Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Quote Of The Day

If the American Dream is to allow Googapplesoft Procter and Sachs to produce a drugged-up citizenry that sits in rundown post-foreclosed homes and stares at tablets, waving their fingers to bring on the next dose of neural cyber-candy…well you’re on the right track.

Wyndtunnel - From Republic to Regency?

A quibble:
Paul squarely casts aspersions on the elite oligarchy that controls/causes this mess, as it is their failures as human beings that caused it.

I think it's the collective failures of all western citizens, who either passively accept it or aggressively pursue these policies. We are all equally culpable when it comes to the failings of "western society." Our failures (or moments of greed if you will) as middle-class individuals are the same failings as the billionaire elites. The scale is vastly different, but the human failing is the same.  (Paul may well acknowledge this, he makes no mention either way.)

I don't mean to suggest that since we are all corrupt, that rules and punishments need not apply. They do, because of the scale of the damage that results.

However at its simplest, I do think the rot at the heart of capitalism is that it enables greed. It requires greed, it's the engine that makes the system work. The desire to get ahead fuels the system and simultaneously corrupts it.  Which makes any solutions or controls difficult, if not impossible to implement.  Thus the vicious circle we find ourselves in.  Us doomers happen to believe it is this intrinsic corruption that will cause the end of capitalism.


ADHR said...

I don't know about this. Strictly, capitalism doesn't require greed. It's only a particular form of capitalism that encourages that. Capitalism, as I see it, requires two fundamental elements: substantial private ownership of resources and the seeking of personal benefit. (The latter is not quite the same as greed; I seek personal benefit when I shower and feed myself, but am not therefore greedy.) There are reasons to object to this, but they're distinct from the objections to the unregulated and mismanaged form of capitalism we've been stuck with in the West.

That said, I don't think that form of capitalism is going to fail any time soon. Off and on, it's basically what's existed since the Middle Ages -- a few powerful elites controlling tremendous amounts of resources, while the masses have little control over even their own lives.

I also think there's some evolutionary considerations here. Not in the "survival of the fittest" stupid sense, but in the "selectional pressure" sense. The folks running the Googleapplesoft Procter & Sachses of the world are the result of generations of careful education -- formal and otherwise -- of children to develop the behaviours needed to succeed in those sorts of positions. In order to change the system, then, we'd first need to change the conditions under which those behaviours are successful, thus redirecting the process.

Hey, now I've got a blog topic for today. Thanks! :D

Catelli said...

Capitalism, as I see it, requires two fundamental elements: substantial private ownership of resources and the seeking of personal benefit.

Capitalism also requires growth. Rapid growth. Slow growth is stagflation, which will lead to stagnation and deflation and ruin and despair, etc. etc.

The only that this rapid growth is achieved is by the constant rapid change in the so-called standard of living. Higher always being better.

Mayhap it is a gross simplification to call that need for growth greed, but I think it encapsulates the underlying premise.

ADHR said...

Well, some standard of living growth is a good thing. I don't think that can be questioned. In many measureable ways, we're living better now than in, say, the 16th century. (Less typhoid, for example.) And places like Bangladesh, which have seen significant improvements in standard of living over the last 30-40 years, are doing objectively better.

The pursuit of growth above all I could call greed. But I don't see how that's inherent to capitalism. Capitalism also wants to perpetuate itself (or, to be accurate, capitalists want the system to continue to function, rather than collapse, wipe out their wealth, and foment genuine revolution). So, it's possible, on capitalist grounds, to sacrifice growth temporarily in order to ensure growth in the long-term. This requires a more mature (in the evaluative sense) sort of capitalism than what we seem to have now -- which I've seen called "frat boy capitalism" -- but it still looks like capitalism to me.

Catelli said...

That's the question. Can capitalism be moderated to restrict our worst impulses?

Speaking of emerging economies, China has seen a massive upswing in the consumption of pure luxuries and a swing to red meat. It's devishly difficult to separate the good progress from the selfish progress, the need from the want, the good from the bad.

And I'm fully aware that I'm typing this while using a laptop while watching the Jays game on a high-def LCD using a high-power stereo system for sound with my wife ohhing and ahhing over the neat shit in the LeeValley catalogue we just received in the mail. In the meantime the old electronics that this stuff replaced is being crawled over by underpaid, undernourished kids in the electronic waste pits of India. It's an odd feeling observing the system from within and without at the same time. And my hypocrisy discomforts me not at all. Make of that what you will.

If the true cost of our modern conveniences (full life cycle from creation to death/recycling in a sustainable manner) were passed on to us consumers, we would all own a lot less.

I hear what you're saying. Mayhap I'm just getting cynical in my dotage.

But I think that what you point out about Bangladesh illustrates my point about the yin-yang of the greed that fuels capitalism. We all want a better standard of life. But that standard incorporates more than just good health, it also has made us think we need 2500 square foot homes, 4 cars and a cottage at the lake.

Let me put it this way. The way I use the word greed does not imply it is exclusively an evil desire. Substitute "desire" for where I say greed and the net change to my argument is little, other than semantics. I choose "greed" to make an impact.

ADHR said...

But if we substitute "desire", I'm not sure you have a point any more. "Desire" is entirely neutral. People do, in fact, desire four cars, a cottage and 2500 square foot homes (and red meat, pure luxuries, etc.). But you don't get much further with the term "desire" -- you have to go further and get some sort of evaluation on the table. That there's something wrong with desiring all these things.

The problem with the cost of modern conveniences is really a separate issue. It's a classic market failure -- generating externalities. Regulation is supposed to internalize those sorts of costs, thus generating market incentives to solve the problem. (Such as was done through cap-and-trade in the US to solve sulfur dioxide emissions.) Right now, though, regulation seems to favour the creation of externalities, not their reduction. Which, as a policy decision, is very weird; but, as a political calculation, makes a lot of sense.

Catelli said...

Desire is a neutral term, it can be good or bad. But that's my point.

Capitalism isn't all bad (so far it's the best we have come up with) but neither is it all good.

Our selfless desires can benefit society, our greedy desires hurt it and our environment. That's what I mean I say the same drive fuels and corrupts capitalism. Capitalism so far has been the most effective model of letting us act out material desires. To our benefit and to our ruin.

ADHR said...

Fair enough. But I was taking your original point to be that capitalism will tend towards ruin because it's based on desires that are somehow bad.