Tag Archives: capitalism

Who is Worthy of Love?

This originally posted on June 6th, but I’m reposting in light of the announcement of Paul Ryan for VP.

This video on Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and a foremother to our current extreme right politics, is educational to me. It’s outrageous really, she says that a weak man or woman is beyond love. The interviewer asks:

I: If a man is weak, if a woman is weak, he is beyond, she is beyond love?

Rand: He certainly don’t deserve it, he certainly is beyond.

I: There are very few in this world, by your standards, who are worthy of love?

Rand: uh, unfortunately yes, very few.


The video was created by Think Progress, an unashamedly progressive but non partisan info center. Even though Paul Ryan has recently turned against her, her work is still undoubtedly read, seen (Atlas shrugged came out on film last spring), and admired by a healthy portion of the Republican leadership and constituency. From a National Review – an unashamedly conservative magazine – piece this spring:

“You know you’ve arrived in politics when you have an urban legend about you, and this one is mine,” chuckles Representative Paul Ryan, the Budget Committee chairman, as we discuss his purported obsession with author and philosopher Ayn Rand.

“I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas,” who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he says.

Several have called Ryan out on his rewrite, such as Lawrence O’Donnell here. O’Donnell’s delivery is a bit dramatic (to a discredit), but start watching at 5:00 to hear an expanded version of Paul Ryan’s own speech on Ayn Rand. The post, The Hording Hoarde discusses the clash of Rand’s philosophy and that of Jesus.

Rand eventually found it necessary to accept social security and Medicare. Her thoughts were recorded in a paper she did called, A Question of Scholarship:

The recipient of a public scholarship is morally justified only so long as he regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism. Those who advocate public scholarships, have no right to them; those who oppose them, have. If this sounds like a paradox, the fault lies in the moral contradictions of welfare statism, not in its victims.

It does indeed sound like a paradox. Talk about getting the facts to fit the frame! I wonder if she still found herself worthy of love while she had cancer from smoking too many cigarettes? Jesus would have.

Chart courtesy of UPWORTHY.com.

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NC Fracking – Legal by Mistake

If fracking is harmless to water, perhaps we should make coffee with the chemical concoction that is injected into the earth and serve it at the RNC, they shouldn’t object – according to them the chemicals are harmless.

Another case of “gotcha” politics has played out in the North Carolina legislature. In a late night vote that “took her by surprise”, a veteran Democratic lawmaker, Becky Carney of Charlotte, accidentally gave Republicans the vote they needed to override the Governor’s veto of fracking legislation. Even though seconds after Congresswoman Carney pushed the incorrect button, she attempted frantically to change her vote to the one of her true intention, House Speaker Thom Tillis would not recognize the legislator’s requests for recognition and a switch of the vote – something typically granted by leadership when a request is made. Tillis says he is “comfortable” with the process, according to the N&O article on the late night vote.

Continue reading

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Capitalism Crises Should Send Us Back to the Drawing Board

Modern culture assumes the natural order includes a capitalist philosophy – it is not necessarily the case. Here is a very simple and informative animation that explains how we think about the roots of our current economical crises.

In reality, there are alternatives to capitalismRichard Wolf of the Guardian UK explains based on first hand observation:

Modern societies have mostly chosen a capitalist organization of production. In capitalism, private owners establish enterprises and select their directors who decide what, how and where to produce and what to do with the net revenues from selling the output. This small handful of people makes all those economic decisions for the majority of people – who do most of the actual productive work. The majority must accept and live with the results of all the directorial decisions made by the major shareholders and the boards of directors they select. This latter also select their own replacements.

Capitalism thus entails and reproduces a highly undemocratic organization of production inside enterprises. Tina (short for Euro style capitalism) believers insist that no alternatives to such capitalist organizations of production exist or could work nearly so well, in terms of outputs, efficiency, and labor processes. The falsity of that claim is easily shown. Indeed, I was shown it a few weeks ago and would like to sketch it for you here.

In May 2012, I had occasion to visit the city of Arrasate-Mondragon, in the Basque region of Spain. It is the headquarters of the Mondragon Corporation (MC), a stunningly successful alternative to the capitalist organization of production.

MC is composed of many co-operative enterprises grouped into four areas: industry, finance, retail and knowledge. In each enterprise, the co-op members (averaging 80-85% of all workers per enterprise) collectively own and direct the enterprise. Through an annual general assembly the workers choose and employ a managing director and retain the power to make all the basic decisions of the enterprise (what, how and where to produce and what to do with the profits).

As each enterprise is a constituent of the MC as a whole, its members must confer and decide with all other enterprise members what general rules will govern MC and all its constituent enterprises. In short, MC worker-members collectively choose, hire and fire the directors, whereas in capitalist enterprises the reverse occurs. One of the co-operatively and democratically adopted rules governing the MC limits top-paid worker/members to earning 6.5 times the lowest-paid workers. Nothing more dramatically demonstrates the differences distinguishing this from the capitalist alternative organization of enterprises. (In US corporations, CEOs can expect to be paid 400 times an average worker’s salary – a rate that has increased 20-fold since 1965.)

Given that MC has 85,000 members (from its 2010 annual report), its pay equity rules can and do contribute to a larger society with far greater income and wealth equality than is typical in societies that have chosen capitalist organizations of enterprises. Over 43% of MC members are women, whose equal powers with male members likewise influence gender relations in society different from capitalist enterprises.

MC displays a commitment to job security I have rarely encountered in capitalist enterprises: it operates across, as well as within, particular cooperative enterprises. MC members created a system to move workers from enterprises needing fewer to those needing more workers – in a remarkably open, transparent, rule-governed way and with associated travel and other subsidies to minimize hardship. This security-focused system has transformed the lives of workers, their families, and communities, also in unique ways.

The MC rule that all enterprises are to source their inputs from the best and least-costly producers – whether or not those are also MC enterprises – has kept MC at the cutting edge of new technologies. Likewise, the decision to use of a portion of each member enterprise’s net revenue as a fund for research and development has funded impressive new product development. R&D within MC now employs 800 people with a budget over $75m. In 2010, 21.4% of sales of MC industries were new products and services that did not exist five years earlier. In addition, MC established and has expanded Mondragon University; it enrolled over 3,400 students in its 2009-2010 academic year, and its degree programs conform to the requirements of the European framework of higher education. Total student enrollment in all its educational centers in 2010 was 9,282.

The largest corporation in the Basque region, MC is also one of Spain’s top ten biggest corporations (in terms of sales or employment). Far better than merely surviving since its founding in 1956, MC has grown dramatically. Along the way, it added a co-operative bank, Caja Laboral (holding almost $25bn in deposits in 2010). And MC has expanded internationally, now operating over 77 businesses outside Spain. MC has proven itself able to grow and prosper as an alternative to – and competitor of – capitalist organizations of enterprise.

During my visit, in random encounters with workers who answered my questions about their jobs, powers, and benefits as cooperative members, I found a familiarity with and sense of responsibility for the enterprise as a whole that I associate only with top managers and directors in capitalist enterprises. The easy conversation (including disagreement), for instance, between assembly-line workers and top managers inside the Fagor washing-machine factory we inspected was similarly remarkable.

Our MC host on the visit reminded us twice that theirs is a co-operative business with all sorts of problems:

“We are not some paradise, but rather a family of co-operative enterprises struggling to build a different kind of life around a different way of working.”

No one is supposing that alternatives to capitalism are all sunshine and lollipops, there will always be challenges that arrive, but with a shared interest in efficiency, profit making, and employee quality of life, the solution sounds more fair for more people. The fruits of productivity can raise the standard of living for all, workers really can reap what they sew.

If nothing else, it is time, like the animation showed, to seriously debate and discuss the entire capitalist system.

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Sage Slave

Thomas Hall was a slave in Orange County, North Carolina. He was 81 when he was interviewed by the Federal Writer’s Project in 1937. Our future comes at us at an ever quickening pace and with the chaos of a globalized community – we are not taking the time to learn about our past. Here is an excerpt of Thomas Hall’s words to his interviewer:

Getting married and having a family was a joke in the days of slavery, as the main thing in allowing any form of matrimony among the slaves was to raise more slaves in the same sense and for the same purpose as stock raisers raise horses and mules, that is, for work. A woman who could produce fast was in great demand and would bring a good price on the auction block …

The food in many cases that was given the slaves was not given them for the pleasure or by a cheerful giver, but for the simple and practical reason  that children would not grow in to a large healthy slave unless they were well fed and clothed, and give a good warm places to live. … – My Folks Don’t Want Me to Talk About Slavery Continue reading

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Greed is not Good (or God)

Graphic of socialism's "takeover" of the market by The Atlantic.

In America, the cheerleaders of capitalism are happy with the socialist measures and regulations that protect them – like the police that protects their property, the legal system that supports their contracts, the infrastructure that educates their employees, the roads that allow their products to be shipped, the water quality they process with, the airwaves that deliver their commercials, the subsidization of business, the inspections that protect their goods from tainted goods, the military that (literally) fights for them, the public clean up of their pollution, the people dealing with health complications from their poisons, the fire departments that will assist them – then any measures that smack of socialism that do not further their money making or power status are demonized. “Socialist!”, is the current red scare tactic.

Mortgage companies, banks, retailers, service businesses, Wall Street, Ayn Rand, Republicans and conservatives all line up behind the same idea – the idea that the consumer will protect their own interest in financial matters. This principle is pretty much the only imposed moral in the capitalist system – that everyone looks out for themselves and it is a dog eat dog world. It follows a supposed economic law that matches the natural law “of the jungle” – which is kill or be killed (for a visual illustration you can see a video here in a post). If everyone started with the same opportunities, this principle would work better – and everyone will never have the same opportunities – but there is a more serious failure of logic in this basic principle. Gaining money is not the same as surviving, humanity does not figure into the capitalist equation.

In true natural law, some very basic animalistic impulses are in operation – fight or flight insticts, the need for food and water, the need to rear and protect our young, the need for shelter, and conserving energy to insure completion of all of the above before any other activities. Every mammal on the planet acts on these survival principles, humans included. While money may be one method to secure basic survival, it is not always the most efficient means. All of the above survival needs can be met in ways that do not involve money. As we are seeing in the recent upsurge of homesteading and wilderness survival skills popularity, food, shelter and water can be gained without monetary transactions taking place. Bartering can figure in to many goods and services. Co-operatives can be formed that may be comprised of many resources in which money is only one of them. Capitalists cheerleaders operate on the principle that our desire to accumulate money will provide all the regulation needed to keep our capitalist system honest. Obviously they are wrong.

The disasters that capitalism create, especially as legalese and complexities of format escalate, are massive. The mortgage crisis, the banking bailouts, the World Bank, the IMF, oil speculation, Wall Street bonuses rewarding failure, massive layoffs – these are all examples of how capitalism fails humanity (and the list could go on).

Exercise is needed for all of us to survive, if we don’t move around, we atropy and get sick (not to mention that we would then need help getting sustenance). Some of us humans are excellent at exercising: we may be natural athletes, choose to train, have an active lifestyle, or become fit as a by product of a life of survival. Some of us humans are very bad at getting exercise: we may have a sedentary lifestyle, have a poor diet which hinders energy/movement, hate exercise, or be injured/ill. Imagine for a moment if physical fitness was substituted for economic fitness, and Wall Street bonuses were distributed according to physical fitness tests, how unfair that might seem to those with extra poundage, or asthma, or disabilities. Ironically physical fitness is actually much more tied to our literal survival than accumulating numbers in an account.

Very few of us have trained to be elite economists or have the natural ability to be masterful with our finances. Most of us have only taken high school level consumer education (if that) and almost none of us are educated in the legal acrobatics involved in “creative” mortgages or finances. Like the exercise metaphor, most of us do the minimum amount of effort required to keep things running smoothly – that actually applies to pretty much everything that isn’t a personal passion. Only those with a passion for capitalism do well in a capitalist system.

Lots of folks would apparently rather gaze lovingly at a pile of cash than go to a little league game, they’d rather count their coins than help a friend in need, they don’t see the point of having a rich life when they could simply be rich – they’re the Hoarding Horde. For them, greed is good, greed is God. There is no calling in life above making money and they have no sympathy for those of us that have to prioritize things – like the survival of our family – to be more important than figuring out the latest tricks of the marketplace. They have convinced themselves and been supported with the likes of Ayn Rand, Ronald Reagan, and the Republican leadership that holds up economic Darwinism as a model. If they can’t see or accept that a purely capitalist system is extremely cold hearted (foolish babies would rather eat a quarter than spend it), they might need to join the ranks of the other sociopaths that are screwing the world up for the rest of us (which I wrote about here).

America is already a mix of socialism and capitalism. It is American to regulate, it is American to tax, it is American to care about those around us, it is American to succeed through your own work – all of these ideas can live together in harmony. We can tolerate those bits that aren’t our favorites – like paying taxes or keeping social programs we don’t use – because they come in the parcel that is America and it means we have the freedom and liberty to do some other things we really like. When one idea gains too much power and acts as an authoritarian force, we stop acting like America. Right now the capitalist forces are in power – Republicans are proud of it, Dems try to hide their ties, but the capitalists are winning. Because capitalists are on top, they use their position to cry “socialist!” at the slightest suggestion of collective negotiating power.

It’s time to stop. Socialism is not a bad word, democratic socialism means putting policies in place due to the wishes of the people, not a dictator. As George W. Bush lamented several times, the Presidency is not a dictatorship, and even if the President wanted to command us to implement socialism, our political system does not work that way. Governing policies must make their way through Congress which implies a tacit approval from the people.

Some of us have better things to do than fuss over money; we just need to make sure the bills are paid so that we may continue with what really counts for us. A different economic class of people choose to manipulate other people’s money and the rules surrounding them so that they can rake in more for themselves. The people in group A don’t want to be like the people of group B and it is pretty callous to insist that they should rearrange their priorities in order to “make it”, that is in order to have a decent job, shelter, and a nurturant environment for our families.  That is why the concept of the living wage was developed, so we could have an understanding of what is decent in our capitalist society, because “the market” doesn’t care about hunger, shelter, sickness, or families. Money in the bank is not the same as a full, rich and virtuous life; choosing a life that does not focus on money does not make you unAmerican or immoral; it makes you human.

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