blue bits. red rocks.


What Columbus did to the Arawaks of the Bahamas, Cortes did to the Aztecs of Mexico, Pizarro to the Incas of Peru, and the English settlers of Virginia and Massachusetts to the Powhatans and the Pequots. They used the same tactics, and for the same reasons — the frenzy in the early capitalist states of Europe for gold, for slaves, for products of the soil, to pay the bondholders and stockholders of the expeditions, to finance the monarchical bureaucracies rising in Western Europe, to spur the growth of the new money economy rising out of feudalism, to participate in what Karl Marx would later call “the primitive accumulation of capital.” These were the violent beginnings of an intricate system of technology, business, politics, and culture that would dominate the world for the next five centuries. The Real Christopher Columbus

It would seem that Marx and Engels, in their giddy enthusiasm for the industrial revolutions of their day, were wrong about this. Or, to be more precise: they were right to insist that the mechanization of industrial production would destroy capitalism; they were wrong to predict that market competition would compel factory owners to mechanize anyway. If it didn’t happen, that is because market competition is not, in fact, as essential to the nature of capitalism as they had assumed. If nothing else, the current form of capitalism, where much of the competition seems to take the form of internal marketing within the bureaucratic structures of large semi-monopolistic enterprises, would come as a complete surprise to them. Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit

With the outsourcing of most traditional manufacturing jobs and the rise of the service economy, in which most people who work stare into a screen all day — whether they work at Target or on Wall Street — has come a set of cultural shifts Scott does not mention. Work and entertainment exist on a continuum with no clear dividing line between the two, and the distinction between producer and consumer has become confused. Indeed, an individual citizen’s most important economic role, in the post-industrial West, is that of a consumer, inhaling goods, products, services and entertainment, as much of that as possible delivered electronically or shipped to your door. (Consumption power has grown even as real income has fallen and inequality has grown, one of the many paradoxes in late capitalism.) Being a producer in the old-fashioned sense comes second if it comes at all. Many of us — myself and A.O. Scott very much included — produce things that aren’t even things, and whose exchange-value and social utility are nebulous at best. The “death of adulthood” is really just capitalism at work

I think a lot of this connects all the way back to when we chose to move away from an economy of abundance and toward an economy of wealth. In that one decision, there are seeds for so much inequity, envy, resentment and even violence Is Capitalism Un-Biblical?

☼   ☼      ☼   ☼

Imagine a world with unlimited resources where any industrious individual or group could conceivably work their way into any market on a competitive basis. But to the contrary we live in a finite world where the majority of the U.S. population is actually being excluded from participating as capitalists. It’s true many do work in competitive capitalist industries of one sort or another. However, the people at the bottom and middle levels of the wage scale often earn only enough, or less than enough, to do little more than get by. These people are not practicing capitalists themselves but are merely employed by capitalist companies. Many in our economy have neither the means nor the opportunity to move up the ladder, and for them the capitalist system might as well be non-existent; calling those people capitalists themselves is little more than a mind bending exercise holding them personally responsible for a system which is unable to deliver the advocated promises. Almost all are slaves to the system if they want to maintain their current standard of living. While they do have a great potential for moving down, and even being forced down by circumstances beyond their control, in all reality there is very little room for the vast majority to move up. And, of course, those at the very bottom of our economic pyramid have no choice but to solicit or accept charity and government handouts with the possibility of being forced into crime. No matter how you classify the people at the very bottom they’re not capitalists themselves unless you consider soliciting handouts and criminal activities as the endeavors of productive capitalists. And speaking of soliciting handouts, isn’t that what big business does with all the campaign funding and lobbying in D.C. to effectively pass laws purely for their own benefit while putting the rest of us under their thumb? I suppose in their case, propaganda must take exception and mislabel undue-influence as capitalism. Modern Capitalism: Wide Open for Anyone to See

Enslaved peoples multiplied the fetish power of capital at least fivefold: they were labor, they were commodities, they were capital, collateral, and investment, they were consumers (since in many parts of South America, they were paid wages), and, in some areas, they were money, the standard on which the value of other goods was determined. They were also items of conspicuous consumption. For a rising gentry, they were adornments of their masters’ inner worth. For a declining aristocracy, rocked by the market revolution, they were objects of nostalgia, mementos of a fading world of stability, when things were what they seemed to be. Slavery helped create many of the social, financial, religious, and legal institutions we live with today. Greg Grandin

☼   ☼      ☼   ☼

Capitalism is, among other things, a massive process of ego formation, the creation of modern selves, the illusion of individual autonomy, the cultivation of distinction and preference, the idea that individuals had their own moral conscience, based on individual reason and virtue. The wealth created by slavery generalized these ideals, allowing more and more people, mostly men, to imagine themselves as autonomous and integral beings, with inherent rights and self-interests not subject to the jurisdiction of others. Slavery was central to this process not just for the wealth the system created but because slaves were physical and emotional examples of what free men were not. Greg Grandin

In the Soviet Union, capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country, capitalism triumphed over democracy. Fran Lebowitz

What one in any case should remember is the importance of the state in the birth, the first beginnings of capitalism …. The primary transforming factor is the state. National unity, currency standardization, juridical coherence, military strength and the beginnings of a national economy: all these were created and developed by the state, or with the state as organizing principle. Michel Beaud

I have a lot of friends who grew up in the USSR, or Yugoslavia, who describe what it was like. You get up. You buy the paper. You go to work. You read the paper. Then maybe a little work, and a long lunch, including a visit to the public bath… If you think about it in that light, it makes the achievements of the socialist bloc seem pretty impressive: a country like Russia managed to go from a backwater to a major world power with everyone working maybe on average four or five hours a day. But the problem is they couldn’t take credit for it. They had to pretend it was a problem, “the problem of absenteeism,” or whatever, because of course work was considered the ultimate moral virtue. They couldn’t take credit for the great social benefit they actually provided. Which is, incidentally, the reason that workers in socialist countries had no idea what they were getting into when they accepted the idea of introducing capitalist-style work discipline. “What, we have to ask permission to go to the bathroom?” It seemed just as totalitarian to them as accepting a Soviet-style police state would have been to us. David Graeber

The thrust of Keynesianism and the New Deal was to co-opt socialism. Keynes and FDR were actually quite conservative rather than the liberal giants they are made out to be. They recognized the seriousness of the situation for capitalism and adopted an expedient approach. Once that necessity was perceived to be over, the push of the elite was for a return to the status quo ante. Savage capitalism is back – and it will not tame itself

A GNT creation ©2007–2014