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Capitalism Is Not the Only Choice

Capitalism Is Not the Only Choice

Penn Loh

We have opportunities every day to build economies that lift each other up and spread joy.

Old Window Workshop production manager Nannette Bowie and director Pam Howland pose in with Leishla Lugo and Shaniqua Dobbins at a worksite in Springfield, Massachusetts. Dobbins and Lugo are in their first year of training with the women-owned cooperative
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Every society of which I am aware present and past has been an amalgam of socialism and capitalism. Even the “communist” experiments had black markets (capitalism) operating within them. It is not either/or, but rather how to set the carburetor screw (forgive me my dated reference) blending the oxygen (socialism) and the fuel (capitalism). We need both security (socialism) and challenge (capitalism) to thrive. Why not embrace both and forget the either/or narrative? How do we best live together? That is the question that should be asked. The “we” should and must include the planet and all of its inhabitants, of course.


Should capitalism be a choice at all? Right now I am thinking of Albert Einstein who pointed out that in the final analysis we have to choose how we see the Universe: Do we see the Universe as friendly or hostile? Socialism needs to see the universe as friendly but capitalism, with endless competition and extraction/exploitation, cannot possibly see the universe as friendly. Our survival and thriving depends on a wise choice.


true, it’s not the only choice. it is the only choice you’re allowed, however.

we need to be sober about alternative economic plans. there’s a long–and sordid–history of attempts to “opt out” of capitalism. It’s depressing. And it’s the movement aspect you have to worry about. One anomaly here or there isn’t going to bother power. A movement of a-capitalist economics will bring the wrath of every zoning official within 2 miles to your doorstep.

This country has gone through 3 distinct phases of non-capitalist alternative economic movements. The Christian Socialists in the mid-19th century; the post war Communes and collectives of the 20s and 30s–many inspired by the Bolshie revolt; and the counter-culture collectives of the 60s.

In each case, capital’s reaction was swift and brutal, from zoning out cooperative enterprises, to sabotaging water and land rights that permit alternative economies to function.

It’s one of the more obscure parts of American history. For one of the best primers and studies ever done on the subject, you can try to find a copy of In Searchof the Common Good by Erasmus. It’s hard to find now, but it’s a cold-water toss onto collective economics.

I type all of this by way of saying, "be sober about the task ahead. Any movement to withdraw from the larger consumption culture en masse will be met with force. Literally, with force.


I don’t have a good answer but capitalism as it has existed so far has murdered Earth in the most despicable ways which can be seen the world over by all the waste, open pit mines as scars, consumerism run amok, countless wars and weaponry using valuable resources and countless other murders of Earth’s children including a lot of humans.

Now on a small scale. I belong to a credit union. There isn’t any profit skimming and hence the savings aren’t passed on as fees for checks, fees for having an account; I do have to have a minimum of, I believe $15. I have no fees what-so-ever. I don’t know if this qualifies a socialism but for sure there are no bankers living off the bones of their customers. There are many other systems, some that have failed miserably, instead of good ol’ exploitative capitalism. We’ve all been brainwashed mercilessly from a tender age to accept capitalism as the only way there is. This was especially so for those the grew up and lived during the cold war and those damned ‘commies’. The witch hunts of the 50’s destroyed many lives for those that were registered as communists or even socialists. The film “Trumbo” gives a glimpse into the pervasive demonization of Hollywood’s community.(the film comes off as somewhat mild, but it’s worth seeing) The only ones really making out are, as always, the top capitalists, the other 15% below and the rest can rot as far as they’re concerned. The world is being murdered all in the name of profit. I think people can find a better way and must to survive beyond the near future.


Exact quote by Einstein:

“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile Universe.”

You don’t like aspects of the consequences of capitalism …so you re-define it…and create model of a humane capitalism.

Our economic system is not something that we can lop of the bad bits and add some nice things to it.

It is mistaken to believe that anyone can serve both the bosses and the workers. There is a basic conflict of economic interests. Employers are concerned with lowering labour costs; employees are concerned with a living wage to support their families. There is a conflict of interests between capital and labour because, in the final analysis, a reduction in wages results in an increase in profits. Conversely, an increase in wages results in a decrease in profits. Inexorably, wages are determined by the cost of existence of the workers.

Even the creation of co-ops cannot resolve this dichotomy. “Workers’ ownership," which means syndicalism or cooperatives still remains sectional ownership.

The purpose of capitalism is the realisation of profit (surplus value) and the first step towards this end is the purchase of the necessary means of production. Thus beginning with money (capital), the employers buy factories, machinery and raw materials plus the energy (labour-power) of working men and women and the net return on this outlay is an increased sum of money, sufficient not only to repeat the process but enough for further expansion of production. From the unpaid labour of the workers, there is money to be reinvested in the productive process, either as an addition to the existing capital or as capital seeking fresh fields of exploitation, leading to an inevitable accumulation of capital seeking surplus-value.
All money set aside as industrial capital can be divided into two parts, that spent on the inert means of production we can call “constant” capital, while that for buying labour-power, which preserves and furnishes additional value is “variable” capital. Now if the function of labour-power is to labour, then the call for labour by the employing-class will depend on the market demand for commodities, while the market will, in turn, be gained by those owners that have succeeded in reducing the labour in their commodities to the lower level.
Labour-time is, therefore, the capitalist’s devil

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The Diggers and the Levellers in England make for another interesting example–early anarchist-related groups.

There is a science of some sort to be engaged about withdrawing from oppressive systems–which overlaps extensively with withdrawing from “the growth economy” as well. though I suppose that’s no coincidence.

It seems that an improved method has come with the nonviolent mass struggle as (partially) opposed to the traditional violent revolution (I suppose this is controversial, but those doubting should check the work of Gene Sharp http://www.aeinstein.org/authors/gene-sharp/).

Of course, rulers have adapted since Gandhi and King and even since the Arab Spring. There are a lot of motives for diffuse action, since united action draws violence and little media attention within the empire. At the same time, diffuse action tends to be misdirected, with lots of person-on-person crime and failure to recognize solidarity.

What sorts of actions, I wonder, might be recognizable. potent, and easily performed by small groups and individuals?

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good question at the end. My research into alternative economies was support work years ago for another area, so I haven’t delved into anything there since the early aughts.

There are a lot of things you can probably do on a smaller scale provided they don’t lead to a larger movement nor grow into a threat to the capitalist logistic system.

The problem is still being able to have a non-profit economy dependent on participation in a profit economy. So far, nothing’s worked over the long haul except for a handful of older religious communities whose influence is minuscule.

I just don’t see any way out of these quandaries short of toppling the system itself.


Well said.
This is a very well written article, and it is nice to see what is happening - which is what Yes Magazine is good at. But this author generalizes a bit too much when he defines Capitalism/Socialism - and implicitly identifies the US with the rest of the world.

Capitalism as an economic model is not the same in every society. Scandinavian countries have an economic system that is a good mix of both socialism and capitalism. It is here in the US where capitalism is most rapacious - and by many degrees. And also, these types of collective organizations have existed for quite a while and are far more widespread in other societies, such as Spain and Latin America etc., although “new” here in the states.


A good balance could be maintained, but only with a good “regulatory” system in place.

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To: Penn Loh - WiseOwl - Giovanna-Lepore - drone1066 - Olhippy - alanjjohnston - bard - lulemali - paularae

Interesting article - interesting comments !

I think we really are dealing first and foremost with concepts of both social and environmental justice here. One is inextricably bound up with the other, but this is not yet fully appreciated, which is why mainstream economics literally fails to ‘account’, again literally, with many costs and benefits.

When soil is washed into the sea because of unsustainable farming practice, where does this show up in ‘economics’, which isn’t really economics in the original Greek meaning, but is rather chrematistics, the tracking of wealth and money, i.e., a system for funnelling power and privilege to the few at the top of the pyramid.

Capitalism, as it is practised today, really has little to do with true economics - it is however - central to a system of chrematistics.

But this is all academic in a sense.

Let us turn to a practical genius for his thoughts:

“As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.”

The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume II, (August 1, 1858?), p. 532.

"It has happened in all ages of the world, that some have labored and others have, without labor, enjoyed a large proportion of the fruits.

This is wrong, and should not continue." (Abraham Lincoln)


“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not existed first. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights.” (First Inaugural Address, December 3, 1861).


There may be a solution - “Rights for the Environment”, as envisioned by Chris Stone, in his brilliant legal argument: “Should Trees Have Standing?”, and more recently, in Evo Morale’s Bolivia, with his 2010 “People’s Climate Conference”, and indeed, just this year, rights given to a New Zealand river.


LLCs, limited liability trusts, exit across the US in all states. They offer many types of lifestyle choices. I looked at hundreds and found them all to be either corporations, or scams, or religious organizations. I chose the best I could , and spent a year with them. What a scam! The leaders kept the books private. Donations were solicited. Those who didn’t intend to offer up huge amounts of money were made uncomfortable in a short time. We were all equal, but some were more equal than others!

I know that good people could probably create a good organization, but…they tend to stay in our bigger systems.