The Means, Part 3: The Capitalism Tax
by Bobby Dillon
How does our society get people the things they need? We sell our labor and in exchange receive a salary. We then take our salary and use it to purchase the things we need. I made just under $30,000 a year when I graduated from college and I’ve never made more money than that in my life. So, I took my 30,000 ration coupons and sent them up the hill to the billionaires.
The nature of consumption is such that when the rations are spent they disappear forever. They are consumed by the fires of the US economy. If I spend my salary on groceries, I’m eating my salary and that money goes away forever. Now, to be clear: this method of allocating resources is not inherently problematic. We have to get people the things they need somehow, and money is one tool among many that we can use to do so.
Does the person making $75,000 work harder than the person making $30,000? Profiteer mindset is so ingrained in us that many would say, “yes, that person makes more money because they work harder and earn it.” But you’ll never convince me that anyone works harder than the fry cook who stands over a molten stove for hours on end so that we can have our treats, or the roofer, who works for cash and destroys their knees and back so we can have homes that don’t leak. What about the warehouse worker who walks fifteen miles a day through a labyrinth of cheap crap so that we can have guaranteed two-day shipping on every little contrivance we order online? Everyone works hard. If you don’t work hard, you simply cannot survive in the United States.
So, imagine it costs $30,000 just to live in this country for a year. We have a consumption-based economy, so each year I “consume” $30,000 worth of goods and services. I give my money to someone else in exchange for food or rent. Now, what’s wrong with consumption and the consumer economy? Well, in a word, profit. Consumption only ever benefits the capitalist class. Every dollar spent on consumption is funnelled into the hands of the profiteers. We give the profiteers so much money; it baffles me that we just go along with it. When I spend my $100 on groceries, that money gets sucked into the pipeline that leads unerringly to the Waltons’ pockets. Walmart operates at a 2.5% net profit margin. What does that mean? 2.5% to the shareholders doesn’t sound that bad. But that’s not the whole story. Wanna know how much money that little 2.5% is? 13.5 BILLION DOLLARS! You know who owns about half of the company’s stocks? A few people named Walton. That means we just gave the Waltons almost seven billion dollars last year. We just gave it to them for nothing. What did they do for us? Did the handful of Waltons make Walmart happen? No, you did that. You did it with your hard work and your hard-earned money. The shareholders took a $13.5 Billion cut of your labor and your money.
Now, it seems that the median cost for building a high school is $45 Million. Sounds like a lot, right? Guess how many high schools you can build with $13.5 Billion. THREE HUNDRED. That means 300 high schools each serving about 1,000 students, and that $13.5 Billion dollars could have educated THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND high schoolers.
Instead, we gave it to the Waltons.
The truly vile thing about Walmart’s business model is the way it triple-dips into our pockets. First, they extract surplus from you by making you pay more than it actually costs to give you your groceries. Profit.
Second, they pay their workers a sub-living wage and keep them below 30 hours a week so that they can be classified as part time. If an employee works full-time, Walmart is legally obligated to provide health insurance. So their employees are being exploited as much as possible (for 30 hours a week) while being paid the absolute minimum that Walmart can get away with. Companies like Walmart and McDonald’s actively encourage their workers to apply for Medicaid, food stamps and other benefits programs. This leads to the public subsidizing Walmart’s shitty wages (and therefore subsidizing the Waltons’ $7 Billion cut). That’s the second dip.
Then, consider who benefits most from food stamps (SNAP): the grocery stores! What do I do with my food stamps? I take them to Walmart to buy groceries. In effect, the state is paying Walmart to give me groceries. But does the state pay 97 cents for those groceries? NO! The state pays $1 just like the rest of us and the Walton’s walk away 3 cents richer ON EVERY SINGLE DOLLAR you spend at the store. Now, they’re extracting surplus value from you as a TAXPAYER. That’s the third dip.
I like to call this the capitalism tax. Everyone hates taxes, right? I don’t – not necessarily. Taxes can be a good thing – that money goes to schools and roads and fire departments and lots of other very useful things that make our society better. But not the Capitalism Tax. Nope, instead that money goes to some billionaire who uses it to buy the biggest house you’ve ever seen or a $200 million yacht.
This is the tax we pay to the billionaires, but that’s only part of it. We pay it with our lives and our time. We pay it every time someone gets sick and can’t go to the doctor because they don’t have insurance. We pay it every time someone dies of a drug overdose. Walmart shareholders took your $13.5 Billion and, rather than invest it in drug treatment or roads or schools, they kept it and squirreled it away, hoarding it like Smaug.
The Capitalism Tax isn’t just about money and profit. It’s the price we pay so that billionaires can exist, and it affects every single area of our lives.
Let me show you how.