Saturday, June 11, 2011

Capitalism on Trial - 1968

By Nicholas Contompasis
As I weathered a hangover from the cheap wine and pot consumed from the previous night's SDS meeting, I tried to endure an old man’s lecture on economics. Attending a university in the D.C. area was one of the most exciting parts of my life during the mid to late ‘60s. Revolution like the pot was in the air and it was addictive, the revolution not the pot, to be clear.

My thoughts were mostly on last night’s encounter with a Jewish coed from New York City who couldn’t stop talking about Chi Guevara when an actual coherent thought stuck in my mind that couldn’t be ejected without an answer from this old man who spent decades with the U.S. State Department (C.I.A. of course) and other operations that he wouldn’t talk about.

Mind you, I hadn’t asked one question in his class over the past two months, so the raising of my hand startled this crusty diplomat from the Eisenhower-Kennedy-Johnson administrations. “Yes, Mr. Mr.(as he struggled through the roster looking for my name, which he couldn’t pronounce even when he found it) Contompasis.”

As my voice cracked and the headache I was sporting intensified, I asked the question I felt at the time was the alpha omega of Capitalism, and the question to this day stands as one of my finest moments (there actually have been several).

“Is poverty necessary for Capitalism to work”?

The professor was dumbfounded. He stared at me. The silence in the classroom was amazing. I had actually asked a question that was a monumental challenge to this old man. He turned with his back to his students in silence.

Wow, I thought, I’m so fu*k’d.

After what seemed like a minute, he turned with the face of a thirteen year old virgin (not) from a confessional.

“Yes” he mumbled.

You could tell he was exposing the family jewels, the skeleton in the closet, and the elephant in the room with one word. You could tell it was painful but at the same time a relief to a man who so many times had fed the bullshit to leaders of third world countries about how important it was not to build a steel factory and to continue making beads.

I struggled with his answer. Most in class could care less. Many saw the conflict and the morality that was now economics and capitalism.

Some of those who saw the conflict have helped put our current President’s administration on a course of destroying Capitalism.

What many refuse to admit, unlike that ancient professor, so very long ago, you live better than anyone else in the world because, “yes” poverty is necessary for capitalism to work, and you'd better get over it or your wives will be selling themselves in the streets and your children will have no future.

*** © copyright 2010 Nicholas Contompasis All Rights Reserved.

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