This Essay Is Not For Sale, Unless You’re Paying With Money

One of the less recognized aspects of the American Revolution was its usefulness as a business venture.  The French, Russian, and Chinese revolutions were all revolts empowered by peasants, but that’s not true for the revolt that created the United States.  The American colonists were more affluent, on average, than the populace back in England, and even a subsistence farmer who owned his own farm was better off than a laborer in the homeland.  The American Revolution was an uprising by the middle classes and landed gentry.

In France, prior to the revolution, historians estimate that up to ninety percent of the citizenry lived at a survival level.  They were landless workers or indentured servants, for the most part.  The colonies, by contrast, had an abundance of free land, if you didn’t mind taking it from natives.  The appropriated land provided resources, people prospered, and that is why the American revolutionaries rallied around a motto like, “no taxation without representation!”  Since taxation requires something to tax, we could call it a middle class concern.  The French Revolution, on the other hand, was not about taxes, since most French had nothing to tax.

Unsurprisingly, George Washington was rich, as were nearly all of the men who wrote the Constitution.  Half of the writers functioned as bankers, loaning money at interest.  Many owned slaves and lived on plantations.  Benjamin Franklin was a wealthy entrepreneur.  All of them were businessmen, in one way or another, whether they ran a farm, had a law practice, or published an almanac.  From the very beginning, in other words, commerce has been at the heart of America.  Among other goals, the U.S. was formed to create a more profitable union.

The results truly have been exceptional.  We’ve done far better at producing wealth than we have at accomplishing an objective like equality.  The United States will generate a GDP of over $15 trillion in 2012, or about $48,000 per person, by far the highest in the history of the world.  The government may not work well, but the economy is an ATM of historic proportions.

When commercial interests lie at the heart of your founding revolution, we shouldn’t expect anything else.  The Bill of Rights has always been paired with a cash register, and which is more important isn’t always clear.  Businesses certainly get away with actions that would land an individual in jail.  We excuse bad behavior if it gains a profit.  We’re willing to sell anything.

Doctors at a chain of hospitals in Florida are under investigation for performing unnecessary heart procedures like catheterizations, angioplasties, and stents on patients who didn’t need them.  The surgeons and the corporation that owns the hospitals were both improving their bottom line by risking other people’s lives, some of whom didn’t even have heart disease.  The corporation bought the hospitals in Florida specifically because of the high percentage of seniors who could be sold heart procedures.

At the same time, the doctors and corporate executives were simply pursuing the American dream.  We’re one of the few developed nations on earth willing to let our physical health be the site of a profit-driven marketplace.  As a result, health care consumes about 17% of everything we produce.  There’s a lot of money to be made in the medical trade, just like there is in sales or marketing, plus you have a lot more status.

The North Carolina state legislature this summer received a report from a state-sponsored science panel about sea level rise on the Outer Banks.  When the panel said the sea could rise more than three feet by 2100, the legislators banned the report, and then passed a law requiring all predictions of sea levels to only use historical data.  Scientists can predict the future as long as they restrict themselves to what’s happened in the past.  From that point of view, as Stephen Colbert pointed out, because we’ve been alive for 100% of the time since birth, the North Carolina legislature would predict we’ll live forever.

The real problem is that developers and realtors on the Outer Banks don’t like forecasts of large rises in sea level.  They claim the rise will only be eight inches, and so homes don’t need to be built higher off the ground, or thought given to the day some barrier islands disappear, or communities are swamped at high tide.  That kind of talk drives down property values, and no one wants to be the last guy holding the bag, or a useless piece of shallow bay.  Money determines the facts placed into evidence, and the subsequent perceptions of reality.  It’s as American as apple pie.

Penn State University was recently fined $60 million for covering up the actions of a football coach who raped young boys.  The reason the NCAA chose $60 million is because that’s the football program’s annual gross revenue.  The football team is an enormous income stream and the head football coach is the highest paid faculty member on campus, at $2.3 million.  But Penn State isn’t alone.  The University of Alabama football program collects $70 million, and pays its coach over $5 million.

If we hearken back to the first college football game, between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869, we find a different world.  The game was played for bragging rights, especially after Princeton beat Rutgers in baseball by a score of 40-2.  Three games were planned, but only two occurred, because faculty became concerned that football was detracting from student studies.  Since each team won once, the season ended in a tie.

Today, no university president would dream of condoning a tie; there’s too much money to be made in a playoff game.  At Alabama, football accounts for 11% of the university’s entire annual income.  We’ve managed to commercialize education and sports at the same time, so that economic interests run both, leading to the protection of a pedophile in order to safeguard the cash flow.

Commerce rules all: health care, politics, science, sports, education, sex, legality, morality, and even decisions about how high the water will get.  Commerce goes to the core of America.  In many ways, we’re a nation of businessmen, and anything is fair game for a profit.  Unfortunately, money becomes more important than people, and the equality of all people lags far behind the accumulating piles of money.  But that is apparently what the Founders intended.

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About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

One Response to “This Essay Is Not For Sale, Unless You’re Paying With Money”

  1. Unfortunately what you say is not symbolism, but realism.

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