Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Capitally Continued

Continuing from Capitally Speaking.

Goober wrote:
Capitalism is not anarchy. They aren't the same thing. They are not mutually exclusive of each other, true, but one does not necessarily rely on the other to exist.

Well, I guess anarchy relies on capitalism, but that's only because we haven't found any other economic system under which you can allow freedom to trade with whomever you please, whenever you please to do so, which would be a prerequisite for anarchy. All other economic forms require some cetralized power to direct traffic, so to speak, which would be anathema to anarchy...The existence of government law, and law enforcement forces does not preclude the existence of a capitalist society. Nor, I might add, is such a thing necessary for capitalism to flourish. There are other methods by which a man can protect the products of his labors, and his property, other than having the government do it. Many others.

The thing is that we've found over the years, that perhaps having the government do it is the most efficient method to achieve this goal, and we have chosen to go down that path. This does not mean that we are no longer under a capitalist economic system.

Capitalism relies on the ability to protect property and the product of one's labors. It does not rely on the government doing so, and having the government do so does not mean that you don't have capitalism.

How do you strike a balance between the absolute minimum of law enforcement necessary to "protect the marketplace," and interference that, to you, becomes socialism?

Example: I write a song, record myself singing it, and sell CDs. You make a million copies of my CD and sell them as bootlegs.

(1) Is it capitalist if I hire muscle to tear down your operation?

(2) Is it capitalist if I tear it down myself, by hand?

(3) What if I do that, and then you hire muscle to eliminate me? Is your retaliatory act still capitalist?

(4) What if the muscle I paid to shut you down have been given exclusive license to respond to patent infringements by a representative republican government, and I pay them not by the job, but via yearly membership dues (taxes)?

Okay, so let's say you choose (4), and you believe that it is "capitalism" when I hire exclusively-licensed muscle to stop your reselling my songs. Ergo you feel that it is still a "fair marketplace" when we're abiding by rules put in place by a representative republican government.

The thing you won't like about that is that, by accepting such a proposition, you're accepting Obamacare as capitalist, too--and it is capitalist. If I can interfere with your CD sales by hiring licensed muscle to force you to follow a set of regulations, and if I can justify that as "capitalism" by claiming that the actions of a representative republic are sufficient to legitimize putting you in jail for selling a product, then United Healthcare and Blue Cross are equally justified in employing law enforcement and taxing agencies to mandate purchases of their products.

Welcome aboard the ACA bandwagon, aspiring socialist!

If the actions of a "representative republic" justify capitalism, then it is also capitalism to prevent private individuals from smoking a $300 bag of marijuana to ease the pain of terminal cancer, or growing a $20 bag of the same marijuana, and instead, requiring them and their insurer to buy a $2400 cocktail of pain drugs that don't work as effectively, and cause constipation and permanent mood alterations?

For the same reason, then, it's "capitalism" to pay thousands of dollars in welfare payments to a woman who drinks in her apartment all day, churning out kid after kid, while a different woman from the same family struggles to get by, making less for working two jobs. If you think that the actions of a representative republic are capitalism, then you cannot object to Hillary Clinton's 2021 government takeover of the gun marketplace on "safety grounds" agreed to by her party's majorities in Congress. Everything that the representative republic does is sanctioned as "capitalism," to you.


Of course this results in cognitive dissonance, because some of the representative republic's actions, real or hypothetical, are unappealing to the so-called "capitalist." In order to distinguish nice, safe, sheltered "free markets" from socialism, the capitalist has to insist upon the government following only certain rules to be called "capitalist." It's the old nitpicking crap again, where the question is begged the first time it's asked.

The capitalist wants fair competition, but only if others are prevented from stealing his property. So, the capitalist pays a few of Grandpa's coins to starving immigrants to shoot Lakota men and rape Lakota women. The capitalist pays more of Grandpa's coins to a man in the territorial office in order to get a patent to said land. Then, the capitalist hires some of the surviving immigrants to mine coal and farm tobacco on his land. He accumulates great wealth by virtue of "title," while those who produce the tobacco, manage the crops, chart the veins, and ship and distribute "his" product die young and poor.

When some of the workers try to take the Lakota land "back" for themselves, the capitalist is unavailable to fight. Instead, he insists that a militia be raised to shoot the workers to death and secure his title. To pay for that militia, the workers and the militia and their families are taxed.

The workers raise a claim of ownership by virtue of having mixed their labor with the property (viva Locke), in contrast to the owner, who spends most of his time in Manhattan town, but for a month a year when he lives on an estate a few miles from the farm. The workers' claim is denied. The Lakota raise a claim of ownership by virtue of having spent generations living on and mixing their labor with the property (viva Locke viva Smith, et. al.). The Lakota claim is denied.

The capitalist neither works, nor defends, his land. He enjoys likening himself to a smith or craftsman, who create things, though he never creates anything. His product--his contribution to humanity, and the supposed reasons for his wealth--is nothing but capitalism. He produces something only inasmuch as he fiercely advocates a belief in competition determined by the imperial British rules of property, where African lives are fungible commodities, foreigners are disposable, and resources belong to whoever is strong enough to hold them. If Country A blows up a building, capitalists see justice, and are delighted; if Country B blows up a building, capitalists see injustice, and demand government reparations and war. A capitalist will sell a patented drug with deadly side effects, demand that the State prevent others from infringing on the patent, and also demand that the State prevent others from developing or using competing products.

There is never, and has never, been a capitalist who consistently advocated for the freedom of the marketplace. Capitalists say they want "free trade," but if recalcitrant natives form a national coalition to hold, administer, and distribute their own resources, capitalist armies invade and install pliant regimes. When people talk about "capitalism," what they really talk about is the law of power: the right of the powerful to define the rules by which marketplaces operate. The powerful decide all of the questions raised previously:
Who may enter and who may not enter the marketplace? What may be sold there? What kinds of transactions are crimes, and what kind are not crimes? Which crimes will be vigorously enforced, and which overlooked when committed by which participants? Who gets to assess transaction fees (taxes) to pay for the military and police protections required to maintain a non-chaotic marketplace, and who gets to control the outlay of the resulting massive super-surplus of resources? Which currencies may be used for transactions at which values, and for which currencies will use result in a quite serious armed response?
Upon the breach of any of these rules, the capitalist whines, "Barbarians!" and quits the game. It's self-evident, to him, that what happened wasn't "capitalist." When someone makes the capitalist pay to clean up the poison he dumped in the river, he cries socialism; when Congress uses public funds to raise an army, overthrows an African government, and gives a corporation exclusive rights to take the ruined nation's oil, he calls it capitalism; when the people who work in his plants keep falling into the turbines because they're too dumb to understand warning labels, he insists that capitalism is about requiring local property owners to pay tax based on the value of their houses to fund public schools to train his workers better; when his locality considers requiring him to use more specific labeling on his retail products, he's back to whining about socialism.

Throughout it all, it is completely obvious to him that the things he wants are "capitalism," which is good, and that the things he doesn't want are "socialism," which is bad. A single individual can simultaneously believe that certain lines of legislation, almost identically phrased and rationalized but for the industries they affect, are capitalist or socialist. Point out any contradictions, and you achieve cognitive dissonance; the capitalist, in a fury, doesn't understand why you are so stupid you don't see the difference between "capitalism" and "socialism," since everybody who isn't stupid can tell.

Practically, "capitalism"--like "constitutional law"--really means, "What I like. What I believe in." Humans have developed many terms to distinguish between their various preferences and perceptions, some of great utility and others of lesser. Unlike the difference between "gray" and "yellow," "potato" and "tomato," or "muay thai" and "jiujitsu," the term "capitalism" is so bone-headedly hypocritical of a term that it can't reasonably define anything more specific than flying purple unicorns farting rainbow farts...

...like most modern isms, where imperial propaganda began to mix with the development of language, creating these absurd, multifaceted words that mean everything and nothing all at once, and leave ordinary people powerless to understand the discussions of an educated elite, which can talk for hours about "standard of care" and "capitalism," but which is befuddled by such simplicities as "first, do no harm" and "hungry people."

Moral Choices

This one shares the desire of many of the less intelligent capitalists to believe that there can eventually exist some kind of fair marketplace where what a person produces can be protected by a social compact, sold to others, and the profits allowed to accrue to the producer. Hand in hand with that desire, we must accept that creating such a system would mean forming a government to impose marketplace rules, some of which would interfere with participants' abilities to do whatever they wanted, such as steal or rape or kill.

Accordingly, whatever this system is, it would not be "capitalism." We need to get rid of our childish un-word, relegating it to the interpretive realm of those vague "mmmm-mmm" sounds Enya makes in the background of a full third of her songs. We do not need to be so wedded to the term that we fly into a rage when we realize that its tenets are self-contradictory and beyond any fixed understanding. Let us, instead, be honest with each other--we want to create markets where certain kinds of trading are allowed, and others disallowed, based upon what we like or think is fair. We want to create a marketplace based on our own version of morals, rather than on wishful economic principles that are somehow detached from the people and societies who create them.

Let's work together, talking about what those guidelines should be, rather than arguing about what Adam Smith was really thinking about when he took a crap in some outhouse in 1780. Justifying our current market allowances based on references to the abstract, incomplete, self-contradictory guidelines written down by a bunch of colonial slaveholders is foolish as well as wasteful.


  1. Eh... not true, and besides, why make it more complicated than it is?

    Above all, "capitalism" means the system that allows and enables the constant growth of surplus values. With that in mind, it is very easy to avoid the "cognitive dissonance". Since virtually any attempt to institute fairness will decrease or eliminate the ability of capitalists to extract surplus value, then they can be discounted as socialist. It isn't just the fact of power, it is also the content and the purposes of that power.

    If capitalists are required to pay fairly for anything (labor, resources, environmental damage etc.) then by definition there could be no capitalism. claiming otherwise literally means insisting that it is possible to create something out of nothing - or to violate both the 1st and the 2nd laws of thermodynamics.

    All societies create some degree of surplus, but only capitalism is predicated on the constant expansion of surplus, which can only be achieved with ever increasing viciousness.

    1. In the long run, a planetary society that "paid for" its costs up front--by not damaging the environment or not engaging in genocide to limit the control of resources--would be a more successful society, and have an increase in net gain overall. In theory, that could be a society of people who called themselves "capitalists," but who were also selfless and cognizant of the needs of their great grandchildren. Or, it could be a planet of equally selfless communists, ultimately achieving the same net gain.

      You seem to want to define capitalism as "the extraction of surplus value by not paying for everything up front," which is true, but this one could see economic systems based on surplus value extraction, which were designed to foster long-term gains, ergo considered as mandatory up-front payment of so-called externalities. On such planets, more workers would be available for productive tasks, and fewer would be wasted by (1) being killed, or (2) being soldiers/weapons designers. So, those planets would enjoy faster technical advancement, more available surplus to spread around, and fewer armchair economics bloggers. =]

      Most people who say they are "capitalists" would probably prefer the actual fair competition and motivational forces found in such a society, if they hadn't been conditioned to react violently to certain kinds of government interference in the marketplace, while viewing others as absolutely necessary, fair, and functionally invisible.

      The reason this one is willing to so excruciatingly describe some things that are obvious is in the slim hope that, if not being lectured by WASP Marxists students, a few of the pro-Americans might come to realize that cheating plutocrats do actually exist, as evidenced by policies they already understand from the news, instead of deep theory that they might not be ready to grasp. Helping them think about how the capitalist leaders they revere are actually using government policies that they would consider "socialist" to succeed has a 99% chance of making them angry at this one, and a 1% chance of making them angry enough to think.

    2. Dunno, the very idea of competition, even in the best of circumstances, makes me shudder. I'd rather starve and not play at all. Or do what I'm doing now, function adequately in the system but doing as little as possible to be left alone. So yeah, it's a waste either way.

      What you envision is nice, but it requires a critical mass of people to disregard the problem of dinner, tonight, and invest substantial effort in deliberation and cooperation - activities very unlikely to be financed by the capitalists. You still need food and shelter while coordinating and deliberating.

      I suppose I could live with a martial arts type of competition. When I practiced, winning didn't really matter, testing your own limits and skills was the focus. But again, you could stop the fight at any time if you reached them - without risking death or humiliation.

    3. Martial arts is a great example for you to use, because people committed to the real ones tend to be less insecure, less violent, and less likely to need to use them. The old Japanese parable of the "peaceful warrior" (which has absolutely nothing to do with the terrible, recent western theft and perversion of the phrase into a corporate book and movie) addressed this issue long ago.

      People's willingness to invest lifetimes working for a differently colored belt, which has little economic value, and to develop a selfless team attitude through beating and losing to others, show us that it is possible to design social systems where mutual benefit is the majority's end goal. If we set up the right kind of rewards and expectations, we can have economies with safety bumpers and minimum standards where worrying about food or shelter is never a problem, yet people are simultaneously more free, and more driven, to contribute and succeed. Long tarnished notions of "honor" and "justice" stand in contrast to the arrogant aggression and arch selfishness of pop-evolution and capitalism. In time, these concepts can be used to replace the fetid notions of the Hanoverian spawn.

    4. Like it or not, in American metro or quasi-metro areas full of striving middle (and higher) class people, they're all competing with you. They'll try to get in front of you in the grocery store checkout line, they'll try to beat you to a parking space, they'll run a red light when you have the green. They'll complain to you if your yard isn't up to their standard of Augusta National during The Masters. They'll tell you the town needs more streetlights, more fancy expensive public dollar funded sculptures for "municipal pride" or whatever. They're always competing. And mostly with you.

      If they were competing only with themselves, they wouldn't do the obnoxious things.

      It's how people compete and not whether they compete that's socially abrasive.

    5. That's why the wankers need more fighting, paintball, or at least community football leagues, to sate their petty bloodlusts in safer, cheaper ways.

  2. Working out the scary implications of this internal logic is really what disturbed/excited Marx so much, that at times he was even able to favorably compare different aspects of feudalism, and even slavery, to what capitalism really meant.

    1. Yah...and as I said before, he was fun, and generally "right," but in an unprovable way. Yes, we can predict that Warren Buffett will continue to be a patronizing asshole who thinks any ghetto kid can become a millionaire with $40 saved from KFC wages, but when it bears out, that doesn't make us geniuses.

      Ironically, I think a lot of what Marx was trying to tease out when he attacked "capitalism" was not so much "fair competition among private individuals," but rather, the gobbling, selfish, law-of-the-jungle fantasy promulgated by increasingly less-communal, less-spiritual European leaders. Even a lord/serf relationship implies a duty absent in selfish competition, ergo his apt comparisons. Played out in dollars or swords, it leads to the same wretched end, and by any other name smells as foul.