Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Argument

I just watched Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story and was glad to know that we do have a good alternative to capitalism (democracy). How exactly this would play out is left, I suspect, to Michael's next blockbuster.

My neighbor said that he thought the only problem with capitalism is that it isn't alway moral and that what we need is moral capitalism, where profit isn't the main goal. This seems a little like phone sex, or maybe phone sex where you talk about nothing but the weather. The beauty of capitalism is that if you are focused on profit and your customer is a shopper, in the end both will be served well. Here is an interesting discussion on Morality and Capitalism.

So why did capitalism almost tank the country? Why did banks take risks that in hindsight looked foolish. Was this a fault of capitalism? Did the banks know that no one would let them fail? Did they play us to the hilt? I don't know.


5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I suspect you need a balancing force such as government. Obviously government can lead us astray too. Unbridaled capitalism leads to corruption. H.

Kim Mosley said...

I'll probably be tarred and feathered for saying this, but I think the opportunity for corruption is greater with the good samaritan (government) than with the one seeking a profit. Kate?

Kate said...

Well. . . First you say you expect to be tarred and feathered. Then you write my name. Am I really that bad?

I think it is possible to live as a capitalist and yet not have profit as the motivating factor. . . though some people might just call such a person a socialist. Who knows?

There’s a scene in Slaughterhouse Five (by Vonnegut) where a German soldier is releasing the American POWs and the German tells the American that he better get out of town before the Russians show up. The American points out that Russians are allies and that the Russians will become a bit more like Americans and the Americans will become a bit more like Russians. The German laughs at this naive statement and tells the American something like, “No. You’re going to be fighting them next.”

When I started reading Martin Luther King, he sort of reminded me of the naïve American in Kurt’s fiction novel. MLK seems to talk quite a bit about bringing a certain amount of socialist system into the capitalism system. There is talk about the redistribution of wealth. And he does call himself a capitalist but points out that he doesn’t want a lot of things. He points out that communism has some good qualities we should be thinking about adapting to our capitalist society. For the life of me, I don’t know what this would look like. But I do think about it.

It does not escape me though that the German in the novel was more right. There was/is this battle between the ideologies. I don’t think much melding occurred. I think the next line of questions would involve why there was not any cross-pollination if you will. Why do we feel the two ideologies are so incompatible?

And just for fun, how many of us capitalist (or people living in a capitalist society) would say that the biggest motivator in our lives is money.

I don’t think that’s the biggest motivator in my umwelt. And I don’t know, but I would guess that a good number of other people would say the same.

Kim Mosley said...

A couple of things. 1) Many great capitalists ended up distributing their wealth (Rockefeller, for example). There is nothing to stop a capitalist society from distributing its wealth, either for selfish or altruistic aims. 2) When I was dean, most of the faculty were "liberals." When I did anything that threatened their paychecks they were ready for blood. It didn't matter that my aim was to save some dollars for the school.

I just mentioned your name, Kate, because you are my favorite commentator.

Kate said...

They cut our pay here last year. I personally didn’t scream for blood. I was actually relieved. In my head, they were calling that meeting to announce layoffs. I spent the day updating my resume and looking at want ads. So when I found out it was a pay cut, I thought that was just swell.

You point out that “great capitalists ended up distributing their wealth” for either selfish or altruistic reasons. I have never understood Ted Turner and Bill Gates media conflict about how much money should be donated and to what causes. Weird rich man game. “I’m a better philanthropist than you!” “No way, you just wasted dollars on the UN!”

I watched Gates talk to Stanford students (on the internet) about how to become better philanthropists. One of the things he talked about was the need of getting birth control to women. Women need access to this basic health care right. I realize that Bill Gates changed the world and all. But I would have liked to point out that perhaps we could also invest money into getting men access to the basic birth control right. Maybe women don’t want to carry the entire burden of pumping our bodies full of hormones so as to control our reproductive success. Maybe many men wouldn’t mind carrying that load now and again. In my eyes for such a great capitalist, he’s sure missing part of the obvious.

So greatness here is defined according to how much profit one amasses. Gates said in the same speech that at some point, one reaches a stage where one has enough and has nothing better to do than with wealth than to start giving it out (or more properly, investing in worthwhile causes). He said he didn’t know where that point was for each person. I imagine that this point is different according to each person. I have not reached that point. I’m a few months ahead of the bills before I have to hit credit cards (damn you to hell CitiBank). That’s why I’m ok with a pay cut as oppose to a lay off. Anyway it creates an odd question. Which does more good for the world? A monk who renounces material goods or a rich man who uses his continually growing wealth for philanthropy? I’ll call it the Jesus verses Bill Gates question.

There’s also this question of how much damage to people did these great capitalist cause amassing their great profit which they then turn a fraction over to the people that are damaged. When I think of Rockefeller, ‘great philanthropist’ isn’t necessarily the first association I make with the name. Maybe part of the reason this capitalist-philanthropist image exists is just because without it, poor people would be looting your house sooner or later The Good Earth style.

I’m happy waiting for the opportunity to loot Wal-mart. Maybe the reason I’m not such a great capitalist is that I set my standards too low.