, a significant number of discarded, hopelessly poor human
beings are living proof of the cruel hypocrisy of the ruling elite of the United
States. America’s homeless are living testaments to the gross injustices
of Capitalism, even in an economy tempered with elements of government-funded
social programs and regulations on businesses.
"Let all bear in mind that a society is judged not so much by
the standards attained by its more affluent and privileged members as by the
quality of life which it is able to assure for its weakest members."
--Javier Perez de Cuellar (former PM of Peru and Secretary General
to the UN)
Each year 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness. Of these unfortunates,
750,000 are chronically homeless. 49% are Black while only 35% are White (which
represents an obviously gross disproportion when compared to the racial make-up
of the general population). A startling 40% of the homeless include families.
Who are these Nameless, Forgotten, “Disposable” Human Beings?
Homelessness is not limited to the conventional notion of people sleeping in
a cardboard box or on a park bench. America’s homeless people include
those who live in their cars, abandoned buildings, cheap motels called flop-houses,
and train or bus stations.
Many homeless maintain jobs making sub-standard wages. Other ways the homeless
obtain their meager incomes is through begging, street performance, selling
street magazines (written and distributed by the homeless), and selling their
blood plasma. In their desperation, some feign illness to gain admission to
hospitals while others commit crimes so they can get “three hots and a
Those with untreated mental illness are amongst the most vulnerable of our
society. Tragically, the mentally afflicted comprise 25% of the homeless population.
In the 1960’s, the United States government de-institutionalized many
suffering with chronic mental illness. Our ruling elites at multiple levels
of government failed (and continue to fail) to establish and fund adequate community
service programs necessary for these people to achieve stability in their lives.
Without adequate support systems in their communities, many mentally ill individuals
wind up living on the street.
At least 38% of the homeless are reported to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol
to escape the misery of their situation, thus greatly diminishing the likelihood
they can reclaim stable lives.
About 5% of the homeless are runaway teens. It is a travesty that due to a
dearth of government social safety nets, many of these children fall prey to
drugs, street gangs, prostitution, or the pornography industry.
Representing a particularly searing indictment of America’s Capitalist
constitutional republic are the 500,000 US military veterans who experience
homelessness each year. Conscripted or manipulated by propaganda to fight in
wars of imperial aggression (like Vietnam), homeless veterans were used by the
elites and cast aside like yesterday’s garbage. The Veterans Administration
only provides housing for veterans who are chronically ill, has severely neglected
the needs of those with mental illness, and cut most Vietnam War Veterans adrift
with no job training. Risk your life to expand the American Empire and you get
to spend the rest of your days eating out of trash dumpsters.
Many choose homelessness, at least temporarily, because they are unable to
make a living wage in America’s “booming” economy or find
themselves completely unemployed. Offshoring of American jobs, stagnant wages,
the soaring cost of housing, and the agonizing loss of industrial sector jobs
with healthy wages are leaving many Americans vulnerable to financial disaster.
Overwhelmed by bills and crippled by insufficient income, some Americans are
forced to choose amongst basic necessities. Naturally housing goes before food
and clothing, leaving people living on the street, or if they are lucky, in
Natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina can add dramatically to the number
of homeless. At least 50,000 Katrina victims remain homeless. New Orleans is
a particularly instructive case because it clearly demonstrates the Capitalist
elites’ obsession with property rights and their callous disregard for
humanity. Our Constitution charges the federal government with promoting the
general welfare. Yet the Bush Regime had cut funding for the levees despite
warnings of the impending disaster dating back to 2001, provided a slow and
anemic relief effort by utilizing a FEMA entity which they had gutted, and patrolled
the streets with heavily armed Blackwater contractors to secure property and
Principally because of its draconian crack-down on non-violent drug-users,
particularly in the Black community, the United States has the world’s
largest prison population (5% of the world’s population and 25%
of the prison population: more evidence that preservation of the propertied
class and their holdings must come before all other considerations in a nation
dominated by Capitalist elites).
Since the American justice system emphasizes punitive measures over rehabilitation,
many of the two million incarcerated face bleak possibilities once they have
completed their sentences. Lacking job training and adequate social coping skills
while bearing the stigma of a felony conviction, former convicts find it extremely
difficult to reassimilate into society. Many wind up homeless, living with the
friends with whom they got into trouble in the first place, in homeless shelters,
in flop-houses, or under bridges.
Their Milk of Human Kindness Soured Long Ago
As the moneyed class strengthens its dominance over our society, the plight
of the homeless is worsening. The US Conference of Mayors (representing 270
cities) reported that the demand for homeless shelter space increased by 13%
in 2001 and by 25% in 2005. 22% of those seeking shelter in 2005 were refused.
Demonstrating the depths of their compassion, our “benevolent”
leaders have begun to criminalize homelessness. Of the 224 American cities that
participated in a recent National Coalition for the Homeless survey, approximately
30% are taking measures targeting the homeless, including banning pan-handling
and “camping”, initiating frequent police sweeps of public areas
to arrest or “evict” homeless persons, and selectively enforcing
While our heavily entrenched corporate elites and affluent decision-makers
cut their own taxes, reduce spending on social programs, and lavish insane amounts
of the working poor’s and middle class’s tax money on a military
which exists to protect and expand their pecuniary interests, they offer the
weakest members of our society, our homeless people, a quality of life that
would repulse a sewer rat.
Thanks to the pathological greed unleashed and rewarded by Capitalism, America
has forged a Faustian Pact. It is inevitable that Mephistopheles will come to
collect his due. Or perhaps he already has.
Jason Miller is a 39 year old sociopolitical essayist
with a degree in liberal arts and an extensive self-education (derived from
an insatiable appetite for reading). He is a member of Amnesty International
and an avid supporter of Oxfam International and Human Rights Watch. He welcomes
responses at firstname.lastname@example.org
or comments on his blog, Thomas Paine's Corner, at http://civillibertarian.blogspot.com/.