Capitalism is an economic system based in fear. If you're a coward, you're a capitalist.
Think about it. According to theory, capitalism is advanced through the "enlightened" self-interest of individuals (I'll get back to the enlightened bit later). Translation: greed. Greed is good in capitalism. Indeed, if capitalism can be said to have any morality, that morality is based in greed.
But greed is based in fear, just as nearly every negative emotion is. Greed is about the fear that you will not have enough, never have enough and therefore must always have more.
Ask anyone who was mixed up in the junk bond bubble of the Reagan years or the dot-com bubble of the Clinton/Bush years or the real estate bubble of the Bush years: it was not about having enough, it was about having more. From the homeowners who foolishly bit into a mortgage they could never possibly handle to the bankers who lent that money knowing full well those borrowers couldn't afford the mortgage to the stockholders who demanded higher earnings every quarter from the bankers who lent the money to the people who couldn't afford it, to the governments who gladly accepted the property and income taxes due on the money that the shareholders demanded by higher each quarter from the bankers who lent the money to people who couldn't afford it, all of this monumental folly was based in greed.
And enabled by countless pundits, analysts, media flacks, and government officials. "Ownership society," Mr. Bush? OWERship society is more like it, you pompous butthead!
Adam Smith in positing capitalism, even tho he called it laissez-faire (French for "leave to do"), spoke for the need for taxes on business activity, strong government oversight, and warned against business combinations of any sort that involved removing the personal responsibility for the actions of a business.
We call those "corporations". You'll never hear this from your immature libertarian friends who read Ayn Rand for the sex scenes and came away with some muddled sense of economic theory crossed with personal freedom.
Adam Smith, in Wealth of Nations, speaks of the "Invisible Hand" precisely once (Book IV, chapter II, paragraph IX , if you're playing along at home). It was in the context of domestic trade being preferable to international trade. In other words, all those "free marketeers" are bullshitting you. And yet, an entire conservative cottage industry has arisen over a gross distortion of Smith's intent.
All to support and justify naked greed. There is no community when greed is involved. You would steal from your neighbors as soon as you'd steal from a stranger if capitalism had its way. And if you don't believe that, pick up any newspaper.
Indeed, on a macro basis, this is precisely what happens. International trade and relations are less dependent upon any sense of community than local and domestic trade, which was Adam Smith's point about the "invisible hand". Why were we attacked on September 11, after all? Was it because we're rich? Was it because we supplied arms to Israel, or Osama bin Laden? Was it because we had protected Muslims in Bosnia? Was it because we helped harm Muslims in Palestine?
Whatever part of the political spectrum you come from, it doesn't matter. Whatever answer to that "why" you feel comfortable with, it doesn't matter. All answers return to the greed of capitalism. Our private industries made money in conflict with our so-called "moral values." After all, if we fear radical Islam, why were we helping the mujahadeen in the 1980s? It's not like we were friends with radical Islam back then. We had just had hostages returned from Iran, for goodness sake!
Once you look at the world around you and do a thought experiment, you understand why greed needs to be in check, and why capitalism is for cowards. If we took morality out of the equation, if we truly allowed capitalism to be laissez-faire, crime would be a booming industry, all drugs would be legal, and porn would be available on the counter of your corner newsstand instead of bowdlerized and forced into dark corners and pay-per-view television.
Is that what we really want?
If capitalism was based on enlightened need, one could conceivably find a lot of good in capitalism. Capitalism presumes that we each have the other citizens of our community in mind.
Capitalism is not immoral, but capitalism is responsible for immoral acts. Capitalism is also responsible for the greatest man-made tragedies to befall America and by extension, the world.
In and of itself, capitalism is not immoral. It is amoral. It does not think. It only works like a vast enumbed machine, not distinguishing between friend or foe, between good or evil, between moral and immoral.
And here's the real kicker: capitalism is antithetical to American values, if we define "American values" as freedom, equality, and morality.
Those are in our Constitution. They're declared and demanded in the Declaration of Independence. And yet, self-interest sans enlightenment is harmful to all three of those. Sure, you can say that freedom exists, but is it really freedom when your boss can fire you at-will, and worse, threaten that to hold your behavior in check? Is it really freedom when that same boss can demand you work overtime or put in free hours from home, but then get all pissy when you ask for a few hours to take your sick kid to the hospital?
Is it really freedom without equality? And is it ever equal in a society where greed is honored and acquisition the goal?
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)
Labels: American culture, capitalism