Friday, September 18, 2020

Addressing the faults of capitalism

Does capitalism "exploit labor for profit" and "advocate for relentless consumerism"?
That's what a Twitter critic of capitalism claimed. He was saying libertarians need to address these faults of capitalism.


Is it "exploitation" if you hire me, we both agree on how much you will pay me, and you profit from our arrangement so that you can continue to afford to pay me, and maybe expand the business and hire some others, and possibly make some money for yourself, too? 


Looking at that relationship honestly, you could argue that either person is "exploiting" the other, depending on your perspective and how negatively you view the world.

If I agree to work for you, I must have decided the money you will pay me is worth more to me than the time was worth to me on its own. I made a profit by selling you my time. If not, why would I agree to the deal? Yeah, I understand that I need money so I can buy necessities. That's part of the calculation. I see no lopsided exploitation here, absent coercion/the political means.

And "relentless consumerism"?

If you make stuff that I want, are you forcing me to buy it? If I buy it, is that nothing but consumerism, or do I find some value in what you produced? 

I see products vanish all the time, unable to convince sufficient numbers of people to buy them. Some of my favorite products went away because not enough people liked them as much as I did. Was I a victim of "relentless consumerism" who was freed from my chains when that product was discontinued? Or did I lose out on something I really liked due to consumerism not being quite relentless enough?

I know that it all depends on how a person defines "capitalism". 

If you define it as a political system, then I would oppose it too, unless I were smart enough to see that this is a dishonestly biased way to define it. based on the beliefs of Krooked Karl Marx. He used the term to disparage what he didn't like. Maybe "capitalism" isn't really the right word.

That's why I prefer the term "the market". That keeps it apolitical. Except that people who are obsessed with politics will still try to make that political, too. If they get their way we'll all be slaves to poverty and starvation, but at least we'll die in the cold as "equals".


Writing to promote liberty is my job.
YOU get to decide if I get paid.
I hope I add something you find valuable enough to support.


  1. Marx didn't "disparage" capitalism. He lauded it as the penultimate stage in his theory of history and a necessary precursor to revolution, dictatorship of the proletariat, and eventually communism (which is why he expected the latter stages occur in advanced capitalist states like Germany and England, not still essentially feudal places like Russia and China).

    In point of fact, while Marx did not coin the term "capitalism," he was pretty much single-handedly responsible for popularizing the term. Capitalism (a mixed, state-regulated, industrial state) is a feature of Marxist theory. Both Marxists and capitalists do find it useful to conflate capitalism with free markets, but the two are not the same thing.

    1. What writings of his I've read certainly didn't seem to admire capitalism, but perhaps you've read different things than I have, or took them differently.

  2. It's not about how one "takes" Marx. He's very clear on the point.

    He has a theory of history, and in that theory of history capitalism is an absolutely necessary feature, the stage in which feudalism is brought to an end and a new phase is entered in which capital is efficiently allocated to dramatically increase production, raise standards of living, increase population, etc. Only AFTER capitalism has done those things can socialism occur, because capitalism allows the "accumulation" of those things needed to make the means of production efficient.

    There are, of course, lots of problems with his theory. But that IS his theory, and it's not hidden in obscure corners of his writing.

    After the Russian revolution, Lenin et al. found themselves trying to reproduce that capitalist "accumulation" process, since Russia hadn't been through its capitalist state. That's what "state capitalism," "New Economic Policy," etc. were all about. They specifically blamed the absence of a capitalist basis for their revolution's failure to immediately bring about plenty -- because Marx had taught them that exactly such a previous stage was necessary.

    1. I've been thinking about this topic since you and R.R. commented, and I think our only "disagreement" is based on mutual miusunderstandings, but I appreciate the input. It made me think, and I always like that.

    2. Glad to be of help.

      I'd say that Marxism's critique of capitalism goes something like this: "There was a foot path. Feudalism turned it into a trail. Mercantilism turned it into a dirt road. Capitalism turned it into a paved road. Socialism will turn it into a freeway -- and we really need a freeway because the road is always congested."

      Marx acknowledges that capitalism dramatically improved the material existence of people. They ate better, they lived longer, they had more stuff. But he thought that a side effect of capitalism was "alienation" of labor, and that socialism was the next step to build on capitalism's accomplish.

      He was completely wrong about "alienation" and in adopting a labor theory of value, etc. And, just like capitalists, he found it useful to conflate capitalism and free markets. But to the extent that he "disparaged" capitalism, it was as a good, but now old, obsolete, and due for replacement thing.

  3. I agree that socialists regard capitalism as wrong but I concur with Mr. Knapp that Marxists regard it as the necessary precursor to ‘successful” (sic) socialism. Capitalism is one of those words that have accumulated so many disparate definitions as to now encompass anything one wishes to attribute to it. Marx was a political man and such a man believes that good ends can be brought about by bad means. This is one of the fundamental distinctions between the beliefs of a political person and an ethical person. The primary flaw with socialism is that it’s proponents falsely belief that the creation and provision of prosperity can be continued much less accomplished, through its tenets alone. Margaret Thatcher correctly punctured this pretense with the (paraphrased) statement "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money.".