America-Brand Capitalism: Lots of Pie, Not a Lot of Love

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It’s no secret that the United States is the most outrageously wealthy country on the planet. Our brand of aggressive economic engineering has been part of our national narrative since its inception, and if there’s one thing we like exporting more than democracy, it’s America-brand capitalism.

To boot, as a national economy, we have never been wealthier. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, inflation-adjusted gross domestic product — the total value of goods and services produced — touched $16.77 trillion in 2013, up 2.2 percent annually despite a glut of pessimism. Per the Federal Reserve, the net worth — assets such as houses and stocks minus liabilities like debt – of all households and nonprofit organizations increased 13 percent to just more than $80 trillion, a record level, while the net worth of non-financial corporate businesses increased nearly 10 percent to $19 trillion and the net worth of non-financial non-corporate businesses increased 9 percent to $8.7 trillion.

Add to this growing energy independence, a budding revolution in advanced manufacturing, and an information industry that is bursting at the seams with energy, and it looks like we’ve got something pretty good going here. We do more stuff than anyone else, and much of it we do better or more efficiently. If economics is a game, we’ve got the best playing field with the most athletic players.

But the problem (because of course there’s a problem) is that a lot of us are crappy players, some of us are cheaters, and most of us don’t even want to play the game anymore. And as good as the playing field is, there are problems. The reasons we have more big businesses and billionaires than anyone else is not because we are all playing a balanced game well: it’s because the game is fundamentally unbalanced, and in many cases it’s simply broken. Certain players get to take advantage of that either through happenstance or avarice.