- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Capitalism's instability

Posted by: Samuel Day Fassbinder ( Citizens for Mustard Greens, USA ) on September 06, 1999 at 23:16:29:

In Reply to: stability posted by Gee on September 06, 1999 at 17:55:12:

: : 2:It is perfectly possible to produce suffiency.

: By whose standard? Not if everyone decides to have a luxury yacht it isnt.

SDF: The ideology of Austrian school economics (von Mises, Hayek etc.) runs in complete ignorance of psychology, assuming that wants are infinite but at the same time assuming that such wants can't be known. See Lorenzo Infantino's "Individualism in modern thought : from Adam Smith to Hayek". So we might feel prompted to ask, "what if everyone wanted a yacht?" We might just as well be prompted to ask, "what if everyone wanted to own their own lion, or tiger, or bear, oh my!" Would there be enough to go around?

However, there's a way out of the dilemma caused by wilful ignorance -- it's called LEARNING SOMETHING! In any system of distribution, there will be a mechanism of behavioral control, so that products can get to people. Under capitalism the primary mechanisms of behavioral control appear to be 1) advertising, which produces and magnifies surplus wants in the buying public through its promises of instant gratification, 2) the supply and demand curves, limiting the supply of goods to people according to their monetary prices, 3) control of the money supply, whether public or private, which helps determine the value of money in terms of goods for any society, and 4) the competitive nature of capitalist commerce, which replaces pre-existing communal bonds of sharing and extended family with an environment of competition and artificial scarcity.

What sort of wants does capitalist society produce? You have a system that produces insane commodities-glut one moment for some, insane poverty the next moment for others (say the 25% of America that was unemployed during the Depression). In such a system, wants go rampantly unsatisfied and you had better "get it while you can". If you want to see the victims of a capitalist order that multiplies wants until they crowd out the happiness of the indivdidual, check out anorexics and bulimics.

At any rate, for capitalist society, it is the pressure to want yachts etc. (created by advertising, bourgeois American television programs etc.) added onto the difficulty one faces in satisfying one's wants amidst the market order -- even such basic things as food (and I would argue that food has a different moral status as a "want" than a yacht, since you are what you eat) -- that intensifies the desire of the people for everything under the sun. If people had to depend upon each other for their wants (rather than depending on a money system that allows them to imagine ripping off an anonymous public of "masses"), if production were allowed to be coordinated in democratic response to expressed desire, if delayed gratification were made into a lesson in self-control that everyone learned in order to be a versatile, robust, and satisfied human being (rather than being the punishment it is today), if the supply of commodities were to be distributed evenly rather than in the current formation of hoarding by rich people living in rich nations, well, you'd go a long way toward establishing the wants that capitalism has provoked in humanity, while allowing living individuals to get their desires under self-control.

Any "socialist order" would have to replace the public huckstering of the global market with some variety of face-to-face, communal control. Which is a lot safer than depending on private cops, as they do in Russia.

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