I was teeing off the panoramic 18th hole at Muni when I heard the news. The bank in which I’d invested everything, Wachovia, had crashed! I might have to get another job immediately, and thus be totally at the mercy of a desperate free market. The last time that happened, it meant 40 to 60 hours a week on a brutal assembly line for me.
At least I didn’t need to berate myself for playing such an expensive sport. The owners of the course were the citizens of Buncombe County, which had ordered its employees to stay home due to the gas shortages—so everyone was playing for free. Being community-owned, the course could afford to maximize the community’s interests rather than maximizing profits.
Walking down the long hill toward the green, I reflected, “Capitalism must be saved!” And then, “Capitalism must be stopped!” Or maybe both?
I drove to the French Broad Food Co-op, hoping their shared air would make me feel better. The financial markets couldn’t drag it down directly, but I wondered whether a general collapse might force its patrons to buy cheaper food filled with antibiotics, hormones and pesticides.
On the other hand, I’d been at Earth Fare the day before, a testimony to the efficiency, creativity and productivity of capitalism. Begun as a tiny private business, in just a few decades it has grown to include two megastores in Asheville and many others elsewhere. Almost every item on the shelves was entirely different from its counterpart in traditional stores. Amazing! And all those new products come from literally thousands of small organic businesses that have sprung up to meet the increasing demand for healthier food.
Maybe what we need is a mixed economy. We could nationalize the basics—decent housing, health care, heat and transportation—making them invulnerable to the financial markets’ periodic psychological panics. And then rein in capitalism with a foolproof environmental ceiling, while maintaining capitalism’s genius and private property wherever possible. Community-based capitalism!
Back in the car, I heard Amy Goodman on the Mountain Area Information Network’s nonprofit radio station, WPVM. She said Herbert Hoover had initiated a similar bailout of financial institutions, the Reconstruction Finance Corp., to little effect—something I hadn’t heard reported anywhere else. MAIN also runs a nonprofit Internet service whose home-page stories aren’t filtered through a corporate prism. The group even helped force Charter Communications to provide some community-oriented channels in our local cable-TV service. Public-radio stations WNCW and WCQS are also valuable local resources.
On the other hand, I’ve gotten megabytes of unbiased news through this newspaper, the privately (and locally) owned Mountain Xpress. One need only glance at the Asheville Citizen-Times, however, to see their giant, corporate source. They actually paste advertisements directly on top of their once-proud masthead. Yet they, too, print insightful stories. Perhaps we also need a mixed, public/private news economy—but one shifted significantly more toward the public!
The flu-blues stew
Passing the Buncombe County Health Center, I remembered how it may have saved my life when I recently caught the God-awful flu. My doctor’s office wouldn’t see me because I was broke, owed them $300 and didn’t have insurance. So I had to stew in the Health Center’s waiting room amid WNC’s largest collection of vicious viruses, cultured in the capitalist medium of poverty. But I got treated well and fairly quickly. Single-payer, national health care!
Driving down College Street, I had to veer around Asheville road crews pouring asphalt. At least their living standard would survive the panic. The living-wage law heroically passed by City Council members Cape, Jones, Newman and Freeborn ensures that every city employee is paid enough to live decently. Nationalize the living wage! And while you’re at it, join Just Economics of WNC and support your local AFL-CIO affiliates’ efforts to extend the idea to all workers. It also helps to participate in alternatives to the money economy, such as bartering goods and services through LETS, Asheville’s Local Exchange Trading System.
FDR is often credited with achieving the first national minimum wage. And during his first term, America also came within a few House votes of passing the Black-Connerly Bill, which called for a 30-hour work week. Think of that: We were only a few votes shy of a permanent three-day weekend. Nationalize leisure!
Before entering Wachovia, I called the State Employees Credit Union to look into an alternative. They hadn’t invested in subprime lending or mortgage-backed securities, having only their depositor/owners to please, rather than shareholders clamoring for ever-greater profits. But I’d long since quit my secure job at the publicly owned UNCA, so I couldn’t join. Ayeiii! Still, Asheville Savings, the Self-Help Credit Union and several other local banking institutions are community-owned and not readily prey to stock-market craziness.
So I finally walked into the Pritchard Park Wachovia. My money was still there—thanks to FDR’s FDIC! But it was now held by Citigroup, or was it Wells Fargo? (I thought the latter guarded gold shipments on stagecoaches, fending off outlaws.)
So I would still have time to work toward a truly mixed economy! There are models for it everywhere you look.
[Local author Bill Branyon is working on a nonfiction book: Liberating Liberals.]