The Moment of Truth — March 14, 1998

What is Capitalism Good at?

Welcome to the moment of truth. Hi. I’m mejeffdorchen. This is the place and time in the broadcast universe where and when - surprisingly enough - the truth gets told. The only time. It’s terrible. It’s a scandal for the neighbors.

But that’s life under capitalism. It’s just one scandal after another. Because capitalism is good at doing a few things, and it’s lousy at doing a few things. And the things it’s lousy at are important facets of economy, in my opinion, humble as it is. And not to fix these things because of some asinine quasi religious fealty toward capitalism is lazy, stupid, deadly, and an abomination against humanity. Not to mention a scandal for the neighbors, in my opinion, humble though it may be.

What is capitalism good at? Well, let’s just take accepted wisdom as our guide on this question: If we take as our example the economic system of the US, which is what we might call Extreme Capitalism, we can certainly say that capitalism excels in producing things. I don’t think there can be much question about that. These things are all over the place. My goodness, what a huge amount of stuff. And the packaging the stuff comes in, good gravy, what a lot of paper and cardboard and glass and cellophane, it’s all over the place. And the advertisements for all the stuff, well, it’s just all over the place. Probably 90 percent of our information resources are devoted to educating people about all the stuff available for purchase under extreme capitalism.

So capitalism is good at producing stuff.

Another piece of accepted wisdom about what capitalism is good at says this: capitalism spurs invention, technology, achievement in general. Now we all know what losers the Russians were in this regard under Soviet Communism. They had this guy, Doctor Lysenko, who set them back a good half-century. But that was more a factor of their lack of democracy than of their lack of capitalism, I think. I mean, after they got rid of Lysenko, they put a man in space before we did. So capitalism didn’t get us into space before them, and what spurred us to beat them to the moon wasn’t capitalism, but a kind of national one-upmanship. I mean, the space program was state-funded - kind of like under communism.

Anyway, that’s it. We’ve pretty much exhausted accepted wisdom regarding the things capitalism is good at. Really, we have. So what’s it lousy at?

Well, we know it’s lousy at telling the truth, we’ve proven that week after week. That’s why we need the Moment of Truth in the first place. Because the truth can’t be bought processed packaged and sold - that’s why capitalism has no truck with it, but rather shuns the truth like a leprous fellow.

What else does capitalism suck at? It sucks at providing the unique. Now this is not as hippy dippy as it sounds. I don’t mean we can’t get singularly cool things under capitalism. We can, as long as we can afford them. By unique I mean that capitalism is incapable of providing that of which there is only room for one.

Here are two contrasting examples to illustrate this point: The highway system, and the health care system. The highway system is not run by capitalism, and it works great. There is only room for one interstate highway system. It’s run by the government. Even conservatives (or nazis as they should be called) agree that the interstate highway system is a well-run government program. It’s free for everyone, it’s paid for by the people - and civic organizations even contribute to its maintenance - even the KKK! So there’s socialism at work. The highway system.

Now just imagine for a second what would happen if capitalism ran the highway system. Either there’d be competing highway systems, which would result in just about every possible square inch on the continental US being paved over. Or else they’d just charge a ton of money to use the highways and only rich people would be able to go anywhere.

Sort of like how capitalism runs the health care system. They jack up prices, try to cheat people out of treatment, and are even trying to screw over doctors on how much THEY make! That, I can tell you, they are not going to get away with. In the long run.

A recent study quoted on NPR said that the US has the best health care system in the world. Except for one thing: it’s overused by some and underused by others. Gee, I wonder how that breaks down economically. Do you think the poor people are using all the health care and the rich people are doing without? Oh, yeah, that must be it.

NO! The rich pigs get operations every time one of their arteries gets clogged with the overpriced, earth-abusing crap they eat - their endangered species soufflés and California condor quiches and stuff. Meanwhile, poor kids get their legs amputated for lack of attention to a splinter in their foot, cuz there aren’t enough gps cuz you have to become a damn overpriced specialist in order to pay for medical school - which should be free. Oh yeah, higher education. That’s another thing capitalism runs.

None of this is the case in Cuba, however, which has the best health care system in the developing world, free health care to all, and a 3 to one ratio of gps to specialists - the opposite of the ratio in the US - because Cuba’s med schools are free. Cuba’s infant mortality rate is comparable to ours, incidentally.

Now don’t get me wrong. Totalitarianism is bad. Socialism, however, works. At least when distributing things like health care, education, and transportation.

The fact is that capitalism sucks at distributing things. It produces things fine. But it won’t give them to some people. And the less there is of something, the more capitalism sucks at distributing it. And when there’s only one of something, capitalism is so bad at portioning it out it that people lose limbs, go blind, poop blood, and die. Oh boy, capitalism, don’t we love it.

Think on these things. Approach life in these United States with these ideas in mind. Because they are true. And looking around with these true ideas in mind can only lead to a clearer perception of the problems of society. And how can that be bad?

We’ll be talking more about such fascinating truths in the weeks to come. We’ll be talking about all kinds of zany things you won’t hear discussed anywhere else. Because this is the MOMENT OF TRUTH, and I’m mejeffdorchen, and I’ll be back here again next week on National Beer Presents This is Hell Saturday from 11 am to noon on WNUR 89.3 FM Chicago’s sound experiment. And now over to Chuck with his Sack o’ Lies.