Thursday, January 13, 2011

10 (or so) Questions for Capitalists

How can competition benefit most people when most must be losers by definition? In competition there is typically one winner and many losers. The other way around is logically impossible.

How can we be rich and affluent during a boom one day, then poor, willing embracers of austerity the next? How can it be that this cycle repeats across the centuries, with 'wealth' suddenly disappearing without decent explanation, and yet we apply the same methods in an attempt to get different results.

How do central banks repeatedly fail to notice mounting debt in a debt-money system? Isn't it their first responsibility to monitor the money supply and keep inflation at 'reasonable' levels?

How can the debt-money system be praised during the boom, then stunned surprise announced during the bust, with the finger of blame pointed at the very mechanism – debt – praised the day before for delivering such wonders? How can the way out of this cycle be yet more debt?

How can we refuse to question debt-based money creation when it is universally accepted that nations and citizens took on too much debt?

How can capitalism suddenly not have been in operation these last decades, when during the apparently 'good' times it had killed communism and spread plenty across the western world?

How can capitalism be anything other than a system for creating overly powerful corporations, when it is at core a system for leveraging concentrations of wealth in pursuit of ever more profit?

Why is it now so often heard that, actually, we haven't had 'genuine' capitalism, that 'genuine' capitalism would be better than 'crony capitalism,' or 'corporate capitalism,' while it is simultaneously acknowledged that perfect competition is impossible? Only perfect competition can prevent the concentrations of market-manipulating, price-fixing power so in evidence across the planet and throughout its modern history, concentrations which are in fact capitalism's very engine.

Why is individualism so fanatically insisted upon, so viscerally defended by knee-jerk group-think? Isn't it bitterly ironic that the collective, in almost total unity, insists that the individual has supremacy, while shouting down lone individuals who claim otherwise?

Are we going to let a socioeconomic model called “capitalism” wipe us out while in reckless pursuit of perpetual 'growth,' or are we going to coolly assess the situation and do what needs to be done?


Karl said...

Treating the economy as a twisted game of win or lose, survival or death, is an anti-humanistic way to behave when the 'losers' or 'victims' are other human beings.

One of the myths of capitalism seems to be that people won't work without being either forced or baited. How much contempt must one have for his fellows to believe this demonstrably false premise?

Diversity is necessary for any healthy ecosystem (such as an economy), but it is cooperation that leads to greater diversity than competition. A capitalist has to believe the absurd notion that allowing ideas to be monopolized by a small group can lead to more innovation than giving everyone access to them.

Toby said...

Karl, it's good to see you again. I was worried blogger's interpreting your post as spam (back on the 1st of Jan) had sent you packing!

Yes, it is a daily source of astonishment to me how demonstrably false assumptions, such as work having to be forced, are believed unquestioningly by billions of people. The guaranteed income idea, which I warm to more and more, almost always elicits the response from people that no one would work anymore. However, there is some evidence that this is changing in Germany. Susanne Wiest's citizen's initiative to introduce a guaranteed income has over 50% support in Germany. The idea that the entire system is not working is also supported by over 80% of Germans. These figures suggest something very big is happening.

We need a fresh look at work (as well as other things), to allow ourselves to see it fuse with play and creativity. We no not have to suffer to live, we do not have to struggle to survive. It can be that way if we so choose, but does not have to be.

Our challenge, as a species, is to pull ourselves up out of the bog of assumptions that support the tyrannical, elitist system that has been smothering human potential for centuries, if not millennia, in pursuit of profit and differential advantage.

Martin said...

Toby , who are these coolly asses you speak of in the last paragraph?

Toby said...

Oops, spell-checker failed to spot that one!

Thanks for the heads up Martin!

It may be winter, but you are one hot-ass editor.

Rupert said...

Hi Toby,
Just trying to get my head around this guaranteed income thingy. If it could be argued that the income provided form the welfare state is the teetering point for poverty then is this just a case of moving the base line? Who is eligible for this wage? Over 16? What about dependants? The infirmed? Does this need to nudge the cultural shift or do certain ovum need to be laid first? Dignity is at the centre of this idea I think. But the cultural stigma of the useless runs deep me thinks. How deep the belief that unless you can provide/produce under your own steam your right to consume is compromised. This is a tough nut to crack. As the Prof says it's a cultural problem, not a technical one.

Toby said...

Hi Rupert,

Everyone living would get a guaranteed income from birth till death, though different advocates recommend different amounts. Susanne Wiest says €1000 a month for minors, €1500 for adults.

The view on this that I find most powerful is to think of money as enabling citizens to contribute what they can, freeing them up to work where their passion takes them, rather than as reward for work that must be done. Boring crap can be either automated or would be far better paid because no one would have to do it. There would be an actual jobs market where 'shoppers' can choose what they do for the first time in history.

However, I've started thinking more deeply about the criticism, which people against govt. created money make, that only the market can decide how much money an economy needs. I disagree with this, because the market has been 'deciding' this for centuries and has never got it right. However, how would a govt. determine how much money is the right amount? I don't think it can.

Economics has the fundamental problem of working scientifically with a non-measurable phenomena; value. The market mechanism seems the right one for fumbling forward on this, since it is people figuring it out together. It's messy, but at least its democratic. However, it cannot stay democratic. When free marketeers say The Big Bad State they are criticizing Bigness itself, which of course applies to State and Corporation alike, the private/public split is a red herring.

Money does not grow in our pockets organically as we work, but can we set up something that mirrors this behaviour in a market setting with a rotting or negative interest money using internet technologies? Replace banking with a web of services in the internet. Kind of like the Daniel Suarez suggestion in which money becomes the way we collectively value each other's public contributions while ignoring their private lives. Assigning points, with local connected to global. Something like that.

Early stages of my thoughts so bear with me...