Monday, January 30, 2006


Questioning the Morality of Capitalism

I have invited QÖTSÁISAW and a few other folks to comment and post this week on their opinions on capitalism, economics, market structures, politics, and whatever else comes up. So welcome and please comment.

"a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned. Under capitalism the state is separated from economics (production and trade), just like the state is separated from religion. Capitalism is the system of of laissez faire. It is the system of political freedom." To continue the conversation from the last post, I quote from the provided definition of capitalism. It is a purist's definition for sure as capitalism as we know it doesn't exist as defined above. But even the above definition is weak. "A social system"!? I thought the point pro-capitalists are trying to make is it is a purely economic system free from politics and morality? That's what I've gotten so far. But the idea of capitalism being morally and/or ethically nuetral is important and not necessarily a bad thing. It should be free of any agenda or coercion. As well the above definition states "It is the system of political freedom." which as we know it is bullshit really. The above definition is quite easily deconstructed as it is not a consistent statement. Free trade and private ownership is not inclusive to just capitalism, we must remember. I could live in a theocracy and freely trade with any entity I choose, and therefore have free trade. I could establish with my community, or self-determined entity I choose to live with, that this place that I pissed in the corners of, is "mine" or of my immediate family/group; and that doesn't mean we have to be capitalist. (As Chris said in the comments of the previous post that it would easier for the sake of argument to have simple generalizations), capitalism as we have known it is reliant on classism, racism, rule of unjust law, exploitation, the unchecked draining of resources and destruction of the biosphere which we and other beings depend on for life, the enforcement of beliefs on non-believers, corupt government in colusion with corupt business, and that is just to start. These maybe MY ethics, but they allow for others to live by theirs, which is lacking in the world. Like I said earlier, the non-morality of capitalism is a double edged sword, and as we have seen it work in modern times it is killing all the things that make us human. It values an abstraction: the accumilation of wealth that the states validates as 'real' wealth which is nothing more than paper and balances on a sheet, more than the aspects of living that truly contribute to our well being: family, connection and relation, love, community, health, spirituality for some, personal power for others, and a sense of well being that is solid as the earth we stand on, not the amount of money we make. In short, capitalism is a lie we all have bought into and perpetuate even unconsciously. We have the ability to take what works from any system, discard the rest and form a real way of life that is immediately validated from day to day in our personal and collective prosperity, human and non-human, and not have to have any one system that we are beholden to. And if others want to live like that, then they can live over there, and I'll live over here and never the two shall meet, but only to mend the fence and maintain respect enough to not impact each other negatively. It's simplistic, but maybe necessary to counter all our complex abstractions. Thanks,
It is not true that "'capitalism' values an abstraction: the accumilation of wealth that the states validates as 'real' wealth which is nothing more than paper and balances on a sheet, more than the aspects of living that truly contribute to our well being: family, connection and relation, love, community, health, spirituality for some, personal power for others, and a sense of well being that is solid as the earth we stand on, not the amount of money we make."

Capitalism values nothing. It depends entirely on what individuals value. If you value money, then capitalism enables you to pursue the goal of accumulating wealth. If you value love, family connections, free time or anything else, Capitalism allows you to pursue that also.

The alternative to Capitalism is far worse.

I won't address the gold standard, private money or monetary policy in this post - I'm sure it can be a topic for another day.
Well I think it is true that we are taught to value money over most anything else. The state certainly maintains that abstraction. I certainly don't, and others as well; I am taking about what the society enforces. That is a social value not an economic one, and yes it doesn't necessarily have to be an aspect of the ideal capitalism. Again I think you are mixing your ideal of capitalism with defacto capitalism. As far as the the argument that the alternative to capitalism is far worse, which I have seen several times now, that quite frankly is beyond weak. If you are an idealist, which it is obvious you are as am I, then you've already contridicted yourself. If you constantly are thinking you are choosing the lesser of two (or more)evils, than you're compromising more than you realize, starting with your own integrity. Saying you support something because it is better than the alternative is just what republicans and democrats rely on to perpetuate and validate the fiasco of contemporary amerika. To be an idealist, you must be a realist, and embrace that paradox. You can't steer a ship without knowing where you are to start with. And what is worse than some entity making and carrying out decisions that you don't agree with and that are violent and destructive to life in all forms: that has been the role of capitalism, just as heinous as hitler, ancient rome, and any force that looks to exploit and capitalize off another; that is the essence of capitalism AS THE WORLD HAS KNOWN IT PERIOD. Read your history with a critical eye and no agenda: If you can't see that in the story we have created than you are deluding yourself; it is a simple observation.
And by the way, I don't consider love, family, community as economics which are supported by capitalism. You need to get your own argument straight: is capitalism an economic system or a social system? Several arguments I've seen like to go back and forth as desired. If you want to be an effective advocate for change, you have to study how to do it and practice constantly.
Jenna is exactly right. The wonder of Capitalism is that, there exists this subjective value. Value is depended on each individual, who using money, as a medium of exchange is able to purchase what each individually values. The use of "money" is helpful, so that you can spread around your values or even just being able to have more than a couple of items that you value, which you now can easily obtain through mutually-beneficial trade.

Money is just a proxy for what you would be able to purchase. I think it was Bastiat that said something like: money is only as valuable for what you can purchase with it. Wealth is different for every person and money gives us the simple ability (for transaction and non-perishable purposes) to accumulate money over time, and therefore the ability to purchase whatever it is that we value. The value of Capitalism is that we are able to have more than one centralized value system and pursue it individually.

You may have concerns with what many people call “capitalism”. What we have in the U.S. is not capitalism. Since capitalism is supposed to be independent of political structures, it is consistent with individualism, liberty, freedom, and choice and even the relinquishment of the State entirely. Your issue might be more a concern with Public Choice and the relationship of the “military-industrial-CAPITALIST”.

Here’s a discussion on Wealth:

Some info on Public Choice:
Capitalism is an economic system. Where Capitalism lives is the social system. Being an idealist, I say that they should not mix company. Being a realist, means that I too must recognize that they share the same bed, much too often. Since they share the same bed though, it is not really capitalism. So what you have many problems with is the current orgy of fascism.

Again, you might enjoy reading some information on Public Choice (It is a mix between Political science and Economics)
I agree with and understand the dynamic subjectivity of the capitalism you're describing as well money. My views tend to stem from my activist side: how to read what is going on here and now and move towards what is, to the best and most honest of my knowledge at the moment, better. Its an evolution, personal and public, micro and macro. I appreciate you acknowledging the difference between what has been actual capitalism and (capital C) the ideal of Capitalism. That is what I am adimant about: this system doesn't work and personally and collectively we must forge a new one while practicing the new paradigm of hierarchy-less social egalitarianism and individual freedom. I am really enjoying this conversation- thanks for 'having' contribute; lets keep going.
Thank you for joining us.

Ideally, I could see the implementation of a true Capitalism with no State (Anarcho-capitalism) as desirable. It would be all about the individual and voluntary action. Reality prohibits practical implementation.

I am not sure if egalitarianism can exist, or if it should, since we are all unequal anyway. State intervention has not and does not improve inequality and I am not sure if "hierarchy-less" equalitarianism can be achieved. Since most folks see equality through income or wealth measures, distribution via State-mandated theft is necessary for that desired end.

Also is it an equality of means or an equality of outcome issue?
I think it is an equality of opportunity and the absence of oppression. That is why hierarchy needs to be eradicated, it is the essence of power over, coercion, and exploitation of others. Without out eradicating that, we have achieved nothing. Now if a singular community or entity desires hierarchy within their own sphere and people enter into it voluntarily, that's their choice by all means. But the involuntary centralized control, domination, and exploitive slavery over groups of people with different values and lifstyles, such as the neo-liberal agenda of the globalization of economy and 'democracy' which fits well with the neo-coservative agenda ironically (or not really) then I am militantly opposed to and will use violence if it is an effective means to the liberation of all (you might read my blog post titled 'Signs or Swords?' to get a better understanding about my current position on violence and non-violence). And it seems you may of contridicted your argument <"I am not sure if "hierarchy-less" equalitarianism can be achieved. Since most folks see equality through income or wealth measures, distribution via State-mandated theft is necessary for that desired end"> because as you stated that wealth and income is subjective to the community that defines it (in an earlier post); most folks do buy into the common definition of wealth that the state validates. But I am in no way saying the state is responsible for the 'theft' of and distribution of "wealth". The point I am espousing is that there is no state to make any decisions "for all". Isn't that an essential part of anarchy? Egalitarianism of opportunity and respect for life has far longer been the norm in human history than the last few thousand years; in fact the past 2-3 thousands years are an abberation in many ways to the way humans have existed. But that is another story all together! And I would be so bold to say I can see your ideal of "True Capitalism" with no State AS POSSIBLE, but like the common misconception of anarchy, capitalism as we know it must be eradicated.
I think I'm with you here, Chris. Equality under the law is the only achievable type of equality.

Equality of outcome is impossible. For a fictional examle of why, everyone should read Harrison Bergeron.
Oh, and of course we all have different capabilities and strengths, etc., but that is why we have community and family and collective entities so we can create a fulfilling life for ourselves by supporting each other within the realm we choose. The egalitarianism is in the fact that each person has the ability to choose and the opportunity the manifest their vision, and, ideally, work with others of their own choosing. This model I am trying to describe has existed, as I made this point in the above post, far longer than the abberation that exists now. I am not saying we have to " go back" to primitive living, but take the best of what works and forge a better way that is only limited by what we are open to: anything is possible.
Is it not possible for small collective units (such as families) to exist within a framework of the free market?

Nothing should stop those who choose that life to pursue it. In fact, it may be very satisfactory to some. I would only have a problem if I was not permitted to make the decision for myself.

Even in our imperfect, quasi-capitalist society, people make the choice all the time. Families share their homes, belongings, work. Homeowners Associations combine efforts to make more beautiful communities.

These voluntary organizations are perfect examples of why freedom of choice should determine how people organize themselves socially. And that's entirely possible within an economic system of Capitalism.
So Jenna, are you saying you are pro-equality and it must be enforced by law, or is equality not important or possible in your vision of the 'social' form of capitalism? The first idea might make you a liberal democrat trying to make more laws to dictate how we should live; the second idea might make you a radical conservative and/or libertarian who puts the 'right to laissez faire' ahead of anything, i.e. a purely economical view of life? It seems the 'social' capitalism you are talking about is just an economic, quantified way, of valuing life. That personally makes my skin crawl, and I don't mean to be antagonistic to you, but that doesn't seem like a much different stance then the way the world is being run now; or at least these views stem from the same basic beliefs. Please let me know if I am not understanding what you are saying. Equality is completely possible and has existed successfully before; it is a sustainable way of life, a quality of life for an individual that they personally can determine and receive support for and opportunity for; that isn't so different from what the bill of rights or the declaration of independence or the constitution lays out. We have drifted so far from these ideas it is no longer tolerable and we must revolt in whatever way that is most effective to destroying current regimes. Anyways,
Sure its possible in an economic system of true capitalism; anything is possible and I don't deny anyones right to decide how to live their life and with whom. But I can see you've bought the party line like the republicans, saying 'well its imperfect but it works for now because look, those people are doing it, so it's acceptable.' That is, pardon my indignity and don't take this personally, I hope, but a load of crap and an apologetic stance for the powers that be and the system they enforce. If someone wanted to live in their community or whatever along these lines, that's fine, but to say it's right for all, or should be at least acceptable to everyone, is the beginning and root of tyranny. No thanks. What kind of choice is it when you have only a certain small spectrum of choices to choose from? Yeah we make choices in this current society all the time, but as we've already said, it is within a framework NOT of our choosing. I didn't choose this paradigm, and accepting the world view they espouse and the few choices they offer, is not freedom, and making excuses for it doesn't make it acceptable. The planet and all its beings are under attack by this very system you say is 'acceptable' and 'at least better than the alternative.' It simply must be destroyed if we are to continue evolving, and that process is a part of our evolution as well. I apologize for being so aggresive here, but this is my stance and my thoughts and I am happy to hear what you have to say and intend no malice. Thanks,
Not to beleager the point, but I have to point something out. "Capitalism values nothing," Jenna said. That can be exactly the problem! And "It depends entirely on what individuals value." That could define a system that can act as a prostitute (or a congressman, same thing) to whoever weilds the controls and the power. These are the inherent reasons why capitalism as a we know it, must end.
"...If someone wanted to live in their community or whatever along these lines, that's fine, but to say it's right for all, or should be at least acceptable to everyone, is the beginning and root of tyranny."

I suppose that the argument for a particular philosophy or ideology begins from scratch, which is unrealistic, but to say that ultimately "choice of lifestyle" leads to tyranny is a bit of a jump. Tyranny presumes that someone is choosing for you or better yet forcing you at gun point to live and act a particular way.

Also, (from a few posts back) you said you thought it was possible to see Anarcho-capitalism applied, but under the common misconception of anarchy, capitalism must fall.

Why is that? Doesn't anarchy mean either 1. No State or 2.Chaos?
What is it about Capitalism that makes it inconsistent with Anarchy? I mean of course the true Capitalism with which we have been speaking.

If you reject ideal Capitalism because of its current deformed state in modern society, do you not also have to reject your egalitarianism because of its misuses since LBJ and the Great Society? What about social justice?
What do you mean by "a system that can act as a prostitute"?

I like that by the way. The congressman and the prostitute. It really is pretty synonymous.

You get what you pay for, they both fake it, and they both lie to you about where they've been.
Well, I'll clarify. You said "Tyranny presumes that someone is choosing for you or better yet forcing you at gun point to live and act a particular way" which is for most of the worlds population, especially the 3rd and 4th world, TRUE; I am saying exactly that. The IMF and World Bank, amerika's current foreign policy, and other systems, governments, and organizations like trans-nationals, ARE HOLDING A VIRTUAL GUN at the heads of the world's people and sucking the life from the planet. "Conform to what we want or we will ultimately use our power to eliminate you" is the overt message to them. That isn't a far stretch or exageration at all. It is more covert here in amerika, but the message is the same: the amerikan government is becoming less and less tolerant of people here doing something radically different. Look at Waco, look at Ruby Ridge. I don't subscribe to their values, but those people were doing little to harm others however they hurt their own; nothing that couldn't be topped by the u.s. government itself. Look at the force used to instll an ideaology in the Middle-East. That is the way I see it and I know a lot of people agree. As far as ". . . to see Anarcho-capitalism applied, but under the common misconception of anarchy, capitalism must fall" you misquoted me. I said LIKE the common misconception of anarchy, capitalism must be eradicated, meaning BOTH the current manifestation of capitalism as a destructive force AND the misconception of anarchy necessarily being anti-Capitalism, as your position states. It may have been a weird simile, but I was trying to establish a common ground for both of our view points.
The prostitute/conressman analogy is just an illustration that we have the best representatives money can buy. Like hiring a prostitute, they'll do what the person or entity paying the money wants, if the price is right. Same can be true of scientists, preachers, any leader at all really. The mainstream amerikan society values money more than integrity. Everyone is trying to prove they're right, at any cost including the validity of what they're trying to prove. It's a goat-fuck, to use a local saying. Hope that clarifies something!
Also, since the Korean conflict, the u.s. government and its lackeys have been involved in some war or 'conflict' continuously through to present day. What is that about? Possibly paving the way for U.S. to have a global influence to suit it's own agenda. That is what Eisenhower was saying: our military-industrial-capitalist complex is designed for (it sounds extreme, but I'll say it) world domination. That flies directly in the face of our constitution, bill of rights, declaration of independence, et al; the u.s. regime is a two-faced hypocrate that does not have ANYTHING but its own power and greed at interest. On and on and on.
I can't wait to get in on this discussion. I bet you can't wait either...
I can't read anything more than 5 pages. It's just one of my things.
The central issue is probably the one QÖTSÁISAW raises about the nature of power in the system. Where does that power arise from?

I don't have a problem with calling the present system capitalist, but I consider it capitalist precisely to the extent that it isn't a free market.

The important thing is, all the inequities and concentrations of power QÖTSÁISAW complains of under capitalism are (ultimately at least) creations of the state. Without state intervention in the market to externalize corporate operating costs, cartelize industry, reduce the bargaining power, etc., the economy would be a lot more decentralized and worker-controlled, and costs like pollution and resource consumption would be fully internalized in price.

I agree with Benjamin Tucker that being a "consistent Manchester man" is the best way to achieve socialism.
We are dancing around the "no State" idea, and that's where we should be headed. Many Austrian economists are off on this point, and I believe the writers of the constitution were off a little too. The prevailing attitude is that, "if we don't establish a state someone else will come in and set one up instead." This is instructive in the true origin of government- barbarism.

What's the alternative? Courts. And guns. Guns first. Give everybody guns. (Sounds funny coming from a near-pacifist, doesn't it?) Then give them courts. If Bob steals from Al they have a choice in how to settle the problem. They can either give the undertaker some business or the judge. The trick is to reveal to bob and Al how they need each other, or at least can be better off having each other's help. Each of them must have a comparative advantage in something, and both could be better off through competitive exchange.

I don't believe such a system to be amoral. I believe it to be moral because of the benefits and increased dignity to all parties. I don't believe economics can be seperated from ethics. Economics is a "social science" precisely because the principle variable involved is people. The problem arises when attempts are made to escape ethics as a factor. Kant has had a detrimental influence upon society, and many Austrian Economists are confused by this influence.
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