Critics of capitalism cite its inequities and unsustainability. Wealth and power are concentrated at the top. There are promised returns for "hard work" but in reality the timing of one's entry is the key indicator of success. The large majority will always be subservient to the small minority. Greed is rampant. Profits go to those toward the top and there is little reward for those at the bottom. Corporations have immense control and laborers have little representation. Capitalism's "grow or die" base requires continual economic growth and an endless group of people to exploit.
Hmmm, isn't that a pyramid scheme?
A great visual representation of the pyramid is the 1911 cover of the Industrial Worker entitled The Pyramid of the Capitalist System. The Industrial Worker newspaper began in 1906 as a voice for worker representation and the early issues contain information on labor issues that were not readily available in the mainstream press of the time. Sorry I don't have the original text in the 1911 article -- it's probably on microfiche in a library somewhere. I'd like to understand the artist's view for this image. Since it was the cover of a labor group's magazine, I presume that the motivation would be capitalism's devaluation of a person's labor and less about environmental unsustainability. Without benefit of the original 1911 text accompanying this image and the artist's vision, this essay attempts to draw parallels between capitalism and a pyramid structure.
A full-sized version of the image can be seen here: full-size version
Pyramid schemes exploit greed and gullibility by combining fake but seemingly credible business with simple, sophisticated money-making formula. Profit travels up the chain and only those at the top make significant money. In pyramid schemes, profit moves upward to the closest level(s). In Ponzi schemes, all money goes directly to the top (as investment schemes where all money went to the owner for investment). Neither scheme is stable and will eventually collapse when there aren't enough "suckers" entering at the lower level to sustain profits at the top.
Capitalism is inherently unequal and inherently repressive for the vast majority who make up the foundations of the pyramid. There are promised returns for "hard work" but in reality success is dependent on early entry into the system. Noam Chomsky describes free market principles as "privatized tyranny" where the wealthy use "free-market" language to justify placing greater economic risk upon the lower classes. Consumer capitalism has lasted longer than the average get-rich-quick scheme but that is only because the contributing base is much larger.
"The free market is socialism for the rich—[free] markets for the poor and state protection for the rich."
"It is impossible for capitalism to survive, primarily because the system of capitalism needs some blood to suck. Capitalism used to be like an eagle, but now it’s more like a vulture. It used to be strong enough to go and suck anybody’s blood whether they were strong or not. But now it has become more cowardly, like the vulture, and it can only suck the blood of the helpless. As the nations of the world free themselves, the capitalism has less victims, less to suck, and it becomes weaker and weaker. It’s only a matter of time in my opinion before it will collapse completely."
Capitalism is not environmentally sustainable. The "grow or die" imperative promotes environmentally irresponsible consumption and production. Healthy capitalism needs constant growth and a capitalist economy that does not grow is in a "depression." Yet the earth has finite resources. The need for profit can contribute to environmental degradation that could lead to drought and famine in parts of the world. As Dr. Stan Cox explains in Capitalism Might Work if We had Another Planet or Two, we are committed to infinite economic growth on a finite planet. That puts us on a collision course with Mother Nature. Consumption and more consumption leads to corporations getting almost free access to the destruction of the ecosphere.
John Maynard Keynes:
"Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone."
Defenders of capitalism spend enormous amounts of time and energy denying the pyramidic nature of the system. But the pyramid is obvious: our dollar bills have a pyramid on the back and there are even T-shirts reading "Capitalism is a Really Big Pyramid Scheme."
Crossposted from America's Class War