Thursday, February 2, 2023

Once more unto the breach!

OK, let's do it one more time, for clarity.  After all, there are tons of fun posts I'm itching to get to, I don't want to get mired in a debate I'm not really having.  So for clarity's sake, let me say I'm not attacking, nor necessarily blaming, capitalism for the hot mess we see.

I understand capitalism the same way I understand democracy.  That is, the best humanity has come up with - provided:  Provided there are safeguards and buttresses keeping it along the straight and narrow.  

We've seen that with democracy.  Democracy is a great way to do a country.  But we've also heard the old jab that democracy is the form of government that votes for Barabbas.  We've seen clearly that you can't wander into some other country and plop democracy on the table and expect it to work. We heirs of the Christian Western tradition are truly blessed in having so many of the elements that, having converged in time and space, made for the best humanity has been able to produce on this side of heaven.  

Same with Capitalism.  Compared to other historical options, capitalism stands head and shoulders above them all.  Yet clearly, like democracy, it won't work to have it and nothing else.  You need the same safeguards and bumper rails for capitalism like you do for democracy. 

Our problem is that we've been letting those safeguards (the myriad foundations inherited from the long history of the Christian Western tradition) be stripped away.  So it shouldn't surprise us that, just as we see an increasingly corrupted view of what democracy and freedom are all about, so we're also seeing the same corrupting of capitalist ideals.

The problem I noticed was that as this happened, conservatives dug their heals in and decided to defend corporate interests and corporate profits at all cost - in the name of defending capitalism.  Even when it was pretty clear that what corporations were doing was not beneficial for anything but the corporate interests - not beneficial for capitalism, democracy, the Christiaan West or anything conservatives should value - they would go to the mattresses to defend the right of the corporations to do anything. 

By doing that and, more to the point, doing it in the name of defending capitalism, we have generations coming up that see anything done by corporate interests, no matter how egregious or counter to the ideal results of capitalism, as what capitalism is all about.  My sons have said, listening to their peers, capitalism is now when vast corporate interests give as little, produce as little, and shaft as many people as possible, in order to line their own pockets.  

Conservative appeals to 'look what capitalism has done for us!' fall on deaf ears.  That's ancient history today.  Today, because so many things done by corporations were defended in the name of defending capitalism, people - especially young people - see capitalism chained with the good and bad and ugly, and increasingly little of the good.  

So that fellow I referenced who wrote a book  in order to save our youth from the terrors of post-gender manipulation.  Fair enough.  I've said the gender crazy of today was the eugenics of yesterday.  So an important book, by his insistence.  Yet when the interview came around to Amazon banning his book, he immediately deferred to the cherished ideal of capitalism and nothing else.  In the name of a corporation being free to do it's thing, he might not like what Amazon did, but by golly he would fight to the death Amazon's right to do it.  And so by his own admission, while saving our children is one thing, nothing is more important than running left tackle for corporate interests - and all in the name of defending capitalism.

Now, stand back and think how that looks to almost anyone under the age of thirty today.  And remember, no matter how we try to insist the 'bag of air for five bucks' joke we're seeing today is because of anything but capitalism, it happens while corporate CEOs and corporations rake in the big bucks.  It isn't like the Great Depression, where many a corporate executive took it in the throat along with the farmer and the steel worker.  This is where no matter how crappy the product, the service, the diminished quality, the slashed benefits, or the ruined little guy, those CEOs are making bank.  When this is defended in the name of defending capitalism, it is what more and more younger (and other) Americans see as the legacy of capitalism.

My advice, therefore, is that if we are going to defend capitalism - a good thing IMHO - then we must stop confusing defending bad, wrong, counterproductive, or anything else negative in the name of defending capitalism.  We should call those things out.  I'm not saying bring in the government, we need socialism, hail Karl Marx, or more regulations.  I'm saying call those things out as what they are, and insist they are antithetical to what capitalism is or should be. 

Just like a country that would vote for a terrorist should be called out in the name of saying that's not what democracy should be about. Shafting employees, diminishing quality, bilking the consumer, or just promoting evil, is not capitalism's selling point, nor should they be defended in the name of capitalism.

Especially since it isn't hard to see many corporate leaders appear to have diminishing concerns for both democracy and capitalism.  In fact, the cynic in me almost wonders if those corporate execs who seem fine warming up to more socialist and authoritarian sensitivities do what they do precisely to make the capitalist and freedom in the marketplace look bad. 


  1. (Tom New Poster)
    Some people remain hung up on the distinction between what is moral and what may have to remain legal, because conditions for enforcement would give state agencies too much power. Then there's the other side that fears that any regulation of business or profit sets us on the road to Communism. Both sides need to lose their fixations (self-righteousness and paranoia, respectively) and accept that we can assert a moral principle without demanding its exact embodiment in law, and that law has a limited but necessary role in a fair economy.
    In the case of the book aforementioned: in law any vendor, large or small, can carry what he wishes, but a large vendor's decisions have an outsized impact on society that may justify the use of antitrust regulations. That's what the state can do and should do: bust up Amazon like it did Standard Oil. Now whether a certain book can or should be carried: that's where society can invoke its moral sanctions. That's where customers can influence small vendors to carry or not carry. (If the customers don't have basic moral sense, that's not an economic problem.)

    1. To be honest, we could almost set aside questions of morality and right and wrong and still see the glaring problem. Just the whole 'give less for more' that has been defended in the name of the bottom line. More than morality, to be honest, it's that which seems to be the deal breaker for the younger. We all know the benefits of a capitalist approach to things back in the days of yore, but are those benefits still there? I would suggest no, and a growing consensus appears to see that is the case. Not that we must blame capitalism. I'm merely saying we shouldn't defend it in the name of capitalism. Then it appears to all the world capitalism is a thing, and should always be supported, no matter what in the name of capitalism achieves or fails to achieve. That's my point. Of course I think we should have a robust discussion about the moral aspects. But it's enough to say that when people think capitalism or the marketplace today, that vision of a 2/3 empty bag of potato chips for higher prices - while corporate execs continue to rake in the bucks - is what comes to mind. Something defenders of capitalism should never want.

  2. Capitalism, in its pure form, has no moral attachment. The function is completely mathematical and works according to the laws of free choice for buyer and seller. Two things will alter the process. The first is that one of the parties is dishonest, 7th and 8th commandments. The second is outside interference with honest transactions, usually governments in search of expanding power. It is a tiresome trope that one hears about "fixing" capitalism. A gentleman named Marx thought he had the answers. So far, the death toll from that error stands quite high.

    1. I wouldn't trust most fixes. But I do lament the loss of those pillars that helped keep it in check. But in the meantime, I can make sure I don't defend anything done in the name of Capitalism. That's where I think the problem arose.

  3. This trio of posts seems confused. You've confounded 'capitalism' - the disaggregation of ownership, management, production, and finance - with free exchange and private enterprise. You've also confounded problems which arise from monopoly and oligopoly - and the behavior of certain tech companies over the last eight years demonstrates the problem - with the private enterprise system generally. You're also in these examples not pondering some of the downstream consequences. Amazon is behaving badly in this circumstance, but you don't want commercial vendors bullied into selling goods and services they'd rather not (see Masterpiece Cakeshop). Your previous example was drawn from the world of medical services, a world chock-a-block with information deficits and fictional prices. Having Congress dictate standards of care ad hoc is not an optimal way to address the problem you were facing.

    1. Art:
      I don't want vendors on either side of bullying. Let Amazon have its rules, but as a smaller company competing with other vendors with equal rights to their own rules. I don't like the idea of "single payer" because it offers no choice and because power corrupts if concentrated. I don't want "single provider" monopolies either for the same reason. Power corrupts whether it's private or public. Liberty requires that we address that concentration in both government and in business.

    2. Again, delving into capitalism or the whys or hows is outside my pay grade. What isn't is realizing that when conservatives defend anything done by a corporation simply on the grounds of defending its freedoms in the name of capitalism or the free market or whatever, they're as good as saying that's capitalism for you. And as newer and newer generations grasp to find the benefits of the modern market - no matter who we blame for the state of things - if conservatives still go to the mattresses in the name of capitalism, expect more and more people to associate the two (that is, any problems and capitalism) .

  4. (Tom New Poster)
    I think a partial solution is to acknowledge that legitimate civil rights can be used immorally. We don't need to defend the action of every capitalist to defend a free market system. Conservatives who won't recognize that are as absurd as liberals who think every problem has a legal solution. Every free society has recognized that some things have to be tolerated (in law) to protect other things. On the other hand, we need to do what we can, prudently and within Constitutional bounds, to make sure that business concerns don't get too big for the common good. We have less to fear from multiple, independent and competing businesses than from two or three monoliths.

    1. Spot on. That's all I've said. As conservatives who support capitalism or advocate for free market or such, it's OK to call out a corporation that does evil, or even does things that will give those things a black eye. You don't have to be a socialist or Lenin as the only alternative. There is the alternative that says because we see these as good, we don't want them exploited or we don't want corporations hurting them for their own interests.


Let me know your thoughts