L e v e l - 7

Tools For A New Political Economy

   

What are the primary reasons we need to depart from capitalism?

All around the world, something long overdue has been gaining momentum: a deepening sense that our current form of feudalistic state capitalism is frighteningly destructive, and that we urgently need to move beyond it. This awareness has been present since the onset of industrialized society, mainly among marginalized and exploited communities, but also among those who have taken time to appreciate the historic narrative of those oppressed populations. Unfortunately, until fairly recently, the rapid enrichment of a middle class in the industrialized world, and the effective distancing of abuse and impoverishment onto developing countries, has successfully insulated even the well-educated from consequences of commercialist corporationism. But with increasingly fluid global trade – and the equally fluid explosion of Internet information and democratization of personal digital communication – the cultural segregation of haves and have-nots has eroded, incontrovertibly exposing the ugly underbelly of the profit motive. For the first time in capitalism’s history, we can learn about government corruption, cronyism, industrial accidents, corporate malfeasance and mismanagement, market failures, product hazards, callous acts of the upper class, overreach of our security apparatus, abuses of police and so much more within mere moments of an uploaded news article, a whistleblower leak, a research paper or a cell phone video. The reflexive ideological spin from all points of the spectrum may still be endless, but cat is already out of the bag.

The causal foundations of the capitalist problem have been identified at many times and in many ways, but really they all point to the same thing: the rewarding, enabling and indeed elevation of the most base and destructive of human impulses above our more prosocial, empathetic and mutually compassionate ones, with consistently devastating results. Whenever there are extreme concentrations and inequitable divisions of wealth and power – which are, unarguably, the most prolific and enduring consequences of state capitalism and commercialist corporationism – all other values tend to be subjugated to that matrix, if they aren’t discarded entirely. There are so many examples of this, but let’s explore a few of the more potent reminders.

How does the enslavement of millions of workers around the globe promote the value of liberty? Proponents of capitalism have claimed for years that sweatshops, abusive labor practices and the like are economic opportunities for the desperately poor, and therefore should be lauded rather than criticized (see Robert Tracinski’s writings on the topic for an example of this). And of course this lauding is a lie, for just as share cropping was no different than slavery, and the truck system was no different than slavery, the current exploitative labor environments in the developing world are just as hostile and lethal as a forced labor camp. The many exposés of the 1990s on Central America’s maquiladoras brought this into broad public awareness, but even as worker conditions marginally improved there, the abuses just migrated to other countries. As recently as the 2012 Dhaka garment factory fire and the Savar building collapse a year later, we continue to have potent reminders of modern abuse and implicit enslavement of human beings in service of a free market. And an only slightly different manifestation of the same trend is the growing problem of human trafficking. According to the ILO Global Estimate of Forced Labour. Results and Methodology 2012 there were 29.9 million victims of forced labor around the world, 90% of which were in the private economy, 68% of which were victims of forced labor, and 22% of which were employed in forced sexual exploitation. The ILO indicates human trafficking to be in third place for illegal business – after drug dealing and arms trading. Such exploitation has always been a consequence of elevating the profit motive above other, more humanistic values, and has been a blatant component of capitalist enterprise at one time or another just about everywhere on Earth.

How does the monopolization of whole industries by megaconglomerates aid innovation, beneficial competition or consumer choice? For this is another indisputable outcome of commercialist corporationism. Despite antitrust laws, innovative startups, and the initial perception of consumer choice in emerging industries, the inevitable outcome in all longstanding arenas of production is a handful of huge companies that dominate all others. And even among those companies, we see that substantive differentiation in quality, durability or features is an illusion, because all the of the components of competing products actually end up being produced in the same handful of factories. And even when innovation does occur in some outsider startup (from innovation that is frequently the result of government research or funding - not the private sector), it is almost always just a matter of time before the outsider founders either sell the company to one of the existing monopolies, the startup is acquired by a monopoly in a hostile takeover, or the startup itself begins to accumulate competing companies. Will Tesla, for example, still be an independent car manufacturer ten years from now, or will it somehow become entangled with one or more of the auto industry behemoths? If history is any guide, the prospect of independence is doubtful. So in everything from food production to electronics to telecom companies to banks, consumer choices become fewer and fewer with each passing decade, until really there is often only one option, all previous illusions of “voting with your dollars” completely evaporate, and innovations that challenge existing monopolies are squashed before they ever make it to market.

How do crony capitalism, regulatory capture and a revolving door between industry and government leadership support representative democracies? Well of course they don’t at all. The only values or agendas that get represented when revolving doors, regulatory capture and cronyism are in play are those of the cronies themselves; the more diverse interests of the electorate – indeed even the majority interests – will be ignored if they do not coincide with corporate interests. Crony capitalism is actually disparaged across a broad ideological spectrum, because it interferes as much with free market competition as it does with democratic governance. Yet despite this collective disdain, essential bulwarks against cronyism, such as campaign finance reform, have either failed to move forward or been rolled backward by decisions like Citizens United. Most recently even someone like Barack Obama, who campaigned on a platform of “sweeping ethics reform” regarding the undue influence of money in politics, have still succumbed to the age-old practice of appointing major fundraisers, corporate lobbyists and industry insiders to government positions, where those appointees continue to promote the same pro-capitalist agendas that they did in the private sector. There was perhaps no more glaring example of this than appointing Tom Wheeler - a former lobbyist for the communications industry - to Chair the FCC.

How do perverse incentives improve our quality of life? This issue has a particularly personal resonance for me. In U.S. healthcare, there is very little incentive to help people maintain healthy lifestyles or treat the underlying causes of their maladies. Why? Because doctors in the U.S. don’t get paid for keeping their patients healthy, they get paid for procedures they perform, and the more complex the procedure – or the more they perform – the more they get paid, regardless of whether the procedures address the causes of ill health. Along the same lines, pharmaceutical companies make most of their money medicating away symptoms with drugs that are continuously administered, rather than from drugs that heal or eradicate illness. Consider that the most expensive equipment (i.e. capital items) in any hospital are not rehabilitation equipment, or surgical equipment, or any sort of treatment equipment, but diagnostic equipment – that is, equipment that makes the most money for the hospital because it is used the most frequently to justify additional, often expensive procedures and treatments. What if the same level of research, development and investment was made in preventative medicine? Wouldn’t that provide a better health outcome for everyone? Well of course it would, but it wouldn’t provide the same amount of profit for insurance companies, hospitals, doctors, biotech and pharmaceutical companies, or anyone else in the medical food chain. This is a particularly pernicious example of how perverse incentives manifest, but they evidence themselves everywhere – in executive bonuses calculated on inflated short-term earnings, in the blackened hearts of hedge fund managers profiting from market distortions they facilitate, and so on. And of course this isn’t restricted to for-profit enterprise, as government policies have created similar mistakes – for example, Appalachian parents pulling their kids out of literacy classes for fear of losing their monthly disability checks. In all of these cases, however, the same immature impetus – an individual or collective desire for profit – is the root of the problem; it doesn’t matter that a system’s poor design allows it to be exploited, it matters that the exploitation is driven by a common motivation.

These are some questions that dominate the discussion of modern capitalism. To expand on this topic, here are some of the pitfalls of modern capitalism discussed in
Political Economy and the Unitive Principle….

“First, we should establish that capitalism, and in particular U.S.-style capitalism - what I have referred to as commercialist corporationism - is by far the most prevalent and powerful component of political economy in the world today. This has been true for roughly the past 150 years. Indeed alternatives have either collapsed, as in the case of the U.S.S.R., or for other reasons turned to market-centric practices, as in the case of China. So...why is this status quo a problem? Doesn't the dominance and success of commercialist corporationism for over a century prove its worth? Hasn't capitalism civilized and integrated the world through trade? Don't the benefits of capitalism far outweigh it's disadvantages? Well, actually no, none of this is completely true. Many folks have composed carefully detailed critiques of capitalism and the deleterious consequences of concentrated wealth. Some influential contemporary voices include Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Greg Palast, Robert Greenwald, Joel Bakan, David Schweikart, Paul Piff, Chris Hedges and Michael Moore, but there are many others. I have also written about the shortcomings of our particular flavor of capitalism in several essays and books. It is fairly straightforward to summarize the most negative impacts when nearly everything becomes private property available for trade; these include:

  • The irreversible destruction of irreplaceable individual species and entire ecosystems on planet Earth. Among other equally tragic things, this results in a loss of biological diversity and interdependence that developed over billions of years, which in turn undermines the stability of Earth's biosphere as a whole, and of course the quality of human existence as well. Whether via pesticides and industrial pollution, or the unrelenting decimation of natural habitat for agriculture and housing, or industry-induced climate change, or the devastating damage wrought by wars over resources, or the reckless consumption of water and wild animals...privatization and trade have consistently led to widespread ecological destruction.
  • The depletion of nonrenewable natural resources that not only have added much value to human civilization in the past, but could prove to be a dangerous deficit for future generations once they are fully depleted.
  • An increasing homogenization and commoditization of culture that facilitates ubiquitous distribution of equally homogenous goods. This enables global economies of scale and a corresponding amplification of profit in everything from production and distribution to service and other secondary markets, but it also depletes humanity of a cultural diversity that has proven essential to human survival over time. The resulting intellectual, creative and cultural poverty-of-mind is in many ways just as threatening to our future survival as the depletion of nonrenewable natural resources. Along the same lines, there is also an inevitable decline, stagnation and disinvestment in any area of culture, science, technology, innovation, research, education, infrastructure and so on that does not lend itself to immediate, short-term commercial advantage – even though for-profit enterprise may ultimately be reliant on those supportive structures over the long term. Thus academic research and fundamental science are defunded, arts and humanities education evaporates, the transportation system and electrical grid become increasingly strained and unreliable, and diversified or creative thinking that has no clear competitive benefit is marginalized or repressed.
  • A deliberate conditioning of consumption habits that create lifelong dependencies and interrupt healthy self-nourishment. I have called this "externalization," which is simply the incorrect and disempowering assumption that all paths leading to physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual nourishment (i.e. happiness, love, satiation, contentment, safety, success, belonging, purpose, etc.) are dependent on the consumption of goods and services provided by other people. This estrangement from the wealth of internal, self-sufficient resources available to every human being contributes to the povertization of individuals and cultures, and to an increasing number of health problems among commercialized populations. These include: chronic depression; obesity and Type II Diabetes; addictions to nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and various prescription drugs; ADHD and other childhood developmental deficits; anxiety and stress disorders; carpel tunnel syndrome; cancer; various patterns of compulsive, excessive consumption; and of course long dark nights of the soul. Many of these consequences are now considered epidemics in America.
  • The exaggeration of hierarchical class divisions between people around the globe, where the lowest class, which is brutally and mercilessly exploited by all other classes, makes up ninety per cent or more of the population, and the most elevated classes, which receive ninety percent of the benefit of all production, make up less than ten percent of the population. Not only is this exploitation morally reprehensible, it also inevitably leads to deep antagonisms and conflict between the classes, which has already resulted in violent revolutions, ongoing terrorism and the intermittent threat of full scale war.
  • The endangerment of all inhabitants of Earth through the constant striving of nation states to gain the upper economic hand using (or threatening to use) increasingly lethal and widely proliferated weapons of mass destruction.
  • The demonstrated tendency for severe swings in economic stability as the result of excessive risk taking, deceptive efforts to manipulate trade mechanisms for greater profit, ignorance of externalities, monopolization, and of course the lack of regulatory controls to reign in such behaviors. These lead to inevitable market inefficiencies and failures.
  • Extreme concentrations of wealth and influence in corporations, which in turn undermine democracy through clientism and cronyism. In the U.S., corporations write legislation that favors their industry and then fund the elections of politicians who vote that legislation into law. Corporations also aggressively fund political propaganda campaigns that misinform voters about legislation or politicians that do not favor corporate agendas. And, as a final blow to any hope of reversing these trends, corporations have also secured constitutional protections under a fiction of "corporate personhood," which they themselves legally engineered. These and other trends illustrate a continuous erosion of political, economic and democratic freedom and power - on a global scale - for all but a tiny minority of plutocrats.
  • As a more subtle but pervasive consequence of U.S.-style capitalism, the constant growth and expansion pressures inherent to that system have created excessively rapid pacing in the development, production and distribution of new technologies. This has accelerated changes in human habits, interactions and society to such a degree that our ability to adapt vacillates between high levels of stress as we attempt to comply with change, to an irrational backlash of rejecting change because it is happening too fast. Neither of these polarities is constructive or supportive to human mental, emotional, physical or indeed spiritual faculties.
  • In terms of moral creativity and function, market-centric capitalism inevitably constrains morality to its lowest common denominators. For example, acquisitiveness is preferable to generosity; deception is honored above honesty; hostile competition is rewarded more than cooperative kindness; callous disregard for others is valued more than compassion or empathy; and so on.

These outcomes are well-documented, longstanding and indisputable impacts of U.S.-style capitalism, and have manifested in almost every culture where this particular feudalistic memeplex has taken root. In addition, a perfect storm of destruction has manifested where three key influences intersect: first, growth-dependent capitalist economies drive accelerated innovation, production volume and resource utilization that far exceed the ability of individuals and society to adapt or the Earth's natural systems to sustain; second, the obsession with increased, short-term profits, combined with consumer addictions to newer, cheaper, sooner and more, have undermined quality, durability, reliability and safety in nearly all products and services to a devastating degree; and third, technological complexity is growing exponentially, far exceeding human capacities to manage interactions, predict outcomes or measure externalities.

The list of capitalist failures can of course be vastly expanded. In fact, in one of the more tremendous ironies of modern times, nearly all of the cultural destruction that socially conservative free-market proponents attribute to progressive ideals can be laid at the feet of commercialist corporationism. What caused the perceived breakdown of the cohesive family unit, for example? Well, wasn’t it a free market that saturated mass media with messages that love should always be titillating and new, that physical attraction was the key to happy relationships, and that personal gratification was more important than interpersonal commitment? Wasn’t it a free market that successfully championed variety, convenience and novelty above the traditions of family togetherness, so that fast food and individual microwavable dinners won out over shared meals at the dining room table, and TV shows, iPods and video games won out over parlor games, family night, making music or reading aloud to each other? Wasn’t it a free market that targeted children in advertising, entertainment and product development, further dividing the family into separate consumer groups that no longer depended on one another? And didn’t the rampant consumerism driven by a free market help persuade everyone in a family that they needed to work as much as possible, so that children, mothers and fathers could all have more money to spend, while spending less time with each other? At the same time, wasn’t it also a free market that created low wage jobs, jobs that in fact made workers dependent on government assistance to feed their families, so that economic strain and ever-decreasing buying power forced more and more people in a household to get a job and spend more time apart? And it isn’t it – to add insult to irony – the same conservative voices that champion free market solutions who in turn block any increase to the minimum wage? The hypocrisy of social conservatives who claim to support both a free market and family values is, in this regard, stunning.”
 

What about innovation, wealth production, liberty, etc.? Doesn’t capitalism create these aspects of civil society?

Many positive assumptions about capitalism have been perpetuated by pro-capitalist propaganda. But they simply aren’t supported by thoughtful, fact-based analysis.
Among these misconceptions are:

1. Capitalism has improved the quality of life for people all over the Earth. Actually, it was widespread public education (and scientific experimentation and technological innovation driven by that education), in concert with democracy and expanding civil rights, that has improved the quality of life for people all over the Earth. It is the feedback loop of democracy, education and civil liberties supported by the rule of law that created the middle class and stabilized economic opportunity for more and more citizens. Even innovation isn’t mainly from capitalism; if you carefully analyze what has done the most good for the most people – be it a new scientific understanding, a new vaccination, a new technology, etc. – it is almost always a result of academic research at public institutions or government-funded research, not innovation that resulted from free markets. These leaps forward have indeed been made more efficiently and effectively by a single product of capitalism: mass production. But that’s it. That’s the only real contribution capitalism has made to humanity’s progress – the rest came from the Enlightenment and the evolution of democratic civil society thereafter. It can also be confidently argued that even the success of “free markets” in producing wealth was a result of the flourishing of this civil society – for “free markets” don’t exist in the wild, they are created by civic institutions and the rule of law. So again, it is the Enlightenment that really should receive primary credit for amplification of the common good…not capitalism.

2. The benefits of profit-driven productivity outweigh its negative externalities. This declaration is as ignorant as it is arrogant. It’s why the rabidly pro-capitalist peeps are still denying climate change (sigh). It’s why that farmer a few years back ate spoonfuls of pesticide every morning to prove how safe it was. It’s why Ayn Rand thought cigarettes were her “Promethean muse,” dismissing any negative health impacts (until she contracted lung cancer). In order for the prevailing strain of growth-dependent global capitalism to keep producing wealth, it requires four things: a) unlimited, easily-accessed natural resources; b) a continuous supply of cheap labor; c) a growing consumer base whose affluence is also increasing; and d) no accountability (and no cost accounting) for negative externalities – and ideally no acknowledgement of them. Unfortunately for the pro-capitalist ideologues, it is extremely likely that none of these conditions will persist for more than another fifty years or so. Why? Well for one, the negative ecological externalities (climate change, loss of biodiversity, resource depletion, disruptive pollution, species extinction, etc.) resulting from human industry are increasingly interfering with productivity – and doing so quite directly. And for another, the affluence that supports a growing consumer base is directly at odds with cheap labor in our global economy, and these two dependencies will inevitably collide. And, finally, large numbers of people are waking up to the fact that the traditional engines of commerce are destroying the planet and need to be more accountable to their impacts – which will change the available opportunities and cost accounting for capitalist enterprise.

3. The “tragedy of the commons” has been empirically validated. In reality, it has not. This is a thought experiment in the abstract, and its "inevitability" has been soundly debunked by the work of Elinor Ostrom. Check out her research on successful self-governance of the commons in the real world (common pool resource management) which relies neither on private property nor State management of land and resources, but on local, community-based solutions.

4. Private property in an exchange economy produces freedom. This is ridiculous. Private property restricts freedom – 99% of everything around us is privately owned and we can’t use it, access it - or sometimes even touch it. That’s not freedom, it’s a world of fences that corral us into the few remaining spaces that are still publicly owned (or the spaces we ourselves privately own). Exchange economies likewise benefit those with the most resources and influence who can game the system for their own benefit, deceiving both consumers and workers into believing that “working and consuming” is what life is all about. But being a wage slave is not freedom. Having Type II Diabetes from eating fast food is not freedom. Becoming addicted to cigarettes is not freedom. Premature disease and death from industrial pollutants is not freedom. Having lots of cool stuff we can buy on the Internet may feel like freedom…but it’s just a poor substitute for the real thing. We are surrounded by private property and property use restrictions that impede our freedom, and impede it a great deal. And when we apply the same awareness to intellectual property, we realize how constrained all of us are in our actual application and expression of ideas, inventions and so on.  Thus private property actually significantly undermines individual and collective liberty (for more on this topic see integral liberty).

5. The theory of labor appropriation as a “natural law” is sound. This is laughable. Locke based this on a naïve misconception of Native Americans and other hunter-gatherer societies. In reality – as validated by decades of careful research – hunter-gatherer societies frequently have no conception of private property or of appropriating property by adding value with labor. Locke was simply wrong. Thus labor appropriation is a completely invented concept and lacks empirical basis with respect to primitive cultures (i.e. it is not “natural”).  Property ownership, like many other social constructs of modern society, is a collective agreement enabled and enforced by the rule of law.  If most people didn't agree to honor and respect property ownership, their wouldn't be any property ownership. (see also What is the problem of original appropriation?)

6. Capitalism is not violent, coercive or fraudulent. This is so misinformed it’s just silly. State capitalism has either been directly responsible – or has engineered the perfect conditions – for most of the military actions around the globe since WWII. Industrial capitalism has resulted in the violent, lethal or injurious exploitation of workers since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Capitalist expansion has created endless varieties of forced appropriation of land, resources and indeed labor – from outright slavery to sweat shops. Capitalist commercialism is responsible for defrauding millions of consumers through false advertising, creating artificial demand, outright deception and fear-mongering, and deliberate theft. And to say that corporations haven’t used coercive force to intimidate workers and consumers is to ignore about half of the available history on consumer and worker rights.

7. “Free markets” exist as organically arising phenomena.  They don't.  All large scale economies are a product of government regulation and adherence (both voluntary and involuntary) to the rule of law regarding trade.  The State has what can only be described as a socialist role in all of the world's largest and most successful economies, which is why the current landscape is often described as "State capitalism," or, perhaps most accurately, a "Mixed economy."  For example, such economies rely upon the infrastructure, technology, research, monetary system and regulatory framework provided by the State.

8. Economic growth in a capitalist system is perpetual and unlimited.  We live in a closed system, with limited natural resources that will eventually be depleted.  As standards of living (inclusive of political and social liberalization) rise in developing countries, cheap or malleable labor also becomes less and less available.  The U.S. standard of living, although often held up as a gold standard and clear evidence of U.S. exceptionalism, is completely dependent on abundant natural resources and cheap labor.  It is simply not possible for everyone on Earth to live an American lifestyle, where per capita consumption is 50x what it is for someone in a developing country.  To assume this is sustainable or universally accessible is akin to believing the irrational math of multilevel marketing schemes. This is one reason why U.S. real wages have either remained flat or declined since about 1972.

9. ”Rational self-interest" determines economic outcomes in capitalism. This one of the more egregious misconceptions, grounded in ideological fervor but profoundly lacking in empirical evidence.  Economic outcomes in modern capitalism are mainly the result of the calculated exploitation of workers and natural resources, careful deceptive manipulation of consumers, activist cronyism and clientism in government, and the hoarding of control over the means of production by a tiny, self-serving plutocratic elite.  Even when evaluating microeconomic motivations and purchasing patterns, behavioral economists have clear evidence that human beings make irrational, inconsistent, often contradictory decisions about purchases and economic priorities.

7. Capitalism is morally neutral. Hogwash. Please see points 1-6.

The common thread here, you will notice, is that pro-capitalist idealists tend to avoid more complex and nuanced views of the world, holding rather blindly to a cherished individualism and economic opportunity for the privileged class, and loudly resisting when anyone questions their oversimplified definitions of negative liberty. Again, any moral justification for capitalism invokes a sort of immature blindness to the prosocial realities that likely helped human societies flourish since the dawn of our species (at least that’s what most of the research in group selection and prosocial genetic dispositions seems to indicate). But if we allow capitalism to continue destroying our society and the planet, humans will become a sad footnote in the annals of the extinct.

 

What about entrepreneurship and “American exceptionalism?”

When we look at where many of our most important innovations and successful technologies have originated, it rapidly becomes clear that the profit motive isn’t particularly critical in generating new ideas - and certainly not for funding them. A particularly potent example of this is Elon Musk, a vociferous proponent of American Exceptionalism, who has funded all of his most well-known technology innovations and “successful businesses” with money from the U.S. taxpayer. And as of this writing (October, 2016), none of Musk’s taxpayer-funded enterprises (Tesla, SpaceX, Solar City) have actually made a self-sustaining profit independent of government subsidies. Musk has, however, maintained an inspiring illusion of success while certainly profiting personally a great deal from his ventures - but the lion’s share of risk has been socialized. For more on this topic, consider reading this blog post:
What Has Elon Musk Failed At? It is a slightly different case in terms of real-world implementations, improvements over time, and mass adoption by the public. This is where marketing, advertising, consumerism and acquisitiveness seem to have been quite helpful - except, of course, for the negative externalities such surges in demand ultimately induce. That is, until monopolization occurs, and innovation is aggressively squelched in favor of lower-risk options with proven profitability. But I do think it is obvious that friendly competition is important - even for public goods.

 

What are the foundations of capitalism?

At the heart of capitalism - and exceedingly problematic in terms of its routinely evidenced outcomes - is an irrational perpetuation of five things:

1. A rigorous facilitation, defense and expansion of private property rights by an authoritative State, which effectively deprives those without sufficient property ownership of operational liberty;

2. A reliance on easily retained and replaced cheap labor, and on easily obtained cheap resources, exploitations that effectively equate slavery in the first instance, and institutionalized theft in the second;

3. A desperate enlarging of conspicuous consumption, consumer infantilization and dependence, and consumer debt to facilitate the economic growth required to keep the juggernaut of capitalism in motion and (albeit temporarily) counter cyclical downturns caused by overproduction/underconsumption;

4. An imbuing of tyrannical commercial entities (i.e. corporations) with “human” rights that effectively exceed the power of real human individuals to countervail;

5. An ever-increasing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of those who control the means of production - and an impoverishing and depletion of everyone and everything else - in order to ensure that 1–4 above remain intact.

Now supporting these five pillars of capitalism is the straightforward “vile maxim” coined by Adam Smith: “All for ourselves and nothing for other people.” It is a philosophy of pernicious solipsism, thriving on materialism and individualism in their most extreme manifestations. This disposition is not, as the neoliberal camp, anarcho-capitalists and Ayn Rand fans would have us believe, the bedrock of human nature. In fact most evolutionary biologists have documented a much more dominant theme of
prosociality in both human and animal behavior. But the vile maxim makes for very good self-justification and propaganda for enabling the five pillars of capitalism.

Once we recognize what capitalism relies upon to function - and the fundamentally mistaken philosophical stance that drives it - we can effectively undress the myths that encourage the de facto oppression and destruction of workers, consumers, civil society and the environment. I am referring of course to the clear antagonisms that organized labor, consumer advocacy, civil rights, democracy and environmental regulations present to crony capitalism. These pesky trends are extremely irritating to corporatocracy, and are therefore constantly under attack by the plutocratic elite, who have - in the U.S. and much of the rest of the world - successfully arrested and in many cases reversed the progressive advances of the last century that have ensured these protections. In any case, gaining awareness around these dynamics - and educating others about them - is a critical first step in moving away from capitalism.

 

The commercialist distortion of human needs, and subsequent retardation of human development

A central challenge of a growth-dependent, commercialistic system like the form of capitalism widely employed today is that many "basic physical needs" (food, shelter, clothing, etc.) were widely met a long, long time ago in any advanced society - and are in fact quite easy to satisfy. So, in marketing terms, there is "market saturation" with respect to these needs. Which means that producers and advertisers must increasingly emphasize certain approaches in order to keep selling stuff to people, and we might summarize these approaches as follows:

1. Amplifying product differentiation. This is usually a matter of either adding value or lowering price - or both. The idea is to increase appeal and convince consumers that the product is more appealing or more satisfying in some way.

2. Creating an "externalizing" substitution dynamic. This simply means to convince people that needs that aren't actually getting met by the product are being met my it; it's s deliberate deception. For example, X product will make you happy, Y service will help you find love, Z subscription will keep you informed. These products and services won't actually fulfill those needs, but if a consumer is convinced to pay for them out of a belief that they will, then there can be a placebo effect that induces ongoing dependency. It's a bit like playing the lottery: perhaps, someday, if I just keep buying X, Y or Z, then all those advertising promises will come true...

3. Creating an addiction. Simply engineering a product that is highly addictive. Sometimes this is a physical addiction (nicotine), and sometimes this is an emotional addiction (reality TV shows), but the idea is to provide zero actual nourishment at very low cost, while keeping consumers "hooked."

4. Engineering social cachet and relying on the lemming effect. Veblen goods often fall into this category, but so do most products marketed to children, or that rely on current social trends. In rare cases, such as with Apple products, a company is able to create the social cachet rather than rely on an existing fad.

5. Capitalizing on fear and insecurity. This often entails creating a "bogeyman in the closet" that is imaginary, but amplifies some widely held suspicion or fearful tendency. This is used very effectively in marketing everything from pharmaceuticals to guns.

6. Sex. And of course anything that hints at sexuality can be "interesting" enough to purchase or pay attention to. Sometimes this is just another substitution dynamic...but sometimes it really is just about sex.

Now what's perhaps most interesting here is that the objective of this flavor of commercialism is to infantilize consumers or toddlerize them - that is, to make them unquestioningly dependent on the product or service being sold, so that they avoid considering other options, never realize they are being duped, and, most importantly, never begin to self-actualize so that they are less dependent and more self-sufficient (i.e more grown up). In order to accomplish this and to maximize marketing reach, the marketing emphasis will tend to hover around
the lowest common denominators of human desire and impulse (whether those are being "met" or being "created"). What are infants concerned with? Pleasure, sustenance, safety, etc. What additional things are toddlers interested in? Testing limits, getting their way, being liked, etc. And if commercialized consumerism can barrage people with messaging and products that keep them anchored and fixated on those immature foci, then consumers will be less likely to search for more sophisticated nourishment or more mature stages of personal development. They will be less likely to "grow up."

In essence, if producers can keep people from growing up, it is a lot easier to sell them stuff.

(See also:
What are the advantages and disadvantages of consumerism?)

 

Some additional considerations from a Marxist perspective

Yanis Varoufakis said in his article
“How I became an erratic Marxist"

"If workers and employers ever succeed in commodifying labour fully, capitalism will perish."

What does he mean by that?

We might assume that Varoufakis is referring to the vast historical arc of Marx’s historical materialism, as outlined in
Das Kapital, that ultimately results in the collapse of capitalism. But there are some specific themes in Marx’s thought that Varoufakis touches upon, and which in and of themselves might account for Varoufakis’s statement.

For example, one theme Marx offers is that capitalism tends to convert all that is, in reality, about human relationships and interactions into some sort of monetary exchange value, and that this is an inherently bad thing, especially when it ignores (or devalues) the inherent, qualitative importance of those relationships and interactions in more human terms. If I say “I love you” to my wife, and in her mind that equates an expectation of material demonstration in the form of payment, goods, services, etc., then such expectation tends to undermine the intrinsic value of love and its importance in our non-material bond. In the same way, a trusting friendship can be replaced with money, in that I will only have expectations of you if I pay you, and you will only feel obligations to me if your are paid. So these are examples of commodification that are inherently destructive to human social relations (a conclusion which is obvious to anyone with emotional intelligence, but less so to someone who lacks it).

So what Varoufakis may be alluding to is that one of the most important “non-material” contributions of labor is what we might call creativity: the ability to add value (be it aesthetically or in terms of utility) to some raw material, which is a pretty amazing quality of human behavior. And in the same sense that we can’t quantify or commodify love or trust, we really can’t quantify or commodify that natural, unpredictable, inspirational creativity either. This isn’t entirely ignored in capitalism, where someone might pay millions for a Vermeer; there is an element of what Marx called “fetishism” involved here, to be sure, but there is also a very reasonable awe invoked by Vermeer’s profound and rare talent, and a consequent attempt to quantify what simply cannot be captured. Thus there is really no upper limit to such capture efforts, which is why such creations are effectively “priceless.” Sometimes this valuation is tied mainly to scarcity…but that’s simply not the whole picture (or painting in this case).

So if all labor (that is, all potential qualitative contributions that labor enables) were completely commodified by employers and employees in the sense described, then the very qualities that add value to goods and services will be completely excised. Take love out of a marriage, and what do you have? Take trust out of a friendship, and what do you have? Take creativity out of the means of production, and what do you have? This could be what Varoufakis means when he says “capitalism will perish.” That special human ingredient that fuels the capitalist enterprise and generates value (and ultimately profit) will be extinguished through the commoditization of all labor…so how could capitalism continue?

But this is just one take. Varoufakis could also just be alluding to the complete alienation of labor through its treatment as mechanized, tedious, robotically monotonous production by capitalists…another important theme in Marx. Or he could be referring to Marx’s predictions about the consequences of monopolies and an increasingly centralized means of production (and concentration of capital), which in turn prod the steadily impoverished masses into open revolt. Or he could be referring to all of these things….


 

On capitalism being antithetical to spirituality

(For an expanded discussion of this topic, see
What parallels can be drawn between capitalism and spirituality?)

In my view, spirituality and capitalism are completely antithetical, and any parallels would be superficial and without real substance. Of course, we would need to be specific about which kind of spirituality is being compared and contrasted with which kind of capitalism, so I will use general spiritual principles found in many world religions for the one, and Western-style state capitalism for the other:

CapitalSpirit


These (and many other examples, if I had time to write them all) are why capitalism in its current manifestation can never become more spiritual, and why spirituality is always, without exception, corrupted by capitalism.


 
A Sense of Urgency

Regarding many of the destructive consequences of capitalism, the data is already in. Climate change influenced by human industry is real and will have devastating consequences within our lifetime. Species extinction as a result of pollution, hunting and commercial habitat destruction is accelerating, and we will likely see some 60% of the genetic diversity of Earth vanish within then next few decades. Apart from the increases in mental illness and lifestyle-induced diseases like Type II diabetes, there is strong evidence that stress-induced phenotypes that negatively impact our mental and physical health can be passed on to subsequent generations. The ongoing and highly volatile boom-bust cycles of growth-dependent capitalism are well-documented and have increasing global impact. And of course the exploitation of labor - in the form of sweat shops, child labor and prison labor in the developing world, as wage and debt slavery in the U.S., and as human trafficking almost everywhere - is ceaselessly creative in its manifestations. And, sadly, all of these downward spirals have been predicted for a very long time - they have just been scoffed at and ridiculed by plutocrats who fear their cookie jar would be taken away.

In fact, we can reliably say that whenever pro-capitalist conservatives become agitated enough to initiate propaganda campaigns against any scientific assertions or common-sense solutions, we can be sure the underlying problems are real and need to be addressed. Conservative pushback is the real canary in the coal mine here. This was intimated by the “Red Scares” after WWI and WWII, by the doom and gloom predictions about everything from women’s suffrage to child labor laws to consumer and worker protections to the minimum wage, and of course by the “global warming hoax” of the last decade. There is an excellent example of the mindset behind these objections in a memo written by Lewis F. Powell, Jr. in 1971 regarding the “
Attack of American Free Enterprise System,” which is clearly energized by the mistaken belief that capitalism equates freedom. It was this memo that purportedly led to the creation of many now longstanding engines of propaganda against anything that threatens profitable destruction or corporate power (Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, etc.).

In this sense, the election of Donald Trump to be POTUS is a clarion call for assertive Level 7 action, and is potentially one of the final nails in the Earth's economic, enivironmental, cultural and political coffin.


 

References regarding a “ruling elite”

On How Corporations & The Wealthy Control U.S. Politics:

Exposing ALEC and SPN:

How Conservative-Backed State Laws Are All Connected

ALEC's (Non)Disclosure Policy | BillMoyers.com

EXPOSED: The State Policy Network - The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government


On the Koch Brothers:

Video on Koch brothers taking over Tea Party

Koch Brother Political Activities Wikipedia



Mercer Family and Cambridge Analytica:

Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media

The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine

What Does the Billionaire Family Backing Trump Really Want?


How Think Tanks Influence (
or control outright) U.S. Politics

Thank Tank Politics

Biased Think Tanks Dictate U.S. Foreign Policy


On how the U.S. and its companies use the IMF and World Bank to exploit developing countries:

Top Ten Reasons to Oppose the IMF

How the World Bank, IMF and WTO destroyed African agriculture

IMF's four steps to damnation


Regarding the Iraq War being engineered for profit:

Upworthy | War Contractors

Halliburton, KBR, and Iraq war contracting: A history so far

Tenet Details Efforts to Justify Invading Iraq


Regarding the Super-Entity & Concentrations of Economic Control

Revealed – the capitalist network that runs the world

Interlocking directorates

The Corporate Community

http://corpnet.uva.nl/pdf/sociologica2016.pdf


How All Of This Ties Together

http://www.globalresearch.ca/world-bank-whistleblower-reveals-how-the-global-elite-rule-the-world/5353130

Bilderberg Group

http://www.theyrule.net/


My Conclusions So Far Regarding a “Ruling Elite:”

I would recommend you dig into some of these links and arrive at your own conclusions. Try to find the common themes that connect all of these facts, events, people and outcomes.

For me, the unifying pattern is pretty clear: there are a few hundred people in the world who have a pronounced influence over both global trade and financial institutions, over any mechanisms of government that can impact these holdings, and consequently over how both international wars are waged and how laws are written all the way down to the municipal level. It's rather breathtaking. But having such power does not indicate a conspiracy, per se, but rather a kind of "natural selection" via exploitative capitalism, in which the plutocratic elite are protecting their influence and enlarging their wealth. Sure, it results in a modern form of feudalism, but the perceived "coordination" is, I think, just a result of universal practices that have proven effective in retaining power over time, rather than a carefully planned and executed manipulation. But I could be wrong.

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