Well this is a juicy conversation. In reading the different viewpoints
coming over SAN, I think an underlying issue is that people have very
different definitions of capitalism, which can then lead them to different
conclusions about whether it's good or bad and thus what an appropriate
path for humanity might be.
For some, capitalism merely means that money is the basis for the exchange
of goods, money is a store of value (just as, say, shells might be), and
that if one works hard, one is rewarded with more money, which one can
exchange for goods and services. The benefit of such a system, they would
say, is that one can work harder to get more goods and it rewards working
vs. laziness (and nepotism, internal corruption, etc. in power structure).
This is "The American Dream" speech that every politician loves and many
immigrants really do come to this country for.
I think there is both truth and manipulation of this vision, but it's
important to recognize the positive role it can play in getting people to
contribute to their community. I think real good has been done by people
saying "I have a solution to problem x" and creating the solution, because
they hope to take care of their survival needs. Having a free market for
putting out ideas, where people can vote with their dollars (vs. trying to
convince some committee to put it out) can be a real incentive for
On the other hand, capitalism means for others what I'd call "irresponsible
big corporation capitalism" for lack of a better name. This is capitalism
that puts money above all else - including the things we want in our world
- like a clean environment, safe working conditions, fair distribution of
wealth, peace, etc. This version of capitalism is willing to selling guns
into a wartorn country, and willing to speak the words of democracy (when
it wants U.S. government CIA agents working on corporate "intelligence"
activities) while hanging out with and supporting dictators (e.g., Nigeria,
To me, there are almost two different beasts here, and the dividing line
isn't the economic system (money traded for goods) which really has pretty
ancient roots (any time any object was used to store value - e.g., shells,
gold) but *what one is willing to do for money*. I think the problems with
corporate capitalism are:
(1) that it has forgotten the *reason* for earning money.
Because money has been made the one and only holy goal, it says: we'll do
whatever we can to get money - then, if there are problems, we'll use money
to fix that. If my corporation ruins the environment, the answer is for me
to earn enough money to live some place unspoiled (like the islands shown
on the rich and the famous). If the corporation creates social unrest,
uses ads to create desires that can't be met for the majority, sells cheap
handguns into the streets, then my goal would be to earn enough money to
live in a gated community, have a bullet-proof limo and guards, a private
(2) That it has removed personal or corporate responsibility from the
equation (unless they're forced to be responsible, which they then whine
and cry about), and does everything to reduce liability laws (though they
can also be abused, they're often the only voice the public has, in a
system where money corrupts the regulators). This makes corporations
*irresponsible* even reckless actors in our community, and allows much of
their harm to continue unchecked. This definition is not inherent in
(3) That it deifies selfishness and greed - it has no moral basis for it's
actions - money is the only g-d in this equation. If one cares about
another human being when it's not in one's economic self-interest, well
then, one's just a fool. But there's no shame in wanting millions,
billions in income, while still telling workers there's just not enough
money to pay them more than $1 a day in wages....
(4) That it uses pretty words and lies to cover this up. Yet their
corporate ownership of the media (which is increasingly concentrated) and
the need for advertising dollars makes it very risky and unlikely for a
periodical to truly take on the true depth of these lies.
The big agri-chemical companies say they're working to save the world from
starvation and to help the farmer - while at the same time they poison the
world, work to suppress information on pesticides harm and the genetic
engineered source of their products, poison farmers (though farmers
generally live a healthier lifestyle, there's strong evidence correlating
pesticide use with high rates of certain diseases like nonHodgkins
lymphoma, in farmers), and drive small farmers out of business.
Many corporations use democracy as their banner while working to subvert
the democratic process, and use free market as their banner while working
to subvert it (e.g. consumer info is vital for free market to work, for a
consumer to make an informed choice, yet Monsanto refuses to allow
labelling of rGBH and genetically-engineered soybeans). They say they
"have to" participate in the race to the bottom, as if the game was created
by someone else, while they use millions of corporate dollars to ensure
that any brakes to this race are removed (both within a country and GATT).
NAFTA/GATT is a good example/instituationalization of all these flaws, in
fact. Supporters say it's good for business and so it must be good for us
citizens. But any analysis shows that it makes a highway for corporations
to use their values all over the world - and the top value is money. The
environment, labor, and social issues are in side agreements, not in the
center where most people would put them (if you want to reach a goal, you
should put it first, rather than expect it will result as an outcome of
actions that often create the opposite outcome!). And actions governments
(peoples) do to take care of them can be considered "constraints of trade".
Money has been made king, and the new rulers (GATT's rulemakers) are not
democratically-elected or subject to public disclosure or pressure. What a
huge step backwards for humankind!
>>> But I think it should be made clear the difference between
irresponsible big corporate capitalism and the words they manipulate for
their own self-interest. I don't think this type of negative behavior is
inherent in capitalism - certainly Communist Russia shows that corruption,
etc. can be rampant in any system - and there they didn't have liberty to
protest the abuses. Just look at the amount of pollution that occurred in
that "anti-capitalist" society. So I think any economic system can have
serious harm done to populations, not just capitalism. True liberty in the
political and communication systems is often a bigger indicator of harm
than the economic system.
As Dan Hemenway pointed out, capitalism (the exchange of money for goods)
can also be consistent with true civic responsibility (not a few millions
to charity as the pillaging goes on, but real responsibility for one's
actions), with people connected to their hearts, remembering that there are
goals in being human much more important than money (that it's only a
tool), that the underlying things people want are pretty much the same -
enough to eat, a healthy environment, love/healthy relationships, some
control over the things in their lives, truth from their public figures,
etc. - and that if in going for money you ruin these things, you've missed
the point of the real game!!
I think to attack capitalism for corporate abuses is to aim at the wrong
target, and thus disempower one's actions. I think the free market can be
like democracy can be - a chance for the community to assert it's values,
where both the individual and the community can be respected, and
individual and group accomplishment can be encouraged. But to do that I
think we need to criticize the true mind patterns/lack of consciousness
that stops that vision from being manifest. Not capitalism, but how some
people/organizations interpret and manipulate it.
What if we instead said that we want a true free market - which means, for
instance, complete public information - that that's vital. For example,
the medical system says it wants to "keep" the free market in medicine.
But we really haven't had that. Has there been freedom of competing ideas,
where the market decides, for example re: "alternative" medicine? No, AMA
boards, representing just one style of medicine, kept making it illegal.
Or do we have complete information when choosing a doctor or surgeon? No,
almost all by word of mouth. (That's why I support those working to make
all of a doctor's history public information, including re: malpractice
issues.) What if we insist that those wanting the benefits of a free
market must fully support full public information so citizens can make
And what if we instead said that to have a true free market we must have
true liberty, for I was taught that you can't have economic free choice
without political free choice, not when anyone can come and take your
money/goods/life from you. Thus, what if we insisted that corporations act
to support, not suppress liberty, in every country they're in - or not be
there - that this was how they proved they were committed to a free market,
and that if they acted against liberty, they couldn't say they were for the
free market any more.
What if we instead defined our primary goals as healthy bodies and
environment, liberty, free choice, etc. and remembered that money is only
useful if it supports those goals? If we declared that our definition of
free market doesn't mean money *at any cost* but money if it serves larger
goals, but we support other actions that support these goals too.
And on down the line, re: my points above. If corporations want the rights
of people (ex. free speech), then they should have the responsibility of
people for their actions (liability). Etc.
In this way, I think we can keep the best of the economic system called
capitalism/free market while calling a halt to its abuses. If we (1)
understand it well enough to insist that the game be really played, not
just when it's convenient, not just to cover up malfeasance; and (2) set
higher goals that it can be used in support of, but not in replacement of.
Then we don't have to throw out the baby with the bathwater....
Of course, I know I'm being idealistic in setting out this
possibility/distinction, because it'll take real creativity in our
thinking, because corporations are so used to resisting any external
authority or change in direction, and because corporate ownership of the
media makes it hard to have a decent unmanipulated public conversation on
issues of public interest. But then, that's why the Internet is so great.
And I believe in setting goals that are solid, then just finding ways to
make them happen.
Hope you find these ideas interesting.
NOTE: I think religion could be important in returning morality to
corporate action, if they'd choose to do that (instead of those religious
figures who seem to have forgotten the Jesus who threw off money and
earthly things and who instead use their pulpits to demonize those who have
concerns about corporate behavior, like demonizing those horrible
environmentalists....). Thankfully, there are religious people who are
finding in their holy books the idea that the earth is G-d's and thus is
sacred and should thus be treated as holy. And perhaps other humans too.
(c) Patricia Dines, all rights reserved. Can be copied to others for
personal information sharing, but not published broadly electronically or
in print without prior written permission.
THIS INFORMATION PROVIDED BY: Patricia Dines
Specializing in educating and empowering citizen action on toxics and their
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