Religion and capitalism are their own worst enemies

After January 6, it seemed as if America had a moment of clarity. People from all walks of society were horrified by how close we came to the destruction of democracy. Many of Trump’s rich donors expressed remorse and promised never to support him again.

However, capitalists have a short attention span. Predictably, they’re going back on their word:

“Many high-dollar donors at banks, hedge funds and other financial firms had turned their backs on Trump as he spun unfounded claims that the 2020 election had been stolen and savaged the judicial system with attacks. Today, they’re setting aside those concerns, looking past qualms about his personality and willingness to bulldoze institutional norms and focusing instead on issues closer to the heart: how he might ease regulations, cut their taxes or flex U.S. power on the global stage.”

…[M]any Republican donors – including those who had said they’d never support Trump again after Jan. 6 — believe the current regulatory climate for businesses is also an existential danger. Kathy Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City — a nonprofit organization representing the city’s top business leaders — said Republicans have conveyed to her that they consider that “the threat to capitalism from the Democrats is more concerning than the threat to democracy from Trump.”

The only excuse they have for breaking their promise is a limp, pathetic “well, both sides are bad”. This is an insult to everyone’s intelligence. No one can argue in good faith that Biden is a threat to capitalism, the way Trump is a threat to democracy.

As a skeptic of capitalism myself, I only wish Biden were more anti-capitalist than he is. The reality is that he’s a thoroughly normal Democrat. At most, he has a mild progressive lean on economics.

He was the first president to walk a picket line, and his administration has been strongly pro-labor in general. He’s also active in antitrust enforcement, which is a welcome development and something we haven’t seen in too long.

But none of that is the same as being against capitalism. On the contrary, the golden age of American capitalism was famous for high union membership, steep tax brackets and trust-busting presidents. Moreover, studies consistently show that the U.S. economy does better under Democrats – and indeed, Biden’s administration has continued this pattern. Hs economy keeps setting all-time records for job creation and GDP growth.

Clearly, capitalism has nothing to fear from Biden’s re-election. So, why are business leaders putting on a show of concern for its survival?

I see two main reasons for this. One of them, well-known in politics, is the “working the refs” strategy. If you constantly criticize one side, there’s a chance they’ll be more inclined to take it easy on you, so as not to appear biased.

If you claim your vote is set in stone and nothing can sway you, the politicians on the side you’ve declared for have no incentive to cater to you. On the other hand, if you make a show of being undecided, both sides have an incentive to make promises to win your support.

However, I think there’s a deeper reason, which I saw put well on Mastodon by Loukas Christodoulou:

So the Republican party and similar fascistic movements have convinced themselves they are fighting for the soul of western civilization and capitalism against the antichrist and the whore of Babylon.

Not because Joe Biden or Kier Starmer are actually trying to destroy capitalism, but because capitalism and western civilization are having their own crises and this search for existential enemies is an attempt to marshall followers behind a failing system.

I think this is exactly right. Conservatives and business leaders know that younger generations are more hostile to capitalism, religion and nationalism than ever before. They’re deeply worried about these trend lines, and they should be.

But in trying to find the cause, they’ve looked everywhere except inward, at themselves. They can’t fathom that their own choices or their own actions have anything to do with it. They can only imagine that it’s caused by some external enemy. The truth is, it’s a self-inflicted wound.

Freethinkers and secularists should be familiar with how this has played out in organized religion. Church membership and belief in God are in freefall throughout the Western world – and it’s the churches themselves that are to blame. Catholic and Protestant alike, they’ve stayed stuck in the past: digging in against moral progress, promoting deeply unpopular policies on issues like abortion and LGBTQ rights. In the era of Trump, they’ve taken a hard-right turn, doing a colossal flip-flop on whether personal character matters, all for the sake of defending a greedy, adulterous criminal.

Understandably, people of conscience and good sense are repelled by the churches’ cruelty and hypocrisy. Millions of them quit organized religion, or never join in the first place. The atheist movement has contributed by providing a safe harbor for people to speak out and express their doubts, but our growing numbers are largely an effect, not a cause, of religion’s decline.

Something much the same is going on with capitalism. In the last few decades, we’ve seen what kind of world out-of-control capitalism is creating, and it’s not a pretty picture.

Inequality has soared to eye-watering levels. The basic prerequisites of a good life, like housing, health care and education, are increasingly out of reach for millions of people. The corporate hunger for profit is causing planet-destroying climate change: melting the ice caps, flooding the coasts, and choking cities with smoke from burning forests. Younger generations are afraid that civilization is in danger of collapsing before they grow up.

And when the plutocrats look around, they have the gall to wonder why people don’t love capitalism like they used to. It’s an abominable mystery to them – but they just know it must be Joe Biden’s fault!


  1. JM says

    The other thing that plays into this is the amazingly short sighted view of many executives. They are not really thinking about the next 4 years even, they are thinking about 2025, possibly even just Q1. Which presidential candidate offers them the best return next year? If it turns out that those policies wreck the company or the economy in 2026 they can take their golden parachute and look for another job if they get tired of their super-yacht.
    This is why they they are so fanatic about tax cuts. They mostly know that they are bad for the economy as a whole in the long term but they maximize profit next quarter. Same for deregulation, expanding oil and coal, and a lot of trade policy.

  2. kenny256 says

    Both the conservative right and the liberal left political parties are just 2 wings of the same big raptor–and it’s not the great American Eagle of democracy, but rather an ugly Vulture of greed and corruption picking the life and meat off of our collective bones.

    It is the love of money and power that fuels this stupid binary contest of fear-mongering. Put every issue into terms of good or evil, right or wrong, black or white, anti- or pro-, etc. and raise strawmen by loud shrill, shrieking fat little bald guys on the radio to scare the hell out of working folks. Or appeal to their sense of greed and fear of missing out to get mindless converts to the religious-like worship of the party and it’s leaders who alone can save us.

    It’s a shame that the best we can do for a potential leader of the country is a couple of wrinkled and impaired old guys. Come on–is that really the best we can do?

    Is it true that every people gets the government that they deserve? Hard one to swallow and accept.

  3. eastexsteve says

    When was capitalism under control? For the past hundred years or so the distribution of wealth hasn’t really changed that much, with about 10% of the people owning something like 90% of this country’s wealth. That’s stayed pretty much the same regardless of what party the President belongs to.

      • eastexsteve says

        That’s kind of where I was led, or followed Robert Reich to be more accurate. I’ve been reading a book by Thorstein Veblan, The Nature of Peace and the Terms of its Perpetuation, he mentions the same ratio range’s that Reich talks about, but he published it in 1917. Great book.

        You brought up the marginal tax brackets, I think it got up to 92% in the 50’s. The one-thing
        republican’s dislike about the 50’s.

        Great post, I enjoyed reading it.

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