Capitalism sucks: a (really) short primer

Commenter ‘Observer’ left this comment on a post in which I made an offhand comment about capitalism:

That is an amazing statement to assert that “…the closer we come to total capitalism the worse off people have become.” What possible evidence could you have for that comment – other than idealist communistic views? The reality is that the freer capital markets are, the wealthier, healthier and happier people are (read some history). It is state -controlled economic systems that stifle people’s freedoms and opportunities; witness communism, feudalism, fascism, and theocracy to cite a few. And that is not to say that totally unfettered capitalism is an ideal either, but if we have to choose, its the best available choice (kind of like democracy).

I wanted to respond to this, since it’s a relatively compact version of a whole host of normally-unchallenged beliefs and privileges.  Note: I am not defending any other system of government or economic system; I am talking about capitalism.

First of all, a note to Observer: please stop assuming I am ignorant of history because I have drawn a different lesson from it than you.  That’s a shockingly arrogant – and privileged – view to take, that the only interpretation of history is your own.  It’s also pretty darn narrow-minded to assume I am ignorant of history, what, because I’m young?  Because I disagree with you?

If you wonder why I have a mocking tone when I respond to your comments, it’s because nothing you’re saying is original.  I’ve seen it plenty of times before, and it’s always the same stuff.  Battling it gets tiring and isn’t normally terribly interesting, but you seem really enamored of the idea that you must be right, which is usually a sign of someone very reluctant to acknowledge their privilege.  Anyway. Moving on.

The point: free capital is not good for people; look at what the IMF has done to Argentina, among other countries.  Look at what IMF structural adjustment programs have done to civil societies in bunch of countries.  More to the point, please note that the IMF – a staunch advocate of free markets, free trade, and the free flow of capital, i.e. capitalism – has a nasty habit of a) supporting military dictatorships and b) destroying civil societies.

The only ‘history’ that supports the claim made in the comment is the history on the side of a children’s cereal box – i.e. a bone-simple, incredibly uncritical view of history, like the one most American school children are taught.  “It’s better than everything else” is also a piss-poor argument for something as important as how people organize themselves economically.  For a modern look at how capitalism operates these days and why it’s bad for human beings, check out most of the work of Naomi Klein, particularly The Shock Doctrine.

Besides, the current Wall Street fiasco provides a perfect example of my point:  Bankers were moving money around in a completely abstract fashion with no connection to the material world through the use of leveraging, CDOs, derivatives, etc., and the whole damn edifice came crashing down because the state hadn’t bothered to apply any reasonable amount of regulation whatsoever.  Liberated capital, which is exactly what was happening here, hurts real people.  Heck, we can argue that even the bailouts are really designed to keep capital liberated from the grubby hands of actual people – so far, Paulson has released $335 billion of the first $350 billion of free money to the financial sector with little oversight, and yet the auto industry – on whom far more people depend – is barely getting a $15 billion loan.

Observer’s comment doesn’t even pass the “I love my country so much I’m willing to criticize it” test.  Blind allegiance to something – be it the US, capitalism, or anything else – requires a willingness to be ignorant of the history of the that thing.  Nothing is perfect.

Observer also notes: “And that is not to say that totally unfettered capitalism is an ideal either…”

That, of course, makes me wonder why Observer even left the comment, since that’s what I was arguing in the first place.  But apparently they couldn’t resist throwing a bunch of cliches my way.  I hate cliches, especially when people try to pass them off as wisdom.

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4 Comments on “Capitalism sucks: a (really) short primer”

  1. anonymous Says:

    I would be careful using the IMF as your example of capitalism. I believe strongly in capitalism (with some controls), and the IMF is a joke. they put so many restrictions on the use of money. force poor countries to raise taxes and essentially fund, as yopu said, military dictatorships. They are definitly not for free trade and capital.

  2. Dennis Says:

    That’s kind of the point, though; the IMF is all about capitalism. They are all about free markets, actually, to the point of encouraging countries to stop growing food and start growing monocultures for export (the sale money then going to import food). It doesn’t get much more capitalist than that.

  3. Matthew Says:

    Just because IMF claims they’re “all about capitalism” doesn’t make it so, and it doesn’t allow you to use them as an example of capitalism.

    The US (or perhaps Hong Kong) are currently the two best examples of working capitalism (though unfortunately, the US’s socialist tendencies have been having horrible effects in recent times).

  4. stork Says:

    Capitalism is the new dictorship……………those at the top are rewarded no matter the size of the “crop”!

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