Sunday, August 17, 2008

But Capitalism is Not Enough

The Summer Olympics delivered China into our living rooms. At least the China its leaders want us to see. Presenting an unparalleled visual smorgasbord in the opening ceremony, the Chinese spared no expense to show off their country and their culture to the world. China pulled out all of the stops to sell itself. A better job Madison Avenue could not have done.

In the last decade or two, China has risen from what was once a backwards, agrarian country to a modern capitalist engine. More and more of the products we buy and the food we eat originate in China. As with other nations emerging into the 20th and now 21st century, manufacturing and industry are replacing agriculture and generating wealth.

But capitalism is not enough.

We are not really clear on the back stories behind the Chinese athletes. A young female gymnast who appeared to be no older than fourteen reportedly said that she did not know whether her parents were in the stands for her performances. Is this typical? Chinese officials are saying that the sporting venues are not filled to capacity for fear of violence and civil unrest. One can only wonder what is really going on behind the smoothly choreographed events.

But this we can know. Capitalism works. What we are seeing in China is the indisputable metamorphosis of the world's most populous nation. In economic terms, China's recent discovery of capitalism is slowly bringing it into serious economic competition with the West.

But as I said above, capitalism is not enough. It is not enough for China. It is not enough for our own nation. In different ways and for different reasons, our own form of American capitalism has become unhealthy and imbalanced. And it is not the first time.

In the early decades following our nation's founding, slave labor drove much of our economy. Textile plants in the North spun cotton harvested by slaves in the South. At the height of the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century, unions formed to provide counterweight and protection for workers abused by wealthy industrial magnates. Strikes became commonplace and sometimes violent.

In the 1890's, many industrial giants came under the scrutiny of legislators who passed laws like the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Dubbed "Trustbusters," government officials began breaking up companies which had created virtual monopolies in their particular industries, driving up prices and crushing smaller competitors. In 1911, US courts forced Standard Oil to divide into six smaller entities. We witnessed a similar breakup of the AT&T company in the 1970's. And the US Justice Department has long been after Microsoft.

Personally, I am a huge believer in free-market economics. Private industry and entrepreneurship function so much better than does the government. But like everything, private industry must be watched and checked from time to time.

Today, more and more jobs are leaving the USA as companies seek to compete in the global marketplace. Companies can produce goods for less in foreign countries because labor is so much cheaper overseas. And the subtle encouragement for illegal aliens to steal across the border and into our country for "jobs Americans won't do" is likewise disturbing. The "Almighty Dollar" reigns.

But the almighty dollar will only take us, or China, or any country, so far. Ultimately, worship of the dollar, or "mammon" as our Savior labeled it, can only lead to loss of conscience, sacrifice of principle, the selling of the soul, and the weakening of our patriotism.

We fat, lazy, spoiled Americans had best snap out of our slumber. Our great nation has been compromised not only by the pursuit of pleasure and the devaluing of human life and marriage, but by our pursuit of mammon.

No man, no nation, can serve two masters.

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