How U.S. Capitalism Works: House Painters That Cover the Earth

“I heard you paint houses.”

“Yes, sir, I do. I also do my own carpentry.”

Those were among the first words exchanged between Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and his “house painter,” Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) in Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.”

Of course, in the Mob’s parlance, “painting houses” refers to the blood splashed on walls when hitmen like Frank Sheeran do their work. “Carpentry” refers to getting rid of the resulting corpses. Sheeran does both.

I was reminded of “The Irishman” recently, when Antony Blinken all but admitted that the United States was responsible for the terrorist attack that (against international law) destroyed civilian infrastructure represented by Nord Stream pipelines One and Two.

Blinken said the attack presented America with a “tremendous” business opportunity – to sell natural gas to Europe.

His remarks made me realize first that the U.S. is in fact the most active “house painter” and “carpenter” in the world. Like the Sherwin-Williams’ claim, it “covers the earth” – with hitman efficiency. It gets rid of bodies by just not counting them — or at least by vastly undercounting them.

Think about the paint spilled.

“America” is responsible for virtually ALL the wars waged on the planet since WWII: Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Ukraine. . . That’s the short list. And those wars have taken millions of lives – turned walls bloodred across the globe.

Remember, it’s not China that started and funded those conflicts. Neither is it Russia. It’s the United States.

But that’s not the end of the “Irishman” connections. Think about the logic behind the Nord Stream attacks. It’s how gangsters operate. It’s what “our” government does. It’s what capitalists do routinely instead of competing according to free market theory.

In fact, few of the most powerful among them seem to even like “natural” marketplace dynamics where business concerns succeed by producing a better product or service. No, they prefer to adopt mob tactics and simply whack their competitors. They deconstruct their rivals’ infrastructure.

Do you remember this scene from “The Irishman?” It’s where “Whispers” (“not that Whispers; the other one”) asks Frank Sheeran to do what’s necessary to put a competitor’s laundry business out of commission.  Here’s the exchange:

Note the similarities between Whispers’ request and Blinken’s intimations about U.S. involvement in Nord Streams’ destructions.

Like Blinken, Whispers is a business front man. He’s financing an Atlantic City laundry service that’s making money hand over fist.

Face it: Blinken is also a front man for oil, gas, and arms industry concerns.

However, both men have powerful competitors. Whispers’ challenger calls itself Cadillac Linen. It’s located in Delaware. It’s underselling Whispers’ business and threatening to take away its customers.

That’s like Russia and China for Blinken. They’re both outcompeting the United States in energy and manufacturing. That has Blinken, Wall Street, and powerful oil and gas concerns exactly in Whispers’ position.  As they keep insisting, they’re “more than a little concerned.”

In both cases, something must be done. But what? Whispers’ could lower his prices and upgrade his product to better compete. According to capitalist theory, that’s the way to win back his hotel and restaurant clientele now seeking lower costs and superior service with Cadillac Linen.

For his part, Blinken could simply recognize that Russia and China now enjoy overwhelming logistical benefits. They’re both much closer than the U.S. to the main buyers of their products.Their shipping costs are therefore lower. There’s nothing nefarious about that. Capitalist theory calls it “comparative advantage.”

Additionally, with its higher “social wages” (i.e., government subsidies in areas of food, rent, healthcare, entertainment, education, etc.) China can easily outcompete America with lower wages for its workers.

Under its present form of capitalism (with all but non-existent “social wages”) the U.S. simply can’t keep up. To get back in the game, Blinken’s handlers could decide to match China’s social programs to compensate for lower wages. They could arrange for workers to have nationalized health care and free college tuition. They could institute nationwide rent control and stop treating food and medicine as commodities instead of as human rights.

Alternatively, and according to capitalist theory, they could simply accept the fact that they can’t compete, back out of the relevant markets and seek prosperity elsewhere.

That’s the way the system’s supposed to work.    

But no. Both Whispers and Blinken instead choose bombing over free market competition. Whispers wants Sheeran to do to Cadillac what he and the U.S. army did to Berlin during World War II. He wants him to destroy his competitors absolutely.

Blinken evidently chose something similar relative to Russia’s Nord Stream I and II. All fingers point to U.S. involvement in the pipelines’ destruction. After all, “Dark Brandon” Biden had threatened to do the deed. Additionally, more than any other suspects, America had the motivation and capacity for performing the task in question. As Blinken’s words indicate, Wall Street, and U.S. energy concerns, and America itself benefit most from the destruction of Nord Stream I and II. As Blinken admits, the destruction of Russia’s property is “tremendous” for America.

It’s hard to believe the United States wasn’t responsible.

In their recent co-authored book, The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power, Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad compare the United States to the Mafia. Their identification is more than apt. Like the Godfather, U.S. mobsters demand that everyone bend the knee or else. Their answer to most problems of market competition involves threats, sanctions, guns, and bombs – almost never lower prices, product improvement, increased social wages, or diplomacy. Instead, in the form of death squads, hitmen like Frank Sheeran, and lethal drones, they continue to “cover the earth” with red just like the Sherwin-Williams ad says.

China especially is adopting a different tack. And if it can avoid being provoked into responding in kind to American Mafia tactics, it will probably come out on top.

China’s just better at capitalist dynamics than the U.S. or E.U.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

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