Posts Tagged ‘Money

21
Dec
10

It’s [Not] A Wonderful Life

The holidays are here, and whether you participate in them willingly or have them thrust upon you, there’s really no escaping it. The constant blaring of Christmas music (seriously people, do you really think that “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is such a great song that we can hear it for the thirty-seventh time without going berserk?), the milling crowds of shoppers who’d rather stand in-line for half an hour than just use eBay, the pundits debating (yet again) whether or not there’s a war on Christmas and who’s winning it. And then there’s It’s a Wonderful Life– perhaps the most iconic Christmas movie of all time and the subject of tonight’s post.

 

For those of you who may not have seen the film, allow me to summarize. The film opens up in the vast expanse of space as one angel (named Joseph) tells another angel, (named Clarence) that he’ll be sent to earth to keep a man named George Bailey from killing himself. Clarence is shown the progression of George’s life, in which George repeatedly sacrifices himself for the protection and well-being of others- from leaping into a frozen lake to save his younger brother’s life (causing George to become deaf in one ear as a result), to giving up his dreams of seeing the world to take care of his father’s business, to giving up his and his wife’s honeymoon savings to help local townsfolk. Now despite his hard work and selflessness, nothing really much goes right for George, his trouble’s climaxing when Mr. Potter (a slumlord and the main antagonist in the story) takes advantage of George’s absent-minded uncle and then attempts to sue George’s company for fraud. George, no longer able to take the pressure, drinks heavily, prays tearfully, and then resolves the only solution left to him is to kill himself (getting his family a decent life-insurance payment). Now just before George hurls himself off a bridge into the roaring water below him, Clarence (in human form), appears in the water below, calling for help. George, forgetting suicide (for the moment), leaps in to save Clarence who, after being dragged to safety, reveals he threw himself into the water to keep George from killing himself. Clarence proceeds to show George what life would be like for the town if George had never been born (and it’s not a pretty place), convincing George that his life is worth living. George returns home to find that the townsfolk, having heard of his plight, have rallied together to raise the cash George needed to deposit (prior to Mr. Potter ripping them off).

 

Now despite sounding like one of the most heartwarming stories ever told, It’s a Wonderful Life actually contains some seriously dark truths about our lives and morals depressing enough to have us all want to leap off of bridges.

 

I. Hard Work Does Not Pay Off

One of the myths that Capitalism is built on is that if you work hard enough, you’ll eventually become wealthy (laziness equals poverty). Now we have George Bailey, who has worked hard all of his life, and he’s no wealthier at the beginning of the film than he is at the end. Indeed, he struggles to make ends meet, and Potter ripping him off quite nearly bankrupts him. It’s makes for a very different message, even if the truth is depressing- the moral being “If you work really hard, you might- just might– be able to pay the heating bill on time. How magical would that be?”.

 

II. Honesty, Charity, And Selflessness Will Kill You

George is as close as you get to the physical manifestation of kindness. The guy never takes anything for himself (though he desperately wants to), and is repeatedly shown giving up his dreams of traveling the world to help others out, from chucking out his honeymoon savings to the needy to keeping a pharmacist from accidentally poisoning a kid (getting slapped around at first- the pharmacist’s a mean drunk). What does George get? Near-poverty, nerve-wracking stress, major depressive disorder, and he never travels out of the country. Again, it’s the perfect example of the Capitalist society we live in. Greed, not charity, is rewarded. Deceit, not honesty, selfishness, not self-sacrifice. These are the qualities you need to get ahead in a world where profit comes before people. Mr. Potter is in all ways the complete and utter opposite of George, and he’s the wealthiest and most powerful man in town. The observation here- you better hope morality will build you a mansion in heaven, because it’s not going to get **** on earth.

 

III. Evil Goes Unpunished

The moment you see Potter swipe the $8,000 from Uncle Billy, you’re just waiting for the climax of the film where George, wrapped in an American flag and surfing on a wave of fire, pummels Potter to death with a cinder block. Sadly, it never happens. In fact, nothing happens to Potter. He just get’s away. With 8,000 dollars. Just like that. No prison time, no public shaming, no sternly worded letter- Potter just becomes eight-k richer and that’s the end of it. It’d be like if OJ Simpson got found ‘not guilty’ or if Wall Street got a 700 billion dollar bailout or Nazi scientists got out of war-crimes trials for helping the US against the Soviets… oh wait, that all happened. The moral here is “You know the people without souls? The one’s who are constantly screwing the world over for their own benefit with no regard for the pain, misery, and death they cause? Yeah, they’re gonna keep on doing that.”

 

Like I said, it’s a depressing film- but it’s about Capitalism, so what else can we expect?

18
Feb
10

The Trickle-Down Theory

Though it the term originated in the 1930s, the “Trickle-Down Theory” has come into increasing use over the past year (largely due to the global financial meltdown). Essentially, the theory holds that by cutting taxes on the wealthy and/or allocating wealth to the upper classes, the money they save will be spent on luxury items that will provide work and profits to the middle class, who in turn will buy products that provide work and profits to the working class.

Obviously, this theory is complete and utter tripe.

Firstly, the theory is based on the assumption that the items the wealthy buy will somehow benefit the middle-class. In reality however, when an oil tycoon buys a diamond necklace for his wife, he isn’t benefiting anyone. If he walks into a store to buy the necklace, is he somehow benefitting the clerk behind the counter? Of course not- her wages are the same whether or not he buys anything. The profits of the sale go to the diamond magnates who own the store. In short, the wealthy get wealthier- the middle class simply facilitates the process.

Now you might say, “Hey, doesn’t the oil tycoon’s purchase help the middle-class? Without customers, the store couldn’t operate and the clerk would be out of a job! And if the clerk is out of a job, she isn’t going to be able to spend money and produce profit for the working class!”. Now that’s partly true- but only partly. The clerk’s job does depend on the store being successful, however, let’s look at the big picture. If the store is already running, then it has enough business to provide the job. Whether the tycoon has a few extra thousand dollars isn’t going to make the slightest difference. Again, you might argue “But an increase in the demand for diamonds means that more diamonds must be mined, producing work and profits for the proletariat!”. Again, this is only partly true. Now if there was a massive increase in the demand for diamonds (and let’s face it, it’s not like diamonds wear out and need to be bought by the dozen), there would indeed be more work for the proletariat. There’d be more work, not more profit. The owners of the mines can simply increase the workload- they have no reason to increase wages. Unionizing? The majority of the world’s diamonds are mined in third world countries where (1) unionizers can be beaten, tortured, or killed and where (2) the general populace is so poor they’ll take whatever wages they can get. In short, an increase in wealth for the wealthy does not equate an increase in wealth for the entire social system.

Ok, maybe that isn’t entirely true. There are certain (rare) situations in which the trickle-down theory seems to work (which brings us to the second issue). Imagine a wealthy man decides to build a sports stadium- the advocates of the trickle-down theory will argue that this will provide jobs and profits for the local community. Now this will in fact provide jobs- as food vendors and janitors. Whatever extra money they have will be spent on things too insignificant to boost the community out of poverty. I wouldn’t call that “benefiting” the working class anymore than I would call a dew-drop in the Sahara a “water-supply”.

Now I’ve stated that the origin of the term “trickle-down theory” originated in the 30s- but the actual practice has been going on since the beginning of time. It’s what they used to do with hunting dogs. Sic them on rabbits and, after the dogs catches the prey, they wait patiently under the table while the master eats the meat. When the master’s done, he throws the scraps to them. Now it might work for dogs, but if you treat a human like an animal, then it is only a matter of time before he becomes one- and an animal and has no issue with ripping your throat out.

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.

29
Sep
09

Communism, Capitalism, and Patriotism

The word “Patriotism” is used a lot these days. Some people understand patriotism to be the unconditional and unquestioning support of the government, others hold that patriotism is the defense and advocacy of certain values, and still others maintain that patriotism is any participation in the process of government. But what is true patriotism? At its most basic level it’s simply a love of one’s country- but what does that mean exactly? Who is being patriotic, the person who supports the war in Iraq or the person who opposes it? Who loves their country more, the person who opposes high taxes or the person who lobbies for them? In reality, you can’t attach patriotism to any one side of the political spectrum- after all, a person who believes that strict gun control is right for the country is being just as patriotic as the person who wants as little gun control as possible (provided his motivation is a desire to do what is right for his country).

Sadly, the word “Patriotism” is often misused to the point where its meaning changes altogether, resulting in what we would call “Jingoism”- the belief that one’s government is right in all things. We see this on both sides- people are labeled as unpatriotic (even anti-American) for protesting the war in Iraq and people are labeled as unpatriotic for refusing to support Obama’s policies. If patriotism is “the love of one’s country” then jingoism is a dangerous obsession.

Communists have experienced this more than others- indeed, the 1950s government detachment for investigating and combating the Communist ideal in America was called “The House Un-American Activities Committee”. Now were several problems with the committee, primarily that its creation was a gross violation of the constitution, and also because of the assumption it made that Communism was somehow unpatriotic and anti-American.

Now this raises an interesting question- which of these two world views is more patriotic? Capitalism or Communism?

Well, firstly let us investigate the ideals of Capitalism. As has been stated many times by now, the purpose of Capitalism is capital– money, which is to be obtained through the buying, selling, and general exchange of goods and services. Government regulation is equated with corruption, and tariffs and subsidies (created primarily for the purpose of benefiting the country’s local infrastructures and citizens) are deemed to be nothing more than hindrances to the economy’s growth. So is Capitalism patriotic? Absolutely not. If the purpose of Capitalism is the acquisition of money, then the Capitalist’s loyalties are not to his country but to the markets- and a country is made up of people, not economies. For example, a person in one country could attempt to acquire money through selling products- this is Capitalism. However, if the products he is selling are the country’s natural resources, or even sweat-shop labor, then this- while Capitalist- is far from patriotic. Or take for example the selling of faulty or shoddy products. If a person sells products decorated in lead-based paints, then he- while fully following the creed of Capitalism- is damaging the public and the country.

So what about Communism? Well, the primary purpose of Communism is an attempt to improve society by creating justice and equality through the abolition of the class system, private property, and currency, and the establishment of a free, democratic government. Simplified by Chairman Mao, the Communist’s primary goal is to “serve the people”. Now as stated above, a country is not comprised of its wealth or markets or economy but of its people. What could be more patriotic than a system where serving the public is the end goal?

In short, in a contest between the two, Communism is by far more patriotic than Capitalism can ever hope to be.

22
Sep
09

Communism, Capitalism, and Culture

In film and literature, Communist (or at least, Communistic) societies are often portrayed as dark, Spartan places where variety is almost non-existent. Indeed, Communism is sometimes portrayed as espousing complete and utter uniformity- and perhaps this is understandable. After all, Communism does demand a single class where all citizens are equal without exception, and Soviet city-planning and architecture tended to be more than slightly lacking as far as aesthetics go.

However, as has been repeatedly stated throughout this blog, Soviet Russia was not a true Communist country and as far as equality goes, “equality” doesn’t mean “identical”. For the average foundry worker to live in an equal society, the rest of society doesn’t have to be average foundry workers- they must simply have the same rights, responsibilities, and opportunities. Within equality lies endless variety- more so than can ever be achieved in the Capitalist society.

Now this statement may seem to be based on faulty reasoning, after all, if Capitalism presents opportunity for anyone and everyone to sell their own product or service, then there will be an unending fountain of culture, technology, art, music, and so on. Now if Capitalism were only the opportunity of every individual to sell his own product or service, this might be true. In reality, Capitalism doesn’t quite work that way. You see Capitalism based heavily on competition- the struggle for dominance over others. In order to attain Capitalism’s end goal- capital (money)- the individuals selling their products and/or services forced to compete with each other for the customers. In short, if there are two tailors in one town, they are going to be at war with each other for customers. “But surely this would cause their quality to increase, their prices to drop, and the variety of products to expand!” You might retort. Now this is partly true- and only temporarily so at that. As much as the competitors will try to undercut each other’s prices, there is a point they will not drop below to ensure a profit is still made. Eventually, one of the competitors, either through poor planning or just bad luck, is going to lose and the moment that happens, the winning competitor no longer has any reason to keep prices low or variety wide. In a free, Capitalist society, this is what inevitably happens- the weak are killed off and devoured by the strong until eventually, one company reigns supreme and becomes a monopoly. We can see this battle of giants all around us- Pepsi versus Coke, Apple versus Microsoft, Nintendo versus Xbox versus Play Station 3, and so on. Do we actually imagine this to be some sort of dualistic system- that these companies will forever be locked in a fight for dominance? No- eventually, Pepsi is going to fall to Coke or Coke will fall to Pepsi or both of them will be conquered (somehow) by Jones Soda. “But this will never happen- there’s always going to be some fresh competition to challenge the old dinosaurs. Monopolies are impossible.” Really? Just take a look at history- read about Standard Oil and the British East India Company. “Granted,” one might reply “but the consumer still has a basic level of control over the monopolies- if there’s a Pepsi monopoly and Pepsi raises its prices too high, the people can’t be forced to buy Pepsi. In fact, Pepsi is limited to selling its products at the price the public will pay for them.” Very well then, but what about a different kind of monopoly. What about a lumber monopoly, or an oil monopoly? Society is dependent on these resources to function without regressing to the stone age. Even if a single monopoly were to arise that controlled the mining of Coltan (a rare mineral used in cell phones and communication), the world could be brought its knees.

But perhaps I’m getting a little off-track. The point is, after enough expansion, Capitalism can trade variety for cut production-cost profit. “So what if that is true? We don’t have monopolies at this point in time- Capitalism still offers us variety now.” For the sake of space, we’ll skip addressing the issue with concentrating only on the here-and-now and focus on how Capitalism, which, even at a pre-monopoly stage, reduces variety rather than promoting it.

As I was traveling through the US this summer, I was presented with an interesting thought. No matter how many towns and cities I drove through, there were always (to varying degrees) the same stores, restaurants, and hotels. Every hamlet in America now has a Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Starbucks, etc. Granted, it’s not dramatic, but let us keep in mind that this is only in a single country. Lets take a look at the world. Now with distances of over a thousand miles between some of these countries, one would imagine the cultures would be diverse- alas, this is no longer true. Due to the imperialistic march of McDonalds, Starbucks, and other companies, the cultures already present within are suddenly forced to compete with the Western culture these companies represent. Take the cases of Syria and Jordan, for example. Syria has, on the whole, resisted foreign interference in its affairs, and, after pretty much closing its borders to would-be investors such as McDonalds, has managed to retain much of its cultural heritage and traditions. The same cannot be said for its neighbor to the south, Jordan. Jordan has embraced the West and Western companies, such as McDonalds, Papa John’s, and various clothing outlets, have thrived there. If you were to walk down the fashionable area of Amman, it would be hard for you to tell if you were in the Middle East or Southern California. While Jordan does still have a unique culture, that culture has been drowned out by the commercialism of the West. Is this the West’s fault? No- not entirely, anyways. The companies that attempt to exploit foreign markets are spreading Western culture, but doing so only because they themselves are part of Western culture. Quite simply, if you are told it is fashionable to dress in Western clothes (and Western clothes outlets are more than happy to let you have that illusion), then chances are your traditional dress will be forgotten. If local restaurants are forced out of business by fast-food, then chances are the aspect of eating (a form of socializing in almost every culture) will change dramatically. In short, along with expansion of companies is the expansion of the cultures of those companies. As we can see by looking at the world today, rather than promoting diversity, Capitalism destroys it.

But what about Communism? Doesn’t it, like Capitalism, attempt to spread across the globe? Yes, Communism does attempt to encompass the world, but Communism has nothing to gain from a monocultural society. Quite the opposite, Communism can only flourish if variety and diversity are accepted- we can’t expect a society to exist if everyone acts the same way and holds the same values. Indeed, the very lack of corporations telling you what is and is not fashionable or desirable can lead nothing other than a diverse society. In conclusion, don’t be sold on the Capitalist illusion of culture.

16
Sep
09

The Common Good

It has been postulated by some that the way to a true utopia is the privitization of all industry. To these people, I present this BBC article as evidence that unregulated companies don’t exactly have the common good as their top priority.

Article linked here.

28
Jul
09

Why I’m Still a Communist

I became a Communist because I believed that it was the only viable political/economic system capable of providing liberty, justice, and security for everyone, rather than just those who can afford it. I have remained a Communist for much the same reason. While one might expect (and many have hoped) that experience would lead me to leave Communism, it seems the more I see of life, the universe, and everything, the more I become confident that my views are correct.

For example, when I was seventeen I took a course on mainstream worldviews (Christian, Humanist, New Age, Marxist). The class turned out to be a series of hyper-Conservative, dogmatic lectures and the textbook wasn’t much more than a seriously biased collection of arguments against any view other than Conservative Protestantism. Despite the waste of time, effort, and money that the class was, I nevertheless found myself affected by it (or at least, an event resulting from the class). While the textbook was full of little cartoons advocating various right-wing stances- one stood out to me in particular. It showed two frames, one in which a wealthy man giving a handful of coins to a poor man, the other depicted the poor man robbing the rich man. The caption claimed (roughly) that in Capitalism, when the rich give to poor it is called “charity” and- no matter what Communist word you use to describe it- when a poor man takes from the rich it is called theft. When I saw this cartoon, it took a while for me to fully digest what it’s implications were. Granted, it seemed reasonable- giving is accepting, taking isn’t. But when one thinks about it, if this were to be applied, the poor would be reliant on the wealthy giving out a steady stream of spare change. Of course, this would mean that the wealthy are willing to give out a steady stream of spare change (and they say that Communism claims humans are basically good). Quite simply, charity doesn’t work- the people need a better way to survive than aid, pity, and welfare. All in all, as a result of reading a simple political cartoon, I became even more entrenched in the idea that Communism offers the solutions for the problems Capitalism simply can’t solve.

Another example would be the game of monopoly (yes, even Communists play monopoly). You gather the players around the board, they compete and trade and make wild gambles but in the end, there is only one winner. Now disregarding the amount of pain and suffering caused by running every competitor out of business, one must consider what it would be like to live in a country with a monopoly on- let’s say- iron. If you want to make anything with iron, you have to pay the monopoly’s price. If your looking for quality, then it’s more or less a game of chance- the monopoly has no reason to sell anything better than its lowest quality product. If you try to import, then it’ll probably a baffling and expensive ordeal- the monopoly has a hefty lobby at the capitol and there aren’t many senators and congressmen and even presidential candidates who wouldn’t mind taking contributions from the monopoly. Regulation laws? This is Capitalism- regulations are, as Milton Friedman is attributed with saying, “corruption”. Communism averts a disaster that Capitalism leads to.

Or yet another example would be that of airplanes. Nowhere is the class system so pronounced as on a transatlantic flight. The same distance is being traveled, the same plane is being ridden, but the differences between the 1st class and coach cabins are massive. Now we must keep in mind that the people in coach are just as human as those in 1st class. Yet, due to a simple lack of money, those in coach have a dramatically different flight from those in 1st class. The food is inedible, the seats are cramped, the cabin is crowded. Why? Because some people are poorer than others and therefore less valuable. The class system is the greatest example of social injustice since the days of segregation and religious persecution. Communism does away with the class system and ensures equality for all- not only those who can pay for it.

In short, while it was the massive tomes of Marx, Engels, and Smith that convinced me to become a Communist,  it is the little things in life- cartoons, board games, traveling- that convince me to stay Communist.

24
Jul
09

The Many Faces of Capitalism

Throughout the blog I have been discussing various aspects of Capitalism, however, one must keep in mind that Capitalism isn’t so much an economic theory in and of itself but rather a general category of economic theories based around capital (money). For one to describe Capitalism without making note of the various schools of thought within the system would be the equivalent of describing Christianity without mentioned the beliefs of Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants, or describing warfare without noting the invention of gunpowder. So, in the interests of clarity, listed below are the descriptions of the major classes of Capitalism.

Classical Capitalism

While the actual term “Capitalism” was coined by Karl Marx, the first comprehensive work on the subject of Capitalism (or “commerce”, as it was simply known as) was penned by British economist Adam Smith, in his The Wealth of Nations (considered by many to be the “Bible of Capitalism”. Smith’s essential argument was that humans ought to work in their self-interests which would create a strong and healthy society. Smith stated that if one person owns a product and attempts to sell it, the purchaser will buy it for whatever he deems it to be worth, leaving both seller and buyer richer and happier than before their transaction. Throughout his work, Smith advocates this concept of self-interest as the foundation of commerce, stating that “We address ourselves, not to their humanity, but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages.”. Additionally, Smith claimed that it is in the best interests of the economy and the government for the government to interfere as little as possible with the economy (see “Free Trade” below).  Today, Adam Smith is viewed by many as the founding father of Capitalism and one of the most important economic theorists in the history of the world.

Laisseiz-Faire

Laisseiz-faire (literally “Hands-off” or “Let-do”) can perhaps best be described as an aspect of Capitalism (Classical Capitalism, to be precise) rather than a school of Capitalism. Based on the works of Adam Smith, Laisseiz-faire is a philosophy that states that the government should never interfere or attempt to regulate the economy which- according to the advocates of Laisseiz-faire- functions best without outside influence. While developed separately from Adam Smith, the philosophy of Laisseiz-faire and Classical Capitalism are often combined or associated with each other. While Smith primarily objects to government tariffs, Laisseiz-faire has historically opposed government interference in the form of anti-monopoly laws, minimum wage, and unions.

Christian Capitalism

While the US and much of Europe has never had any theocratic rule since the end of the Renaissance, it is undeniable that in the West, a Christian concept of Capitalism has existed for some time. Of course, this “Christian Capitalism” by no means applies to all Christians, but the fact remains that this philosophy does indeed exist. Christian Capitalism attempts to reconcile the self-focused, competitive tenets of Classical Capitalism with the rather community-focused, anti-materialist teachings of the Christian religion. The end result is what one might call a “moralistic Capitalism”, where competition and materialism do exist, but are tempered by ethics. Those within the system are free to make a profit, but gouging the buyer, deceiving the competition, or tricking the seller is considered to be unacceptable. Charity is advocated but not mandated (as opposed to other religious economic theories to be discussed later). While this form of Capitalism is often considered to be the ideal, there are many split on issues of what is and is not moral (what are the limits when trying to outsell a competitor, for example).

Regulated Capitalism

Contrary to common belief, regulated Capitalism is not a form of Communism or Social but simple government interference. Regulated Capitalism, like Laisseiz-faire, isn’t so much a theory of Capitalism but an aspect of Capitalism. Teaching the very opposite of Laisseiz-faire, regulated Capitalism states that economies require some form of control in order to flourish. This “control” can range from basic laws on minimum wage and worker-safety (such as in post 1940s America) to major government control (as in 1920s and 1930s Italy). While regulation is often confused with Socialism, one must keep in mind that so long as the state does not own the company, the products it sells, and the revenue generated, it does not count as Socialism.

Keynesian Capitalism

British economist John Maynard Keynes could perhaps be described as the most anti-Capitalist Capitalist the world has ever known. Keynes held that Capitalism is “the astounding belief that the most wickedest [sic] of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.”, and yet was himself a Capitalist. From a philosophical standpoint, Keynes despised Capitalism and yet saw it as the only option. As a result of this, his economic theory (known as “Keynesian economics”) attempts to protect the public from Capitalism’s costs while maximizing its benefits. Keynes advocates government regulation to protect the public while stating that the public, in order to prevent recessions and depressions, should spend their money without excessive investment or saving. Currently, Keynesian economics are often criticized by other schools of Capitalism as requiring too much collective and government interference.

Ayn Rand Capitalism

Also called “tooth-and-claw Capitalism” “Anarchist/Anarcho-Capitalism”, and “Social Darwinism”, this form of economics focuses on individualism to the point of egotism (or as Rand dubbed it, rational self-interest). Theorized by novelist Ayn Rand (most famously in her books The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged), this form of Capitalism is perhaps the most brutal. Rand’s philosophy vehemently opposes all forms of government interference, charitable aid, altruism, and religion. While never explicitly stated in her works, Rand’s economic theory holds that the wealthy and privileged are wealthy and privileged because they earned it, while the poor and proletariat are at the bottom of the economic food-chain because they are lazy or simply choose to be poor. In her book Atlas Shrugged, Rand submits that the wealthy and powerful are the most productive and useful members of society, capable of bringing the world to a sudden halt by going on strike. While Rand’s theories are essentially Capitalist, many other schools of Capitalism look down on Rand’s theories as barbaric, excessively anti-charity, and basically flawed. Despite public criticism, many hold that Rand’s Capitalism is by far the most pure form of Capitalism.

Free Trade

Free trade, like regulated Capitalism and Laisseiz-faire Capitalism, is a concept- not a theory. Free trade essentially is the belief that international trade should not be regulated or controlled by governments. Outsourcing, the import/export of resources and goods, multinational corporations, and international investment are all aspects of Free Trade that its advocates state will produce higher profits, lower production costs, more jobs, more demand, and generally stronger economy.

Protectionism

Protection (perhaps more of a political concept than an economic one) demands the very opposite of Free Trade. Protectionists believe that jobs should go to citizens of the country the company is in, that resources and products should be obtained and produced locally and that massive export and import tariffs should be maintained for the purpose of preserving jobs for the citizens of the country. Protectionists will often also oppose immigration for the same reason.

22
Jul
09

Professional Amateurs

The word “amateur” is derived from the Latin word “Amo” meaning “to love”. We use “amateur” to describe someone who is doing something as a hobby or for fun, rather than being paid to do so. An amateur baseball player plays for the fun of it, a professional baseball player plays for a living.

One of the most common arguments against Communism is that by abolishing the class system, money, and private property, people will have no motivation to work hard (or work at all) since they have no chance of advancing their position in life. It is claimed that the only reason most people can put with their mindless, soul-crushing jobs is that they are being paid to work. They can then take their money, gradually move up through the ranks of society, and buy material goods that bring them comfort and happiness (though whether material goods actually make us any happier is a debate for another post). If we take all of this away, then why would anyone do anything?

The answer is quite simple: people will do almost anything for the love of doing it.

I’m a writer. I don’t get paid to write, I don’t move up through the ranks of society, I don’t buy things in an attempt to make myself more comfortable of happy. According to Capitalist logic, I shouldn’t be writing since I have no motive- no reason for doing so. Quite simply, this logic is flawed. Yes people will do almost anything for money- after all, the single purpose of Capitalism is money- but there are other motivations. People will do things because they are physically forced to do them (slavery), people will do things out of fear for their wellbeing or the wellbeing of others (extortion, blackmail), and people will do things because they love doing it. Of course, the greatest of these is love- after all, even when enslaved or extorted, people will do the least amount of work possible. When they are doing what they love doing, however, the activity doubles as the end goal. In these cases, they will do as much work as possible.

Take the example of Giotto Di Bondone. Born in the late 1260s in Tuscany, Giotto was a shepherd boy who taught himself to paint. He was not being paid and was not coerced in any way to paint, he painted simply because he enjoyed painting. One might describe him as an “amateur” and while that word today often connotes substandard, Giotto’s paintings were anything but inferior. Indeed, Giotto’s abilities were so impressive that legends spread claiming he could paint a picture of a ewe so realistic that a lamb would confuse it with its actual mother, and that Giotto could draw a perfect circle without the use of any device. In short, Giotto, an uneducated, untrained Tuscan peasant was as a child a better artist than the best-paid painter in Florence (of course, Giotto eventually was paid to paint, but the fact remains that he was a gifted and prolific painter even before he became a professional).

Now this opens up a world of possibilities.

What if we all did jobs according to our talents, rather than our need to pay the bills or desire to become “wealthy” (again, the concept of true wealth will be discussed later)? What if everyone who was skilled at painting, math, cooking, and speaking could become artists, mathematicians, chefs, and orators? If everyone could become what they are talented at (and I’ve yet to find a person who doesn’t enjoy his or her talents) then we would have more work accomplished at a higher quality. It is this that Communism attempts to achieve: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”.

Of course, one might argue that Capitalism attempts to achieve this as well, but this is simply not true. Granted, there are a fortunate few who can pay the bills and do what they love, but in reality the cast majority of people aren’t so lucky. Thousands- no, millions– of would be inventors, mechanics, actors, politicians, farmers, athletes, cooks, designers, musicians, programmers, and composers never get to be anything more than day-laborers, waiters, drug dealers, prostitutes, and street-sweepers. Is it because they didn’t try hard enough? Possibly, there is a handful who are, quite simply, lazy. But to state that the millions of poor, the hungry, and homeless are the way they are out of choice is ridiculous. Most never had the money to pay for a decent education, preventing them from ever rising out of the gutter. Others are simply held back by bills and debt. Still others are simply unlucky, some unforgiving disaster reducing them to taking whatever work is available. In the Capitalist world, it takes every ounce of energy to keep your head above water, let alone find a job doing what you love to do.

Of course, that doesn’t stop us from trying. Some attempt to struggle through Capitalism to achieve their dream job, others turn their talents into hobbies, instead of careers, and still others- such as myself- attempt to bring about a system based on people doing what they love. The astronomer Galileo once commented that he did not “…believe the same God that would endow us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgoe their use…”. Like Galileo, I do not believe that humans, gifted with the talents to compose a beautiful symphony or sing like angels, are meant to push aside their skills to make room for their careers. Instead, let as all be professional amateurs.

26
Jun
09

[R]education

The philosopher Plato once stated that “there shall be compulsory education, as the saying is, of all and sundry, as far this is possible; and the pupils shall be regarded as belonging to the state rather than to their parents…”. Plato makes in interesting point and the underlying principle (good education for everyone) is commendable, Plato makes a serious yet common error when he claims that the student belongs to the state.

Communism demands the reverse.

Granted, the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, and contemporary North Korea have all followed Plato’s ideal of the student (and to varying degrees, the individual) as property of the state. However, as has been repeatedly stated throughout this blog, those countries have merely disguised themselves as Communist states, while in reality functioning as semi-Socialist dictatorships. Communism requires the opposite. The public does not belong to the state- the state belongs to the public. The same goes for the education of students.

Now this might seem like a slightly abstract concept, after all, “public schools” are schools that belong to, and are funded by, the state. What then is the difference between Marxism’s “public education” and our contemporary “public school system”? The answer is simple: the presence of private schools. In the US, we have private property, state property, and public property. The mere presence of public property does not mean that we live in a Marxist system where all property belongs to the public. The same is true for education. Do we have public education? Yes. Does that mean everyone has access to public education? Yes. Do we have private education? Yes. Does everyone have access to private education? Absolutely not.

“So what’s the issue?”, one might wonder, “Everyone has access to a basic level of education no matter what they’re social standing is!”. That’s true, however, one must remember the emphasis on the word basic. Like most things in life, the cheaper something is, the less quality it has. A decent private school can charge and exorbitant fee in exchange for offering an excellent level of education. More money, more profit, more supplies, more (and better) teachers, and so on. Public schools are, quite simply, low quality, and in a world where education determines one’s career, quality is everything. Take the examples of Mr. Hammer and Miss Sickle.

Mr. Hammer is born into a moderately wealthy family. As a child he has the best education private schools have to offer- well funded and well trained athletic teams, a school library excellently stocked, motivated, intelligent teachers, and so on. Coming from such a brilliant school and having high grades (and still wealthy parents), getting into a prestigious (and very expensive) college is easy. After completing college, Mr. Hammer is able to get an exciting and high-paying job (which will eventually make him wealthy and allow him to send his children to a good private school, starting the cycle all over again).

Miss Sickle, however, is born to the lower classes. Her family cannot afford to send her to anything other than public school. She studies hard and does decently and even manages to get herself a few scholarships however she never able to reach her full potential (Miss Sickle being interested in chemistry and the best her school has to offer in that field is a poster of the periodic table and a few vials of ammonium). As a result, Miss Sickle is unable to gain access to any decent college and having never attained a university degree, spends the rest of her life working as waitress in a roach-infested diner.

Did Miss Sickle commit some kind of crime to deserve a life of carrying plates from one side of a room to the other? Was she somehow not as hard of a worker as Mr. Hammer was? Is she somehow to blame for the way her life turned out? Of course not. Miss Sickle was born poor and didn’t happen to be enough of a genius to get into a decent college free. And what about Mr. Hammer? Did he, as a six year old, toil long hours to pay his way through the first grade? Was he somehow a “better” person and more deserving of a higher education? Again, no. Mr. Hammer was born to the wealthy and because of that, managed to get ahead in life. He didn’t work harder than Miss Sickle- if anything, he probably had it easier. Where’s the justice in any of this? Two people work with the same amount of effort and have the same levels of intelligence and yet one becomes a millionaire and the other lives off of tips and minimum wage. Imagine if we applied this system- our education system- to the Olympic games. In a race, all the athletes are lined up side-by-side. The gold goes to the contestant who is- in all simplicity the fastest runner. Now imagine if we had the Olympic games in the same way we have our education system. Some runners would be, at the beginning of the race, hundreds of feet in front of the regular starting line and others would have to start hundreds of feet behind. Those behind are forced to run almost three times as fast as the runners up ahead. Yes, they can run that far- but keep in mind, there are only so many medals. Would that be an event people would watch? Would it be called a fair game? No, people would call it a travesty! Why then do we accept an education system where people don’t lose gold, but the very quality of their lives?

An advocate of Capitalism might argue that life just isn’t fair- that the world’s a jungle where the only fittest survive to pass their genes (or wealth) on. If that’s true, then why would the same people prosecute a thief for stealing someone’s wallet? Surely the thief was more “fit” than the person who lost his wallet- isn’t the thief simply being a good Capitalist by gaining money with little or no cost to himself in time, effort, and resources? This would be as ridiculous as an Olympic race where one contestant wins by shooting his competitors in the knees.

“So what’s the solution?” a person might ask, “Are we to penalize the children of the wealthy by lowering their quality of education until it’s on the same level as the poorest person in the country?”. Of course not. What Marxism calls for is a single system of education where anyone can get the education of his choice, not the choice of his parent’s bank account. Does this mean every school would teach the same things out of the same textbooks? Not at all. If anything, diversity would be encouraged. If one school wishes to take a certain perspective on life and a different school wishes to teach a different view, then they should be allowed it. The student gets to choose which he prefers and, provided he pulls his own weight in society, may study for as long as he chooses. Imagine every individual given an opportunity to have the highest quality education free of charge! Imagine what society would be like if everyone had the option to attain an extra four years of college without having to worry about affording it! Imagine a world where the education system belongs to the students, instead of the students belonging to the education system!

Perhaps Ali Ibn Abu-Talib said it best; “There is no wealth like knowledge; no poverty like ignorance…”