as long as there has been people, there has been an aristocracy who believe
themselves to be the rightful rulers. Their desire, some would say lust, to
retain their power has led this capitalist class to create laws and take
advantage of economic circumstances in order to preserve and even heighten
their influence. This is displayed in no better fashion than in the vagrancy
laws the middle of the last millennium. In 1274, the law was such that religious
houses (churches, temples, etc.) were given funds to house and feed travelers.
This was out of the decency of humanity without any regard to profits or
monetary temptations. 120 years later, by 1394, the law changed in favor of the
aristocracy. It was now illegal to give aid or charity to those unemployed who
are still able to work, meaning they were healthy mentally and physically. It
was now also a crime to leave a job or “service” while one was still able to
perform the tasks asked of them. Punishment for vagrancy escalated in order to
enforce these laws. The original punishment was fifteen days in prison, then it
became a short time in the stocks, followed by three days and nights in the
stocks consuming only bread and water, and it finally just became banishment.
This escalation was not without cause, though the cause may not have been just.
The Black Plague had decimated labor forces throughout Europe, coupled with
many serfs who went to work in factories in cities created a severe scarcity in
available workforces. The vagrancy laws were created and gradually strengthened
(according to William Chambliss) to ensure this ruling class a cheap and
constant workforce who would comply with whatever wages or conditions they were
offered. Put simply, the laws were put in place to intimidate people into
taking low paying jobs because the alternative was imprisonment or banishment.
This was one of the most overt examples of a wealthy class creating laws to
benefit them economically. In a more modern day example, the housing collapse
in 2008. Banks were able to bet on certain areas of the market and make money
even at the extreme expense of their customers and investors. This only
occurred because the people who made the laws “regulating” the financial industry
had and continue to have a direct stake in its well-being.
The capitalist class was and has not
been content to stop at simply creating laws to boost their economic endeavors.
They bypassed restrictions on their business, primarily on their factories. An
example of this, one that Karl Marx discusses at length, is the English Factory
Acts from 1833 and 1847. These acts were designed to protect factory workers,
but primarily the women and children. Such as, it was illegal to have children
under the age of nine working in a factory. The acts limited the work days of
those between the ages of thirteen and eighteen to only twelve hours a day. Children between the ages of nine and
thirteen were limited to eight hours a day. The work days of everyone else was
limited to fifteen hours. (In 1847, it was made law that anyone between the
ages of thirteen and eighteen and all females could not work more than 11
hours). These (among others) all seem like excellent things for workers and, at
face value, it appears like these laws would be implemented and obeyed without
question. However, as Marx points out, the laws only bolstered capitalism. The
laws passed with some pushback from factory owners but with many exceptions.
The hours of women and children were lessened, but this was not true for other
workers. This caused many smaller factories to close because they simply could
not afford the comply with these restrictions. Consequently, larger factories
who could continue doing business got larger because all the workers from the
smaller, now closed, factories came to the larger ones. Furthermore, the
restrictions were often evaded by factory owners who figured out loopholes
(such as “relay systems”) to avoid fully submitting to the laws. There was also
simply not enough money to fully invoke these restrictions. Thus, factories got
to claim that they had better working conditions for workers, but all they
really had done was find clever ways around a series of laws. This is also seen
in the fallout, or lack thereof, of the 2008 financial crisis for the big
banks’ top employees. While over two million lost their jobs as a result, many
high ranking bankers and others in the financial world both made ludicrous
amounts of money and most of them got away without a scratch. Because they were
and still are in such high positions of power, they are seemingly untouchable
by the legal system.
Capitalism has been legitimized in the United States.
This our financial system has evolved society into a purely monetary world.
Healthcare is privatized and a optional for U.S. citizens as opposed to other
developed nations where it is government provided. Something that is government supported, are the banks.
In 2008 when the financial crisis happened, some banks closed, but bankers
(notably Henry Paulson) asked Congress for $700 million dollars in order to
save most of the banks. This whole crisis caused unemployment to rise to 10%
and the global stock market plummeted. Granted, the situation would have been
dramatically worse had the federal government not given the money to the banks.
Here lies the problem, the banks are so ingrained in our society that we can
survive without them. Consequently, the men who run and work in this world have
taken advantage of these loopholes to achieve ridiculous amounts of personal
wealth. They became so fixed because the men in power for many of the initial
laws of the U.S. were men of finance, notably Alexander Hamilton. Our laws were
written by bankers and other modern forms of aristocracies and so those laws
directly benefit those groups.