The Moment of Truth — February 7, 1998

Ross Perot’s Econo-Justice Plan

Welcome again to the moment of truth, the only place and time in the electromagnetic spectrum’s broadcast day where and when the truth is being told.

Last week, if you’ll remember, we talked some more about truth and how everyone complains about the media not telling it. We said the media can’t tell the truth because it is a capitalist enterprise and the truth cannot be bought processed packaged or sold. So the truth gets filtered out of the media automatically as a function of the media being a capitalist enterprise. But we agreed that, even though we are aware of this, we still complain about the media not telling the truth. And we came to the logical conclusion that when we complain about the media not telling the truth what we are really doing is calling for an end to capitalism. We then mentioned some of the billionaires and zillionaires who can constantly be heard complaining about the media, and came to the startling but true conclusion that zillionaires like Steve Forbes and Ross Perot were constantly calling for an end to their own economic priviledge, whether they were aware of doing so or not.

Startling but true. True true true. After last week’s show I talked to some of the most stickly sticklers for the truth and they all agreed that the conclusions we had drawn through rational thought were perfectly true. Which is why you don’t hear Dan Rather say: “Today again Ross Perot called for an end to economic inequality and demanded that he and everyone else in the world be paid one flat wage for an hour of work.” Because Dan Rather can’t tell the truth. The truth is heard on the electromagnetic spectrum only here and now during the moment of truth. With me Jeff Dorchen. You will not hear Dan Rather say that Ross Perot is demanding one flat wage for one hour of work for every human being on the planet even though it’s something Ross Perot says probably a dozen times a day. But you’ll hear me say it. In fact I think I know what Ross Perot is thinking right now, if you could read between the lines and weed out the bizarre colloquialisms. He’s thinking: One world one wage. He’s thinking: Being rich puts an unnecessary strain on the planet and its human population, not to mention all the little animals and plants.

But is he right? Is Ross Perot’s plan to redistribute wealth equally to all really workable? Is Ross Perot’s dream of a socialist utopia at all realistic? Well, he’s certainly run his corporate empire in a competent fashion. He clearly knows something about economics. But we might ask Mr H. Ross Perot just who exactly would pick up the garbage or study brain surgery without the promise of orgasmic remuneration? I think he would just laugh. He’d say, “People don’t do things only for money. Many people become surgeons because they’re interested in surgery. And a lot of people who are interested in surgery can’t afford to go to medical school. So under the present system we are keeping many people who have a real passion for medical science out of the field, while recruiting a whole lot of people who are in it largely for the money.”

I think Ross Perot has a point. I guess this is what he means when he says: “Capitalism distorts the human character. It skews our motivations toward selfishness. Human beings aren’t primarily selfish any more than they’re primarily loud or primarily hungry or primarily lazy or primarily sentimental. They’re not primarily anything. But under capitalism they are assumed to be primarily selfish, and that assumption underlies the entire framework for social interaction, and especially that part of the framework devoted to dividing up job tasks and distributing payment for those tasks.”

Ross Perot is calling for a radical reexamination of our most entrenched beliefs. He’s asking us as a society to examine, for the first time in history, what makes us accept as natural the fact that some people have greater access to the political system, to the law courts, to health care, to education, to food, to transportation, to communication, to shelter, simply by virtue of their being in a particular position in relation to the production and sale of goods. Ross Perot is asking us to examine why a person who oversees the exchange of papers assigning ownership of a company, why that person should be allotted three houses while a person who oversees the transfer of those same papers from a law office to a clerk of a court should be given barely enough resources to pay to live in a tiny apartment which he will never own. Or why the person who oversees the transfer of those same papers from a wastebasket to a dumpster should be paid less than the person who signed those papers. What is natural about the way we allot resources according to someone’s relationship with pieces of paper?

But Ross Perot isn’t stopping there. He wants us to delve even deeper. He wants us to take the most difficult example of all. Why is an hour of a doctor’s time worth more than an hour of a janitor’s time? Well, you might say, doctors are more in demand. So? That’s just capitalism talking. Supply and demand. Many things don’t follow the so-called law of supply and demand.

The money is a reward for studying so hard. Why? asks Ross Perot. Isn’t learning and becoming a healer reward in itself? Wouldn’t most people do what they truly loved regardless of monetary reward? And is studying medicine such a repugnant activity that only rewarding someone with lots of money will get them to do it? Is that why people become doctors? Isn’t cleaning up vomit and feces in a restroom as repugnant as cutting open a pus-filled boil? Yet we don’t think we have to pay janitors a million dollars to get them to do their job. We threaten them with homelessness and starvation. That’s how we get them to do their jobs. And even capitalism may be learning that there’s not much difference. Managed care organizations seem to be getting ready to use the stick rather than the carrot to get their medical employees into wage slavery and keep them their.

Ross Perot doesn’t have easy answers to these questions. He’s just trying to get us to ask them. He’s just trying to get us to look at assumptions that are so built into our capitalist way of life that they seem invisible. Why do we assume that there will always be starving people? Do we think there’s not enough food for everyone? Is there? If there isn’t, why not? If there is, why aren’t the starving people eating? Who is making the decision either to not produce enough food for everyone or to not give any to the starving people? Randy? Do you want starving people to have food? Do you think there’s a majority of people in the world who think it’s best to withhold food from people and let them starve? Well, someone’s making that decision. It’s not an accident that those people are starving. It’s not an accident that there’s no supermarket in the places in Somalia where people are starving. It’s not cuz someone forgot to build them. Someone decided, deliberately, that for whatever reason it wasn’t necessary to provide those people with access to food. Why? Because they don’t have enough money. So it’s all right to make deliberate decisions that knowingly result in the starvation of millions of people as long as the reason you do it is greed. We’re beginning to ban things like race hatred, misogyny, agism — we’re working on it. If General Foods and Jewel Osco said, “We’re not going to give those Somali people food because they’re black, they’re women, they’re children,” people would be outraged. But if they say, “We’re not giving them food because they’re poor,” that’s okay.

Ross Perot wants to know why that’s okay. Why discrimination along economic lines is not even questioned whereas just about every other kind of discrimination is. And, let me tell you something, I’ve seen Ross Perot on TV, and that man is a probing individual. He is not gonna be satisfied with some pat answer.

So in the weeks to come we’ll be looking to satisfy the inquiring minds of Ross Perot and other zillionaires concerning the moral logic of capitalism and how it can be changed to include such human motives as compassion, pleasure, generosity and joy. I’ll be off next week getting ready for the opening of my play, The Problematic Cartoonist, next Saturday, but we’ll get back on track right the following week. Until then, you zillionaires out there try not to despair. Hold onto your dreams of an egalitarian society. No one can take those away from you. See you in two weeks during this, the Moment of Truth, on this show from 11 to noon Saturdays on WNUR 89.3 Chicago’s sound experiment, now back over to you, Chuck, with that sack of lies you call the news.