There was a time – it seems so long ago – when I bought stocks like a lot of other working stiffs. It was during the Clinton years, and the market was doing great. I didn’t have that much to invest, of course, but I got a huge thrill out of reading the stock market listings in the Miami Herald (back then you got your financial information from the newspapers; the Internet was in its infancy).
Today, I wouldn’t dare to venture into the stock market. It has become a racket.
Enormously wealthy investors can make stock prices go up or down almost at will just by the way they place their bets. And worse, the big banks have figured out how to rig stock prices by controlling the supply of various commodities.
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes provided an insight into this scam the other night, explaining how Goldman Sachs buys up aluminum and holds it off the market to push up prices. The big bank makes a killing by buying aluminum stocks, choking off aluminum supplies until the price goes up then selling the shares at the inflated price.The Goldman geniuses are doing the same thing with oil.
It turns out that Goldman is not alone.The other investment banks are in on it, too.
Obviously, with the big players working the brake pedal, you wouldn’t risk your money on a spin of the roulette wheel, would you?
But people still buy stocks and bonds. Hope springs eternal.
This is the way the capitalist system works today. It’s far from free. It’s rigged. And it’s not the dreaded government that’s rigging the game. It’s the corporate elite.
Here’s a less obvious example of the way the deck is stacked. Mighty corporations pay wages so low that their employees cannot survive without government aid – food stamps, Medicaid, and so on. So your taxes end up subsidizing the Walton heirs, who have more money that the bottom 40 percent of the American population – combined!
Naturally, the US Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbyists are fighting to prevent an increase in the federal minimum wage. The retail giants have good thing going and they don’t plan on having anyone spoil it for them. It’s been four years since the minimum wage was raised. It’s stuck at $7.25 an hour – that’s $15,000 a year for a full-time employee.
Congress is debating legislation to raise the minimum to $8.80 by 2014. I just signed a petition in favor of the increase (I sign a lot of petitions; I wonder if it does any good).
Individual states can – and do – set their own minimums. In Vermont, for example, employers must pay at least $8.60 an hour. And Washington DC just raised its minimum wage to $12.50 (Walmart is pressing the mayor to veto it).
But even in states with the more humane minimum-wage laws, workers – in retail and restaurants especially – are so impoverished that many of them must depend on government aid to survive.
What kind of a free-market system is that?
Increasingly, it’s the corporations that get subsidized in America, while American workers descend deeper and deeper into poverty. Yet, conservatives are demanding cruel reductions in the programs on which the working poor depend.
Illustration by Victor Juhasz, Rolling Stone.