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Saturday, May 25, 2024

A dose of capitalist poison

Last week, I explained why capitalist hierarchies are so adept at instilling the ideology of the elite class into the population. There are, as I said, a plethora of reasons for which we should find capitalism intolerable. The fact that it allows the information that shapes the society to be filtered through mechanisms that uphold elite interests is only one of them.

Marx’s argument, that people born into the world with no property (the proletariat) are forced into a bargaining position in which they accept the terms of the capitalist or die, shows that capitalism leads to a form of slavery — wage slavery. (Try not working for a capitalist — you’ll die).

Of course, since we live in a world of capitalist institutions, we have, since birth, been bombarded with reasons to think that capitalism liberates people, and that, in fact, it provides the most opportunity for people.

This should illustrate the immense ideological power granted to the capitalist class and the capitalist system (see my previous columns for a defense of how capitalist institutions naturally suppress ideas hostile to their power). When we come to the discussion, we already have a built-in web of thought, a framework of discussion that is instilled in the society by capitalist information control.

As Noam Chomsky once put it, “Either you repeat the same conventional doctrines everybody is saying, or else you say something true, and it will sound like it’s from Neptune.”

It just takes a lot more work to speak against a system when that system has already been sneakily filling our language, our concepts of value and our concepts of reality with pro-capitalist thought. It is an uphill battle. So, we have an entire web of pro-capitalist beliefs to try to untangle before we can even properly assess capitalism.

I decided to pick out one random (and particularly annoying) pro-capitalist idea that is just assumed in political discussion. This example should illustrate the fact that there are many of these assumptions, and that capitalism only wins out in the discussion so often because of these.

A common line of argument from advocates of free markets is that people who are innovative and hard-working should be allowed to shine, and that capitalism allows this, while socialism hampers this. Liberals frequently accept this. It is just assumed in the discussion, and liberals are left floundering, trying to sidestep it. This exemplifies the implicit ideology discussed above. People just assume that capitalism naturally rewards industriousness the most.

While clearly the first half is true — that brilliance and hard work should be rewarded — it is precisely because it is true, in part, that socialism is better for people. Capitalism does not afford equal ability to compete in markets, and therefore does not allow harder working, more brilliant people to succeed relative to less brilliant, less hard-working people who have more starting capital.

Oakland high schools, for example, have a 37 percent dropout rate. People born into this community could work as hard as or be as naturally brilliant as someone born in a rich community, but due to a plethora of factors (admittedly one is the culture of poverty, which once again is not the fault of those people born into it), their work won’t be equally rewarded. Of course this is a general claim, but the very few cases in which some extremely hard working person from a ghetto succeeds are not proof that they had an equal chance. The statistics show that they don’t.

Kurt Vonnegut’s story of “Harrison Bergeron,” in which the talented are bogged down with handicap devices to make the society fair, is the clearest example of this fallacy that the Right has successfully forced liberals to accept. Vonnegut is good and all, but the implicit argument normally taken from his story is misapplied. What is more reflective of the actual case is that people born into poor families have weights put on them to hamper their success, and the only way that they can remove those weights is to put weight onto other people.

That is what success is in capitalism. Success is subjugation of others.

So the only hope for the less-privileged is that they might grow up to usurp the work of others, weighing them down. The success story from the ghetto is only made possible in a capitalist society by furthering the very mechanisms that have made the ghetto nearly inescapable.

The top 20 percent owns 80 percent of everything in the country. Think about that.

You own none (most of you). They control the system by owning it, and they make Harrison Bergerons of all of us. Capitalism will only ever do this. The only way to lift the handicap devices off of every person is to ensure that they get the product of what they produce (instead of accepting whatever wage the capitals will offer) in a fair negotiation, not a negotiation in which they accept the capitalist’s terms or die of starvation.

BRIAN MOEN thinks that capitalism is hella super not metal. He can be reached at bkmoen@ucdavis.edu.


  1. “The top 20 percent owns 80 percent of everything in the country”

    Could you please clarify what this statement is intended to convey?



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