Corporate Greed, Inequality Leading Us to an Abyss

This December, “Schindler’s List” will be re-released to theaters for its 25th anniversary, and in schools around the nation students will begin reading “Night” by Elie Wiesel. Both works recount the Holocaust that my father survived. Rabbi Richard Rubenstein would later write about the corporate and political bureaucracy behind the Holocaust in his book “The Cunning of History.” Rubenstein observed how major German corporations used slave labor to enhance their profits, and how the same rationale was being used today by U.S. corporations exploiting labor overseas.

Rubenstein noted how Germans in industry and government, who profited from the use of slave labor, were highly educated and affluent, often having attended the best schools in the country. All of them were raised in the Judeo-Christian societies of the West. Many were baptized Christians. And Germany had a democratic multi-ethnic society, much like ours today. It would be easy to suggest that Germans simply voted for the wrong man, but what was it that caused so many people to disregard their moral formation and intellectual training and do what they did?

The answer, in a word, is greed. The corporate boards in Nazi Germany knew their bottom line would be enhanced by using slave labor. Not only would they save on salaries, but on retirements as well. Death would be waiting for the workers when their bodies wore out. Rubenstein recognized that multinational corporations in modern American were applying that same rationale in their decisions to locate factories in the poorest areas on earth, often under governments that would give the corporations everything they wanted in return.

Today, multinational corporations pay poor kids in Bangladesh 40 cents an hour to make blue jeans, while big banks and CEOs pocket billions. It reminds me of what Elie Wiesel had experienced and Rabbi Rubenstein had written about: the use of people as “human commodities.” Such injustice provides a motive for political violence in many parts of the world, which is why our own growing inequality has former Commerce Secretary Robert Reich worried. Reich has openly warned that growing inequality is a harbinger of violence. Just look south of our border.

Mexico is a perfect example of economic inequality, and provides a frightening illustration of how this inequality can motivate many working men and women to join drug cartels, which now routinely engage in shooting Mexican policemen and politicians; because if the government and the law do not serve the people, then why should the people serve the government or the law? Gross economic inequality, then, is the root of violence in Mexico’s streets. It cannot be blamed on drugs, or guns, because both of those have been outlawed in Mexico.

Inequality is the root of our own drug and gun violence issues, and why our inner cities are racial ghettos, not unlike those of another time and place in history. It is plain to see how political policies fostered by Wall Street elites have reduced our citizens to serfdom, and turned society toxic. Thanks to globalization, we now have too many people and not enough jobs, but plenty of stress, anxiety, depression and drug overdose. As the middle class disappears, the environment decays, and families fall apart, our own power hungry party elites simply suggest more laws.

No wonder we have so many political divisions, and riots and protests. Corporate elites fostered the poverty, desperation, and hopelessness that created political division in the first place, and now they propose a solution — to ban more drugs, or guns, or “hate speech” — while the real problem is not the drugs, the guns, or free speech, but inequality. More and more laws are now passed to control more and more of our lives, without actually solving any of our problems, just as banning guns, or outlawing drugs, has not solved Mexico’s drug and gun problems either.

Like Elie Wiesel, Rabbi Richard Rubenstein, and Robert Reich, I worry our nation is headed into an abyss, where gross corporate greed, inequality, and the political divisions they breed are bringing us to a tipping point. It does not help that these division are being promoted by billionaires who profit from political and economic inequality around the world. Divide and conquer. The more unstable society becomes, the more they justify control to maintain their status quo. Will the American people unite and take action, or will you go quietly into the Night?

Guest columnist Mazgaj is a substitute teacher who lives in Wheeling.

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