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Robert Kingsolver: Glories of capitalism on ‘Common Ground’ difficult to find for most Kentuckians

Rob and Lauren Hudson have been regular contributors to these pages with their “Letters of Common Ground” proclaiming the glories of capitalism. You have to wonder where, exactly, are they finding this “common ground?”

Apparently it lies within the gated communities of the affluent, because most Kentuckians have never set foot on the lush green landscape that unrestricted capitalism maintains as a playground for the privileged few.

To be fair, most Americans agree that the profit motive encourages hard work, and that businesses helped create the standard of living that many enjoy. Clearly, some aspects of free enterprise deserve praise. However, it is pretty hard to accept the Hudsons’ premise that embattled capitalism teeters on the edge of oblivion as socialist barbarians storm the ramparts.

Dr. Robert Kingsolver is a Professor of Ecology at Bellarmine University. His views are his own, and do not represent Bellarmine University.

Capitalism in trouble? Are you kidding me? Not since the Gilded Age of freewheeling robber barons has American life been so dominated by business interests. Well-heeled corporations bankroll political campaigns, and thus call the shots in Washington and Frankfort.

Their lobbyists literally write our laws. Tax cuts and bailouts ostensibly benefitting American workers have instead lined the pockets of their corporate employers. A handful of media conglomerates control access to news and public discourse, so whether you watch Fox or CNN, any questioning of corporate hegemony is drowned out by pervasive Wall Street boosterism and the relentless roar of commercial ads.

Invaluable public institutions such as schools, hospitals, prisons, utilities, and transportation are first hollowed out by underfunding, and then handed over to for-profit vendors. Even our armed forces march to the tune of military contractors and profiteers.

Our current federal administration, led by a gang of capitalist tycoons, is gutting the U.S. Postal Service, attacking public broadcasting, weakening worker rights, slashing environmental protection, and selling off the nation’s natural resources like there’s no tomorrow.

In a country with 100 million people classified as working poor, it’s obvious that unfettered capitalism doesn’t work for everyone. Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, we realize it isn’t working for anyone. Corporate mergers, just-in-time delivery, and ruthless outsourcing have allowed multinational capitalists to drive out domestic competitors and dominate world markets.

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But when a viral sneeze blows down their house of cards, we discover that these titans of industry cannot manufacture the things we need most — not surgical masks, not ventilators, not even testing swabs. Over-extended supply chains snap, and grocery stores run out of essentials. Even more worrisome, pharmaceutical giants have little incentive to ramp up vaccine development or COVID-19 tests, because there is no long-term profit in saving our lives.

Stocks take a dive, unemployment soars, and suddenly, hard-boiled capitalists are pleading with Congress to fund zero interest loans, universal income supplements, and health care support. They realize Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” will never come through for us in the clutch. We can try democratic intervention in the economy (i.e. socialism) to right our troubled ship. From where I stand, that sounds better than lashing ourselves to the mast of pure capitalism, refusing government aid, and sinking to the bottom of a second Great Depression.

Ultimately, the Hudsons offer a false choice: either we let corporate oligarchs run roughshod over our country to advantage wealthy stockholders, or else we’ll suffer the economic calamity of a welfare state. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in the middle. We need BOTH a well-regulated free enterprise system, and a healthy public sector to ensure that the underdog has a chance, the earth isn’t trashed, emergency preparedness is maintained, integrity prevails, and every hardworking American is free to pursue happiness.

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  1. Joan Gregory says:

    Thank you Dr. Kingsolver for this much-needed antidote to the Hudson’s articles.

  2. Bill Kincaid says:

    Yes, thank you! I’ve been a subscriber for a couple of years now and have wondered, first, why the Hudsons occupied such a prominent place in these pages, and second, why their naive view of capitalism went unchallenged. Thank you for such a thoughtful article. It succinctly develops a much fuller picture.

  3. Mark Nolan says:

    Fully agree with Ms. Gregory. Thanks for this refutation of their sermons on the wonders of capitalism. Having read a few of the Hudson’s screeds, I assume the reason KY Forward publishes their drivel is that they are desperate for copy. It good to have a counterbalance.

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