Capitalism: friend or enemy? |

Capitalism: friend or enemy?

Hal Sundin
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
As I See It

Capitalism is the force that has created the modern world, and made possible all the productivity and comforts our society enjoys. But it has also come with a price.

Capitalism itself is not the problem – the problem is those who have appropriated capitalism as a means to satisfy their insatiable greed.

History offers many examples.

It started with the so-called “Robber Baron” era of the last half of the 19th century, with its ruthless exploitation of our country’s resources. Capitalists disregarded the consequences, resulting in hideous scars from rapacious mining activity and massive destruction of our forests.

Fortunately, President Theodore Roosevelt stepped in and imposed controls over logging practices in the nation’s forests. His actions were met with a loud outcry from the Lumber Barons, who considered the sole purpose of the public lands to be a source of profits for them.

During the rapid industrial growth of the pre-depression decades of the 20th century, followed by the huge industrial expansion needed to supply the military needs of World War II, little regard was given to the resulting water and air pollution.

When efforts were made to require industries to clean up their discharges into waterways and the atmosphere, ultimately leading to the creation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the captains of industry cried “foul,” claiming the costs would cripple their profits.

Despite progress, destructive industrial practices have not been eliminated. The devastating practice of mountaintop-removal coal mining goes on unabated in the Appalachian Mountain states. It is still leaving ugly scars on the landscape and filling valley streambeds with the stripped-off overburden material, which then washes downstream, destroying hundreds of miles of mountain creeks and rivers.

Unconscionable environmental destruction by American corporations continues overseas, virtually without any control, particularly in Africa and South America.

Laissez-faire capitalism has a long history of exploiting people, which still goes on throughout the world.

For decades in this country, virtual enslavement of immigrant labor and extensive use of child labor in mines and mills, without any safety regulations or compensation for the many deaths and injuries, created great wealth for the corporate owners. The workers who were the victims of these oppressive practices had to fight for years to gain human rights through such “socialist” measures as labor unions, child-labor laws, laws requiring safe working conditions and compensation for job-related injury or death, and the eight-hour workday.

The post-World War II decades were an era of regulation of excesses and shared prosperity – American capitalism at its best. But in the last 15 years, that capitalism has taken a turn for the worse.

America has been taken over by the Croesus complex, which measures success by how many millions or even billions of dollars you can amass, not by what good you can do for your country, the economy and the people. The result has been an unprecedented pyramiding of the nation’s wealth into the hands of a very few, which is actually unhealthy for capitalism.

If those at the top are unwilling to share the profits of industry and business more equitably with the working people whose efforts generate those profits, they are doing capitalism a disservice. Diminishing the income of the middle class shrinks the amount of money available for purchasing the goods and services that keeps the economy robust, which in turn creates more jobs and more income for everyone.

After the financial interests succeeded in the repeal of banking regulations, which were passed after the Great Depression to correct the excesses that caused that debacle, the big banks and Wall Street returned to the very same type of speculative practices. They achieved with the same result – a collapse of the economy.

And now, after being bailed out by the federal government (us), the banks are back at it, boosting their profits by exploiting the people by actions such as production-line mortgage foreclosures, which is like shooting fish in a barrel.

By refusing to renegotiate mortgages, banks are pushing people onto the street and demolishing neighborhoods and communities. They could be using low interest government loans to help underwater homeowners while still making a reasonable profit, but instead they are using that money for speculative games in hopes of bigger profits.

This could bring on another financial crisis that may undo our efforts to recover from the most recent one. Hopefully, recent legislative efforts will succeed in heading off these ill-advised practices.

Properly regulated capitalism is a positive force, and is our friend. But without adequate controls, its excesses will turn capitalism into our enemy, with unfortunate consequences.

– “As I See It” appears on the first and third Thursdays of the month. Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. Contact him at

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