Seeds, Songs, and Being Scared: Intro to Saving Capitalism

Welcome to the start of CST Fourth Quarter here on Gillian Thinks Thoughts! It's been a long and exciting ride here, with different essays, posts about works we've studied in class, and of course, the SAMO's. Now, you'll be getting to follow a series of blogs focused on the book Saving Capitalism by Robert Reich, whose title is pretty self explanatory. This book, along with the four blogs, are part of a larger project we are completing in CST as our Semester 2 final, entitled Gallery of Conscience.

For this project, we were given the option of many different non-fiction books covering many different social themes, from prostitution to ableism to the environment to feminism. I chose to read Saving Capitalism for a couple of reasons. The first, and simplest is that when I asked Josh to be my partner, he replied "Yeah, but we have to do the capitalism book. I already bought it."

Robert Reich, a professor of Public Policy at the University of
California Berkeley, has served in three national administrations
and authored fourteen books. 

I guess if I had enough of a lack of interest in the book I would have worked on my own or found a different partner, but I agreed without hesitation. I hope to study a multitude of humanities topics in college: art history, philosophy, religion, classics, history, Italian (I am basically the concept of liberal arts embodied in a human) ... but one of the topics I'm really considering a major in is political science. I know I want to go to law school, and having a basic understanding of economics will be important no matter what kind of law I decide to go into. But if it's related to politics, the study of money and its flow in our country will be essential. Especially if I hope to make some kind of impact on the economy and ensuring that everyone has the access and resources they need and deserve, I must have an understanding of capitalism, why it used to work, why it isn't now, and how it can be saved.

Some of the topics in this book blew me away, even though I'm only about a quarter through with it. What amazed me most (not in a good way) was the information Reich provided about "Monsanto, the biotech corporation, owns the key genetic traits in more than 90 percent of the soybeans planted by farmers in the United States and 80 percent of the corn" (34).

This video gives a great background on Monsanto.
Source: Youtube 

No, you did not read that wrong. Yes. A corporation literally OWNS genetic information of crops that are a massive part of America's economy and livelihood, and they can do so just because they created a "patent" on their genetically modified seeds. The way Reich described how Monsanto takes advantage of farmers just seemed so wrong to me. The seeds sold by Monsanto are genetically modified to resist pesticides that are used to kill insects that may feed on the crops. However, the seeds don't reproduce the way natural ones do, so farmers must buy more and more. Reich used the word "hooked" and I think it fits perfectly: it's like a drug to the farmers now. It weakens them, and strengthens the corporation. It's like a parasite or a virus.

The whole idea of property rights, beyond the seeds, fascinated me, especially as a maker of creative works. Back when I released my EP of original music in October, my dad, a real estate lawyer, made sure I submitted my songs to the US Copyright Office to ensure that no one could copy my lyrics or melodies. But I have experienced oddities as a songwriter before. A small piece of a melody I wrote freshman year, I heard that same melody in a popular country song by Maddie & Tae. Obviously Maddie & Tae did not steal this melody from me; they don't know who I am and they have never heard this song (it's not on the EP). But it makes me consider the question, how can you own a melody? Anyone can create it. It's really just a question of who patents it first. There is no way for me to prove that I wrote my song before they wrote theirs.

The song "Fly" by Maddie & Tae that has a similar
melody line as one of the songs I wrote a while ago.

The other part of that is that Maddie and Tae are very famous (you might know "Girl in a Country Song" which is honestly amazing), and I am far from it. They have more power and more money in the music industry. This story is analogous to how our market works in terms of property rights, and basically everything else. Whoever has the most money will, without a doubt, have tremendous amounts of power. It can be tied into politics even to change policies in the favor of the wealth, by supporting certain candidates or lobbying a certain cause. Many of these corporations even have previous politicians working high up in their offices.

Many of my reactions while reading this book are "Oh no" "Wait, what?" "WHY IS THIS ALLOWED?" "I'M SCARED" and a variety of profanity. But it's really just crazy that I didn't know any of this, even as a person who considers herself very socially aware. It's scary to know how much there in wrong in our country, but it's also important to know in the first place. And being scared is good too; it means I care.


  1. Keep in mind that Reich presents one perspective of capitalism - maybe one of your blogs will consider the other?


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