A tale of two capitalisms

It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

I lived part of my life in a deeply communist country. I spent my youth in a country trying to raise itself from this darkness. So I know the dangers of socialism better than many people, certainly better than most people posting on the internet in English.

But over the recent years, since moving to UK, I have also seen some of the worst excesses of unbridled capitalism. It’s not quite Dickensian levels yet, thankfully, but we’re getting there. Things are not going in the right direction at all.

So you could say life put me in a good position to discuss the merits of the two. And, to be sure, I come out in favour of capitalism. But not the capitalism we know and loath today in the UK and the US.

Because there are two versions of this economic system, and I would like to believe one can exist without another.

First, a bit of a context:

This is the first kind of capitalism. The capitalism of corporations, of people treating life as a video game, and money as points confirming their personal value. The system made for, and by, people who have long ago lost the meaning of what life is all about; the only thing that matters are abstract numbers that would satisfy the shareholders. The system based on, and fueled by, nothing else but unadulterated greed.

Nobody needs that kind of capitalism. Neither we, the average Joes, neither them, the super-rich. They don’t need that kind of money for anything. We don’t need the income inequality it generates, ridding us of ability to live happy lives.

This is the other kind of capitalism:

The capitalism of a local market, of a small producer, of enthusiasm, of passion, of desire to do good things and serve your customers. This is where capitalism shines: it provides the means and the motivation to strive for the best. You couldn’t find this kind of thing in a socialist economy; not on a large scale. Sure, there were individuals who fought against the tide, but they were few and far between. Only under capitalism can such projects really grow.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to say global economy is supposed to get by on local farmers markets alone. Big companies are necessary. Corporations are necessary. Hell, I work for one, rather than planting biodynamic veg with my own hands. I use products made by corporations. It would be the height of hypocrisy to rail against all corporations, everywhere.

What I mean to show with these examples are two mindsets; a mindset that should be rewarded, and a mindset which should be scorned and shunned. In the world today, these seem to be reversed. Can we afford to have one capitalism without the other? Are the two forever intertwined?

I have no easy answers. This is just whimsy, wishful-thinking. I haven’t studied economy, and I’m not a politician. But I’d like to think something can be done about it. Like many people with similar world view, I look with hope towards the Nordic countries, with their Scandinavian model. Would it work everywhere? How to deal with its inherent flaws (because every model has flaws)? I don’t know. But something needs to be done.

Soviet-style Socialism was based on (massive generalization alert) accumulation of power, but it had no in-built defenses against the power-hungry; and it was hunger for power that ultimately brought it down. Capitalism, based as it is on accumulation of capital, has no in-built defenses against the greed. For the sake of the masses of good, hard-working capitalists, I would hate to see it brought down by the greedy few.

5 thoughts on “A tale of two capitalisms

  1. Unfortunately, whenever we use the government to enforce our ideals, those ideals inevitably become corrupted. I lived in a country that’s still ruled by the communist party today, and from talking with some of the older folks there, I confirmed that things quickly went from peoples’ revolution to people buried in mass graves and people scratching at the dirt for food.

    That’s why we can’t use laws to tell others that they have too much money; there’s a whole crew of people eager to take that same authority, corrupt it, and use it to rule with an iron fist. The only way to change how society works is to use social means. In other words, talking to friends, writing a newspaper article, or blogging. 🙂

    The best way to get rid of corporate abuses is to make sure we foster an environment of fierce competition so that they can never afford to victimize anyone. There will always be rich and poor, though, just like there will always be lucky and unlucky, connected and not, attractive and ugly, hard-working and lazy, etc. A perfectly “level playing field” is impossible because it contradicts the nature of the world. The best we can hope for is to give everyone a good shot with free education, a business-friendly environment, and a government that stays out of the way. Most policies that “protect against big corporate abuses” are in fact used to strengthen the very biggest corporations!

    1. Well, I very strongly disagree 🙂

      This laissez-faire attitude and drive for deregulation is exactly what got us into the mess we’re in today in the first place. There need to be checks against the super-rich and super-powerful, and no social conglomerate of like-minded people will have the power, on its own, to do it. Not anymore, at least; the corporations had grown too strong and too set in their ways.

      That the government needs to stay out of its way is a good slogan for most people, but most people don’t run multi-million corporations. The indie capitalism I mention is exactly the kind of capitalism the state has no business in meddling with; it’s perfectly fine to leave the SMEs to their own devices. The government and small business should remain distant friends. But for a big company, the state is the natural enemy on the way to unbridled profit, and that is a dangerous situation for everyone involved.

      There is a gamut of political and economic systems running from Stalinist communism to Reaganist libertarianism, and many countries employ successful mid-way hybrids. There is, in fact, no slippery slope running from imposing moderate controls on capital distribution (as indeed the UK and US used to have before the Big Bang of 1980s) to bullets in the heads and mass graves. That argument, like all slippery slope arguments, is a fallacy. Proper regulation is not a revolution.

      1. I don’t mean to argue for that slippery slope, but rather the tendency of politicians to use their power for their own interests at the cost of what they are supposed to uphold. I’ve never seen a country where this wasn’t true to some degree or another. Corruption seems to be the least where the government is most accountable, because those people in government are less able to get away with it.

        I don’t mean to connect government regulations on business with despotism, either. Rather it’s when we ask the government to manage our private lives, tell us what morality means, and decide what is or is not fair success that the government becomes oppressive. Government leadership positions attract people who crave power at any cost, and not usually people who desire to serve with honesty. That might be pessimistic, but it seems to bear out when I look at how things are done here in the US.

        I agree completely that the biggest businesses need the most watching, and the smallest the least. Like with governments, corporate leadership positions don’t attract selfless, meek, considerate, immaterialistic (is that a word?) types of people.

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