Home > Uncategorized > While the global super-rich are taking joyrides in space

While the global super-rich are taking joyrides in space

from Lars Syll

The World's Billionaires 2021 Timeline: Musk VS Bezos

Instead of putting billions of dollars into space tourism for the chosen few, think of what that money could have done in saving our climate and helping the poor and suffering in the world. One can have nothing but contempt for these super-rich ego-boosting ethical morons. And as if this wasn’t enough, we have a totally uncritical media reporting on the events. What a disgrace!

  1. July 22, 2021 at 1:39 pm

    Yep, aint it the truth.

  2. July 22, 2021 at 2:12 pm

    That —what the money could do — is true if you believe that money is limited by its supply and think like Scrooge McDuck in Disneyland. Both are myths. Even when taxed, that money would not be available for government spending in sovereign currency-issuing nations because those kinds of governments do not require taxes to fund programmes. Don’t those tax “revenues” offset liabilities on the government balance sheet by swapping assets representing public money already spent?

    Now I get the indignation and agree it is terrible to have such discrepancies in wealth as we have now. But surely the answer is to regulate compensation packages for executives. Tax at 90% any of their income over 10x the median of the compensation packages of their employees. When chief executives’ — CEOs — compensation packages exceed that level, all money above that is taxed at 90%. It won’t help the climate or poor but will help to rebalance the distorted economic systems.

    • José M. Sousa
      July 22, 2021 at 2:39 pm

      But the real resources used, not money but what money can buy, are wasted and irreplaceable.

      • July 22, 2021 at 3:08 pm

        No argument with you about the resources used up. But pretty minuscule when you look at the waste in the rest of the Capitalist economy which are NOT factored into price. Lars was not referring directly to that but climate and the poor and suffering.

  3. thomasntunstallyahoocom
    July 22, 2021 at 2:22 pm

    When the torches and pitchforks come out, no one should be surprised.

  4. José M. Sousa
    July 22, 2021 at 2:35 pm

    Don´t buy it on Amazon. It will make things worse and Bezos richer :) !

  5. Ikonoclast
    July 22, 2021 at 10:52 pm

    Well said, Lars Syll.

    Australian economist, John Quiggin, has said the same thing essentially and just fleshed it out a little:

    https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/billionaires-in-space,15314

    People are also talking about what the Blue Origin rocket looks like.

    https://www.thewrap.com/jeff-bezos-penis-shaped-rocket-launches-dr-evil-comparisons/

    Come to think of it, Bezos with his bald dome is starting to look more and more like Dr. Evil himself. Bezos’ Freudian slip has not just slipped off, he is waving it in our faces.

    But unlike Dr. Evil himself would have done, Bezos did not ask the designers, “Where’s the nut sack? Come on, work with me here.”

  6. July 23, 2021 at 8:58 am

    What are the recipients of those “billions of dollars put into space tourism” going to do with that money… or is that of no interest whatsoever?

  7. pfeffertag
    July 23, 2021 at 10:24 am

    Those characters are pretty crass but I think it has to be done. Somehow we must move into space. Grubby they may be but it’s a start.

    After the moon landings everyone expected more wonders: by the end of the century, a moon base, rotating habitats, factories in orbit.

    Instead, for the last 50 years the industrialised countries have stagnated. We no longer expect children to live better than their parents (and we are not having them). Other animals are content to eat and sleep and reproduce but not us. What are we doing? Where are we going? What can we dream of?

    We are doing damage. After a million years of starvation, disease, superstition, and cruelty, industrial societies reached the approximate potential of health, comfort, security and liberty. Having achieved this for a quarter of mankind for half a century, the Earth—land, sea and air—is indicating it can’t cope. What hope it can support this standard of living expanded to the other three quarters? For how long? In space there are no limits to growth.

    We are going nowhere except to decay. There is no vision and no plan except to hang on and try to minimise the pathologies of purposelessness: unemployment, family dysfunction, addiction, depression, suicide, crime, epidemics, political extremism. Space exploration would be a higher purpose. It’s the only one available, isn’t it?

    We evolved on Earth but don’t necessarily belong to it. We are the universe’s multi-billion-year experiment in intelligence and now—suddenly, almost while we weren’t looking—the universe has handed control of the experiment to us.

    The universe offers unlimited resources and boundless wealth. But not on the surface of a planet. For our descendants to enjoy long-term prosperity and purpose, they must live in space.

    There’s a long road ahead. If these individuals are not exactly models of culture and refinement, then perhaps that is to be expected of pioneers.

  8. Edward Ross
    July 24, 2021 at 5:50 am

    Re antireifier’s reference to sovereign currency I may be regarded as a bit of a simpleton, , but having been born 1936 i experienced the end of the great depression and the relatively good years of Keynes and the Bretton woods agreement. Some of the things i remember about that period is the way limits were placed on the amounts people or corporations could take out of the country. my point here is in advocating sovereign currency one has to take into account all the other controls restrictions needed to make it work. ted

    • July 24, 2021 at 4:13 pm

      Perhaps you have a different connotation of “sovereign money” than how I was using it here. My top reference — there are many others — is The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy by Stephanie Kelton. Essentially it is about those countries that spend in the currency that they define and create as the unit of exchange. I was born 10 years after you and also benefitted from the post-war prosperity but we changed that to Libertarian-inspired Neoliberalism in the mid-70s beginning a downward spiral for most people and unimagined wealth for the rocket tourists.

      As for taking amounts out of the country — currency controls, that never really happens. I have yet to travel to another country where another country’s currency was routinely used as a unit of exchange and payment. Trade uses the US$ as the reserve currency but those are usually numbers in central bank accounts. In France and Amsterdam I used the Euro, Switzerland the Franc, Brazil the Real, Mexico the Peso, Canada the CA$, etc. Some countries negotiate payments in the reserve currency which they must acquire by trading or loans because it is not sovereign for them meaning they cannot create it.

      I am sure you are aware that Bretton Woods was finally finished when Nixon took the US off the Gold Standard in 1971 (because in part France wanted to exchange the US$ it held for gold bullion) and then it was finalized in 1973. That changed everything.

  9. Ken Zimmerman
    July 28, 2021 at 2:04 am

    There is a double mystery at the heart of American history. Why have people  submitted  for  so  long  to  various  forms  of exploitation,  oppression,  and  domination.  And  then,  equally  mysterious, why  do they  ever  stop  giving  in.  Why  acquiesce?  Why  resist?

    We  have  grown  accustomed  for  some  years  now  to  referring  to America’s two gilded ages. The first one was christened by Mark Twain in his novel  of  that  same  name  and  has  forever  after  been  used  to  capture  the  era’s exhibitionist  material  excess  and  political  corruption.  The  second,  our  own, which  began  sometime  during  the  Reagan  era  or just before and  lasted  though  the financial  meltdown  of  2008,  like  the  original,  earned  a  reputation  for extravagant  self-indulgence  by  the  rich  and  famous  and  for  a  similar political  system  of,  by,  and  for  the  moneyed.  So  it  has  often seemed  routine to assume  that  these  two  gilded  ages,  however  much  they  have  differed  in their  particulars,  were  essentially  the  same.  Clearly  there  is some truth  in  that claim. However, the two ages are also fundamentally dissimilar.

    Mark  Twain’s  Gilded  Age  has  always  fascinated  and  continues  to fascinate. It’s know as a period of great accomplishment and invention, of great corruption,  of great cruelty and inequality, of massive and widespread social tensions, of fierce conflict among American social classes, and deep protests and even revolutions to remake the country in ways to end all the problems created as a result of this age.

    The  Gilded  Age  was  a  time  of  profound  social unease  and  chronic  confrontations.  Citizens  were  worried  about  how  the nation  seemed  to  be  verging  on  cataclysmic  divisions  of  wealth  and  power. The  trauma  of  the  Civil  War,  so  recently  concluded,  was  fresh  in  everyone’s mind.  The  abiding  fear,  spoken  aloud  again  and  again,  was  that  a  second civil  war  loomed.  Bloody  encounters  on  railroads,  in  coal  mines  and  steel mills,  in  city  streets  and  out  on  the  Great  Plains  made  this  premonition tangible and ‘real.’ This  time  the  war  to  the  death  would  be  between  the  haves  and have-nots,  a  war  of  class  against  class.  American  society  was  becoming dangerously,  ominously  unequal,  fracturing  into  what  many  at  the  time called “two nations.”

    Until  ‘Occupy Wall Street’ (OWS), ‘Black Lives Matter’  (BLM), and the election of a lightly progressive President came  along,  all  of  this  would  have  seemed  utterly  strange  to those  living  through  America’s  second  Gilded  Age.  But  why?  After  all, years  before  the  financial  meltdown  of 2008 plenty  of  observers  had  noted  how unequal  American  society  had  become.  They  compared  the  skewed distribution  of  income  and  wealth  at  the  turn  of  the  21st century with  the  original  Gilded  Age  and  found  it  as  stark  or  even  starker  than  at any  time  in  American  history.  Stories  about  penthouse  helipads, McMansions  roomy  enough  to  house  a  regiment,  and  private  island getaways  kept  whole  magazines  and  TV  shows  buzzing.  “Crony capitalism,”  which  Twain  had  great  fun  skewering  in  his  novel,  was  very much  still  alive  and  well  in  the  age  of  Jack  Abramoff, Donald Trump,  and America’s multiple technology, financial, drug, media, etc. oligarchs.  Substitute  those  Fifth Avenue  castles,  Newport  beachfront  behemoths,  and  Boss  Tweed’s infamous courthouse of a century before and nothing much had changed. Or  so  it  might  seem.

    But  in  fact  times  had  changed  profoundly.  Gone missing  were  the  insurrections  and  all  those  utopian  longings  for  a  world put  together  differently  so  as  to  escape  the  ravages  of  industrial  capitalism. It  was  this  social  chemistry  of  apocalyptic  doom  mixed  with  visionary expectation  that  had  lent  the  first  Gilded  Age  its  distinctive  rush of excitement.  The absence  of  all  that  during  the  second  Gilded  Age,  despite  the  obvious similarities  it  shares  with  the  original,  is  a  reminder  that  the  past  is  indeed, at  least  in  some  respects,  an unknown land.

    Why,  until  the  sudden  eruption of  OWS, BLM, and Joe Biden—a  flare-up  that  is already beginning to die down—was  the  second  Gilded Age one of acquiescence rather than resistance? If  the  first  Gilded  Age  was  full  of  sound  and  fury,  the  second  seemed  to take  place  in  a  padded  cell.  Might  that  striking  contrast  originate  in  the  fact that  the  capitalist  society  of  the  Gay  Nineties  was  nothing  like  the capitalism  of  our  own  time?  Or  to  put  it  another  way:  Did  the  utter strangeness  of  capitalism  when  it  was  first  taking  shape  in  America—beginning  decades  before  the  Gay  Nineties—so  deeply  disturb  traditional ways  of  life  that  for  several  generations  it  seemed  intolerable  to  many  of those  violently  uprooted  by  its advance?  Did  that  shattering  experience  elicit responses,  radical  yet  proportionate  to  the  life-or-death  threat  to  earlier, cherished ways of life and customary beliefs? And  on  the  contrary,  did  a  society  like  our  own  long  ago  grow accustomed  to  all  the  fundamentals  of  capitalism,  not  merely  as  a  way  of conducting  economic  affairs,  but  as  a  way  of  being  in  the  world?  Did  we come  to  treat  those  fundamentals  as  part  of  the  natural  order  of  things, beyond  real  challenge,  like  the  weather?  What  were  the  processes at work  in  our  own  distinctive  political  economy,  in  the  daily  experiences of  work  and  family  life,  in our  imaginations,  that  produced  an appreciation of  irony  and  even  cynical  disengagement  rather  than  a  morally charged universe of utopian yearnings and dystopian forebodings?

    Gilded  ages  are,  by  definition,  hiding  something;  what  sparkles  like  gold but is  not.  But  what  they’re  hiding  may  differ,  fundamentally.  Industrial capitalism  constituted  the  understructure  of  the  first  Gilded  Age.  The second  rested  on  financial capitalism.  Late 19th century  American capitalism  gave  birth  to  the  “trust”  and  other  forms  of  corporate consolidation  at  the  expense  of  smaller  businesses.  Late 20th, early 21st century capitalism,  notwithstanding  its  mania  for  mergers  and  acquisitions,  is known  for  its  ‘flexibility,’  meaning  its  penchant  for  off-loading  corporate functions  to  a  world  of  freelancers,  contractors,  subcontractors,  and numberless  petty  enterprises.

    The  first  Gilded  Age,  despite  its  glaring inequities,  was  accompanied  by  a  gradual  rise  in  the  standard  of  living;  the second by a gradual erosion. During  the  first  Gilded  Age  millions  of  farmers,  handicraftsmen, shopkeepers,  fishermen,  and  other  small  property-owners—not  to  mention millions  of  ex-slaves  and  dispossessed  peasants  from  eastern  and  southern  Europe—became  the  country’s original  working  class.  They  were  swept  up,  often  enough  against  their  will or  with  little  other  choice,  into  the  process  of  capital  accumulation happening  at  the  forges  and  foundries  and  engine  houses  and  packing  plants and  mills  and  mines  and  bridges  and  tunnels  and  wharves  and  the  factories and in  the  fields. They were  literally building America.  This  reprocessing of  human  raw  material  into  wage  labor  extended  well  beyond  the  Gay Nineties  and  was  still  going  on  when  the  whole  economy  fell  to  its  knees  in 1929.  By  the  late  20th century,  however,  the  descendants  of  these industrial  pioneers  were  being  expelled  from  that  same  industrial  heartland as it underwent  a  reverse  process  of  disaccumulation  and deindustrialization. Profitability  during  the  first  Gilded  Age  rested  generally on transforming  the  resources  of  preindustrial  societies—their  lands,  minerals, animals,  foodstuffs,  fisheries,  rivers,  workshops,  stores,  tools,  muscle,  and brainpower—into  marketable  commodities  produced  by  wage  laborers  who had  lost  or  were  losing  their  access  to  alternative  means  of  staying  alive.

    Profitability  during  the  second  Gilded  Age  relies instead  on  cannibalizing the  industrial  edifice  erected  during  the  first,  and  on  exporting  the  results  of that  capital  liquidation  to  the  four  corners  of  the  earth—everywhere  from Nicaragua  to  Bangladesh, and particularly China—where  deep  reservoirs  of  untapped  labor,  like newly  discovered  oil  reserves,  gave  industrial  capital  accumulation  a  fresh start. Prosperity,  once  driven  by  cost-cutting  mechanization  and technological  breakthroughs,  came  instead  to  rest  uneasily  on  oceans  of consumer  and  corporate  debt.  Poverty  during  the  first  Gilded  Age originated  in  and through exploitation  at  work.  Poverty  in  the  second Gilded  Age  was  more  commonly  associated  in  the  public  mind  with exclusion from work.

    We  can  once  again,  like  our  Gilded  Age  forebears,  speak  of  “two nations,”  geographically  the  same,  separated  by  a  century,  one  on  the  rise,  a developing country, one in decay, becoming an underdeveloped country.

    Stark  contrasts  in  emotions,  behavior,  and  moral  sanctions  grew  up alongside  these  two  divergent  ways  of  making  a  living,  amassing  money, and  organizing  the  economy.  During  the  first  Gilded  Age  the  work  ethic constituted  the  nuclear  core  of  American  cultural  belief  and  practice.  That era’s  emphasis  on  capital  accumulation  presumed  frugality,  saving,  and delayed  gratification  as  well  as  disciplined,  methodical  labor.  That culture frowned  on  self-indulgence,  was  wary  of  debt,  denounced  wealth  not transparently  connected  to  useful,  tangible  outputs,  and  feared  libidinal excess  whether  that  took  the  form  of  gambling,  sumptuary  display,  leisured indolence, or uninhibited sexuality.

    How  at  odds  that  all  is  with  the  moral  and  psychic  economy  of  our  own second  Gilded  Age.  An  economy  kept  aloft  by  finance  and  mass consumption  has  for  a  long  time  rested  on  an  ethos  of  immediate gratification,  enjoyed  a  love  affair  with  debt,  speculation,  and  risk,  erased the  distinction  between  productive  labor  and  pursuits  once  upon  a  time judged  parasitic,  and  became  endlessly  inventive  about  ways  to  supercharge with sexual energy even the homeliest of household wares. Can  these  two  diverging  political  economies—one  resting  on  industry, the  other  on  finance—and  these  two  polarized  sensibilities—one  fearing God,  the  other  living  in  an  impromptu  moment  to  moment—explain  the Great  Noise  of  the  first  Gilded  Age  and  the  Great  Silence  of  the  second?

    Or,  is  it  possible  that  people  still  attached  by  custom  and  belief  to  ways  of subsisting  that  had  originated  outside  the  orbit  of  capital  accumulation  were for  that  very  reason  both  psychologically  and  politically  more  existentially desperate,  more  capable,  and  more  audacious  in  envisioning  a  noncapitalist future than those who had come of age knowing nothing else? And  does  the  global  explosion  of  OWS, BLM, etc.  mark  the  end  of  the  Age  of Acquiescence?  Is  it  a  turning  point  in  our  country’s  history?  Have  we reached  the  limits  of  auto-cannibalism?  Is  capitalism  any  longer  compatible with  democracy?  Was  it  ever?

    During  the  first  Gilded  Age  millions  were convinced  it  was  not.  During  the  second  Gilded  Age,  conventional  wisdom had  it  that  they  went  together  like  love  and  marriage.  Indeed,  it  became  an empire’s boast  as  the  United  States  assumed  the  burden  of  tutoring  other nations  on  how  they  too  might  form  their own perfect  union.  But  then  OWS, BLM, etc. articulated  what  many  had  long  since  concluded:  that  the  99%  have  for  all practical  purposes  been  banned  from  any  effective  say-so  when  it  comes  to determining  how  the  resources  and money of  the  country  are  to  be  deployed  and distributed, is  there  then  a  future  for  democracy  beyond  capitalism?  An  old question is being asked anew. To  take  the  measure  of  how  we  are  now  entails  first  getting  a  sense  of how  we  once  were.  At the time of the Revolution, when the early immigrants came in the 18th and early 19th centuries. When the Civil War was brewing and fought, and during and after WWI and WWII. At what point and how was American culture hijacked to serve first industrial capitalism and later financial capitalism. My estimates are 1835 and 1970

  10. pfeffertag
    July 28, 2021 at 7:19 am

    Thanks Ken. That’s very illuminating.

    It makes me me want to see a table with two columns headed Gilded Age 1 and Gilded Age 2 listing the characteristics you mention itemised side by side. I just don’t have time to do it properly but here is a draft. Feel free to correct it.

    Gilded Age 1—Gilded Age 2
    Great noise—great silence
    violent insurrection—muted demonstrations
    Industrial economy—service economy
    national trade—international trade
    industrial capitalism—financial capitalism
    mills, mines, wharves, fields—finance, hospitality, welfare
    disciplined, frugal—self-indulgent, consumerist
    work ethic, thrift—instant gratification, debt
    Capitalism new—capitalism normal
    moral outrage—tired acceptance
    utopian yearnings—cynical disengagement
    society expanding—society decaying
    nation-building spirit—trying to hold the line
    mega enterprises—subcontracting
    trust busting—?
    traditional religion—no religion
    Protestant—heathen
    sex not mentioned—sex exploited
    women unenfranchised—Me Too movement
    prize good taste—tasteless, no taste
    communitarian—individualist

    Putting such a table together prompts further items. There must be some sort of categories items can be sorted into. It looks like the only things the two gilded ages have in common is their Gini index and sumptuary display.

    In the other wealthy countries the phenomena are less stark. You query the compatibility of democracy and capitalism. This question would not be salient in those other countries. This is not because America is ahead of them (that is no longer a valid generalisation) but because they are more democratic than America. That is, the American people do not have as much influence on their politicians.

    There is no prospect of the people getting more influence and I bring it up merely to suggest that the problem is not capitalism but the political system. It is not that capitalism is incompatible with democracy but the contrary: capitalism is incompatible with non-democracy.

    • Ken Zimmerman
      July 28, 2021 at 7:49 am

      pfeffertag, when industrial capitalism and later financial capitalism took over American culture, that take over included the political institutions. To the extent these institutions were democratic, which was from thr beginning very limited, at that point they served mostly the demands of one or the other form of capitalism. Nether of which supports democratic decision making. It’s really very simple; profit maximization is not possible in a democratic society.

      • pfeffertag
        July 28, 2021 at 8:06 am

        I disagree, Ken and submit those other wealthy democracies as evidence. In particular consider Switzerland which is genuinely democratic—the most democratic in the world by far—yet at the same time it is the second home of capitalism, being just as finance oriented, just as corporate capital oriented as the US. It has been that way since 1848.

        Yes, capitalism took over American culture. It has not taken over Swiss culture.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        July 28, 2021 at 10:34 pm

        pfeffertag, actually it seems we agree. In countries such as Germany and France, most firms are not allowed to maximize profits at the ‘expense’ of democratic decision making. The situation in the US is the opposite

      • pfeffertag
        July 29, 2021 at 1:06 am

        Yes. Who is doing the allowing? Politicians. Who is not allowing the capitalists to get out of hand? Politicians.

        Not only Germany and France but about 30 other modern, wealthy countries. These places are sufficiently democratic (i.e., the people have sufficient influence) to prevent the capitalists from buying the politicians. Most of these countries have been around for a long time; their system works.

        All of those long-standing, successful countries are thoroughly capitalist but not one of them has the US model of politics. In countries which have the US model (South America and dozens more) the politicians can be got at and virtually all of them are a shambles, socially and economically. Politically, they are mafia states or outright dictatorships. The problem is not capitalism per se but the political system: the people do not have influence matching that of big capital.

        In view of that, the wonder is that America—which invented modern democracy—has lasted so long. It has survived several crises. Can it survive the present one?

        I found your post illuminating. It had never occurred to me to compare the two gilded ages. You have obviously given it much thought. I suggest refining a comparative list to bring out the contrasts and, perhaps, yield further insight.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        July 29, 2021 at 1:49 am

        pfeffertag, I lived in France and Germany for years. France is a lot of things but capitalist is not one of them. And Germany saw US capitalism so out of touch with German history after WWII that it returned to that history to invent a genuine German economy much more socialist than capitalist. Admittedly, American style capitalism has made inroads into Germany. Particularly, since the late 1990s. And Germany may one day model its culture more fully on the USA but I believe that potential is small.

      • pfeffertag
        July 29, 2021 at 9:26 am

        What makes you say they are socialist? They seem utterly capitalist to me.

        What is it that you (and Germany) see distinguishes “US capitalism”?

      • Ken Zimmerman
        July 29, 2021 at 9:58 am

        pfeffertag, as a French protester told me, the difference between France and the US is that in France the people control the government, big companies, and the rich to the death if necessary while it’s the reverse in the US. Few years ago French workers at an American-owned factory in France took their bosses hostage when the American company threatened to close the plant. Took a year to negotiate their release.

        Wirtschaftswunder (often translated as ‘economic miracle’) describes the rapid reconstruction and development of the economies of West Germany and Austria after World War II (adopting an ordoliberalism-based social market economy). The expression referring to this phenomenon was first used by The Times in 1950.

        Ordoliberals separate themselves from classical liberals. Notably Walter Eucken, with Franz Böhm, founder of ordoliberalism and the Freiburg School rejecting neoliberalism.

        Ordoliberals promoted the concept of the social market economy. This concept promotes a strong role for the state with respect to the market, which is in many ways different from the ideas connected to the term neoliberalism. Oddly the term neoliberalism was originally coined in 1938, at the Colloque Walter Lippmann, by Alexander Rüstow, who is regarded as an ordoliberal today.

        Because of the connected history, ordoliberalism is also sometimes referred to as “German neoliberalism”. This led to frequent confusion and “mix ups” of terms and ideas in the discourse, debate and criticism of both economic schools of liberalism until in 1991 the political economists Michel Albert with Capitalisme Contre Capitalisme and in 2001 Peter A. Hall and David Soskice with Varieties of Capitalism aimed to separate the concepts and develop the new terms liberal market economy and coordinated market economy to distinguish neoliberalism and ordoliberalism. They generally did a good job though confusions remain. Particularly among American economists.

      • pfeffertag
        July 30, 2021 at 9:51 am

        Thank you for the reply. What some French protestor said or the details of a niche ideology do not answer my query or support your previous assertions.

        Capitalism means that economic activity and prices and incomes are determined by the market, not by the government (that is socialism). Capitalism is the same everywhere, varying only to the extent it is regulated. Regulation is the job of politicians. They do that effectively only in democracies—countries where the people have an influence over their politicians comparable to the influence of capital.

        Capitalist profit maximisation is a human manifestation of the social animal drive to compete. It is a drive to excel and a drive to dominate. Human societies can also express the drive through soldiering, hunting, religion, art, court intrigue, even crime. Its consequences for those who are not members of the power elite can be grim—which is the present situation in most countries.

        The solution to the problem of rapacity is democracy. The evidence is in: the countries where people lead decent, prosperous lives are all democracies. The democracies are all capitalist and many of them have been going for well over a century. The more democratic, the more prosperous.

        The successful countries are all parliamentary democracies except for the US. It is now in crisis (unlike the other democracies) and appears to be on track to become a normal presidential country like the rest of the Americas.

        To be clear: the problem is not capitalism; the problem is the political system.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        July 31, 2021 at 7:41 am

        pfeffertag. After World War 2, France had difficulty reestablishing its economy. Which was backward before the war. This did not become effective till the 1970s. fundamentals of French economics, since the 1970s and before is the regulation school (French: l’école de la régulation). Basically a group of writers in political economy and economics whose origins can be traced to France in the early 1970s, where economic instability and stagflation were rampant in the French economy. The term régulation was coined by Destanne de Bernis, who aimed to use the approach as a systems theory to bring Marxian economic analysis up to date. These writers are influenced by structural Marxism, the Annales School, institutionalism, Karl Polanyi’s substantivist approach, and the theory of Charles Bettelheim, among others, to create new economic (and hence social) forms to address tensions within existing arrangements. Since they are interested in how historically specific systems of capital accumulation are “regularized” or stabilized, their approach is called the “regulation approach” or “regulation theory”. Although this approach originated in Michel Aglietta’s monograph, ‘A Theory of Capitalist Regulation: The US Experience’ (Verso, 1976) and was popularized by other Parisians such as Robert Boyer, its membership goes well beyond the so-called Parisian School, extending to the Grenoble School, the German School, the Amsterdam School, British radical geographers, the US Social Structure of Accumulation School, and the neo-Gramscian school, among others. Robert Boyer describes the broad theory as “The study of the transformation of social relations, which creates new forms–both economic and non-economic- organized in structures and reproducing a determinate structure, the mode of reproduction”. This theory or approach looks at capitalist economies as a function of social and institutional systems and not just as government’s role in the regulation of the economy, although the latter is a major part of the approach. Unlike German economics, French economics has shown no affinity for US economics, whatsoever.

        As to your other points. First, capitalism is not the same everywhere. Witness free market pro-capitalist capitalism in the US. State institutional capitalism in China. Equal freedom for all participants German capitalism. Pro-regulation capitalism of France. Second, if there is a social animal drive to compete, which I doubt it is social only in the narrowest sense and there is clear evidence for an equally strong ‘social instinct’ to cooperate. I agree that democracy can help tamp down greed and privatization but not all democracies are equal. The US is a democracy but has the highest poverty rate among all the developed nations. Whereas there is virtually no poverty in Norway, a social democracy.

        Finally, this statement is questionable at minimum. “To be clear: the problem is not capitalism; the problem is the political system.” There is a clear problem with a system resting on the notion that large differences in income and wealth are necessary for productive societies as these conflict with the destructive pressure on society we know such inequality creates. Capitalism is self destructive

      • pfeffertag
        August 1, 2021 at 12:50 am

        Thank you for the disquisition on French economics theorists. Economics theory is one thing; a country’s economic system another. The main thing is that France, like all successful countries, has the capitalist system—stock market, public and private corporations, etc, etc. Same as everywhere else.

        I said capitalism is the same everywhere varying only to the extent it is regulated by politicians. You give examples intended to refute this (China, Germany, France) yet they precisely support it.

        “…if there is a social animal drive to compete, which I doubt it is social only in the narrowest sense”

        You doubt it? Competition made every species. It is the reason you and I exist. Social animals always form a pecking order. A pecking order is competitive. What is there to doubt?

        “not all democracies are equal” I think I have said that a few times—and actually mentioned differences.

        “There is a clear problem with a system resting on the notion that large differences in income and wealth are necessary for productive societies”

        That is partly a straw man (“large” is crap) but I think I have dealt with this, too. The basic problem of capitalism is the problem of social animal competition. It is unavoidable and theorists who do not recognise it are unrealistic. The problem can be handled with democracy. Can be. Lots of evidence. Which I have given.

        “Capitalism is self destructive.” It has not self-destructed anywhere that I know of (socialism has self-destructed). Capitalism can be destructive, though. For examples of its destructiveness, just look at all the presidential countries in the world. However destructive it is, it never seems to destroy itself.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        August 1, 2021 at 9:24 am

        pfeffertag.

        For me capitalism, democracy, and the future of civilization are related as follows.

        Fundamentally, capitalism is economic arrangements in which property is privately owned and the means of production are operated for profit for its owners.

        This raises more questions than it answers. Is all property privately owned are only some? How far do property rights extend? What is profit?

        Some capitalism depends on markets, of one sort or another. Markets sometimes involve competition, other times not.

        The essential feature of capitalism is the motive to make a profit. As Adam Smith, the 18th century philosopher and father of modern economics, said: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” Both parties to a voluntary exchange transaction have their own interest in the outcome, but neither can obtain what he or she wants without addressing what the other wants. It is this rational self-interest that can lead to economic prosperity.

        However, historical data does not support Smith’s conclusion. Exchanges based on the reciprocity of gifting is the most common economic arrangement. And in these exchanges the interests of the parties are often linked or very similar. And, of course cooperation is a big part of these exchanges. But more than this as anthropologists have repeatedly pointed out economic arrangements are ‘separate’ from other arrangements by arbitrary historical decisions. What is the difference between profits and ransoms or tithes? Today the first is labeled legitimate economics while the second is labeled criminal and the last as a religious matter.

        In a capitalist economy, capital assets—such as factories, mines, and railroads—can be privately owned and controlled, labor is purchased for money wages, capital gains accrue to private owners, and prices allocate capital and labor between competing uses (see ‘Supply and Demand’) with all remaining funds assigned to profit (minus adjustments for taxes, if any).

        Although some form of capitalism is the basis for most economies today, for much of the past century it was but one of two major approaches to economic organization. In the other, socialism, the state owns the means of production, and state-owned enterprises seek to maximize social good rather than profits.

        Again, this statement raises more questions than it answers. How much and what types of property does the state own? Is the state the same as the government? Which goods are provided by state and which are not. Is the local burger joint government px #xxx?

        Some say
        Capitalism is founded on the following pillars:
        • private property, which allows people to own tangible assets such as land and houses and intangible assets such as stocks and bonds;
        • self-interest, through which people act in pursuit of their own good, without regard for sociopolitical pressure. Nonetheless, these uncoordinated individuals end up benefiting society as if, in the words of Smith’s 1776 Wealth of Nations, they were guided by an invisible hand;
        • competition, through firms’ freedom to enter and exit markets, maximizes social welfare, that is, the joint welfare of both producers and consumers;
        • a market mechanism that determines prices in a decentralized manner through interactions between buyers and sellers—prices, in return, allocate resources, which naturally seek the highest reward, not only for goods and services but for wages as well;
        • freedom to choose with respect to consumption, production, and investment—dissatisfied customers can buy different products, investors can pursue more lucrative ventures, workers can leave their jobs for better pay; and
        • limited role of government, to protect the rights of private citizens and maintain an orderly environment that facilitates proper functioning of markets.

        Most of these pillars don’t fit into human history before the 19th century. Before then little property was private. For millennia being held by monarchs and aristocracy. And after these were pushed out, being held in common by plebeians.

        The extent to which these pillars operate distinguishes various forms of capitalism. In free markets, also called laissez-faire economies, markets operate with little or no regulation. In mixed economies, so called because of the blend of markets and government, markets play a dominant role, but are regulated to a greater extent by government to correct market failures, such as pollution and traffic congestion; promote social welfare; and for other reasons, such as defense and public safety. Market failures that have always harmed large numbers of humans and today threaten survival of our species. Mixed capitalist economies predominate today. Self-interest often involved taking for the church or the monarchs and aristocrats just mentioned. And there are few historical examples of self-interest (selfishness) benefiting the collective. Finally, where other common concerns are involved such as friendship or survival, selling for the highest price may not be a high priority or constitutes another capitalist failure.

        Finally, I’ve always contended that capitalism is unnecessary since democracy alone can provide the same benefits without the many negative consequences of capitalism.

        But you are free to argue as you choose. As I’m certain you will.

      • pfeffertag
        August 2, 2021 at 11:35 am

        “But you are free to argue as you choose. As I’m certain you will.”

        Point taken. I will desist.

        I will just note that you begin by saying “For me capitalism, democracy, and the future of civilization are related as follows.” and then, in a long post, you don’t talk of democracy at all.

        Thank you for the exchange.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        August 2, 2021 at 7:40 pm

        Except in the final of my comment which is in my view the only important point about democracy in terms of our exchange. Yes, good conversation.

  11. July 30, 2021 at 4:55 am

    Could have teamed up with Musk and Branson, and set up real life ‘Thunderbirds’ from their secret island bases!

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