The End Of The Neoliberal Experiment?
April 26, 2019 10:45 AM   Subscribe

"Like coal, capitalism has brought many benefits. But, like coal, it now causes more harm than good."(The Guardian) "First, as the recent American experience with hyper-capitalism has demonstrated, there are several functions that the public sector actually does more efficiently and more equitably than the private sector." (American Prospect)"....we must also invest in selective growth in certain sectors, from renewable energy to organic farming, as well as low-carbon, socially necessary activities such as education and the caring professions. This will involve reversing the neoliberal capitalist dogma that has imposed austerity for decades (In These Times). Jamie Dimon runs JP Morgan Chase, a bank with $2 Trillion in assets. Representative Katie Porter asked him to create a livable budget for a single mom working at his bank. He couldn’t do it. (Twitter) Why American CEOs are worried about capitalism: Fearing a backlash against business if a Democrat wins the White House, some chief executives are pushing for pre-emptive reforms (FT)
posted by The Whelk (51 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
 
“Fearing a backlash against business” — AKA, “Fearing paying their fair share.”
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:53 AM on April 26 [26 favorites]


The coal metaphor is a good one. Acknowledge the great benefits of the past while recognizing the foolishness of maintaining current systems in perpetuity.
posted by smokysunday at 11:19 AM on April 26 [18 favorites]


Added to my Heroes List: Rep. Katie Porter.
posted by gwint at 11:20 AM on April 26 [5 favorites]


Today's move by Biden proves that they aren't planning on going down without a well-funded attempt at preserving as much of the status quo as possible, regardless of the 2020 outcome.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:48 AM on April 26 [18 favorites]




Oh man, that video of the JP Morgan guy... I love it when corporate types defend jobs with salaries too low to live on by describing them as “starter jobs” for people just out of high school.

So, anyone working what he’s deemed a “starter job” who isn’t this hypothetical teenager should just, what? Build a time machine and go make “better life choices”* so they have more support / fewer dependents / a different job?

And like, my dude, 18 year olds don’t get discounts on rent/food/transportation just because of their age - that’s still not a liveable salary for an independent adult trying to support themselves, even if they are a teenage recent high school grad.

* actual phrasing I have heard people use about adults working what they’ve decided are jobs for teenagers.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 11:55 AM on April 26 [34 favorites]


Secret Sparrow: I love it when corporate types defend jobs with salaries too low to live on by describing them as “starter jobs” for people just out of high school.

The fact that none of these stores/fast food joints/assorted entry-level low paying workplaces shut down during school hours puts the lie to the whole “these jobs are teenage pocket money jobs, not for loser adults” notion.
posted by dr_dank at 12:05 PM on April 26 [36 favorites]


[in case you didn't get the Chelyabinsk-65 reference]
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:41 PM on April 26 [4 favorites]


some chief executives are pushing for pre-emptive reforms

"Holy shit, Mark Blyth was right! The Hamptons aren't a defensible position!"
*scurries off to research beach fortifications*
posted by eclectist at 12:45 PM on April 26 [8 favorites]


I mean, a true free market allows for people to get out the pitchforks and string up the oligarchs. That's an externality of letting things get bad enough. People forgot that there was a need to maintain plausibility. The ruling class just got lazy enough to let the curtains slip. The asymmetry of the system is too blatant.

As referenced in the FPP articles; I've never heard so many people question capitalism and embrace socialist alternatives. I don't see how you put the genie back in the bottle. Even mainstream publications are beginning to admit that things haven't added up for a while.
posted by Telf at 3:21 PM on April 26 [17 favorites]


The unavoidable truth about neolibralism is that the businesses that are allegedly so perfect that government should be run like them are all slowly failing one by one.
posted by krisjohn at 4:05 PM on April 26 [12 favorites]


The alternative to laissez-faire capitalism isn't necessarily "socialism". You can have big government, big public sector, health care for all and subsidised education in a free market capitalist society. That is what we're trying in Denmark and in the other Nordic countries. From an outsider's perspective the malady that is plaguing America isn't in the economic sphere of society, it's in the political sphere.

The problem isn't having a market economy, but electing politicians unwilling to regulate the market or even electing politicians skewing the market by giving preferential treatment to specific businesses over others.
posted by cx at 4:28 PM on April 26 [25 favorites]


Within the USian Overton window, the Danish political model **is** socialism, just a mm 1/32" away from risking Venezuala's or North Korea's
posted by goinWhereTheClimateSuitsMyClothes at 4:43 PM on April 26 [5 favorites]


<Well there’s also a vocal part of the American left that has watched the social democratic states get restricted and watered down and drawn into neoliberal austerity - in fact austerity could be seen as the way global capital got around social democratic states, partly by pushing privatization, parity by defunding services, and partly by creating tiered systems and in groups and out groups (deserving poor vs worthy poor, citizens vs immigrants, etc).

A lot of these reforms and ideas were part of mainstream Democratic Party platform in the 70s, right before the start of the neoliberal experiment. We’re trying to regain ground.

So the big goal is to make sure the push for these reforms can’t be rolled back the instant power changes hands and that could be done by increasing democratic participation at work of life, the creation of a solidarity economy, and the creation of truly universal social services.

I had some links about that but I considered it a related but separate topic. The question after this question : how bad is it if the FT is starting to sweat?
posted by The Whelk at 4:57 PM on April 26 [15 favorites]


Oh! And breaking the power and influence of money hoarders, if you got enough money you got nothing but time and they spent decadent working to undo the gains of the American labor movement.
posted by The Whelk at 5:07 PM on April 26 [2 favorites]


In These Times series of articles, introduced by Winona LaDuke: How To Build the Zero-Carbon Economy: The Green New Deal sets an ambitious goal. Here’s how to get there.
posted by homunculus at 6:01 PM on April 26 [3 favorites]


I don't see how you put the genie back in the bottle.
Forget the bottle; drown it in a bathtub.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:05 PM on April 26 [4 favorites]


“Only rebellion will prevent an ecological apocalypse,” George Monbiot, The Guardian, 15 April 2019
posted by ob1quixote at 6:36 PM on April 26 [2 favorites]


a sidenote on language. throwing around words like socialist, capitalist, neoliberal, and free market is actively harmful to the conversation that people who talk this way ostensibly say they want to have.

is denmark a socialist country? is cambodia? is china? does the US have a free market, given that it and its states have billions of pages of regulations on everything from financial products to cosmetology? was obama a neoliberal? was george W? was jimmy carter?

granted, we could debate these things and maybe reach some answers-- but it would be very arguable and is not at all what people ever do when they casually use this terminology.

my point is that these words not only mean very little, but they actively harm the discourse. by using these terms blithely, what we are doing is triggering people to take sides, to go to their respective camps and put up their barricades. that's because the words have emotional valences far more powerful than their academic or dictionary definitions, to the extent they even have a coherent definition.

so instead of asking whether the neoliberal experiment is over, may i humbly suggest asking whether a living wage should be guaranteed for all, or whether there should be a wealth tax, or a VAT, or whether sales tax should be abolished, or whether antitrust should be resurrected, or any number of other things that people smarter than me can think of.
posted by wibari at 8:56 PM on April 26 [22 favorites]


The labor movement is what connects all of us in our unionized Manhattan office to the millions of other working people across the country: poor ones and rich ones and happy ones and oppressed ones and blue collar and white collar ones alike. This is not just some happy slogan. It is the fundamental basis of the power of organized labor, which comes from everyone joining together for common, righteous goals. Everyone.
posted by The Whelk at 9:30 PM on April 26 [9 favorites]


I think wibari is probably correct. We know that folks in America might bristle at socialist policies, but support the military and its socialized benefits, or social security or medicare/medicaid. Just like people might hate Obamacare but support the affordable care act.

We can get people to support more socialized policies with elements of distributive justice without ever using the S word. As has been pointed out above though, Republicans will apply the word socialism to anything to the left of a Randian utopia. It's frustrating when they use the term socialism as a pejorative bludgeon. On the other hand, there's been so much creep in their language that everyone has burned out on their scare tactics and whatever they define as socialism probably looks really good to most people.

I think most Americans could get behind some form of Ordo Liberalism. (Sorry for bringing the specific language back in.) Accept that markets are useful and we probably don't want some totalitarian ruler or politburo making our decisions, but that competition requires the government to prune back the power of oligarchies, monopolies and monopsonies. (I'm just starting to read over concepts of mediated competition/competition law so this is quite new to me.)

From wikipedia:
Ordoliberal theory holds that the state must create a proper legal environment for the economy and maintain a healthy level of competition (rather than just "exchange") through measures that adhere to market principles. This is the foundation of its legitimacy.[9] The concern is that, if the state does not take active measures to foster competition, firms with monopoly (or oligopoly) power will emerge, which will not only subvert the advantages offered by the market economy, but also possibly undermine good government, since strong economic power can be transformed into political power.[10]

Now, I know this is far to the right of what many here are advocating, but what I'd really like to see is at least the elimination of this crass, crony capitalism that has plagued America for the past 30+ years.

Yes, I know that we might be seeing an opportunity for radical, structural change. I'm not against that, maybe the problem is all capitalism as Monbiot suggests. I'm going to be that guy and ask, are there any truly positive examples of socialist revolutions that turned out well? Can we point to a system that eschewed markets entirely and didn't fall apart? I'm completely open to counters, but for right now it does seem like a hybrid economy is the way to go.

I've gotten in trouble for using the term 'third way' in the past. I realize now that it can mean at least 3-4 different political movements depending on where you're coming from. What I mean is, that the Scandinavian countries seem to have found a good balance and it's not like they've completely rejected capitalism.
posted by Telf at 1:18 AM on April 27 [10 favorites]


Oh, this is such nonsense. If you're dealing with something such as healthcare, law enforcement, or fire protection, where there are existential sorts of concerns associated, it makes sense to administer it through the government, so there's accountability to voters. For all else, where you can have sufficient competition in the marketplace, people can vote with their dollar, and you leverage market forces to ensure the best possible solutions are created.

For most services and products we depend on, capitalism works. Extraordinarily well. There's no better solution for encouraging the best possible services, for most things. The communist alternative is centralized control and administration for every aspect of human economy. I'm with Telf, up to the point of advocating any kind of radical, structural change.

For goodness' sake, just imagine being a Fortune 500 executive, and being directly responsible for keeping thousands of your employees motivated, fairly rewarded for their contributions, setting up appropriate internal incentive structures, while maintaining a strategy and organizational structure that's actually effective at producing something -- anything -- that a consumer is interested in purchasing. Or maybe you're responsible for maintaining the very infrastructure of the internet that we're using right now to communicate.

It's not easy, and there's no reason to think that asking the government to do it, with a state-sanctioned monopoly, would somehow magically solve anything at all.
posted by phenylphenol at 1:52 AM on April 27


With respect to the Jamie Dimon congressional video, the man was clearly refusing to answer anything in specific because he obviously doesn't have any context about this person's life situation, past decisions, contribution to the company or society, type of labor, or really anything whatsoever about Katie Porter's subject. And if you're testifying in Congress, it's better to know your facts before you say anything, because the stakes are high!

When I watched that video, I just wondered why the person would have decided to have a child and apparently planned to take on an entry level or unskilled labor job six years later! "This is her first job," said Rep Porter. That sounds absolutely insane -- having your first job in an unskilled entry-level position six years after adopting responsibility for a human life.

And Dimon clearly expresses concern for the situation, and I'm sure would be perfectly happy to help her manage her financial planning -- he's just very busy running one of the four largest banks in the country, providing financial services to millions of people. Maybe the mother made a mistake, or had the child by accident? I just can't imagine choosing to have a kid as a single mother when I wouldn't have a chance at giving them a good childhood and reasonable financial security. But just like Mr Dimon, I don't know any of the specifics, so I won't be passing any judgment -- all I can offer is why that situation sounds fishy, given the few facts Rep Porter presents.

The real question is whether or not this person's $30,000 a year salary is commensurate with her contributions. If I were running JP Morgan Chase, perhaps I'd be a bit more paternalistic, and offer higher salaries for people who apparently are in janitorial or very low-skill responsibilities or similar. But if that were a workable solution, then why haven't other companies begun to do that?

I'd be in favor of the UBI simply so that there can be no more excuses for people not achieving. But given that Wikipedia allows anybody with internet access to become nearly an expert in literally every domain of knowledge or skill, and yet somehow we still have a chronic under-education problem, I'm not getting my hopes up.

Anyway, that's enough missive from a grumpy progressive liberal conservative. Take care of one another!
posted by phenylphenol at 2:20 AM on April 27 [2 favorites]


My basic belief is that any system needs tension in order for it to stay on the rails. We need some form of pushback to prevent any group of people from becoming completely corrupted by their own power. The power of cognitive dissonance prevents people from ever realizing when they've crossed the line into participating in distributed, organizational evil. (Because it's always distributed across multiple departments so people can say: I didn't sign the papers, or I didn't pull the trigger, or I was just following orders, or I was just trying to make things run more efficiently.)

Modern capitalism, as practiced in the US has gone of the rails. It has nothing in common with what Smith would have advocated. I won't say that that this is an inevitable end game of capitalism just as I won't say that increased socialism leads to Stalin. The issue is unchallenged beliefs with no means to check power mixed with regulatory capture by right wing zealots.

Now all that being said, I'm going to roll out this quote from Hayek again:
"There is no reason why in a society which has reached the general level of wealth which ours has attained the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom. .... [T]here can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody. ... Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individual in providing for those common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision."

So by modern standards, even FA Hayek is a socialist according to the sponge brain Rand zombies driving the US into oblivion. These people are essentially anarchists who want to usher in some sort of neo-feudal warlord system because collective bargaining for cheaper bandages and cancer meds is somehow evil.
posted by Telf at 2:22 AM on April 27 [12 favorites]


My basic belief is that any system needs tension in order for it to stay on the rails. We need some form of pushback to prevent any group of people from becoming completely corrupted by their own power.

Yes! 100%.

Modern capitalism, as practiced in the US has gone of the rails. It has nothing in common with what Smith would have advocated.

I'm not convinced of this, maybe because I don't know what would be the correct marker or diagnostic criterion for capitalism going "off the rails." Even de Tocqueville's metric, concerned as he was with the welfare of the lowest rungs of society, seems to jibe with a view that things are doing pretty alright. The poor are getting richer also right now, worldwide. And many (most?) who choose to also have the sum of human knowledge in the palm of their hands on their smartphones, thanks to the enormously valuable efforts of the Wikimedia Foundation.

I won't say that that this is an inevitable end game of capitalism just as I won't say that increased socialism leads to Stalin.

I understand the objection to slippery slope arguments from the right. At least for me, considering myself to be on the "new right" or something like that, I feel like there's been a chronic lack of proper moral education within our culture for several decades -- kinda the aftershocks of the baby boomer generation's lackadaisical enjoyment of the fruits of the silent generation's industry, and a societal preservation of youthful altriciality. (Yipes, Metafilter's spellcheck doesn't even know that word.)

In essence, I think the ship I'd be trying to right would be simply to reestablish a notion of "good" and "bad" -- make sure the directed vector is in place in our value systems, with more contributions and responsibility for the welfare of society squarely on the former side.

Anyway, you rock, Telf!
posted by phenylphenol at 2:43 AM on April 27 [2 favorites]


Socialism is the working class controlling the means and outputs of production instead of a capitalist boss class controlling them and using that control to extract profit from the labor of the workers. "The government does things for people" isn't socialism, it's just part of capitalism going back to Adam Smith. The purpose of talking like government services is socialism is to exclude the possibility of socialism from the conversation by establishing liberalism as the leftmost position that it is possible to talk about.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:17 AM on April 27 [13 favorites]


... people can vote with their dollar, and you leverage market forces to ensure the best possible solutions are created.

No, I cannot. The people who can leverage market forces are the people who've been making themselves rich at the expense of everybody else for the last 40 years. In the process, they've made my voting with my dollar irrelevant, because they vote with vastly larger numbers of dollars, and will always be listened to by elected officials, when I am routinely ignored.

I just wondered why the person would have decided to have a child and apparently planned to take on an entry level or unskilled labor job six years later! "This is her first job," said Rep Porter. That sounds absolutely insane -- having your first job in an unskilled entry-level position six years after adopting responsibility for a human life.

. . . Maybe the mother made a mistake, or had the child by accident?


You think? Do you believe most pregnancies are planned, and every consumer has, or can have, perfect knowledge of the products they buy and the markets they're sold in? These ideas are divorced from reality.

The only way that Capitalism can benefit society is if it is heavily regulated, with an explicit goal of making it serve society. The deregulation of American business since Reagan is strong evidence of how corporate interests are damaging to public interests.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:18 AM on April 27 [15 favorites]


The labor movement is what connects all of us in our unionized Manhattan office to the millions of other working people across the country: poor ones and rich ones and happy ones and oppressed ones and blue collar and white collar ones alike. This is not just some happy slogan. It is the fundamental basis of the power of organized labor, which comes from everyone joining together for common, righteous goals. Everyone.

Sorry to keep on harping here, if I am. Whelk is a wonderful and appropriately well-respected part of the MeFi crew. Just wanted to agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment and motivation, especially the impulse to organize people and create value, but also just to say that CEOs of companies, embedded within a capitalist framework, are precisely those people whom we entrust the responsibility to organize labor. Or maybe they delegate that responsibility to an SVP or a VP, but it still happens. That's how companies operate!

I mean, the impulse to organize is human nature, and exactly what provides us with the technology that lets us offload our thinking and coordinate people's efforts. I'm not sure if it's a good thing for a company to have an organized labor movement within it, though. Why would you want to run a company with a shadow government within? On the one hand, you need to red-team to make sure that every possible best solution is rooted out. On the other, you have a whole bunch of people who are spending their time trying to imagine how they would organize labor.

I dunno, the left definitely needs a voice, because we need to root out corruption wherever it shows up. Sometimes organizing people who aren't in power can send a strong message, if the executives are particularly incompetent or corrupt. But if we move toward the idea that unionized labor is an unassailable good per se, and not the result of particularly incompetent leadership, then we'll end up cultivating a cultural tradition that is internally self-destructive.

/shrug -- talking about NES chiptunes is fun also.
posted by phenylphenol at 3:28 AM on April 27


You think? Do you believe most pregnancies are planned, and every consumer has, or can have, perfect knowledge of the products they buy and the markets they're sold in? These ideas are divorced from reality.

No, I don't -- I'm just interested in how we distribute responsibility within our civilization, and who is taking care of whom.

The only way that Capitalism can benefit society is if it is heavily regulated, with an explicit goal of making it serve society. The deregulation of American business since Reagan is strong evidence of how corporate interests are damaging to public interests.


Agree 100% with the need for regulation part -- markets need boundaries to function appropriately for the betterment of society. It's a "light touch" approach, not a Randian advocacy for unbridled tyranny.

Corporate interests makes me think of Mitt Romney's classic campaign gaffe -- pointing out the obvious fact that corporations are people. I can't believe that was even politically incorrect; there's no substance to any organization, ontologically speaking, than simply a collective of people who have some consensus on what they should be spending their time on.
posted by phenylphenol at 3:34 AM on April 27


I can't believe that was even politically incorrect; there's no substance to any organization, ontologically speaking, than simply a collective of people who have some consensus on what they should be spending their time on.

Romney was criticized because his statement was a glib response to protestor in the context of debates about the limits and nature of "corporate personhood," the idea that corporation itself has a set of speech, property, and other rights that are not merely the sum of the speech and property rights of all the people at the corporation.

And it was tone-deaf, and, indeed, utterly incorrect in that context. Romney was using the claim that "corporations are people" to avoid questioning the principle that "a corporation is a legal person with many of the rights of a natural person." It was a semantic dodge, a third-term fallacy.
posted by kewb at 6:30 AM on April 27 [7 favorites]


Regarding structures of responsibility, corporate personhood is more generally a mockery of the "distributed responsibility" idea. The very point of a corporation is that it is a limited liability instrument; past a certain point, even the directors are not personally financially responsible for their decisions, and financial liability is distributed across a network of investors, and corporations also tend to lay in money in other ways. Legally, too, it is quite hard to prosecute individuals within a corporation. Many of the white-collar statutes . With the rise of financial instruments that further distance and distribute this bare financial responsibility, it becomes very difficulty of assigning a concept like "aggregate consent" to some human aggregate that is truly homologous with the organization as a whole.

We see it everywhere. Amazon, Google, Disney, and so forth hardly go through any formal process of consent involving all their employees whenever they lobby or advertise, and at least some fraction of their employees likely have no say and, frankly, no idea what the company is doing. The same is true of the smaller-scale shareholders, or those whose shares are held very indirectly through mutual funds and other financial instruments. and for many workers, there is a degree of financial dependence, sometimes physical dependence (health insurance isn't just about the money, but also about bodily maintenance, one's own "corporation") that means that one can be a part of the body of the business with only very conditional consent, hardly part of any ongoing process of consent, and with little power to choose changes to the corporate body as a whole. That belongs to certain centers or networks of volition within it, and sometimes beyond it.

We can reduce that idea of a center or structure of institutional volition to something like "the executives" or "the board" or "the majority shareholders," but then we get the situation we have, in which the employees of a corporation are somehow not part of the consensus-making part of it, but are still subject to that consensus. And that leads to the abuses we have seen: not merely the protection of, say, highly placed harassers and sex criminals, but a culture in which some people see the structure of the corporation as a default consent to their whims, and the structure responds by letting them feel that way and act that way.

The institutional logic, its way of being an organization, tends to be adopted by people in it. It's why we talk of "corporate culture," and more broadsly we have plenty of research showing that group dynamics and social structures shape human behavior and default assumptions, certainly not always in ways that suggest some defined aggregate of adults voluntarily and independently opting in to a given consensus, the actions of the group being he individual and conscious consent of every person in it. And when it all goes bad, the corporation as a whole suffers for this, even the people who didn't have any say in the bad decisions that brought disrepute or financial ruin.

And when some of those consequences appear only much later, long after the decision-making bodies within the corporate body are no longer part of it, then the "corporation as distinct being" idea tends to shield the original decision-makers still further from any personal responsibility. (The "glass cliff" phenomenon is a classic example of the way a corporation and its CEO can be held responsible for decisions that were made by others, earlier in the corporation's lifespan.) No one's asking "Ship of Theses" questions about Sears or Hostess when they go bankrupt. Romney himself loved to play this game at Bain, stripping out assets for profit and leaving behind a dying husk of a corporation that got to bear the financial responsibility.

In law and finance, then, we have certainly made the corporation into a being that is not simply the sum of the consensus of the people involved. Corporations involve people, but we have made them persons with a strange sort of fictional life, a mode of contiguous being all their own. Perhaps, then, the problem is that societies and legal systems are people...but those tend to have a monopoly of violence, and consent and coercion sit alongside one another, and blur into one another, over time.
posted by kewb at 6:43 AM on April 27 [11 favorites]


Fisher used the phrase “Market Stalinism” to describe the increasingly totalitarian methods of private companies which are okay cause it’s only Totalitarian if a government does it! Please give Alphabet all your sleep metrics and location data! Let’s use it to determine private insurance rates!

Some data

“Younger people have lower incomes, higher debts, and virtually no wealth to speak of. Their schooling hasn’t paid off, and they’ve spent their entire working life in an economy operating below full employment. Is it really surprising they view “socialism” so favorably?”
posted by The Whelk at 9:31 AM on April 27 [9 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. Let's ease back on the Stalin comparisons which tend to take things in a direction that's hard to engage with usefully. Fine to make the point that something is bad; just skip the sidebar into "and it's like Stalin". And polyphenol: you're doing that thing again of insisting that a thread become all about your points; please take a step back from this for a while.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:34 AM on April 27


I wish I could somehow convince everyone to read this criminally overlooked work:
Neo-Liberalism's Demons: on Political Theology of Late Capital.
Kotsko's work is absolutely fascinating - the book is really expansive but the first half I found especially engaging.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:46 AM on April 27


phenylphenol: "There's no better solution for encouraging the best possible services, for most things."

I think Capitalism's goal is the encouraging the best profitable services not the best possible services and the two line up only by accident.

This is self evident if you've ever sat through hours of phone trees and on hold time trying to get service because the alternative is somewhere someone in customer service having a few seconds break from talking to a customer.

Or how credit card companies ask for your number (automated natch) to determine what level of service to provide as your first interaction.

Or how services (*cough* Reader *cough*) are just pulled from the marketplace because while profitable they just aren't profitable enough.

Or how Ford has stopped selling all but two cars in the North American market despite have plenty of world cars they could offer because every car sale means they aren't selling a vastly more profitable No Utility Vehicle. And Porsche is America's fastest growing Truck company

Or how Insulin, something that should be a commodity product, costs hundreds/thousands of dollars a month. Or the massive market distortion of epi-pens.

Or how farmers are grey market importing tractors from India because they lack the vendor lock in controls of American Market Tractors.
posted by Mitheral at 9:53 AM on April 27 [14 favorites]


Just got a copy of the Kotsko book based on Baby_Balrog's recommendation. Looking forward to reading it. I've been working through Mark Fisher and Fredric's Jameson's stuff these last few months and I've had a lot of gears clicking into place brain explosions. It's fun sinking my teeth into some contemporary theorists, especially when they're readable and don't weigh their prose down with inscrutable, self referential linguistic silliness.
posted by Telf at 10:50 AM on April 27 [1 favorite]


The problem isn't having a market economy, but

... having a capitalist economy. The two are not synonymous, and most forms of socialist economies also use markets to allocate and distribute goods and services. The difference is that in a capitalist economy, individuals can own "capital" - the means of production, while socialist economies have various forms of more collective ownership (ranging from anarcho-syndicalist economies composed of worker co-ops where the workers in a particular company exclusively own that company's capital assets, to anarcho-communist economies where local communities make decisions about capital allocation and usage through democratic political processes, to state or authoritarian communist economies where a government (that generally claims to represent "the people" but may or may not be democratic to any realistic extent) makes central planning decisions about capital allocation and usage).

There's nothing wrong with using the correct technical terms to talk about economic concepts. We should indeed push back on the deliberate obfuscation and misuse of these terms that has been going on in US politics for a few decades now, however.
posted by eviemath at 11:38 AM on April 27 [12 favorites]


Especially on a site like Metafilter. We don't generally accept people derailing conversations about other topics with propaganda-speak or bad faith interpretations of people's factual descriptions and sincere, reasoned analyses. The only difference with economic discussions is that, because of decades of propaganda, people honestly don't know what a socialist economy is, that capitalism isn't the only economic system that makes use of markets, or what capitalism actually is, even.

Here's a really good primer, though, so that we can have reasonable discussions of economic topics.
posted by eviemath at 11:44 AM on April 27 [7 favorites]


We should indeed push back on the deliberate obfuscation and misuse of these terms that has been going on in US politics for a few decades now, however.

Yes; the clarification is absolutely critical. But I have to admit that I think the "deliberateness" may be in question, at least for me -- it can often be a shorthand reference to the Cold War era dichotomy in thinking. Completely agree that it seems like a great idea to disentangle these to facilitate communication.

The difference is that in a capitalist economy, individuals can own "capital"

This is exactly it -- whether or not we'd like to motivate people to have something of their own, by creating a cultural understanding of just what is "tangible" in some sense. I think capitalist market economies tap into this urge more effectively, and end up producing better results. I mean, I have a couple of friends who prefer real estate to equities, regardless of outcome or risk/benefit analysis, simply because they can look at it and live in it. It feels "real." Yet I think many others don't typically have the same drive / urge to have property, so it's not really a one-size-fits-all solution.

I dunno, is that a metaphysical question without clear resolution? Or do we just become utilitarians and throw in the towel, so to speak?
posted by phenylphenol at 3:39 PM on April 27


Unless you have enough capital to own the means of production (or in this case, real estate) you do not actually own enough capital for it to matter. That’s what working class means, there are some exceptions such as artisans, highly esoterically skilled labors, or fancy servants of the ruling class (lawyers, etc) but we are all, I assume, not sitting on controlling ownership of multinational firms? When it comes down to it, what do you sell in order to survive and who benefits the most from your labor? Is your labor required to make the wheels of production move or do you sit atop it, collecting the surplus? Is the surplus generated by the collective effort of all workers distributed to them fairly and equitably? Do they have a say in the decision making process? Can they fire their boss? Why do they even need a boss why can’t it be a rotating position among workers? Can they put an end to unsafe business practices? Can they decide they want to take the production in a different direction?

Who, exactly, is in charge here and why? And what happens when the workers decide not to work anymore? What will they be threatened with?

This is what we talk about when we talk about class conflict and capital.
posted by The Whelk at 3:59 PM on April 27 [10 favorites]


people to have something of their own, by creating a cultural understanding of just what is "tangible" in some sense. I think capitalist market economies tap into this urge more effectively, and end up producing better results. I mean, I have a couple of friends who prefer real estate to equities

Yeah, so, if your friends are treating their real estate as an investment, then both that and equities are capital. Art on the level of super rich art collectors, that is also treated as an investment, is capital. Business assets are capital. Your grandma living in her single home that she's lived in for most of her adult life, the nice painting that I bought from my very good but not famous artist friend, some kid's gameboy system... these are personal property, not capital.

In short, capital refers to goods/property that can make you money in a apitalist economy. If someone is making money off of ownership of capital, though, that means that someone else is not getting the full value of their labor. Sometimes people argue that it's okay to make money off of capital because a person doing so has put in some important intellectual or creative labor. Intellectual and creative labor is a valid form of labor and should indeed be compensated. The same person can make income from both capital ownership and intellectual or creative labor, and capitalist accounting practices don't necessarily separate the two very clearly sometimes. The portion of such a person's income that derives from their labor is not exploitative. But the portion that derives from capital ownership is, fundamentally and structurally, a direct result of someone else's exploitation.
posted by eviemath at 4:53 PM on April 27 [5 favorites]


Founding Father Thomas Paine considered socialism common sense.
posted by eviemath at 8:00 PM on April 27 [2 favorites]


In short, capital refers to goods/property that can make you money in a capitalist economy.

My understanding of capital is simply anything with value -- I do know it's typically defined in terms of the ability to generate wealth, at least with respect to businesses. But because we have liquid markets of equities that can enable exponential growth of investment, a pile of cash (really, just some bits flipped in a bank's database) can be called "capital" without too much of a stretch of the imagination. For now I'll strategically dodge the question of whether stock market returns constitute actual value creation and acknowledge that's a weak point that I've not quite worked out yet.

But yes, I suppose I'm calling attention to this purposefully, noting that "capital" is a social construct that effectively is the same as wealth -- and suggesting that there's no particularly useful distinction between "capital assets" and "personal property" at all. At least, not since the 1971 Nixon shock. Rapscallion though he was, I think the move ushered in an era where we need to consciously redefine capital, and create the cultural understanding to reinforce it.

If someone is making money off of ownership of capital, though, that means that someone else is not getting the full value of their labor.

Right -- we're not in an agrarian economy, and successful business organizations can provide a multiplicative effect on goods or value produced, simply because they can help people cooperate and work together. There's no direct transmutation of labor into value that the laborer gets to take home in its entirety -- instead, in a complex world with service-based economies and predominantly knowledge workers, there's some degree of tithing that's required to produce civilizational development. At least, that's how I currently see it.
posted by phenylphenol at 10:12 PM on April 27


there's no particularly useful distinction between "capital assets" and "personal property" at all.

Yes there is. If I own say, four apartment units and I choose to let them stay empty rather then lower their price in order to keep up their speculative value then I am choosing to let four families be homeless. My capital self-interest is more important then the lives of other human beings who need things like shelter in order to not die. And this mindset, expanded into a global system where hedge funds and billionaires can buy up whole swaths of real estate and treat them like investment bonds they never sell and have no interest in letting go down in value, you end up in a situation where the richest parts of the city have little commercial real estate and the number of empty apartment units is double that of the estimated homeless and precariously housed.

You are choosing the worth of something as abstract, random, and inane was market value over something that exists, human beings. Not only is it evil, not only is it greedy, not only is it something people would be in their right to pick up torches and pitch-forks against, it;s also inefficient, short-sighted, and terrible for your economic system. You're just hoarding tulips.

I'm not doing in that my one bedroom co-op apartment. I'm using it as intended, as a place to live. Once I start buying commodities in order not only turn a profit off them but turn a massive profit off them, then I am hoarding capital. And the renter class, the people who horde commodities people need to live, food, housing, quick capital, medicine, etc (tulips are nice but a bit higher up on the pyramid of needs) are always the most hated in a society.

It's like the difference between a million and a billionaire. A millionaire is a tragedy, a billionaire is a sign something has gone very wrong in your society - a million seconds is 12 days a billion seconds is 31 years- it;s unfathomable for one person to even have a fraction of that power hoarded away.

And that;s the difference between personal property "my toothbrush" and capital "the patent that owns all the toothbrushes in the country and everyone has to use them and I can deactivate them if you stop paying your monthly toothbrush fee."
posted by The Whelk at 10:36 PM on April 27 [15 favorites]


Right -- we're not in an agrarian economy, and successful business organizations can provide a multiplicative effect on goods or value produced, simply because they can help people cooperate and work together. There's no direct transmutation of labor into value that the laborer gets to take home in its entirety -- instead, in a complex world with service-based economies and predominantly knowledge workers, there's some degree of tithing that's required to produce civilizational development. At least, that's how I currently see it.


I mean, let's cut through this divisive jargon: what this amounts to is saying, X can do a thing and then ends with Therefore it is necessary that X be allowed to do the thing, regardless of consequence Y. This is the formal structure of the argument and that's why it's fallacious reasoning. We don't need to get into semantics of what "capital" is or isn't, when basic logic here doesn't follow. This is not the place for this kind of sophistry, intentional or not.

This is getting pretty off topic from the OP articles as well. If we want a non-leftist point of view, we can have different, informed articles about those rather than rehashing the same Pinker-esque and Peterson-esque talking points that Marx already understood very well when he wrote his volumes.
posted by polymodus at 10:46 PM on April 27 [4 favorites]


Thank you The Whelk for continuing to do the Lord's work.

Please can we not here play the same kind of propaganda word games that we are discussing as being a big part of the problem in this subject? Im not talking about terminology, I'm talking about pretending to sort of be on one side while trying to steer it to the other. Nonsense is "light regulation", and the whole point of this post is that won't be nearly enough.
posted by blue shadows at 12:12 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]


I have written on my arm "I will not rehash and redefine the value added cost vs the exchange cost"

to say nothing of the labor added value.

But, to relight the ship. What we had here in this country post-war was a managed and regulated form of capitalism that was also quite racist and sexist and did not go as far as other forms of managed capitalism in Europe. In the 70s the western world, faced with a crisis of oil, of stuck credit, of globalism, of increased productivity not matching wages, decided to run an experiment in neoliberal market-based reform and vast credit expansion. That experiment failed so badly that even its cheerleaders are now calling for a return to 70s left-liberalism. The real question is, what is after this moment? What does it mean that we are even asking this question after 40 years of it being totally taboo? And what does it mean if we've only got 10ish years to fix the climate?

What is post-capitalism?
posted by The Whelk at 12:32 AM on April 28 [10 favorites]


What is post-capitalism?

I know it was a pedagogical question rather than a simple, direct question, but for folks who don't know where to start thinking about or answering a question like that, here are some potential ideas, among many:

Brief introductions to a couple different (though related to each other) theories of political economy. There are suggested resources for other ideas in the last chapter of the book I linked to upthread, too (though it is mostly focused on understanding what capitalism is and how it works).

This blog about climate change and (post-)capitalism is a couple years old now in the case of most of its posts, but we haven't solved climate change between 2014 and now, so still relevant.
posted by eviemath at 4:42 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


Further reading I found on Whelk's point, for those interested.

250,000 vacant apartments in NYC

Around 65,000 homeless in NYC
posted by phenylphenol at 6:13 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]


"the patent that owns all the toothbrushes in the country and everyone has to use them and I can deactivate them if you stop paying your monthly toothbrush fee."

Oh, so you're familiar with the Quip sales pitch, then.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:02 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


From the actual for real Economist: markets cannot stop climate change, governments must act
posted by The Whelk at 1:34 PM on April 29 [4 favorites]


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