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There isn't a single political issue that isn't deeply affected and structured by the logic of capitalism.  If this is true, then it entails that capitalism is the ground of all other political issues.  This doesn't mean that these issues can be reduced to questions of economy, just that economy influences all of these issues and plays a key role in how they are structured.  Understanding what capitalism is is therefore vital to all political engagement.  Failure to understand the nature of capitalism leads to two things:  1) pursuing policy prescriptions that further entrench oppression, exploitation, and bigotry, or 2) treating symptoms rather than causes.  Just as you don't cure a cold by taking Nyquil, but only suppress its symptoms, a great deal of political activism in our contemporary age amounts to little more than taking Nyquil.

A lot of people have a very vague understanding of what capitalism is.  This diary is intended to contribute to rectifying that and discussing how capitalism relates to a number of political issues that are of greatest concern to us as progressives.  My hope that is that it will contribute to more clear sighted activism and better strategy in responding to issues.  I apologies in advance for the length of this diary.  There's so much to say, so much to understand, and I haven't said it nearly well enough nor have I even begun to scratch the surface.

1)  Capitalism is not "buying and owning things", nor is a capitalist merely someone who buys and owns things.  Once money came into existence, there hasn't been an economy in history where people haven't bought and owned things.  This includes socialist economies.  Nor is everyone who lives in a capitalist system a capitalist.

A capitalist is something very specific and it's important to understand this.  A capitalist is someone who uses their money to make money.  This is done in a variety of ways.  It's done by buying cheap in one place and selling high in another.  It's done by owning property and renting it to others.  It's done by earning interest on money lent to others or by investing.  It's done by organizing labor in such a way that more is earned through the sales of items produced than by the cost of producing those products.

While all of us live in a capitalist economic system, very few of us are capitalists, or are only capitalists in a very limited sense.  If the money you earn as a laborer is used primarily to buy goods you use to live, you're not behaving as a capitalist.  The capitalist is someone who uses her money to make more money, not someone who uses her money to buy food, shelter, transportation, entertainment, etc.  These days many of us are limited capitalists in the sense that we have 401's and 403's where we invest money for a retirement, but unlike full blown capitalists, we largely still sell our labor as a way of getting a wage to live on and don't live on our investments alone.  Most of us are workers, not capitalists, and have no alternative but to sell our labor to get the wage we require to live.

2)  While there are certainly greedy capitalists, capitalism is not primarily driven by greed.  The thesis that capitalism is driven by greed is one of my biggest pet peeves here on Dailykos, because it fundamentally fails to understand why capitalism functions as it does.  The idea seems to be something like this:

Capitalists are greedy people that selfishly don't care about others.  In other words, the capitalist is a morally flawed person.  If we could persuade the capitalist not to be selfish, then we could overcome the injustices wrought by capitalism.
The problem with this line of thought is two-fold:  First, it fails to recognize that the "good capitalist" is not a person who enjoys his wealth, but rather re-invests his wealth to make more wealth.  To be sure, there are plenty of capitalists that enjoy their wealth through luxurious living, but this is a by-product of their capitalist activity, not the essence of that activity.  A "good capitalist" is, rather, a bit like a Buddhist or Christian monk that forgoes the consumption of his wealth.  Instead, he re-invests that wealth to make more wealth.  This is the essence of capitalism:  re-investing the profit you've made to make more profit.  Unlike fabled kings of the past that aimed to live lives of decadent consumption and luxury, the capitalist is a strange creature in that he limits the consumption of his wealth so as to invest it in making more wealth.

This brings us to the second problem:  The reason the capitalist does this isn't a matter of his personal greed-- though this can enter into the picture in a non-essential sort of way --but because the nature of capitalist economy forces him to do this.  The capitalist has no choice but to re-invest his money to make more money.  Businesses are required to show growth over the previous quarter every quarter.  The reason for this is simple.  If a business does not show growth it loses its shareholders and investors.  If it loses its shareholders, it is edged out or becomes extinct.  The only way a business can stay afloat is therefore by continuing to grow.  Put a bit differently, capitalists behave the way they do because of other capitalists.  If they don't continue to grow and do everything it takes to grow, they're competitors will use this to their advantage and will edge them out so as to "corner the market".  Competition between capitalists is thus a bit like an arms race.  Just as the states involved in an arms race might prefer not to invent and produce new and ever more lethal weapons, they are nonetheless compelled to do so because the other state is doing so and they have to defend themselves.

I think this is one of the most overlooked things among American progressives-- who by and large lack an economically informed political perspective --in their discussions of the abuses of capitalism.  Our tendency is to speak of the Bill Gates's of the world as suffering from a moral deficiency, failing to recognize that the dynamics of capitalism are structural, not the result of a set of moral attitudes.  As a result, we end up adopting ridiculous political strategies.  We think that if we just morally edified these people things would be different, when the real thing we need to do is address these structural dynamics.

3)  Point 2 is the reason that capitalism is a bit like a form of madness or a nightmare.  It's like the bus in Jan de Bont's film Speed, where things can't slow down or moderate themselves even though we want them to.  Among all the economic systems throughout history-- ranging from "gift economies" among hunter-gatherers to feudal systems --capitalism is unique in that it is the only system premised on endless growth and expenditure, rather than satisfaction of needs.  In feudal systems, for example, the aim was not to produce more than was produced the previous year, but to produce enough to sustain the serfs and the appetites of the lords.  Feudal systems, like any system, might attempt to produce enough to prepare for hard times such as a drought or siege, but they didn't aim to grow for the sake of growing.  Likewise, in gift economies, the aim is to give back, to push one's goods away so as to form social bonds, rather than to accumulate.  Capitalism differs from all other systems in that it's aim is not the satisfaction of needs, but perpetual expansion.  "More!  More!  More!", says capitalism, "even when we don't need it!"  

Again, this drive to perpetual expansion and growth doesn't arise from a "personal preference" on the part of capitalists.  Rather, it is a structural feature of capitalism.  It's a feature, not a glitch.

4)  Point 3 has incalculable political consequences and is the reason that capitalism is the organizing horizon of all political issues today.  I'll outline a few of these, but there are many more.  

a)  First and foremost, these dynamics of capitalism entail that over time wages and benefits for workers will always decline.  Remember, every business has to grow.  At a certain point, a capitalist's product saturates the market and isn't able to make as much profit as it was in the past.  For example, people already have it as in the case of a car and don't need a new one or another one.  In response to this problem, the capitalist can adopt one of three strategies (and usually uses all three):

(i)  The capitalist might look for new markets as in the case of McDonald's exporting its product to Japan, Israel, or Saudi Arabia.

(ii)  The capitalist might look for ways to render its existing products obsolete so as to encourage people to buy their new product.  This is done by coming out with new models of cars, smartphones, or gaming systems, for example, or in the pharmaceutical industry, through the invention of new illnesses like "restless leg syndrome".  Then there are products that approach "perfect" capitalist commodities, like cigarettes because people become addicted to them (though for the capitalist there's always the question of how to create new addicts), or inescapable credit card debt that turns people into eternal interest creating machines like the bodies in The Matrix, or the entertainment and fashion industry where new films, games, and styles of clothing and food approach the creation of endlessly expanding markets.

(iii)  Finally, the favorite of capitalism lies in reducing the cost of production.  If the cost of production can be reduced, then more profit can be made from commodities and the business can expand.  There are a number of strategies capitalists can devise to reduce the cost of production.  The capitalist can influence governments to get rid of costly regulations and tariffs that cut into their profits.  We recently saw an example of the effects of this strategy in the explosion of the Texas fertilizer plant.  The capitalist can also find cheaper materials through which to produce their products, thereby increasing their profit.  This, for example, is why we see scandal after scandal in the restaurant and food industries.  For example, if we think of the mad cow disease epidemics, why feed cows with costly grains, when you can simply feed cows to cows?  

Finally, capitalists can decrease the cost of production by modernizing businesses through technology (thereby cutting wage paying jobs), or outsourcing to other countries where labor is cheaper, or by cutting benefits and wages.  Given this last strategy, the general strategy of capitalism will be in the direction of a decreased standard of living for the vast majority of people.  Notice also that these strategies of decreasing labor costs in production work in conjunction with one another.  For example, given that most people are highly reluctant to accept decreases in wages and benefits, how can the capitalist get people to accept such things?  Through the threat of modernization through technology or outsourcing.  Given the choice between no job at all and a job with reduced salary and benefits, the worker chooses the latter.

b)  Of course, reducing the cost of labor produces a predicament for the capitalist.  In the United States we have this myth that says that it is capitalists that create wealth through their entrepreneurial activity and the way it creates jobs.  This gets things upside down.  First, insofar as capitalism is driven less and less by labor, but rather increasingly through financial capital produced through loans, credit cards, investment on the stock market, etc., it simply isn't true that all capitalist investment increases jobs.  What is good for the capitalist is no longer good for everyone else (sadly the belief that what is good for the capitalist is good for everyone-- "a rising tide lifts all boats" --is a belief shared by both republican and democratic leaders).  Second, it is workers that create wealth both through their labor and through the expenditure of their wages on commodities.  

Without people to buy goods, there's no need to create more jobs because the demands of consumption just aren't there.  For this reason, capitalism is inherently unstable.  Over time the gap between rich and poor increases because the capitalist must find a way to reduce the costs of production so as to maximize profit.  As a result, workers are able to consume less.  The economy then goes into a tailspin that threatens capitalist and worker alike.  There is no capitalism that isn't prone to repeated crisis as a result of a growing gulf between the ultra-wealthy and those that are increasingly pushed into near subsistence living (which today is true even of much of the middle class that are a paycheck away from financial ruin should they lose their job, home due to natural disaster, or major illness).

c)     If financial collapse doesn't occur in this way, it happens through workers pushing for more luxury, better living conditions, better working conditions, and more benefits.  Workers, of course, deplore their working conditions and want more.  They thus organize and demand more benefits and better wages on pain of refusal to work.  We're often successful in these struggles and over time our standard of living rises.  However, as our standard of living rises, the profit of capitalists decreases.  As a consequence, capitalists must cast about for ways to decrease production costs.  Towards this end, they use geography to their advantage, taking production elsewhere on the globe where labor is cheaper and there are fewer labor and environmental regulations.  

Jobs thus disappear where the production began (think of car companies shutting down in Michigan) and the process begins elsewhere (for example, India).  Of course, because wages have dried up in the original geographical location, the capitalist must now find new markets.  We thus get the same pattern repeating over and over again:  Standards of living begin to rise as workers push back, profit decreases, capitalist production shifts elsewhere.  Capitalism behaves in a way that is thus like the aliens in Roland Emmerich's film Independence Days.  Just as the aliens move from planet to planet taking all the resources in the area, capitalism moves from geographical location to geographical location, taking cheap labor where they can and moving on when labor is no longer cheap.  On and on it goes.

Understanding the global nature of contemporary capitalism is vital to understanding American politics.  I'll say more about this below, but because of the global reach of capitalism, politics is no longer restricted to the national.  It all unfolds in a global context and this global dimension is a huge part of what allows the capitalist to exercise as much power as he does in national politics.

d)  Cultural Politics:  Capitalism has both its emancipatory dimension and its oppressive dimension.  From the standpoint of the capitalist, if two people can produce the same amount through their labor, there's no reason not to treat them as equal.  It's no accident that we witness a general tendency towards democracy and universal suffrage beginning around the 18th century in Europe with the rise of modern capitalism.  Within capitalism there is a tendency, over time, towards formal equality (not material equality) because all that matters is whether or not workers can produce.  Hence you get the emancipation of oppressed minorities such as African-Americans and women, the disappearance of monarchial systems of governance, and the erosion of ethnic differences and segregation over time in capitalism.

There is, however, a dark side to this as well.  Remember that bit about workers organizing so as to improve their labor conditions and standard of living?  Capitalists, of course, are not very happy about this because they want to maximize their profit.  To the same degree that capitalism tends towards universal suffrage, it also tends towards unleashing ethnic hatreds, racism, bigotry, and sexism.  Why?  For two reasons: First, as the standard of living decreases, and because the dynamics of capitalism are hard to discern for the average person because we tend to think in terms of personal relationships with others rather than large-scale patterns, people begin to cast about for scape-goats when times get bad.  It's no accident that racism is worse in the South than the North, for example, because economic conditions are worse.  Folks down South thus blame the black man, rather than looking at the dynamics of the capitalist system.  After all, it's easier to lynch a black man and blame him for all your woes, than it is to take on a global economic system.  While bigotry can't be reduced to economics, flagging economic conditions certainly intensify racism.  This is why a huge part of fighting racism also involves addressing economic conditions.  It's not enough simply to "raise the consciousness" of people or debunk their racist beliefs, it's also necessary to address economic powerlessness.

This brings me to my second point, workers organizing.  Capitalists use bigotry between different groups (men and women, straight and GLBT, different ethnic groups, etc) as a way of undermining the ability of people to organize.  Groups are pitted against one another, either blaming each other for their own economic woes or arguing about who has it worse and which issue is more important, and spend their time fighting amongst each other rather than organizing to improve their standard of living.  General paralysis occurs in politics.

e)  More Cultural Politics:  Religious Fundamentalism and Government Corruption  The dynamics of capitalism lead to a general corrosion of government over time and the disappearance of true representation.  Whether it's the need for massive campaign contributions from capitalists to fund campaigns leading to the indenture of politicians to business interests rather than the interests of the people, the ability of big business to wield media as a weapon that forces politicians to capitulate to their will lest they be smeared across the airwaves, or Faustian bargains on the part of politicians between retaining some jobs here lest business move elsewhere on the planet, people increasingly lose their representation in government, one of their only sources of power.

Where government is no longer responsive to the people, where people become bare life subject to the whims of business interests with little alternative or ability to do better their circumstances, and where people don't understand the dynamics of why life is this way, a certain segment of the population turns to religious fundamentalism.  "Only a God can save us now", they say.  There are a couple reasons for this.  On the one hand, because capitalism has an inborn tendency to erode personal relationships, ethnic identities, and traditions, part of the population recoils from the aimlessness and confusion of the world in which they live and engages in a futile effort to retain their tradition (which is their identity and source of meaning at all costs).  On the other hand, denied any real power in the world, witnessing again and again the failure of government representation and protests to effect justice and change, they feel as if God is the only thing they have left.  Where economic conditions are bad and where people feel as if they have no political power, religious fundamentalism intensifies.  As if things weren't bad enough, we now get the mess of religious cultural politics and endless debates over whether evolution is true and should be taught in schools, whether women should have choice and contraceptives should be covered by insurance, whether GLBT folk should be able to get married, and so on.  Part of addressing religious fundamentalism thus involves responding to economic issues and economic disempowerment.

f)  Climate Change  Because capitalism is premised on perpetual expansion, it is necessarily at odds with the climate.  Capitalism will pursue every opportunity it can find in the pursuit of capital.  To be sure, some of these opportunities will lie in the direction of "green technologies", but many others will lie in the direction of destructive technologies such as fossil fuels, the exploitation of rain forests, the unwise use of disappearing water resources, and so on.  If one country or set of countries doesn't do it, another will.  It's like a game of whack-a-mole.  We solve a problem here, but it pops up again elsewhere.  Likewise, because capitalism produces more than it needs by its very nature, it also leads to population growth.  Not only has there been a "hockey stick" with regard to climate change, there's been one for population growth as well.  Increased population, of course, means the need for greater resources to sustain those populations.  This means the need for more fuel, more materials for building homes, roads, and cities, the need for more food and therefore the burning of more fuel and the use of destructive fertilizers and pesticides, and so on.  Endless expansion necessarily comes in conflict with limited resources, leading to the general destruction of the planet or the greatest existential threat we've ever faced in the short existence of humanity.

We can expect a few things from the growing climate, energy, and water crisis.  As these things intensify, there will be massive economic turmoil.  That economic turmoil, like all economic turmoil, will lead to an intensification of bigotries of all kinds, as well as an increase in religious fundamentalisms.  If your central concerns lie in a struggle against bigotry and fundamentalism, then you should also be an environmentalist.  All these things are wrapped up inside one another.  Food scarcity produced by drought and diminishing water and energy reserved, will also lead to large migrations, new forms of oppression, and warfare over limited resources.  

Capitalism and the dynamics of capitalism are at the heart of all these issues.  It is therefore crucial for us progressives to be clear about these things so we can determine where and how it is necessary to intervene.  A politics where one isn't clear on these matters is like a blind man groping in the dark.

Originally posted to JosephK74 on Tue May 28, 2013 at 11:52 AM PDT.

Also republished by Anti-Capitalist Chat and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  an excellent summation (9+ / 0-)

    A lot of your points have been said in bits and pieces elsewhere, but this connects the dots nicely. Well done.

    You..ought to be out raising hell. This is the fighting age. Put on your fighting clothes. -Mother Jones

    by northsylvania on Tue May 28, 2013 at 01:24:40 PM PDT

  •  A very good post, but you ran into a (13+ / 0-)

    pet peeve of mine which I will chase up, but everything else is very good.

    My pet peeve occurs here:

    A capitalist is something very specific and it's important to understand this.  A capitalist is someone who uses their money to make money.  This is done in a variety of ways.  It's done by buying cheap in one place and selling high in another.  It's done by owning property and renting it to others.  It's done by earning interest on money lent to others or by investing.  It's done by organizing labor in such a way that more is earned through the sales of items produced than by the cost of producing those products.
    Someone who buys cheap and sells dear is not necessarily a capitalist and for that matter lending at interest existed earlier than the capitalist system; this existed in pre-capitalist modes based upon trade and mercantilism, e.g., Venice during its years as a trading and military power. That is a transfer of revenue from one person or class to another; that is different from capitalism.

    In fact, Smith criticises this perspective as he said that is not what ensures the wealth of nations. What distinguishes capitalism from these earlier trading economies or societies is the generalised production based upon private ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange and the aim of production and sale solely for the basis of earning a profit.

    Outside of my pet peeve, everything else is well done. We need to distinguish transfers of revenue from interest on capital advanced from profits ... I agree that people simply do not understand the nature of the capitalist system and do not understand why green capitalism is an oxymoron; even with regulation, capitalism requires vast inequality in wealth just to function, it is inherently prone to crisis due to the laws of motion of the system from any number of points. Diary tipped and rec'd and shared.

    "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

    by NY brit expat on Tue May 28, 2013 at 01:43:19 PM PDT

    •  would like to republish to anti-capitalist (8+ / 0-)

      chat, would that be ok?

      "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

      by NY brit expat on Tue May 28, 2013 at 01:45:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  There have been elements (9+ / 0-)

      of capitalism in a lot of different economic systems, but the examples you site were the exception rather than the rule.  For example, under feudalism you had lending and you had goods traded, but these were not pervasively characteristic of feudal economy.  Rather, in feudal economy people by and large produced goods for themselves and their lords.  What's different about contemporary economy is that these things have become the rule rather than the exception.  Production is now dominated around the production of commodities for exchange, rather than for personal use and as tax for lords and the church, and people by and large subsist through commodities rather than self-produced goods.  It's not that elements can't be found throughout history, but that we live in an age where this type of economy is the norm and where people are more or less compelled to behave in this way if they are to survive at all or if they aren't to pay a huge social cost, e.g., by living in a remote commune where their children lack opportunity, good medical care, etc.

      The important point I'm trying to get at is that capitalism isn't simply or primarily about buying and owning.  In nearly all economies-- with the possible exception of gift economies --people have bought things or owned things.  What's unique to capitalism is that it's organized around investing money in some form or another to produce more money, rather than simply consuming the goods that one buys with their money.  I think people miss this a lot.

      •  it is more than the production of commodities (11+ / 0-)

        for exchange as that has been around for ages in pre-capitalist forms. It is production for the purposes of obtaining a profit based upon wage labour, private ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Certainly retrograde forms of the labour relationship existed in the US south with slavery, but cotton was then sold overseas to fuel the British industrial revolution in the textile industry (cotton cannot be grown in Britain). Elements of what we call capitalism have always existed, there where whole empires based upon trade and there were city-states (I mentioned Venice, but clearly Genoa is another example). That is why buying cheap and selling dear is not capitalism and it is not profits that are produced, those are simply a transfer of revenue between merchants and purchasers. It is the generalised private ownership of means of production, etc and the use of free waged labour in the most part where production is based upon it expected profitability (or guaranteed if the state is a purchaser) forms the basis of production rather than people's needs. That is also something that distinguishes capitalism from earlier systems. Interest has existed for ages, mercantilism has existed for ages; capitalism is beyond those roles.

        "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

        by NY brit expat on Tue May 28, 2013 at 03:11:47 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Right, I say all that (7+ / 0-)

          in the diary.  There's not much disagreement between us here.  I'd merely disagree with your suggestion that lending at interest or buying cheap and selling dear aren't forms of capitalism.  They just didn't dominate in the past is all.  I'd also encourage you to remember your audience in this forum.  Your points are highly academic and are matters of debate within Marxist circles.  If you get caught up in that minutia and scholasticism in a forum such as this, you risk losing your audience and doing more harm than good.  The important thing is to understand what distinguishes capitalism in terms of how production functions.  That's a point that can be made fairly clearly without all the self-defeating of rhetoric and scholasticism of so much academic Marxist talk.

          •  I wouldn't be discussing this at such an (8+ / 0-)

            academic level if there were a large audience here; I would be tailoring wording. Since it is only a few people, I felt more at ease.

            The forms of buying cheap and selling dear and loaning at interest exist in earlier modes of production. It is the generalised production for profit which is what made capitalism what it is; mercantilism and lending are earlier forms and not the dominant ones in the system. Capitalist economic development required the creation of a domestic market which required free labour, it required production for profit. Throughout all the centuries of mercantilism and lending for interest, capitalism did not arise. We all have our pet peeves ... this is one of mine; I also do not like the moral argument wrt greed. It is not greed which is the driving force of behaviour rather it is the search for profits.

            "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

            by NY brit expat on Tue May 28, 2013 at 03:30:06 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  we don't disagree, I have written similar (6+ / 0-)

              things over the years here. :)

              "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

              by NY brit expat on Tue May 28, 2013 at 03:37:59 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  think of looking at the anti-capitalist (6+ / 0-)

                meetup and chat; it is a safe space for those seeking alternatives and we are an interesting group of people composed of social democrats, various strands of marxist and also various strands of anarchists. You can check out the meetup on Sundays at 3pm pacific and the chat runs daily.

                "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

                by NY brit expat on Tue May 28, 2013 at 03:47:05 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

            •  The greed argument is (10+ / 0-)

              the worst because it leads to really idiotic politics.  For example, it leads to the idea that if we just castigate all those bankers and show them what horrible, selfish, greedy people they are, they'll have an "altruistic" awakening and change their wicked ways.  This misses the whole reason that the system functions in the way that it does and also leads to the idea that there can be "capitalism with a smiley face" or a "benign capitalism" if only capitalists had the right moral sensibilities.  Things just don't work that way under this system.  I also find myself deeply frustrated by situating the discussion-- again in moral terms --as a debate between altruism and selfishness.  One of the things that makes Marx so great in works like Capital is that he doesn't appeal to moral reasons like altruism, but to what's in our interests.  He carefully shows how this system is structured in such a way that it isn't in the interests of the vast majority of people.  One doesn't have to have some sort of saintly, altruistic soul to understand this.  They need only see how capitalist economy systematically functions in such a way as to harm the vast majority of people on the planet and the planet itself.

              •  agreed completely! (5+ / 0-)

                Wished I had seen your marx for beginners posts earlier, I (or someone else) would have reposted them to anti-capitalist chat. We have had several discussions in the meetup and in various pieces of the chat on defining the capitalist system ... the discussion of altruism and selfishness is a liberal one; liberals do not believe that the system needs to be removed, they think that its excesses can be ameliorated. Hence that is the reason, I believe, why this argument gets raised constantly. If it was put in terms of cooperation versus competition and the social, political and cultural behaviour created by the system it would bother me far less than the greed argument. I have always found it amusing when people imply that there are good and benign capitalists and then malicious ones; it is the system that is the problem.

                "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

                by NY brit expat on Tue May 28, 2013 at 04:15:47 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Not too sure. (4+ / 0-)

                  I think it's a matter of semantics, or perhaps philosophical differences. Even as you don't see any good end from capitalism because it is based on a model that can't be sustained planet wide (very true), I also see greed, or at least egocentrism, as being one of the foundations of human character, one that has to be overcome constantly and rationally in daily life. Capitalism rewards that kind of behaviour. Always. There is no way to put a smiley face on it. Under circumstances when a growth model is to be preferred by the State, such as 19th century America, capitalism works fairly well, though abuse of individuals makes unions not only preferable but life saving, and the lack of importance put on environmental well being was and is a problem.

                  You..ought to be out raising hell. This is the fighting age. Put on your fighting clothes. -Mother Jones

                  by northsylvania on Tue May 28, 2013 at 10:40:43 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                •  However the system (5+ / 0-)

                  includes a moral/social theology that claims the exact opposite of the facts: that this system of frenetic exchange for private profit without regard to individual needs "raises all boats", makes EVERYONE richer, improves life for the entire society, etc.  That ideology allows those who pursue a lifestyle which is based on moral evil to BELIEVE THEMSELVES GOOD and defend themselves against the accusations of traditional, social-based ideologies that stress cooperation and working for the benefit of all.  Thus your Libertarian politicians, who honestly believe that putting all social goods and common resources into private hands will "improve productivity" for universal benefit.  This ideology also needs to be opposed and deconstructed.

                  •  It does, but I think ideology (3+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    cynndara, shaharazade, northsylvania

                    contributes far less to the functioning of this system than people in politically inflected humanities think.  The hallmark of modern capitalism is that it functions regardless of whether people believe in it.  Because of how things are structured, people are forced to participate in this system whether they believe in it or not.  At best, ideology critique might make people more aware of that system and therefore more willing to struggle for alternatives.  The problem is that the critiques seldom leave academia and tend to themselves function in a capitalist way.  By this I mean that they are written by other academics, for other academics, and generally function as merely a means to grow ones CV without really intervening in the broader socio-economic world.  I say this as an academic that's guilty of these things myself.

                    •  Ah, but in this (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:

                      I am NOT an academic (where I tend more towards the physical reconstruction of ancient craftwork techniques or neoplatonic philosophy).  As a grassroots political shadow-worker, I find that moral arguments are the most persuasive in teaching conventional members of the working class the error of supporting a system that is destructive to all of us and  most especially them.  Remember that as the poor are economically squeezed, they take refuge in religion.  And religion provides the language of morality by which to teach what they will not absorb when rendered in the language of science or mathematics.

                      •  i don't disagree with (2+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        qofdisks, Whatithink

                        the thesis that moral vocabularies can be effective in organizing people (though I prefer the language of interests).  My worry is that it potentially generate bad or in inefficacious political action.  It leads us to think that the system functions as it does because of the moral failings of people and thereby leads to the idea that if we just morally cultivated these people they'd behave otherwise.  I don't think, however, that the system functions as it does because of the moral attitudes of capitalists.  It's more structural than any particular set of moral beliefs.  So I would say that moral language is possibly good at promoting organization, but not so good at developing sound strategery.

              •  I don't understand your second point. The 'good (5+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Chi, congenitalefty, caul, radarlady, cynndara

                capitalist' has to compete with the 'greedy bastard capitalist' whether he wants to or not.  As you point out, the system forces him to behave this way.  Ergo - there is no 'good capitalist' or 'greedy bastard capitalist'.  The system is amoral: whatever makes money and doesn't land you in jail.

                To any wingnut: If you pay my taxes I'll give you a job.

                by ban48 on Tue May 28, 2013 at 07:31:45 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

      •  Great diary, imo. One are writing (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Chi, caul, cynndara

        about corporate capitalism (public corporations) when you speak of "no choice" in deploying capital to its maximum advantage.  Shareholders demanding the highest return, etc.  

        Companies or corporations owned by individuals or families don't have to maximize returns if they don't want to, and often don't.

        Another good distinction is between market systems & capitalism.  Proponents of capitalism often conflate the two, as if we couldn't have private property or business or business competition without capitalism.

        •  I disagree. (5+ / 0-)

          This logic isn't based on personal beliefs or values.  If those businesses want to stay afloat they have to follow this logic, otherwise the go the way of ma and pop stores when walmart comes in.

          •  It depends. In retail this is true and many other (0+ / 0-)

            sectors this is true, but not in some of the more specialized areas.  Publishing, for example, can support private businesses that can be profitable and make their own decisions.  The owners have to be willing to make less, but some are.  Most aim to cash out & go public or sell.

            But it's a small point.  The pressures you describe are overwhelming and apply almost everywhere.

            •  Only in (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              limited cases of protected market sectors or geographies can individual firms decide to make less profit in the name of some other social good.

              •  Not to debate this one too much, but individually- (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                or family-owned companies can do what they want.

                What you say is true for publicly-owned corporations.  Also for those with big debt, vc ownership, etc.  And the usual competitive pressures apply.  But owners can do what they want as long as they can stay in business.

                It's a small point and I'm regretting bringing it up.  True, though.  

                Don't want to distract from an excellent diary.

                •  I meant that in regards to small firms (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  Family ownership does not give companies a free pass against the market.  I don't bring this up to beat a dead horse, but to make the key point that "family ownership" means nothing in a competitive economy and is no protection for those with principles or moral concerns.  A family owned business faces the same competitive pressures as does a corporation.  Though a firm that is entirely run by the family (e.g. doesn't hire workers) can operate differently than one that hires workers.  For example, workers must be paid a minimum wage whereas the owner can take a loss.

                  •  I don't understand why it's so important to deny (0+ / 0-)

                    the differences between private and public corporations, which are real.  

                    My point had nothing to do with employees, minimum wages, etc.

                    Private corps can, for example, donate to the poor, without having to justify this as public relations, if that's what their owners want to do.  A public corp could not unless they could get most of their shareholders to agree - probably too difficult to do as most shareholders invest for profit.  That's all I meant.

                    On to other concerns....

      •  I'm not sure capitalism is as new and different as (0+ / 0-)

        we like to pretend.  It definitely has its roots in feudalism and can easily return to it.  All that is required is even more draconian bankruptcy laws, inherited debt, and the ability of debtees to force debtors to work to pay off debt.

        If you also go back 500 years or so where capital was pooled to pay for not factories but foreign business/military ventures and you have money pooled to create more money.  The conquistadores were in debt up to their asses and 'had no choice' but to pillage and burn to pay off their debts.  'The system forced them to act that way.'  Heck, you could even view the roman army as a business venture of pillaging 'barbarian' societies for the financial benefit of Rome.

        I also think you are being overly generous by linking liberation to capitalism, and not to the real threats of both socialism and communism.

        To any wingnut: If you pay my taxes I'll give you a job.

        by ban48 on Wed May 29, 2013 at 10:52:58 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You get capitalism (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JosephK74, AoT

          when the majority of people have to sell their labor to a second party to earn a money commodity in order to buy the necessities of life from a third party.  The transformation of society to a capitalist one was indeed a revolution for no other society in history operated under such a system.

        •  Your remarks here are (0+ / 0-)

          oneare one of the reasons I wrote this diary.  Capitalism doesn't consist simply in "pillaging things" or accumulating wealth like roman emperors.  Capitalism is something very specific, production for the sake of creating commodities that carry a profit so as to engage in yet more production (rather than consuming those goods).  Moreover, capitalism is characterized by wage labor.  In the ancient world, wage labor was a rare and shameful exception, not the universal norm. It's crucial to understand the essence of capitalism and how it differs.

          •  yes, that was the transformation: the realization (0+ / 0-)

            that money can be pooled to buy looms and set up a textile plant instead of funding a war party to kill natives and steal their gold.  It became the peaceful employment of a previously violent practice, but the roots are there.  In the ancient world, slavery was common and often functioned in lieu of wage labor.

            And, as I stated elsewhere:  remove inheritance taxes, increase the brutality of bankruptcy laws, make debt inheritable through generations, and allow debtees to force debtors to work to pay off debts, and we'll see just how different Feudalism and Capitalism really are.....

            To any wingnut: If you pay my taxes I'll give you a job.

            by ban48 on Wed May 29, 2013 at 02:24:21 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  You also realize you pulled the 'No True Scotsman (0+ / 0-)

            Defense':  Capitalism is using money to make money, except when by using money to make money you fund war parties to pillage and accumulate....
               (... because no true capitalist would do that).

            And is the specialization of labor a result of capitalism, or a result of trying to cram 6B people on this planet?  Yes, 'capitalism' with production of commodities and wage labor on the scale we have now is unprecedented, but so are the worldwide population densities we are seeing.  If everyone tried subsistence living, there would be famine & war.

            In fact, 500 years before Smith appeared, crazy muslims were writing such radical thoughts as:

            But when men render aid to each other, each one performing one of these important tasks that are beyond the measure of his own capacity, and observing the law of justice in transactions by giving greatly and receiving in the exchange of the labor of others, then the means of livelihood are realized, and the succession of the individual and the survival of the species are assured.

            To any wingnut: If you pay my taxes I'll give you a job.

            by ban48 on Wed May 29, 2013 at 03:49:20 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  That's not an example of (0+ / 0-)

              the Scotsman fallacy, just the observation that capitalism is a specific sort of thing.  I'm not disagreeing with your thesis that other social forms produce their own forms of exploitation, just pointing out that the forms of exploitation you're talking about are not capitalist.  Capitalism is not "accumulating wealth" as you seem to suggest.  Plenty of systems do that, such as despotic Roman emperors, but that doesn't make them capitalists.  A major difference in the case of the roman emperor or the feudal lord, for example, is that they actually consume the wealth they exploit from others, rather than reinvesting it.  Capitalists are peculiar in that they're a bit like ascetic monks.  They don't accumulate their wealth to consume it or live in opulence, but to invest it.

              •  The problem is you are speaking to hypotheticals (0+ / 0-)

                in terms of what a true capitalist is.  So, I guess, my first request would be to ditch the hypotheticals and name a real 'true capitalist' that meets your definitions.

                My second request would be to explain why "true capitalists" always whine about tax rates as a disincentive.  If they aren't in it for the money but simply are in it to invest and re-invest, higher tax rates should hardly slow them down.  If I have to put your hypothetical definition of a capitalist against Wall Street's whining, I'll side with Wall Street's definition of themselves.....

                To any wingnut: If you pay my taxes I'll give you a job.

                by ban48 on Wed May 29, 2013 at 06:26:28 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  My definition of (0+ / 0-)

                  capitalism isn't controversial in economic theory and political theory circles.  In other words, it's not some arbitrary invention of my own making.  As for taxes, of course they protest anything that diminishes available capital for reinvestment.  Anything that gets in the way of that, whether in the form of better working conditions, more benefits, regulations, or taxes is bitterly fought by capitalists.

                  •  ditch the theory. name one. (0+ / 0-)

                    To any wingnut: If you pay my taxes I'll give you a job.

                    by ban48 on Wed May 29, 2013 at 08:51:45 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Ban, I'm not sure (0+ / 0-)

                      what exactly you're asking for.  There are examples all throughout the diary and in the subsequent discussion.  Perhaps you could say a bit about why you're so invested in seeing Roman emperors and conquistadors as capitalists.  What are the stakes of those points for you?  How are those points relevant or significant to the discussion of the organizing role that capitalism plays in contemporary politics?  

                      •  The first problem I have is you are talking about (0+ / 0-)

                        theoreticals.  You are describing a theoretical capitalist interested in using wealth to fund a business venture to generate more wealth.  And you box it in with technicalities about division of labor etc. etc..  It all sounds nice enough and I could do the same and describe a theoretical baseball pitcher and describe his motivations, workout regime, state of mind and motivations etc. etc..  I could then scour the world and find millions of people throwing baseballs, none who match my definition of 'the Pitcher'.  So the first problem I have is you are describing a concept while we in the real world have to deal with real people.  We should be defining laws based on how people really are, not an academic construct.  Capitalism might be a good basis for certain businesses, but it is a crappy basis for a society.

                        My second problem is, if you ignore history, you will repeat it.  There is a remarkable continuity to human history.  Capitalism didn't just spring out of Adam Smith's imagination and reshape the globe.  Many of the changes you are attributing to capitalism were already in motion, and some are a consequence of population growth (which alone is enough to force a massive restructuring of society). And I do think that Capitalism and Feudalism really are kissing cousins, and you ignore that at your own and everyone else's peril.

                        To any wingnut: If you pay my taxes I'll give you a job.

                        by ban48 on Thu May 30, 2013 at 07:52:38 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  Man, there are (1+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          lehman scott

                          soare so many confusions in your response here that I don't even know where to begin.  First, I'm not DEFENDING CAPITALISM, but outlining why it's such a mess and so destructive.  Second, no one denies capitalism has a history and came into being in history.  In fact, I was CRITICIZING your ahistorical conception of capitalism reflected in your ignorant remarks about roman empowers and conquistadors.  Third, capitalism was not an "idea" that some theorist came up with like Adam Smith.  It was a living social reality long before people like Smith tried to figure out what it might be.  Indeed, it started emerging around the 14th century (cf the historian Braudel if you'd like to know that history).  Moreover, my reference point in this post is not Smith but Marx.  Finally fourth, I'm not talking about an "ideal" in this post (American liberals are so unbearable because they are like conservatives in thinking everything is about beliefs and don't understand material conditions), but about concrete living realities that happen around us every day, everywhere on the globe.  You might have missed it, but one of the major points of this diary-- that everyone else got --is that the endless pursuit of wealth and expansion is incredibly DESTRUCTIVE and bad for the vast majority of us.

                          •  I'm definitely confused. I'll agree with that. (0+ / 0-)

                            You don't see a link between pooling money for war and plunder and pooling money to build plants.  I do.  But that's OK, we can agree to disagree.  You don't see a link between a feudal lord forcing and indebted peasantry to work and wage-slavery, I do.  But, that's OK, we can disagree here too.

                            You seem to be both criticizing capitalism and defending it by boxing it in and isolating it from other more brutal uses of capital.  (I assume I don't need to mention that defenders pre-civil-war south have pointed out quite correctly that the wage-slaves in the north lived in the same wretchedness as the slaves in the south.)

                            People have been pooling money to make money for a long time.  To me, boxing in 'capitalism' by limiting it to profit from the production of goods is a technicality.  And I think people who are pooling money and intent on profit will see that division as a technicality too...

                            I don't have time to read all the comments.  I'm sure I'm missing other points you are making and my comments probably look disjointed, but you seem to be on both sides of the aisle.

                            Even your closing statement above confuses me:

                            the endless pursuit of wealth and expansion is incredibly DESTRUCTIVE
                            If you really think capitalism is using wealth to create more wealth, then it can't be destructive because such a statement is an oxymoron: more wealth isn't destruction.....

                            To any wingnut: If you pay my taxes I'll give you a job.

                            by ban48 on Thu May 30, 2013 at 07:06:53 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

    •  I have a similar pet peeve, but also praise (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NY brit expat, shaharazade

      Anytime we start discussing the definition of words, it's liable to turn into a pure semantic argument. To me, for example, capitalism involves purchase of capital goods for the increase of production, which is a hair's breath from what others have already mentioned.

      I think, though, that Maddogg hit on something important a couple years ago with the idea of economic rent being distinct as a concept from both capitalism and socialism. It hits close to what you're saying here about transfer of revenue.

      Maddogg's thesis is that we conflate capitalism with the rentiers. However, earning a dollar is not the same as earning a widget.  

      Anyway, for anybody interested in pursuing this line of reasoning, his diary is here.

      None of this makes a bit of difference if they don't count your vote.

      by Toddlerbob on Wed May 29, 2013 at 03:41:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Given the time dimension, capital (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JayRaye, hooper, caul, shaharazade

    moves toward more unstable concentration and centralization. Capitalist plans generally have been viewed as inimical to the Constitution and republican government, hence the emergence of government by judicial edict, the Supreme Court as capital's oracle. Jackson, Lincoln and FDR challenged the court, but no more. Buckley v. Valeo protected the court by making oligarchy the national form of government, in a replay of what Dred Scott did for the slaveocracy. See e.g.  

    •  that is interesting as it was interpreted (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JosephK74, JayRaye, caul, cynndara, shaharazade

      prior to the New Deal that free market capitalism was enshrined in the constitution; that was erroneous which was recognised later. I actually learned this reading something by LeGauchiste who is working on Lochner vs New York. Concentration and centralisation of capital derive normally from the system; they are no more unstable that the capitalist system itself it. It is capitalism which tends towards crisis deriving from its laws of motion, more or less concentration and centralisation do not increase  or decrease that tendency as it is competition which drives the introduction of machinery, the persistent unemployment, the instability of the financial sector. They will be no more stable if you eliminated every monopoly or oligopoly and the system will simply recreate them again due to its laws of motion. The problem is the system, not whether it is competitive, oligopolistic or monopolistic.

      "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

      by NY brit expat on Tue May 28, 2013 at 03:18:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Do you care to expand (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Musial, JayRaye, NY brit expat

      more on what you're saying?  While not disagreeing with what you say, I'm not sure what point you're trying to make.

      •  who me? (5+ / 0-)

        There's some history with this going back to the 1780's. We tend to think we are a republic, but on closer look that has been the exception, first with the slaveocracy that failed in its bid to go national, now with plutocracy in its comeback after the New Deal. But the common theme has been government by judiciary. That's one of the items shaped by capital, our republic. TR's 1912 campaign brought this out, FDR too, now a taboo subject. The electorate is conditioned to wait upon the Court to see what small favors Congress can do for us. But the Court already determined that Congress is accountable to money in the first instance. See Louis Boudin's Government by  Judiciary, also Great diary.

  •  the U.S. version of capitalism is, basically, (8+ / 0-)

    nothing but a corporate welfare state in my opinion...of, by and for the filthy rich corporations and oligarchs that run the expense of the poor and everyone else.

    •  Yep. I think there are (9+ / 0-)

      A couple things going on here.  On the one hand, as you say, government doesn't represent the people, but represents the interests of businesses and corporations.  Scandals and culture politics issues are used to control and pacify the people, while the government is really busy advancing the interests of businesses.  Government is forced into this situation because of how campaigns are funded, the manner in which corporations own the media system, and because they live under the threat of businesses taking jobs elsewhere if politicians don't capitulate to their will.  Job loss, of course, translates into the loss of votes.

      Another dimension to all of this is that the aim of parties is not to represent people, but to continue to exist as parties.  A lot of republican opposition to Obama can be explained in these terms.  It's not that they hate Obama's policies because often, as in the case of healthcare reform, their positions are the same.  It's not even racism, though that's a big part of it among the people outside of government.  It's that if any concession is made to the other party they threaten the continued existence of their own party.  As a consequence, parties must be oppositional to those currently in power as a matter of general principle, even where that opposition leads to absurd policy because the aim is to advance the interests and existence of the party, not the people.  It's exactly the same as the old days in the Soviet Union where the party and the people became synonyms, and the real people were no longer represented.

  •  Capitalist economies are like Monopoly games (6+ / 0-)

    If you play long enough, all the money must wind up in one hand. Except a consumer economy will go bust long before that happens, because once too little money is left in the consumers' hands, they stop buying crap, and that's that. Hence capitalist consumer economies necessarily run on bust and boom cycles.

  •  Well done. n/t (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JosephK74, caul, shaharazade

    “... there is no shame in not knowing. The problem arises when irrational thought and attendant behavior fill the vacuum left by ignorance.” ― Neil deGrasse Tyson, The Sky Is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist

    by leema on Tue May 28, 2013 at 06:46:47 PM PDT

  •  Actually, Buddhist monks tended to hoard their (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JosephK74, caul, cynndara, shaharazade

    wealth, turning the gold they accumulated into temple decorations.  This lead to periodic currency crisis's and the Chinese government would basicly sack the temples and confiscate the gold so they could melt it back into coins and put it back into circulation.....

    To any wingnut: If you pay my taxes I'll give you a job.

    by ban48 on Tue May 28, 2013 at 07:17:29 PM PDT

    •  They also lent a lot (0+ / 0-)

      Buddhism has the distinction of being the only major world religion that doesn't say anything about usury.

      If debt were a moral issue then, lacking morals, corporations could never be in debt.

      by AoT on Thu May 30, 2013 at 12:52:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  4ii is interesting: rendering products obsolete (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, caul, Odysseus, cynndara, shaharazade

    to force the purchase of new products....  Is that truly 'using wealth to create wealth' or is it not more like  'using wealth to destroy wealth, then extracting a profit off the replacement?'

    To any wingnut: If you pay my taxes I'll give you a job.

    by ban48 on Tue May 28, 2013 at 07:39:25 PM PDT

  •  Capitalism vs. market economies (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, JosephK74, linkage, shaharazade

    Pro-capitalist politicians and ideologues (and of course, that's 99% of all politicians and ideologues in this country) love to equate capitalism and market economy, as if to suggest that you can't have one without the other. With good reason: there is much to like about market economies. As self-regulating systems, they are inherently more flexible to adjust to the demands of every member of a society than centralized command economies are. Of course, market economies require regulation to run stably. In contrast, capitalism, defined as in this diary - a game of competition played by capitalists trying to bankrupt and/or metaphorically eat one another - is the greatest threat humanity and the planet are facing. Competition is an inherent element of capitalism, not NECESSARILY of market economies. "From everyone according to their abilities to everyone according to their needs" CAN be implemented in a market economy, I believe. The question for me is whether  an evolution, with or without a transformation by force, of capitalism into a kind of socialist market economy is in the cards.

  •  What an outstanding diary and summary of (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JosephK74, shaharazade, northsylvania

    the dynamics of capitalism, Joseph, thanks for posting this.

    Have you ever read this paper by Philip Lawn at Flinders University in Adelaide?  If so, I would be most eager to hear your (and others') analysis/opinion of it. I've my own, but this is probably not the appropriate place/time to begin such a discussion as it would probably detract from the purpose of your diary.

    Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

    by lehman scott on Tue May 28, 2013 at 08:09:02 PM PDT

  •  ... and about commercial regulations ??? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Please sound off on commercial regulations. I've seen it argued that a strong sovereign environment governing enforcement of commercial regulations and the resolution of commercial disputes has been vital to the effectiveness of Western capitalism. Based on your arguments, the steady effort to erode those same regulations by individual capitalist actors for their private advantage makes sense, but harms the system. But of course there is more to be said. How would you delve into this, based on your other arguments?

  •  Thank You - N/T (0+ / 0-)

    "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

    by linkage on Tue May 28, 2013 at 11:16:15 PM PDT

  •  One really minor point (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    that doesn't at all detract from anything you're saying:

    The capitalist might look for ways to render its existing products obsolete so as to encourage people to buy their new product.  This is done by coming out with new models of cars, smartphones, or gaming systems, for example, or in the pharmaceutical industry, through the invention of new illnesses like "restless leg syndrome".
    I too used to (contemptuously) assume "restless leg syndrome" was just another idiotic marketing scheme by pharmaceutical companies to convince hypochondriacs to buy new drugs for the latest thing in designer maladies.

    But my friend with MS has it, and says it's very real.  Keeps her up at night.

    Doesn't mean we're not bombarded with all kinds of useless crap we don't really need.

    Good diary.  Thanks.

    "If a man loses his reverence for any part of life, he will lose his reverence for all of life." — Albert Schweitzer

    by mozartssister on Wed May 29, 2013 at 05:52:46 AM PDT

    •  As a former sleep technician (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JosephK74, northsylvania

      Lemme tell you, because it's a great example of capitalism at work.

      Restless Leg Syndrome is uncommon but easily treated with drugs that have been available for thirty years.  It is, however, almost impossible to get diagnosed and get a prescription for those (cheap generic) drugs, which while habit-forming can be stopped without severe withdrawal symptoms at the patient's decision.  Go in for the required ($1500) testing, and chances are better than good that you'll be diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnea instead.

      Obstructive Sleep Apnea is relatively rare and very expensive to treat, requiring 1) two in-clinic overnight studies at $1500/ea, durable equipment that costs upwards of $1500, and repeat monitoring at intervals of no less than 1 year with supply purchases of about $200/year.   Once acclimated to the equipment, the patient will almost never be able to sleep soundly without it again, as it leads to atrophy of muscles which have been built up to force breathing despite the obstructed airway.  

      EIGHTY PERCENT of patients sent for sleep testing will be diagnosed with OSA and recommended for this treatment (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, a form of artificial respiration assistance), although only TEN PERCENT of those tested fall within research-supported criteria indicating that they will benefit.  The other 70% (over half of the normal population) will have mild obstructions which somewhat disturb sleep quality but do not pose a significant risk to life or health.  They will be "counseled" that this minimal sleep disturbance is the causing of their high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and emotional problems when the reverse is true, and told that they have a "life-threatening" condition requiring immediate treatment.  If they resist because they find the equipment more disruptive and uncomfortable than their existing problem, they will be counseled, threatened, and labelled "uncooperative".  

      Restless legs and the pharmaceutical companies don't have NOTHIN' on the durable medical equipment business.  Unless it's a biotech wonder drug, the profit rarely comes close.

  •  A fantastic post (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to the point and a clear exposition.  Have you ever considered the thought experiment where the owners of a large business is sold to the workers within it?  The tendency to exploit the workers would no longer be a valid way to increase profit.  The investors' annual extractions of wealth would not be a drain on the company's resources anymore.  But, most important, how would the objectives of such a company change? Would this "worker capitalism" change any of the dynamics you have outlined?

    Canem Praeteri, Cave Modo Hominem. (Never mind the dog, just watch out for the human)

    by T C Gibian on Wed May 29, 2013 at 07:43:21 AM PDT

    •  I like that idea. Isn't (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      that what co-operatives are?  I'm for anything that increases real democracy in the workplace.  Geographer and political theorist David Harvey makes an interesting argument relevant to this.  The standard capitalist argument runs that capitalists are entitled to the profits their workers produce through their labor, because they're the ones that provide the factory (or equivalent) and take the risk that makes those jobs possible in the fist place.

      Harvey points out that in the philosophical tradition, property arises from laboring on something (this was Locke's view).  Property is, as it were, an extension of your body.  For example, you clear a piece of land for farming and that labor becomes yours as a result.  If we accept this theory, then Harvey wonders why the factory doesn't come to belong to the workers at a certain point.  At a certain point the workers create enough profit to repay the capitalist for his investment.  Shouldn't ownership of the business then convert to them?

      •  "Should" ain't allowed. (0+ / 0-)

        Owners ceaselessly flog their position(s) as originators, builders, innovators, and risk-takers so as to cow all those who would seek to curtail their "rights." What one would have to legislate would be something along the lines of the original theory behind patent law--an owner would be allowed a period of time to reap what profit s/he could make off of his/her "property", at the end of which s/he would relinquish full ownership.
        But that would require an entirely different definition of "ownership" than one we have.

        "Lone catch of the moon, the roots of the sigh of an idea there will be the outcome may be why?"--from a spam diary entitled "The Vast World."

        by bryduck on Thu May 30, 2013 at 04:21:33 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Limited to public corporations. (0+ / 0-)
    Businesses are required to show growth over the previous quarter every quarter.  The reason for this is simple.  If a business does not show growth it loses its shareholders and investors.  If it loses its shareholders, it is edged out or becomes extinct.
    This is not true of all corporations.  It is probably true for all publicly traded companies, but there are many privately held companies who operate in a steady state or only grow as needed when profitable opportunities arise.

    Some of them are run quite differently than the publicly traded corporate culture.

    SAS has never had a losing year and never laid off a single employee. Last year they sold $1 billion worth of their analytical software to America's biggest corporations. This software is sophisticated stuff that helps everyone from Victoria's Secret to the U.S. military work more efficiently, by turning raw data into useful information.

    -7.75 -4.67

    "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

    There are no Christians in foxholes.

    by Odysseus on Wed May 29, 2013 at 07:45:33 AM PDT

    •  No business ever grows (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      whengrows when there isn't demand for it to grow as a result of people purchasing their commodities.  This is one reason that the idea that taxes prevent capitalists from creating new jobs is false.  Capitalists will only create new jobs when demand necessitates it.  Another reason is that businesses are only taxed on take-home profit, not money they reinvest in their business as capital.

      It's important to think of contemporary economy in terms of a broader social system, not individual persons and businesses.  Businesses and individuals are compelled to act in this way because of the broader economic system in which they're embedded.  It's exactly like an arms race.  A country might not want to build more weapons and enlarge its army, but has to in response to other countries that are doing so.  This is why there's no marked difference between private businesses and publicly traded ones.  Both find themselves in a social framework that exceeds them that necessitates endless growth to survive.  Think of two competing hardware stores in a small town, or a hardware store faced by Walmart.  We're the private businesses isolated individual beings, they wouldn't face this situation, but they're not.  They exist in an ecology of businesses.  This is what ny Brit ex pat was getting at earlier in the thread when he observed that capitalism only genuinely comes into being with the emergence of a particular social ecology or network.

      •  "Compulsion" is too strong of a word. (0+ / 0-)
        Businesses and individuals are compelled to act in this way because of the broader economic system in which they're embedded.  It's exactly like an arms race.
        There are limits to how much any participant can deviate from the norm.  But there is no requirement for infinite growth.  Many markets are quite bounded.  Yachts are not very useful in Kansas.

        State insurance commissions or utility boards may not be strictly required to allow interstate competition.  (Subject to the limits of the Commerce Clause)

        SAS may be able to be loyal to their employees because others aren't.  "Standing out" from the crowd is a competitive advantage.

        -7.75 -4.67

        "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

        There are no Christians in foxholes.

        by Odysseus on Wed May 29, 2013 at 10:44:07 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I don't think so. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Odysseus, lehman scott

          They're genuinely compelled if they wish to retain their job and business, or livelihood.  The nice thing about state regulation is that it can sometimes remove that compulsion or necessity, but by and large this isn't possible for most businesses.  It's a do or die situation.  Consequently, to the same degree that workers must sell their labor to live, capitalists must participate in this insane logic to stay afloat.  This is the central problem with individualist and moralist understandings of why capitalism functions as it does.  The question of political strategery is that of how to remove the necessity that creates this compulsion.

  •  excellent diary (3+ / 0-)

    You have done an excellent diary dissecting the problems with capitalism.  With our earth and its resources being finite, growth for the sake of growth is no longer an option.  Thank you for explaining the structural problems with capitalism in a way that those of us who are not academically versed in economics can understand it.  Excellent diary that everyone should read.

    "Growing up is for those who don't have the guts not to. Grow wise, grow loving, grow compassionate, but why grow up?" - Fiddlegirl

    by gulfgal98 on Wed May 29, 2013 at 07:47:45 AM PDT

  •  I'd like to throw two considerations into the mix (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    caul, JosephK74, gulfgal98

    The first is that, as has been pointed out above, the various elements that comprise the socioeconomic system that we currently call capitalism have been lying about and used in various limited ways long before they were all brought together to form the intransigent behemoth that rules virtually every aspect of our lives and planetary ecosystem.

    I would posit that this assemblage and its subsequent massive expansion would not have been at all possible without the excess energy contained in fossil fuels.  In the same way that hierarchical social institutions were made possible by the surplus agricultural supplies resulting from the development of farming and animal husbandry, so too, the pervasive economic and social control we see today grew concomitant with first coal, and then cheap oil, to develop into the capitalism of today.  

    Just as our actions to address current social ills can be made more effective by always being able to look at them through the prism of critical analysis of capitalistic economic relations, I think discussions of and proposals for transforming the system would also be enhanced by recognizing the central role that cheap fossil fuels have played in its formation, develop, and growth.  In this context, every aspect of the many interrelated unravelings we are experiencing can all be traced back to Peak Oil.  Without oil, no capitalism as we know it and its exponential growth dynamic.  As the cheap oil goeth, so it goeth and all the institutions so overdetermined by it.

    My second (quite undeveloped) observation is that, in terms of a way forward, I think that before we either throw in the towel and resign ourselves to collapse or support those calling for an immediate overthrow and replacement of the current system with some form of undefined ecosocialism, we should at least seriously look at the possibility of performing major surgery on the patient before he either dies or we euthanize him.

    This may or may not be possible as a means to obtain the desired outcome of a truly just and sustainable steady-state socioeconomic system.  Philip Lawn in the paper I linked to above seems to think so.  His view is that the predominant elements of capitalism are essentially institutional in nature and that they can be either excised or altered successfully.  At this juncture I am inclined to agree with him and Herman Daly, if only for the reason in my tagline.

    At the very least, I think the attempt should be made in an aggressive and concerted effort.   I've made some suggestions in this regard in comments I've made in other diaries which I'll spare you my repeating here. They are probably overly optimistic and unrealistic, anyway (I'm not giving up on them, mind you, I'm just feeling a tad bit discouraged today.).

    Once again, great diary, Sir.

    Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

    by lehman scott on Wed May 29, 2013 at 07:55:20 AM PDT

    •  Really great point, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gulfgal98, lehman scott, melo

      and I agree with you entirely, especially regarding energy.  The problem, as I see it, is that we're not just talking about economics and energy, but the lives of people.  Starving the beast would certainly combat that system, but then what do we do with all the people that resulted from the population explosion this system made possible, who require that energy to live?  (energy isn't just fuel, but also food!  And food requires fuel to be produced).  This is a problem I keep knocking against when I think about these things.  Everything is interdependent in this system so we become like flies trapped in a bottle, not knowing what to do.  I think this is part of what's going on with the "optimism crowd" here at dailykos.  The situation is so overwhelming that it's unclear what we can do at all, and people therefore prefer to go the way of Voltaire, tend their gardens, and think happy thoughts rather than facing the issues.

      •  That's a very interesting and apt metaphor, (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JosephK74, melo

        we being flies in a bottle.  Such a condition does naturally lead to the techno-utopian fantasies of Peter Diamandis, Ray Kurzweil, Howard Bloom, and 3-D printing cheerleaders.  The American self-concept of being able to tackle and solve any problem that is thrown at us is so firmly embedded in our culture and psyches that to admit to ourselves that we are now in a pickle of our own making that looks increasingly unlikely we have a way out of is unthinkable to us.

        I think that is a fundamental reason behind why the issue of climate change is so divisive and what motivates the CC denialists.  CC is much more about the end of economic growth and all the difficult and complicated implications resulting from that than it is about reducing CO2 emissions and increasing the number of windmills and solar panels dotting the landscape.  Sometimes I think the right-wing bloggers understand this much better than many CC activists.  As Stanley Kurtz of the National Review recently put it:

        The core message of his 2007 book, Deep Economy, as well as 2010’s Eaarth, is unmistakable: He seeks not growth, but “controlled decline.”

        As McKibben sees it, “our whole civilization stands on the edge of collapse.” The last couple of hundred years of human history, he points out, have been “a very atypical time. A giddy time, high on oil.” Since the fundamental arrangements of modern life depend on fossil fuels, McKibben is convinced that averting global warming requires a winding-down of modernity. And that means trading our ideals of economic growth for a new ethic of economic retreat. McKibben is selling the idea that decline is good.

        What Kurtz and others in his camp still refuse to recognize is that growth is over (at least in the large aggregate material capitalist sense).  It is not a matter of good nor bad or having a choice in the matter.  The Second Law of Thermodynamics is certain, unassailable, and always wins in the end.  What frustrates me is that we need to be having a national dialogue on this issue now so we can begin devising strategies to deal with this reality that virtually no one in the MSM even dares to even mention.  Including Bill McKibben and many CC activists. The focus should not be on the tailpipe, it should be on the gas gauge, as I read somewhere recently.

        I know my above comments did not address all the issues you raised in your reply to me, Joseph, and I hope to later, but I have a meeting to get ready for.  A bunch of us crazy-ass liberals here in Lansing are going to try to create a new Mondragon Corporation from scratch this summer and we have a lot of work to do.  Ta-ta!

        Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

        by lehman scott on Wed May 29, 2013 at 02:56:51 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Naive. (0+ / 0-)

    Any social system or process reflects the nature of the humans who control it. Communist China was called a republic by those who started it and yet, because of the human nature of its rulers, was far from a republic.

    The USSR was a union of socialist republics according to its founders, but it actually was a totalitarian government that reflected the human nature of Josef Stalin and several of his successors.

    Nazi German was called socialist, but it was much more like the USSR than it was any socialist society.

    We often see angry arguments here on the subject of who is a real Christian and who is not. Jimmy Carter resigned from the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000. and at the time he said that the religion, or at least that sect of it, pursued policies that were not Christian. So he joined another association of Baptists. Now, to me, Jimmy Carter is more of a Christian than the rulers of the SBC, but it is really none of my business. So, in this case the nature of two Christian sects were determined by the nature of the human beings who control them.

    And so it goes. A tyrant who practices capitalism and who treats others humans in a tyrannical way is practicing tyranno-capitalism. Some other human beings may practice capitalism and do it in a way that supports the common good. One could say that they practice democrato-capitalism.

    So, again, any social system should be judged by how it treats other people. We have lots of tyranno-capitalists in America today, and capitalism lends to tyrannical behavior. After, its main objective is to maximize profits, so it easy to see that a tyrant could easily believe that he is doing what society wishes by practicing a form of capitalism that works against the common good.

    So, this diary, is naive, and largely a waste of time. It would have been much more constructive if it had proposed ways to control the negative effects of capitalism.

    Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

    by hestal on Wed May 29, 2013 at 08:42:59 AM PDT

    •  I don't deny that there (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lehman scott

      are many tyrannical and greedy capitalists, only that that's not what drives this particular system.  To understand this, you need to think ecologically or in terms of networks of relations, not in terms of individuals.  Going back to my example of arms races, individuals might not want to build more weapons and expand their armies, but are forced to because of the ecology of nations they dwell in and the fact that other nations are doing so.  It's the same with capitalism.  Most of those bankers do what they do because in their ecology it's the only way they can survive and stay afloat in their occupation.  Faced with no job at all or these unwise practices and having a job, they choose the latter.  I think it's far more naive to think that simply scolding these people for being immoral and tyrannical will address these problems.  Such scoldings might be good for building oppositional collectives, but they have little to no impact on the source of the problem.  Notice, for example, how we got no significant new legislation following the economic collapse, despite all these scoldings.  Why do you suppose this is?

      •  Naive. Naive. Naive. (0+ / 0-)

        You are trying to say that the capitalist is not a free agent and that is nonsense. He looks for opportunities that he can exploit. He does not look for situations in which others will force his hand. The capitalist always looks for clear advantage and the naive idea that most people have is that  a superior service or product will give him that advantage. But that is childish. The capitalist looks to monopolies, he wants to corner the market, and he looks for ways to pass his production costs to others such as state and local governments rather than pay for them himself, and he looks for ways to sell crappy products for high profits and use the legislature to protect him from lawsuits. This latter situation is what the gun manufacturers have done. Guns are not subject to liability suits. So this kind of unfair play is what drives capitalism and the guys who do best are the worst of the worst. They are slick and the have slick cover stories, but they always find a way to take the money out someone else's pocket. Think of the Wall Street banks. They were con men who used payoffs to the government to give them more money piled on top of the money they had already stolen from those who bought their worthless paper. Think about the rating agencies who produced phony high ratings in order to encourage sales. This kind of evil practice is exactly what capitalists do. It is a clear reflection of their human nature. Your idea that the poor babies are forced to do something against their nature is just naive as hell. Being honest is against their nature. Playing fair is against their nature.

        Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

        by hestal on Wed May 29, 2013 at 10:05:10 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You're right, I (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          lehman scott

          don't believe that capitalists are free agents and do believe they are compelled to behave as they do if they wish to remain in business and retain their livelihood.  I believe it is naive to suggest otherwise and have mountains of sociological and economic evidence to support this position, as well first-hand experience within the corporate world to bear it out.  It'd be nice if we could wave a wand and magically get rid of this horrible situation by persuading capitalists of their wicked morality, but it's not morality that drives this system but an arms race between competing businesses that do what they do to continue to exist.  It's a harsh and a sad truth, but the only way through this horrific system is through interventions that remove that compulsion and the necessity it produces.

          •  No matter how often you make crazy claims, (0+ / 0-)

            they just won't come true.

            Your entire theory ignores human nature. Naive, naive, naive.

            Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

            by hestal on Wed May 29, 2013 at 01:10:36 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I guess those (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              wacky social social sciences are all just filled with "crazy, naive claims"!  Time to cut the sociology departments!  Incidentally, do you have a free choice about whether to sell your labor for a wage in order to survive?

        •  I'll add that my (0+ / 0-)

          Diary actually discusses the slickness of capitalism in finding new opportunities for the expansion of capital.  We differ as to what causes this, with you adopting a rather naive theory that it results from moral attitudes of capitalists, and me looking at the ecological network of economic relations among businesses that force capitalists to behave in these ways to stay afloat.  It's that ecology that needs to be addressed, not so much the moral failings of capitalists.  Sorts is as much caught up in this as Donald Trump.

      •  By the way, I'm not (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lehman scott

        denouncing your fury and outrage at this system.  I'm similarly outraged.  I just think you have the causation wrong here.

        Try a little thought experiment.  You're a banker on Wall Street back in the early 2000's.  The banker in the office next to you or another bank is giving shaky, variable rate loans to people who clearly will forfeit on them in time.  Now this guy or the other bank is taking in all sorts of money as a consequence of this.  He's kicking ass.  If we're talking about an individual banker at a firm, then this guy giving the batshit crazy loans is getting all sorts of recognition from the executives at the bank.  He's getting promotions, making more money, etc.  Management comes to you:  "Hestal, why aren't you kicking ass and taking names like Joe-Irresponsibility over there?  We might need to rethink your employment here as you're just not towing the line.

        Now we move to the level of banks.  Hestal Bank of America is only giving responsible loans where the debtors will be able to pay back their loans.  Bank of Irresponsibility is giving loans to anyone and everyone and expanding each quarter as a result on the stock market.  The savvy investor notices that Bank of Irresponsibility is continuing to grow, thereby promising a better return on his investment, while Hestal Bank of Responsibility in which he's invested has been stagnant.  Joe Schmoe who's concerned with whether or not his 401k will be large enough for him to retire-- and who doesn't know much about lending, but only that Bank of Irresponsibility is growing --decides to withdraw his money from Hestal Bank of Responsibility and invest in Bank of Irresponsibility because it provides a better return on his investment.  "Woo hoo!", he tells his friends, "early retirement!"  They follow suit.

        Meanwhile, over at Hestal Bank of Responsibility, things are in a tailspin and CEO Hestal gets furious.  "If this keeps up", he exclaims, "we're all goners.  We gotta do something!  Let's loosen our standards so we can keep our jobs, comrades!  Hopefully everything will work out when these loans collapse and the market goes south.  While this is all risky, we know fer sur that we'll be gone if we keep playing by the rules of responsibility because no one will invest in us anymore!"  And so it goes.

        That is the situation that capitalists live in and that compels their actions.  Your problem is that you're thinking in terms of isolated individuals and not in terms of the broader ecology of economic relations that these individuals are faced with, to which they must respond to save their necks, and which compel their actions.  Understanding this doesn't entail being naive or somehow saying "capitalists are good!"-- some capitalists are well meaning critters, others are total sociopaths --rather, it means understanding why the system is functioning in this way so we can begin to devise strategies to halt this lethal logic.  Use your imagine and think it through, buddy.  You'll see if you use some of that ability to imagine others and the lives of others that liberals are always saying their so great at.

    •  You don't offer any evidence to support (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JosephK74, bryduck

      your claim that there are people who are somehow controlling capitalism and making it evil. Who are those people? Where are they? It seems like you are the naive one if you think it's really that simple.

      If debt were a moral issue then, lacking morals, corporations could never be in debt.

      by AoT on Thu May 30, 2013 at 01:03:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Have to comment (0+ / 0-)

    While I agree with most of what you said, I do want to take issue a point in your bit about climate change.  Specifically, I do agree that if you have limited resources, that will come into conflict with capitalism.  However, that presupposes that we have limited resources, which is, at least IMHO, fundamentally flawed.  We don't have to act as though we have limited resources.  We do have to acknowledge that resources in one particular location is limited, but we have examples of that being successful in the past.  

    •  Are you serious? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lehman scott

      Soil and water reach their limits in relation to how much they can be farmed and population sizes.  Fisheries disappear.  Fertilizers kill oceans.  You can only get so much energy from green sources, and certainly not energy on par with fossil fuels.  There's only so much living space, and, of course, production destroys climate in a myriad of ways.  At a certain point, endless expansion and population growth encounters the limits of the carrying capacity of the planet and horrific wackiness ensues.  In less than 200 years we've transformed our climate, soil, and oceans, and there's no serious end to the destructiveness wrought by endless production in sight; despite small nods in the direction of green technologies.  We ain't seen nothing yet in terms of what's to come and have yet to find an effective strategy for putting the breaks on capital expansion required to respond to these issues.

      •  Why limit it to 1 planet? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lehman scott

        There are 2 planets in this solar system that can be used, plus a few larger moons.  Additionally, there are numerous asteroids available for using.  And there is a lot more area to tap solar energy.

        Yes, the location of earth is stretched to the breaking point, and we need to limit the growth there.  We've done limited growth in specific places, so lets limit the growth in the specific place of the earth, and get the focus of capitalism to see the endless resources of space.  

        •  Mr. Valen, I fully understand and appreciate (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JosephK74, FerrisValyn

          your comment on this.  I myself was greatly influenced by Gerard K. O'Neill and J. Peter Vajk, they cured the malaise I sank into after reading TLTG and Herman Daly.  Hell, I was President of the Michigan L5 Society for a while when I was an undergraduate, I was such a space cadet.  I even used to bounce around campus wearing a button that read "Decentralize - Get Off the Planet".  So I know where you're coming from, Sir.

          There is a place for the vision (and future possibility) of space industrialization and extraterrestrial resource utilization in the coming transition to a terrestrial steady-state economy.  That role does not, however, realistically include any substantive material or energy contributions to our present situations in the very limited time frames we have available to manage this inevitable and looming transition.

          But like I said, it does have a role to play.  A very important, role, actually, and IMHO.  I'll have a great deal more to say about this in a future diary.

          Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

          by lehman scott on Wed May 29, 2013 at 01:45:29 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Do you have any idea (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          lehman scott

          howidea how much energy is required to lift even a small amount off the planet?  Sorry, my friend, but Star Trek is not in the cards for our future.  There will never be large scale population of other planets, in part due to the huge energy requirements of just getting small amounts of things into space, in part because of the absence of necessary life sustaining things elsewhere in the solar system such as planets and asteroids with electro-magnetic fields.  When you begin looking seriously at the physics of things you realize that this planet is all we have.  We don't have an escape hatch and Wall-EE is not a documentary.

          •  Actually, I do know how much energy (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            lehman scott

            energy itself isn't actually the issue.  Its never been the issue.  Its really a power issue, and an associated price issue (the 2 are linked, but not the same).  

            And there is an abundance of materials that can sustain life in elsewhere in the solar system.  Both the moon and Mars have water.  Mars has soil that can easily be converted into soil that can grow plants.  This only scratches the surface, but the material resources in space are quite viable.  

            I'll grant its not an escape hatch, in the idea that we'll all move off planet.  But we can create a multi-planet species, that helps us address the problems raised by the limited resources of a single planet.  

            Star Trek isn't in our future, but I'll bet on Babylon 5.  

          •  Think less an escape hatch (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            lehman scott

            more a pressure relief valve.  

            •  Actually soil is a pretty (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              lehman scott

              cmplexpretty complex thing and takes years to develop.  It's not just dirt.  Sci-fi fantasies don't really serve us well in addressing the issues we're facing.  And again, with Mars, there's that pesky issue of an absent electro-magnetic field that prevents highly charged cosmic particles from wrecking havoc with the DNA of living beings.  Like it or not, this planet is pretty much all we have in terms of realistic biospheres for large numbers of people to live in.  Better treat it well because there's no replacement, nor escape hatch.

              •  Many things are complex (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                lehman scott

                1)  Memory serves me correct, we've actually done experiments for growing plants in moon simulant.  Don't know about Mars.  I know there is a difference between actual soil vs simulant, but its a first step

                2)  The effect of cosmic rays are more complex, and there is considerable lack of knowledge, as to the likelyhood of cancer increases.  This isn't to say there isn't any risk, but that we don't have a good grasp of the actual amount of risk.  Obviously there is a solution to that.

                3)  Even if you assume that the risk is substantial, that doesn't mean we can't deal with that problem.  We've done physical shielding, and there is substantial material for physical shielding on places like Mars, and the moon.  

                Again, the issue isn't replacement - its supplement.  

                •  The thing is, it's (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  lehman scott

                  not even a realistic supplement.  I have no doubt that we'll eventually have small mining and scientific camps elsewhere in the solar system (though it's more likely they'll be occupied by robots), but the energy expenditures, economic price, and downright hostility of these other places and space in general mean that they'll never exceed the size of a literal handful of people.  This would have no significant impact in lessening the pressures we experience here.  I know capitalists like to believe that infinite growth is possible, but it just ain't so.  While I loves me some Kim Stanley Robinson, his Mars books are fantasy.

                  •  Understanding the tie of (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    lehman scott

                    economic, energy, and hostility, when it comes to spaceflight, and human spaceflight, is something that we really actually don't have a good idea on.  The past 50 years have been done in a way that has provided a LOT of bad data.

                    And its not energy.  Energy involved in actually launching rockets is actually quite small.  We do expend a lot of energy in how we operate them, but thats a different kind of energy, and its nowhere close to how efficient we could make it.  

                    Ignoring large scale space development dooms us, IMHO

                •  And believe me, (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  lehman scott

                  coming to recognize this was hugely upsetting for me.  I had harbors fantasies like that too.  However, the more I've researched interplanetary and interstellar travel, as well as colonization of other planets, the more I realize that it's just not feasible on a grand scale.  We're stuck here.

                  •  So, then what do you consider someone (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    lehman scott

                    like me, who got their degree in aerospace engineering, joined the various space advocacy organizations, and spends their every day working to open the frontier of space?  Or someone like Elon Musk, who is planning to retire to Mars?

                    •  Don Quixote (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      lehman scott


                      And you're wrong about the energy requirements to escape the earth's gravity.  Remember, we're not simply talking about sending satellites, space probes, or a few people into orbit.  You're talking about colonization of other planets as a way of solving the resource limitations of our planets.  That calls for energy and economic expenditures of an unfeasible magnitude.  

                      Further, returning to lehmann's point, we have a very limited window of time to respond to these problems.  That window is far smaller than the time required for the technological changes required to make what you're talking about feasible as a solution to these problems.  It's just not a realistic or serious response to these issues.

                      •  Again, I am aware of the amount of energy (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        lehman scott

                        and again, as I said, we have crappy data from the past 50 years.  Getting people form LA to Toyko and back is about requires close to the same amount of energy as going to orbit.  And we do that daily, for large numbers of people.  The problem is power, and how we do operations when it comes to spaceflight (which we have done a really bad job).

                        I suppose the real question is, what do you see as the time frame.  5-10 Years?  50 years?  100 years?

                        •  That's just not true and (1+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          lehman scott

                          againand again, we're talking about issues of scale which you're not addressing at all.  Additionally, we do have good numbers regarding cancer rates among astronauts that show just how important electro-magnetic fields are.

                          •  The energy analogy is totally accurate (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            lehman scott

                            The problem is power (energy over time).  That has been, and is the tricky part.   (that said, I am optimistic about a lot of the work being done on cheap access)

                            And I won't deny we need to scale it up, a lot.  But the question you have to ask is where is the money being spent.  Is it being spent on fuel for the rocket?  It turns out that its not.  Less than 1% of a rockets total cost is fuel.  

                            The rest of the money goes into how we operate the rocket.  When you dig into it, there can be a lot of costs that get factored into how we flew the shuttle, and other rockets, that raised the price substantially.  For example, most rockets are built effectively with touch labor, and do so for 1 time uses (that doesn't do a lot to lower costs).  Finally, let me end with this one data point - The development costs for the Ares I rocket were in the double digit billions, while the total development costs for the Falcon 9 were in the hundreds of millions.  Yes, thats a lot of money, but it should tell you that something is amiss.  

                            As for the issue of cosmic rays - yes we have that data, but it doesn't actually give us all of the answers.  As I said, I don't deny its a huge unknown, but thats what science is for.  And, as I said, even if you assume that it is needed, it isn't a show-stopper.  We can do physical shielding using material in space

                          •  I think you're missing (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            lehman scott

                            my point.  You're making the claim that interplanetary colonization can have a significant impact on the resource, climate, and population problems we're facing.  That can only be true if we can get large numbers of people and materials off the planet.  But that is not energetically nor economically feasible.  Therefore it's not a realistic solution.  No one is making the silly claim that we can't get things up there.  The claim is that we can't get things up there in the numbers required to solve these problems.  Moreover, these environments are so inhospitable for reasons pertaining to physics and biology, that they aren't feasible alternatives to our planet.  At best they would be exceedingly small research or mining camps.  

                            Remember the claim you began with:  endless expansion is possible because we can move on beyond earth to other planets, moons, and asteroids.  That just isn't true.

                          •  This is why I asked about the timeframe (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            lehman scott

                            and I'll admit it is something that keeps me up at night.  

                            If the numbers are less than 20, then I really don't see much hope, period.  

                            If the numbers we are looking at is 20-40 years, then I'll grant - thats probably not enough time for space to make a meaningful impact.  But I do believe it can do some limited supplementing.  And it might provide a way to push back, once we've stablizied

                            If the numbers are 50-100, then I'd argue it has to be included.  

                            So, as I said, - what is the timeframe

                          •  And it may not have to get to the level (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            lehman scott

                            of settlement - development may be enough to provide that supplement

                          •  As further proof (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            lehman scott

                            look at the OTRAG proposal from the 70s - that could've drastically lowered costs.  

          •  I agree with *everything* you said, Joseph. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:


            And I am very familiar with the energetics involved, I've got two engineering degrees and am an uber-science and -reality geek.

            I've got other things in mind.

            But like I said a few moments ago above, I gotta run to a coop meeting right now, I'll bbl.

            Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

            by lehman scott on Wed May 29, 2013 at 03:07:01 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  No worries, (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              lehman scott

              I was responding to ferris, not you.  I don't think people are very familiar with the physics on these issues and just how special our planet is in terms of things like having an electro-magnetic field and a moon of such and such a size (that serves a huge number of crucial functions regulating our planet).  He'll, we're not even sure if fetal development could take place properly on a planet half our mass like Mars.

  •  This is a most fascinating and important diary, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lehman scott

    as are the comments, though I've only read half of them so far.

    I'm wondering though, is "capitalism" really a singular and well-defined system? Or are there rather various types and interpretations of economic exchange that are either more or less "capitalistic"?

    Your definition that "A capitalist is someone who uses their money to make more money" seems vague to me, because it could apply to all sorts of situations, motivations, and definitions of "money".

    I'm not even sure what money is, or what it's worth. We seem to be moving away from a physical cash-based system toward an abstract system of electronic data transfer, where "money" and information about "money" are becoming hard to distinguish, one from the other.

    This is very puzzling to me, especially considering that "money" supposedly represents "value", and yet this often appears not to be the case. Plenty of money but very little of value to show for it.

    •  Thanks. I just (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lehman scott

      used that terminology because it's more readily familiar to people with little background in economics.  If I were speaking precisely, I would say that capitalism is a system in which capital is reinvested to generate more capital.  Capital, of course, can take all sorts of forms as you point out.

      Comparison of capitalism to feudalism is illuminating.  In the first place, in a feudal system people don't work for a wage or sell their labor to survive.  At least, it's incredibly rare for people to engage in wage labor and you can find all sorts of writings in feudal and ancient slave systems where working for a wage is seen as extremely shameful.  In capitalism, by contrast, everyone except capitalists must sell their labor for a wage to get the things they need to live.  Second, in a feudal system, people don't subsist by buying commodities to live on.  Rather, they produce their own means of subsistence for themselves and their lords and the church.  In capitalism, by contrast, we don't produce our own means of subsistence through, for example, having a garden, but rather get those means from the market.  Finally, third, in a feudal system goods are produced to be consumed by the serfs, lords, and church.  By contrast, in capitalism, commodities are produced to be exchanged and to produce some sort of profit in the process of being exchanged.  In other words, the primary aim of a commodity is not to be consumed-- though a large portion of them do get consumed --but exchange where a profit is produced.

      The contrast between capitalism and feudalism is pretty stark.  In the latter, the system doesn't produce more than it needs in order to sustain the lords and serfs.  The lords, of course, want luxury and opulence, but they don't aim for the production of excess or growth.  In the former, by contrast, the system necessarily produces more than is required (and therefore faces the question of how that excess can be re-absorbed).

  •  Here's where I disagree. (0+ / 0-)

    I have long argued that we no longer live under capitalism, we live under Corporatism.  While the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, they aren't one and the same either.   As you said, capitalism has been around in some form or another since money was first created.  Corporatism, though, is a relatively new creation that has created and encouraged many of the issues you attribute to capitalism itself.  Which I find strange considering you want to remove the "greed" arguement.

    First off, I once heard a lectur on this topic and while I can't remember the specifics one thing that I do remember was the lecturers own distinction.  He said capitalism is about taking risks.  As you said, investing money and hoping for a return.  Companies taking risks to develop new products, to compete, etc.   Corporatism, on the other hand, is about eliminating all risks and pushing those risks on to the public if necessary.  Corporation's need to be risk averse means less innovation, or letting others innovate and buy them  out...which leads to less competition.  Corporations would rather find ways to repackage or brand the same product over and over than to develop a new innovative product.

    Second, it isn't capitalism that says "you must".  That is a complete load of BS I think.  The capitalist always has a choice.  Only corporations are slaves to the "you MUST" that you reference.  Corporations MUST, by law, always increase returns.  And it is this "MUST" aspect of corporations that leads to the people's belief that it is evil or "greedy"....because they can not accept that enough is enough.  As such, they must profit, even if it means at the expense of others.

    Personally, I honestly believe capitalists and capitalim is a choice.  I want to make more money and will invest accordingly.  Corporatism is not a choice.  It is a system that believes in a myth of infinite profits.  It is a system that says workers are slaves and exploit anyone and everything as much as you can.  It is a system that simply can not say "enough is enough".  And inevitably, corporatism is a system that inevitably will always do harm.  I see no way a corporation can NOT do harm, but I see plenty of ways a capitalist system can because a capitalist has a choice and is capable of saying enough is enough.

    Maybe I am splitting hairs, but I don't believe so.  Capitalism has always been about a sort of balance.  Yes, the richest are the minority, but there was an understanding that the social-economy is a pyramid shape.  Capitalism had some understanding of community or society, even if just for appearance sake.  Corporatism doesn't acknowledge that at all.  It wants to make the tip of the pyramid bigger and bigger while squeezing the middle as much as possible.  It is a jenga tower, always taking from the bottom and giving to the top, while doing as little as possible to warrant that shift.  It is like a bank constantly increasing its fees.  It offers nothing new or valuable to members, it just feels entitled to keep taking more and more to pad its own pockets.  

    And again, while capitalism has always existed in some form, corporatism is something new that we have created and have subjugated ourselves too.

    •  I think your views on (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lehman scott

      choice are at the core of capitalist ideology (false belief).  The situation is no different for the small business because of competition.  If one doesn't expand they'll be eaten up by their competition (capitalism always tends towards monopolies) and lose your shirt.  That's why it's not a matter of "choice" and why the greed argument is so misguided.  Yes, corporatism behaves in different ways, but the logic is basically the same in both instances.  This really gets to the core of the difference between liberals and leftists.  Liberals are conservatives that believe that everything is about individuals and their moral attitudes.  Their difference from the right, is that where rightists denounce the poor and minorities for making immoral decisions ("they didn't work hard and had the wrong values!), liberals blame corporate fat cats for being immoral ("they're greedy!").  This leads to a politics of moral edification ("if we only morally educated these people things would change!"), which seldom produces any real change.  Leftists, by contrast, understand sociology and therefore understand that the reason these things function as the do have little to do with what anyone believes or their morals, but through how the system as a whole is structured.  As a consequence, leftists understand that if you want to change things you have to address that structure, not be a moral scold.  Sadly, there's not really a left in the United States, just conservatives and moderate conservative liberals.  That has begun to change, however.

      •  I still disagree (0+ / 0-)

        My wife runs a small business.  It has been growing for a number of years and has gone from a weekend "hobby" to now her full-time job.  There is "competition" but none of that "expand or get eaten up by the competition".   Further, I live in a city of only about 200,000 and there are tons of small businesses that have been around for decades - plumbers, landscapers, contractors, and various others.  I doubt my city is an exception to any rule.  

        This idea of eat or be eaten, while maybe technically true to some extent, is certainly not gospel of capitalism beyond what I call corporatism.  There is plenty of real world evidence supporting this.  

        And despite my "idealism" I stand by my position.  Capitalists are individuals who want to use their money to make more money.  Yes.  But that still doesn't mean that that automatically does harm.  What does harm is the legal obligation put on corporations, a modern man-made construct, that legislates capitalism not as a process so much as an end in itself.  

        •  Well, you're simply wrong about any (0+ / 0-)

          of this being about individuals.  It would be nice if it were because then we could just talk to them like our mothers talked to us and say "be nice!"

          No one is suggesting that all of this happens in the blink of an eye.  It takes time.  Moreover, There are different degrees of development around the globe, as in the case of your town.  This is nonetheless the trajectory of all capitalism and it existed well before the emergence of corporations.  Indeed, that was the major impetus of labor struggles during the early part of the last century.  I take it that you're in the "we can have capitalism with a smiley face" camp?

          •  Capitalism with a smiley face. (0+ / 0-)

            Lol.  No, not at all.  As I've said, I just see more of a balance in capitalism than what I would call corporatism.  I don't disagree that capitalism still leads to issues and conflicts, but there has also always been a regular cycle of growth and crashes.  And people have had a role in capitalism via labour.  

            Where I see a difference is since the rise of corporations, legislation has been written to protect their greedy behaviour.  Their greed and abuses and corruption is legislated as a necessity.  Because it is a legal necessity, governments actively protect them and help them because they see those "harms" as being legal and, worse yet, important for everyone.  

            Again, maybe I'm splitting hairs.  But I honestly do believe that while capitalism as a system has some abuses, there always seems to be some of a balance.  INdividuals can be prosecuted and held accountable.  Under corporatism, the companies themselves are "persons" which is intentionally specifically to avoid accountability.  Which is why so many corporations can break the law without concern.  Can't hold any individual accountable in most cases, and the fees for the company are often smaller than the profit potential.

            What I see is those problems that existed under capitalism you mention are amplified 100 fold under corporatism and that is the real problem.  

  •  About Marxist terminology (0+ / 0-)

    Just wondering how to talk to Marxists without being dismissed as being ignorant of Marxist nomenclature.

    I get the sense that Marxists, who tend to be strongly versed in Marxist literature, have a tendency to use very concise, fixed definitions of terms according to contemporary Marxist usage, and that, if the definitions are not conformed to by non-Marxists, would be considered illiterate or ignorant usages of the terms.

    If in Marxist theory "capitalist" defines a person who "uses their money to make money" (even if his or her behavior is due to happenstance or is coerced due to having no other real choice but to behave as a capitalist, despite personal predilections to the contrary), what term is used to describe the person who is an advocate of capitalism (regardless of whether they are earning money with money -- say, a laborer)?

    Isn't the laborer who staunchly defends capitalism still a capitalist (in terms of belief)? If not, how would Marxists describe that person? What term is used?

    Seems the term capitalist could have more than one meaning.

    And what do we call a person who is a small business owner who employs no outside labor, and who despises capitalism, and thus prefers to be self employed and not a wage slave? Still a capitalist?

    "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

    by ZhenRen on Thu May 30, 2013 at 12:05:07 PM PDT

    •  Shen, within a Marxist (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lehman scott

      framework, whether or not someone believes in capitalism or advocates it isn't really relevant, because capitalism doesn't exist because people believe in it.  Put differently, believing in capitalism isn't the cause of capitalism.  The cause of capitalism is the process of exchange itself.  You can be the biggest critic of capitalism around, but you're still making capitalism every time you participate in that process of exchange (both by selling your labor and in purchasing commodities).  In a lot of ways, this is the difference between liberals and leftists.  Liberalism (which is a category shared by both most on the American "left" and conservatives) hold that what people believe makes society.  Leftists hold that what society is is largely independent of what people believe (note this is pretty much the standard view in sociology).

      Don't get me wrong.  It's not that belief is unimportant.  Let's take your capitalist apologist that ardently defends this system and argues that it's the best of all possible systems (the dominant view among both political orientations in the United States).  Carefully showing this person why their beliefs about the wonderfulness of capitalism can be of value because it might encourage them to organize in ways that will assist in combatting this extremely destructive system.  The only point I'm trying to make is that it is not our belief in capitalism that causes capitalism.  A lot of us seem to have this idea and therefore seem to think that it's enough just to disabuse people of their support for capitalism to develop an alternative.  That dog don't hunt.

      •  Fine... (0+ / 0-)

        Although I was just asking about terminology. What term do Marxists use to describe one who advocates capitalism (must one always say, "one who advocates capitalism" or will the simple label of "capitalist" suffice? It seems rather inflexible, but maybe I'm misunderstanding.

        Simple question.

        (Still, what people believe certainly has a profound influence on what form of social organization they support.)

        My own leanings are aligned with anarchist theory, and I observe that anarchist writers are not as doctrinaire with language, although there are certain terms within the anarchist tradition as well that seem to be preferred.

        Great diary, by the way.

        "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

        by ZhenRen on Fri May 31, 2013 at 10:36:06 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  On greed and "bad" people (0+ / 0-)

    An excellent article, just one point on which we disagree to an extent. It's true that capitalism doesn't require greed or "bad people" to function. If one corporate manager won't fire people or lower their wages to increase profits, he or she will be fired and someone else found who will. HOWEVER, what capitalism does is to REWARD those who are the MOST greedy or "bad," creating a positive feedback loop which does accentuate that behavior.

    Eli Stephens
    Left I on the News
    "Stand Up, Fight Back!"

    by elishastephens on Thu May 30, 2013 at 04:25:56 PM PDT

  •  Capitalists are like race horses (0+ / 0-)

    They always lean into the bit, and must be controlled by enforced regulations because they can't stop themselves.

    Same as with a race horse, they are born to run, and will drive themselves and their "riders" (the rest of us) into the ground if we let them. They are in a race, after all.

    Women create the entire labor force. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

    by splashy on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 02:10:25 AM PDT

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