The Broken Contract

The deal is supposed to go like this: In a capitalist society, we all agree to allow the Marketplace, that divine arbiter of value, to determine how much each individual is worth to everybody else. The more people who like you or need you (or your work), the better off you’ll be. If you invent Google and give every person on the planet better access to information, you’re supposed to be rewarded with far more money than, say, someone who washes cars in a particular South Jersey neighborhood. If you work harder, have more charisma, a bigger tolerance for existential pain — whatever — you’re supposed to get more in return than others. That’s the deal: excel and achieve and you’ll be amply rewarded beyond what lesser achievers get. 

The system works this way, in theory, so that everyone seeks a role that will best benefit himself and others. It gives each of us a purpose where there was previously an eternal vacuum of mystery. The more valuable I am to my fellow man, the more richly I’ll be rewarded — and I’ll make the world an incrementally better place. Cool.

Sadly, theory and practice seldom seem to agree. Far too many souls make far too much money and provide far too little value to society, but we keep them around anyway. They played by the rules, more or less. It’s not their fault that society values an insurance company executive hundreds of percent more than, say, a schoolteacher. In the executive’s defense, it was a schoolteacher who taught him some of the skills required to earn far more than a schoolteacher. The system is set up to gaffe the results.

In exchange for assigning marketplace value to every human, the capitalist system offers an implicit guarantee: the winners will take care of the losers. We’re all in this together; we all need each other, even when the connection isn’t obvious. In recognition of this imperative, we operate things like charities, and foreign aid programs, and other forms of “giving back.” The full sentence should read “giving back from the world you plundered from, taking more than your fair share.” But that gets messy and icky, and so we merely say “giving back.” Here’s where the contract breaks down.

We don’t take care of our brothers and sisters, not here, not abroad. The vociferous — and often times nonsensical — opposition against Universal Health Care Coverage through a single-payer system (the most cost-efficient, inherently valuable solution to our medical morass), revealed the truth about our capitalism-with-bits-and-pieces-of-other-systems way of organizing ourselves: it’s venal, myopic, and remarkably unconcerned about the toxic byproducts it defecates from the bitter end of the game board.

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3 Responses

  1. Michael Konik says:

    One of MK’s faves.

  2. CB says:

    What we’re seeing now with Occupy Wall Street is the natural reaction to this “broken contract” as you call it. The system is dysfunctional, but the people are stronger than the system. Rise up!

    I will share this.

  3. Star says:

    I can’t hear anything over the sound of how awesome this essay is.