Sunday, October 11, 2009

Capitalism doesn't mean loving big corporations

I love capitalism the way other New Englanders love the Red Sox.

I often hear anti-capitalist enthusiasts paint my side as cheerleaders for big corporations. While I do think big companies and the rich are unfairly portrayed in a villainous light, I've never looked at them as the focus. Instead, being for capitalism isn't about supporting the capitalists, it's about supporting the market.

The free market is a brutal, violent jungle - a Darwinian crucible that kills weak firms so that the strong ones may expand and be copied. The popular view is that this arena-style market is targeted and softened by left-wing activists and legislators that just screw things up by redistributing resources poorly. They intend to help "the little guy" compete, but end up launching leaky vessels into the sea - and a lot of these failing ships need to be rescued.

While this is correct, it's only part of the story.

The other threat to the market is the reigning champions - the big companies themselves. Frankly, they don't want to compete. They want to game the system. This involves a plethora of tactics; from regulations to keep competitors out, to bailouts when the company fails.

Capitalism is meant to be brutal, and the attempts to soften it come from both the apparent winners and the losers.


  1. The only problem in this otherwise fairly stated article is this: the "Darwinian crucible" (I love that! btw), evolution through natural selection, is not a beautiful nor a necessarily good thing. It is simply the thing that is. The only thing that is, at least in the primitive landscape of nature and of easy-solution thinking humans. You actually say it yourself: it is "a brutal, violent jungle that kills (the) weak..." " that the strong ones may expand and be copied." While this is a perfectly accurate description of natural selection, it doesn't change the fact that natural selection is exactly as you stated: brutal and violent. These are not good traits. There ARE other ways of exacting and molding change, of bringing about evolution and progress; that is, if one's idea of progress is reducing unnecessary suffering and increasing health and happiness in the world for all people, as much as possible.

  2. The brutal, violent jungle I described was the business world, not the entire world.

    This was more of a tangent on what I wrote, but yes, like you said, there are other ways of bringing change and progress. Unfortunately, these other systems don't have as good a track record for "unnecessary suffering and increasing health and happiness in the world for all people, as much as possible."

    Capitalism, on the other hand, has a great track record for that. Like Adam Smith said, the motives for the players in the capitalism system are not as noble as the many failed attempts to creat a benevolent dictatorship, but the results have been more noble, more ethical, and more just.

    Perhaps you provide an example of a nation that removed capitalism completely and was better off.

  3. I didn’t say capitalism was completely evil. Just like natural selection, is has some positive effects. But it needs to be tempered by compassion and wisdom. Humans are not by nature good, selfless, or compassionate. We must be taught by our culture and our experiences to be so. Left to our own devices, without restriction and without effective discouragement, humans will run amok in greed and cruelty. We must be reigned in, with laws and regulations, which protect our environment and the welfare of the individuals. That is, if we care about such things, of course.

    I believe in social capitalism, and one very good example of this is Denmark. Their society is leap and bounds above ours in terms of a higher standard of living, with extremely lower rates of crime, poverty, disease, etc., and with free health care, higher education, etc.

  4. I don't believe that a change to another economic system is anywhere close to viable, but that's not saying that where we are now is the best we can do. A free market is indeed brutal and violent (sometimes literally) but to say that the mostly laughable attempts at redistributing resources are the best we can do is severely underestimating how resourceful we could be if all these efforts to help weren't such cluster fucks. Given, no one has much of a reason to believe that the state isn't inept, but it doesn't have to be forever. And not all of the failures you mentioned can be completely credited to them - there are tons of "leaky vessels" pushed out to sea because they used all the parts to build a few luxury cruiseliners.