Why is Capitalism Evil?

Why is Capitalism Evil?
Hyperreal_Logic
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Posted Sep 9, 2010 - 3:59 PM:
Subject: Why is Capitalism Evil?
I have heard someone use the word "evil" to describe capitalism. I am curious about why they might believe so, and I would like to hear (or read) what others have to say about the evilness of Capitalism.
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Posted Sep 9, 2010 - 4:34 PM:

Of the three popular normative ethical theories. . . .

Deontology -- Capitalism violates the 2nd formulation of the categorical imperative, wherein one treats other human beings as ends unto themselves as opposed to merely a means to an end.

Virtue theory -- Capitalism encourages an excessive pursuit for wealth, and this is an extreme. While wealth is a necessary precondition for happiness, the excess of wealth and the obsessive pursuit of economic growth violates the principle of moderation. Further, capitalism isn't built for human happiness (which violates the end-goal of Virtue theory), but economic growth and economic growth only.

Consequentialism -- Capitalism decreases the happiness of the majority in favor of the few -- namely, those who own the means of production. It strongly encourages an unsustainable growth rate. It also seems to interpret human behavior in an asocial way, namely in terms of punishment and reward, and this model of human behavior is, well, wrong according to current psychological theory. If society is built around a wrong model of human behavior, then it is more likely to increase unhappiness, as we rationally choose to make our social atmosphere fit something that we are not.


Now, I hesitate to call it "Evil". That seems too strong to myself. But it's certainly ethically faulty, in my book. (and, to judge by the current distribution of capitalism in the world, in the pure capitalist sense, it doesn't really even exist. All successful economies, judged by the Western standard of success, are mixed economies)
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Posted Sep 9, 2010 - 5:21 PM:

Capitalism is about profit, and ONLY profit - through various means such as competition.

Its not about improving everyones livelihood.

A simple example is; the workers have to worker harder and longer in order to be able to compete. An never ending story. Someone is always hanging out to dry.

Here is a place to start my friend. www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gK...gKX9TWRyfs&feature=related
Just watch the whole thing - its worth it.

cheers


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Posted Sep 9, 2010 - 6:14 PM:

The short response is that capitalism is not evil. Capitalism or markets have pretty much proven to more efficiently and effectively utilize and allocate resources (both human and material) than other forms of economic systems.

Unregulated capitalism is subject to undesirable excesses both in the exploitation of workers, lack of concern for environmental consequences, and the tendency to so concentrate wealth and power as to destroy the beneficial aspects of markets (monopoly). There are however no unregulated markets systems in existence. The degree and the type of necessary regulation are subjects for disagreement and discussion.
In general those countries which embrace market systems are wealthier and better off than those countries which have experimented with other economic systems (primarily socialism, communism or some form of central planning). Even the poorest of citizens in market systems are generally better off. This is not an argument against systems of taxation or wages that better distribute wealth in market economies or regulations which prevent excess concentration of wealth and power
.
In politics and in economics one should judge systems by results not by intentions. Markets are the clearly superior economic system. Businesses fail, people loss jobs but this is inevitable and markets distribute those events over time and place in a way that the failure of centrally planned economies do not and cannot. Creative destruction is the term applied.

Socialism or communism although attractive in theory ignore the realities of human nature (competitive and acquisitive) and stifle the innovation, industry and incentive which generates wealth and economic growth.
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Posted Sep 9, 2010 - 6:21 PM:




Hyperreal_Logic wrote:
I have heard someone use the word "evil" to describe capitalism. I am curious about why they might believe so, and I would like to hear (or read) what others have to say about the evilness of Capitalism.


"Capitalism" is an economic system which has a fairly long history (several centuries) of preparation leading to full expression more recently. "Evil" is a moral term which one wouldn't necessarily apply to economic systems or monetary policy in themselves. One might wish to call it evil, and I will do so in a little bit, but there is a paradox: Capitalism opened the oyster of the modern world for us. It helped bring about fantastic technological innovation (I wasn't thinking of FaceBook and YouTube here), and unleashed a tremendous amount of productive power. The system which alienates the worker to an extraordinary degree also empowers and instructs the worker.

The kernel at the center of capitalism is the fact that workers can produce far more 'value' than they need to maintain themselves. The difference between what it takes to keep a worker on the assembly line and the price that you can sell what he makes is quite large. So, a United Auto Worker will be willing to spend his life on the assembly line (not a particularly pleasant place) in exchange for good wages and benefits. The 'value' of the car he makes can be sold for a high enough price to cover all the costs of putting the car in your hands and giving the stockholders a nice profit.

A Greasy Franchise owner (Popeye, KFC, McDonalds, etc.) can pay much less to keep burger flippers busy and make quite a bit of money for himself. A fried chicken wing doesn't yield much profit but if you sell enough of them, it adds up. Wages and benefits for the grease workers is low because profit margins are low, and consumers will only pay so much for sugar and grease. So, why does anybody work for the wages which are as bad as the food?

Capitalism benefits from a surplus of workers. A certain level of misery is necessary to keep workers flipping burgers AND doing a lot of other jobs that may pay a lot more but which are not all that satisfying over the long run. Capitalism doesn't manage the population directly, of course, but through government policy (which works hand-in-glove with capitalists) a large enough surplus can generally be maintained to keep worker demands under control. In addition to a surplus of workers, capitalism is quite "firm" in its resistance to unionization. "Firm" to the point of killing union organizers if need be.




Under conditions of competition for jobs, falling wages, export of production to cheap labor zones abroad, and so forth the "evils" of capitalism come to the fore and what was ALWAYS true about capitalism, but not always clear, becomes obvious to anyone with a pulse. The "evil" of capitalism is its ruthless, remorseless exploitation of the worker, and its theft of the fruits of his labor from the worker. The worker gives his life in exchange for necessities while the capitalist collects the profits for luxuries.
There is still the paradox: Capitalism enables workers to learn and master the operation of the capitalist system. Most of us have gained a small piece of that knowledge. What remains is to take our knowledge, expel the capitalist from the community, seize the factories, transportation, communication systems, warehouses, and retail systems, the banks, the government, the whole kielbasa, and enjoy the fruits of our labor -- fully.
As uncle Karl put it so succinctly, Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains and a world to gain."


Edited by BitterCrank on Sep 10, 2010 - 5:59 AM
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Posted Sep 9, 2010 - 6:32 PM:

prothero wrote:
The short response is that capitalism is not evil. Capitalism or markets have pretty much proven to more efficiently and effectively utilize and allocate resources (both human and material) than other forms of economic systems.

Unregulated capitalism is subject to undesirable excesses both in the exploitation of workers, lack of concern for environmental consequences, and the tendency to so concentrate wealth and power as to destroy the beneficial aspects of markets (monopoly). There are however no unregulated markets systems in existence. The degree and the type of necessary regulation are subjects for disagreement and discussion.
In general those countries which embrace market systems are wealthier and better off than those countries which have experimented with other economic systems (primarily socialism, communism or some form of central planning). Even the poorest of citizens in market systems are generally better off. This is not an argument against systems of taxation or wages that better distribute wealth in market economies or regulations which prevent excess concentration of wealth and power
.
In politics and in economics one should judge systems by results not by intentions. Markets are the clearly superior economic system. Businesses fail, people loss jobs but this is inevitable and markets distribute those events over time and place in a way that the failure of centrally planned economies do not and cannot. Creative destruction is the term applied.

Socialism or communism although attractive in theory ignore the realities of human nature (competitive and acquisitive) and stifle the innovation, industry and incentive which generates wealth and economic growth.



I think this post contains a false dichotomy. Industrialized nations are wealthier than nonindustrialized nations. But there is more than one way to industrialize.

It so happened that the US and Western Europe used the capitalist model (in part) to industrialize (needless to say the ante-bellum South used an even more primitive system to build infrastructure --plantation slavery). But other nations used the socialist model. Thus Russia industrialized in less time than it took the US. China has made similar progress. Cuba also.

Industrialism increases standard of living, not the particular economic system that gets it there. This question gets more complicated since not all nations are not similarly situated in terms of resources and manpower. The US was extremely fortunate in that it had abundance unused supplies of oil, timber, coal and water to use to industrialize with. It had a tradition of education, pluralism, equalitarianism, and other cultural advantages that led to productivity. It had the benefit of being on a continent separated from the major colonial powers and their tendency to make wars. It indulged in the crime of large scale plantation slavery, which didn't require slaves to be paid any wages for almost a century, while they cleared forests, drained swamps, built roads and planted crops for almost a century.

So we cannot attribute our high standard of living solely to capitalism. It is much more complex than that, and there are other ways to increase standard of living besides the capitalist model.

My view is that both capitalism and communism are outmoded, not just the latter (as some capitalst triumphalists are claiming), and both contradict basic modern moral standards. So we must seek out new models for our future economy.

Edited by Landru Guide Us on Sep 9, 2010 - 6:39 PM
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Posted Sep 9, 2010 - 10:22 PM:

Capitalism and evil are the consequences of free will. With regard to economic utility, every capitalistic exchange occurs by mutual consent to the mutual advantage of each party. Within the context of capitalism, evil is the consequence of free will imposed on humanity through broad or narrow market activity. Collective human agency expressed through markets demonstrates the capacity of the human collective to make choices and to impose those choices on the world. The human collective that imposes choices on the world is evil in the bpth the moral and natural sense.

Edited by pumkin on Sep 9, 2010 - 11:49 PM
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Posted Sep 9, 2010 - 11:13 PM:

As has already been pointed out, there aren't any capitalist economies. Capitalism is pretty much defined as the private ownership of assets and the private allocation of resources. Armies, police forces, roads, charitable trusts, arguably church assets - all are in some type of public ownership or control of asset distribution.

As a crude estimate, how capitalist a society is could be guessed from the tax revenue as a proportion of GDP. On that measure, the most capitalist societies are Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Sudan, UAE etc., all with less than 10% taxation from GDP. This is a mixture of dictatorships, monarchies and anarchies.

So that helps answer the question, unbridled capitalism is closely linked to (not necessarily the cause of) huge concentration of power, or destruction of social structures.

Countries you would like to live in, ranging from Denmark to the USA, have taxation levels between 25% and 50% of GDP.

Now it isn't a perfect measure (!) China, for instance, has taxation at about 2/3 the level of that of the USA as a proportion of GDP. Now you could argue that it is more capitalist than the USA, but personally I believe that the level of state intervention around the options for asset allocation, and the regulation of wages, suggest that it is not. The problem with the measure is it only captures tax revenue for the state, and ignores the return from and value of state controlled assets.

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Posted Sep 10, 2010 - 2:06 AM:

mric wrote:
As has already been pointed out, there aren't any capitalist economies. Capitalism is pretty much defined as the private ownership of assets and the private allocation of resources. Armies, police forces, roads, charitable trusts, arguably church assets - all are in some type of public ownership or control of asset distribution.


I find this use of 'capitalism' and 'socialism' very strange. Since it's hard to imagine civilisation without a mix of public and private ownership, it basically means saying that there are no capitalist or socialist societies. Which is a strange thing to say.

mric wrote:
As a crude estimate, how capitalist a society is could be guessed from the tax revenue as a proportion of GDP.


Why? Especially when this, as you say, generates a list where countries like Iran (planned economy with a huge state-supported co-operative sector and nationalised heavy industries), Kuwait (the world's most generous welfare state) and Libya (also known as the "Socialist People's Libyan Arab Great Jamahiriya") come up as the most capitalist societies. It's not clear that you are measuring capitalism at all.

There's no one index that is going to determine 'capitalism', because 'capitalism' is used by various people to mean different things, which are themselves largely based on family resemblance rather than reference to any one attribute of a society.

Anyway, there is a category mistake in this entire thread. Neither capitalism or socialism or whatever social system are themselves evil. Good and evil are done by people, and people have done evil things in every society. The question to ask is this: does a particular set of social arrangements apparently encourage or discourage certain actions? That's a very difficult, country-specific, question, and will not be successfully answered in this thread.

I can however explain one of the reasons why capitalism seems so evil at an a priori level: capitalism is based around people pursuing private interests rather than the interests of a society as a whole. Because we so readily identify outcomes with intentions (disastrously so) our moral sympathies are not awakened by the impersonal operations of the market. Even when someone realises that profit involves indiscriminately servicing people they have not met, it is difficult to morally approve of this, because it is done for self-interest rather than out of affection for the other person.

As a result of these psychological factors, we are instinctively led to morally disapprove (or at most be neutral) no matter how beneficial a market system might be. The only way someone could approve of the market would be on grounds of principle and/or consquences; moral sentiments, which are the basis for many of our everyday moral judgements, will never do the job by themselves.

So our instincts lead us towards viewing capitalism as evil, because we instinctively identify good outcomes with good intentions.
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Posted Sep 10, 2010 - 3:05 AM:

Capitalism and the market economy seem to me to be tools. Software tools (i.e. methods rather than physical things), and surely can't therefore be inherently evil. Often I hear phrases similar to "we will let the markets decide", for example in relation to the take up of renewable energy over fossil fuel burning. I think this tends to encourage sloppy thinking, suggesting that some non-human entity has 'decided' that a certain technology should be used. This allows people to think of the market or the system as evil.

If we were to agree that people at the top of the banking crisis made decisions that they knew would be of detriment to other people that they would never meet, we can label those people's actions as evil - even those people as evil. Can we say that the Capitalist system was evil?

I would suggest that we do well to remember that decisions that are made 'by the market' are actually no more than the sum of a number of individual decisions made by real people. These people can be good or evil - to assign a label of evil or good to the system is nonsensical.

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