Capitalism’s dog days

It looked like a student club was having a yard sale outside the business building at UNR. College-aged women sat in lawn chairs near tables piled high with stuff. Books, blue jeans, belts and frying pans.

As I walked by, a shopper pulled a shirt off the table and held it up.

“It’s all free!” one student told another.

“Free?” I asked no one in particular.

Then I saw the sign: “Reno Free Store.”

“Would you like some juice or an energy bar?” a student offered. “They’re free.”

I helped myself to an energy bar, peanut butter. I felt happy that students were doing something, in the words of Kalle “Culture Jam” Lasn, a little “wild.”

I walked on to the business building, where a polite young man in designer jeans held the door for me.

“Abolish capitalism!” he said.

“You want to? And you’re headed into the business building?”

“No, that’s what their sign said.”

He continued.

“Abolish the thing that made our country great!”

I smelled something dark in his sarcasm.

“Did the Reno Free Store make you angry?”

“No, it makes me laugh,” he said, walking off to a classroom. “Ignorance is bliss, I guess.”

Whether or not capitalism makes a country great seems up for debate in some circles.

For starters, there’s South America, where lefty leaders like Hugo Chávez call for nationalization of industry. Last week, Bush toured the Latin American circuit like an evangelist for capitalism, preaching from the gospel of free trade.

I have a hard time imagining what free trade looks like. I’ve only lived in this country. U.S. trade is far from free. Government entities dole out land and money to corporations who repay the favor with election season tithes. Taxpayers fund a system that makes it possible for companies like Wal-Mart to not provide affordable health plans to employees, among other things.

Last week, Bush was questioned about Chavez’s plan.

“I strongly believe that government-run industry is inefficient and will lead to more poverty,” Bush told reporters. “I believe if the state tries to run the economy, it will enhance poverty and reduce opportunity.”

So I guess we don’t have to worry about Bush running our economy.

By the way, don’t you admire his brave attempt to make nice with our neighbors to the south? His visit was met with protest marches and anti-U.S. signs featuring George W. with a bushy Hitler ‘stache and festooned with swastikas. The New York Times ran a photograph of police beating the shit out of a protester. Ouch.

So Bush wasn’t preaching to the choir. Perhaps that’s why he felt compelled to remind Brazilians that U.S. aid to the region is about $1.6 billion annually.

Conquer ’em with kindness! Please yes. Throw money at the “workers and peasants” (Bush’s own words—spoken in Spanish, no less) who feel they’ve not been compensated for the, well, theft of their nation’s natural resources. Food and housing projects are so so much cheaper than bombing the oppressed peasants until they happily embrace freedom. (Bonus: No civilian casualties to provoke violent insurgencies. Peasants with houses and full tummies are happy peasants who don’t strap explosives to family members.)

Damn, war is expensive. Bush proposed $484.1 billion in defense spending for 2008. That’s up $49 billion from this year and doesn’t cover ongoing military ops in Iraq and Afghanistan or funding for the Department of Energy to play with new nukes. Whew.

Bush still spends like a rich kid with his daddy’s credit card. Taxpayers foot the monthly statements.

I keep waiting for people to stand up. Resist.

Then again, maybe that’s what the Reno Free Store was all about.