07/15 OT: Capitalism and Economics
This is getting to be a habit. Once again I am basing a column on a comment I made in somebody else's post. In this case it was Magiamma's open thread on July 9, 2020 and the included reference and link to a pair of essays by Cassiodorus. Thanks, both of you.
We live in interesting times. We have a global pandemic. We have a dysfunctional economic system, propped up by a dysfunctional and non-representative oligarchic political system. We have some brazenly corrupt politicians and governmental agencies. We have an entrenched propaganda and narrative control system. We have a climate emergency which is only getting worse by the day. What next Batman?
It would be nice if we could solve all of the above rapidly and in one fell swoop. Good luck with that. There are two principal avenues of response, wait and see if we get through the current, most pressing emergency and then start fixing, rebuilding or replacing the rest, or just get to work on fixing things now, because it won't be either easy or quick. I prefer the latter which can, should things work out well, morph into the former when the time comes.
When one starts to try to figure a way out, the temptation is to look to a quasi-communal, cooperative social venture, some sort of fully self-sufficient commune type of thing, but the "fully self-sufficient is a bear". Just think about medicine. Meet all of the community's health needs? Appendicitis, heart attacks, auto-wrecks, the full range of dental and psychological, etc? Pandemics? Plus all of the food, housing, and clothing type stuff? There is some merit to the idea of communities that cooperatively provide for many of their own needs, somehow interlinked to solve, again cooperatively, stuff that is easier to achieve with a larger scale. That is looking both backward and forward at the same time, and there are workable elements in such an approach.
Mean time, I'd like to toss out an idea for further consideration with a hat tip to Cassiodorus' first column on The failure of political imagination. OK, we all can see, if only by its horrible failings, that "Capitalism" is not the answer, it is not some wonderful "be all and end al"l system and we need to replace or at least supplant it, and quickly. So, the question is, with what. Consider that "Capitalism" is now taken to encompass many things, and much of that is peripheral to its true core. Markets and market mechanisms are not per se capitalism or capitalist. They predate the concept, and are a mechanism for the distribution of goods and services that could exist independently of capitalism. This is important for any reasonable future system.
At its core, capitalism is the theory that capital is the source, driver and necessary element of all economic productivity, such that all profits, surplus and gains must be attributed to and therefore paid over to capital, embodied by those holding or controlling it. Ponder that. Capital creates the ability to generate surplus, and ergo all surplus is due to capital and hence is "owed" to those providing said capital. Firstly, that is a crock of shit on many levels, but I'll summarily state that "capital" is theft (actually, the accumulated product of theft). Capital can only exist as the cumulative expropriation of the commons in excess of the survival needs of the person doing the taking, which violates the rights of all other individuals to those commons and the use thereof. It is really theft of a disproportionate share of the commons conjoined to rent seeking for the misappropriated excess. Beyond that, consider yon shovel. It creates zip shit and, in no way ever can. Only manipulation, and proper, intententional and intelligent manipulation will result in anything useful except by pure accident. Why should the proceeds of the farmers labor be partly attributed and owed to said shovel, let alone paid over, year after year after year to its inventor, manufacturer, original purchaser and each successive purchaser? That's simply preposterous.
So, specialization and economies of scale, for lack of a better shorthand, require markets or market-like exchanges to facilitate distribution. This is a separate thing from "capitalism", which is rewarding the idle for the excess over their needs that they have accumulated in the form of rents upon that excess. Markets, especially regulated markets, can exist separate from capitalism, at least in theory.
The real problem is growth and the idea of constant and infinite growth, which can easily become an outcome of markets and which is a guaranteed outcome of capitalism. The solution is to devise a system, or bring about an ethos, where it is recognized that the resources exist for all to have an adequate standard of living, that well regulated markets can achieve this, but only if what one might deem "opulence" is constrained. Profits need to be allowed to the extent needed for those without an adequate standard of living to be able to attain one, but excessive profits, above and beyond that need to be somehow plugged back into the system. The fact that we have evolved into a society that is quasi dependent upon markets does not mean that we cannot eliminate capitalism, nor that we cannot rein in excessive "growth". Consider - we have the ability to produce goods and services sufficient to provide a decent lifestyle for the entire world populace with far less than 100% employment of said populace. Similarly, everybody in the US can have a decent life and lifestyle with only partial employment. Some things probably must go by the board in order for that to happen. Jealousy for starts. Growth for its own sake. "Opulence".(nobody should have a Ferrarri until everybody has at least a bicycle and the mobility impaired have motorized vehicles in those cases where needed). How much can we/should we/do we abandon industrial agriculture in the process? What is the best work sharing paradigm, and what about the arts or, for that matter, any endeavor that requires special skills or talents? All these matters need to be sorted out and the least intrusive and restrictive means to achieve them needs to be determined. We need creative solutions, and they need to be Today's Solutions.
Here's the issue. As we evolved intellectually, various persons set about, unknowing, to invent "economics" and such. They looked far back to see and understand what the relationships and interactions were in these earlier societies and to formulate and analyze models thereof and to draw conclusions and precepts therefrom. Just Stop! Stop, Stop, Stop. We were none of us there and cannot fully know nor understand all the details, nuance, rituals, and the general weltanschauung and behaviors that obtained in those times. More importantly, even if we did, it would be fallacious to derive rules and precepts for all time from those times. Anything we derive from such an analysis pertains to and holds true, if at all, for those times, and those times only. The world, life, life forms ,and cultures evolve and nobody is bound to attempt to faithfully replicate paradigms proposed to adhere in some "state of nature", We do not live there any more and should not wish to. Does anybody outside of government really wish to live in a world consisting of the “war of every man against every man”? . Would even they desire a life that is “poor, nasty, brutish and short”? Come on, get off it. What prevailed in Adam's time has no bearing here and now, neither before nor after the fall. The rote repetition of ancient rituals for their own sake belongs to the sphere of religion, not commerce, nor, quite frankly, civilization. We need a paradigm or set of paradigms for today and not one that merely rewards the first thieves (quite by coincidence I'm sure, even though they no doubt authored it).
It's an open thread, so have at it. The floor is yours