Showing posts tagged capitalism

In a sense, then, the Economist was right: enslavers were not simply evil villains. They were also under enormous pressure—the pressure of the free market. (There’s lots of evidence that the experience and culture of slaveholding shaped many of them into deeply evil individuals, but remember, I’m trying to write a review here.) Even the decision-making influence of the long-term investment they’d made in enslaved bodies shrank in comparison to the short-term demands of cotton markets and credit markets. Every piece of information that the market fed them in the form of prices pushed them to push slaves harder.
Edward Baptist, “What the Economist Doesn’t Get About Slavery—And My Book,” replying to the Economist's deeply embarrassing review of his book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.

An app called “Yo” — which took 8 hours to develop and literally does nothing but let you send one word, “Yo,” from person to person — has already raised $1 million from investors.
News item in Huffington Post. Ain’t capitalism wonderful?

In the beginning, older Kid Nation contestants helped younger, weaker kids out and the dusty air was rife with auspicious anti-grownup sentiment. “Adults have done a horrible job with the world,” 12-year-old Anjay, a spelling-bee champ from Texas, explained matter-of-factly at the beginning of the first episode. Their goal, as the trailer put it, was to “fix their forefathers’ mistakes.”

But cooperative organization doesn’t sell cars during commercial breaks, which is why host Jonathan Karsh, a fully grown man, showed up halfway through the first episode and announced that the kids would be separated into a socioeconomic hierarchy—with an Upper Class, Merchant Class, Cooks, and Laborers—determined via arbitrary relay races. Karsh also gave the contestants the power to reward one of their own with a gold star, worth at least $20,000, every episode.

From then on, the kids were more interested in climbing the ranks of the pseudo-feudal class structure than subverting it.

Katie J.M. Baker, “Here to Make Friends” in The New Inquiry.

If you ever wanted to see a reality TV show about children as an allegory for capitalism, this is it. Except that the kids at least have meddling adults to blame for creating oppressive social structures. We adults do it to ourselves.

[With the spread of markets] there will come a time when everything that people consider as inalienable will become an object of exchange, of traffic, and can be alienated. This is the time when the very things which till then had been communicated, but never exchanged, given, but never sold, acquired but never bought - virtue, love, conviction, knowledge, conscience - when everything, in short, passed into commerce. It is the time of general corruption, of universal venality. It has left remaining no other nexus between man and man other than naked self-interest and callous cash payment.
Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy (via sunrec)

(Source: fluidstaccato)

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A wedding picture from the Emoya Luxury Hotel and Spa in Bloemfontein, South Africa. The Hotel, which also includes a private game preserve and conference center, offers the following accommodation for very special events such as weddings:

Millions of people are living in informal settlements across South Africa. These settlements consist of thousands of houses also referred to as Shacks, Shantys or Makhukhus. A Shanty usually consists of old corrugated iron sheets or any other waterproof material which is constructed in such a way to form a small “house” or shelter where they make a normal living. A paraffin lamp, candles, a battery operated radio, an outside toilet (also referred to as a long drop) and a drum where they make fire for cooking is normally part of this lifestyle.

Now you can experience staying in a Shanty within  the safe environment of a private game reserve. This is the only Shanty Town in the world equipped with under-floor heating and wireless internet access!  

The Shanty Town is ideal for team building, braais, fancy theme parties and an experience of a lifetime.  Accommodates up to 52 guests. Our Shantys are completely safe and child friendly.

The underfloor heating might be why a night’s stay is approximately the median monthly income for a domestic worker.

Seriously, health care in the US is insane. The UK, with its NHS, manages to get down to 4% of the population having a cost-related access problem and 3% spending more than $1000 out-of-pocket each year. The US numbers are 37% and 41%, respectively. And from what I understand, the UK government spends a similar percentage of GDP on healthcare as the US government. And then the US spends that same percentage again in private-sector healthcare costs. And we get vastly shittier results. Seriously, if we weren’t so stupidly scared of “socialism,” we could cover everyone in the country with the amount of money we’re spending on Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, and the various healthcare programs for government employees.

Fuck. Now, personally, I don’t think capitalism is, on the whole, a decent or fair system. But it does have certain things it does effectively. I can understand people not wanting to abolish it. When it comes to healthcare, socialism is just obviously superior. Here in the US, people look to Canada, which pretty much has Medicare like we do, but for everyone. They even call it Medicare. But look how much better the UK does, by just nationalizing  whole bunch more of everything. Incidentally, the US does that as well, for the VA. Now, we just need to extend that to everyone.

The whole report that this graph is from is here.

The fact that unequal power relations between men and women existed even prior to the advent of capitalism, as did a discriminating sexual division of labor, does not detract from this assessment for in precapitalist Europe women’s subordination to men had been tempered by the fact that they had access to the commons and other communal assets, while in the new capitalist regime women themselves became the commons, as their work was defined as a natural resource, outside the sphere of market relations.
Caliban and the Witch - Silvia federici (via whitedenial-ontrial)

Keynes on the Uselessness of Financial Markets

This bit from chapter 12 of Keynes’s General Theory is worth quoting at length. Keynes pretty deftly eviscerates any claims that financial markets are beneficial to society.

But there is one feature in particular which deserves our attention. It might have been supposed that competition between expert professionals, possessing judgment and knowledge beyond that of the average private investor, would correct the vagaries of the ignorant individual left to himself. It happens, however, that the energies and skill of the professional investor and speculator are mainly occupied otherwise. For most of these persons are, in fact, largely concerned, not with making superior long-term forecasts of the probable yield of an investment over its whole life, but with foreseeing changes in the conventional basis of valuation a short time ahead of the general public. They are concerned, not with what an investment is really worth to a man who buys it “for keeps”, but with what the market will value it at, under the influence of mass psychology, three months or a year hence. Moreover, this behaviour is not the outcome of a wrong-headed propensity. It is an inevitable result of an investment market organised along the lines described. For it is not sensible to pay 25 for an investment of which you believe the prospective yield to justify a value of 30, if you also believe that the market will value it at 20 three months hence.

Thus the professional investor is forced to concern himself with the anticipation of impending changes, in the news or in the atmosphere, of the kind by which experience shows that the mass psychology of the market is most influenced. This is the inevitable result of investment markets organised with a view to so-called “liquidity”. Of the maxims of orthodox finance none, surely, is more anti-social than the fetish of liquidity, the doctrine that it is a positive virtue on the part of investment institutions to concentrate their resources upon the holding of “liquid” securities. It forgets that there is no such thing as liquidity of investment for the community as a whole. The social object of skilled investment should be to defeat the dark forces of time and ignorance which envelop our future. The actual, private object of the most skilled investment to-day is “to beat the gun”, as the Americans so well express it, to outwit the crowd, and to pass the bad, or depreciating, half-crown to the other fellow.

This battle of wits to anticipate the basis of conventional valuation a few months hence, rather than the prospective yield of an investment over a long term of years, does not even require gulls amongst the public to feed the maws of the professional; — it can be played by professionals amongst themselves. Nor is it necessary that anyone should keep his simple faith in the conventional basis of valuation having any genuine long-term validity. For it is, so to speak, a game of Snap, of Old Maid, of Musical Chairs — a pastime in which he is victor who says Snap neither too soon nor too late, who passes the Old Maid to his neighbour before the game is over, who secures a chair for himself when the music stops. These games can be played with zest and enjoyment, though all the players know that it is the Old Maid which is circulating, or that when the music stops some of the players will find themselves unseated.

Or, to change the metaphor slightly, professional investment may be likened to those newspaper competitions in which the competitors have to pick out the six prettiest faces from a hundred photographs, the prize being awarded to the competitor whose choice most nearly corresponds to the average preferences of the competitors as a whole; so that each competitor has to pick, not those faces which he himself finds prettiest, but those which he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of the other competitors, all of whom are looking at the problem from the same point of view. It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practise the fourth, fifth and higher degrees.

If the reader interjects that there must surely be large profits to be gained from the other players in the long run by a skilled individual who, unperturbed by the prevailing pastime, continues to purchase investments on the best genuine long-term expectations he can frame, he must be answered, first of all, that there are, indeed, such serious-minded individuals and that it makes a vast difference to an investment market whether or not they predominate in their influence over the game-players. But we must also add that there are several factors which jeopardise the predominance of such individuals in modern investment markets. Investment based on genuine long-term expectation is so difficult to-day as to be scarcely practicable. He who attempts it must surely lead much more laborious days and run greater risks than he who tries to guess better than the crowd how the crowd will behave; and, given equal intelligence, he may make more disastrous mistakes. There is no clear evidence from experience that the investment policy which is socially advantageous coincides with that which is most profitable. It needs more intelligence to defeat the forces of time and our ignorance of the future than to beat the gun. Moreover, life is not long enough; — human nature desires quick results, there is a peculiar zest in making money quickly, and remoter gains are discounted by the average man at a very high rate. The game of professional investment is intolerably boring and over-exacting to anyone who is entirely exempt from the gambling instinct; whilst he who has it must pay to this propensity the appropriate toll. Furthermore, an investor who proposes to ignore near-term market fluctuations needs greater resources for safety and must not operate on so large a scale, if at all, with borrowed money — a further reason for the higher return from the pastime to a given stock of intelligence and resources. Finally it is the long-term investor, he who most promotes the public interest, who will in practice come in for most criticism, wherever investment funds are managed by committees or boards or banks.[4] For it is in the essence of his behaviour that he should be eccentric, unconventional and rash in the eyes of average opinion. If he is successful, that will only confirm the general belief in his rashness; and if in the short run he is unsuccessful, which is very likely, he will not receive much mercy. Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally.

That last line is great. And the same logic seems to apply to things like being a “Middle East expert” on TV, where all the people who were wrong about Iraq are being asked for their opinions about Syria. Because being unconventional is the greater sin in the minds of the people who book political shows than being wrong.

(h/t: Doug Henwood)


I mean, for-profit hospitals are just so obviously a bad idea

I don’t even know what to say about this:

Based in part on surreptitious tape recordings, an FBI affidavit lays out allegations that a Sacred Heart pulmonologist kept patients too sedated to breathe on their own, then ordered unneeded tracheotomies for them — enabling the for-profit hospital to reap revenue of as much as $160,000 per case.

 Ain’t capitalism grand?


The Myanmar people missed out on billions of dollars of worldwide advertising during those 60 years. All the great Coke ad campaigns — “I’d like to buy the world a Coke,” Mean Joe Green, the Real Thing, and those cute polar bears didn’t make an impact on a country that was suffering under a brutal military regime.

NPR, “How to Sell Coke to People Who Have Never Had a Sip

I knew Myanmar was pretty bad, what with the authoritarian junta in power and all, but no Coca-Cola polar bear ads? That must have been intolerable for the Burmese.

What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?

Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, at the annual shareholders’ meeting. The shareholders rejected a proposal to set goals on curbing carbon emissions.

Also, the shareholders rejected a proposal to ban discrimination against gays. Rex Tillerson was also the National President of the Boy Scouts of America recently, and during his tenure the Scouts were quite adamant about their ban on gays, although they’ve softened since he left the position.

Anyways, if you needed someone to be today’s biggest asshole, he’s my nomination.

National Review explains why children should go hungry

Dennis Prager at National Review wrote an article on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s free breakfast program a little while ago that reads like some over-the-top parody of a rich white guy telling the undeserving poor they’ve got it too good. I don’t know what type of person reads this sort of crap and feels good about themselves for it, but there’s certainly assholes out there.

His unhinged screed isn’t particularly interesting, standard reactionary fare, but reason #4 that a free breakfast is the first stop on the express train to the gulag gets at an interesting point:

And fourth, the free breakfast profoundly weakens young people’s character. When you grow up learning to depend on the state, you will almost inevitably — even understandably — assume that the state will take care of you. And you will grow up also assuming — as do Europeans, who give far less to charity than Americans for this very reason — that the state will take care of your fellow citizens, including your own children.

 The thing is, he’s talking about school children. If the school (oh, sorry, The State) wasn’t wasn’t providing the kids with a breakfast, it’s not like they’d be out there earning their way in life. Their parents would be making it.  The state must not take care of anyone, so that they grow up learning to depend on their families.That’s the lesson he wants kids to learn, to accept a society where the wealth of one’s parents determines what kind of life one has. It’s a straight-up feudal vision of the world, where preserving inherited wealth and privilege is the cornerstone of society. We musn’t let the peasants think they have any expectation of rising above their station in life.


Well, we’ve got no time for excuses. Not because the bitter legacy of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they have not. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; we know those are still out there. It’s just that in today’s hyperconnected, hypercompetitive world, with millions of young people from China and India and Brazil — many of whom started with a whole lot less than all of you did — all of them entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything that you have not earned.

Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was. Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination. And moreover, you have to remember that whatever you’ve gone through, it pales in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured — and they overcame them. And if they overcame them, you can overcome them, too.

But if you stay hungry, if you keep hustling, if you keep on your grind and get other folks to do the same — nobody can stop you.

From President Obama’s commencement address at Morehouse College. Well, that’s inspirational. Work harder. Overcome the systemic racism of American society on your own. If you keep at it, you can compete in a global race to the bottom in wages and working conditions. So stop making excuses. Christ, do we have to use the language of global capitalism to describe even our dreams and aspirations?

Ta-Nehisi Coates has more on how Obama talks to black audiences:

Taking the full measure of the Obama presidency thus far, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this White House has one way of addressing the social ills that afflict black people — and particularly black youth — and another way of addressing everyone else. I would have a hard time imagining the president telling the women of Barnard that “there’s no longer room for any excuses” — as though they were in the business of making them. Barack Obama is, indeed, the president of “all America,” but he also is singularly the scold of “black America.” 

Also, see Corey Robin for a comparison with LBJ’s language at Howard University in 1965.

If, on the other hand, we stop taking world leaders at their word and instead think of neoliberalism as a political project, it suddenly looks spectacularly effective. The politicians, CEOs, trade bureaucrats, and so forth who regularly meet at summits like Davos or the G20 may have done a miserable job in creating a world capitalist economy that meets the needs of a majority of the world’s inhabitants (let alone produces hope, happiness, security, or meaning), but they have succeeded magnificently in convincing the world that capitalism—and not just capitalism, but exactly the financialized, semifeudal capitalism we happen to have right now—is the only viable economic system. If you think about it, this is a remarkable accomplishment.
David Graeber, “A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse” in the latest issue of The Baffler

According to Kalecki, there is nothing in the mechanics of advanced capitalism which make long-run growth inevitable. However, two semi-exogenous factors interact to produce patterns of long-run economic change. The first is innovation, which Kalecki defined to include not only technological progress per se, but also the introduction of new goods, the opening up of new markets, organisational changes, and so on. This obviously has a positive effect: the higher the intensity of innovation, the higher the rate of growth of the economy. The other, constraining factor is “rentier savings”, that is, savings outside firms, which depress investment and therefore inhibit growth. The relative strength of these two factors determines the long-run rate of growth. The contemporary relevance of this argument, in a world of rapid technological progress but also of financial liberalisation and growth of rentier incomes, is worth noting.

Jayati Ghosh, “Michal Kalecki and the Economics of Development

This whole article is a great overview of the relevance of my favorite economist, Michał Kalecki. 

The passage here is about Kalecki’s model of growth in a capitalist economy. This is, I gather, different from what’s often called the Kalckian growth model, which was worked out by Joan Robinson and others using some of Kalecki’s ideas after his death. Kalecki’s actual model of growth didn’t really exist, because, as the quote above refers to, he didn’t actually believe that growth was actually produced by capitalist mechanics, but by other factors. In his words: “my criticism of capitalism goes even further than that of Karl Marx. Marx took an expansion of capitalism for granted, whereas I think that you have to explain this by some exogenous factors.”

 I’ve been doing a bit of reading on different Keynesian and post-Keynesian models of capitalist growth, and they all seem to have various shortcomings. Also, if I had to guess, I’d say that we won’t get around to working out the mechanics of growth in a capitalist economy until we no longer have the resources to make such a thing possible. In the meantime, I’ll post some more about what I can figure out about such things.