June 25, 2012

Capitalism must evolve to survive

Money to Burn

By Ruth HopkinsWhere has the current economic system gotten us? The U.S. is the wealthiest country on the globe, yet depression is reportedly being diagnosed at epidemic levels. Life expectancy rates are dropping. Levels of obesity and related illnesses like diabetes and heart disease nationally, and in Indian country, worsen. The gap between the rich and poor continues to grow. Our last ‘Deep Recession,’ which we haven’t completely cleared, has been reclassified by expert economists as another Great Depression. The housing market remains weak. Unemployment rates remain high. Western countries, and America especially, is burning through nonrenewable resources and fossil fuels at an alarming rate. Free-market capitalism is dependent on continual growth, and the exclusion of a population segment to thrive--or as one sycophant told me, “someone has to be the ditch digger.” We’re set up for failure. If money is a God, he’s a trickster.

Pre-reservation era, the Oceti Sakowin had a closed economy, termed Autarky. Such an economic system is independent and self-sustaining, allowing a community to thrive without outside aid. It worked because we observed the traditional values of generosity and cooperation, and everyone contributed. No one was left destitute. Many Tribes also observed gift exchange as a means of economic development, where the voluntary exchange of gifts created and circulated wealth among members of the community. We also bartered.

As Tribal peoples, returning to Autarky may be possible--especially in a closed community like a Native commune. However, such a system would be difficult to implement on a national level, barring a major catastrophe that leaves mainstream society with no choice.

It’s been suggested that the U.S. should engage a hybrid model of capitalism, similar to France, England or Germany. Such a system would create larger entitlement programs and allow for greater economic regulation, thereby providing some financial equilibrium to all members of society and guarding against extremes. Right-wing republicans are petrified of losing deregulated, free market capitalism, so they call any sort of attempt to modify our economy ‘socialism.’ How MacCarthyesque. Even so, there’s no denying that our economic system much evolve if the country is to stay afloat.
Comment:  For more on Indians and capitalism, see 150th Anniversary of Homestead Act and Occupiers Join National Day of Mourning.

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