The Injustice of Capitalism

Opportunities to Move Up Should Be Available to All

Is it ironic and unjust that Bill Clinton stayed in a four-bedroom suite at the Waldorf-Astoria last month for the United Nations' 50th anniversary that cost America $6,000 per night, at the same time that babies in Detroit or Los Angeles were being born into poverty so great their parents do not have the means to feed them? Or is it simply the beauty of capitalism?

Lately, there has been a trend in America that seems to be shifting this country away from the true ideals of capitalism and democracy, namely that everyone has an equal opportunity to excel, and that this country is run for the people and by the people. The House of Representatives voted last month to curb Medicare spending by $270 billion; welfare cuts and other disagreements between President Clinton and Congress led Tuesday to a government shutdown, sending home 800,000 civil service worker.

From the perspective of Harvard students, however, it looks as though capitalism is fulfilling its purpose. After all, jobs and medical care will not be a problem for the privileged few who graduate from Harvard University, because we have worked our way to the top. But lately the possibility of rising to the top, which is supposed to be the right of every American, is becoming restricted to those who meet a prerequisite of education and affluence.

Capitalism is a wonderful thing when you are at the top of the heap. It is hard to argue with the good of entrepreneurial business and the benefits of Social Darwinism while sitting in a common room in Grays Hall, with all the comforts imaginable available through a short walk or quick e-mail. A Harvard student's everyday problems might amount to little more than deciding how he or she is going to fit in doing the laundry between dinner, "Friends" and writing a paper. Sometimes it is easy to blow our problems out of proportion, but it takes nothing more than reading the newspaper to realize that the environment in which we live is a microcosm of the real world.

Because we graduate with a Harvard diploma, the world is supposed to be our oyster; but who besides us actually gets this precious opportunity? Does everybody have the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" that we do, or must one meet a prerequisite of affluence and education first? Harvard students seem to become members of an educational elite when they graduate, but the majority of them were part of it before they set foot on campus.


One thing we will probably not have to endure is living in an urban ghetto or having our children go to school where there are more guns than pencils. The current trend our government is taking, however, is going to make the gap between those with the chance to attain "the pursuit of happiness" and those without it even larger. If welfare, Medicare, and other programs that favor the poor are cut, then the already large underclass will become even larger, and soon the only people who will have the opportunities that our forefathers wished for everyone will be members of a very exclusive club.

Is it right that the President stayed in a room that costs more than one-third of the poverty level, per night? In some ways, it is the possibility of extravagance like this that makes our country great. There is a market for everything in America. If you are willing to pay for it, you can surely have it. But how do we reconcile the country's wealth is as concentrated as it is?

What once was a capitalist society that allowed for hard work's being synonymous with success is becoming one that eliminates the possibility of prosperity from the lower classes. The House voted 231 to 201 last month to cut Medicare by $270 billion, because, as Republican Porter J. Goss of Florida put it, "We want to save Medicare." Despite the Congressman's words, the House's vote was a vote against the American poor. Without programs such as Medicare, poverty--moral and economic--is all America can expect.

Capitalism and democracy, two ideals in which the United States has adamantly believed, are theoretically sound philosophies, and until recently they have been practically sound as well. But catch phrases such as "the freedom to do whatever you want to do" and "if you have what it takes" are rapidly becoming restricted to an elite. So it isn't that capitalism has inherent problems, but rather that America is losing its vision of what capitalism is. Part of a government for a people is equal opportunity, and if our public services are sacrificed for the good of the few, then the many, those that this country is supposedly run by and for, will have little or no opportunity to make their way to the top.

The senior diplomat from Paulau was staying at the Super 8 Motel on Governor's Island for $55 per night during the U.N. anniversary weekend. Clinton's room cost 120 times that price. There is essentially nothing wrong with this, as long as we can afford it morally, meaning that money for hotel rooms does not take funding away from social service programs. America is a land of opportunity and it is a bastion for intellectual debate. But...

There is an increasing trend toward elitism within capitalist America. Slowly, doors of opportunity are being closed to people who do not have the economic and educational means to open them alone. Programs such as Medicare and welfare are on the brink of extinction, and America is appearing more and more apathetic.

Instead of cleaning up the problems than debilitating the American public and raising everyone to a level where he or she is able to take advantage of the system of capitalism, the solution seems to be making sure that those who are still above water stay way above--maybe in a yacht--while those who are not, either drown, or if they can, save themselves, by themselves. Not all, or anything close to it, is lost, but America should not lose sight of itself. It must design more life preservers and be more generous in doling them out.