Sunday, March 17, 2019
The Central Capitalist Flaw
written 10 March 2019
published 17 March 2019
I write from a perspective of unity reality, in which any separate "part" is an illusion, entirely context driven, with limited validity. The assumption of absolutely separate parts, particularly within economic accounting, is the flaw at the heart of capitalism.
Let's examine sugar: "a food nobody needs, but everyone craves". Trade in sugar cane began 3500 years ago, and processed sugar appeared in India 1000 years later, arriving in Europe in the 13th century as a rare and expensive spice. To feed a growing European sugar craze, in the late 1500's the Portuguese established large plantations in Brazil to cultivate and refine sugar, which expanded into the Caribbean in the 1600's, using more than 12 million African slaves as labor.
The sugar industry today has replaced human slaves with fossil fuels, toxic chemicals, and genetically modified crops. Global sugar consumption is increasing, now constituting20% of the caloric content of food. The third most valuable crop after cereals and rice, sugar accounts for 9% of the world's agricultural monetary value and 6% of the world's agricultural yield.
In capitalism, one way to maximize profit is to market something in great demand, and produce it at the lowest possible cost. Our bodies evolved without sugar, which is a concentrated form of biochemical energy. With more sugar in our diet, our biochemistry can shift and become addicted, which insures demand.
The health consequences of a high sugar diet have become obvious as consumption has increased. Global, the overweight or obese population has tripled since 1975: 36% of adults are now overweight and a 1/3 of these are obese, as defined by Body Mass Index (BMI). The numbers in America are worse: over 60% of adults are overweight and 2/3 of these are obese. To calculate your BMI, divide your weight in pounds by your height in inches, divide again by your height in inches, and then multiply by 703 (trust me!). A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered healthy. A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight, and a BMI above 30 is considered obese.
The obesity epidemic is associated with serous health risks including cancer, dementia, heart disease and diabetes, and annually contributes to 300,000 deaths in the U.S. alone. 30 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, and 84 million are pre-diabetic, at risk of becoming diabetic within the next 5 years. Annual American health care costs of obesity exceed $120 billion, more than the gross income of the global sugar industry. This doesn't include the diminished quality of life associated with obesity. The cost of this epidemic affects every part of our economy, including expanding airline seats, and hatches and ejection seats in the military.
None of this information is new, and serious efforts have been made to educate the public about diet and regulate sugar content in foods. One year after enacting a soda tax in Berkeley, California, a study showed reduced consumption of sugar sodas. Society could save lives and dollars by reversing this obesity trend, except for the massive economic and political resistance to this kind of change from the sugar industry. None of these huge health costs affect the profitability of the sugar industry because they are "externalized costs". Since someone else has to pay these costs, there is no feedback in the accounting. The suffering of people in our country and the planet isn't the business of the sugar industry, and they spend millions keeping it that way.
For 50 years the link between sugar, heart disease and other major illnesses has been known to the sugar industry, but they have denied their complicity, diverting attention to fat consumption. Using the same techniques as the asbestos, tobacco and fossil fuel industries, they fund and publish research that supports their position, and organize attacks on researchers that suggested their product kills people. Whenever public action threatens their profits with legislation or taxes, the industry lobbies heavily to kill these efforts. The industry successfully funded a 12 year ban on new soda taxes in California last year.
This might make sense if the world was discrete parts, each in lethal competition, but in the real world, their flawed economy is killing us for their profit.