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Greed is a false god

2:49 pm in Uncategorized by Masoninblue

Today is Easter Sunday.

Whether or not you celebrate Easter, resurrection is an ancient myth that was old before humans invented writing. The Ancient Egyptian story of the resurrection of Osiris dates back to a time long before Menes unified the Two Lands creating the fabled Old Kingdom of Egypt in approximately 3,000 BC.

Jesus was a rabbi and the core principle of his teachings is the Golden Rule:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Rabbi Hillel, who lived and died before Jesus was born, expressed the Golden Rule:

That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. That is the whole Law. The rest is commentary. Now go and learn.

Greed is one of the seven deadly sins and incompatible with the Golden Rule.

Nevertheless, greed is the so-called invisible hand that regulates the free market and, according to neoliberals, the only acceptable form of regulation. Not only is unrestricted greed an acceptable business plan, it has become the only acceptable business plan. Thus, has greed been accorded godlike status.

And we wonder why the world is so messed up.

On this day that we celebrate resurrection and rebirth, we would do well to recommit ourselves to living the Golden Rule. Believing it is not enough. Breath it. Live it. Become it, now.

Rabbi Hillel also said,

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?

We are in this together.

Greed is not a path to prosperity. It is a path to corruption, exploitation, enslavement and chaos.

We all know know it.

Now let’s do something about it.

Gilead Sciences (GILD): A drug manufacturer willing to kill the sick in order to profit

11:44 am in Uncategorized by Masoninblue

Cross posted from the Frederick Leatherman Law Blog

Gilead Sciences logo

Gilead profits outrageously on miracle hepatitis C cure.

Behold: The invisible hand of the market commits murder.

Neoliberals insist that the free market (i.e., unregulated) is the only way to go. They assure us that the “invisible hand” of greed will encourage competition and promote efficiency resulting in better and cheaper products.

Instead, it produces monopolies that can kill.

CBS is reporting today:

Sovaldi, a new hepatitis C treatment, can cure up to 90 percent of patients within three months. There’s just one problem: The drug costs $1,000 a day. That price tag has thrown the biotechnology world into turmoil, as lawmakers and insurance companies complain that Sovaldi’s maker is trying to milk desperate patients.

Doctors are understandably finding it hard to pass over a drug that is so effective. As a result, Sovaldi’s manufacturer, Gilead Sciences (GILD), is raking in the dough, while its shares have soared 53 percent over the last year. Sovaldi, in fact, may generate the biggest sales ever for a drug’s first year. It could bring in a jaw-dropping $7 billion to $10 billion in sales this year alone, analysts say.

Hepatitis C can eventually lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. With the exception of Sovaldi, there is no cure.

Approximately three million Americans suffer from Hepatitis C. Many of them were infected by intravenous drug use. Many are poor. More than half are veterans, prisoners, uninsured or on Medicaid, according to the New York Times.

The price of Sovaldi has nothing to do with the cost to produce it.

Gilead, which manufactures Sovaldi, charges what it believes the market will bear. For example, it sells it at a 99% discounted price in Egypt.

If someone dies because they cannot afford to pay $1,000 per day, so what?

Gilead could obviously care less.

CBS reports:

Gilead wants to tier its pricing based on a country’s per-capita income. So patients in the U.K would pay about $57,000, Reuters reports, while Germans would pay $66,000 and Americans are paying $84,000.

Ain’t capitalism wonderful?

Survival of the Wisest

10:48 am in Uncategorized by Masoninblue

Empathy is the basis for true morality.

Empathy is the basis for true morality
by aerie under flickr Creative Commons

Randian neoliberals, as in Ayn Rand, believe in competition and social darwinism. They claim that human life is like a vast jungle and they have adopted “survival of the fittest,” formerly known as the law of the jungle, as the guiding principle of their lives.

They adopted Grover Nordquist’s advice to privatize government as much as possible and drown what little remains of it “in a bathtub” abolishing all laws, regulations, and regulatory oversight.

They claim they want to create the free marketplace that Adam Smith wrote about in the Wealth of Nations; a mystical place controlled by the “invisible hand” of self-interest that they declare to be maximizing short-term profits.

They have elevated greed to the status of not just any god, but the god of gods. That their interpretation ignores Adam Smith’s warning that the marketplace must be regulated to protect competition from the monopolies that inevitably will develop in a truly free marketplace is no trivial matter.

They have committed an egregious sin by creating a philosophy to justify stealing from others that they put together with disparate elements of philosophy, science, economics, and religion as though selecting from different columns on a Chinese menu to feed their ravenous greed.

Survival of the fittest is not a law; it is a description of what happens when a hungry apex predator hunts, kills, and consumes its prey. If there were no other laws at work after approximately 4 billion years of evolution, only apex predators would exist, and possibly none of them either as they would have extinguished themselves by cannibalism.

Natural selection is an evolutionary process that weeds out unsuccessful genetic adaptations. Natural selection is not survival of the fittest.

In a recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Science, research scientists at the University of Chicago reported that lab rats can show empathy. Their experiment demonstrated that free rats will work tirelessly to free caged rats. Even when presented with chocolate chips, a free rat will continue to labor on freeing the caged rat until successful. Then they share and consume the chocolate.

While survival of the fittest may dictate the outcome in most battles between a hungry predator and its prey, unless its prey outsmarts it or it is fortunate to escape, empathy occupies a far more important role in determining whether a species survives. Empathy leads to survival of the wisest and validates the age old maxim that the meek shall inherit the Earth.

Empathy is the basis of the Golden Rule.

Randian neoliberalism is junk science at its worst and should be universally discredited and the legacy of its practitioners condemned to a mere footnote in the sorry history of human greed.

Happy holidays.

Namaste

Cross posted from my blog at http://masonbennu.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/survival-of-the-wisest/

Neoliberalism Is A Cancer: Namaste: If Not Now, When? Chapter 24 (Part 2)

10:06 am in Uncategorized by Masoninblue

Author’s Note: Each chapter of this book can be read as a stand-alone and it is not necessary that they be read in numerical order. All of the previous chapters are posted here in my Diaries or at my blog.

I welcome comments and will respond as time allows. Thanks for reading.

Chapter 24

Neoliberalism Is A Cancer (Part 2)

Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992) revived interest in free market, or neoliberal economics with his best selling book, The Road to Serfdom, which is Amazon’s all time highest selling political book. He wrote it in the 1930s to counter the argument that fascism was capitalism’s last dying gasp.

Hayek was an Austrian and, among other appointments, he taught at the University of Chicago from 1950 to 1962 where he met and no doubt influenced Milton Friedman.

In 1991 President George H. W. Bush awarded Hayek the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the two highest civilian awards in the United States, for a “lifetime of looking beyond the horizon.”

Hayek did not believe in democracy. When asked what he thought about the Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet, who overthrew and assassinated the popularly elected social democrat President Salvador Allende in 1973 and presided over a 17-year brutal dictatorship that disappeared 3,000 suspected dissenters, Hayek said,

Personally I prefer a liberal dictator to democratic government lacking liberalism. My personal impression — and this is valid for South America – is that in Chile, for example, we will witness a transition from a dictatorial government to a liberal government.

By liberal, of course, he meant free markets liberated from government regulation and oversight.

Milton Friedman (1912-2006) was an even more influential advocate of neoliberal free markets.

He joined the faculty at the University of Chicago in 1946, where he later founded the Chicago School of Economics. He served as Senator Barry Goldwater’s chief economics adviser during Goldwater’s unsuccessful 1964 campaign for President and, after retiring from the University of Chicago in 1977, he served unofficially as Ronald Reagan’s economic adviser during Reagan’s successful campaign for President. During President Reagan’s eight years in office, he served as a member of the President’s Economic Policy Advisory Board.

Hayek and Friedman were anything but liberal, as that term is commonly understood today. Ronald Reagan adored both of them.

Barack Obama, who also taught at the University of Chicago and adores Reagan, is also a neoliberal. He too believes in free markets, including free trade agreements, even though they invariably create jobs in foreign countries at the expense of increasing unemployment here at home. He objects to imposing any restrictions on corporations outsourcing jobs, and he opposes any form of effective regulatory oversight on the banks and insurance companies.

With the single exception of his willingness to bail out failing banks and corporations at taxpayer expense, which is corporate socialism, he has not shown any interest in or support for implementing socialist policies. People who claim he is a communist or a socialist are lying, stupid, or not paying attention.

Walter Benn Michaels, a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago said in the November, 2010 issue of Le Monde,

In reality, there’s nothing the slightest bit socialist about Obamacare, much less about immigration. In fact, unlike the Tea Party, Chicago-school economists identify open borders with free markets and argue that it’s not immigration but “immigration controls” that are “a form of socialist central planning”. Even more to the point, there’s nothing communist about illegal immigration which, from an economic standpoint, is preferable to legal immigration because it “responds to market forces in ways that legal immigration does not” and thus “benefits both the undocumented workers who desire to work… in the US and employers who want flexible, low-cost labour”. So when [Glen]Beck, speaking for all the Tea Partiers, pronounces his judgment – “Immigration good; illegal immigration bad” – he may think he’s opposing communism, but what he’s actually opposing is neoliberalism in its purest form. The thing the Tea Party regards as the greatest threat to capitalism is capitalism itself.

In the name of free trade (cutting labor costs in order to increase profits), which is another neoliberal goal along with free markets, corporations have outsourced more than four million jobs by transferring operations and building new sweat-shop factories in foreign countries where they can and do exploit labor and pollute the environment with impunity. As a result, in Fiscal Year 2010, corporations reported higher profits than ever before. Yet, they paid no taxes on income earned outside the United States and they parked all of that money outside the country in offshore banks.

Meanwhile, there are 29.5 million people in the United States who are unemployed, underemployed, and too discouraged to continue looking for jobs that do not exist.

According to telephone surveys of households back in July 2010, the real unemployment rate was 22% and I suspect it has increased since then. There are not even enough new jobs being created to keep up with the number of new people entering the work force each month.

The unemployment situation is so bad that earlier this year, over one million people applied for 50,000 new jobs advertised by McDonalds.

Businesses are hoarding money and refusing to hire new employees because there is not enough demand for their goods and services to justify the expense.

There is not enough demand because nobody has any money to spend. People do not have money to spend because they are unemployed, underemployed, or afraid they are going to lose their jobs and their homes to Forfeiture Gate.

Therefore, it is unreasonable to believe that the private sector will create jobs.

There is nothing on the horizon that warrants a reasonable belief that the economy is going to improve in the foreseeable future without massive government spending to create jobs.

Nevertheless, Obama is grimly determined not to do that under any circumstances. Instead, he insists on imposing austerity measures to reduce government spending. That means slashing social security, Medicare, and Medicaid. This is another goal of neoliberalism: eliminate the safety net.

There is no credible evidence to support a belief that reducing government spending will do anything except increase unemployment, reduce demand for goods and services, and pitch our economy over the cliff into the abyss with no safety net to break the fall.

Obama has no plan and he is not even working on a real plan to create jobs. As the legendary Dude said in The Big Lebowski,

This aggression will not stand, man.

Cross-Posted at my blog and the Smirking Chimp.

Namaste: If Not Now, When? Is my intellectual property. I retain full rights to my own work. You may copy it and share it with others, but only if you credit me as the author. You may not sell or offer to sell it for any form of consideration. I retain full rights to publication.

My real name is Frederick Leatherman. I was a criminal-defense lawyer for 30 years specializing in death-penalty defense and forensics. I also was a law professor for three years.

Now I am a writer and I haul scrap for a living in this insane land.

Heh.

Namaste

Masoninblue

Neoliberalism Is A Cancer: Namaste: If Not Now, When? Chapter 24

9:31 am in Uncategorized by Masoninblue

Author’s Note: Each chapter of this book can be read as a stand-alone and it is not necessary that they be read in numerical order. All of the previous chapters are posted here in my Diaries or at my blog.

(h/t to Crane-Station for the ideas to spice up my blog with video and music, in this case, Money by Pink Floyd)

I welcome comments and will respond as time allows. Thanks for reading.

Chapter 24

Neoliberalism Is A Cancer

The present-day term neoliberal refers back to the original liberals, the new merchant class and industrial capitalists in 18th century England who formed the Liberal Party.They had a lot of money, but no voice in Parliament, which was dominated by the land owning aristocracy. They were followers of Adam Smith who wrote their Bible, The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776.

Neoliberals were the original capitalists. They believed in the free market, reasoning that the market would regulate itself with the invisible hand that Adam Smith described as follows:

As every individual, therefore, endeavours as much as he can both to employ his capital in the support of domestick industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it . By preferring the support of domestiek to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the publick good.

He expounded further on the invisible hand in his Dictum,

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.

The invisible hand is self-interest, or greed, and faith in greed to benefit society has to be one of dumbest and most destructive ideas in history. Consider, for example, the slave trade during the 18th and 19th centuries, contemporary human trafficking and associated debt slavery, child labor, monopolies, and environmental pollution.

History has taught us that without strict government regulation and oversight, greedy, amoral, and ruthless financial predators will enrich themselves at the expense of others. They will create monopolies that eliminate competition through acquisitions, mergers, and predatory pricing schemes. They will exploit people and natural resources to maximize short-term profits. In short, they are a ravaging cancer that destroys everything it touches leaving behind a vast wasteland devastated by flash floods of tears.

Consider, for example, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on Saturday afternoon, March 25, 1911 in which 146 employees died and 71 were injured. The factory was located on the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of the Asch Building. Max Blanck and Isaac Harris owned the business, which produced women’s blouses, or shirtwaists as they were called. They employed approximately 500 women, mostly young immigrants who worked 9-hour shifts weekdays and a 7-hour shift on Saturdays.

According to the Fire Marshal, the fire was caused by a smoldering cigarette butt in a clothing-scrap bin located beneath a table on the 8th floor. Unfortunately for the victims of the fire, the exits to interior stairwells and exterior fire-escapes were locked shut because the managers did not want any employees taking breaks or leaving early.

A few people were rescued by elevator operators, but the elevators ceased to function after only three trips to the 9th floor when the elevator rails buckled from the heat. Although firemen quickly arrived at the scene, they were unable to reach the women because their ladders only extended to the 6th floor.

William G. Shepherd, a UPI reporter who witnessed the fire phoned in details while watching the tragedy unfold. At the other end of the telephone, young Roy Howard telegraphed Shepherd’s story to the nation’s newspapers. Shepherd’s report was first published in the Milwaukee Journal, on March 27, 1911. Shepherd said,

I was walking through Washington Square when a puff of smoke issuing from the factory building caught my eye. I reached the building before the alarm was turned in. I saw every feature of the tragedy visible from outside the building. I learned a new sound–a more horrible sound than description can picture. It was the thud of a speeding, living body on a stone sidewalk.

Thud—dead, thud—dead, thud—dead, thud—dead. Sixty-two thud—deads. I call them that, because the sound and the thought of death came to me each time, at the same instant. There was plenty of chance to watch them as they came down. The height was eighty feet.

The first ten thud—deads shocked me. I looked up—saw that there were scores of girls at the windows. The flames from the floor below were beating in their faces. Somehow I knew that they, too, must come down, and something within me—something that I didn’t know was there—steeled me.

I even watched one girl falling. Waving her arms, trying to keep her body upright until the very instant she struck the sidewalk, she was trying to balance herself. Then came the thud–then a silent, unmoving pile of clothing and twisted, broken limbs.

As I reached the scene of the fire, a cloud of smoke hung over the building. . . . I looked up to the seventh floor. There was a living picture in each window—four screaming heads of girls waving their arms.

“Call the firemen,” they screamed—scores of them. “Get a ladder,” cried others. They were all as alive and whole and sound as were we who stood on the sidewalk. I couldn’t help thinking of that. We cried to them not to jump. We heard the siren of a fire engine in the distance. The other sirens sounded from several directions.

“Here they come,” we yelled. “Don’t jump; stay there.”

One girl climbed onto the window sash. Those behind her tried to hold her back. Then she dropped into space. I didn’t notice whether those above watched her drop because I had turned away. Then came that first thud. I looked up, another girl was climbing onto the window sill; others were crowding behind her. She dropped. I watched her fall, and again the dreadful sound. Two windows away two girls were climbing onto the sill; they were fighting each other and crowding for air. Behind them I saw many screaming heads. They fell almost together, but I heard two distinct thuds. Then the flames burst out through the windows on the floor below them, and curled up into their faces.

The firemen began to raise a ladder. Others took out a life net and, while they were rushing to the sidewalk with it, two more girls shot down. The firemen held it under them; the bodies broke it; the grotesque simile of a dog jumping through a hoop struck me. Before they could move the net another girl’s body flashed through it. The thuds were just as loud, it seemed, as if there had been no net there. It seemed to me that the thuds were so loud that they might have been heard all over the city.

I had counted ten. Then my dulled senses began to work automatically. I noticed things that it had not occurred to me before to notice. Little details that the first shock had blinded me to. I looked up to see whether those above watched those who fell. I noticed that they did; they watched them every inch of the way down and probably heard the roaring thuds that we heard.

As I looked up I saw a love affair in the midst of all the horror. A young man helped a girl to the window sill. Then he held her out, deliberately away from the building and let her drop. He seemed cool and calculating. He held out a second girl the same way and let her drop. Then he held out a third girl who did not resist. I noticed that. They were as unresisting as if her were helping them onto a streetcar instead of into eternity. Undoubtedly he saw that a terrible death awaited them in the flames, and his was only a terrible chivalry.

Then came the love amid the flames. He brought another girl to the window. Those of us who were looking saw her put her arms about him and kiss him. Then he held her out into space and dropped her. But quick as a flash he was on the window sill himself. His coat fluttered upward—the air filled his trouser legs. I could see that he wore tan shoes and hose. His hat remained on his head.

Thud—dead, thud—dead—together they went into eternity. I saw his face before they covered it. You could see in it that he was a real man. He had done his best.

We found out later that, in the room in which he stood, many girls were being burned to death by the flames and were screaming in an inferno of flame and heat. He chose the easiest way and was brave enough to even help the girl he loved to a quicker death, after she had given him a goodbye kiss. He leaped with an energy as if to arrive first in that mysterious land of eternity, but her thud—dead came first.

The firemen raised the longest ladder. It reached only to the sixth floor. I saw the last girl jump at it and miss it. And then the faces disappeared from the window. But now the crowd was enormous, though all this had occurred in less than seven minutes, the start of the fire and the thuds and deaths.

I heard screams around the corner and hurried there. What I had seen before was not so terrible as what had followed. Up in the [ninth] floor girls were burning to death before our very eyes. They were jammed in the windows. No one was lucky enough to be able to jump, it seemed. But, one by one, the jams broke. Down came the bodies in a shower, burning, smoking—flaming bodies, with disheveled hair trailing upward. They had fought each other to die by jumping instead of by fire.

The whole, sound, unharmed girls who had jumped on the other side of the building had tried to fall feet down. But these fire torches, suffering ones, fell inertly, only intent that death should come to them on the sidewalk instead of in the furnace behind them.

On the sidewalk lay heaps of broken bodies. A policeman later went about with tags, which he fastened with wires to the wrists of the dead girls, numbering each with a lead pencil, and I saw him fasten tag no. 54 to the wrist of a girl who wore an engagement ring. A fireman who came downstairs from the building told me that there were at least fifty bodies in the big room on the seventh floor. Another fireman told me that more girls had jumped down an air shaft in the rear of the building. I went back there, into the narrow court, and saw a heap of dead girls. . . .

The floods of water from the firemen’s hose that ran into the gutter were actually stained red with blood. I looked upon the heap of dead bodies and I remembered these girls were the shirtwaist makers. I remembered their great strike of last year in which these same girls had demanded more sanitary conditions and more safety precautions in the shops. These dead bodies were the answer.

Shepherd was referring to the “Great Revolt,” a six-month strike by 60,000 women, members of the International Ladies’s Garment Workers Union in 1910, which followed an earlier strike by 20,000 union members in February of the same year against sweat shop conditions that was led by women who worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Shepherd and many others suspected the owners caused the fire in retaliation for the Great Revolt.

The owners, Blanck and Harris, faced multiple criminal charges but were acquitted by a jury on all counts, but they were found liable by another jury in a subsequent civil trial in 1913. That jury awarded $75 per deceased victim. The insurance company paid the owners about $60,000 more than the reported losses, or about $400 per casualty.

In 1913, Blanck was once again arrested for locking the door in his factory during working hours. He was fined $20.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fire (retrieved 11/29/2010).

As a result of tragic events like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, we finally figured out as a society that unchecked greed promotes monopolies, market inefficiency, exploitation, and unequal distribution of wealth. Witness the infamous robber barons of the late 19th century who accumulated vast wealth at the expense of everyone else. Neoliberalism creates a need for revolution.

Nevertheless, bad ideas – especially the ones that enrich the few at the expense of the many – like zombies, refuse to die. Unfettered capitalism is toxic, of course, and the free market enthusiasts fell out of favor during the first half on the 20th century, but unfortunately, they are back stronger than ever.

Cross-Posted at my blog and the Smirking Chimp.

Namaste: If Not Now, When? Is my intellectual property. I retain full rights to my own work. You may copy it and share it with others, but only if you credit me as the author. You may not sell or offer to sell it for any form of consideration. I retain full rights to publication.

My real name is Frederick Leatherman. I was a criminal-defense lawyer for 30 years specializing in death-penalty defense and forensics. I also was a law professor for three years.

Now I am a writer and I haul scrap for a living in this insane land.

Heh.

Namaste

Masoninblue

Eliminate Nuclear Power

9:07 am in Uncategorized by Masoninblue

Profit driven corporations in the energy business have proven that they will never place safety ahead of profits. Moreover, they also have proven that they are engines of incredibly vast power and corruption that will purchase favorable political influence, media influence, and legislation, as well as lie, cheat, steal, and murder suspected whistleblowers. Add to that the morally, ethically, and legally bankrupt neoliberal ideology currently in vogue in the federal government (and coming to a state government near you) that aggressively eliminates labor unions and regulatory oversight as it eviscerates and eliminates laws and regulatory agencies while the President and the Department of Justice always look forward, not backward, so that everyone who pays to play has, in effect, a license to commit any crime without fear of investigation or prosecution, and you have a culture of corruption that guarantees mega disasters beyond imagining.

Nevertheless, even if it were possible to eliminate all of that corruption and replace the profit motive with a safety-first motive, there still would remain the most compelling reason of all against nuclear power. I refer, of course to the nuclear-waste-disposal problem.

Where the fuck do you safely stash spent nuclear fuel rods, and other radioactive waste with half lives of hundreds, thousands, and in some cases hundreds of thousands of years, for example, as is true with plutonium?

No one has a satisfactory answer to that question and I don’t give a damn what reasons exist to use it, I am unalterably opposed to nuclear power. We are just going to have to learn how to manage without it.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911

9:18 am in Uncategorized by Masoninblue

Valatius inspired me to write this diary with his/her excellent post entitled, When the Socialists and Anarchists Came to Town in 1912. There is a reference in his piece to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on Saturday afternoon, March 25, 1911 in which 146 employees died and 71 were injured.

The real purpose of free trade agreements is to escape regulatory supervision, increase profits by reducing costs, and once and for all destroy labor unions by relocating businesses in foreign countries where they can exploit labor and natural resources with impunity. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 is an example of what happens when there is no regulatory oversight, labor unions, or consequences to prevent greed (AKA: the invisible hand of the marketplace) from raping, pillaging, looting, and destroying everything it touches.

The factory was located on the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of the Asch Building. Max Blanck and Isaac Harris owned the business, which produced women’s blouses, or shirtwaists as they were called in those days. They employed approximately 500 women, mostly young immigrant women who worked 9-hour shifts weekdays and a 7-hour shift on Saturdays. According to the Fire Marshal, the fire was caused by a smoldering cigarette butt in a clothing-scrap bin located beneath a table on the 8th floor. Unfortunately for the victims of the fire, the exits to interior stairwells and exterior fire-escapes were locked shut because the managers did not want any employees taking breaks or leaving early. In other words, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was a sweatshop. A few people were rescued by elevator operators, but the elevators ceased to function after only three trips to the 9th floor when the elevator rails buckled from the heat. Although firemen quickly arrived at the scene, they were unable to reach the women because their ladders only extended to the 6th floor. Warning: This is graphic and may be disturbing to some.

William G. Shepherd, a UPI reporter who witnessed the fire phoned in details while watching the tragedy unfold. At the other end of the telephone, young Roy Howard telegraphed Shepherd’s story to the nation’s newspapers. Shepherd’s report was first published in the Milwaukee Journal, on March 27, 1911. Shepherd said,

“I was walking through Washington Square when a puff of smoke issuing from the factory building caught my eye. I reached the building before the alarm was turned in. I saw every feature of the tragedy visible from outside the building. I learned a new sound–a more horrible sound than description can picture. It was the thud of a speeding, living body on a stone sidewalk.

Thud—dead, thud—dead, thud—dead, thud—dead. Sixty-two thud—deads. I call them that, because the sound and the thought of death came to me each time, at the same instant. There was plenty of chance to watch them as they came down. The height was eighty feet.

The first ten thud—deads shocked me. I looked up—saw that there were scores of girls at the windows. The flames from the floor below were beating in their faces. Somehow I knew that they, too, must come down, and something within me—something that I didn’t know was there—steeled me.

I even watched one girl falling. Waving her arms, trying to keep her body upright until the very instant she struck the sidewalk, she was trying to balance herself. Then came the thud–then a silent, unmoving pile of clothing and twisted, broken limbs.

As I reached the scene of the fire, a cloud of smoke hung over the building. . . . I looked up to the seventh floor. There was a living picture in each window—four screaming heads of girls waving their arms.

“Call the firemen,” they screamed—scores of them. “Get a ladder,” cried others. They were all as alive and whole and sound as were we who stood on the sidewalk. I couldn’t help thinking of that. We cried to them not to jump. We heard the siren of a fire engine in the distance. The other sirens sounded from several directions.
“Here they come,” we yelled. “Don’t jump; stay there.”

One girl climbed onto the window sash. Those behind her tried to hold her back. Then she dropped into space. I didn’t notice whether those above watched her drop because I had turned away. Then came that first thud. I looked up, another girl was climbing onto the window sill; others were crowding behind her. She dropped. I watched her fall, and again the dreadful sound. Two windows away two girls were climbing onto the sill; they were fighting each other and crowding for air. Behind them I saw many screaming heads. They fell almost together, but I heard two distinct thuds. Then the flames burst out through the windows on the floor below them, and curled up into their faces.

The firemen began to raise a ladder. Others took out a life net and, while they were rushing to the sidewalk with it, two more girls shot down. The firemen held it under them; the bodies broke it; the grotesque simile of a dog jumping through a hoop struck me. Before they could move the net another girl’s body flashed through it. The thuds were just as loud, it seemed, as if there had been no net there. It seemed to me that the thuds were so loud that they might have been heard all over the city.

I had counted ten. Then my dulled senses began to work automatically. I noticed things that it had not occurred to me before to notice. Little details that the first shock had blinded me to. I looked up to see whether those above watched those who fell. I noticed that they did; they watched them every inch of the way down and probably heard the roaring thuds that we heard.

As I looked up I saw a love affair in the midst of all the horror. A young man helped a girl to the window sill. Then he held her out, deliberately away from the building and let her drop. He seemed cool and calculating. He held out a second girl the same way and let her drop. Then he held out a third girl who did not resist. I noticed that. They were as unresisting as if he were helping them onto a streetcar instead of into eternity. Undoubtedly he saw that a terrible death awaited them in the flames, and his was only a terrible chivalry.
Then came the love amid the flames. He brought another girl to the window. Those of us who were looking saw her put her arms about him and kiss him. Then he held her out into space and dropped her. But quick as a flash he was on the window sill himself. His coat fluttered upward—the air filled his trouser legs. I could see that he wore tan shoes and hose. His hat remained on his head.

Thud—dead, thud—dead—together they went into eternity. I saw his face before they covered it. You could see in it that he was a real man. He had done his best.

We found out later that, in the room in which he stood, many girls were being burned to death by the flames and were screaming in an inferno of flame and heat. He chose the easiest way and was brave enough to even help the girl he loved to a quicker death, after she had given him a goodbye kiss. He leaped with an energy as if to arrive first in that mysterious land of eternity, but her thud—dead came first.

The firemen raised the longest ladder. It reached only to the sixth floor. I saw the last girl jump at it and miss it. And then the faces disappeared from the window. But now the crowd was enormous, though all this had occurred in less than seven minutes, the start of the fire and the thuds and deaths.

I heard screams around the corner and hurried there. What I had seen before was not so terrible as what had followed. Up in the [ninth] floor girls were burning to death before our very eyes. They were jammed in the windows. No one was lucky enough to be able to jump, it seemed. But, one by one, the jams broke. Down came the bodies in a shower, burning, smoking—flaming bodies, with disheveled hair trailing upward. They had fought each other to die by jumping instead of by fire.

The whole, sound, unharmed girls who had jumped on the other side of the building had tried to fall feet down. But these fire torches, suffering ones, fell inertly, only intent that death should come to them on the sidewalk instead of in the furnace behind them.

On the sidewalk lay heaps of broken bodies. A policeman later went about with tags, which he fastened with wires to the wrists of the dead girls, numbering each with a lead pencil, and I saw him fasten tag no. 54 to the wrist of a girl who wore an engagement ring. A fireman who came downstairs from the building told me that there were at least fifty bodies in the big room on the seventh floor. Another fireman told me that more girls had jumped down an air shaft in the rear of the building. I went back there, into the narrow court, and saw a heap of dead girls. . . .

The floods of water from the firemen’s hose that ran into the gutter were actually stained red with blood. I looked upon the heap of dead bodies and I remembered these girls were the shirtwaist makers. I remembered their great strike of last year in which these same girls had demanded more sanitary conditions and more safety precautions in the shops. These dead bodies were the answer.”

* * *

These horrific consequences of unchecked capitalism stem from the desire to increase profits by lowering the costs of production and eliminating competition. That is to say, they are caused by greed. As a result of tragic events like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, we finally figured out as a society that greed promotes exploitation rather than market efficiency. Witness the institution of slavery and the infamous robber barons of the late 19th century who accumulated vast wealth at the expense of everyone else. Nevertheless, bad ideas – especially the ones that enrich the few at the expense of the many – like zombies, refuse to die. Unfettered capitalism is toxic, of course, and the free market enthusiasts fell out of favor during the first half on the 20th century, but now they are back and we have targets on our backs.