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Archive for January, 2010

Seriously, Capitalism Is Evil

Earlier I suggested that Michael Moore was right when he declared Capitalism “evil,” and I said it wasn’t a controversial conclusion. I discussed four book-length authorities devoted to the subject. My concern was that if we were unable to identify, or unwilling to denounce, Capitalism’s intrinsic evils, we would have a difficult time setting things right. If we don’t understand the problem, we can’t find a solution.

Nearly half of the polled Kossacks thought Capitalism might not be evil.

I promised in the comments to the DailyKos cross-post to take on the opposing arguments in conscientious detail. With this diary I fulfill that promise. If you think Capitalism might be OK, follow me below the fold…

Just to summarize the arguments, in case you do not want to go back to the beginning, the four commentators asserted roughly as follows:

Four Books

Michael Albert: Capitalism’s methods and outcomes are intrinsically destructive of people and institutions.

Joel Kovel: Capitalism inevitably will result in the destruction of our environment, nature generally, and eventually much of the life on the planet.

Bowles & Gintis: Capitalism undermines Democracy and makes people incapable of governing themselves.

Michael Moore: Capitalism exacts an intolerable and unnecessary toll on people’s lives, and is inconsistent with our most basic values.

Those unwilling to denounce Capitalism made these arguments (which I paraphrase for brevity):

1. Calling Things Evil is ITSELF Evil.

2. Systems Can’t Be Evil; Only People Can Be Evil.

3. Without Capitalism we wouldn’t have the Internet, so stop complaining.

4. Michael Moore got rich off his movie, so how can he complain about Capitalism?

5. Capitalism Can’t Be “Evil” If All the Alternatives Are Worse.

6. Rejecting Capitalism Means Embracing Tyranny.

7. Arguments for Alternative Systems Have Been Debunked.

8. Why Should We Discuss This Without Knowing What the Alternatives Are?

9. You Haven’t Defined “Capitalism” or “Evil” So How Can We Say?

This is a lot to discuss, so I would encourage you to skim down to whichever challenges you think might hit their mark.

1. Calling Things Evil is ITSELF Evil. The Bush administration misused and overused the word “evil,” draining the word of both meaning and force. Although we should reserve the most harsh moral epithet for people and institutions that intentionally, knowingly, willfully cause harm that is severe and unnecessary, make no mistake that this does occur in the real world, and we need to call it what it is when it happens, so that we may summon all our strength in the case of torture, genocide, and other monstrosities. Let’s argue about whether Capitalism meets the definition, but let’s not be moral relativists and stand idly in the face of unspeakable horrors, unwilling even to judge.

2. Systems Can’t Be Evil; Only People Can Be Evil. At a superficial level, this argument is wrong for the same reasons that we deride the NRA’s lame defense, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Totalitarianism and Apartheid are examples of systems that cannot be justly administered, even by people of good will. But at a deeper level, the great insight in Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase “The Banality of Evil,” which considered Eichmann’s Nuremberg defense that he was “just following orders,” was that we do not properly think of “evil” as occurring only when it is effected by a nefarious villain. Instead, we should understand the more complex sociology of people and their roles in organizations. The holocaust was executed not by fanatics, but by ordinary people who accepted the premises of their state, and therefore participated with the view that their actions were normal. If Capitalism drives or arranges for people to do evil, then let Capitalism share the blame.

3. Without Capitalism we wouldn’t have the Internet, so stop complaining. Capitalism’s publicists claim that Capitalism is the greatest driver of innovation. The evidence is otherwise. The fact that the Soviet Union launched the first satellite could just end that discussion. But deeper still, if you look at the great innovations of Western Civilization, you’ll see an explosion of extraordinary developments in ancient Greece and Rome without any help from Capitalism, and within the United States, Capitalism gets a breathtaking amount of help from government research and government-funded research (including the development of the Internet, ironically), as well as from inventors in large corporations and universities who do not get to keep the profits. So whatever mixed motives great inventors have — paychecks, glory, or just to solve an interesting or important problem — in most cases, it is not Capitalism that is in fact driving most innovation, and it certainly does not HAVE to be capitalism. Similar funding for R&D could be achieved through communist, socialist, public, or non-profit structures.

4. Michael Moore got rich off his movie, so how can he complain about Capitalism? This is fundamentally an ad hominem argument — whether Michael Moore is a hypocrite does not answer his argument. But Michael Moore is not a hypocrite. Participants in a system are often best situated to provide a convincing critique. When a corporate executive (like me) says that Capitalism is evil, that might actually carry more weight than when uttered by a dirty fucking hippie, because I am fully versed in how it’s supposed to work, and how it does in fact work. But most of all, Michael Moore is IN a capitalist system, and we all have to eat. He has every right to use Capitalism to spread a message that we would all be better off — including Michael Moore himself — with a different system. If we require require our great thinkers to impoverish themselves and leave the United States in order to speak out for a better system, we will be worse off, and we’ll be less likely to ever realize that better system.

5. Capitalism Can’t Be “Evil” If All the Alternatives Are Worse. There are two parts to this challenge — first, an assumption that all the alternatives are worse, and second, an illogical suggestion that if all your options are evil, then the least-evil choice is not evil. The assumption that there are no alternatives bears some attention. It came up repeatedly in the comments in a misquote or “paraphrase” of Winston Churchill. What Churchill said was, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except all the other forms that have been tried.” Even Churchill in this quote conceded the possibility of alternatives. However, the much deeper flaw is that Churchill wasn’t talking about Capitalism. The implicit error — that Capitalism and Democracy are synonymous, or that Capitalism is an expression of Democracy in the economic realm, or that at least Capitalism and Democracy are mutually reinforcing in some respect — is one of the most dangerous in this entire discussion. In fact, I argue that Capitalism does not express democracy, but is directly opposed to democracy in the economic sphere, and undermines democracy in the political sphere. In sum, it is a fair question to ask what the alternatives are, but whether Capitalism is evil does not hang on the answer, and the assumption that there are no viable or superior alternatives warrants close examination. At the very least, we cannot glibly commit ourselves to administering a system that might be evil by misquoting Winston Churchill.

6. Rejecting Capitalism Means Embracing Tyranny. In grade school I was taught that there were three forms of government — Capitalism, Socialism, and Communism, corresponding directly to government involvement in the economy: low, medium, and high. In reality, economic and political systems are much more complex than this one-dimensional formulation suggests. Modern corporations, for example, are essentially hierarchically structured centrally controlled bureaucracies — mini-authoritarian regimes. A contrasting structure — the worker-owned cooperative can compete within the same economy. Thus, declaring a system “Capitalist” or “Socialist” does not answer the question of Tyranny either way. Similarly, a Socialist economy might accommodate democratic political or economic structures — or not. And a Capitalist economy might support tyrannical fascist political structures. In sum, it is simply not true that rejecting capitalism means embracing tyranny, nor that embracing capitalism means rejecting tyranny. Instead, we need to evaluate each proposed structure for the amount of political freedom and economic liberty provided, and whether the system provides enough internal controls on concentrations of power to ensure that it does not eventually become dominated by non-democratic forces.

7. Arguments for Alternative Systems Have Been Debunked. The failure of any particular instance of economic democracy does not disprove the possibility of a successful implementation. But I think this criticism ignores the thriving ecosystem of collectives and cooperatives, as well as government and non-profit organizations that achieve important missions effectively and efficiently, around the world. Also, it is worth noting that Capitalism doesn’t much care for successful alternatives, and frequently takes steps to crush or purchase emerging structures, or even entire countries, that might demonstrate an attractive alternative. In other words, the failure of other options to flourish might prove that nothing else is viable, but might just as easily evidence additional evil effects of Capitalism. But the best critique would be to consider whether there is anything intrinsic to human nature that prevents us from coming together into stable, mutually beneficial associations without the profit motive. The many demonstrations of this fact now and through history, and around the world, as well as the fact that most laborers today are not Capitalists, and do good work for a fair wage and occasional glory, and not for profit, show that Capitalism is not the only way to successfully motivate people or organize production.

8. Why Should We Discuss This Without Knowing What the Alternatives Are? I do think it is important to consider the alternatives to Capitalism, or else the expose would be purely academic, not to mention depressing. I think that properly understanding Capitalism will inspire a serious search for and consideration of alternatives. It might be equally true that people would be more willing to consider face-on the evils of Capitalism if they first saw the viability of a better system. But it is a logical error to require that either inquiry be prior to the other.

9. You Haven’t Defined “Capitalism” or “Evil” So How Can We Say? This criticism was lodged in a thoughtful comment over at Pfuggee Camp. The general thrust, I take it, is that not all negative side-effects should be characterized as evil, and some elements of capitalism might be legitimate, even if some implementations of capitalism result in evil. A specific example proposed was small-scale entrepreneurship, such as at Farmers’ Markets.

Because I am challenging Capitalism with a very broad brush, my conclusion does not hinge on any fine distinctions in the words. I assert that Capitalism is Evil for any standard definition of Capitalism, and any standard definition of Evil. In fact, I would challenge any commenter to propose a definition of “evil” that Capitalism does not satisfy, given the arguments I summarized in the original essay.

However, I am not trying to dodge the question, so I will repeat here my own definitions of “Evil” and “Capitalism,” the first of which I also included in the comments to the original essay. I think that “Evil” is “intentionally, knowingly, and unnecessarily causing grievious harm to others, repeatedly, for personal benefit, or no net benefit at all.” Capitalism does that. As for what IS Capitalism, I would describe it as “an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned, and the profits from economic enterprise are distributed to the owners.”

The nexus between these two definitions is that if a propertied group gets to determine the economic conditions of an unpropertied group for the benefit of the propertied group, the stated harm to others will inevitably occur — does, in fact, always occur. It is not just an empirical fact — the whole point of vesting power in one group over another group is to create unaccountable social power. Because “production” in this example means the economic livelihood of people and communities, it is by definition social decision-making without social accountability, and that is the essence of Capitalism. To allow communities to determine their own economic arrangements would be economic democracy (community determines investment), which is the opposite of capitalism (private propertied owners determine investment).

Farmers’ Markets are good, but they don’t prove the efficacy of Capitalism; they prove the efficacy of local markets. Farming exists in all kinds of economic systems, and markets do, too. The tendency to confuse and interchange concepts like Capitalism, Banking, Markets, Democracy, and Freedom is a big problem. We are basically taught in a very fuzzy way that these are synonymous, when in fact they may be mutually reinforcing or mutually exclusive. In subsequent essays we will examine each component of the political economy of the United States to to more clearly understand whether Capitalism creates Markets or undermines them, and whether Banking creates Freedom, or is more dangerous than a standing army, as Thomas Jefferson suggested.

If we correctly understand that Capitalism is Evil, then we will have both a yardstick to measure the incremental improvements achieved by alternate systems, and a fierce determination to effect real change.


Open Thread – Piano Stairs

Piano Stairs:


Get Ready For A Giant ‘Ukraine Election Theft!!!’ Psyop On Monday!

All the pieces seem to be in place:

«The Georgians were to “interfere in the electoral process… with an aim to change the outcome of the elections and disrupt the vote,” party member Mykola Azarov told a news conference on Saturday.

«Ukraine’s central election body had earlier refused to register over 3,000 observers, sent by Georgia to Sunday’s presidential polls, citing the absence of necessary documents. The number of monitors from the Caucasus state exceeded the total number of observers sent by other states and international organizations.

«A source in the Georgian opposition told RIA Novosti the visitors were related to Georgian special services and the military.

«”The vast majority of them are servicemen. Some have identity documents with other names, almost all had undergone special training and have close-combat skills,” the source said.

«He said they were to receive bonuses ranging from $20,000 to $32,000.»
— Global Research, January 17, 2010. —
“Ukraine’s Opposition Worried by Inflow of “Athletic” Georgian Men” —

«”If we don’t take into account the legal side of the issue, it’s necessary to point to the anomalous number of Georgian official observers that were proposed for registration – over 2,000 people [looks like about 3000 Georgian commandos!],” Okhendovsky said.

«He said that all other foreign states had submitted only 276 observers for registration and the CEC had registered all of them. In particular, the commission registered 96 observers from Poland, 73 from the United States, 39 from Russia, 11 from Germany and three from France.

«”The real tasks facing those continuing to claim their registration as Georgian observers should undoubtedly become a subject of checks by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). Mykhailo Brodsky’s statement could be evidence of attempts by a foreign state to interfere in Ukraine’s domestic affairs,” Okhendovsky said.»
— Kyiv Post, January 16,2010 — “SBU should clarify true goals of unregistered Georgian observers” —


So what does this all mean? What I think it means is that I get to predict that if the CIA’s baby brother NED, and it’s Georgian special forces friends fail to sway tomorow’s Ukraine election from former premier Viktor Yanukovych toward pro-Western incumbent Viktor Yushchenko, they will foment “spontaneous” protests, and US activists will be exhorted to demonstrate on behalf of the Yushenko “phreedom fighters.” It will be a sad spectacle indeed, closely resembling the “spontaneous” demonstrations over the supposedly wicked Iran elections.

Of course, if we protested the recent Massachusetts Senate election, which was conducted via easily hacked private computers, we would get bloodied and jailed. Democracy: what a wondrous thing!


Letter to Senator Leahy

This was just sent to Senator Patrick Leahy by a friend of mine:

Dear Senator:

I just read with interest your comments on the Senate floor regarding the recent US Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v FEC, and in particular Justice Alito’s role in that decision.

While I wholeheartedly agree with you (except perhaps to the extent you express surprise at Justice Alito’s vote), I think that more than words are required. And no, not a tilting at windmills impeachment, fun as that might be.

There is an over 100 year old precedent that needs overturning: Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific (118 US 394). As I’m sure you’re aware, this is the infamous case in which the reporter for the Supreme Court included a note – not part of the opinion – to the effect that “of course corporations are persons for purposes of the 14th Amendment.”

The Santa Clara “holding” is patently absurd on its face and cannot be squared with the text of the amendment which, despite sloppy use of the words “citizen” and “person” nonetheless is CLEARLY referring to those of us whose existence is dependent upon sexual intercourse rather than a state granted corporate charter.

As the meaning of the 14th Amendment has grown over the years, particularly its “incorporation” of the Bill of Rights as being applicable to the states, so too have the rights of corporations grown as a consequence of the Santa Clara case. Those consequences must be reversed.

Congress must pass a law to the effect that “Zillions of words in the form of positive law exist which adequately define the rights of corporations such that they can function in the real world and therefore judge-made law granting them additional ‘rights’ and ‘privileges’ and ‘immunities’ are not only unnecessary but in fact contrary to the spirit, meaning and intent of the US constitution: corporations are not persons, much less citizens, and do not have constitutional rights above and beyond the functional powers created under the statutes of the federal and state governments.”

Get that law passed, Senator, and you will have a legacy unmatched in the entire history of the United States Senate.

[Sincerely, X]


Open Thread – Obama

As for me, I got Obama’s back no matter what.

Is the guy perfect, no. Is he doing everything I hoped he would do, of course not. Has he hit a rough patch in trying to lead this wild and zany nation out of the pit Bush got it in….absolutely.

That said I believe he has the best values and goals of anyone who has come along in my lifetime to lead this nation and to inspire other nations. And at age 62 I doubt very much that I will live to see a better person in that job.

Even with the jackals tearing at his heals from day one and the left wing turning away in increasing numbers he has accomplished a lot through the federal agencies, he has stemmed the economic free fall, he has appointed a Latina woman to the supreme court, he has kept the body count of our soldiers low and he has spoken clearly about the wretched of he earth such as our suffering brothers and sisters in Haiti.

So regardless of what he says tomorrow night or how health care turns out or the success of the ring wing/ corporate effort to diminish and deball him….I got the brother’s back 24/7.


We Need To Think Very Clearly Now

We are at war. It was not what we expected, even those of us who were hesitant about Barack Obama.

And this is not about Barack Obama’s failings; he is what he is and under better circumstances he would have not only started out a popular president, but also continued to be so.

I don’t know how to write this..there has been so much written here. My essay title is most of my essay.

There has been so much written here lately about how we have to stop fighting, and about how we need to fight more. People have threatened to leave this blog; some have actually left, I expect.

I don’t want to get all meta here (though obviously I am). I’m trying as I write this to figure out what I have to say that I think is worth using up blog essay space to say.

I think we need to listen to each other more, well yeah. That’s kind of old hat, but it still applies.

And I still think we need to stop trying to run people off the blog because “They Are Right Wing Trolls!” because I think that’s part of the problem, that we are letting the corporate powers divide and conquer the less affluent classes, by buying excessively into that meme. We need to get more comfortable with talking to people who are getting pegged here as “right wing trolls” because we may need some of their help. The divisions are really more economic divisions, not right vs. left. Some of those “right wing trolls” might be up for learning from us, if we’d just stop trying to kick them out. And those “right wing trolls” might even have something to teach us too, about parts of the culture in our country that people who dominate this blog are less familiar with.

I am a leftist. I have identified as a leftist ever since I knew what a leftist was. But that does not mean I cannot appreciate a truly conservative viewpoint, and that is a very different thing from a robber baron viewpoint.

And that does not mean that there are not people who show up on this blog who are looking for community, but do not talk like we do, or even think like we do. Overall Daily Kos is better than average as far as tolerance goes. But we need to get better. Because we cannot win if we do not grow our movement to be larger. And we cannot do that if we don’t stop going out of our way to attack people who don’t fit into our groups, our memes, our preconceptions, etc.

I wasn’t even going to write about any of that but it got away from me, this diary. I was going to write about how we have to take over the economic system. Maybe next time, or maybe Jay will get to it first.

Thanks for listening.



Where’s the Movement?

In the emerging Obama mythology, this is the question attributed to President Obama whenever he is asked to take the lead on a progressive issue. It is not an idle question. Leaders can only lead if there is a pre-existing movement for them to get in front of.

Moreover, there are other conditions. The idea behind a movement, and the language expressing its goals, must also pre-exist in public discourse. In other words, the movement must already have:

• a popular base;
• organizing tools;
• a generally accepted morally-based conceptual framing;
• an overall narrative, with heroes, victims, and villains;
• a readily recognizable, well-understood language;
• funding sources;
• and a national communication system set up for both leaders and ordinary citizens to use.

The base is there, waiting for something worth getting behind. The organizing tools are there. The rest is not there.

He’s arguing in this piece to use the ballot initiative process in California via adapting it as follows:

All legislative actions on revenue and budget must be determined by a majority vote.

I’m not sure how this gets us past the problem of an uneducated and easily swayed electorate (especially with the doors to corporate financing wide open now). It also sounds enormously expensive and cumbersome. And if the problem is the legislature, and they cannot be voted out of office, why will this work better?


I envy the photons


Place On The Hill

I’m really sorry if I forgot to post this here before.

I could use some text with this.

I had this dream a thousand times before. But this time I got with my old friend, up into a place on the hill.

It was amazing; we found all these amazing kind people and they had this media library. And meanwhile we hung out with them and swapped bread, up in gardens up in high hills of Los Angeles (not real).

Walled gardens in Los Angeles. We just kind of found them.

We swapped bread. Really good bread. In gardens on hills.

Wow, how is that for dream metaphors? In the middle of fucking Los Angeles?

Best dream I’ve had in ten years. Now, we have to continue to reinvent stuff like that. Religious dream garden up in the middle of an imaginary hill in the middle of Century City?

With hippy freaks and gardens and nobody knows they are there?

And there are winged children who let you in the strangely gated door?

I mean; think about it.

Now that we gots us our new and improved blog here…/

well, first thing I have to say is that I am all frissoning all over ma BODY with this rocking out changeness.

Srsly. I started having good dreams about magical helpers up there on the heights of Century City in Los Angeles (I lived in Los Angeles for decades)

The Magical Helpers were there up on the hills, after you walk up all the steps.

The steps are limestone. There are plants while you walk up the big steps.

Then, there is a door!

It’s a beautiful wooden door, about six feet tall.

But before that, there were those kids you saw while you were walking up the stone stairs in Century City. The ones who were there while you were walking up the stairs.

You were always walking up the stairs to Century City. But your dreams never brought you there before.

The stairs are more recent. Before that, you walked and walked across the land. You walked and walked, trying to get back from downtown Los Angeles, and to the coast.
And from then, up the coast up the coast.


But..back to the walled garden, peoples.

Once we got in there – me and a lost brillant kind of schizo friend, lost long ago…

We were in. We were in.

They were artists. They had gardens.

Me and my lost friend; we came in and we were asked to sit down and talk. It was so happy. So friendly .

They offered us bread. I had my own bread because me and my lost friend had brought bread. Though, we had no idea we were coming to this walled place with all that amazingness.

We just walked our way up there.


Internet as Revenge Against Corporations

From a helpful commenter on DK. Creative!