To those who have, much will be given; from those who have not, much will be taken

You know how in the argument between public services and capitalism the latter is presented as some kind of default position, where people are just left alone with what they’ve earned, and the former is presented as “redistribution”, where money is taken unfairly from one person to be given to someone else.

Watching Four Corners’ report last week on poor children in the first world reminded me what a lie that is.

Capitalism is a system where those without capital pay more for basic necessities. Where those with capital pay less. Where, at its most basic, capital breeds capital – where to those who have, more is given, and to those who have nothing, more is taken. That’s what capitalism means. That’s why it’s called “capitalism”.

So these poor families in the documentary pay a pound plus electricity to be able to turn on their TV for six hours. They pay more for travel (because they live further from work and in places poorly served by public transport) and they subsidise our credit cards. They pay more for housing – mortgage payments might be more than rent at first, but after five years or so and for the rest of the homeowner’s life, they’ll be paying less to the bank than those renting an equivalent place. Their meagre property gets damaged because the housing in which they live is filled with problems like pervasive damp, so they have to replace it if they can. And because they’re only renting, they can only get temporary appliances, that actually cost more than fixtures a homeowner could install.

And how do we try to balance budgets when the people up the top bugger things up? Do we raise their taxes since they’ve actually got something to sacrifice? No, we cut welfare. Austerity for the poor. Come on, you bastards, your kids don’t need to eat three meals a day!

It’s kind of sickening.

Still, at least the name “capitalism” is honest. It is what it says it is – a system that rewards the people with capital, at the expense of those without.

It’s not like where they call the system that builds corporate monopolies the “free market”.

PS Stay to the end of the Four Corners piece to watch the interview with Danny Dorling. His explanation of what’s happening and what’s coming next is exactly on the money.

15 responses to “To those who have, much will be given; from those who have not, much will be taken

  1. But watch those hard-nosed capitalists dole out the taxpayers cash when one of their favoured groups is ‘doing it tough’. Farmers and old people getvso much cash thrown at them, but others are implicitly accused of cause their own problems. I’ve always thought that it’s amazing to see how a flood or drought turns capitalists into socialists overnight.

  2. Like any ideology, capitalism needs to be tempered by the inclusion of other economic theories in order to create the right balance for the country in question. A balance that will, by necessity, change over time as the people and the economy change.

    But capitalism should never be, in and of itself, the end-goal of any economy – it is a tool to be used (a good tool if truth be told) in seeking that goal. Only a truly myopic ideologue could suggest that all economic issues can be resolved simply by applying a capitalist solution.

    Yet that is where the USA finds itself today. Half the country really believes that blind subservience to capitalist theory is some sort of magic bullet for their wellbeing and the other half have been fooled into voting for politicians who believe exactly the same thing. The Republicans are giving their voters limited, idiotic but easy answers and the Democrats are just lying to theirs outright.

    And we will all get front row seats while the US self-immolates as a lesson to the rest of the world. Economies based on rigid ideological strictures ultimately collapse – communism, capitalism, fascism, whatever – it is inevitable. The blended are always stronger than the pure.

  3. narcoticmusing

    aslsw – you also forgot natural disasters like the GFC, where we need to be socialist and provide corporate welfare and take on all risk for the executives being paid ridiculous sums for being responsible for the risks and share price – nice to see we reward those poor folk even when the share price falls, because really, why should we blame the poor bastard we pay squillions to to be responsible? It is poor people’s fault they are poor, but that dear old CEO couldn’t control the share price falling, despite that most renegotiated their pay packages to reduce the quantum of options/share capital and increase cash loads which would mitigate the impact of share losses on them personally… but hey, I’m just being finicky huh.

    I particularly like the justifications for making the rich richer, the ‘trickle down’ effect or some such – for the poor person facing the austerity measures, they could be forgiven as interpreting ‘trickle down’ as being pissed on from on high.

  4. “..they could be forgiven as interpreting ‘trickle down’ as being pissed on from on high.”

    Hehe, I might have to steal that narcotic.

  5. jordanrastrick

    1) The left and right have a legitimate value disagreement over whether redistribution is fair. I’m prepared to stand up and say it definitely is, for a bunch of reasons, and that the Right has the wrong moral framework. But waving away the existence of redistribution with (bad) framing resolves nothing, and will convince no one.

    Businesses choosing to offer poorer people certain things at higher prices – generally, because they cost more to provide – is not the same as governments taxing and redistributing, and trying to pretend they’re equivalent is as simplistic and silly as right-wingers trying to assert the equivalence of the latter to theft.

    2) The choice is not between “capitalism” and “public services”, obviously, given every rich country and many less rich ones have both coexisting. Clearly you’re aware of that and are treating either/or as a useful simplification, but I think its questionable how much it buys you. Sure, broadly, America is more capitalist than Sweden – but what are we to make of say Singapore, which is “highly capitalist” in some ways – high inequality, light business regulation, lower end income taxation – but actually very progressive on other counts – substantial land taxes, excellent public transport, decent public education, very low unemployment?

    3) Accumulation of capital was the main driver of inequality in the time when Marx and the other classical political economists first formulated their theories and popularised the term “capitalism”. The picture is more complex now – absolute inequality, absolute wealth and intergenerational mobility are all higher. Where obscene wealth derives from luck, a much higher portion is people’s own (i.e. occurs within their lifetimes) rather than that of their ancestors.

    These days, the majority of people in a Western country are capitalists – we have savings of some sort, and enjoy a return on them not too dissimilar from the return the very wealthy enjoy. What distinguishes the very wealthy more typically than their families’ accumulated capital is being in the right place at the right time – they create a new invention or book or whatever that captures a “winner take all” market against almost-as-good competition, or they make a couple of lucky bets on the future market,

  6. jordanrastrick

    4) To the extent that capital does drive inequality, its often not financial capital. Having an empty savings account and paying-per-view for TV is probably of limited impact to these kids’ future prospects (there are doubtless plenty of middle class uni students in a similar day-to-day situation who can expect to make plenty of money over their lifetimes).

    What’s much worse is their lack of social capital – they’re not likely to meet the kinds of people in a position to provide them with economic opportunities. Even if private schools were abolished, public school enrolments still tend to segregate based on socioeconomic status since they are usually based on geography. And even if they have have as good teachers as their richer peers, their parents are less likely to be able to help with homework, and so on.

    5) Finally:

    It’s not like where they call the system that builds corporate monopolies the “free market”

    Corporate monopolies arising in the market are in fact quite rare, and its seriously unlikely they are a major factor in societal inequality.

    And while plenty of people use “free market” in a loaded and misleading fashion, the term is not inherently inaccurate. It simply means “market that operates freely”, i.e. without (significant) external constraints. Its not “market that makes participants free”, or “market that causes goods to be available for free”, or anything like that, as much as neoliberals and the rest try to imply those sorts of value judgements.

  7. jordanrastrick

    aslsw – you also forgot natural disasters like the GFC, where we need to be socialist and provide corporate welfare and take on all risk for the executives being paid ridiculous sums for being responsible for the risks and share price

    Narcotic, you should be fair to your opponents. Of course the “opportunistic capitalists” – Wall Street financiers and so forth – advocated bailouts for themselves (unsurprisingly). The more ideological ones – the neoliberal economist academics, the more intellectual tea party types, etc – have had at least the virtue of consistency in opposing bailouts, and advocating that capitalism be allowed to wreak its “creative destruction” equally on Lehman Brothers, AIG, General Motors, Greece, and so.

  8. narcoticmusing

    It is interesting how many man made disasters have occurred from a lack of Government intervention (the GFC for example), and yet, the Tea Partiers want this approach expanded in the wake of the GFC because of how much the GFC hurt the US. Total logic.

  9. narcoticmusing

    I give to you all, some inspriation. The image here is pure gold re: govt regulation.

  10. But hang on … doesn’t the fact that people who have more, pay less, encourage those who have less, to earn MORE?! Isn’t that the idea? That it serves as an incentive to get rich?! Surely that’s logical, isn’t it?!?

  11. narcoticmusing

    Becasue there are no other incentives to getting rich…

  12. There’s another angle to my disquiet, and that’s the pursuit of capital for nothing else except the pursuit of more capital. Enough is never enough, but in the end it just drives up prices for everyone else. We need an end goal in sight, so we can stop when we get there.

  13. Pingback: Repealing a law against domestic violence to save a few bucks | An Onymous Lefty

  14. RM, that might be true if not for the fact that I’ve never known or heard of a single person quitting their high-paying job because they pay too much tax. They’ll whinge and bitch about paying too much tax, but when it comes down to it they’re still far better off than people on lower incomes, people who may even actually work harder and longer.

    And they know it. As soon as they imagine quitting their $150K+ job and getting a $30K job, having to give up their brand-new Landcruiser, their $700K house in the ‘burbs, their yearly overseas holiday, their kids private education, suddenly that extra tax they pay doesn’t look quite so bad.

    They’ll still complain though, and claim there’s no incentive to work anymore. But we all know that’s a lie.

  15. narcoticmusing

    Ben, I suspect RM is being sarcastic… [fingers crossed]

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