- Capitalism and Alternatives -

But can you (and ALL the other workers) dance to it?

Posted by: Barry Stoller on February 26, 19100 at 12:55:58:

In Reply to: Catchy, no? posted by Frenchy on February 25, 19100 at 19:45:50:

Frenchy [borrowing a phrase from Forbes magazine]: The true revolutionaries of today are those who are willing to take economic risks.

Stoller [objecting because, as he sees it, capitalists own and risk the labor-power of all of sociewty]: Because capitalism is predicated upon the existence of a class of people... capitalists risk ALL of society's productive capabilities with each business deal.

: Not really true. A capitalist can also be of the labor owning class.

I have never denied this. Indeed, the relative elasticity of class ascension is what clearly differentiates capitalism from the inflexible class structure of feudalism. To call capitalism, as I have done, a lottery is to admit that capitalism has 'room at the top' for some members of the proletariat strata.

That said, let me emphasize the fact that the room at the top is QUITE LIMITED.* It is quite limited because capitalism---a system that could be credibly characterized by the unyielding de-skilling of work---must produce a large amount of unskilled (and low-wage) jobs and, consequently, a large amount of unskilled (and low-wage) workers to perform them. This is why MOST of the laboring class cannot possibly be permitted access to the top of the capitalist pyramid scheme. Capitalism would cease if everyone was a capitalist.

: There have been too many success stories in the recent past to deny this.

Does the media regale us with UN-success stories? Other than fleeting mention of the unprecented bankruptcies---both household and small business---that increase each year?

: And who benefits?

: Well, the proles, you and me. We are able to make distances disapear because of intrepid entrepreuners and converse w/ each other in a semi-civilized manner.

This is the most compelling point of your argument and, should I say, your whole philosophy. If I understand you correctly, Frenchy, you maintain that capitalists in no uncertain terms deserve their status and profits because they are, in fact, Promethean supermen, i.e. because they promote technological advances that betters everyone's standard of living. As an example, you mention the internet.

The internet, however, is an example of PUBLIC FUNDING and SOCIALIZED LABOR more than it symbolizes entrepreneurial intrepidity. After all, the internet was a creation of the Pentagon in the late 1960s, a creation resulting from the research of many people, and made possible by the American tax-payer. All Bill Gates et. al did was take what the public ALREADY PAID FOR, throw some wrapping paper over it, and RE-SELL IT TO THEM.

Nevertheless, I see your point. If I understand your perspective correctly, according to you, business people like Gates truly do develop new technologies that no one else would have developed; consequently they have earned their profits. If I agreed that that was the case, I might also adopt your position.

However, I do not.

My position rests on the conviction that if the INDIVIDUAL hypothetical genius you call the intrepid entrepeneur did not develop the technology that makes everyone's standard of living rise, then someone else would have. That's right: if Edison hadn't discovered the recording process, I am confident that someone else would have (sooner or later). Therefore I see the Edisons of the world as nothing more than clever robbers of science. And because of the great advantage capitalists have (lots of money for R&D as well as access to government R&D**), they are quicky able to purchase---and monopolize for a time---science and, with it, all ensuing improvements in the lives of men and women.

Here's an example:

Yves St. Laurent, after importing a particular flower (Cananga odorata or, as it is known in the Philippines, where it is grown, ilang-ilang),... secured a patent on the perfume derived from the native Filipino species. In another instance, India's neem tree is the source of thirty-five patents, mainly for the pesticide properties of the plant. Local users who have long known and benefitted from the tree's properties get nothing for the appropriation of this knowledge by European and U.S. firms.(1)

More so than the internet, common knowledge about plants and flowers are being monopolized as 'intellectual' private property! Not for nothing did Karl Marx say 'science, generally speaking, costs the capitalist nothing, a fact that by no means hinders him from exploiting it.'(2)

This is why I reject your interpretation of the capitalist as Promethean superman; I see him as usurper of knowledge that would be discovered in good enough time by society in general---which, admittedly, is a very communist kind of thought.


* To demonstrate the tendency for capital to centralize, allow me to point out that in 1976 19% of the American population controlled approximately 40% of its wealth. Presently, only 1% controls this same amount. Source: U.S. News and World Report, 21 February 2000, p. 40.

* * 40% of all American R&D is government-funded. Source: Kuttner, Everything For Sale: the Virtues and LImits of Markets, The University of Chicago Press 1999, p. 215.


1. Monthly Review, January 2000, p. 9.

2. Marx, Capital volume one, International 1967, p. 368.

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