When I was a kid I used to love watching The Little Rascals. They were on TV regularly back then, and I always found them hilarious. I learned several things from watching Spanky, Alfalfa, and the assorted boys and girls:
- The meanest man in the neighborhood is the dog catcher who lives to take dogs off the street and put them to sleep
- Everything you do, and everywhere you go, will be instantly better if it’s accompanied to the Little Rascals theme music
- Profit is bad
As an adult, I still find the Rascals hilarious. Some of those child actors, especially the very young Spanky, bordered on comic genius. But I also view them differently now. As a kid, I never really noticed the fact that the Gang was incredibly poor and many of them were living in desperate situations. Now when I watch them I can see the Great Depression looming in the background in almost every frame.
There is also a great deal of the Progressive brand of populism evident in many of the short films. Grandma’s store is going to be bought out by an ominous sounding “chain.” The professionally owned and operated lemonade stand is ruthlessly crushing Scotty’s grandfather’s corner stand. Nightclub owners will force you to sing on the street corner if you break a contract. One of the themes of the Little Rascals is that big businesses are evil and looking to destroy competition in the name of increasing their profits.
Now, big business doesn’t need me to defend them, and I wouldn’t necessarily do that even if the Fortune 500 begged me to take up their cause. Big Business has plenty of sins for which it should atone. But like most of the life lessons I learned from Our Gang, the idea that profit is a terrible thing sought by ruthless corporations has turned out to be simply not true.
Profits are not evil. They are a great good. Profits allow businesses to keep operating. They allow businesses to expand. They allow businesses to hire people. They allow businesses to innovate and take chances. In any sane society, profits are something that that should be intensely desired. More than that, the idea of profits should be promoted as necessary to a healthy, growing economy. The difference between an economic boom and a Great Depression is that during a Depression companies are not making enough profits to sustain prior levels of business. They are scaling back, laying off workers, eliminating risk, shrinking.
Unfortunately, as I watch the news now I see virtually the entire administration, led by the President, blaming many of the ills of society (and especially healthcare) on the thirst for dirty, filthy profit. Remember the talk during the campaign when gas prices were at their highest about “windfall profits?” The implication was that businesses were living high on the hog at the expense of the middle class, and that those profits needed to be taken by the government to put to “good” use. The reality of “supply and demand” never entered into the equation. The simplistic summation of this is that profits are good for companies, but too much profit is bad for America. It’s a ridiculous assertion. The subtext of this is that government will spend the money for good things because only government, a non-profit entity, has the pureness of heart and the clarity of soul to see what people really need.
In just the past few days, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs used the “P Word” as a way of explaining why Fox News is bad, Barack Obama has implied that insurance companies fear health care reform because it will cut into their profits, and now the White House is demonizing the Chamber of Commerce for using their profits to lobby the government. If we don’t act now, Obama is saying, Grandma’s store will be taken over by a chain, kids will be in orphanages, and greedy fat cats with handlebar moustaches and top hats will be in charge. The dogcatchers will be roaming the streets and only Barack Obama can save Petey.
While I don’t think Obama is a true blue Marxist, his philosophy of economics has its roots in Marxism: the people need to be protected by a caring intellectual elite from greedy corporate hustlers. Or maybe he just spent too much time watching the Little Rascals.