- Capitalism and Alternatives -


Posted by: Fred on January 28, 19100 at 17:57:04:

In Reply to: Toward A Common Definition (FULL VERSION) posted by Fred on January 27, 19100 at 15:23:55:

Gotcha! And here's the kicker--I don't agree with this essay. I wholly oppose the positions I stated, and did so to put up a representation of the mental realities of what some bright pro-capitalist would say. That is, I directed it at Gee and David, two guys with whom I'm in total disagreement but whose styles and intellect I respect.

But I didn't start out trying to be sneaky, I was going to identify myself as a Leftist from the beginning. In fact, I struck out the first paragraph in which I admitted my politics because. I thought an unapologetic first-peron would have more impact. I was right.

Thanks everyone for tearing me down. My version tearing this down begins with Marx's "Communist Manifesto":

"You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of nine-tenths . . .From the moment when labour can no longer be converted into capital, money or rent, into a social power capable of being monopolized, ,i.e., from the moment when individual property can no longer be transformed into bourgeois property, into capital, from that moment, you say, individuality vanishes. You must, therefore, confess that by 'individual you mean no other person than the bourgeois, than the middle class owner of property. This person must, indeed, be swept out of the way, and made impossible. communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society: all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriation." ("Communist Manifesto", Penguin Books, 98-99)

: We conservatives don't believe that capitalism is a perfect form of economic arrangement, just that it is the LEAST IMPERFECT. Capitalism has at least three basic beliefs: private property the market and personal responsibility.

: Let's take private property first, because that's what communists want to do away with first. Private property isn't necessarily your house or your yard (although it can be that); private property is your dreams, your destiny, your risk!

Of course, this is the big scare tactic. "Change the locks on the house, Thelma, the Communists are coming." See above, and also see Stoller's post on this.

: Take for example a woman--"Betty"--who makes her sandwiches so delicious that her daughter tells her to open a deli and sell her sandwiches for a profit. Betty then opens a sandwich shop and begins making sandwiches so delicious that the whole community wants to eat them. Betty then starts selling her sandwiches for a profit. This profit represents the community's appreciation of her sandwiches--the quality of the meat, the freshness of the tomato, the crispness of the lettuce.

: People buy her sandwiches because they LIKE them, and they keep coming back.

: Now, the cost of her sandwiches are, say, two dollars a piece. Add rent on her building, electricity and water bills, and we come to 2.75 a sandwich. After that, Betty needs something to live on, so she charges 4.50 for each of her sandwiches.

: Well, Betty doesn't want to keep paying rent on her building forever, does she? So when she reads in the paper that the land on which she does business is for sale, Betty is delighted. In fact, that very day, her landlord calls her to ask if she would be interested in buying the land. Would she ever!

: Of course, the deal has to close soon, within a month. Betty needs at least $50,000 cash--a pretty hefty downpayment. But Betty's landlord likes her, so he'll give her an extra two months in which to raise the funds with which she can buy the property on which her business stands.

: Even with the extra two months, Betty just doesn't have the cash. She has to raise her prices to 5.00 dollars a sandwich, then 5.50. Then 6.00!

: But Betty finds that her sandwiches are quite popular and that she can't keep up with the demand. So, she begins hiring people to do the work, mostly high-school and college students. These people share none of the risks associated with Betty's business (creditors, spoiled food, bankruptcy) and are therefore paid in wages, "x dollars per hour worked.

: Betty thinks this a very fair arrangement, for some days Betty makes nothing after her workers' pay. Sometimes she makes more than that, which is what she went into business for in the first place.

: When she gets enough money, Betty can buy the property. Tehn it becomes her private property. Betty is now a capitalist. She is responsible to herself and to herself alone.

: In addition to making sandwiches which the public will eat, she has to pay wages which will attract the best group of people she can. To this end, Betty will pay a higher wage than, say, McDonald's, because she wants to attract a higher level of employee, and thus attract a higher level clientele. So, the free-market comes into play not only in the sandwiches that Betty makes, but the people that Betty hires to make those sandwiches.

: Finally, the issue is one of personal responsibility. Betty didn't have to open the sandwich shop, but she did. Her "exploited workers" didn't have to work there but they did. It's all a matter of the personal choices we make in life, not some Government telling us what we can and can't do. That's what capitalism has over communism.

: Does anyone here agree?

This is all so wrong I hardly have the energy to flagellate myself. But I know that it's what conservatives because this is the actual crap they teach in college business courses. (One difference is Economics 101 professors like to talk about "widgets" instead of sandwiches.)

We should stress the some of the important strains in capitalist mythology which Betty's story illustrates. The first is the propaganda tactic of conflating the story of the small shop owner with capitalism as a whole. Nothing could be farther from the truth, but stories of Wal-Mart seeking to force small family operations out of business does not engender much loyalty.

Of course, Betty isn't a real capitalist. She's a small shop owner. There are a lot of differences, one is that Betty really IS responsible for her own business. If she quits going to work everyday, if she screws up and orders way too much food which will go sour, if she takes all the money and blows it at the horse races, then Betty is the one who will suffer the consequences. In short, if Betty's business fails then Betty's in trouble. That's not the way it is for capitalists.

If Betty's shop became Betty Inc., (that is, if Betty was a full-blown capitalist) Betty could 

1) Be like Archer-Daniels Midland and et the government to pay her to make sandwiches then throw them away.

2) Be like Boeing, Raytheon, Motorola and other "defense" industries and get the government to give her half of all the government's discretionary funds to make sandwiches that nobody will ever eat. (Or, to switch metaphors, to make poison sandwiches.)

3) Be like Ford, GM and Chrysler and sell sandwiches in which she suspects might rotten meat but then she calculates the cost of removing the meat or warning the customers is more than the likely lawsuits, so she leaves the meat in. Then Betty will get the government to tarry in enforcing its own consumer safety laws.

4) Get the government infiltrate her employees' unions and, if necessary, to beat up any of her employees who try to stop Betty from hiring scab workers.

5) Give Betty tax breaks while increasing the taxes on her employees.

6) Get the government to look the other way when Betty pollutes our air, rivers and oceans. After all, cleaning up the environment is expensive, and Rush Limbaugh says there's no problem anyway.

Betty isn't a capitalist, and her little story isn't the story of capitalism. But this image is what capitalist societies inculcate into their people, even though the reality is the opposite of this case. Betty incurs risks, but capitalists don't. They have the media, the legislature and military force on their side, and Betty is safe only as long as she behaves herself.

History shows that capitalists court the Betty's of society because the shopowners and merchants are a good buffer between capitalists and the poor. It's the "self-made man" image again, with the accompanying narrative of "anybody-can-do-it which serves as one of capitalism's major sources of ideological mystification.

I posted this in an effort to aid future debates with the hope of making the different definitions people have more clear to all.

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