SYSTEMIC CAPITALISM AND LIMITATIONS OF THE IMPOVERISHED
Systemic Capitalism and the Social, Political, Cultural, and Economic Limitations Imposed Upon the Impoverished
Appalachian State University
This paper examines the ways in which systemic Capitalism within the United States has disenfranchised members of the laboring class, providing an analyzesof the historical conceptualization of the vile maxim among the masters of mankind, as well as the growing financialization of the economy that has undermined solidarity and increased the severity of class disparity. Using Noam Chomsky’s principles of concentration of power and wealth, this paper shows the ways in which Capitalism has benefited the extremely wealthy at the expense of the impoverished, detailing the ways in which this economic system depends on poverty in order to persistently evoke extreme power among the smallest concentration of the population. From the underdevelopment of gangster rap, to enforcingsusceptibility to Nihilism among adolescents within impoverished communities, this paper shows the ways in which Capitalism has historically implemented a system of conceptualizing some bodies as laborers, while allowing other bodies greater accommodation due to the restrictions imposed upon non-dominant individuals. Lastly, this paper uses both psychological evidence and real world statistics to assume the usage of mass-incarceration as a system of free labor, which results in the alienation of already broken people and families, as well as the destruction and eradication of already broken communities.
Throughout the history of US economics, policies and legislation have been created and interpreted in a way to benefit the small percentage of Americans with the largest concentration of wealth and freedom, all while inhibiting the class mobility and unification of the lower class, oppressed workers. As democracy strengthens among this concentration of extreme wealth, so too do the powers imbedded within these agencies, and this capitalistic gain is dependent upon the severity of poverty. As economic instability increases upon impoverished areas, coupled with increased job scarcity across the nation, as well as a diminishment in government funding for public education, employers and CEOs are able to decrease wages for their workers and increase the extremity of labor, for competition among laborers leads to power struggles within poverty stricken communities, as well as economic tension. This systemic oppression of the working class, which has been institutionalized to such a degree as to where the “American Dream” is no longer a viable possibility for many citizens, has undermined the humanity of man and has replaced each individual’s inherently valuable quality with a defined, quantitatively universal object: money. This mentality has been used, and is currently used, to underfund/defund socialistic programs that could be implemented in order to benefit society as a whole, but not only that, has been used to justify the brutality and enslavement of the lower, poverty stricken class, which is composed mainly of minorities. Class mobility has been stripped from achievability within the nation, and systemic Capitalism has been secured to promote a large concentration of wealth and power among a very small percentage of Americans while economically, socially, politically, and culturally oppressing the poor.
In the documentary, Requiem for the American Dream(2015), Noam Chomsky, who is considered to be one of the greatest intellectuals of the modern era, discusses the social and political factors surrounding the “10 principles of the concentration of power and wealth” among the small percentage of extremely wealthy Americans. He specifies that inequality derives from extreme wealth in a small concentration of US citizens, and that this inequality has corrosive effects on democracy. The privileged and powerful sectors have never enjoyed democracy (power that is distributed evenly throughout the general population), and this mentality can be traced towards the very roots of American legislation. In 1776, Adam Smith detailed, in his book the Famous Wealth of Nations, that the “masters of mankind” were to follow the vile maxim, in that these extremely wealthy, white landowners were to care only for their own interests and disregard the benefits for the remaining society. James Madison’s system of democracy, and the US constitutional system, was designed to uphold power among the wealthy landowners, for the flaw of democracy, to Madison, was that the poor could unite to take from the rich. Rather than impose a welfare state, as Aristotle proposed in regards to economic inequality, Madison, and other US senators/politicians, believed in a reduction of democracy, limiting the class mobility and freedoms among the laborers.
Madison’s reduction of democracy was a precluding innovation to shape ideology within systemic Capitalism and business-government relations, in that an “excess of democracy” among the general population was threatening the concentration of wealth and power among the extremely wealthy. Both the Powell Memorandum and the Trilateral Commission saw that businesses were losing control over society, and that the progressive democratizing tendencies of the 1960s were promoting a “Crisis of Democracy.” Special interest groups that organized and protested against the oppressiveness imposed by systemic capitalism, such as harsh working hours and conditions, diminished wages and benefits, and physical/mental inequality towards specific minority groups, were causing too much pressure on the state, and an equal distribution of power would mean less power in the hands of the wealthy. This newfound voice evoked by the general population, mainly the younger generation, was believed to be the result of the educational institution, which resulted in the defunding of public education (Nyks, Hutchinson, Scott, 2015).
Along with the suppression of democracy and voice among the lower classes was a redesign in US economics, in that the US shifted from a manufacturing country towards a financial country. A business that is enveloped within finances provides no value towards the economy, and simply creates an income from “playing with money.” This“financialization of the economy,”as well as the introduction and usage of off-shore production (which increases competition among laborers, allowing employers to impose stricter worker regulations), resulted in a disregard for the American consumer/worker, and since the US rarely manufactures products for the general public to buy, the burden of taxes has shifted as well, focusing on lower and middle class Americans to sustain society. As taxes have increased among these classes, solidarity has become a victim of the vile maxim, for people are less willing to economically support certain socialistic programs from which they don’t necessarily benefit. Within this attack of solidarity is a marginalization of the population, resulting from economic instability that instills anger and frustration towards policies that 70% of population has no way of influencing. This in turn strengthens the vile maxim, for this mentality is corrosive towards social relations, causing people to turn on one another rather than unite against an oppressive system (unfocused anger is expressed against vulnerable targets). With the general population pitted against one another, the extremely wealthy are able to continuously oppress the laborers that lead to capitalistic gain in this small concentration of the population (Nyks, Hutchinson, Scott, 2015).
Chomsky’s principles of concentration of power and wealth are the embodiment of American “Capitalism,” and this system has been used in a way to continuously benefit the economic and political status of the extremely wealthy, while also bounding laborers to the very capital that has caused their subjugation. Within this societal inequality is an inaccessible equalizer, education, and, with college funding deriving from tuition rather than the government in more than half of the states in the US (Nyks, Hutchinson, Scott, 2015), students are acquiring large sums of debt to receive a degree, forcing them to work jobs they may not enjoy in order to pay these dues. As for schools within impoverished areas, the current funding is “via property taxes aligned to varying algorithms of local, state, and federal streams, results in fundamental inequities.” This bounds the decency of an education, and the condition of a school, to the environment, and an impoverished area will result in an impoverished school with minimal resources, supplies, and programs that need be utilized to promote academic success and dedication among students. In 2013, 51% of students across the nation’s public schools were of low-income, and in 40 out of the 50 states, low-income students comprised no less than 40% of all public school students. If education were to be considered the “great equalizer,” then the current educational system inhibits this notion, and provides the idea that economic achievement can be limited to the environment of the individual, meaning a person born within poverty is likely to stay within that class; limitations within educational institutions of impoverished communities prohibits the progressiveness of economic conservation and security among individuals, and incentivizes economic gain through means of deviant behavior (Slade, 2015).
Ice Cube, one of the most influential hip-hop artists of all time, discusses the “hood” epidemic that results from a lack of educational resources and a lack of desire to be educated among many adolescents and young adults. In his song, “Hood Mentality” (2008), Cube analyzes various “career” opportunities that many impoverished people pursue, including drug dealing, gangbanging, and athletics, as well as the commonly expressed attitude towards the educational system, in that, “they ain’t trying to educate me, all they give a fuck is what I memorized lately.” The gangbangers and drug dealers want to “stack scrilla,” meaning money, and are willing to do all that is necessary in order to become wealthy and powerful. However, to Cube, they must “love money, love jail, love that penitentiary mail” because they “keep coming back” after being incarcerated for repeated felony charges. Not only that, but they must “love to see [their] mama cry, love to see [their] babies struggle, love to see [their] woman juggle nuts ‘cause she got to hustle,” showing how the actions and repercussions related to gangbangers aren’t just limited to themselves, but rather, affect their families and their communities in a way that strengthens the nihilistic mentality to which many impoverished individuals are already susceptible. Pursuing a career that envelops deviant, illicit, and dangerous behavior not only limits the social, economic, and political achievements that poverty stricken individuals are capable of garnishing, but limits the entire area from progressing, thus evoking a cyclical response to the negative external stimuli that are already prevalent; gangbanging, drug dealing, and incarceration strengthen the severity of poverty, and as the harsh conditions increase in degree and variance, drastic measures are more likely to be pursued by members of the younger generation.
After discussing the woes surrounding the “gangsta” lifestyle, Ice Cube interprets the reasoning behind pursuing a career in sports, as well as the repercussions that follow. For many children and adolescents within impoverished neighborhoods, “either it’s the NBA or the NFL,” for they “don’t know what else [they] can do to keep [their] ass up out of jail.” Along with this, many athletically gifted children are constantly reminded of their noticeable talents, and often are pressured into continuing to express their skills in a way that is economically beneficial, undermining their desire for education because “fuck them Lincolns, [they] want Franklins” (meaning they wish to earn large sums of money rather than simple “pocket change”). For these athletically inspired children, many wish to envision themselves as famous, successful athletes, such as Tiger Woods, Barry Bonds, or OJ Simpson, but there is always the possibility of injury, bankruptcy, and alcoholism that is rarely considered. The desire for economic gain overshadows the consideration of injury to the physical and mental self, as well as the consideration of a “back-up” plan, which is often achievable through means of education. To Ice Cube, one can leave the “Hood,” but without changing their mentality, the reality in which they have been, and will be, subjugated to, will continue to limit the economic, social, and political achievements of the impoverished individual.
To Ice Cube, education is the key to eradicating the conditions of the “hood” which continuously persecute the individuals within these impoverished areas. Ice Cube understands that these conditions were imposed as a result of societal factors and government legislation that is the composition of more than two hundred years of racial oppression, yet he believes that, since the government failed to aid these minorities, it is now the burden of the individual to advance the status of the community. Eminem, another extremely influential and dogmatizing hip-hop artist, reflects a similar view as Ice Cube, in that the unwanted, and deviant conditions that are prevalent within impoverished areas are the result of economic instability, racial/class oppression, and isolation from society. These factors largely affect individuals within the community, and as human morals and actions are extensions of one’s environment, a deviant environment increases susceptibility of deviant behavior. In his song, “Rock Bottom” (1999), Eminem details the feelings and reactions that poverty garnishes within a man, and that his “immoral” actions aren’t his sole doing, but rather, are responses to extreme economic distress that promotes one’s own individual desires and needs over the betterment of the society.
Five days before his daughter Hailie’s birthday, Eminem was fired from his job and only had $40 to buy her a present. He knows what it’s like to have literally nothing and he knows how desperate a man can become when he is “broke as fuck.” He dedicates this song to the “happy people” who don’t have to turn to such desperation because they’re educated, wealthy individuals in which this broken system favors (mainly white, middle class to upper class Americans). He “feels like he’s walking on a tightrope without a circus net,” and that “he deserves respect,” because after all, he is an individual among the moral community. He works hard to make what seems to be an underappreciated sum of money, and he feels as if his only way to reverse his debt is to rob and murder others in order to generate a profit. He’s only given the opportunity to work minimum wage jobs, which provide nowhere near the income the average human being needs in order to survive, let alone one who needs to not only support himself, but his fiancée and his daughter. Along with this, he’s tired of seeing wealthy drug dealers and street hustlers drive around in their fancy automobiles, and he’s tired of seeing insignificant rappers become famous in such a short time while he’s trying to survive and make ends meet.
The chorus of the song signifies the struggles that he, and others, are facing, more specifically, those who have reached “rock bottom” due to economic hardships. When poverty makes you “mad enough to kill,” or “want something bad enough to steal,” you have reached rock bottom, according to Eminem, which can be a term used to explain the cause of the actions and the conditions that are prominent in the “streets.” When a man has reached a point in which he no longer is able to live comfortably, and is so poor that he cannot provide for his family or himself, this results in consequences that are grounded in the belief that you have to do everything it takes to survive. If a person can only achieve minimum wage income, is “hired and fired” in the same day (meaning they can’t seem to hold onto a job), and is surrounded by “ballers” who are able to live luxurious lifestyles because of drug dealing and gangbanging, then that person is more susceptible to becoming a victim of his environment. This is exactly the situation in which Eminem is describing in this song; poverty and economic hardships can drive a man to do unspeakable things. His life is “full of empty promises and broken dreams,” meaning that there is so much negativity surrounding his life, and because he blames much of this negativity on his economic situation, he’s “hopin’ things look up, but there ain’t no job openings,” showing that things can’t get better until he’s able to improve his economic status. He reiterates the belief that “all you need is bucks to be the man,” and that those with higher economic standings are idolized and treated much better than those without.
In his final verse, Eminem reiterates the things that poverty can cause a man to do, saying “[he’s] got problems- now everybody on [his] block’s got ‘em.” This quote is so significant because it defines exactly what causes deviant and illicit behavior within individuals of impoverished areas: poverty. Eminem’s poor economic status causes him to pursue drastic actions in order to merely survive, and he decides to rob his neighbors in order to simply support himself and his family. This song shows the extreme repercussions that are intertwined within poverty, and shows how immoral/regressive behavior is a negative response (a defense mechanism, almost) towards the negative conditions that are expressed by one’s economically depressive environment. “Rock Bottom” also underlines the cyclical themes that are predominant within impoverished areas, in that economic instability leads to abnormal conduct, which in turn strengthens the severity of the psychologically and physically deprecating conditions that result in the “hood mentality.” Eminem, Ice Cube, and several other “gangster rap” artists used this form of music in order to convey the reality in which they lived, hoping to bring attention to the institutionalized oppression that limited the advancement of minorities and the lower class. These artists expressed a distaste towards the injustices of capitalism, as well as detailed the harsh consequences that were actualized due to systemicprivilege of the already benefited, and systemic mutilation of the already mutilated.