That’s Capitalism: Is there even a carrot anymore?

BY:Scott Hiley| February 27, 2020
That’s Capitalism: Is there even a carrot anymore?

The “free market” is supposed to run mostly on carrots—that is, on incentives. The best way of allocating resources, the classical reasoning goes, is to allow each individual to pursue their own self-interest with as little interference or coercion as possible.  In reality, though, the capitalist class has always depended on a liberal application of the stick to secure resources and labor-power on terms that allow it to maximize profit.

A new development in McFarland, California shows just how much the balance remains tipped in favor of the stick.  McFarland was the site of two private state prisons run by the GEO Group, which brought the town $1.5 million per year in tax revenue.  When California banned private prisons last October, GEO decided to convert the facilities into ICE detention centers.  (Federal facilities are not covered by the state ban.)

But here’s the rub: about 50% of the population of McFarland consists of undocumented farmworkers and their families.  Protests from residents forced the town’s planning commission to reject GEO’s proposal.  The mayor, who resigned last week, warned that without the revenue from GEO, the town would no longer be able to provide basic municipal services.

Where’s the carrot in the choice offered to the residents of McFarland, between state terror and economic strangulation?

Racially and nationally oppressed people face particularly direct and violent forms of coercion, which the Trump regime has intensified.  But the kind of blackmail brought to bear in McFarland happens every day, to one degree or another, in towns and workplaces across the country.  Corporations bounce around the country and the world, looking for the highest skill work at the lowest wages, with the loosest regulations and the biggest tax breaks, dragging workers, communities, and entire countries down in a race to the bottom. Employers can fire us more or less at will, yet we depend on the wages and benefits they pay for all of our basic needs: housing, food, education, health care. Nearly 80% of the people in this country live paycheck to paycheck.  Two-thirds don’t have enough saved up to cover expenses for six weeks in the event of an emergency.

So the motor of our economy isn’t innovation, or work ethic, or freedom, or any of that other corporate pep talk bullshit. It’s fear—a very rational fear, based on the knowledge that most of us are either poor already or not more than a couple missed paychecks away from it.

That’s capitalism.  And since they’re always telling us to make smarter choices, we choose to struggle for something better.


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