Capitalism has nothing to do with competition. You don’t enforce undemocratic minority control over resources and opportunities to foster competition or facilitate wealth creation by everyone. “Competition” is just a euphemism for economic divide and conquer, which is why it’s only for those at the bottom.
Also, greed is irrelevant. The greedy want people to think their greed is normal and widespread so they can indulge it without being challenged. The only reason greed is a factor is because it explains why some people reject a democratic and fair system like socialism and choose a system of exploitation and abuse like capitalism. It’s a sad and ineffectual attempt to rationalise their irrational decision to harm others for their own gain.
Socialism is about the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. Greedy people in the system don’t get to have more control than anyone else, so it doesn’t matter if they’re greedy or not. They can covet power and the ability to dominate others all they like, but other people are protected from them.
Likewise, I don’t think people would need much compelling to help each other in a socialist economy. For one thing, without capitalism people wouldn’t be shut out of the system and exploited, which reduces the welfare bill drastically. Second, these attitudes are encouraged by today’s elite who wouldn’t exist without their society enforcing their special privileges.
This equating of self with product has come about precisely because the cycles of planned and perceived obsolescence in product consumption are no longer delivering capitalist growth. In a period of market saturation, when we have already consumed all we can, we are encouraged to objectify ourselves as items ‘on the market’, consuming others. Exercises in the disposability of humans.
“The perfect symmetry between the dismantling of the wall of shame and the end of limitless Nature is invisible only to the rich Western democracies.The various manifestations of socialism destroyed both their peoples and their ecosystems, whereas the powers of the North and the West have been able to save their peoples and some of their countrysides by destroying the rest of the world and reducing its peoples to abject poverty.Hence a double tragedy: the former socialist societies think they can solve both their problems by imitating the West; the West thinks it has escaped both problems and believes it has lessons for others even as it leaves the Earth and its people to die.The West thinks it is the sole possessor of the clever trick that will allow it to keep on winning indefinitely, whereas it has perhaps already lost everything.”
Bruno Latour - We Have Never Been Modern (1994).
Chomsky may also be the leading critic of the mythology of the natural “free” market, that cheery hymn that is pounded into our heads about how the economy is competitive, rational, efficient, and fair. As Chomsky points out, markets are almost never competitive. Most of the economy is dominated by massive corporations with tremendous control over their markets and that therefore face precious little competition of the sort described in economics textbooks and politicians’ speeches. Moreover, corporations themselves are effectively totalitarian organizations, operating along nondemocratic
1. Competition generates jobs. Right?
WRONG! Competition may initially create jobs but leads inevitably to over-production of the same commodities or over-provision of the same services by competing companies, resulting in takeovers, redundancies or export of jobs to…
“What emerges is the central importance of how capitalism very particularly organizes production: masses of working people generate corporate profits that others take and use.Tiny boards of directors, selected by and responsible to tiny groups of major shareholders, gather and control corporate profits, thereby shaping and dominating society.That tiny minority (boards and major shareholders) of those associated with and dependent upon corporations make all the basic decisions—how, what, and where to produce and what to do with the profits. The vast majority of workers within and residents surrounding those capitalist corporations must live with the results of corporate decisions.Yet they are systematically excluded from participating in making those decisions. Nothing more glaringly contradicts democracy than how capitalism organizes the corporate enterprises where working people produce the goods and services without which modern life for everyone would be impossible.”
“Well, our economic system “works,” it just works in the interests of the masters, and I’d like to see one that works in the interests of the general population.And that will only happen when they are the “principal archi-tects” of policy, to borrow Adam Smith’s phrase. I mean, as long as power is narrowly concentrated, whether in the economic or the political system, you know who’s going to benefit from the policies-you don’t have to be a genius to figure that out. That’s why democracy would be a good thing for the general public.But of course, achieving real democracy will require that the whole system of corporate capitalism be completely dismantled-because it’s radically anti-democratic.And that can’t be done by a stroke of the pen, you know: you have to build up alternative popular institutions, which could allow control over society’s investment decisions to be moved into the hands of working people and communities.That’s a long job, it requires building up an entire cultural and institutional basis for the changes, it’s not something that’s just going to happen on its own. There are people who have written about what such a system might look like-kind of a “participatory economy,” it’s sometimes called. But sure, that’s the way to go, I think.”
Understanding Power - Noam Chomsky
“Once its institutional structure is in place, capitalist democracy will function only if all subordinate their interests to the needs of those who control investment decisions, from the country club to the soup kitchen.It is only a matter of time before an independent working-class culture erodes, along with the institutions and organizations that sustain it, given the distribution of resources and power. And with popular organizations weakened or eliminated, isolated individuals are unable to participate in the political system in a meaningful way. It will, over time, become largely a symbolic pageant or, at most, a device whereby the public can select among competing elite groups and ratify their decisions, playing the role assigned them by progressive democratic theorists of the Walter Lippmann variety.That was a plausible assumption in the early postwar period and has proven largely accurate so far, despite many rifts, tensions and conflicts.”
Slavoj Žižek — in a review of Hardt and Negri’s Multitude — analyzes the instability inherent in today’s capitalism arising from pushing more of the middle class into the working class as we have become more ‘productive’: as business needs less workers. By taking away their ‘surplus wage’ — the amount they make that is greater than the working class — they become open to civil unrest:
Slavoj Žižek via London Review of Books
The evaluative procedure that qualifies some workers to receive a surplus wage is an arbitrary mechanism of power and ideology, with no serious link to actual competence; the surplus wage exists not for economic but for political reasons: to maintain a ‘middle class’ for the purpose of social stability. The arbitrariness of social hierarchy is not a mistake, but the whole point, with the arbitrariness of evaluation playing an analogous role to the arbitrariness of market success. Violence threatens to explode not when there is too much contingency in the social space, but when one tries to eliminate contingency. In La Marque du sacré, Jean-Pierre Dupuy conceives hierarchy as one of the four procedures (‘dispositifs symboliques’) whose function is to make the relationship of superiority non-humiliating: hierarchy itself (an externally imposed order that allows me to experience my lower social status as independent of my inherent value); demystification (the ideological procedure that demonstrates that society is not a meritocracy but the product of objective social struggles, enabling me to avoid the painful conclusion that someone else’s superiority is the result of his merits and achievements); contingency (a similar mechanism, by which we come to understand that our position on the social scale depends on a natural and social lottery; the lucky ones are those born with the right genes in rich families); and complexity (uncontrollable forces have unpredictable consequences; for instance, the invisible hand of the market may lead to my failure and my neighbour’s success, even if I work much harder and am much more intelligent). Contrary to appearances, these mechanisms don’t contest or threaten hierarchy, but make it palatable, since ‘what triggers the turmoil of envy is the idea that the other deserves his good luck and not the opposite idea – which is the only one that can be openly expressed.’ Dupuy draws from this premise the conclusion that it is a great mistake to think that a reasonably just society which also perceives itself as just will thereby be free of all resentment: on the contrary, it is precisely in such a society that those who occupy inferior positions will find an outlet for their hurt pride in violent outbursts of resentment.
Connected to this is the impasse faced by today’s China: the ideal goal of Deng’s reforms was to introduce capitalism without a bourgeoisie (since they would be the new ruling class); now, however, China’s leaders are making the painful discovery that capitalism without a stable hierarchy (brought about by the existence of a bourgeoisie) generates permanent instability. So what path will China take? The former Communists, meanwhile, are emerging as the most efficient managers of capitalism because their historical enmity towards the bourgeoisie as a class perfectly fits the tendency of today’s capitalism to become a managerial capitalism without a bourgeoisie – in both cases, as Stalin put it long ago, ‘cadres decide everything.’ (An interesting difference between today’s China and Russia: in Russia, university teachers are ridiculously underpaid – they are de facto already part of the proletariat – while in China they are comfortably provided with a surplus wage as a means to guarantee their docility.)
The notion of surplus wage also throws new light on the ongoing ‘anti-capitalist’ protests. In times of crisis, the obvious candidates for ‘belt-tightening’ are the lower levels of the salaried bourgeoisie: political protest is their only recourse, if they are to avoid joining the proletariat. Although their protests are nominally directed at the brutal logic of the market, they are in effect protesting against the gradual erosion of their (politically) privileged economic place. Ayn Rand has a fantasy in Atlas Shrugged of striking ‘creative’ capitalists, a fantasy that finds its perverted realisation in today’s strikes, which are mostly strikes on the part of a ‘salaried bourgeoisie’ driven by fear of losing their privilege (their surplus over the minimum wage). These are not proletarian protests, but protests against the threat of being reduced to proletarians. Who dares strike today, when having a permanent job has itself become a privilege? Not low-paid workers in (what remains of) the textile industry etc, but those privileged workers with guaranteed jobs (teachers, public transport workers, police). This also accounts for the wave of student protests: their main motivation is arguably the fear that higher education will no longer guarantee them a surplus wage in later life.
At the same time it is clear that the huge revival of protests over the past year, from the Arab Spring to Western Europe, from Occupy Wall Street to China, from Spain to Greece, should not be dismissed as merely a revolt of the salaried bourgeoisie. Each case has to be taken on its own merits. The student protests against university reform in the UK were clearly different from August’s riots, which were a consumerist carnival of destruction, a true outburst of the excluded. One can argue that the uprisings in Egypt began in part as a revolt of the salaried bourgeoisie (educated young people protesting about their lack of prospects), but this was only one aspect of a larger protest against an oppressive regime. On the other hand, the protest hardly mobilised poor workers and peasants and the electoral victory of the Islamists is an indication of the narrow social base of the original secular protest. Greece is a special case: in the last decades, a new salaried bourgeoisie (especially in the over-extended state administration) was created thanks to EU financial help and loans, and the protests were motivated in large part by the threat of losing this privilege.
Meanwhile, the proletarianisation of the lower salaried bourgeoisie is accompanied at the opposite extreme by the irrationally high remuneration of top managers and bankers. This remuneration is economically irrational since, as investigations have demonstrated in the US, it tends to be inversely proportional to a company’s success. Rather than submit these trends to moralising criticism, we should read them as signs that the capitalist system itself is no longer able to find any level of self-regulated stability – it threatens, in other words, to run out of control.
This ‘beggar-my-neighbor’ aspect of late stage industrial capitalism is perhaps its oddest feature. Shouldn’t the managerial elite see that they are accelerating instability by crushing the middle class into dust? They are hastening the day when the people will be willing to risk the little they have left to change the system from top to bottom.
But these are the same people who couldn’t see the impossible feedback loops in the global financial systems that led to our recent crash and the now ‘new normal’ depression.
“Though “economic freedom” is now synonymous with capital, it used to be synonymous with labor.It makes sense. Government isn’t the largest force in our lives. Corporations are. They dictate when to work, where and how. Or none of the above if you’ve been laid off. They don’t want to pay for full-time work, health care, or pensions.During their golden age, unions were seen as a step toward greater security, which was a step toward greater freedom. If you, as an individual, didn’t have to worry about bargaining for wages, retirement, or life insurance (because your labor posed actual physical risk), you were freed of that burden.In other words, economic freedom wasn’t freedom from the rule of government; it was freedom from the rule of corporations.”
America has neither capitalism nor democracy currently.
Capitalism would require that government let bankrupt firms fail. Capitalism would require that the owners of capital—not corporate managements—would have a majority say in how companies are run. Capitalism would never permit the rich to impose their personal investment losses on the rest of tax-paying Americans. In-your-face bonuses paid to Wall Street executives whose firms and jobs were saved on the taxpayers’ back would not have happened under a capitalist system.
Democracy would require that “persons” be people, human beings, not cash-bloated corporations. Democracy would require that the desires of the people would be effected, to a reasonable and rational degree, by their elected representatives, not cynically ignored as they grovel for their campaign dollars before their moneyed donors, a rich class that controls not only the politicians but corporate governance (which they’ve lock up tight), and to an increasing degree, national governments around the world.
“By preventing a free market in education, a handful of social engineers - backed by the industries that profit from compulsory schooling: teacher colleges, textbook publishers, materials suppliers, et al. - has ensured that most of our children will not have an education, even though they may be thoroughly schooled.”
— John Taylor Gatto (via fuckyeahemergence)