Posts Tagged ‘manufacturing

15
Jun
10

[In]tolerable Evil

The myth that Capitalism is a great and fair system is becoming rapidly dispelled. Such disasters as the Bhopal gas catastrophe, the BP oil spills, the Minamata bay dumpings,  the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, and the general level of corruption, ecological devastation, poverty, and exploitation brought on by our current economic structure have brought many to an understanding that Capitalism is in fact an inherently evil system that benefits a lucky few. Even so, the contemporary attitudes toward towards Capitalism are tolerant. In spite of the repeated evils brought on by this system, the simple fact is people don’t care!

People are angry at BP, sure, but not angry enough to illicit action. We’ll scream our heads off after an hour in traffic, but what do we do when we hear about a sweatshop in Indonesia? We’ll tear apart a stadium during a football riot but do we riot when we hear about waste being dumped in the ocean? We’ll get into fistfights when the neighbor’s playing music too loud but do we so much as lift a finger when a man dies because he’s too poor to afford insurance or pay for medical bills?

Why? Because we’re the ones benefiting from Capitalism? Because the evils of Capitalism aren’t oppressing us? What makes me different than a coltan miner in the Congo, or a child slave in Bangladesh? If it weren’t for pure and simple dumb luck– I’d be the one working fourteen hours a day for pennies. I am not where I am today because I worked hard. I am not where I am today because I was smart or because I took advantage of the opportunities offered to me. I am where I am because I was simply born. Others are simply born into poverty, slavery, and starvation and no matter how hard they work, no matter how much they struggle they never advance. Is Capitalism a tolerable evil to them?

One of the greatest ills of Capitalism that affects not merely the proletariat but the middle and upper class as well is the concept of individuality- a flimsy facade for the uglier terms selfishness and egocentricity. We are led to imagine that we are rich because of our own hard work. We’re responsible only for ourselves. It is because of this concept that shrug and walk away from tragedies, be it a mugging or a multinational corporation paying 12 cents a day for designer jeans to be made. And we continue to hold this egomaniacal point of view because we are terrified of what it would mean if we were responsible for each other. If an old woman gets mugged, it’s not just the fault of the old woman for being more careful or the fault of the mugger for choosing to rob her- it our fault for doing nothing to stop it. If a manufacturing plant in Peru has children working for little or no pay, we’re just as much to blame for doing nothing to resist!

And for those who insist upon tolerating the evils of Capitalism and the suffering of others, I can only offer you these words written with greater urgency and eloquence than I could ever hope to have:

THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

THEN THEY CAME for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

-F.G.E. Martin Niemoller, 1892-1984

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01
Dec
09

The Myth

Perhaps the greatest lie originating (and arguably, perpetuated by) Capitalism is the idea that the wealthy are wealthy because they are intelligent, disciplined, and hardworking and the poor are poor because they are ignorant and lazy. As a result, if a man in a business suit and flawless grammar knocks on your door and asks if he can use your bathroom, chances are you’ll let him. You probably wouldn’t do the same for a man in a ragged bathrobe whose grasp of the English language was sub-average. Indeed, the quality of treatment you offer people is usually determined by what social class they hail from. We make assumptions about people based on whether or not they seem to be poor, middle-class, or wealthy.

Quite simply, we’re bigots.

And not without reason either. If a person is less willing to let a homeless man into his house than a man who is (or at least, seems to be) doing quite well for himself, then the person’s fear is not completely unfounded. A wealthy man has less reason to rob you than a poor man. Crime rates, alcoholism, and drug abuse are highest among the lower classes. Likewise the poorer classes tend to have the lowest levels of education. Statistically speaking, yes, you are more likely to be mugged by a poor person than a rich one, but so what? Bigotry is never tolerable, no matter what. So what if you’re more likely to be mugged if you get a poor guy into your house instead of a rich one? You don’t know either man. Maybe the man in the bathrobe is an honest, honorable person who’s had a run of bad luck. Maybe the man in the suit is a sociopathic murderer or a con artist. Judging people according to how wealthy they are is, no matter how you look at it, wrong!

So why is it that we’re prejudiced to trust the middle-class and wealthy rather than the poor? Is it because the poor are ignorant and criminal while the wealthy are intelligent and decent? Of course not! The poor aren’t poor because they’re criminals; the poor have high crime levels because they are poor. Sure the poor man is more likely to mug you, but is that because of him or the fact that he’s cold and hungry? Obviously there are those who are poor because of their own issues- all humans have a propensity towards greed and indolence. At the same time, it is ridiculous to claim that the poor are only poor because they’re lazy. It’s the poorest of the poor who have the heaviest workload. Across Africa, Asia, Latin America and yes, even Europe, Australia, and North America there are millions of those who for ten hours a day for wages of less than a dollar a day! There’s a reason we call them the Proletariat– the working class! It’s because they’re the ones doing all the actual work. They do the farming, the mining, the sweeping, the building, the cleaning, the producing and manufacturing! Why on earth would we even dare to consider these people to be lazy?

Because we’re lazy.

As I’ve said, humans are lazy. More often than not we don’t take the time and effort to investigate something for ourselves; we simply make assumptions or believe whatever our leaders and the media feed us. Since the poor are poor and unable to afford decent (if any) healthcare, we immediately assume that the poor are simply dirty. Since the poor can’t afford decent (if any) educations, we immediately assume that the poor are ignorant and stupid. Since the poor are poor and can’t always afford food/medicine/etc., many are forced into lives of crime- we immediately assume that the poor are naturally criminal. But laziness isn’t the only reason we don’t ask why the poor live in poverty.

Humans are also naturally arrogant. The idea- no, the myth– that the poor are poor because they are lazy makes us feel better about ourselves. We’re where we are because of our efforts! We’re wealthy because of our intelligence, our skill! We’re where we are because of our work-ethic, our self-discipline, and our decency!

Egotistical lies.

We’re where we are because of our own efforts and the efforts of our parents and their parents before them and because of the state of the world we live in and the class we were born into. Personal effort makes up about ten percent of it- the rest is accident of birth and dumb luck. A person pulling himself to the top from nothing is such a rare event that we make a major Hollywood film out of it. If you’re born poor, chances are you’ll stay poor no matter how hard you work unless you get not one but a whole chain of lucky breaks. If you’re born into a middle-class family, you’re probably going to stay middle-class unless you get a bunch of lucky breaks (though less than if you were poor). If you’re born into wealth and privilege than you haven’t done anything to deserve your life and don’t have to do anything to maintain it. Like I said, it really comes down to accident of birth. If you’re lucky, you’re wealthy, if you’re not, you’re poor and probably will be poor for the rest of your life. The Caste System isn’t exclusive to Hinduism.

So in short, don’t believe in the fairy-tale that the wealthy are the best of society and the poor are the worst, or that the poor are poor only because of their own efforts. We are, for the most part, fixed in our place by statistical chance- individual effort has very little effect on us.

It isn’t fair, is it? Only a sadist or an idiot could honestly state that this is an ethical system. Most of us simply shrug our shoulders and say that “life isn’t fair” or “that’s just the way things are…”. I say that when someone’s been murdered, we can’t stick our hands in our pockets and say “life isn’t fair”. I say that when any injustice has been committed, no matter on what scale, the only ethical course of action is to establish justice. Yes, life isn’t fair- but maybe that’s because no one’s doing anything about it!

16
Oct
09

War for Sale

War has plagued humanity since one caveman discovered that using a heavy stick got him what he wanted a lot quicker than his fists did. Since that discovery, humanity has come a long way in the development of weapons, from bronze spears to compound bows to cannons to nuclear missiles. Now of course, there is nothing wrong with this- be it saber-tooth tigers or serial killers, humans will always have something to fight. What is wrong with this, however, is that there are those who take advantage of this fact. I’d call them “human vultures”, but that would be an insult to the birds- after all, vultures don’t attempt to instigate, prolong, or exacerbate conflicts. You probably know these people as the “Industrial-Military Complex”.

Now of course, “Industrial-Military Complex” is a term often misused. Conspiracy theorists warp the definition to describe supposed shady corporations controlling the military, or vice versa. In reality, however, the term “Industrial Military Complex” is simply used to refer to companies and corporations that develop and/or sell weapons for combat (as opposed to hunting and recreation). Now is there anything wrong the research and manufacturing of arms? Of course not- every government in the world has a need to defend itself- to spend money and effort on maintaining a strong defense force is both right and natural. The problem is the Capitalist system allows for all forms of commerce, from advertising to research to fast-food to prostitution. Anything and everything can be produced and sold- including weapons.

Now the issue here should be obvious- if a corporation creates a products (a fighter jet, for example), it isn’t enough to simply have a  supply of the product- you have to sell it; to sell something, there must also be a demand. As you can imagine, a fighter jet isn’t exactly cheap- selling it is going to make you a massive profit. Of course, you’re going to need someone to sell your fighter jets to, and let the facts be faced, people aren’t going to wake up one morning with a sudden urge to buy one. So now you have two options: (1) scrap trying to sell fighter-jets and sell something else or (2) create a demand for fighter-jets (and whatever other weapons you might be selling).

Now let the facts be faced; people who feel secure don’t attempt to fortify their houses or stock up on assault rifles. People only raise the drawbridge when they feel threatened– either by violence or the fear of violence. Of course, it is in the interests of those selling the weapons to promote either (1) violence or (2) fear (which, incidentally, is the definition of “terrorist”). How does one go about doing this? There are a number of ways. You could make sizable campaign contributions to “hawk” (pro-war/pro use of military action as a first resort) politicians. You could make sizeable campaign contributions to politicians in hope to buy their sympathies. You could advertise- try to convince the public that they live in a dark, scary world filled with monsters they need to protect themselves from. You could attempt to- through any number techniques- disrupt the attempts of peace negotiations (after all, the more war, conflict, and violence there is, the more weapons people will pay for).

Now this obviously isn’t right. To feed off of fear and conflict and escalation is- frankly- sick. War is and always will be a tragic but often necessary event in human history. To incite, encourage, prolong, or exacerbate violent conflict for profit is perhaps the height of immorality, and yet by the Capitalist standard the industrial-military complex is not an abomination but simply free trade- the production and exchange of goods for capital (money).

Now my message here is simple. War is being sold to you- don’t buy into it. Don’t be frightened by stories of monsters under the bed when you have the real monsters trying to scare you into buying their automatics and Kevlar. Don’t be imprisoned by paranoia.

Be brave.

07
Jul
09

Marx and History

If one were to read the works of Marx, or indeed, any major Communist writer, one would find that large portions of the publications are dedicated to criticizing (or often, lambasting) Capitalism and Capitalists. Even this blog has almost as many anti-Capitalist arguments as it does pro-Communist. This of course leads to issues with the Communist image- Marxists are often perceived as self-righteous, angry, and destructive malcontents bent on ripping apart the fabric of society. Perhaps on some level this is true, however, there is a simple and often overlooked factor that contributes to all this: Marx’s theory of history.

In his works, Marx describes his theory as “Historical Materialism”. Now the term “materialism” is often misinterpreted (particularly by members of the religious community) to mean atheistic, worldly, and Darwinist. As I’ve said, this is a misinterpretation. In this case, “materialism” merely means “pertaining to resources” including capital (money), land, and most importantly, people. While Marx’s description of his theory is more than slightly complex and long winded, it can be broken down and simplified.

According to Marx’s theory, the history of the world is shaped by economics and politics, the pair of which are- as Marx claims- inseparably linked. Humanity once lived in a state where the elite- the aristocracy, nobility, and royalty- controlled their nations and the wealth of their nations. The middle class is almost nonexistent and the remainder of society not fortunate enough to be born to the elite are slaves or feudal serfs and peasants. Eventually, as kingdoms become less warlike and more permanently established, merchants, bankers, etc. will be created, resulting in the middle-class or as Marx called it, the “Bourgeoisie”.

As time progresses, the public will become increasingly dissatisfied with the system of monarchy and aristocracy and revolt, creating a democracy. While the elite class will still exist, due to the fewness of their numbers, the political power they once wielded will be limited, and the wealthy and numerous Bourgeoisie will dominate society. In this new society it is not claims to divine heritage or noble blood that count as power but money. The Bourgeoisie will compete viciously with each other in the attempt to gain as much money as possible, and in the process the proletariat (working class) will be used and exploited by the upper-classes. The proletariat themselves living in a state of “wage-slavery”, bound to work for whatever pay is available in order to survive.

After so long, the proletariat will be unable to take any more exploitation and violently revolt- toppling the class system and establishing a single-class society where all wealth and resources are shared equally: Socialism. The state- which controls the public- will wither away and be replaced with a system of government where the public controls the state. Marx defines this state of egalitarianism, public property, and democracy as “Communism”. Marx states that when Communism is achieved Historical Materialism ends (at least for those living in the Communist system).

So what’s that have to do with anything? How is any of this relevant to why Communists always rant against Capitalism? As we can see from Marx’s view of history, Communism is meant to be the correction of Capitalism. Communism isn’t meant to be a form of government more comfortable or efficient than Capitalism- it’s the replacement of Capitalism. According to Marx and his view of history, Communism is the completion of Historical materialism- as inevitable as the change of the tides or the rotation of the earth. The reason Capitalism is constantly railed against by Communists is because, according to Marxist philosophy, Capitalism is a wall that needs to be knocked down before a door can be put in. Capitalism must be removed in order to be replaced with Communism.

“But what about the flaws in Marx’s reasoning?” one might ask, “The Chinese and Cuban people revolted and yet neither of these Communist countries have had the governments wither away or the class systems disappear.” In answer to that, one must remember that neither of these countries are Communist but rather semi-Socialist dictatorships. “If they’re Socialist, then shouldn’t they be on the brink of Communism?” Not at all. One must also remember that the definition of “Socialism” has changed since Marx’s time. Marx used the word to describe the abolition of private property in favor of public property- today the word “Socialism” refers to an economic system where property is largely controlled by the state, rather than individuals or the public. One might also argue that Marx’s theory of history is flawed due to the existence of various tribal societies that have shared property and no class system. Now this is undeniable- across the globe there are people groups that live without private property or the class system however one must keep in mind that these are societies are not democracies. Granted, many are ruled by general consensus however without a voting system, consensus does not equate democracy. A neighborhood might generally agree to regularly cut their lawns, but this doesn’t make that neighborhood a democracy. “That’s all well and good,” one might state, “but Marx’s predictions still haven’t come true. Capitalism has been in the US for well over two centuries now and there hasn’t been any revolt, any collapse in society!”. This is absolutely correct, though by no fault of Marx. In Marx’s time, each country had it’s own social strata- there was the French elite class, the French Bourgeoisie, and the French Proletariat, the English elite class, the English Bourgeoisie, and so on. Marx predicted that the Proletariat would rise up and overthrow the classes above. The reason this hasn’t happened is because of a sudden shift in the class system. Due to globalization, countries and their economies are no longer independent of each other. What affects the middle-class in France will affect the middle-class in England, Germany, Russia and so on (to varying degrees, according to what the event is and how related the countries are economically, culturally, and politically). With this sudden merge of the nations of the world, classes have merged as well, creating the same three-class system only on an international level. Yes, each country has a working class, but in general the majority of actual mining, fishing, forestry, agriculture, and manufacturing is done by workers in the third world. France no longer looks to the French Proletariat for utensils but to China. England doesn’t hire English miners to gather coltan but to Congolese workers. When an American buys a t-shirt, chances are that the cotton it’s made of was grown in Syria and manufactured in Taiwan. In short, as a result of internationalization, there is an international proletariat (primarily the third world), an international Bourgeoisie (such countries as Bulgaria, Mexico, Estonia, Ireland, etc.), and an international elite-class (Japan, Switzerland, Monaco, Kuwait, etc.). Yes, the “Proletariat” of the US aren’t likely to revolt, but that is because on a global level, the American proletariat are wealthy. Even the poorest person in America, England, or Denmark is well-off compared to the average Sudanese person. Does the class system still exist as Marx knew it? No. Does that make Marx incorrect? Not at all. Marx stated that the proletariat would, once conditions became poor enough, revolt against upper classes. This statement works whether you apply it to 1840s England or the contemporary third world. Does this mean that the third world will eventually invade the Bourgeoisie and elite countries? No, but if the publics of these countries were to seize control of their governments, declare their national debts nil, null, and void, and throw out all foreign industry (as Castro did to the US owned sugar companies in Cuba) then the rest of the world would be thrown into chaos. With the formerly indigent countries no longer willing to work in the fields, mines, or the sweatshops, the rest of the world would have to look to the Bourgeoisie countries to become the new proletariat, started the revolutionary cycle all over again until the global class system disappears and Communism encompasses the globe.

Does this mark the end of history? The beginnings of a global, one-government society where crime, hunger, and war have been eliminated? The answer is a resounding no. Marx claims that this will be the end of Historical Materialism– history as affected by wealth and the class system. History- the unbroken chain of events from the beginning of time to the end of it- marches inexorably on.

30
Jun
09

Communism, Capitalism, and Competition

Capitalism is a lot like a game of monopoly. Brutal competition, endless buying and selling and trading, a massive luck factor, and above all, the only way you can “win” the game is if everyone else loses. It’s survival of the fittest where only the most lucky and savage win- anyone else is crushed like the grass between two charging elephants.

So it is with our Capitalist system- though to get a capitalist to admit it is far from easy. Take Henry Ford, for example. Henry Ford is popularly credited with stating “There is but one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible.”.

This statement, of course, is vile propaganda- pure and simple. Unless a monopoly controls the product in question, the profit that can be made off selling said good is reduced dramatically. In simpler terms “Since the purpose of Capitalism is to get the most money possible, increasing the quality of a certain good (which would cost more to make), lowering the cost of that good (reducing the immediate profit), and paying the highest possible wages to those making the good (increasing the cost of production even more) all lower the profit, then the application of Henry Ford’s quote would defeat the purpose of going into business in the first place.

And Henry Ford knew this. Ford’s genius was by no means limited to his inventive or economic prowess. Ford was also a brilliant wordsmith who could appear to say one thing, when in reality he was affirming the opposite. “People can have the Model-T in any color, so long as it’s black” is one of his better known quotes. Technically the “Do what you want (provided that it’s what I want)” statement isn’t a logical fallacy. There isn’t any contradiction- just a clause. The equivalent would be a TV advertisement promising to “cover all medical expenses”. While some healthy, attractive (and well-paid) actor is making these promises, for a brief moment at the bottom of the screen, some fine print letters appear to inform you that the service or product will “cover all medical expenses” except a long list of expenses. When Henry Ford made his statement about the goal of industrialists, one must remember to keep the emphasis on the repeated word “possible”. Possible can mean any number of things or situations. “Possible without violating moral standards”, “possible without charging over one US dollar”, “possible without actually hurting the profit you make”, and so on, though the last “possible” is the most probable. Ford made both a fortune off of his industry and appeared to the public of his time to be a generous, witty, and fair-playing man (and that reputation lasts to this day, the vast majority of Americans being uninformed of Henry Ford’s virulent anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant views).

And that’s the way it is with Capitalism. Every corporation or company or individual with a product to sell or a service to hire out follows the Capitalist doctrine of profit (by any means possible). Like a player in the game of monopoly, the capitalist attempts to make the best quality of good possible (possible meaning “just superior to everyone else’s product to be more marketable) at the lowest cost possible (possible meaning “just enough lower than the competitor’s product to be more marketable), paying the highest wages possible (possible meaning “just high enough to tempt employees away from the competition”).

Now one might be fooled into thinking that this is somehow good- that competition will inevitably raise quality and wages, and lower the price of the product. A nice illusion- but it simply isn’t true. Corporations will raise and lower their prices and raise the quality of their product or service but rarely at the same time! If one corporation lowers the price of it’s product by ten cents, the competing company has the option of trying to undercut the new price or attempt to raise the quality of their product. “Quality”, however, is a tricky word. “Quality” might mean anything from a new toothpaste formula to a brighter toothpaste tube cover. The company might boast “new, brighter, better!” but since all of these words are totally relative, the don’t really mean much of anything. Sure one company could sell toothpaste for less and another could maintain the same price but promise “whitening power” but in the end, the goal of both companies is to make a profit. They’ll only undercut and outdo each other to a certain extent. As for paying higher wages- that part of Ford’s statement no longer applies. In this time of globalization, corporations can sell products in the West and manufacture them in the third world, where the workers are so destitute that they’ll take whatever job they can get- even working sixteen hours for a dollar a day. Corporations have a stranglehold on these people and since there’s more than enough cheap labor to go around, no reason to raise the wage (or provide healthcare or pensions, for that matter). Additionally, corporations- already locked in a barbaric struggle with each other- have no desire for new competition to enter into the market. Small businesses can be bought out by larger ones. Unless working on a very local level, small (and often family-owned) industries have no way of competing with larger ones (take, for example, the extermination of so-called “mom-and-pop” stores by massive chains such as Wal-Mart and Target). “So some small, private stores went out of business- that’s part of the free market system!” one might argue, “If these companies can give me lower priced goods, why should I complain?”. The answer is simple- the price isn’t lower. If you work for a company that makes a product (shoes, let’s say) you might be led to believe that the shoes you make are being sold to corporations like Target. Actually, Target is getting shoes from a sweat-shop in Taiwan for a fraction of the price your company’s selling them at. Your company, unable to compete with virtual slave-labor, is forced to lay-off thousands of employees (including you) because it can’t sell shoes for the same price. “But I don’t make shoes! It’s not my problem!” you might retort. But keep in mind that stores like Target, Wal-Mart, and so on are selling virtually everything now, from toothbrushes to garden fertilizer to suites to frozen turkeys to optometrist appointments. Whatever you’re manufacturing- whatever product or service you sell- you can bet that a massive corporation is selling it for less.

How’s competition sound now?

And that’s only how competition affects you. Imagine that you own a business and you’ve successfully run the competition into the ground. That’s great for you but what about everyone who’s just been put out of business? They’ve been forced to compete with each other for whatever jobs are available, no matter how low paying or exhausting those might be. And what about their families? If the daughter of one of the recently laid-off workers comes down with some disease, her family won’t have the medical insurance to pay for her treatment. Are we really part of such an egocentric society that the suffering we cause to others is justified as “part of the system”? Are we so obsessed with this “survival-of-the-fittest” economy that every moment of life is a vicious struggle to stay at the top of the food chain?

I propose an alternative: Communism.

As legendary economist John Maynard Keynes once put it “Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men, will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.”. Since we have seen that the good of the individual is not equivalent to the good of society (in most cases, it’s detrimental) I submit that we try the reverse. By cooperating, rather than competing, we can ensure that everyone is provided for, that the wages are fair, and that quality is controlled by the consumer, rather than the corporation. Sure some people won’t rise to the top, but at the same time, we can prevent anyone from being trampled below.