What it is, how it works, and who is for and against it.
April 13, 2018 11:39 AM   Subscribe

Teen Vogue gets down to brass tacks : So, what is capitalism?
posted by The Whelk (77 comments total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
 
Teen Vogue is the new paper of record.
posted by contraption at 11:48 AM on April 13 [72 favorites]


I'm so impressed--in the article there is a link to "What is colonialism?" and at the bottom one of the articles in the "Fashion" category is about how to avoid cultural appropriation at Coachella. Good work, Teen Vogue!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:57 AM on April 13 [19 favorites]


I’m not a political science major but it really seems like their definition of socialism is in fact communism, which leaves no middle ground for most of the western world’s successful systems to stand on.
posted by simra at 12:00 PM on April 13 [7 favorites]


I mean on the one hand I can't believe they said Social Security is a socialistic concept because there is no democratic control of it whatsoever, but on the other I am so tickled to see this discussed in ANY major magazine. I weep for what Sassy could have become, had it only lived.
posted by mittens at 12:14 PM on April 13 [15 favorites]


Yeah, the “people on the left veer towards anti-capitalist” ...needs a citation, at the very least.
posted by corb at 12:14 PM on April 13 [5 favorites]


I’m not a political science major but it really seems like their definition of socialism is in fact communism, which leaves no middle ground for most of the western world’s successful systems to stand on.

Welfare capitalism is still capitalism.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:21 PM on April 13 [19 favorites]


The western world's successful systems aren't any pure one thing. The US is not purely capitalist (sorry, Cheeto Benito). Sweden is not purely socialist. Furthermore, communism is both an economic and a political system, so it's not really the case that there's a single line and on the right side is Capitalism and on the left is Communism and Socialism is in the middle. Without the political elements, it's not communism, no matter who owns the means of production.
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:22 PM on April 13 [36 favorites]


Yeah, the “people on the left veer towards anti-capitalist” ...needs a citation, at the very least.

I'm sure the article could do to have a fair number of citations, as well as perhaps some editing for content, but this one certainly doesn't seem wrong.

A persistent criticism of the Democratic party from the left is that it remains too beholden to capitalist interests. Nancy Pelosi got a lot of heat last year for declaring that they're capitalists.

So yeah, the left is definitely veering toward anti-capitalism, despite not having a major political party.
posted by explosion at 12:26 PM on April 13 [8 favorites]


Sweden is not socialist in any sense of the term that does not erase the actual socialism that people fight and die for in favor of calling certain capitalist arrangements "socialist". This is propaganda aimed at excluding socialism from the discourse.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:26 PM on April 13 [21 favorites]


Yeah, the “people on the left veer towards anti-capitalist” ...needs a citation, at the very least.
posted by corb at 3:14 PM on April 13 [+] [!]

no it doesn't
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:30 PM on April 13 [24 favorites]


Yikes. I love the attempt.

But as someone who's favorite coursework was around the history of economic and political philosophy this is so terrible. We're really arguing that the death of feudalism was a bad thing?
posted by politikitty at 12:33 PM on April 13 [10 favorites]


the reason many millennials haven’t been investing in mutual funds or building up their own financial nest eggs isn’t because they’re too broke, or that they lack personal responsibility — it’s because they think our current economic system, capitalism, will cease to exist by the time they are in their 60s.

There's no way this is true. Right?
posted by Keith Talent at 12:33 PM on April 13 [12 favorites]


We're really arguing that the death of feudalism was a bad thing?

Arguing that it was a bad thing is basically the underpinnings of anarcho-capitalism, although they'd never admit to it being stated so plainly.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:36 PM on April 13 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the “people on the left veer towards anti-capitalist” ...needs a citation, at the very least.
posted by corb at 3:14 PM on April 13 [+] [!]

no it doesn't


can we just cite "the last 150 years or so"
posted by atoxyl at 12:36 PM on April 13 [6 favorites]


But as someone who's favorite coursework was around the history of economic and political philosophy this is so terrible. We're really arguing that the death of feudalism was a bad thing?

I don't see it doing that, just giving a fairly accurate if extremely nutshelled account of the transition from feudalism to capitalism and the movement from land-based serfdom to wage labor
posted by dis_integration at 12:38 PM on April 13 [10 favorites]


It says that merchants are responsible for slavery while pretending that serfdom wasn't slavery. That exports hurt the local economy, not the black death killing 60% of the population.

It's attributing responsibility to vague ideas it doesn't like.
posted by politikitty at 12:55 PM on April 13 [4 favorites]


The claim that exports hurt the local economy might need more fleshing out and justification (it does have a link to a book chapter to justify the claim, I don't have any dog in that particular fight). But I think you're giving the references to slavery and serfdom an uncharitable reading. Nowhere does the author say: "serfdom, which is not slavery! and is good!" or anything remotely like that.
posted by dis_integration at 1:02 PM on April 13 [6 favorites]


I will say this: Teen Vogue swings for the fences.
posted by schadenfrau at 1:09 PM on April 13 [17 favorites]


I'll go back to my standby, that capitalism is actually a pretty darned good way of accomplishing a lot of things. But unregulated free market capitalism -- that's a dangerous f***ing animal. The flip of this is that socialism is also a pretty darned good way of accomplishing a lot of things (generally things that capitalism isn't good at). But fully regulated, closed shop socialism -- that's also a dangerous f***ing animal.

It's almost as if the sane road is somewhere through the grey areas between the extremes and the zealots who inhabit them.

Also this: What are the differences between socialism and communism?
posted by philip-random at 1:10 PM on April 13 [9 favorites]


It's still bullshit to blame capitalism for slavery. Slavery is an innately human concept that has roots in all economic and political systems. It's a damnable fact of our history that capitalist systems continued and continues to exploit people to the extent allowed by law. But attributing values to systems and not people is what leads to these systems being so intractable.

It's not capitalists that make it so hard to change the system. It's the fact that the USSR and Cuba fucked up socialism in such a spectacular failure that it's only when a generation grows up without that specter they're able to consider making the improvements necessary to make a socialist system work.

Institutions can shape society and create unintended consequences. But many of our failings as society are not unintended. They are relics of deeply held beliefs that we refuse to acknowledge and correct these sins. Blaming capitalism is yet another way we try to absolve ourselves of those sins.
posted by politikitty at 1:20 PM on April 13 [11 favorites]


It's still bullshit to blame capitalism for slavery

the articles states 'Capitalism also led to the spread of colonialism, slavery, and imperialism.'

I don't think this is an idea out of left-field considering the Triangle Trade and the various West India Companies. I think it spread and globalized slavery as a normal reality but you're right - the ability of humans to dehumanize other humans for various purposes on a massive scale is a historical thing that predates Adam Smith.

but I do think that when you put capitalism in context of slavery, you're make a fairly effective argument that it is an amoral system that has facilitated massive human rights abuse, that its philosophical mandate that every individual is selfish is one which actually both encourages and normalizes said massive human rights abuses such as slavery and colonialism and imperialism
posted by runt at 1:29 PM on April 13 [32 favorites]


"In a capitalist country, the focus is on profits over anything else; in a socialist country, the public is seen to be more important, and social welfare is a major priority. The United States, the U.K., and Germany are examples of modern capitalist countries. In contrast, China, India, and Cuba are examples of modern socialistic, non-capitalist countries, as was the former Soviet Union. Many other countries like Norway, Sweden, Canada, and the Netherlands incorporate socialist ideas into their societies, as does the United States to some degree; for example, universal health care and Social Security are both socialistic concepts."

I'm glad they went into this, would be displeased if the magazine neglected one of the core fundamental problems with the capitalist perspective!
posted by GoblinHoney at 1:31 PM on April 13 [2 favorites]


I read Teen Vogue when I was an actual teenager some decade ago. While the coverage of progressive issues is great, a critique of the capitalism feels uncomfortable from the magazine that used to be like 95% devoted to selling you shit.
posted by noxperpetua at 1:32 PM on April 13 [4 favorites]


It is out of left field considering the Triangle Trade and the various West India Companies. John Stuart Mill and Adam Smith were against these ventures, as they were primarily pet projects of the aristocracy.

Thomas Carlyle called economics the dismal science because John Stuart Mill argues against the Triangle Trade and slavery. It's intellectually dishonest to attribute the very aspects of the British Empire that the Father of Capitalism was railing against to Capitalism.

It's a human failing that we are still struggling with that belief. But it's not a capitalist failing. That's simply refusing to acknowledge history.
posted by politikitty at 1:36 PM on April 13 [6 favorites]


It's almost as if the sane road is somewhere through the grey areas between the extremes and the zealots who inhabit them.

Arguably, the problem with the article is that it kinda needed to expand that modern, single-word socialism is more aligned to post-war democratic socialism and social democracy than classic socialism, I mean, I don't know that many people who are "socialist" in the sense of "everything is owned by everyone", but in the sense of "private enterprise is ok in most areas but should be properly regulated and taxed, with the state using taxes for the common good to improve quality of life for all".
posted by lmfsilva at 1:42 PM on April 13 [4 favorites]


A persistent criticism of the Democratic party from the left is that it remains too beholden to capitalist interests.

I suppose I should say more that if you are defining the Overton Window such that “right”=“anyone who believes in capitalism” then “left” is definitely “anti-capitalist”, but that is not how most people define the Overton window of current political discourse on economics.
posted by corb at 1:48 PM on April 13 [5 favorites]


John Stuart Mill and Adam Smith were against these ventures, as they were primarily pet projects of the aristocracy.

hm, I didn't know they were against slavery. I am reading from various sources though that Smith's proposition against slavery wasn't on any moral ground but rather that it was inefficient for slaveowners to have to maintain and purchase slaves due to their high mortality rates, that it was cheaper to simply exploit workers with low wages under the guise of freedom

I'm also reading that he was against the various India Companies because they were state-sponsored enterprises that produced a monopoly when they instead should have been privately owned ventures of colonialism

which doesn't detract at all from the argument that capitalism is an amoral venture is philosophically founded on a principle of selfishness that made a global market out of slavery, colonialism, and imperialism. there were, of course, other causes, but capitalism as a tool for magnifying pre-existing shitty beliefs contains within itself no mechanism for accountability (eg the 'hidden cost' of pollution)
posted by runt at 1:49 PM on April 13 [4 favorites]


While the coverage of progressive issues is great, a critique of the capitalism feels uncomfortable from the magazine that used to be like 95% devoted to selling you shit.

It's almost as if the magazine has different leadership, different editorial standards, and is putting a new face on their content. They're allowed to do that, and given the current atmosphere in journalism, even from reliably progressive quarters, this is something that should be embraced and encouraged.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:50 PM on April 13 [15 favorites]


1. The fact that TV is producing this article is important, because it says that the controls upon what is printed in Teen Vogue are not tightly ideological in the same way that they were a few years ago, probably partly due to the change in national mood and the need for ever more content. This is really exciting because if this window is open, there must be far, far more open windows than we'd realized.

2. It's not actually totally without precedent, though. Fashion mags have been varying degrees of smart at varying times - if you go back to the fancier mags of the thirties, for instance, a lot of them published stuff that would be too highbrow now, and almost all of them were far more engaged with politics than fashion magazines were while I was growing up.

3. Modern slavery is a product of capitalism. This is not to say that slavery has ever been benign, but the systematic, entrepreneurial, racialized creation of a class of slaves through mass slave raids, breeding and sale is not how slavery ever worked in the ancient world. I mean, it's like saying that fast food is the product of capitalism - you can go back pre-capitalism and find ready-made food sold informally for low prices in, like, ancient Rome and call that fast food, but that style of argument obscures rather than enlightens. It's the rupture of capitalist slavery (or the fast food economy) that is important.

Honestly, look, okay, this is not the finest-grained of articles, but you know what? I bet the idea that you can historicize capitalism at all is news to a lot of the audience, and I bet that because when I was a relatively well-informed teenager, it still broke upon me as a revelation that capitalism wasn't just "the default human state".

This article is no dumber or more misleading than a lot of Vox explainers, TBH, it's just more crudely written and pushes people's buttons because most people of mefite age grew up during the Cold War or in its immediate aftermath.

The people's flag is deepest red!

(I mean, not my people's, I'm an anarchist.)
posted by Frowner at 1:52 PM on April 13 [54 favorites]


It says that merchants are responsible for slavery while pretending that serfdom wasn't slavery.

English serfdom wasn't slavery. There were slaves, in addition to serfs. Serfs were "unfree" - but also more economically privileged than free - and therefore landless - peasants. They also had rights, including right to life, choice of marriage (well, their kids' marriages), etc. Life is complicated that way.

The end of serfdom (due primarily to the Black Death) changed the way that labour was acquired. Under serfdom, the landlord had labour-rents (ie people worked on the landlord's own lands, as well as their own), so landlords had an incentive to have many tenants - 30 small farmers were more valuable than 3 larger ones, and landlords made an effort to try to keep most tenants with a certain size of farm that would support their family - because families = labour. After labour-rents were all converted to money-rents, landlords were incentivized to have fewer, larger tenants (who are more reliable, can pay higher rents due to economies of scale, etc.) - and that's the story of what happened with landholding over the 16th & 17th centuries (which is what I studied in grad school). Increasingly, a few farms got bigger and bigger - and the ones who didn't make it became landless labourers, whose lives were, if not poorer, certainly more unstable than serf lives had been, and (obviously) they no longer controlled the means of production. By the end of the 18th century, most of the English countryside was more economically unequal than it had been in c1500.

A parallel process took place in the Scottish highlands in the 18th and 19th centuries - only there it was faster, more drastic and tinged with ethnic cleansing. We call this the "Highland Clearances" and consider it one of the worst crimes in British history. But really, it was the end of labour-rents (and grain-rents) in favour of money rents. The irony is that the Scottish peasants were more easily dispossessed than the English precisely because they WEREN'T serfs - who were unfree but also had written titles to their land, which they kept as customary (copy-hold tenants) even after serf-bondage attenuated (it more faded than was struck down). But the Scottish clans had held their land in common - or rather the chief held it in trust for the clan. But as English landlords replaced some Scottish chiefs/landlords and Scottish ones also assimilated culturally to more capitalist ways of thinking (embracing private property & money-rents - and no longer drawing status from the number of men they could feast), they deemed their clans-people to be tenants-at-will and felt free to turf them off in favour of tenants and/or sheep that could make them more money.

So yeah, the end of serfdom was complicated. If you asked me, would I rather be an English serf in 1200 or a free but landless labourer in 1600 - well, I'd say I'd rather have been a nominal-but-not-really serf/copyhold tenant in 1500, just as the bonds of serfdom had well frayed, but the (inevitable?) engrossment of farms hadn't taken off. But I can tell you that the nadir of English heights (a proxy for general health & nutrition) wasn't in 1200 or 1300, the height of serfdom, but in the 16th century, as capitalism gets going.

But to complicate things further: engrossment of farms - and thus the capitalization of agriculture in Britain - was very regionally dependent. It happened really early in Norfolk (maybe even pre-Black death?), never happened at all in some regions.

And, of course, we haven't even talked about proto-industrialization, which is how capitalism grew in the manufacturing industries, as opposed to agriculture. The whole factory thing is a very late addition - late-stage industrial revolution.

(I have complicated thoughts about the origin of capitalism - and I haven't even left Britain yet. You can't really talk about the origins of capitalism unless you also talk about banking in Italy, landlessness and manufactures in the Netherlands, colonialism (of course!), slavery and the massive influxes of capital that these created - we could argue that capitalism didn't create colonialism but colonialism created capitalism -- and that leaves aside places like China who moved into money-rents in the Middle Ages and was thus, under most definitions, "capitalist" but obviously has its own path of development).
posted by jb at 2:12 PM on April 13 [67 favorites]


It says that merchants are responsible for slavery while pretending that serfdom wasn't slavery. That exports hurt the local economy, not the black death killing 60% of the population.

Slavery is an innately human concept that has roots in all economic and political systems.

Chattel slavery and serfdom might be related concepts but treating them as the same thing is an ahistorical conflation.
posted by atoxyl at 2:16 PM on April 13 [9 favorites]


I suppose I should say more that if you are defining the Overton Window such that “right”=“anyone who believes in capitalism” then “left” is definitely “anti-capitalist”, but that is not how most people define the Overton window of current political discourse on economics.

The article used the word "veer" where they probably meant "lean." But with that substitution it seems fairly on-target - scaling the Overton window to "in modern history" instead of "right this second" make sense in context of what they're trying to do.
posted by atoxyl at 2:21 PM on April 13 [2 favorites]


It is out of left field considering the Triangle Trade and the various West India Companies. John Stuart Mill and Adam Smith were against these ventures, as they were primarily pet projects of the aristocracy.

John Stuart Mill and Adam Smith were bad historians.

The line between merchants and aristocrats was a deeply porous one in early modern Britain. Successful merchants became aristocrats; second sons of aristocrats became merchants. So you really can't differentiate between their activities - and any noble looking to ensure they stayed rich enough to be noble got involved in colonialism and/or industrialization. (See David Cannadine's research on landlords in the industrial revolution.)

That said, most of the original aristocrats of the feudal era in England died in the Wars of the Roses. Almost all of the big families of the 17th-19th centuries emerged from the merchant classes of the 16th and 17th centuries. Or, as I like to put it: the Cecils were jumped-up sheep farmers, as are the Spencers (as in Lady Diana Spencer). The gentry and nobility of the early modern era weren't "nobles of the sword" but "nobles of the robe" who achieved their status by their success in increasingly capitalist farming, industry - or in the colonies (where a great many noble fortunes were made). Those few surviving noble families from the actual sword era married heavily with the new rich.

By the 19th century, I can imagine that colonialism looked like "pet projects of the aristocracy". Most of the Nabobs (plantation owners) had bought noble titles by then. But they started largely as "pet projects" of lots of people - some noble, but also a lot of merchants and anyone who could scrape up enough money to get involved.
posted by jb at 2:27 PM on April 13 [13 favorites]


Capitalism is amoral because the moral beliefs of the time supported military colonialism and the enslavement of anyone they deemed inferior. Context matters.
posted by politikitty at 2:28 PM on April 13 [4 favorites]


Yeah, the “people on the left veer towards anti-capitalist” ...needs a citation, at the very least.

Neo-liberals aren’t “on the left”.
posted by Jimbob at 2:39 PM on April 13 [17 favorites]


I wish somebody would write about all this stuff and be upfront about the fact that the model it makes the most sense for the US to work toward in the short term is the Scandinavian model which is absolutely capitalist, it’s just capitalism with higher taxes on the rich, more social spending and better govt protection/administration of public services. A lot of the discourse around this now is frankly dishonest, in that “capitalism” is basically used as a synonym for financial inequality. Financial inequality existed long before capitalism — heck, it exists in corrupt communist regimes. We can, and must, solve income/wealth inequality long before anybody figures out how to stop being capitalist, and conflating the two isn’t doing anybody any favors.

I also wish I saw more people engaging with what the end of capitalism might actually look like in the US, longer-term. Obviously the Chinese/Russian model where the government comes to your house and says “you no longer own this house, this car, or this farm/business, they now belong to the state” won’t work (and if it did, it’s certainly not one I would support. I definitely do not trust a single government to manage every need of 330M people). One option I do like is the idea of setting everything up as worker-owned co-ops, basically. But who organizes them to make sure there are enough of each kind? Who makes sure each coop has enough workers, and good leadership? If you’ve got, say, a bakery coop that’s really kicking ass, do you allow it to expand? Or do you limit it and accept the inefficiency in favor of making sure that the members of one co-op are no better off than another? What if that inefficiency translates into worse conditions for some people than others (e.g. scarcity and lines for the people who happen to live near the shitty co-op).

These are all sincere questions, not rhetorical sideswipes at the idea. I think it’s difficult but possible to set up a non-capitalist system in the US, and obviously worth working toward. I just find it annoying and counterproductive every time anybody observes something unjust in the world and blames it on capitalism, or conflates anybody who is realistic about the fact that we’re going continue to have private ownership of things for awhile as some kind of horrible, anti-progress reactionary, especially when they’re clearly doing their damnedest to make things better for people under the system we currently have.
posted by mrmurbles at 3:56 PM on April 13 [11 favorites]


During the Trump Catastrophe, I have kind of a personal policy of "no enemies to the left", mostly because no one on the left is at all likely to get enough power to cause mischief, but they are likely to help out against the right.

Still, I get tired of sloppy assertions about "capitalism"; it gets almost as silly as libertarians railing against "government". There is no one thing that you can overthrow and then have utopia.

If you want a word for the modern American predicament, I suggest "plutocracy." It's far more accurate as to what's gone wrong since 1980: the abandonment of a policy of improvement for all social classes, in favor of endless enrichment of the 10%. Plus, it's more vivid and charged! "Plutocrat" sounds like a villain, don't you think?

Capitalism "led to the spread of colonialism, slavery, and imperialism"? Really? Have they ever heard of the Spanish and Portuguese empires? The attitude of the Iberians toward "native peoples" is pretty much a direct continuation of their centuries-long war against Muslims in Europe, and they didn't need Adam Smith's blessing to pursue it— they had the Pope's.

"China, India, ... are examples of modern socialistic, non-capitalist countries"... Really? Not even remotely true since 1990. The state sector in Norway is as large or larger than in China, and France gives both a run for their money.

"...as was the former Soviet Union." Speaking of states that were colonialist, imperialist, and employed slave labor.
posted by zompist at 3:58 PM on April 13 [11 favorites]


Obviously the Chinese/Russian model where the government comes to your house and says “you no longer own this house, this car, or this farm/business, they now belong to the state” won’t work (and if it did, it’s certainly not one I would support.

I don’t think you can live in a country where literally every square inch of land was stolen from indigenous people and you personally benefit from it now, and where even now eminent domain laws are being used to steal land from people to build a wall to keep people, again often indigenous, out, also for your alleged benefit, and clutch too many pearls about those damn pinkos.
posted by Jimbob at 4:11 PM on April 13 [11 favorites]


I don’t think you can live in a country where literally every square inch of land was stolen from indigenous people and you personally benefit from it now, and where even now eminent domain laws are being used to steal land from people to build a wall to keep people, again often indigenous, out, also for your alleged benefit, and clutch too many pearls about those damn pinkos.

Oh my God, I'm not clutching pearls about pinkos. I said I'd like things to be owned by worker co-ops and I don't trust a government to administer every need of 330M people. I seriously do not know how it's supposed to be possible to talk about ending capitalism if you can't state literal, historic facts about models that have been tried without being accused of being fine with how indigenous and other POC are treated.
posted by mrmurbles at 4:27 PM on April 13 [15 favorites]


there is a difference between capitalism and market economies. both use a free market to exchange goods and - through prices - stimulate production to match (albeit imperfectly) demand.

But capitalism is about who owns the means of production. So instead of many family farms, you have one large farm and many wage labourers. Instead of many small craftspeople, you have one big workshop with workers who sell their labour.

To keep up our modern levels of production, we absolutely need those levels of organisation, and capitalism seems to have been one of the most effective ways to achieve this. But there are many drawbacks - socially and evironmentally. (Capitalist owners can be terrible at conservation - feudal and later aristocratic landlords at least knew that their land was their livelihood and envisioned it being so for hundreds of years - so they tended to promote care and sustainability).

Capitalism is like democracy - it's a terrible system, but still the best we have. How can we grind off its worst excesses? Just like in a democracy we have rights and laws and policies to protect the minority from the majority and we shouldn't let people vote on things like same sex marriage because that's a matter of rights -- in capitalism we need rights and laws and policies to protect workers and citizens from the worst excesses and abuses. We need to recognise that capitalism is great at producing widgets but lousy at ensuring everyone has housing or healthcare or food.

So basically: we need capitalism with a healthy social welfare system and (as part of achieving that) a recognition from capitalists that they aren't the "wealth creators" but merely the organizers of the efforts and resources of the whole of society that creates our wealth. We need their capital; they are nothing without us as workers. We need to bring back the understanding that societies are completely interdependent - this is something feudal societies understood. Of course, the top of that society paired that understanding with a strong belief in natural heirarchy - I think we can appreciate the one while dismissing the second.
posted by jb at 4:42 PM on April 13 [6 favorites]


To clarify my first point: a capitalist economy is a market economy. But a market economy can exist which is not a capitalist economy. And there can be shades in between (e.g. a partially capitalised economy, or an economy that has some feudal exchange but also some market exchange - western Europe always had both).
posted by jb at 4:45 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


I'd quibble with some of the details in the article, but on the whole it was a reasonable brief introduction to capitalism, socialism, and "third way" economies. Hopefully it inspires its readers to learn more and feel more confident arguing for the values they believe in when faced with "Economics 101" dismissiveness.
posted by clawsoon at 5:05 PM on April 13


It’s basically trying to answer the questions: how do we remove needs from the commodity market, increase democracy in all institutions , promote not only indivual autonomy and equality but also restorative justice, prevent further ecological destruction and the hoarding of wealth and resources? I don’t think it’s going to look like anything we’ve had in the past, but it’s probably going to have a lot more worker cooperative and production ownership, circular economy planning, nationalization and quasi-national corporations, and a very different looking justice system. I mean, how do you deal with a bad boss now? What recourse does the average worker have against thier boss?

It’ll be the work of a lifetime but we’ve got to figure it out before nature figures it out for us. Might as well think big now.
posted by The Whelk at 5:05 PM on April 13 [28 favorites]


☝️☝️☝️
posted by snwod at 5:14 PM on April 13


The western world's successful systems aren't any pure one thing. The US is not purely capitalist (sorry, Cheeto Benito). Sweden is not purely socialist. Furthermore, communism is both an economic and a political system, so it's not really the case that there's a single line and on the right side is Capitalism and on the left is Communism and Socialism is in the middle. Without the political elements, it's not communism, no matter who owns the means of production.

Canada though is the exception to the rule as it is 100% pure maple syrup.
posted by srboisvert at 6:02 PM on April 13 [3 favorites]


It's the poster child for the Oversimplified Foundation, but it was a lot better than some of my school books.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:30 PM on April 13 [3 favorites]


Apparently Teen Vogue also gave us in the IWW a shoutout recently, so thumbs up for that.
I'm sure they have flaws, but they're a sight better than most magazines I've read (excepting Solidarity).
posted by AnhydrousLove at 12:53 AM on April 14


I’m fascinated that Germany shows up as pure capitalist, while the US is on the list of countries with some socialistic elements. ??? Finding China and India on the same list, these days, is also pretty fascinating—doesn’t it matter, given that economic systems are ultimately political systems, that one of these countries is a (flawed but functional) democracy and the other very much is not? Amazing.
posted by Aravis76 at 1:24 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


No capitalist country is really a democracy. If you've got a section of the population whose power vastly exceeds others, if you have a bourgeoisie who largely control the political realm because of all the various ways in which they support each other and not workers, you're not a democracy in much but name.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 4:20 AM on April 14 [8 favorites]


You know what I bet? I bet that an intelligent mefite with socialist sympathies and more historical background could pitch a short series of articles to TV going into greater depth about socialist struggles and "what is socialism today". Short essays that, like, talk about heroes of the US socialist tradition, or McCarthyism, or the Pinkertons or whatever.

I think this is in Doris Lessing somewhere: a character makes a bet that he can start a middle class riot basically by reading to people from an old rabble-rousing book, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, and he wins his bet. It's a book that basically says, "the working class are the real philanthropists, they give away all their labor and money to sustain the rich" and then goes into detail.

Most people have no fucking idea how society works - not even the broad and sometimes pretty inaccurate ideas that we news-oriented mefites often have. I bet that just telling a sympathetic audience that, like, Medicare was supposed to cover all Americans, or how people used to end up separated from their kids and locked up in a workhouse if they were homeless - I bet once you got those ideas across, you'd be about one triggering incident away from youth riots across this great nation.

So my point is: I don't feel that I have the historical chops to write such a thing, but I could point my finger at several other commenters who I bet could.
posted by Frowner at 5:36 AM on April 14 [25 favorites]


Yeah, the “people on the left veer towards anti-capitalist” ...needs a citation, at the very least.
posted by corb at 12:14 PM on April 13 [3 favorites +] [!]


wow! that is an interesting claim. I always thought "left" meant, generally, "egalitarian", which seems the opposite of "economic system defined by ranking people into classes of owners and workers".

I just assume that "left" means "anti-capitalist" when I hear it. "Anti capitalist" is broader, it doesn't necessarily mean socialist--> see the catholic church and its position on debt relief and Jubilees.
posted by eustatic at 11:32 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Capitalism is like democracy - it's a terrible system, but still the best we have. How can we grind off its worst excesses?

Yeah, but see everything since 1995 for the counter-argument. I don't think this argument holds much water after the 2008 crash (quoth Alan Greenspan: "I was wrong") and the Panama Papers, much less Brexit / Cambridge Analytica. "We" the people don't have a "system."
posted by eustatic at 11:37 AM on April 14


I definitely do not trust a single government to manage every need of 330M people). One option I do like is the idea of setting everything up as worker-owned co-ops, basically. But who organizes them to make sure there are enough of each kind? Who makes sure each coop has enough workers, and good leadership? If you’ve got, say, a bakery coop that’s really kicking ass, do you allow it to expand? Or do you limit it and accept the inefficiency in favor of making sure that the members of one co-op are no better off than another? What if that inefficiency translates into worse conditions for some people than others (e.g. scarcity and lines for the people who happen to live near the shitty co-op).

Participatory Economics is a book/ visioning discourse you should read when you come to that stage of "but who co-ops the co-ops? how does an economy scale democratically and in line with ecological limits?"
posted by eustatic at 11:53 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I didn't read this expecting a perfect summation of Capitalism -- it's from a popular magazine aimed at a teen readership, not a heavy-duty scholarly investigation by economists and political theorists....
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:01 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but see everything since 1995 for the counter-argument.

For like White Americans, sure. But I think some would put the date as far back as the 15th century.
posted by FJT at 12:13 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Capitalism has facilitated the growth of human population to a multiple of anything that could possibly be sustainable in a way that no previous economic system could have, largely by maximizing the speed of that growth, since the ecological/climatological negative feedback mechanisms grind exceeding slow.

But the Reckoning is coming, and we already feel the leading edge of it.
posted by jamjam at 12:26 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Capitalism and socialism are only mutually exclusive under communism, a supply-side approach that establishes control over the means of production (in theory to the exclusion of prices or exchange or ownership). A demand-side socialism might instead tax profits on ownership and distribute the wealth, even as cash. Alternatively, a demand-side capitalism would subsidize things that are public goods, such as roads, education and health insurance, to increase demand. A supply-side capitalism might tax the poor and middle-class, or just spend borrowed money on helping companies grow and profit.
posted by Brian B. at 8:18 PM on April 14


Yeah, but see everything since 1995 for the counter-argument. I don't think this argument holds much water after the 2008 crash (quoth Alan Greenspan: "I was wrong") and the Panama Papers, much less Brexit / Cambridge Analytica. "We" the people don't have a "system."
posted by eustatic 2 days ago [+] [!]


I know you don't know me - but trust me when I say that I have looked hard for a "better" system. I believed in state-directed production (much more efficient, I thought), until I studied the histories of the Soviet Union and communist China. I've always loved the idea of communes and even now, I really don't like the idea of people making profits off the labour of others, I'm not sure private property is a good idea, and I think taking more than the most minimal of interest is usury.

Those are my personal feelings. But I'm also trained as a historian and a scholar, and I have to be honest with what I have learned. While my direct research was on production and quality of life in Britain, c1500-1800, I'm pretty familiar with the productivity and quality of life for large parts of the world, from the ancient, to medieval to modern periods. And I can think of no economic organization which is able to move goods around as well as market exchange. Economies are so complex, they are like weather systems or ecologies - no person or persons, no matter how brilliant, can seem to direct them without creating problems in supply and demand (I mean, worse problems even than capitalism, since that's far from perfect). Maybe one day, with artificial intelligence -- but that's not now. And also, I can't think of a way that we can continue to enjoy our very rich, technologically advanced quality of life without the specialization and economies of scale that capitalism (as opposed to a more traditional market economy) can provide.

So even as I continue to enjoy all my favourite utopian-socialist science fiction literature, part of me has made an uneasy truce with capitalism. Capitalism sucks. I really don't like it. But I really can't think of any better - and I'm aware a lot of the systems that have been tried. I think of capitalism as being like a strong but vicious dog - we might have to harness it to get where we're going, but we also need to strongly muzzle it and control it.

Capitalism un-muzzled does far worse than our crashes in the last three decades - the similar cycle of boom and bust in the 19th century made people not just poor but starving in Europe and North America, and unfettered free-trade killed millions in India during bad harvests there. But just as many (more?) died in the Great Leap forward because the government was trying to direct production.

To sum up: from history, it seems that market economies are the best (albeit deeply flawed) means of balancing supply and demand, and for allowing for innovation - while the increase in scale and specialization of capitalist production does increase how much stuff can be produced. Distribution has so many problems, externalities need to be addressed, power-relations are messed up, and market economies NEVER ensure that everyone has what they need - which is why there always has to be interference in the market, lots and lots of interference. But it's much more feasible to build metaphorical roofs (and literal ones) to protect people from the storms of the economy than it is to try to control the weather itself - and not screw up everything and next thing you know, you have a major snow storm in April.

/last sentence intentional.

Capitalism has facilitated the growth of human population to a multiple of anything that could possibly be sustainable in a way that no previous economic system could have, largely by maximizing the speed of that growth, since the ecological/climatological negative feedback mechanisms grind exceeding slow.

But the Reckoning is coming, and we already feel the leading edge of it.


Also very, very true.

Though an agricultural historian I knew would actually trace the beginning of the end to the start of agriculture - that we've been on a 14,000 year experiment and we don't know the outcome yet.

Maybe there is no hope for us - just like Trump is the endpoint of democracy.
posted by jb at 4:10 PM on April 16 [8 favorites]


So even as I continue to enjoy all my favourite utopian-socialist science fiction literature, part of me has made an uneasy truce with capitalism. Capitalism sucks. I really don't like it. But I really can't think of any better

Flagged the whole thing as fantastic.
posted by schadenfrau at 4:14 PM on April 16


While my direct research was on production and quality of life in Britain, c1500-1800

Yes, when you loot the globe and redirect its resources to your benefit your standard of living goes up. It is not a coincidence financial capitalism took off like gangbusters contemporaneous with European colonial efforts, most especially in the western hemisphere. Yes, Spain shows primitive accumulation only takes you so far - but England had cheap textiles from a lower labor cost Asian source well before China joined the WTO.

And I can think of no economic organization which is able to move goods around as well as market exchange.

Capitalism ≠ market exchange unless you want to say any society that had money was capitalist.
posted by PMdixon at 4:17 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]



Capitalism ≠ market exchange unless you want to say any society that had money was capitalist.

Absolutely - which is why I was distinguishing them. Market exchange is the function that deals with supply and demand (again, as I said, very badly - but better than humans do); capitalism is what allows for economies of scale.

While my direct research was on production and quality of life in Britain, c1500-1800

Yes, when you loot the globe and redirect its resources to your benefit your standard of living goes up. It is not a coincidence financial capitalism took off like gangbusters contemporaneous with European colonial efforts, most especially in the western hemisphere. Yes, Spain shows primitive accumulation only takes you so far - but England had cheap textiles from a lower labor cost Asian source well before China joined the WTO.


Yeah, but I wasn't saying that quality of life in Britain was very good c1500-1800 (it wasn't) - and Britain was not importing textiles from China or India at any point before the later 20th century (except for high end silk, of course)- the opposite was true. Two of the major problems for India and China in the 19th & 20th centuries is that Britain wanted to dump its cotton productions in both places, and British production was cheaper due to mechanization (for which capitalization is necessary) - thus it was cheap British textiles which undermined Chinese & Indian production.

Of course, this is still tied into colonialism - slaves produced the raw cotton to start with. All the wealth of the Industrial Revolution is deeply tied to colonialism and slavery - slaves being the "cheapest" labour of all.

What I was saying is that I am aware of the quality of life in pre-modern economies - that is, market exchange but not capitalist economies - and there was less stuff. Less food, less cloth, less medication - and certainly no computers or anything requiring deep specialization to produce. We can work 8 hours a day and produce so much more stuff per labour hour, thanks to the capitalist organization of production and investment in machines (aka capital). Labour is more productive, thanks to capital.

Where the policy questions come in: what should be the division of that increase in productivity? Should it go 100% to Labour? 100% to Capital? The first would leave no incentive for capital; the second is unthinkable. In our better times, labour and capital share the increases in productivity - unfortunately, that mostly hasn't happened over the last 40 years, and thus the system is getting worse.
posted by jb at 4:41 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


But the fundamental reason we have "more stuff" than before has waaaaaaaaaay more to do with the hitherto in history unimaginable energy multiplier of fossil fuels than the organizational method with which we spend the energy thereby derived.
posted by PMdixon at 4:42 PM on April 16 [3 favorites]


I think of capitalism as being like a strong but vicious dog - we might have to harness it to get where we're going, but we also need to strongly muzzle it and control it.

The analogy I keep coming back to is combustion; free market capitalism is a very rapid and efficient means of using up all available resources as quickly as possible and converting them into stuff and energy. It's powerful but hard to contain, and once it burns through the firewalls (see? we already use this terminology!) it will consume the structures you built around it without any real way of stopping it. It's also something that can arise spontaneously (in the form of black markets) if you leave fuel lying around. The challenge is to build robust, redundant, maintainable firebreaks, and use regulation to control what resources the system is able to use as fuel.

I'm not sure what I think the ideal leftist utopian end-state would be. I don't particularly trust a monolithic, centrally-managed command economy, but I don't trust unaccountable corporate leadership either. I imagine a just economy will have to depend on a well-educated and engaged populace exercising democratic control over a multicameral system with components that serve different functions in tension with each other. Whether those components should all be elements of the state, or some combination of state entities and tightly regulated private concerns, is beyond me to predict or advocate for at this point. I think everyone on the left can probably agree that European style social democracies are closer to the ideal than we have now in the US, and that moving in that direction would be a good start.
posted by contraption at 4:49 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure what I think the ideal leftist utopian end-state would be.

There's a thing called distributism that I go back and forth between thinking is inherently deeply reactionary and a plausible leftist end-goal.
posted by PMdixon at 5:02 PM on April 16


But the fundamental reason we have "more stuff" than before has waaaaaaaaaay more to do with the hitherto in history unimaginable energy multiplier of fossil fuels than the organizational method with which we spend the energy thereby derived.
posted by PMdixon 7 minutes ago [+] [!]


Very true - and Wrigley's Continuity, Chance and Change is an excellent book - he distinguishes between "organic" and fossil-fuel based economies.

But energy, organization and technology (which is a form of capital), all contribute to productivity - and the last one is the one that capitalism really helps with. You can have specialization in a non-capitalist system: shepherd owns the sheep and sells the wool to the spinner, spinner produces yarn and sells it to the weaver, weaver makes cloth and sells it to the dyer, dyer colours it and sells it to the tailor... etc(*). But a single spinner can't afford to automate spinning such that her production is increased 100-fold, when the machine that does that costs 10 years or more of her profit.

*interestingly, this whole process was capitalized about 100-200 years before it was actually industrialized. Proto-industrialization in the English textiles industry involved the "putting out system", whereby a capitalist bought the raw materials and then paid the spinners and weavers, etc., to do the work in their own homes. It wasn't industrial, but it was capitalist: though they owned their tools, the producers didn't really own the means of production (the raw materials) and were paid for their labour. They couldn't bargain to get more profit, for example, as they might in a system buying and selling with each other.

It's totally a complicated issue - and the origin of a lot of capital that fed the British industrialization was colonial (especially from the slave colonies) as well as the raw materials (cotton, sugar).

And I would certainly never justify capitalism as being moral (maybe it's amoral? a tool for good or evil? I don't know). But I just don't see how you can have modern levels of productivity without capitalism. And it is true that with publicly traded companies, it is possible for the capitalists to also be the producers.

I think everyone on the left can probably agree that European style social democracies are closer to the ideal than we have now in the US, and that moving in that direction would be a good start.

And I would describe European social democracy as well-regulated capitalism (HEAVILY regulated, just like it should be).
posted by jb at 5:05 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Over the weekend, I was doing some research on the architect of new house to understand the design philosophy well enough to stay true to it without being early 60's kitsch. It's a rabbit hole that got political very quickly, since he was influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement, and influenced the Modernist/International Style Movement.

Since it's Art, which is often problematic but rarely conservative, both were seen as competing thoughts of what progress should look like. Arts and Crafts was about more inclusion and recognizing voices that we have traditionally ignored. Modernism all about the promise of technological change to build a post-scarcity society. Artisans were not going to rebuild the 4.2M in housing stock destroyed during WWII.

And both moved the world closer to that utopia, but also failed to create it.

And I think that's what fundamentally is missing about our discussion about capitalism. There is no pure capitalist system, just like there is no pure socialist system. They're economic and philosophic movements that changed economies, but never actually became them.

Capitalist thinkers were the first to promote the idea that people should own their own labor. They were some of the earliest abolitionists. Even stock corporations evolved to allow ordinary people undertake projects when they couldn't find a patron. They fought to equate labor with wealth and wealth with power in an effort to leach power from a monarchist system that held total control over both. The step away from paternalism was critical at that point to allow us enough dignity to be trusted with self-governance. While democracies had been attempted before, capitalist thought helped make it sustainable. There's a reason we debate whether or not Jefferson was influenced by Wealth of Nations.

Now it completely failed to bring about the utopia it promised. It turned out that aristocrats still found ways to hold on to their power and wealth. Mobility upwards is much slower than mobility downwards. Governments are still quick to showcase their military prowess while feigning poverty to provide for the social good. Voters are nervous that creating civil rights will lead to moral decay. And socialist philosophy provides a road map to alleviate these failings.

But socialism is also incredibly vulnerable to agency capture. Aristocrats somehow keep themselves part of the ruling class. I think it's incredibly worrisome that the most successfully socialist societies are also the most homogeneous. That speaks to something about the human condition - that at some point when society becomes diverse or large enough, we can't figure out how to prevent Othering.

There is a tension between progressives and liberals, and the sustainable way forward is definitely a combination of the two. But that's what makes this so baffling and poorly done. It's like damning Democrats in office today because it was a Republican who freed the slaves. A closer look at history will show why that is both accurate and irrelevant - but phrased like that does a lot to make Southern liberals reticent to vote for the party that will end the Republican stronghold in the legislative and executive branches. Since it's just the lesser of two evils.

It upholds the power structure rather than undermine it.
posted by politikitty at 5:24 PM on April 16 [3 favorites]


While also being aware of the faults with social democracy , if you can undo all your gains it’s nit s real system it’s just placating until the Hoarders of capital and resources storm back into power. Like I think we’re going to have to come with a really new day of dealing with that (hell I’d say we’re too productive, circular economic planning and centering labor needs and green considerations could peobobky get halfway there - it’s a shame every country that tried to run an experiment like this got revolutoned by US interests - but wage ceilings, maximum incomes, hell even something like only selling products a little above cost (my idea of a nationalized Amazon is kind of like this).the big thing is that it’s going to probably incorperste a lot of different ideas. Norway’s national wealth fund is based on resource exaction but it doesn’t have to- make the government a 25% stock holder in all companies over a certain size?

Also the injection of democracy at every level of society, focusing on a more equitable and horizontal structure., that’s a good thing. Again, democratic socialism, emphasis on the democracy part. Cooperatives and worker control should be the norm, not the exception. Maybe some massive Mondragon style system?

And it goes without saying our criminal justice system and defense systems will be very, very different. But st this point actually funding and enforcing our existing structure and getting back to the promises of the new deal era is a goal.
posted by The Whelk at 5:38 PM on April 16 [3 favorites]


jb: Very true - and Wrigley's Continuity, Chance and Change is an excellent book - he distinguishes between "organic" and fossil-fuel based economies.

I just finished Continuity, Chance and Change a couple of weeks ago. I'm pretty sure it was the result of an AskMe answer (maybe not even to a question of mine? I can't quite remember) and I wonder if it was you who suggested it, jb. Professor Wrigley was kind enough to answer a question I had when I finished it. An excellent book by him, as usual.

But I just don't see how you can have modern levels of productivity without capitalism.

I think that you're right, if you're saying that you need to have some mechanism to accumulate capital in order to see modern levels of productivity. I suspect that you'd agree, though, that the capital accumulation method matters. How do you get people to forgo consumption in favour of investment? Profiting off of enslaving them is very different from getting them to pool their labour in a cooperative, but both are ways to translate labour into capital accumulation.

The typical modern way to accumulate capital is to separate the profit- and loss-takers in a business from the wage earners, and then make the most exploitative contracts possible with the wage earners given laws and labour market conditions. It has worked by being constantly on the search for a new group of people who are vulnerable enough to grind down, whose government is friendly enough to spare a whiff of grapeshot or recreate the precariate when workers start getting uppity.

(Did you see the one about Ikea setting up its factories in East German prisons? So much for warm and fuzzy Scandinavian democratic socialism in the face of capital accumulation, eh?)

Has that been worth it?


The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy is an early entry in the comparative economics field, but you might find it interesting if you haven't already read it. One of the things that it talks about is how the second and third mover nations accumulated the capital they needed for industrialization. In Japan and the Soviet Union, it was mostly done by extracting money from agriculture: In Japan by encouraging agricultural profits, and in the Soviet Union by starving out kulaks.

In the case of Great Britain's initial industrialization, until the railroad building boom (and then battleship building boom) that started around 1850, I seem to recall that the capital needed for industrialization was a tiny portion of the capital available. Capital requirements were small enough that most of the early industrial enterprises were built from the profits that master craftsmen put back into their businesses, with an occasional hand here and there from an interested aristocrat or merchant. There was lots of capital sloshing around before 1850, but little of it went into the industrial enterprises that were about to transform the world.

And after 1850... where did most of the capital for the Second Industrial Revolution come from? Aristocrats putting money into stock markets? Businesses feeding exploitation-based profits back into themselves? The magic of bank loans? Taxes?
posted by clawsoon at 5:06 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


politikitty: Capitalist thinkers were the first to promote the idea that people should own their own labor. They were some of the earliest abolitionists. Even stock corporations evolved to allow ordinary people undertake projects when they couldn't find a patron.

Have you read 'Union is Strength': W.L. MacKenzie, The Children of Peace, and the Emergence of Joint Stock Democracy in Upper Canada? If you haven't, it sounds like it might be right up your alley.

But socialism is also incredibly vulnerable to agency capture.

All systems are, aren't they? A lot of thinkers have a systems fetish, whether it's the Legalists in Warring States China or Federalists in Revolutionary America or libertarians and socialists today. Just set up the right system and you'll be able to solve the problems of injustice and unfairness for all time. If you have the right punishments, or the right incentives, or the right organizational structure, or the right relationships of power and property, or the right god, or the right checks and balances, you'll have an un-game-able system in which everyone will be treated fairly and be as happy as they deserve to be. But does it ever work out that way?
posted by clawsoon at 5:08 AM on April 17 [2 favorites]


But I just don't see how you can have modern levels of productivity without capitalism.

Are modern levels of productivity desirable? It seems to me we're working ourselves so hard that we barely see our families, we're making so much superfluous crap that we need a massive marketing industry to convince us to keep buying it, we're building it cheap and non-repairable so we have to keep replacing it, and we're doing it at such a breakneck pace that we see the destruction of the planet as necessary collateral damage. And even given all that, we still can't figure out how to distribute things such that we don't have homeless people starving in our streets. Fuck modern standards of productivity, I want a society that prioritizes the well-being of the populace over GDP.
posted by contraption at 7:58 AM on April 17 [4 favorites]


We produce so much STUFF designed to fall apart so we can buy more stuff. It’s not sustainable or even desirable. What if a society focused on experiences, entertainment, theatre, lectures, classes, dances, meals, walks, etc rather then making more shoddy consumer goods? The trends are allready there, and a highly educated, highly socialized populace is desirable.

I mean I sometimes say this about my DSA work, but it Is huge thing that we do stuff *together*, from sign making, to craft nights to happy hours. Parties create parties, and Americans (espicslly older americans!) are uniquely isolated and atomized. You got build back communities that have been purposefully destroyed.
posted by The Whelk at 9:32 AM on April 17 [4 favorites]


It’s a chestnut, but we have more than enough things for everyone, it’s a problem of distribution not manufacturing.
posted by The Whelk at 9:36 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Ideally, we'd maintain current levels of productivity (or better) while cutting back on current levels of production.
posted by clawsoon at 9:44 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Ideally, we'd maintain current levels of productivity (or better) while cutting back on current levels of production.

I'm all for that, and think that it's likely achievable with a well-regulated economy that explicitly rewards automation and subsidizes lifelong pursuit of education among the workforce. But our current capitalist model wrings productivity out of workers by making their lives miserable, and by maintaining a pool of marginalized unemployed people who face appalling conditions, just as an incentive for the rest to accept exploitative working arrangements lest they fall through the cracks and wind up literally cast out on the street. If that's the price of modern productivity, maybe let's let ourselves be a little less productive.
posted by contraption at 9:56 AM on April 17


I would happily give up modern levels of productivity. But I don't think any of us would be comfortable living with pre-modern, where half of us wouldn't even have shoes. There was just an ask mefi about someone worried about living with 3 kids in a 3 bedroom apartment; imagine raising your family in a 19th century 2up-2down. We all have so wealth, we really don't comprehend how little people did - and still do - live with.

We should look for a middle road. Certainly, we should look for modes of capitalist organisation which are less exploitative, and re-organise our trade networks such that the benefits of trade flow more equally. We need to move to levels of productivity which are more environmentally sustainable (and concentrate more on quality over quantity). But modern technology is necessary simply to feed 7 billion people - and modern technology requires certain structures to support it.
posted by jb at 10:06 AM on April 17


All systems are, aren't they?

Absolutely. I think we fail to realize that the people with power to change the world rarely have the inclination to do so. So most systems that try to organize power to get shit done will slowly reach a critical mass where it stops progressing and starts exploiting. Either because they lack vision, motivation or empathy.

And I think empathy is a real limiting factor in society. And I don't mean that most people are dicks, though I'm sure there's enough evidence to support that thesis. Right now we have access to more information about suffering than our current tools and systems can help. And that has the power to be transformative and push us to make new systems to redistribute resources in a more equitable way. But it's also scary which brings up myths of nostalgia - we pretend there was ever a good time in history for us to emulate.

I mean, we've got leftists who are hedging and saying "yeah, but the monarch applied his belief of ownership over the land and people with a soft touch among most serfs", while pretending that belief didn't foster the ownership principles that allowed the Romans to make slaves of their conquest, and British to own the 'savages', all the way down to the idea that men owned their wives, so you couldn't rape your wife, because consent was yours to grant. And again, I can hear people upset that I'm conflating rape and slavery. But they aren't not linked. The etymology of rape comes from the Roman's taking of the spoils of war - the men into slavery and the women as sexual property. After all, forcing women to bear the children of their conquerers was basically Princess Diplomacy writ on a large scale.

And thanks for the book recommendation! It's actually timely, since my new house is actually a co-op. Which makes me a shareholder in a corporation. Just that all the shareholders don't value property value as evidence of social value.
posted by politikitty at 12:06 PM on April 17


I would happily give up modern levels of productivity. But I don't think any of us would be comfortable living with pre-modern, where half of us wouldn't even have shoes. There was just an ask mefi about someone worried about living with 3 kids in a 3 bedroom apartment; imagine raising your family in a 19th century 2up-2down. We all have so wealth, we really don't comprehend how little people did - and still do - live with.

Right; the thing is, there's no real need to choose, just an idealogical one. We're so damn productive we can have shoes and rooms enough for everyone. We just haven't adjusted our thinking yet.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:21 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


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