The Free Market is a myth, there is no such thing as a “pure” free market in practice.
When the choice is starve in the streets or involve yourself in capitalism, is it really a choice?
Thank you for being clear about a point that is often contested. That particular statement has always bothered me, at least for examples at one end of the spectrum. I recently read about the Lockean proviso, and while I probably don’t agree with everything Locke wrote I do like the idea that one can only lay claim to previously unowned resources if doing so doesn’t deny everyone else a similar opportunity (although there are some puzzles there if taken to the logical extreme). I’m not quite sure how to structure society around that concept, but the concept at least highlights that limits on claiming ownership (when not actually “producing” anything) are likely prudent.
To be clear myself, I find this (homesteading) to be most challenging for resources that are not movable, such as land. However, when it comes to all of the resources that go into, say, an iPhone, I think it’s perfectly workable for such resources to be owned by individuals.
Another very important point is that property can be created by mixing one’s labor with resources that were voluntarily traded with a previous owner. Like making a chair. The examples you’ve listed above are not the entirety of the possibilities.
What’s wrong with voluntary exchange between two or more people? If you own your self, can choose how to spend your time, and own that which you create with your self and your time, then what’s wrong with exchanging that private property with others in the absence of force? Communism and socialism require force. Capitalism does not. Even though force still occurs in capitalistic systems, it’s not (supposed to be) legal.
One of the biggest myths is that profit is extracted from the laborer. The vast majority of products only have about 10% profit. That amount is not really even profit, because the rate of inflation between the time when wages and raw materials are paid for, versus the time when the final product is sold, is such that the bulk of that 10% profit is taken up by inflation. What remains is just the market interest rate on the funding that was provided up front. Sure, there are examples where new innovations enjoy enormous profits, but those don’t last in the face of competition. The more profitable a product is, the quicker competitors will undercut any existing profits. Another company can always come in and produce the same product for less while paying the same wages, or steal workers away by paying them more and charging the same price for the product. Every opportunity to do a better job is taken until the wages and profits settle down to normal.
It’s time that we put behind us the misunderstandings of Karl Marx. He dreamed up the idea of the maligned worker, but such a situation as he describes could only exist in a world with absolutely no innovation, where new products are never introduced.
A voluntary cooperative is just as much a part of capitalism as any other voluntary exchange between humans. It’s only socialist when a government uses force to extract “cooperation” from someone who does not volunteer.
The examples you’ve listed are real facts from history, but I’d argue that the word “plunder” is far more appropriate than the simple word, “capitalism.” We need words to discuss ideas, but we need to be careful about using those words. When the situation is incredibly complex, and many different actions are occurring together, then we really need more than a one-word description of what is happening. In other words, “capitalism” is not a useful description of those horrible historical facts.
My goal in conversing here is to suggest that people use capitalism, socialism, and communism in accordance with their definitions. Capitalism and communism are at opposite ends of the spectrum. In communism, the state owns everything. Individuals have no freedom to choose what they produce, nor do they own anything they produce. Everything of value is taken by the state and redistributed according to centralized political rule. In capitalism, individuals own themselves, they direct their own time and how that time is spent to produce or consume, and they own all that they produce. Ownership only changes hands voluntarily. Many people consider capitalism to be synonymous with freedom and self-ownership, because it’s the only system that honors private property, and thus the only system that honors human right to life. That might be a bit of a stretch of the definition, but logically the components are there. Socialism is merely somewhere along the spectrum between those two extremes, where some forms of production are privately owned and some forms of production are forcibly redistributed by the state in such a way that the producers of those categories of goods do not fully own the fruits of their labors, and are thus slaves to the state.
As for reconciliation, I assume that everyone who was plundered by the East India Tea Company is dead, as are those who plundered them. I’m not sure how to reconcile anything unless there is a complainant and a defendant and a court of peers to mete out fair justice. The world has risen above far worse conditions, and we can again.
Thank you again for raising another very important point. I argue with Libertarians, all the time, because they typically assume that the “free market” will solve all environmental issues.
I happen to be a big fan of Carl Menger, who did a really good job of defining things in his 1871 (!) book, Principles of Economics. He outlined four basic prerequisites for something to become part of a market (become a good or have the characteristics of a good): 1) human need, 2) a connection between the properties of a thing that make it capable of satisfying a human need, 3) human knowledge of this connection, and 4) command or control of the thing to a sufficient degree that it can be directed to satisfy that need.
My point when I argue with folks about the environment is that the “free market” is not capable of solving environmental issues because humans are not sufficiently knowledgeable about the connection between our needs relative to the ecosystem that we live in, and further that we do not yet have full command over nature to the degree necessary to correct the problems we’re creating.
An unfortunate truth is that we must have a free market in order to honor human rights and ensure that our division of labor produces the things that we’re aware that we need, but at the same time we have to be intelligent enough to realize that this network of communication (the free market) cannot solve the issues that we don’t understand, especially when we’re not aware of them. Voluntary exchange between sentient beings is the only way that over seven billion people can coordinate successfully, but taking from nature or dumping into the environment is not a voluntary exchange between sentient beings. We need something more than an economic system to safeguard our environment. I also do not know what social system will solve that, but I understand free market economics well enough to know that is not sufficient on its own.
I’m not saying we aren’t aware of the degree of pollution in international waters (I’m painfully aware of the floating collection of plastic in the North Pacific that’s the size of Texas). I’m saying that we’re not even aware of the consequences of the various pollutants we’re creating - and by no means am I thinking only of carbon.
If that patent is still valid, then it’s an example of (probably corporate) distortion of the law. Some argue that patents are not even valid or just (as in justice) in a free market capitalist system. That’s a difficult one for me to wrap my head around, since my entire career centers around the creation of Intellectual Property, but it’s still worth thinking about.
My apologies to all here. I was reacting to the following statements:
I found that to be incredibly condescending, as well as frustratingly devoid of details, but I should have directly called it out instead of letting myself get carried away.
respectfully, this is what you have been engaging in throughout this thread. your definition of communism as a system in which “the state owns everything” is factually inaccurate. to argue that the history of colonialism is somehow distinct from the history of capitalism is …questionable, as it basically comes down to saying “real capitalism has never been tried!” every time you are confronted with an example of an atrocity carried out in pursuit of wealth.
i appreciate that you recognize the free market is insufficient to deal with global climate change, but i am dismayed that you stop short of suggesting a new social system. because, after all, in our capitalist society, information itself is a commodity. oil companies purchased climate ignorance through the suppression of research. billionaires wage war on public schools. six companies dictate the acceptable terms of public debate, and none of them care about the climate. etc, etc, etc. if everything bad in the world is simply a distortion of a hypothetically great system of exchange, at what point can we acknowledge that perhaps we do not live in a hypothetical?
This is an illusion of course because creating needs is an industry in itself inside the free market. It serves the purpose of those in control of the market, not the peoples needs for freedom and “finding their true self” like all those quasi-religious advertising campaigns keep telling us.
Also environmental destruction is not some kind of side effect that the free market unfortunately can’t fix, it is a structural necessity of the free market and even the worst neo-liberal lecturers that I had to endure at my university didn’t deny that fact.
I’m not back, but just wanted to set the record about my personal slant straight.
I care very much about the environment. I champion renewable energy, electric cars, bikes (as in pedal), and support anything that removes our reliance on oil and petroleum. I commute to work by bike, and soon a velomobile. (recumbent trike with a fairing. Bike 2.0)
I also disagree on the purity comment. I don’t demand perfection, but I do expect you to be able to do more than repeat a line, and nothing else in the way you live or act reflects anything you’ve said. That’s called hypocrisy. That doesn’t mean you adhere to it with perfection. How Angela responded, demonstrates that she does believe what she said, and is trying in her way to do something about it. That is enough.
I’d further point out that nothing I’ve said makes me a right wing nut job, but trying to toss me into that camp is a good way for you to dismiss my ideas or opinion. It is intellectually weak and a prominent tactic for arguments today.
I would hope that by participating in this community you can approach this topic by giving us the benefit of the doubt, rather that assuming that we’re “repeating a line” as the default position. Your initial arguments started from the position that “we” (who are in this discussion) are hypocrites because we own things like synths. I don’t feel like I should have to prove my worth, but should be able to have this conversation in good faith understanding that we’re all doing our best in different ways.
I didn’t see anyone do this, I certainly didn’t do this. If I missed something then I hope it can be set straight. This was never my opinion of you or anyone else here.
You’re right and that’s my bad. I tried to word it to not say “you are this” but should’ve just left it out of the discussion. I appreciate differing opinions and am not looking to dunk on anyone or shut them down.
On the nitty gritty of how to fix things we can agree to disagree, I’m good with that. Without a doubt I could do better to remind myself to assume good intentions in others.
I currently work for a private company and own 0% of the fruits of my labor. If I leave the company, everything I have done belongs to them, I receive no income from it, and in fact I’m not even allowed to see it anymore because it’s confidential. Also, if I don’t find another job within a short period of time, I die.
I still don’t call it “slavery” though; it’s needlessly dramatic and dismissive of the horrors of actual slavery.
The ideal of socialism isn’t on a spectrum between “own 0% of what you produce for a private company” and “own almost 0% of what you produce for the state.” It’s “this company is worker-owned, democratically run by its workers, and its workers share in the profits” and “this industry is state-owned but decisions are made democratically, including by its workers, and its workers receive a fair wage.”
And the kind of socialism that people most want is honestly just a slightly more limited capitalism. Health care, education and the prison system should not be massive profit centers given that they can’t seem to serve society’s needs properly under the metaphorical weight of all that gold.
Vary valid points. Do you have an alternative system to suggest? I’m not trying to be clever here, it’s an honest question. I use the same logic when it comes to people defending Communism as “not being true Marxism. Marxism was never really applied!” which makes me question how much history needs to be pointed out in order to discredit a suggested system entirely. Death of millions would be good enough in my book but we seem to not pay attention to numbers after 1,2 people … it becomes a statistic.
So Communism is out, Capitalism is out, Free market economies won’t work (as per the climate issues explanation given above). I for one I’m always stuck in the “ok, not this then what?” area. I don’t have answers.
I never imagined such a discussion in such a forum would be so interesting. Looking forward to reading more posts about this.
This is just wrong. Capitalism by definition requires force, by the police and the state, to defend people’s private property. Otherwise what is stopping workers from taking over a factory or farmers taking over the farm. The threat of violence from the state is what protects private property. Also the very real violence abroad defends the financial interests of US businesses.
Capitalism also requires coercion, because otherwise why would people work at McDonalds. Because if people don’t have jobs in our capitalist society they live on the streets and starve. You can not freely choose to work or not work unless you have the privilege of being born into wealth.
If the Market is so efficient why does it spend billions of dollars (a good chunk of the GDP) manufacturing demand through marketing.
I work for a top 20 employer in the US. I had to sign an agreement prior to my start date that anything I create during my employment at my company henceforth belongs to the company. Even if its nothing to do with their core business or is extraneous to my role. If I want to seek outside employment, I have to have it approved by several layers of management. Its hard to imagine any scenario where it can be construed that I have just as much bargaining power as my employer in this matter. I needed the job. We are an at-will state. While I don’t intend to create anything groundbreaking enough to warrant them enforcing this agreement, it does make me wonder: if I record an album at home and receive commercial success, do they own the rights to it? I suppose I could buy some shares of my company but if I had done that, I would have actually lost a significant amount of money by now. In my industry (finance - a whole 'nother can of worms), the profits are directly a result of my labor and other people’s money.
I’m not a communist but feel a slight need to defend this argument against. In the US I’d argue capitalism brought genocide of native peoples and slavery and everything that came after, not to mention the various foreign entanglements (to put it euphemistically) that have been touched upon. Does that mean we should abandon capitalism? (maybe!)
This is a question that people much smarter than me devote their lives to and often come to the same conclusion. I’m guessing these answers don’t exist and am very wary when someone claims to have them. That said, let me muddy the waters a little. In considering capitalism (largely seen as an economic system) vs. communism (which is sort of a hybrid economic and political system I guess - and I realize separating political systems from economic systems is foolish but hear me out for a sec!) where does democracy fit in here? The answer may be that democracy is incompatible with both, or is more compatible with one system or another or is not even necessary at all. Presently in the US capitalism + democracy seems to be unequipped to deal with the current challenges, or maybe there is an inherent struggle between the two and capitalism only temporarily has the upper hand.
All this to say I think the world needs questioning and open minds more than it does adherence to ideology and certainty. Though I’m also sympathetic to the opposite argument that right now is the time for drastic action to save the planet.
i will try not to just parrot @addamm’s great response but i do want to address this capitalist vs non capitalist debate over deaths. it is interesting to me that–at least in my history classes–every single death that occurred in non-capitalist systems is attributed to the failure of that system (the post kicking off this whole debate compared the choice between capitalism and socialism to the choice between milk and cyanide!). but this standard is never, ever applied at home. to take one example, in LA where i live, 1,341 people die each year due to air pollution. these deaths are considered “preventable” by scientists. they are not prevented, though, because LA came of age after the invention of (the market for) cars. cars have never been safer, healthier, or more efficient than other methods of transit that existed prior to or alongside them. but they were faster and cheap enough to be sold to individuals, so we rebuilt our entire city for cars, sold everyone two, built houses farther away for more people to drive their cars from… fast forward 60-70 years, 1300 people are dying annually in one city simply due to their proximity to cars, most of which are carrying one person to and from their work. (also, 28,000 hit and runs occur causing 138 deaths, every year, and the gas from the cars is helping turn the ocean to acid.)
none of this seems to be accounted for in the “number of deaths” debate, it’s either a distortion of the real free market or just a fact of life we must accept. in my opinion, it isn’t.
as for the “well what can we do?” question, obviously i don’t know either, i’m just some guy. i have some slogans:
—tax capital gains as income
—spread democracy to the fortune 500 before spreading it overseas
—housing, healthcare, education are not market commodities
This brings up an interesting point that consumes way too much of my daily brain activity: What things can individuals do that make small differences, or cumulative differences? And what things do we need to fight for at the system level?
IMO, a lot of the individual choices are vanity activism. They make me feel good about what I do, but have negligible effect at scale and often aren’t scalable. I will keep doing them, because I want to live by my values in the ways that I can and “put my money where my mouth is.” But I also acknowledge that my choice to buy local food, or ethical clothing, is a small drop in the bucket of a system that these choices have almost no impact on. And that my ability to make some of these choices is based on my relative wealth, while many many people don’t have the option because of the system we live in. (i.e. buying ethically made clothing is much more expensive than Walmart or H&M fast fashion).
Then there are things we can influence – maybe I can help get more people making individual choices within their means that contribute to a better future or cumulative change. Maybe I can also influence companies and government to change their policies through collective actions or buying power (although this takes a scale that is very very hard to achieve).
And then there’s systemic change, where these issues are actually solvable but is the most difficult thing to affect. We have election, strikes, boycotts, etc… but they take scale and organization, and are still playing within the system. This is also the thing that takes the longest timeframe to shift and often only changes in response to catastrophe (aka necessity).
I do what I can at all these levels, and of course could always do more… but I also have a life to live so there’s a balance that needs to be achieved, and often shifts over time.
There are a couple of models I like to use when thinking about this stuff.
- Pace Layers - https://jods.mitpress.mit.edu/pub/issue3-brand
- “Control/Influence/Appreciate” from Kees van der Heijden. A model for thinking about your ability to change/influence a complex system.
Serious campaign finance reform goes a long way, also, and seems to be (at least it should be) something everyone can/should agree on. Ban non-individual campaign contributions. I will support a candidate that makes this their top priority.