Second essay in my I Am Mannequin series, photos and essays demonstrating the dehumanizing impacts of neoliberalism.
There’s no conversation about neoliberalism without a discussion about capitalism, as the former is a child of the latter. And while we’re accustomed and even expectant today of reports and impacts of capitalism’s exploits, there’s a case to be made that capitalism not only exploits, but kills.
While the history of capitalism can be traced back roughly 500 years to Western Europe, it’s American-style, consumerist capitalism that’s turned exploitive profiteering into a competitive sport, where bottom line interests trump every other consideration, including illness and death.
Let’s look at a few examples of capitalism’s most lethal behavior:
Despite reports from the US Centers for Disease Control of nearly half a million domestic tobacco-related deaths in 2016, Big Tobacco rolls on in its relentless pursuit for profits by targeting new, vulnerable victims. According to the Truth Initiative
While the overall smoking rate has declined, including a drop among youth to a record low of 6 percent, the numbers do not tell the whole story. Tobacco use disproportionately affects many populations—including people in low-income communities, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBT individuals, members of the military and those with mental health conditions—who have a long and documented history of being targeted by the tobacco industry.
The higher smoking rates—1 in 3 adults with mental illness smoke compared to 1 in 5 adults without mental illness—contribute to a shorter life expectancy. People with mental illness die about five years earlier than those without these disorders, and many of these deaths are caused by smoking cigarettes.
The disproportionate effect tobacco has on this population, and other marginalized groups, is due to various social and economic disadvantages. One factor that these populations have in common: they have all been exploited by the tobacco industry.
In a recent New York Times exposé about the profit-seeking exploits of Big Food in Brazil, and other areas of the developing world, the actions of Nestlé and other junk food makers would be indictable crimes if sanity successfully guided public policy. According to the Times,
Nestlé executives say their products have helped alleviate hunger, provided crucial nutrients, and that the company has squeezed salt, fat and sugar from thousands of items to make them healthier. But Sean Westcott, head of food research and development at Nestlé, conceded obesity has been an unexpected side effect of making inexpensive processed food more widely available.
“We didn’t expect what the impact would be,” he said.
Part of the problem, he added, is a natural tendency for people to overeat as they can afford more food. Nestlé, he said, strives to educate consumers about proper portion size and to make and market foods that balance “pleasure and nutrition.”
There are now more than 700 million obese people worldwide, 108 million of them children, according to research published recently in The New England Journal of Medicine. The prevalence of obesity has doubled in 73 countries since 1980, contributing to four million premature deaths, the study found.
Combine American’s declining health resulting from overconsumption of junk food, exposure to environmental pollutants, and modern workplace injuries together with exploitive human greed and you have a cocktail popularly known as Big Pharma. And while Big Pharma’s marketing-driven exploits are nothing new, their very direct causal impact of the opioid crisis overshadows their previous societal crimes. According to a LA Times exposé into the drug industry’s role in the opioid crisis,
The drugmaker Purdue Pharma launched OxyContin two decades ago with a bold marketing claim: One dose relieves pain for 12 hours, more than twice as long as generic medications.
Patients would no longer have to wake up in the middle of the night to take their pills, Purdue told doctors. One OxyContin tablet in the morning and one before bed would provide “smooth and sustained pain control all day and all night.”
On the strength of that promise, OxyContin became America’s bestselling painkiller, and Purdue reaped $31 billion in revenue.
But OxyContin’s stunning success masked a fundamental problem: The drug wears off hours early in many people, a Los Angeles Times investigation found. OxyContin is a chemical cousin of heroin, and when it doesn’t last, patients can experience excruciating symptoms of withdrawal, including an intense craving for the drug.
The problem offers new insight into why so many people have become addicted to OxyContin, one of the most abused pharmaceuticals in U.S. history.
While the societal pillage of Big Tobacco, Food and Pharma sufficiently indict capitalism’s death drive, I’d be remiss to exclude the for-profit death and destruction caused by the weapons industry, and by collective industries, from Big Oil on down, whose plunder ravages the ecosystem. While nothing I’ve stated here is fanciful or false, it’s difficult to find consensus on capitalism as the cause, even as we hurtle towards Armageddon.
An economic cult?
If your looking for a lively Thanksgiving table topic, do as I do, and bring up the notion of capitalism as a death cult. See how quickly friends and family line up to defend a system that keeps most of them in bondage of economics, rather than enjoying lives of community, creativity and sustainability. One then must ask: is capitalism a cult? Yes, according to educator and author Paul Buchheit writing in Common Dreams,
Capitalism is a cult. It is devoted to the ideals of privatization over the common good, profit over social needs, and control by a small group of people who defy the public’s will. The tenets of the cult lead to extremes rather than to compromise. Examples are not hard to find.
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