Don’t get me wrong…I believe jobs are essential in any viable economic system. And…in our current times, a stable, well-paying job is probably more important than in any time in our national history. Republicans and Democrats supposedly have plans to restore the jobs that were lost in an unsustainable binge-spending economy…and our 24-7-365 news media reports every miniscule movement in job creation and unemployment as if it’s a sporting event. But…this obsession with jobs alone appears to me to be another effective smokescreen to deflect attention from another deeply troubling flaw in our current economic scheme…profits. I don’t hear anyone…no, not anyone…talking about the distribution of profits in our economy. Yes…jobs are critically important…but why aren’t we discussing the increasing monopolization of profits also?
Until very recently, most jobs were associated with local business profit. The hard work of local laborers made it possible for entrepreneurs to make a profit from their small businesses. It’s only been more or less 50 years since this was the common rule in most communities across America. While business owners were certainly more likely to be comfortable financially than their workers, they generally spent their profits in the communities where they resided. In other words…the profits stayed in the community to the mutual benefit of these business owners and their workers. Grocery stores…hardware stores…local banks…doctors and dentists…family-owned restaurants…pharmacies…mechanics and machine shops. Not long ago…people worked in these kinds of small businesses…and the profits from their labor stayed in their communities to enrich life for everyone.
But now…very few businesses are locally owned…so, very few profits stay in the communities where people do the jobs that support those profits. There is a natural mechanism in our free enterprise system that makes it work well…the retention of most of the wealth in the community where it was created. During the past 50 years, this healthy distribution of business profits has been eroded to a dangerous point. Today…most business profits leave the communities where they were created…they travel far from their place of origin into the hands of multi-national corporations. In turn…the biggest increases in wealth during the past 50 years have been enjoyed by a smaller and smaller segment of our society. This trend has been fed by a systematic and relentless attack by corporate interests on small businesses in local communities. And…it’s been fed by incredibly effective marketing that has persuaded local workers to purchase cheaper goods made by lower paid labor…first in our own country and now primarily in other countries. Many local businesses have closed…and most profits have left town for good.
Sure…jobs are important…but it’s also urgent that we start to discuss the distribution of profits. So many people believe deeply that our free enterprise system should be left to its own devices…without mourning what is lost when it eventually achieves its ultimate goal of domination and monopoly. Our current free enterprise system is like a muscle-bound, steroid-addicted weightlifter that is very strong but also almost immobile…too many years in an artificial world of subsidies, tax breaks and gullible consumers. When our corporations are ‘too big to let fail’…it should be abundantly clear that our free enterprise system is incapable of normal business adaptation. To me, it’s simple…when this kind of obvious incapacity is seen, it’s time to recognize a problem exists…and it’s time to show some tough love. Corporations that require political favors to survive are sapping the strength of our nation…as they steal the profits from our local communities.
We should be talking about profits as much as jobs. When profits are reinvested in local communities, everyone benefits…but when they’re sent far away through a corporate filter, only an incredibly small group of people benefit. Yes, jobs provide immediate support for families and communities. But…profits reinvested in a community add local infrastructure, local enrichment programs and local stability. When communities have only workers’ wages to keep them viable, they’re operating at half-strength. This is one of the most important reasons to be concerned about the health of local small businesses…it’s not nostalgia for a past era, but an economic reality that is eroding the quality of life and ending the delivery of essential services across the country. Sure…jobs are important…but some jobs are more important for healthy communities than others. Small businesses that create jobs where the profits stay in local communities need more incentives and support to compete with multi-national corporations. But…how can public policies reflect this priority? And should it? These are critical issues where public conversations are needed.