Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"The Uncaring Juggernaut"

Okay, here we go. 

I find “blind spots” in capitalism.  So I must be a Socialist, right? 

No, and here’s why.

I have this rhetorical question I dredge up when I am debating with myself – I am generally my most accessible adversary – I say, in the context of a slight deviation from lockstep orthodoxy:  

“If a person is six-foot-five and another person is six-foot-three, does that make the six-foot-three person a midget?” 

(Sorry.  I should have said “Little Person” but I am trying to be colorful.)

You see what I am going for there?  You take the tiniest step away from “uncritical about capitalism”, and instantaneously, you’re “The Evil Empire.”  I may not be six-foot-five about capitalism.  But I am still an enthusiastic six-foot-three.


Stop it!

Here’s my position.  Capitalism is great.  But it is not perfect.


I hate adversarialism.  I just hate it! 

So here’s the thing.

When I see two articles on the same day printed in the same section of the newspaper concerning the same issue, a compelling voice inside of me says,

“That’s something you should write about.”

Why?  One, because it caught my attention by being two articles on the same day printed in the same section of the newspaper concerning the same issue.  And two, because the issue’s evidentiary ubiquitousness – trying saying that fast three times – indicates that “There is a lot of that going on.”

The two issue-related stories appeared in the “Sports Section” of the Los Angeles Times on Saturday April the 4th.

“And you are writing about it today?”

I like to let things percolate. 

The first story involves, well, this is actually the second year of it.  And it shows no signs of coming to an end.

Here, in a capsulized version, is what happened.

Time-Warner Cable paid the Los Angeles Dodgers over eight billion dollars – you read that right – for the exclusive rights to air Dodger games, with the intention of subcontracting those rights (or something) to other Pay-Tv providers such as DirecTV for an agreed upon amount of money. 

It turns out, however, the amount Time-Warner is asking is considered so astronomically high, the Pay-Tv providers are adamantly refusing to agree to it. 

As a result, for the past year and now entering Year Two, more than seventy percent of Los Angeles viewers are unable to watch Dodger games on television.

Who’s to blame for this fiasco?


It is simply capitalism. 


The Dodgers:  “They paid us over eight billion dollars for those rights.  They have a right to make their money back.”

Time-Warner Cable:  “We shelled out over eight billion dollars for those rights.  We have a right to make our money back.”

DirecTV (and other Pay-Tv providers):  “They have a right to make their money back, but we have an obligation to prevent Time-Warner from shoving it up our…”

Is anybody wrong in what they’re saying?  No.  (Though did they have to be that graphic about it?)

It’s just business.  Three capitalistically-related decisions, all reasonable, legal and understandable. 

But more than seventy percent of Los Angeles is not getting the Dodger games.  And until somebody budges, they never will.

Capitalism, let me assert before somebody burns my house down, is not the villain here.  Why not?  Because, as a system – whether natural or humanly constructed – capitalism is a generically unfeeling enterprise. 

Like the proverbial perpetual motion machine, capitalism just goes.

As it is not an issue for a lion to feel sorry for the gazelle it is tearing to pieces, it is not in capitalism’s essential DNA to care. 

Leading to “Story Number Two”.

Josh Hamilton is a troubled, former superstar caliber ballplayer (whose abilities have seriously eroded.)  Hamilton had had drug problems in the past, and recently, rehabbing from injury-related surgery, he admitted to have reverted to his previous behavior. 

In handling matters concerning drug-taking recidivism, Major League Baseball requires an arbitration hearing.  Here’s what was at stake.

If Hamilton wasn’t suspended, he could return to the game when he was healthy.  If Hamilton was suspended, then his team, the Los Angeles Angels, would be relieved of paying Hamilton some or all of the eighty-one million dollars they still owe him on his contract.

At his arbitration hearing, it was determined that Hamilton would not be suspended. 

Here’s how the Angels responded, to that announcement.

Team president John Carpino opined that it “defies logic” that Hamilton’s behavior did not violate the drug program. 

Translation:  “We are upset that our own player did not get suspended.”

Sure, they had reasons, but capitalism always has reasons.  Though they are rarely without consequence.  Large and small.

The first example – that the Dodger games are not universally available on TV – affects people.  The second example… I mean, how do you think that guy feels?

IMAGINED JOSH HAMILTON RESPONSE:  “And they want me to play my heart out for them when I get back?”

I don’t know, it appears we have a runaway machine on our hands.  It decimated every “Main Street” in the country.  It closed local post offices, rerouted flight destinations, it played havoc with blue-collar employment.  (We watch a show called “How It’s Made”, where they demonstrate how they make products like Tootsie Rolls and Barcaloungers.  The factories have, like, eight people working in them.  The rest is adapted technology.)   

I know it’s – and always has been – about money.  And it should be.  It keeps prices down.  And it benefits shareholders, which could possibly be us.

I’m just wondering…

Does it have to be only about money?


Wendy M. Grossman said...

The first thought that strikes me is that there's capitalism and then there's the market, which is an element of capitalism and one that libertarians seem to believe can solve all problems. (Clearly not true: see also water in California, the demographics of the prison population vs that of the nation as a whole, and the lack of new antibiotics.) In the baseball-on-TV case the market has clearly failed - and into that failure marches people on the Internet with "pirate" servers the 70% can use to view the game. All of which will make it slightly harder for TWC to stay in business.

I don't know if that makes you feel any better.


Alanfg said...

In Toronto, where I live, I recently attended a Liberal Party “forum” on legalizing marijuana. Quickly, because this was Canada, the question became not about whether the weed should be legalized, but how it could be properly distributed.
The thought never arose that marijuana for medical use should be freely available to those who require it, yet could not afford what was surely (the way the conversation was headed) going to be a costly expense.
When I pointed this out to the the party operative running the forum, he uttered offhandedly,”Free? You’re living in a capitalist society!”
As usual, I didn’t have the quick-wittedness to retort, “That’s Economy! We live in a capitalistic Economy!”
The sad fact is, however that the possible apparatchik-in-ascendence may be right.
Nowadays, to those we elect to lead us, Society is just a market. And not a fair one.