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On Capitalism

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It is unequivocally true to say, that capitalism, is by far, the greatest system ever devised for manipulating the activities of human beings. By way of enslavement, violence and coercion, the economic motive is used to retain control over individuals, communities, nations and hence the vast majority of the human race. In a market-driven economy, everything and everyone is for sale. These economic motives (or money-making incentives), routinely manipulate people into performing roles that they would almost certainly be averse to doing otherwise. Arms dealers, drug dealers, prostitutes, pimps, hitmen, people traffickers, slave traders, con artists and all manner of thieves, explicitly ply their trade, less so it may be rationalised, on account of wickedness, than owing to a restriction of opportunities to do otherwise. Likewise, many decent, morally-upright individuals who choose, for example, to work in weapons factories, or in the oil industry, in all likelihood would have chosen some other career if their profession didn’t offer them the incentive to earn a significantly higher wage compared to the other options available, or were there not a restriction on employment opportunities in the area in which they live. Under this rigid, economic system of wage slavery, since there is no agreeable alternative, everyone must come upon some arrangement of gaining access to money; the result of which being, that ethical principals are routinely put second to monetary gain. Furthermore it would seem, the less moral the means of making money, the more profitable a profession is likely to be, and that any urge to ‘do the right thing’ is almost always going to be undermined by incentives for wealth, prosperity and status.

 

Furthermore, purchasing power, powerlessness and the incentive to make money, whether correlated with greed, common livelihood or mere need for survival, profoundly taints virtually every aspect of our society. In business, for example, no course of action is ever followed because it is the most ethical, sustainable or efficient way of utilising resources; rather the overriding or sole concern is that it be the most profitable. At an individual level, the freedom one has to eat, to travel, or to live comfortably, is directly linked to one’s ability to pay for such things. Since capitalism demands that access to even the most basic human needs, requires at least some level of purchasing power, one not uncommon outcome, is that some people may feel it necessary to steal, cheat, blackmail or commit violence in order to gain access to that which they need or desire, but can’t afford. These gangsters, muggers, criminals, thieves, extortionists or fraudsters as we may classify them in society, it must be rationalised, are nothing if not a product of their environment. These ‘traits’ can not be said to be merely attributable to human nature by and of itself, but are rather symptomatic of a system that rewards many of the worst aspects of our nature and suppresses our tendencies towards generosity, compassion and humanity. Indeed, the more laudable aspects of our nature, can be seen more frequently, to manifest themselves around the scarcely-paid fringe of the capitalist system, in the form of community, social, or care work, or entirely outside of the system, in the form of volunteering and charity. The existence of thousands upon thousands of charities, should provide ample evidence of how ineffectual our system actually is, since these charities, in effect, must be 'prescribed' to offer remedy to the innumerable ills that permeate our societies. What is abundantly clear, is that capitalist ideology does not accord any solution. It does not address even the most basic and therefore vitally important human needs, such as food, water, shelter and security for hundreds of millions of people, nor does it address the vitally important responsibility for the health of our planet. In fact, capitalism, put on trial and considering all of the evidence, in addition to the charges of being deficient, ineffective, destructive and prone to crisis, would also be found guilty as being the root cause of many of these ills.

 

Perhaps the world has always been thus, however if great wealth can provide anyone with the capacity to influence mainstream media, as well as the highest levels of government, why is it that we place any confidence at all in a system that allows such power to fall into the hands of any person or persons ruthless enough, or so determined to be successful in business? It is utterly abhorrent that corporations and wealthy individuals with vested interests are granted so much influence over political decision making that concerns all of us, but it is not in the least unexpected within our capitalist system. Such abuse of financial power, has to a great extent, defined the world around us, precipitating a “Race for What’s Left” (to paraphrase Michael Klare’s book) of our planet’s natural resources, and as a consequence, the destruction of the ecosystems on which we all depend. Yet it is economics and not ecology that continues to be the focus of our myopic 'political visionaries'. When governments choose to ignore vital warnings from climate scientists to cut carbon emissions, not only are they ignoring public opinion, but they are condemning our children to the consequences. Public opinion can of course be ignored, whilst any democratic influence is virtually non-existent in a political system that is essentially bought and paid for, with the rules rigged in the favour of the buyers. How is it that banks can get away with paying their executives inordinate bonuses, despite being responsible for so much economic devastation? How can anyone fairly compete against the likes of notoriously aggressive tax avoiders like Tesco, Apple or Amazon? How can we maintain low unemployment when multi-national corporations are increasingly replacing their work force with cheap foreign labour or automated systems? The peculiar but commonly-held belief that free markets somehow provide the maximum number of people with the greatest amount of prosperity, has in effect allowed 85 individuals to now own 50% of the world’s wealth, and yet no one in government seems to think this is a problem. Why? Because it is these very same people who have for the past decades bank-rolled the election campaigns of our political parties.

 

Capitalism in essence is a game of competition and survival, pitting people, corporations and nations against each other, and so compels people to put their own interests before that of any common good. In this game there are winners and losers, and of course no choice of opting out. It is also evident that such competition invariably leads to widespread corruption, ruthless dishonesty, selfish irresponsibility and endless other examples of moral injustice; actions we can easily perceive to be both consciously and rationally acted out for the sole purpose of maximising profit, repeatedly at the expense of the environment, society and human progress. Given the way things are, it is not difficult to imagine in which direction all of these trends are likely to continue, and so it is clear therefore, that something has to radically change. This change will require a revolution in consciousness. It will require people to see the truth of our lives and our societies. They will need to be convinced that our politicians are not serving us; that the accepted truth that we live in a democracy is in fact an illusion, and that capitalism despite providing a minority of people with great material wealth, has well passed it’s sell-by-date. 

Discussion 8 Comments

  • Daniël de Klerk 15th Mar 2014

    It has went so far passed the sell-by-date (so to speak) that many of the original ideological aspects of economic liberalism have been abandoned beyond their use in rhetoric. To the point we should even question if we can still call it capitalism. It's less about competition or market economics, the financial elite of society as a group are purely interested in staying where they are even though it is a lost cause to try. Things like the welfare states, bank bailouts and subsidies are meant to compensate for inherent flaws of our economic system due to the changes in the social and technological conditions. These are the death spasms of a dying system. The only issue is, can we as a species survive the collapse, preferably before our environment becomes uninhabitable?

  • 15th Mar 2014

    I think we could call the ideologies that capitalism inspires is the Doctrine of Self. Self-interested, self-involved, self-important and self-deluded would be the core principles of a doctrine hell bent on sending society into oblivion.

  • harries islam 18th Mar 2014

    Whats wrong when competition bring some prosper? If there has no competition there has no productivity, there has no will for prosper as well. is not it?

    • Lambert Meertens 18th Mar 2014

      People have a natural tendency to cooperate, and they also have a natural tendency to compete. Neither is in and of itself good or bad. Rather in general, people can accomplish more when they cooperate: working together they can do things they could never have done on their own. But competition can drive people to surpass themselves, to reach a level of competence they would not have aspired to without the spirit of competition.

      When competition becomes the only mode that is considered valuable, driving out the sense that their is value in being cooperative too, we have a serious problem. This is what we witness when students refuse to share class notes with a fellow student who missed a few lectures because of illness. Trying to get ahead by being better is one thing; getting ahead by pushing others back is a different thing.

      That is what we see under capitalism. The profit motive has become so dominant that the only kind of competition that is left is cut-throat competition. Let's party and give each other huge bonuses for increasing market share; never mind that we did it by driving our main competitor into bankruptcy, thereby causing huge job losses and destruction of capital – after all it's not our fault they were so stupid as to insist on making a quality product, paying their workers fair wages, and not dumping all their waste in the environment. Losers.

      This new morality of the elite – greed is good and compassion is for losers – is trickling down to younger generations. But greed is not good. Friendly competition will not hurt anyone, but greed-driven competition without mercy is destroying our planet.

      Prosperity is not only a matter of us all consuming more and more stuff – which is what capitalism requires to keep functioning. People do not prosper if they are caught in a treadmill that requires them to work long hours to be able to buy all the stuff they need. We don't need higher productivity, we need a productivity that is redefined and realigned along human values. Neither in our capacity as consumers, nor as workers, do we have a say now in what we consider to be a true prosperity that will be served by productivity, whether increased or not. This is one of the important things we have to change.

    • harries islam 20th Mar 2014

      People didn’t have any knowledge of cooperation but learned from by the fear of enemy in the very early stage of primitive time. In that mean time they learned about competition.
      What should be principle of competition now this time? How people can bring it in practice?

      As we know market economy is value free science.
      Is there any term in socialism which may be called moral values? what is the principle Of this values?

    • Lambert Meertens 20th Mar 2014

      Personally, I think competition between people should not go beyond seeking immaterial prestige or recognition, such as when trying to receive the blue ribbon in a fair competition (fair in both senses of the word) for baking the best cake, or growing the best tomatoes – knowing full well that there is always a factor of luck involved and that next time someone else may be the winner. Parents can help their children to develop a healthy and balanced approach to competitiveness by not urging their children to win at all costs, as if their approval of the child depends on the child's performance in the competition.

      Economists like to claim that what they are doing is value-free science, but I don't think for a second they are. Already in their basic premises they treat the labour of human beings as a commodity that is for sale on the market. In my eyes that is morally wrong, but their framework does not allow a different approach. Economists furthermore usually assume that human beings are all selfishly greedy – choosing to act in accordance to what is "best" (according to a very narrow-minded and materialistic definition) for them individually, without considering the consequences for others. Instead of being value-free science, it is all infused with neo-liberal ideology. However dismal the results of these pseudo-scientific exercises, they then eagerly sell them to equally eager neo-liberal policy makers as science-based policy recommendations.

      The label "socialism" is used for so many different things that I don't know what one should consider to be part of it. IOPS is based on a number of core values: self-management, equity/justice, solidarity, diversity, and ecological stewardship. These are largely moral values. An interesting blog discussion related to this can be found here: The Ethics of IOPS.

  • harries islam 22nd Mar 2014

    Does it ensure that people must obtain their just rewards?

  • Kenneth Jackson 2nd Apr 2014

    Hi Harries,

    I'm not sure what you mean by "Does it ensure people must obtain their just rewards".

    Can you elaborate?

    Thanks

    Kenneth