4/03/2009

Capitalism: A Coat of Many Colors



"Etymologically, 'capitalism' implies no more than a system that stresses the accumulation and use of capital—and all forms of economic organization do that. Some free-enterprisers even shun the word because it was popularized by Karl Marx and other socialist thinkers as a name for a system that they were attacking, and it retains a pejorative flavor. Adam Smith never mentioned capitalism in any of his works; he preferred the term natural order.

Still, the essentials of capitalism are clear. The touchstone is private ownership of most industry. A necessary corollary is that most production and services are motivated by the drive for profit. That in turn implies a relatively free market—one in which entrepreneurs can enter any kind of business they wish, and private businessmen make most of their own decisions.

Capitalism is associated with a high degree of political and social freedom, but that is not a requisite; some economists argue that Nazi Germany was capitalist because most of its industry was privately owned. Yugoslavia, on the other hand, is still outside the capitalist camp because most of its industries are state-owned, even though they compete in a market economy.

Other countries vary widely, from relatively straightforward capitalism, as in Singapore, Canada and Argentina, through mixed economies where the government owns only key industries (oil in Indonesia), to nearly total government control of business, as in Cuba, Algeria and Hungary.

Read more about the different shades of capitalism...

4 comments:

Roadkill said...

Sunny,

I enjoy the 1970’s era Time Magazine articles that you dredge up, because they remind me of my gullible and impressionable youth. Time was a staple for me during my college years, when I did not have the time or patience to pore over daily newspapers. Rather, my buddies and I would get our Time Magazines on Wednesday or Thursday, read them cover to cover to find out what happened the week before, then vigorously discuss the issues over a twelve-pack or two during our weekend of “socializing.”

But re-reading those articles now highlights just how naïve I really was; to think that I believed that American journalism produced enlightened and objective pieces on what was going on in the world, and how current events fit into the context of history. (Global Ice Age coming!! Reagan policies too dangerous !! America’s best years are behind us!! ) Fortunately, from my experienced (wise?) old perspective now, I can see how foolish that youthful view really was – especially when you re-present some of that old nonsense that used to pass for journalism in the 1970’s. All I can say is: Thanks for the Memories!

For instance, check out this gem from the item you posted: “Capitalism is associated with a high degree of political and social freedom, but that is not a requisite; some economists argue that Nazi Germany was capitalist because most of its industry was privately owned.” Yes, certainly; and “some” economists would argue that price has nothing to do with supply and demand. But what is not pointed out is the rather obvious counter-point that MOST economists argue that Nazi Germany was Socialist because even privately-held industry in Nazi-era Germany was controlled and directed by the state. And while that certainly falls under the aegis of socialism, many true believing fellow-travellers would have a lot of trouble accepting the idea.

That is because, of course, the idea that Nazi Germany could have anything in common with socialism (or communism, or any collectivist ideology of the left) is anathema to most leftists; they have always had reinforced in their minds that the Fascists were “right wingers.” Well, the dirty little secret in political science is that Fascism is a form of leftist, collectivist ideology, steeped in reverence for communal goals, sacrifice, and the greater good of the state. More to the point, the only reason fascism has been demonized and expelled from leftist circles is because Hitler’s broke the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact by attacking the worker’s paradise in mother Russia. Inconvenient facts for the devout leftist, I know, but why let facts get in the way of the current narrative?

But I digess. Let me address the canard, as suggested by your picture of the fat white kid and the starving black kid, that Capitalism takes from poor and gives to the rich. The fact is, an accurate rendition of that collage would have a big fat black guy – some tin horn ruler of a decaying post-colonial African state – taking the food from the mouth of one of his citizen/subects. The fact is, starvation in Africa is a relatively recent phenomenon, driven by the civil war and lawlessness which followed the premature departure of western administrators. From the Western African coast, to Somalia, to Zimbabwe – the post-colonial governments have brought suffering and ruin to their peoples. The fat white kid didn’t do it, the fat black guy did. And the reason he did was that he gave up on Capitalism and listened to socialist advisors.

Look if you will at the world, and point to places where socialism, or collectivism, or indeed any form of economy outside of capitalism has brought prosperity. The fact is, there are none. Capitalism may have some problems, but it is the only system in history that has elevated the standard of living for so many so quickly. Look at any part of the world that has a reasonably good standard of living, and you will find capitalism: North America, Europe, Japan, Indonesia, and now Russia and China. Look at any part of the world that is in poverty and misery and you will find collectivism: North Korea, Cuba, Africa, and much of Latin America.

So go ahead and bash Capitalism. It’s not perfect and it can do with some tweaking around the edges. But remember that there is no alternative system in existence that can improve the lot of so many as quickly as can capitalism. Socialism, and collectivism of all colors has only shown us how adept it is at taking people in exactly the other direction.

Inequality of Income, or Equality of Misery. Take your pick.

And keep those Mind out of Time articles coming!

Sunny Badger said...

RK: Your "some economists argue" is the foundation of balanced journalism. It is what you are taught in reporting classes as the ticket to bring balance to a story. You see the same thing happening in stories today on global warming. If 95 percent of the scientists believe global warming is an issue of great concern to the future of our planet, than five percent (or some) scientists believe global warming isn't a problem of concern.

The focus of the Time story was to show the sliding scale of capitalism. I believe in capitalism with moderation. However, the fundamentalist free-marketers believe any slide of the scale away from unregulated capitalism tarred as communism.

Adam Smith never used the word "capitalism" and the Constitution doesn't include the words "capitalism" or "socialism." Our nation is an experimental tug-o-war among competing philosophical visions. The Founding Fathers didn't read "Wealth of Nations" before or during the Revolution. What they thought of the book certainly wasn't mentioned in the Constitution or the Federalist Papers.

Notice how the volume of the right-wing noise machine is cranked up. It's been eight years since the right wing had a Democrat President to kick around. The Internet was a novelty eight years ago. Now it's on the phone and a main source news, information and propaganda for the people who what to look like they care.

I certainly don't endorse communism. I would have preferred that the banks weren’t bailed out and I'm having a hard figuring out why we should bail out people who can pay their mortgages.

I also understand that Obama knows the political clock is ticking and he needs to push through as much as he can before the 2010 election season comes to town. If the economy is the same as it is now or worse, the Democrats will find Republicans taking their seats. If "big government" turns things in a positive direction, the Republicans are not going to be able to take any credit for it.

In the locker room at the exercise club today, to guys were discussing politics. One guy Obama has run the country into the ground in just 2 1/2 months. The other guy said he thought that after eight years, the country is finally turning into a positive direction and becoming a member of the world community.

Shaun Hannity tells his listeners to hang on --- we've survived failed Presidencies before. He didn't mention the last eight years with Bush.

I have no crystal ball and only hope for the best in the future. If it takes a slide on the scale away from unfettered, free-market capitalism, that works for me. Do I think the US will turn into Cuba or North Korea? No. Do I think Armageddon is coming? Yes. It's Armageddon everyday for somebody somewhere. Yesterday it was for people talking their citizen test in New York. Today it was for three cops in Philadelphia. Tomorrow it will be for someone.

I'll be taking it one day at a time sweet Jesus.

Bachito said...

I´m all the way with you NO MORE CAPITALISM OR ANY TYPE OF ECONOMY, economy and countries was the worst mistakes than humans made

Anonymous said...

fuck with capitalism