Did Capitalism Rescue Chilean Miners…or Trap Them??

One of the basic philosophical differences between the political right and the political left regards the economic system known as capitalism and its impact and implementation upon the common good.

Those on the right tend to believe that capitalism should be left to police itself, and that the economic free market all by itself will keep the national economy healthy and growing, and the middle class happy.  They do not support regulations on business, believing that the only thing that regulation does is stifle business and investment.

Those same folks hold the belief that allowing the rich to get richer benefits the middle class, by generating a top-down flow of wealth known as the “trickle-down” effect.  Furthermore, they point to all of the innovations and inventions that have improved the lives of humanity.  Their claim is that, but for the profit motive of capitalism, these things probably wouldn’t exist today…or ever.

The more extremists on the right claim that liberals want nothing less than government ownership of all businesses in the USA, thus destroying the profit motive and its resultant innovation.

However, despite what the loony-tunes tea-bagging wing-nuts claim, most liberals in the USA actually support the capitalist system, have a stake in it, and want it to succeed.  The main difference from the right wing view is that liberals believe that regulation and oversight are not only necessary, but critical to prevent abuses and threats to the economical well-being of the country, and to protect the middle class.

It is, after all, the middle class that is actually employed by big business;  it’s the middle class that does most of the actual production of wealth for the business owners and stock-holders.

But the political right is undeterred in their offense and opposition to government regulation of the capitalist system.  An article from the Wall Street Journal entitled “Capital Saved The Miners” demonstrates that very view.

The article claims that because of the profit motive, a company in Pennsylvania developed and produced the innovative drill bit that was used to drill through a half-mile of rock.   The drill ultimately reached and made possible the rescue of the 33 trapped Chilean miners.  Those miners had been forced to survive in an underground chamber with no means of escape for over two months.

The article further touts all of the other high-tech equipment and electronics involved in the rescue of the miners, claiming that the capitalism manta of “profit = innovation” saved the miners.

Is the article right?  Did capitalism save the miners?

The short answer is yes.  But there’s more to this story.

To start with, it is an known axiom of economics that profit is a primary motivator for innovation and invention.  No intelligent person can dispute that.  In that sense, capitalist profit motivated the invention and development of the drill bit.  So far so good.

But on the other hand, capitalism is also the cause of  the miners getting trapped in the first place. The company took short cuts, violated existing safety regulations, failed to install an exit shaft before the miners where sent into that area of the mine, and didn’t adequately protect the safety of the miners.  The primary motivation and cause was the same as the cause of the development of the drill bit:  profit.

It’s also a known (and often ignored by the right) axiom of economics, as well as human behavior, that left to their own devices, capitalist companies will cut corners and do whatever they can get away with to minimize their expenses and thus maximize profits.  This includes abuse and neglect of  employees little regard for their health or physical safety.  This near-universal abuse within the capitalist system, particularly during the industrial revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, ultimately gave rise to workplace health & safety regulations, child-labor laws, government workplace rules and unions.

Incredibly, these abuses continue today, often in violation of existing laws and regulations.  The Chilean mine company failed to complete a mandated escape shaft for the area of the mine in which the 33 miners were working.  This recurs everyday in many businesses;  remember the BP oil rig explosion and the worst oil spill in US history?

This article’s claims that “Capitalism save the miners” is typical of the political right espousing unbridled and unregulated capitalism:  it glorifies the plus side of capitalism while ignoring the minus side of capitalism.  Not surprisingly, the article is extremely one-sided, but that’s par for the course for those who deny the existence of global warming, water and air pollution, toxic waste dumping or that cigarette smoking causes cancer.

It’s also typical of the tactics folks on the extreme right use to convince the stupid and the lazy, who don’t want to and/or cannot think for themselves.

Timothy Leary once said, “Think for yourself and question authority.”

Don’t you wish the the stupid and the lazy heed that advice?  After all, they’re gonna vote next Tuesday!