We live in a bureaucracy (not capitalism, not democracy)

I'm new here and very grateful for the step up in intelligence this site has over DKos. However on economics and politics I'm puzzled by the number of very well written and researched essays that take our living in a capitalist or democratic country as a starting point.

Some points on that:

  • Our country is inefficient by design - transportation systems, suburbs, health care, education, energy, etc. all work in incredibly antiquated ways.
  • The goal of our economy is to provide work - not goods and services. In some cases the output of the work might actually be completely negative but it doesn't matter since providing work was the point - take middle east wars for instance.
  • We are not a "free market" by any stretch of the imagination. Each sector is dominated by a handful of corporations.
  • Democracy requires a different kind of economy. In this economy anyone voting for real progress beyond identity politics risks bursting the bubble that keeps food on his table. If I vote to end the health care or educational bureaucracies my bureaucracy might be next.
  • There is effectively no difference between public and private sectors. We still call it a bailout but it happens too regularly to describe it that way.

Of course there must have been some turning point in history when we converted from capitalist democracy to bureaucracy. Moving from farm to factory was certainly part of it. The rise of FIRE economy played a large part. Reagan stopping anti-trust enforcement could be a turning point. Historians can trace how we got here but a Trump v Biden election is proof we have arrived - that is not the choice of a democratic society.

Deep investment in the sciences is likely our only way out now. Its not government that needs the swamp drained its the average American who lacks the skills to do anything truly useful. So long as we stay in that state no one can point out the emperor has no clothes because they are naked also. A handful of people with meaningful occupations might make a fuss but everyone else is beholden to an increasingly large bureaucracy.

Another, lesser, way out would be a very robust UBI. Making work optional would allow people to vote with their feet. Corporations unable to create meaningful work would dry up from lack of participation. But that doesn't mean meaningful work would come to replace those jobs - people would be able to admit they are naked but not necessarily find clothing. Fake work could continue to thrive as people choose it over doing nothing.

Conceivably arts and entertainment could become our nation's workforce's center. But producing a block buster movie is just as bureaucratic as anything else.

In any case the first step is openly admitting what we have become.

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Raggedy Ann's picture

on this site. That's the beauty of this site. Most here live in reality.

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"When will our conscience's grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?" Eleanor Roosevelt

"The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new." Socrates (469-399 BC)

We grow up swimming in the toxic stew of capitalism. We go to school to become workers looking for that decent job. The 1% grow up to become the people to rule us. In their view we're only there to make them money, either as worker or consumer.

Once control of the economy is controlled by fewer and fewer individuals there is less need to innovate. Just increasing prices on existing products and services provide profits. So who needs science?

I think a lot of us use the capitalist/democracy system as a starting point because we remember a time when it seemed to work for many, and was on the verge of working for all.

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Lookout's picture

This is a global corporate cabal. Economic laws no longer apply as we go into negative interest rates. If you have any money, it would be a good idea to buy real things as the petrodollar is replaced and we go into hyperinflation. Yep the banks will soon charge you to keep your money.

Whata world!

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“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Thanks disreal. This is a good stab at a growing monster. While in Portugal, I noticed several people sweeping sidewalks, cleaning hedges and the like. These people may not have had the "useful skills" you referred to. The (economic) opportunity to earn their government funded social welfare was both useful in maintaining the community and allowing people some form of dignity.

This aspect is missing in a capitalized society where people are devalued to the level of our very basic usefulness in a money making machine.

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9 users have voted.

The basics are food, shelter, clothing, energy and transportation. It takes a tiny fraction of our labor force to make these. So what do we do here? Not much. I had an interesting conversation with an extremely intelligent friend about 15 years ago. We are both engineers so we approached the the problem from the standpoint of looking at the end points. In this case what if we can get all of our goods and services produced by automation and off-shoring? What do we then do for jobs? How do we get paid to buy those goods and services? It turns out that production becomes completely separated from consumption. You can't apply a moral value to making people work. So we agreed that finally we will have to distribute goods and services independent of work. And then he said something that blew me away. He said that we have, for all intents and purposes, already reached that point. Yup! Yet the oligarchs keep us in indentured servitude to make them rich. Think about that!

Personally I don't derive my thinking from the Capitalist model. I always though that it was vastly inferior to a centrally, well designed society. I made a list in Highschool of the major shortcomings of Capitalism, many, many many years ago. There were 16 issues on that list. They all proved to be correct, and I would add many more today. What amazes me is the idiot blowhards who cannot see that China is eating our lunch, and dinner. The comparison numbers are staggering. At this point in time the idiots in charge do not appreciate the task of the bringing COVID-19 exponential epidemic under control and think that the US can do what China did, only better and faster. It's a tragedy that it takes this kind of problem to point out that our system is dysfunctional and getting worse.

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Capitalism has always been the rule of the people by the oligarchs. You only have two choices, eliminate them or restrict their power.

edg's picture

@The Wizard

We paid dearly for that lunch. Five trillion dollars of trade deficits financed China's rise since we foolishly let them enter the WTO. At the cost of four million lost American jobs. All to satisfy Americans' insatiable demand for cheap bigscreen TVs and other goods. All for a measly 1.5% reduction in overall consumer prices.

I first heard the rationale for trading with China when I worked for a software company in the 1980s. The thought was that with a billion consumers, China's market would enrich American companies. Only problem was, it turns out China doesn't buy a billion copies. Instead, they buy 1 copy and pirate 999,999,999 copies.

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Lookout's picture

@The Wizard

More educators, green energy constructors, restoration ecologists, small farmers and market gardeners, artists, crafters, park rangers, investigative journalists, and so on. Now creating an economy that supports jobs for the public good and planet is above my pay grade.

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“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

If it's "good enough to live om" - and it has to be - it's not a UBI, it's a GMI. You don't want to subsidize your job, you want to replace your job.
If "everyone" gets a UBI it will be on top of their income and capitalism will soak it all up. We call that inflation, but it's really making more and more goods and services "necessary". (first everyone needed a car, then every family needed 2 cars. Then every one in the family needed a smartphone. First everyone needed a TV, then every one needed a color TV, Then everyone needed a big screen TV. Then 3 TVs. Now there are so many essential geegaws that I don't even know what we really could live without but I know we all have to put our children in daycare so that we can work long enough to afford them)
What I really mean is that we have to not subsidize capitalism, we have to replace capitalism as a means of social control. We must not perpetuate our wage enslavement, we must liberate ourselves.

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A PROUD Hillary hater since 1993

They are nothing new. Once things get bigger than a few villages and people are put into positions to administer things, you'll see a bureaucracy form. You can't run an empire or probably even a small city-state without them.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bureaucracy

Ideally, they create a pool of knowledgeable people with institutional memory of what does or does not work, and then they do their tasks "without fear or favor". Unfortunately, bureaucrats are people and subject to the same failings (and greatness) as anyone else. When bureaucracies function well the things that need to get done get done efficiently and people are treated fairly and there's minimal graft. When they don't, you get what Max Weber called "bureaupathologies" when layers are increased for no good reason, empire building and turf wars happen, and preservation of the organization and the people running it becomes more important than the stated reason for the organization to exist.

Are bureaucracies a powerful tool of civilization or a hot mess? The answer of course is "yes, they can be both". But then that is true of any number of things.

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disrael's picture

@MichaelSF That bureaucracies have existed for a long time does not mean what is happening in the US isn't new. Most societies in the past were agrarian or maybe nomads but in no way did they have the technology to have such a large percentage of their population working in
bureaucracies.

Your argument is similar to saying I've seen waves come and go before and so therefore a tidal wave is nothing special.

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Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

Maybe three.

1)This is capitalism in its late stages. In other words, it is the nature of capitalism to turn into what we're living under right now. That is the Marxist argument, and it's never looked more plausible, partly because most of the people who call themselves capitalists are arguing for and defending our current system *as capitalist*. Politicians, bankers, businessmen, think tanks, media figures, and even a fairly large number of ordinary people are defending this system as capitalist.

Further, if this is not capitalism, one of two things must be done. Either we find a current example of a country that IS capitalist, or acknowledge that capitalism is currently a dead system. And it would be good to identify at what point in history it died, how and why it died, and whether or not the United States ever had a capitalist system. In short, there needs to be a current and past historical context for the statement that we're not living under capitalism. Otherwise, saying that this system isn't capitalist, after it claimed to be capitalist for over 200 years, seems like a way of trying to let capitalism off the hook.

However, there are also two other ways of looking at it.

2)This is not capitalism, because, as you say, none of the so-called "free" markets are free, and in fact, they are arranged markets: arranged to pump money into the top .01%, benefit the 1%, and pretend to care about the 10%, while everybody and everything else is starved. I'd say that an even more crucial point is that most of the monetary value of the society, or at least its commercial value, is locked up in arrangements that eschew competition. The heartbeat of capitalism is competition between businesses for consumer dollars. Without that competition for consumer dollars, most of the supposed benefits of capitalism evaporate and become, not only not a given, but incredibly improbable. Adam Smith himself saw this problem, and said that governments would have to step in to prevent the formation of monopolies and cartels, or capitalism could not function as he described in Wealth of Nations
Right now, most of the commercial and even financial value of our society does not arise from competition between businesses for consumer dollars. Most of it arises from competition between businesses for investor dollars, which often actually means competition for a good word from one of the three major ratings agencies. It's a system that leads not to excellence and innovation, but nepotism and corruption. Under this argument, capitalism's own greatest advocates, its high priests, if you will, sacrificed capitalism on its own altar stone, probably sometime in the 1970s. But again, if this isn't capitalism, we need an example, preferably a living example, of something that is.

3)There are many types of capitalism. This is one of them--one of the bad ones.

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Actually, the issue at stake is patriotism. You must return to your world and put an end to the Commies. All it takes are a few good men.
--Q

Exit polls not involving George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton tend to be quite accurate.
--Doug Hatlem

disrael's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal I don't think I will come up with a living example of an entire nation practicing capitalism as it was conceived of in the past. There are however industries where one can see the old ways still practiced. Take local restaurants for example. We might be living in their last hurrah before chains take over completely but that hasn't happened yet. Similarly one can still get a hair cut from a practicing capitalist.

The past though is a much easier place to find examples. For instance banks used to go in and out of business, not as frequently as restaurants, but it was a thing - it was a capitalist industry up until the federal reserve was created. Do we mark the federal reserve as we now know it as the end of capitalism? Its not that black and white.

To me its about the percentage of the population that owes their employment to bureaucratic means. That's a hard number to pin down - someone would have to do a doctoral thesis.

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Roy Blakeley's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal I once thought that New Deal capitalism would be the predominant form of capitalism, because it worked more or less. Capitalists make plenty and workers have a decent standard of living. The imperialist stage of capitalism has, after all, slaughtered millions of people in WWI and the great depression demonstrated that unfettered capitalism doesn't work. This would be a version of your option 3. The past 45 years, however, argue strongly that your option 1 is a lot closer to the truth.

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