Archives for posts with tag: Capitalism

More reflective criticisms of communism, outside of the absurd mainstay of communism being the antithesis to “America” that most critics rely on, focus on the centralized government being in complete control of the economy. Economies work best when dictated by the invisible hand of supply and demand, and if a powerful bureaucracy were to attempt to fumble their way through managing the intricacies of varying economic factors, they would inevitably fail. An economy inherently cannot be managed by a centralized power. Just look at the Soviet Union, or Cuba, or Venezuela, or any of the other “failed” communist states who weren’t able to trade with other countries due to economic sanctions. It was The Communism that crippled their economy because their governments were too hands on; it wasn’t their isolation from markets. Also, don’t look at China because they seem to be managing their economy fine and are one of the most prosperous nations in the world.

IGNORE US! MILLIONS OF PEOPLE OUT OF POVERTY NEVER HAPPENED!

I’m not here to be a defender of communism or to detail about how it isn’t even necessarily linked to a managed economy (I’ve already done that). Nor am I trying to defend China (the Muslim-minority Uyghurs don’t seem to benefit from a prosperous GDP) or get into a debate about the extent of capitalism that exists under a self-described “communist” government (that’s why Western governments are totally fine with Huawei’s networks in their countries and are fully supportive of the Belt and Road Initiative – there is no government management in their economy whatsoever). I want to talk about managed economies in general as someone who has never formally studied economics. Strap in!

Let’s take the conservative view that any kind of government oversight is going to hinder economic growth. We’ll imagine the libertarian paradise where government finally leaves companies and corporations alone to competitively spar with grit and vigour. Of course, in competitions there are winners and losers, and when a company loses, it either folds or is bought up by the winning company it was competing against. Once a company wins, it dominates its market and becomes more powerful making it harder for newer, innovative companies to compete. It would sort of be like if Mike Tyson ate the heart of everyone he beat in a boxing match and gained their strength on top of his own. Or I guess the literal plot of the movie Highlander. And much like the film, there can be only one, and that’s why capitalism tends toward monopoly. You can look at Alphabet Inc., the corporation that owns Google, for instance: they’ve cornered the market, and bought up 243 companies that came up with innovative ideas related to internet-y type stuff. If some young entrepreneur working in their parents’ garage came up with some new technology that improved the way searching works, you think they’d be able to compete with Google? Or not be bought out in an instant? Even a trillion dollar company like Microsoft can’t compete with Google in its market, and if you use Bing, you’ll know why.

Most of the memes comparing Google and Bing are pretty dark, I’ve just now discovered, looking for an image to break up this text. I went with one that illustrates my point instead.

With further expansion of corporate assets, one can imagine quite a spread. Amazon, an online retailer, has made inroads into grocery chains, robotics, video streaming, and news media. With this diverse portfolio already existing within a world with already too much nanny-ing in its state, it’s easy to see these big corporations building their own empires of employment were governments to dissolve. The abolition of government in favour of capitalism wouldn’t lead to any kind of libertarian paradise, but to more of a corporate feudalism where one’s national identity would be better defined by where they worked rather than where they lived.

Jeff Bezos would be king, the managerial class would be his aristocracy, and the workers would be his peasants. Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and the other b(tr)illionaire owners would be neighbouring monarchies. The metaphor works quite well. Current day governments are the centralized Catholic church; the church had control over the identity of their subjects for hundreds of years. Then the individual, national monarchies got stronger and stronger, and identity was shifting. In the end, Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife, the Pope said no, and King Henry said fuck you and started his own damn church. We’re at the stage now where there is an uneasy alliance between the two superpowers of government and corporation, and there is a real possibility that some corporate lord is going to have his own Henry VIII moment where he doesn’t want to do what governments are regulating and decides to secede.

Anti-trust laws are the only thing standing between me and my Anne Boleyn

Maybe this isn’t so bad because capitalism relies on pecuniary wealth as its measure of power rather than land ownership, right? Well, that’s not technically correct because capitalist power resides in ownership just as much as feudal power; Jeff Bezos is powerful because he has a say in how Amazon, the Washington Post, and Blue Origin are run. And within capitalism, this power manifests itself much in the same way as between warring monarchies. When Iran’s Prime Minister Mossadegh wanted oversight on his country’s oil reserves, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP) pushed American and British forces to assassinate him to accommodate their corporate interest. When the United Fruit Company (now Chiquitas Brands International) didn’t like how the democratically-elected government of Guatemala was challenging its monopoly of their arable land, they lobbied the American government to arrange a coup. Both instances led to the installation of brutal dictatorships – notably, brutal to their people, but quite friendly to corporate interests.

This capitalist utopia would ultimately be a regression of civilization, and more importantly, the economy would still be managed! Jeff Bezos is already talking about it! He wants to solve global warming by sending industries into space, which, however unreasonable it might be given the timeframe that climate change has allowed us, is a goal he intends to use his vast wealth and influence to realize. The examples I listed above were governments working in tandem with corporate management of the economy, and that could be the only reason we haven’t had our King Henry moment – governments are quite content to whore themselves out to corporate mercenary interests. They’ve got fewer scruples than the Borgias.

By “we” I obviously mean the West, since Iran and Guatemala did actually have their own King Henry moments. Quite viscerally, in fact.

The thing is, Chiquitas is still around. BP is still around. Greenpeace recently tricked an Exxon lobbyist into admitting the ways that the oil industry manages the economy by curtailing green initiatives and reducing oil regulations in government. We’re already living in a plutocracy where the wealthy and ownership class manipulate government to exert their will. Cutting back government will only make their manipulations more open because they will be able to act on the economy much more directly.

Economies will always be managed; whether it’s by a communist government or a Keynesian one, whether by a feudal king or a corporate one. Once we accept that there is no such thing as a free market within capitalism due to accumulations of power, we can approach the problem of a managed economy with open eyes. I think everyone is in agreement that a concentration of control and power is bad and corrupt. Even Bezos’s “benevolence” toward climate change is myopic and likely influenced by an echo chamber of sycophants and power hungry trolls.

I think Bezos’s real goal is to make Elysium just as prophetic as Idiocracy.

The right happens to think that this concentration of power exists in government and calls it communist, and the left sees it in corporations more subtly exerting their influence. When the government and corporations work hand in glove, the distinction really becomes inconsequential. Both right and left even seek the same goal: a diffusion of that control. It’s just that the right wants that diffusion to take place in an environment where power cannot be diffused due to the tendency of monopoly within capitalism. The left seeks democratic control to replace this concentration, democracy in both community and organizational levels.

A managed economy isn’t such a scary thing because they always have been and they always will be. The invisible hand doesn’t exist – Adam Smith was a naïve idealist. The question you have to ask yourself is, who should be in charge?

Would you ever sell yourself into slavery? If you think this is a paradox, remember that slavery is not simply unpaid labour, but giving up our control to the whims of another. Slaves were property, not unpaid labourers. The conditions of the slavery aren’t even that important; I don’t think anyone would go back in time and choose to be a slave, even if they got to be a house slave. Slavery isn’t abominable because of the conditions, though they certainly didn’t help, nor was it anything to do with the type of labour involved since all of that labour still exists today with little controversy. Slavery was abolished because it took away our liberty as human beings.

Maybe you’re a bit more cynical. I was a quite vague in my offer, but perhaps a huge cash sum might change your mind? The thing is, though, if any amount of money tempts us to give up a fundamental condition of our human nature, then that desire can only be driven by desperation. If the thought arises that this amount of money might make life more livable, it is only blinding us to the fact that a life of slavery is less than a life. We cannot abandon liberty and still be fully human.

Now, if we wouldn’t accept a single cash buyout to enter into slavery, then why do we accept smaller, biweekly payments in the form of a wage? The conditions of our labour today remove from us our autonomy just as much as any plantation, even if the conditions might be better. If you disagree, ask yourself how able you are to say no to your boss, and how able your boss is to say no to you. There is a disparity in freedom there, and it very likely isn’t favouring you. Any ability to say “no” to your boss that you possess today was fought and bled for by unionists before you. The pittance of liberty we possess at work was not given but taken, and, under many employers, is slowly being clawed back.

You might be skeptical. If you aren’t happy with your job, you can just pick up and leave for another, right? But consider this: how many employers are there out there right now that allow you to say no to your boss? How many employers are there that don’t follow this fundamental relationship of capital ownership? Trading one plantation for another is not liberty.

plantation1a_360

“Let’s work next door. I hear they only give out ten lashes for insubordination instead of twenty!” Businesses might offer perks to compete for your labour, but never liberty; all you receive are allowances from your master.

Maybe you dream of one day becoming the boss, then you’ll have freedom! Climb that corporate ladder! Regardless of how unfeasible this might be in reality due to the disparity of opportunities, the number of aspirants, the nepotism and politics of advancement, this is still the dream of the hooker wishing to become the pimp. Regardless of where you might fall along the spectrum of middle management, it is still an immoral system. Self-interest and greedy delusion are not sufficient justification.

The movie Office Space exists and is so relatable because we all inherently recognize that the disparate hierarchy we possess in our workplace is ultimately degrading. We agree to it because if we don’t work, we starve. We agree out of desperation.

working outside

And yet if Peter’s new boss asks him to come in on Saturday, he is still in the same predicament as in the beginning of the film. His relationship to work has not changed.

In our work today, we live less than a life. What we need is autonomy in our labour. What we need is a voice in the conditions of our labour. We demand democracy in our politics, but remain blind to it for the eight hours or more we slog through in our employment. We’ve been convinced we’re free because we have a few tired hours after work to spend the money we’ve been allowed on streaming television, forgetting that those hours required workers to die because the bosses of the past couldn’t be bothered to allow us even that.

Is that what we want? A life where our few pleasures are those “allowed” to us by our employer? Or do we want a say in our lives? Do we want real choice? If we do, what then are we willing to do for our liberty?

The death of Jamal Khashoggi has lead to a lot of public outcry against Saudi Arabia, and yet the responses from a lot of world leaders has been pretty non-committal. They spout a lot of rhetoric about the horrifying nature of such a crime, but when it comes to a response of substance, they openly cite money as the reason they’re just plumb not going to do anything about it. This leads me to a question: how much does it cost to kill a journalist? Actually, scratch that. Saudi Arabia has been going after dissidents for a while, and there was that whole “anti-corruption” campaign wherein all political opponents to the Crown Prince were arrested and jailed. The behaviour is nothing new, but the target is, so let me rephrase that. How much does it cost to kill a journalist for an American Newspaper who also happens to be a US resident?

The price tag for US President Donald Trump is currently $450 billion, but it could even be as low as $110 billion because Trump speaks whatever happens to be on his mind, be it a lie, an untruth, and, maybe through the law of averages, the occasional half-truth, so who knows what the actual cost of US arms sales to Saudi Arabia is? Given Trump’s personal enjoyment of harm being committed against journalists, one can certainly speculate that even if no money was on the table, Trump would be hesitating to condemn their brutal murder.

Trump not giving a shit about brutal dictators committing heinous acts is not news. However, Trump is not alone on the world stage as he is on so many other occasions. Our very own Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is unlikely to cancel a $15 billion arms contract, citing a $1 billion cancellation fee. We might put the arms deal on hold, pending the conclusion of the investigation being conducted jointly between Turkey and… Saudi Arabia? Oh good, at least we know it won’t be biased. Presumably it will be reinstated once this whole thing simmers down.

France‘s President Emmanuel Macron won’t even address halting arms sales, despite European pressure lead by Germany’s Angela Merkel. France sells about $12.6 billion worth of arms to the Sauds. The UK isn’t planning on giving up its £4.6 billion in arms sales either. Nor the Spanish government, who decided after all to sell Saudi Arabia a bunch of bombs, because if they didn’t, Saudi Arabia would not buy its warships, meaning Spain would lose €1.8 billion on top of the €9.2 million from the bomb deal.

Now I know what you’re thinking. We all need to sell Saudi Arabia military equipment, because if we didn’t, they wouldn’t be able involve themselves in Yemen’s civil war to create “undeniably the world’s worst humanitarian crisis by far!” Or murder children! Or actively promote cholera outbreaks by bombing so many hospitals that those bombings even have their own Wikipedia page! We have a moral obligation to sell armaments to Saudi Arabia, and that’s why it’s such a difficult decision to abandon those deals! I know, I know. I know.

I know.

However, if we ignore our righteous indignation at those hundreds of thousands of ultimately irrelevant Yemeni children for two seconds and get back to the importance of one American resident, we’ll see that it costs at least a billion of your local currency to dismember a journalist from the Washington Post.

I truly believe that this is enough information for a bitingly sarcastic blog about arms dealing and Saudi Arabia, but I do have one more thing on my mind. When I first heard Donald Trump deny flat out that he would implement financial repercussions on the Saudi government because $110 billion is too much money to throw away on some paltry journalist’s death, it reminded me of the bank bailouts of 2008. “Too big to fail” was the soundbite at the time, claiming that too much of the American economy was invested in these literal criminal organizations to implement any real consequences.

Am I saying that Saudi Arabia has too much of a monopoly on arms sales and that our countries should spread our military equipment around more diversely to not be in the pocket of any particular corrupt tyrant? No. I think that in our current guns versus butter economic divide, the radical lopsidedness of our focus is becoming suicidal. What I’m saying is that if you have a system that demands infinite growth by companies that seek the largest market share, those who grow faster, or who started out big, will naturally consume their competition in their unending greed. In more Marxist terms, capitalism tends toward monopoly. Hence, the banks, the media conglomerates, the tech firms, etc.

Saudi Arabia does not have a monopoly on military equipment. We can always just turn to Israel to support their war crimes if we feel that same burning desire to cause humanitarian crises. My problem is that we live in a system where wealth equates to power, and we applaud this. We revel in it. My problem is wealth. Arms deals, war crimes, and the destruction of the economy are all intrinsically immoral, sure, but having the power to get away with it is the true crime. That power is wealth, and any outrage directed at the Saudi government must include within it the complicity of all our governments in perpetuating the power of wealth, and the system itself that allows and encourages its accumulation.