As capitalism drives itself into ever-greater inequality, instability and injustice, its critics multiply. Worried defenders react in two ways. Many dismiss the criticisms. After all, capitalism has been around a long time and weathered ups and downs before. They presume or hope that criticism will fade as little really changes despite the critics, and frustrations set in. It’s just losers who complain. The winners will surely carry the system forward. Some defenders insist that there simply is no alternative to capitalism, so criticism becomes pointless.
I’m a fan of cooperatives, but the problems with our economy go much deeper than who the owner is. The root is an economic system that privileges profit uber alles. Even with cooperatives these perverse incentives continue. It will still be profitable to:
produce products that deliberately don’t last so that customers are forced to buy new ones
use environmentally destructive materials like plastic and methods that pollute
do everything possible to preserve your business even if it’s destroying the planet or your society – would an employee-owned Exxon be that much better? A worker-owned Monsanto? A worker-owned RJR Reynolds Tobacco?
produce to the max rather than just enough, and induce people to buy more than they need and things they don’t need.
create addictive products like cigarettes, opioids and Doritos that people consume till it kills them.
buy politicians and media corporations, fund think tanks and universities, in order to promote and preserve this corrupt and destructive system.
Our current economic system is destroying our very basis for life. We’re rapidly degrading the planet and destroying our children’s future. Worker owned coops won’t fix it.
Yes, as long as the politicians are owned by the 1% and their corporations they will keep getting stronger at the expense of the 99%, coops or no coops.
Capitalism did not evolve as an economic system because it superior to other systems are the best that could be arrived at. It is not “organic” or “natural” as some would insist. It came about because it was one of the best systems at protecting the vested interests of the 1 percent so as to ensure they always remained dominant in a given society and so as to ensure THEIR well being was always promoted over anyones or anything else.
All of the “good reasons” to try and ensure a given ecosystem remained intact were always tossed aside because Capitalism and the one percent demanded it and that one percent ensured the people conditioned to accept this as the way it MUST be.
Capitalism was less harmful when there was less greed.
Now it is all there is.
Well I would argue that Capitalism ensures greed is rewarded. Capitalism is fertilizer for greed.
I tend to use a few lenses on these very salient points. First - the concept of “culture” is like ‘democracy’, and other inclusive/exclusive mantras that are manipulation tools. Culture is a set of boundaries that are alternately manipulated, ignored, accepted, identified engaged with and x-changed - note “culture wars” as a ‘meme’. Democracy, today, is an abstracted term that is ‘owned’ by political advertising - as long as we allow that ring to be inserted in our noses and hung out of reach on the merry-go-round.
Education is essential and essentials in education are matters of fostering individual respect for one’s own experience and building into a useful application framework that utilize the intellectual disciplines in a mutual structuring.
The co-op as company with conscience - including the environment, communities and resources from which it draws exists and is a part, is a matter of effective ongoing research and education.
Profit - in predatory capitalism is based on “externalizing” or denying as many costs as possible - including, as you note, the possibility of creating durable goods rather than the intentional and fundamentally evil notion of “planned obsolescence” model of life as toilet.
We have to choose starting points and these starting points encourage envisioning of other starting points. According to one’s experience and knowledge garnered from that experience, the two way street of education being shared can also accelerate at the rate at which human discovery and joy in that process fosters engagement. It has happened countless times in human history - and it is a choice.
After hacking my way through Wolff’s jungle, which suffers from what is most likely a maximum character/word limit, I’ve come to be able to finally see it and assess its message. (This article needed better (some?) editing. Simple things could help. For example, the 7th paragraph should have begun thusly: “An adequate definition [of economic/social systems] exists that focuses…” The bracketed content allows a smoother transition from Wolff’s jarring switch from a definition of capitalism to a definition of slavery, as Wolff follows the sentence with “Slavery is thus defined in terms of…” Similarly, in the 8th paragraph, a comma and the word “a” unlock the first sentence’s trap: “…or personal obligation[, a] quid-pro-quo exchange.”)
What is Wolff trying to do? It’s very simple. He starts by saying that although there’s a lot of debate about the merits of capitalism these days, those involved in the debate don’t share a definition of just what capitalism is. So he sets out to provide one for them.
Sounds simple enough.
When you finally dig it out, his message is that a proper definition of capitalism, one that “focuses on the organization of production and distribution within enterprises,” already by itself “points clearly toward a system beyond the employer-employee dichotomy” and, additionally, Wolff goes on immediately to claim, is in fact a definition of capitalism that is “post-capitalist.”
This is odd because very clearly, Wolff’s stated intention here is merely to help those embroiled in debates about capitalism to proceed on a better footing by providing a definition of capitalism – as it is understood today by those involved in these debates – not by providing a “new” definition or by describing a new vision for what capitalism could be. So why, after introducing this definition, he seems to think it already leads to something “post,” is surprising.
Perhaps his intention actually WAS to create a new definition of capitalism, and through his efforts to condense his original text he cut out the part that made this clear?
But let’s take him at face value. Does his definition of capitalism really “point clearly toward a system beyond the employer-employee dichotomy”? Let’s look at his definition, which is the entirety of paragraph 8: “Capitalism entails an altogether different workplace organization: instead of ownership of persons or personal obligation [we have instead a] quid-pro-quo exchange. Employers buy the labor power of employees and combine it with other means of production owned by the employers. The product is divided among (1) wages paid to workers, (2) replacement of used up means of production, and (3) employers’ net revenues. Capitalist enterprises [then] can be owned and operated by private persons, state officials or both. Resources and products can be distributed via markets or non-market mechanisms such as planning.”
As it stands, this definition, for me, anyway, does not at all imply or lead to an understanding of capitalism that does away with the employer-employee dichotomy. Firstly, because the definition is framed around employers and employees, but more importantly, because it fails to provide details about the relationship between employers and employees that would remove what can be called the dichotomy between them. The definition does not, for example, maintain that employers and employees have any kind of equal status.
The fact that in paragraph 10 Wolff begins by stating that his definition, which again he now oddly calls a definition of “a post-capitalist system,” involves the notion that “employers and employees merge into one” does not make it so, but at least this claim shows that he is intending that a proper definition of capitalism includes this notion. So okay, for the sake of argument let’s assume that given the chance to broaden his definition, Wolff would require this of “capitalism” such that employers and employees “merge into one” and, as he goes on to state, “each employee/employer has an equal voice in democratic business decisions…and what is done with the net revenues.”
Great, but this definition is now obviously NOT at all a definition that, going back to where we started, Wolff can simply offer to people currently engaged in debate about capitalism as a way for them to collectively understand just what it is that they are all talking about, for this is a capitalism which does not exist outside of a handful of narrow examples. This is not “capitalism today” in any country.
Perhaps it’s not particularly helpful to struggle with what Wolff was trying to do. The sum of the piece involves a brief look at what capitalism is and isn’t, and offers a simple definition. Look at the piece’s title: we can do better than capitalism. What Wolff does here is claim that by having the employer and employees be (magically) on an equal footing, we have a “better” capitalism. THAT is what needs attention and debate. Would that be better? Would it work? How?
Although it’s an attractive idea at first glance, assuming that an equal-footing employer/employee capitalism could remove or at least greatly reduce the obscene imbalances and corruption poisoning the current form of capitalism, for a start, looking more closely at how businesses are formed leads me to believe that it won’t be quite so easy. Businesses begin when a person or persons have an idea, become committed to that idea and apply their time and money to its creation, and either come up with something that works, or doesn’t. At some point, those people might become employers, assuming their idea picks up enough steam to get to that stage, and they employ people to help them. But those people do not start out on an equal footing with the employer: they have not put in the time and money that the employer already has. Which is one of the main reasons why employers place themselves in a superior position to those employees, for example, in the amount of compensation those employees take home as compared to the employer. But this is all very basic and not new to anyone here. An interesting discussion as far as capitalism is concerned would be one that envisions a capitalism taking business origination into consideration and still manages to become a system that does not lead to problems such as massive wealth inequality. In my view, any such system would require one of two things: benign (not greedy) employers, or outside (state) intervention or enforcement of fairness or equality when it comes to things like profit distribution. Since we cannot simply wait or hope for the former, is there any alternative to requiring the latter? I don’t think so. But I’m fine with that and would happily live in a world that was “not free” to be greedy but was at least much more fair and focussed on the happiness and welfare of all people and not just the powerful.
I tend to think capitalism was born of greed, which in turn arose from poor decisions and resulting fears. Why else would the degree of isolation and fear lock human thinking into the prison of denial? - that capitalism is dependent on denying as much as possible (externalizing costs in every dimension conceivable) at the expense of the very roots of life?
Capitalism, particularly maximizing profit at all cost, under-regulated, unfettered market’s capitalism exploits workers as a basic mandate of its system. To capitalism, workers are an unwanted and definitely un-appreciated expense that they always try to zero-out as much as possible and when-ever possible. So tell me again why DNC leadership is so gung-ho about this economic system?
"Modern society’s systemic problem is capitalism, not this or that kind of capitalism.”
Society’s systemic problem is the psychological condition that warps its relations to everyone—human and non, animate and not—into objectifying and therefore exploitive forms. Whatever it does, for whatever reason, ends up either partly or completely twisted into a manifestation of objectification–in capitalism the form it takes is commodification.
The disease is a complex syndrome that includes attachment problems, trauma-related addiction and compulsions, malignant narcissism, and other symptoms and conditions. I think of it as civilizational autism, an amalgam of all the causes and symptoms mentioned, and more. But the most common name and the one that fits best and is most known is Wetiko Disease.
Whatever form of capitalism, or “democracy” or republic, communism or fascism is created, Like spots are an expression of measles, buboes are an expression of plague, and rage is an expression of bipolar disorder and other psychological illnesses, Wetiko will take a form that expresses the fears, hatreds, and desires of the disease,
Until we recognize and treat the disease we’ll be unable to change that; whatever economic, political, religious, or other system we create will be just another way to act out that disease’s needs, whether it becomes that instantly on creation–through reform or revolution–or gradually, through the death of a thousand cuts that behind-the-scenes politicking by those with money and power use.
There are a number of ways we can treat the disease. Simply recognizing it is a huge step toward healing. To point it and its manifestations out to others and say that it’s treatable is the next step. One of the best treatments, because it’s also useful in other ways, is peaceful direct action for social change and an ecological existence.
Repetition compulsion is the unconscious need for people afflicted by some psychological disturbances to try to repeat the event(s) that triggered their disturbance in order to fix them. One question becomes “how can we use the right’s repetition compulsion to draw it in to our means of curing it and creating a sustainable society?” Until we recognize and call out the real cause of all our problems, every attempt to solve them will fail. Once we recognize it the possibilities open.
Great Bumper Sticker or Tee shirt
> Capitalism is fertilizer for greed.
Fascist Capitalism has not worked for the 99%. It’s time to go in another direction
For someone like myself who needs this education, Richard Wolff’s commentary is an outstanding primer on capitalism and some other economic systems. It’s readable and understandable. Thanks, CD.
Well here we are having a discussion on Capitalism on capitalist computers and internet. Does capitalism always sink into fascism – the merger of corporations and government for their mutual benefit and almost invariably to the greater detriment of the majority of people? Then you have Hitler, Mao, and Stalin so convinced their socialist utopia was the way to go they had no problems killing over 100M people to get there. Here in Oregon the super- democrat - majority is about to leap into medical fascism with mandatory vaccinations for the kids. I like the idea of co-operation over coercion. I do believe there exists rights of the individual that government and majority vote have no right to abolish. I do not care for the corporate fascist country AmeriKa has become but my being immersed in a swamp makes it difficult to envision a solution that isn’t more of the same. Democrat Fascism or Republican Fascism – I want none of either! Gopherit
I’m convinced we need to be rid of the Capitalism/money system - it is unfair and unfeeling, and it is devastating many of us humans, the non-human animals, and the environment all life are dependent on.
Please consider seeing this write up of a recent book by Miki Kashtan, noted teacher of Nonviolent Communication, or NVC. The book is called “Reweaving Our Human Fabric: Working Together To Create A Nonviolent Future”. Here is a link to it:
It may not work as a link, so you may have to copy and paste it into your browser.
Miki speaks of a world I would love to live in - i think it’s entirely needed and possible.
I am impressed and inspired by it - more so I think than by any other book I have read. Miki is very insightful and brilliant, in my view
Thanks for all you are doing,
Can you provide concrete examples of alternatives to Capitalism, with links to the appropriate organizations?