April 7, 2012

What Is Capitalism?

Filed under: Neo-feudalism, Reformism Can't Work — Tags: — Russ @ 3:26 am


We could have markets without it. If there was a network of producers/customers who exchange among themselves, each seeking the things he needs, each seeking only the fair value of his work, that would be a market, but not a capitalist one.
Capitalism is when one of them decides the fair value of his work isn’t enough, but that he wants something extra on top of that. He wants a “profit”. In other words, he wants to steal and be a leech. If enough of them can impose this system of swindling and extortion in place of the system of fairness and sufficiency, the rest have no choice but to reciprocate bad for bad, also become some level of profiteers, also seek to steal. Most people would rather not be this way, and to the eternal credit of humanity, most do not seek every profit opportunity, but on the contrary do their best to maintain human cooperation amid this harsh anti-human environment. But nevertheless we’re all forced into all sorts of degrading compromises which attempt to dehumanize us. Dehumanization is always the goal of capitalism at all times.
Again, to boil it down to a sentence, capitalism is where someone doesn’t want what’s fair, but is greedy for more.
Really, it’s where someone doesn’t want to work at all, where he wants to be a worthless rent-extracting parasite. It is essentially antisocial and anti-human.



  1. Capitalism and markets are a package deal. As long as tit-for-tat exchange is used there will be manipulation and corruption in the exchange process. The alternative is an open, holistic system of provisioning. This exists in information technology now. The real work IMO is to see how much of this can be done in physical production (a la Open Source Ecology).

    Comment by Karl — April 7, 2012 @ 7:15 am

    • That would be best. Cooperation and community credit is natural, and is always morally and practically superior to markets except for limited circumstances. (I.e., necessary trade between communities.)

      With this note I wanted to propose a way of arguing with people (for example, small farmers) who have absolutely zero interests in common with big corporations (i.e., with capitalism), but who may still be mired in propaganda which gets them to see themselves as “capitalists”. The false idea that capitalism as the organizational mode of civilization, and markets as a circumstantial practice, are synonyms, is part of that propaganda.

      Comment by Russ — April 7, 2012 @ 7:25 am

  2. Neat,pithy little entry.
    What a coincidence-I was just talking to someone about a prominent farmer who desrcibes himself as a capitalist 🙂

    Comment by DualPersonality — April 7, 2012 @ 10:56 am

    • Thanks DP. Who was this prominent farmer? Of course, anyone who chooses to keep “growing” and is never satisfied will inevitably turn into a racketeer if he can. On the other hand, most have no chance of this, and will doom themselves to a losing struggle if they insist on clinging to the valuations and measures of the rackets, who are their real enemy.

      A farmer who says we must always act in accord with nature is certainly contradicting himself if he turns around and exalts a radically unnatural and rigged “capitalism” (i.e., all capitalism).

      Comment by Russ — April 7, 2012 @ 3:07 pm

    • I apologize for the above typo 😦

      Comment by DualPersonality — April 7, 2012 @ 8:38 pm

      • No problem.

        Comment by Russ — April 8, 2012 @ 3:13 am

  3. An important feature of capitalism is the rigged market. A so-called “free market” cannot be achieved under capitalism, which is designed to be extractive for the benefit of the top 0.1%. The only difference between the capitalism of feudal times and the capitalism of today is the lengths to which the owners go to hide the fact that the market is rigged to benefit the owners.

    Comment by Tao Jonesing — April 7, 2012 @ 12:07 pm

    • I didn’t use the loaded term “free market”, but rather used what I considered the denotative “market”. Certainly capitalism has no choice but to rig all markets to ensure continued profit extractions for the oligopolists. That’s where they use the Orwellian term “free market”, which has no reality-based definition.

      Comment by Russ — April 7, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

  4. Greece experiments with cashless currency:

    “They’re quite joyous occasions,” she said. “It’s very liberating, not using money.” At one market, she said, she approached a woman who had come along with three large trays of homemade cakes and was selling them for a unit a cake. “I asked her: ‘Do you think that’s enough? After all, you had the cost of the ingredients, the electricity to cook …’

    “She replied: ‘Wait until the market is over’, and at the end she had three different kinds of fruit, two one-litre bottles of olive oil, soaps, beans, a dozen eggs and a whole lot of yoghurt. ‘If I had bought all this at the supermarket,’ she said, ‘it would have cost me a great deal more than what it cost to make these cakes.'”

    Greece on the breadline: cashless currency takes off

    Another quote:

    “You are not poor when you have no money,” she said, “you are poor when you have nothing to offer – except for the elderly and the sick, to whom we should all be offering.”

    Comment by reslez — April 7, 2012 @ 3:17 pm

    • Thanks, reslez. That’s a great example of what alternatives to money can accomplish under conditions more extreme than ours (for the moment). That’s what time banking will have to do.

      I passed the link along to our time bank committee.

      Also from Greece: The Death of Dimitris Christoulas


      One day, I believe, the youth with no future will take up arms and hang the national traitors at Syntagma square, just like the Italians did with Mussolini in 1945 (at Milan’s Piazzale Loreto).

      Comment by Russ — April 8, 2012 @ 3:25 am

  5. Heh, apparently the board game now known as Monopoly was originally about how to prevent land monopolies.

    “Published in 1932, the new version of the game had a double title: The Landlord’s Game and Prosperity. Using the same game board and playing pieces, players were meant to change rules suddenly mid-game. Instead of fighting against one another to the bitter end, competitors were meant to change gears and start working together.”


    John Ortberg tells a story about playing Monopoly with his grandmother. After the game is over the pieces all go “back in the box”, she says. Unfortunately, the human toll of a real-world game of monopoly can not be reset and cleaned up so neatly.

    Comment by Karl — April 7, 2012 @ 10:01 pm

    • Thanks! I’ll pass that along to my friend who plays Monopoly with her kids but is ambivalent about what she sees as its bad message.

      Comment by Russ — April 8, 2012 @ 3:10 am

  6. While I agree with your sentiments, your definition of capitalism is actually of what it has become, not what it is. Capitalism is merely the use of capital (tools, factories, etc., goods used to produce other goods). What you describe is just the overlay that has accumulated that represents the base weaknesses of humans.

    Comment by cstillman — April 7, 2012 @ 11:31 pm

    • Seeking profit is a defining trait of capitalism. Everything else you mention could in principle be done within, for example, a steady-state economy.

      Nor, again, are these “base weaknesses of humans”. The evidence is clear – humans are naturally cooperative. Greed is rare among humans in a natural community. What we have today under neoliberal corporatist capitalism is a temporary socioeconomic derangement, imposed by power elites, which seeks to maximize all fringe pathology and select for sociopathy in general. But that doesn’t mean pathology is normal or basic. You’re falling into their trap of believing that their artificially imposed aberration is an absolute and historical norm. But it’s the opposite.

      Comment by Russ — April 8, 2012 @ 3:09 am

    • @cstillman,

      your definition of capitalism is actually of what it has become, not what it is.

      Capitalism isn’t just a word, it is a system. In fact, it is a system of control. Your definition of the word, in fact, predates the construction of capitalism as an alternative to feudalism, which also depended upon the use of capital.

      And capitalism has always been this way because it was designed to be. Capitalism is not some sort of revealed religion. It was designed by the owners to perpetuate the owners’ interests. Yes, capitalism exploits the base weaknesses of humans to keep the vast majority enslaved, but it is incorrect to say that capitalsim– a human-designed system– has been corrupted by those it exploits. What you call corruption is perfection to the owners.

      Comment by Tao Jonesing — April 8, 2012 @ 2:32 pm

  7. Good Evening Russ,

    I agree people should only seek to benefit from the values that they themselves create, and then trade with others. In my conceptual hierarchy, wealth is created when more values are created than are consumed. Profit is an accounting term that attempts to track this. However, it does not do so accurately when people are immoral and game profit itself. It is this reversal in the world we live in today that causes the injustice that is at the source of the righteous indignation that I share with you.

    Good to see you are still writing and generating discussion,

    Comment by Strieb Roman — April 9, 2012 @ 9:15 pm

    • Hi Streib. In my philosophy those who create value are fully compensated by the combination of getting the fair value of their work, and all the added benefit of being part of a community. (Then we also get into the whole question of how much it’s ever possible to untangle an individual’s accomplishment from the community’s accomplishment, how much of “himself” went into the education the community provied, how much he stood on the shoulders of giants, etc.) At any rate, we can achieve a reasonable measure of the value of work, of time and materials, and compensate that fairly in whatever form the community chooses. But profit, at best an unearned material incentive, always seems like a bad idea.

      And sure enough, as we see, the vast majority of profit has always gone not to those who produce value, but to rentier parasites – “owners” and such.

      Comment by Russ — April 10, 2012 @ 7:03 am

  8. Russ, in your philosophy then, do men own the product of their labour? Are they in a position to bargain with others for its worth? Is trade allowed? If so, what then of the man who works hard for years to save up so he may take a year off – is savings allowed? In what form do individual savings exist?

    Comment by Strieb Roman — April 10, 2012 @ 3:26 pm

    • The only philosophical question there is whether workers own the product of their labor, and the answer is Yes. It’s land and natural resources which cannot be legitimately “owned”, but only stewarded by the community. (A common example – you own your watch, but no one can own the factory that makes them.)

      Not that I’d make a federal case out of the terminology. In attacking “property” I focus on the property of the 1%, while arguing to everyone else that “property” is the 1%’s gambit, a rule they want us to play by but which is always used in their favor, and increasingly against us, as we see with things like Kelo, pre-emption laws and regulations, and the foreclosure assault and land grab. We the people would be far more secure on the land if we eschewed the propertarian framework in favor of community concepts like productive occupation.

      How is the produce distributed? Communities will work that out on their own. The evidence record, both of natural history and of today, is that humans naturally distribute things cooperatively within the community (and this intracommunity economy is the majority of the economy), and engage in conventional trade primarily inter-community.

      As for your question about “taking time off”, I need to ask a few questions in return.

      1. Are you aware that the vast majority of people who work have zero prospect of this “time off”, and that the concept has been alien throughout history? That the notion of a significant number of people being able to take time off, have vacations, retire, etc. is a feature of the Oil Age?

      (This is different from the fact that moderns work more hours than most people throughout history. Most groups, from primal hunter-gatherers to medieval peasants, actually worked far fewer hours per year than we do. But they never got to “take a year off” or something.)

      2. As for this Western middle class that (sometimes) has the option to “take time off”, where do you think the surplus for that comes from? Or for the existence of this middle class in the first place?

      One thing’s for sure – if we want to maximize our prosperity and our leisure going forward, the only way to do so will be to liberate ourselves from the corporate tyranny which is seeking to reduce us to a new feudalism.

      I often say this post-oil feudalism will be far more vicious than the medieval variety. Part of this will be the fact that we’ll work far harder, for far more hours, than medieval peasants. And unlike they we’ll do so as indentured debt slaves, with nowhere to flee (whereas they had the rising cities where they could flee their serfdom, which was relatively less onerous than that we face.)

      Comment by Russ — April 11, 2012 @ 4:16 am

      • Good Afternoon Russ,

        You make some good points. I too think everyone should work more often then not. I envisioned time off as “educational time” which I am sure you would view differently then just pure “leisure time”.

        What do you think of companies paying their employees stocks (ownership) as part of their compensation package and do you think this is a good thing? Or do you view it merely as a compromise that is not good enough.

        Comment by Strieb Roman — April 11, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

      • Hi Streib. I wasn’t disparaging leisure time. It’s necessary to our humanity. I was saying that people had more of it prior to industrialization and corporatism, and that our path to maximizing it now is to overthrow corporatism. (Industrialization will ebb with the fossil fuels that created it.) I’m not clear on what you mean by educational time as opposed to leisure.

        I’d say stock compensation is the same as the rest of the “ownership society” scam. Stockholders (except for the largest) were largely stripped of power vis management back in the 19th century, and the myth of the small stockholder having some kind of “stake” has been with us ever since. Tom Freidman’s a big fan of the “We’re All ExxonMobil” lie, for example. Turning workers into petty rentiers (and in this case, having a sham sliver of “ownership” rather than even the cash flow of a pension) has been great for generating pro-1% petty bourgeois attitudes among them.

        Meanwhile, unless they can sell that stock right away at a nice price (but as we saw in the case of Enron, they’re often forestalled from selling it; same for things like 401(k)s), they’d be far better off being paid more in cash.

        The CEO doesn’t approve employee stock because he thinks that’s giving them more than if they were paid fully in cash. On the contrary, I’m sure he calculates it at considerably less.

        So I don’t need to reach any question of “too much compromise”. I think it is, as a practical matter, a scam.

        Comment by Russ — April 11, 2012 @ 4:09 pm

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