One does not Stir a Foot to Seek a Foe – Lessons from Literature

Reading Response to the excerpts from Jonathan Tepper’s book

In his excerpts Jonathan Tepper says much that one agrees with and  understands to be some of the problems we face in North America. But his answer that “capitalism is broken” and his cry at the end for a revolution should set off alarms as to his motives, or at least his way of thinking. The gap of inequality is a complex problem but there has always been classes and hierarchies in human society.  Although inequality still exists in this current era of monopolies and corporations, it is undeniable that life has gotten better for everyone, including the poor.

Tepper is a smart man who makes many valid points – in that there is no doubt. I decided to look more into his life and his book. Tepper had created what he called “the United States wages leading indicator”. It predicted whether workers would get a raise. Because wages are the biggest corporate expense, it also predicted when corporate profits would suffer from higher wages. The model worked “flawlessly”  for decades, he says, however in 2017, the wage gains forecasted did not materialize. After his indicator failed, it seems like he decided to make it his mission to find out why. Invariably, he landed on monopolies.

After that, I found another good excerpt in his book: The Myth of Capitalism: Monopolies and the Death of Competition.  He speaks about what Warren Buffett does to accumulate such enormous wealth and how his followers look to emulate his strategy. Warren Buffet will buy or invest in businesses that have little to no competition. On a few occasions he even went so far as to buyout the other competitors — like in Buffalo with the newspaper market — and was thus left with a monopoly. But for Tupper to go out and say “we need a new revolution to cast off monopolies and restore free trade” sounds a lot like something Lenin would say, and it was probably something Tepper was thinking about as he himself references Lenin on how monopolies are the “last stage of capitalism”. He evokes the American revolution against Britain, knowing full well how many people died during both the Russian and American revolutions. Furthermore, much debt was incurred by the colonies and Britain alike. For someone to advocate for a revolution based on an ideology is pathological, especially with the state of affairs being acceptable and progressive as they are today in America.

I agree that it’s fundamentally wrong for Amazon to have state sponsorship and receive billions from local governments to set up their headquarters.  Yet Bezos started Amazon in his basement in 1994. He is that small innovative business Tepper admires and proclaims is at the core of capitalism. Bezos made it happen, just like the founders of Google, Facebook and all those other big companies he talks about. Amazon is offering the best products and services. It is fast and easy and people are more than happy to pay for that. The shareholders are in dreamland. After acquiring all this power and wealth, which is the goal of capitalism, he’s using it quite naturally to secure his position. Once you get to the top, you also have to stay there and that is a much harder proposition. But Amazon can only exist if employees and consumers willingly take part in their operations. Dostoevsky mentions the role of the individual and their pathology in Crime in Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.  It is the individual that shapes society and not the other way around. It was Solzhenitsyn who was able to give real life examples of this pathology when he was imprisoned during the Soviet reign.  By taking responsibility for his own situation, he was able to begin the snowball effect that would bring down the Soviet Union. Instead of feeling sorry for himself for being sent to jail and blaming the political climate or Stalin for his unfortunate imprisonment, he looked back at all the actions of his life and put the blame on himself.  In his famous book the Gulag Archipelago he said that in the Soviet system the individuals are pathological, and it wasn’t people just following orders from Stalin. He gives an example of a woman who was sent to the Gulag for 10 years for an arbitrary reason, just like everyone else.  Her daughter wrote her a letter asking her if she was guilty and that if she wasn’t she would renounce the party or otherwise she would never speak to her mom again. Incredibly, the mother couldn’t imagine her daughter renouncing the party so she wrote to her that she was guilty.  She just couldn’t overcome these cherished beliefs she had. This is just one example of hundreds he gives in his book about the pathology of the entire Soviet society.

The reason why Amazon exists, isn’t because Bezos is an evil capitalist trying to rule the world, but because all of us in this society have our priorities twisted. I am not going to start writing about how evil Amazon is and what a monopoly it is and how it’s taken all these local companies  out of business— like NCIX which my best friend worked for—, when I bought my books, hard drives, couch and even my drawer chest from them. I agree that if big companies would be left to their own devices some of them would fail. One only has to look at Yellow Pages to see how a big company can be so slow to evolve that they do not react to the change in the marketplace and go from being a billion dollar company to going out of business in a matter of seasons. I worked for them for a few years, and I could see how slow ideas would move, how many different departments there were, how many managers and supervisors were just too out of touch with the changing landscape of the internet to know what to do. It had gotten too big and subsequently its stock price plummeted and they have been downsizing ever since.  But what is the government supposed to do when the entire automobile industry needs a bailout to survive? Are they to let all those employees lose their job? The government also gave a bailout to bankers who were greedy and took too much. These are not ideal situations, but this was the best people could come up with to try to save a disaster from happening. Of course they should have punished the bankers more than they did and that there is a level of corruption that kept the majority of them in positions of power.

But there has always been problems with the system being corrupted and there always will be. Instead of pointing to the system and saying that capitalism is failing and creating a fatalist attitude, it is much better to help the people around you as much as you personally can, and take responsibility for all your actions. Tolstoy points out, in Anna Karenina, that having a binary point of view, like Tepper (As Grace points out in her article) is encouraging with his view on capitalism, prevents us from being able to come to any kind of compromise with a situations. It is why Anna kills herself at the end, because she cannot reconcile her binary view of all or nothing.  Any rational system like capitalism or socialism sounds great on paper but we humans are more than just rational beings. What sounds good on paper will always have problems when implemented in the real world. Because we are humans, every system we create will inevitably get corrupted. We need to always improve and work on these systems or else they will decay. In Alice In Wonderland, By Lewis Carroll, the Queen of Hearts says: “My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” If you have a system that is working, and you leave it be, then it will naturally decay and entropy will destroy it. You have to continuously work on it just to keep it going and if you want to improve it you need to work even harder.

For corporations to stop growing we need to stop living pathological lives. We need to stop wanting to buy the latest fashions and making decisions for status. Sure, we also might need to make some changes in the law, and tighten some of these things that the corporations are getting away with, but it doesn’t help to write an article and claim that “capitalism is dying” or that corporations are winning a war on capitalism, like some group of evil doers are trying to ruin the same system that made them rich.

As much as the rich are getting richer and the wealth gap is increasing,  the poor are also getting richer. This capitalism that is supposedly failing has given everyone more. Everyday more people join the power grid and go online. World hunger is way down beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations. In 1990 the UN set a goal to cut the world’s poverty rate in half by 2015, and we reached it five years early. In just 20 years, over a billion people escaped extreme poverty. That’s a remarkable and unprecedented shift. Yes there are problems, yes inequality is a major issue, but we are working at it. Countries like Canada and the Scandinavian ones are trying different methods to shrink the income inequality, combining capitalist and socialist ideas, but that comes with its own set of problems.

I feel bad for the family who lost their store only to have Walmart also close down a few weeks later.  It’s a terribly complex situation in a terribly complex world. All those people must have turned their backs on their local grocery store that served them for 45 years for the possibility of the cheaper prices from Walmart. None of them thought about the consequence of their actions  and instead were simply thinking about their own bottom line. They ignored their responsibility and did not realize how their actions would affect the community as a whole. To put the problem of the town all on Walmart is facile and shortsighted.

If one is so confident about a solution to these complex problems, then that idea will probably make the situation worse.  Although Tepper is intelligent, with lots of experience, he is only one person. The fact that he is so bold in his claim of a broken system and a need for a revolution makes me weary of his motives.  Each individual person needs to put her life together. People need to stop trying to make broad scale social transformations that are most likely going to break the system even more. Instead they should try to make their  immediate environment better. The individual needs to get her life together first, and progress from there.

To promote a revolution in the United States is at least pathological, if not  psychopathic and is not something that would benefit the common good. There is something that feels disingenuous, as though Tepper mainly wants to topple these guys who are above him in the hierarchy, à la Lenin. He is one of the lesser capitalists who wants to be a super-rich capitalist himself  but who can’t get a foothold because of, as he would claim, all the monopolies. So he wants to make laws and start a revolution for his own gain. Unless you are living in a country such as Iran, you have no reason to be speaking of revolution. And this is worth pointing out, not because they invalidate his arguments, which have a certain truth to them, but because they show evidence of some malice towards the people who have more than him.  There are many things that are changing and lots of people are trying to improve the system day by day. Crypto-currency was born and adopted so quickly exactly because the younger generation have realized the game is tilted. Just like rats who won’t play unless its fair, we too won’t take part in Wall Street if it isn’t fair. Crypto-currency is still in its infancy, but the technology behind the blockchain will do wonders. Now that’s revolutionary and nobody has to get killed.


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