Questioning capitalism: not just for the pinko commie hippies anymore

Dr. Robert Jensen, journalism professor at University of Texas at Austin, frequently writes articles that I find very compelling, particularly in the areas of white privilege/racism, and gender/pornography. He’s a bright guy, and he’s not afraid to take hard, unpopular stances that have earned him derision from shills on both sides.

picture-5.pngAnyway, a recent article caught my eye: Anti-Capitalism in five minutes or less (catchy!). In it, Jensen lays out three major points about how capitalism is ultimately inhuman, anti-democratic, and unsustainable. What follows is some of it, but you should really read it all.

1. Capitalism is inhuman

There is a theory behind contemporary capitalism. We’re told that because we are greedy, self-interested animals, an economic system must reward greedy, self-interested behavior if we are to thrive economically.

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Why is it that we must choose an economic system that undermines the most decent aspects of our nature and strengthens the most inhuman? Because, we’re told, that’s just the way people are. What evidence is there of that? Look around, we’re told, at how people behave. Everywhere we look, we see greed and the pursuit of self-interest. So, the proof that these greedy, self-interested aspects of our nature are dominant is that, when forced into a system that rewards greed and self-interested behavior, people often act that way. Doesn’t that seem just a bit circular?

Why yes, yes it does. Here I would add that if anybody is in doubt about the extent to which capitalism is inhuman, one need only consider how capitalism doesn’t merely presume that the many must support the few, it depends upon this arrangement. And the result is that too many are stuck on the bottom, prevented from accessing necessary resources. It’s really quite simple: if everybody had enough, then who could be compelled to do the grunt work? Next point:

2. Capitalism is anti-democratic

This one is easy. Capitalism is a wealth-concentrating system. If you concentrate wealth in a society, you concentrate power. Is there any historical example to the contrary?

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If we understand democracy as a system that gives ordinary people a meaningful way to participate in the formation of public policy, rather than just a role in ratifying decisions made by the powerful, then it’s clear that capitalism and democracy are mutually exclusive.

Jensen concludes this section by pointing out that in our democracy, no matter how powerful Bill Gates is, he’s got exactly the same voting power as Jensen (and any other voter). As a nation, we believe our representatives should be elected on a principal of one person, one vote. Yet, is there anybody who seriously believes they have as much political power as Bill Gates?

This begs the question, what is the true source of Bill Gate’s political power? His vote? Or the function of his money in a capitalistic society?

3. Capitalism is unsustainable

This one is even easier. Capitalism is a system based on the idea of unlimited growth. The last time I checked, this is a finite planet. There are only two ways out of this one. Perhaps we will be hopping to a new planet soon. Or perhaps, because we need to figure out ways to cope with these physical limits, we will invent ever-more complex technologies to transcend those limits.

Both those positions are equally delusional. Delusions may bring temporary comfort, but they don’t solve problems. They tend, in fact, to cause more problems…

Indeed. Our American sense of entitlement cannot be overstated. The health of our capitalistic economy depends upon our ability to keep buying excess crap, that we don’t really need. I surely include myself in this indictment; it’s as natural as the air we breathe to be caught up in American consumerism.

Personally, I do consider myself a capitalist. But I hasten to qualify that: I’m a “good old days” capitalist, supporting Mom & Pop’s local stores and farms. Let us denounce and reject this current state of anything-goes, global imperialist capitalism that is so prevalent and harmful – not to mention inhuman, anti-democratic and unsustainable.

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