What does it mean to live like a socialist, or a capitalist?


This was a strange incident at a recent convention. There was a debate between Hasan Piker, on the Left, and Charlie Kirk, the Turning Point USA guy on the far, far Right, and at one point Kirk asks Piker what his salary was…which, apparently, Piker answered, although I haven’t seen any video of that exchange. But then someone in the audience (Cenk Uygar) asks Kirk the same question, and he just exploded in a ranting fury. I guess it was a sensitive question for him. That bit has been caught on video.

He tells Piker to go live like a socialist, and he yells at Uygur, I live like a capitalist every single day, Cenk. I live as a capitalist, OK. I live what I believe, as he gets up and marches across the stage, pointing and shouting. Aside from the fact that it’s an odd thing to get so upset about, especially after you’ve just asked the same question of someone else, I have to wonder…what does that mean? Kirk uses the words like some people would use “Christian” and “Atheist”, as if there is some deeper moral meaning to living as a capitalist, and he’s a noble, upright figure for following the way of the prophetess Ayn Rand. I don’t get it.

I live as a capitalist, I guess, because I’m imbedded deep in a capitalist society, and the same is true for everyone at that event, including Hasan Piker. Kirk’s rant wasn’t even sensible, because it’s a statement about a system, not an individual.

But let’s play the game. What would it mean to live as a socialist? I think, in my imaginary ideal, it would mean living as part of a larger community where everyone has equal rights and equal shared opportunity. I would have less money — in a perfect socialist society, which doesn’t exist, I’d have no money — but my needs would be met, and I would be freed from a lot of worries. Do I have to panic about what I’m going to live on in retirement? Can I be bankrupted by a medical emergency? Will my neighbors starve if they lose their jobs? All of that worry would be nonexistent. I’d still have to be concerned about maintaining that society and contributing to its survival, but the individual existential fears would be gone.

It’s all a bit murky and idealistic, because I don’t live in a socialist culture, so I have to rely on a rose-colored imagination.

I do know what it’s like to live as a capitalist, because in live in that society. What that means is that some of us — like me — live in a reasonably prosperous and stable state, are an overall beneficiary of inequity. We’re doing mostly OK, but there is that dread that we’re one heartbeat away from total financial ruin (need I mention that a bozo exists who wants to destroy me and my friends with a ridiculous lawsuit? And the system allows that?) At the same time, many people are living in extremes of poverty, and others are living in extremes of undeserved wealth. There is no economic justice in this country.

This is not something to be proud of.

But we could focus a little more narrowly. What does it mean that Charlie Kirk lives as a capitalist? We can just look at him as an exemplar.

As it turns out, Charlie Kirk lives rent-free with his wealthy parents in a million dollar home. He claims his salary comes from grass-roots donations, but that is a lie. The tax forms for his non-profit (wait, how capitalist is that?) organization tell the true story.

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, TPUSA is not required to disclose its donors. But based on public tax records and some reporting by other outlets, IBT has identified the sources of over $900,000 in funding for TPUSA. Republican mega-donor families, GOP politicians and other wealthy individuals have provided large amounts of money so the organization can spread free-market principles — from which the donors benefit — among young people, the majority of whom, overall, lean liberal.

Working to appeal to millennials, TPUSA is funded by a substantial number of older, wealthy individuals whose economic views the group promotes. IBT identified 17 donors to TPUSA, including nine from publicly available Internal Revenue Service records. The documented donations came mostly in 2014 and 2015, as tax records from many of the foundational donors are not yet available for 2016.

Well, now we know what it means to live as an ideal capitalist. It means living as a parasite and a pawn of plutocrats.

I wouldn’t be bragging about that, Charlie Kirk.

Comments

  1. says

    He seems to think that because he’s rich (or his family is), he gets to set the rules and everybody else just has to toe the line. Admittedly, that does sound a lot like capitalism.

  2. KG says

    Strictly speaking, a capitalist is a person whose income comes in the form of profits on capital they have invested, and could withdraw and invest elsewhere if they wished – the mobility of capital at the desire of the capitalist is a key feature of capitalism as a system. But I understand from anti-capitalist cartoons that live like a capitalist, the essential points are to be very fat, wear a top hat, and smoke large cigars!

  3. cartomancer says

    By many classic definitions of Capitalism, the US is very far indeed from the Capitalist system. One key principle of Capitalism is that the people who invest money in an enterprise are the ones who should see the profit. Given that most large corporations and banks are heavily taxpayer-subsidised, both from bail-outs and cheap credit on the one hand, the handing over of research and development done at public expense on another, and public contracts for things like defence spending on a third, it would follow that under a Capitalist system the public should get most of the profits.

    The corporate feudalism that actually runs the US would collapse immediately if it were forced to undergo the kind of market discipline its champions prescribe for the poor.

  4. kurt1 says

    Being the failson of rich parents who can only fall upwards – sounds like a good description of living like a capitalist. Don’t know how wearing a diaper to trigger the libs plays into that, maybe someone can ask about that next time. If meritocracy were to be a real thing most people advocating for it would live on the streets.

  5. lumipuna says

    Still not sure what that freakout was about.

    The suggestion that he raises a lot of salary, therefore he’s an ideological sellout?

    The suggestion that he raises a lot of salary, therefore the money has to come from rich megadonors?

    The suggestion that he’s paid a (relative) pittance and therefore exploited by the rich people he serves?

    The humiliating knowledge that his earnings and career prospects don’t match the rich person lifestyle he’s inherited from his family?

  6. KG says

    mathman85@5,

    No, I think the monocle is usually a signifier of the effete aristocracy! Google “cartoon capitalists”, and you’ll see that obesity is de rigeur, top hats are common, but monocles rarely appear.

  7. alixmo says

    I wish more leftists with a youtube channel would see that there are atheists like PZ who are on their side! I am sick of anti-atheist propaganda. Yes, there are many “bad” atheists around (mainly misogynists). But most atheists are left, progressives or liberal. And in times of rising fascism and “theocracy”, atheism is much needed.

  8. nomdeplume says

    Capitalism is the best system in the world for making a few people very rich indeed. Before that it was called feudalism.

  9. says

    As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, TPUSA is not required to disclose its donors. But based on public tax records and some reporting by other outlets, IBT has identified the sources of over $900,000 in funding for TPUSA. Republican mega-donor families, GOP politicians and other wealthy individuals have provided large amounts of money so the organization can spread free-market principles — from which the donors benefit — among young people, the majority of whom, overall, lean liberal.

    The US Right appears to be very much a patronage system. It seems like every other profile of one of them – Nunes, Chaffetz,… – tells the story of how they latched onto some influential older white Republican man (or several) to advance their political career. The Kochs and their network identify and begin grooming rightwing ideologues when they’re still in college or younger. It’s extremely creepy. Hilarious that a major part of their performance is ranting about “political correctness” – if they started saying anything that displeased their masters they’d be out on their ears.

  10. Akira MacKenzie says

    Having been on that side of the political spectrum, I think I can provide some insight into what Kirk might be yammering about. I’ll have to reach back into my memory and Id and recall what I would have said back when I was a snotty, early-twenty-something, College Republican:

    To “live like a capitalists” is to be a free, utterly-self-relaint individual who shouldn’t be impededed by regulations and rules to achieve their personal greatness. They don’t need anyone and they owe no one a moment of their time or effort. Everything that the captialist has, they earned, whether by effort of risk. Therefore, they should be allowed to profit from their efforts and enjoy the fruits of their labors without it being taxed or regulated away!

    Meanwhile, to “live like a socialist” means to be a parasite who lives off the effort of the talented and worthy. It means that you’re too insipid or weak to take care of yourself and need “big government” to continue your lazy, worthless existence. You’re a mediocrity (or worse) who has nothing to offer society. If it weren’t for all the welfare and “free money” you steel from the productive, you’d die of starvation like you deserve to!

    Ugh! I don’t want to go there again! I’m going to need a long hot shower and a bottle of something more potent than 90-proof to wash that persona out of my mind.

  11. mailliw says

    PZ, I am fairly sure you don’t live as a capitalist.

    Someone who lives as a capitalist receives all their income from their investments. Their investments deliver sufficient income that they can live comfortably on it and have a large surplus to invest further – making it inevitable that they will continue to grow ever wealthier without ever doing a single stroke of productive work.

    Anyone who claims to be a capitalist who is working for a living just simply isn’t living up to their principles.

  12. chrislawson says

    mailliw@19 and others–

    I think PZ’s point about living as a capitalist is not that he makes his income from the proceeds of his investments, but that he derives his income from working in a society that is geared towards capitalism and therefore affects everyone in that society including those who have no investments (which is now almost impossible in several countries for even low-paid workers where compulsory superannuation is the norm — PZ would have a 401k fund, so he is a capitalist and he has no choice in the matter so long as he works in the American university system).

    It’s an interesting distinction because, of course, “I live like a capitalist every single day” as a response to the question of income level is just bizarre. He could live like a capitalist, invest everything in a Ponzi scheme and end up broke. He could live off the value of his labour and be lucky enough to be a movie star and earn so much that he would never need to invest at all. The really stupid thing about his reaction is that if he didn’t want to be asked this question, he shouldn’t have asked it of other people earlier!

  13. Akira MacKenzie says

    Someone who lives as a capitalist receives all their income from their investments.

    And he still thinks that he and his family “earned” that wealth because they “had the courage to take a risk.”

  14. says

    Anyone who claims to be a capitalist who is working for a living just simply isn’t living up to their principles.

    Or their principal isn’t up to their living.

  15. dfjo65 says

    I perceive that this is from the Steven Miller/ Bannon play book. This is the action we saw from Just. Kavanaugh and the Senator.
    Expect more of the same from this Pence/ Bannon administration.

  16. says

    What dfjo65 said. Kirk started yelling because it worked for Brett Kavanaugh. Trust me, you’re going to see A LOT more right-wingers exploding like that in the coming months and just generally getting away with behavior that’d get a leftist shit-canned.

  17. KG says

    PZ would have a 401k fund, so he is a capitalist and he has no choice in the matter – chrislawson@20

    The term “capitalist” predates occupational pensions, so in effect we can choose whether to extend it to people like PZ. I would prefer to restrict it to those who can choose whether and where to invest. It seems odd to say PZ is a capitalist but I’m not, because my occupational pension is paid by the Scottish Government out of current revenue, not out of the profits on investments.

  18. says

    Sean D. Daily @ 25: Good point. But something something “civility” amirite? 🙄

    Newsflash for American conservatives: you don’t get to define what “civility” is, not after decades of making millionaires out vicious ideologues like Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones, and voting for crass thugs like Donald Trump. Indeed, you’ve been telling people since forever that you believe that an armed society is a polite society so it’s clear that you’ve no idea what the word “civility” connotes, or ought to connote, in any case. You obviously think it means people deferring to you out of fear, not out of respect. We have neither fear of you nor respect for you; just the caution one has for a crazed, cornered animal that has walked itself into a trap of its own devising and is now snapping at anyone trying to help get them out of it.

  19. quotetheunquote says

    We have neither fear of you nor respect for you; just the caution one has for a crazed, cornered animal that has walked itself into a trap of its own devising and is now snapping at anyone trying to help get them out of it.

    This.

  20. Akira MacKenzie says

    Cat Mara:

    Back when I was a conservative in the 90s, I remember Limbaugh and other talk radio goons like him telling his followers that the call for a “civility” was a tactic by the “Left” to tone police the proud, Bible-believing, American patriots, like them, and encouraged their listeners to be loud and crass Oh, how the tables have turned.

  21. lotharloo says

    I watched both debates of Kirk against Piker and also Sedar. Hassan Piker is a very terrible debater even though I overwhelmingly agree with him against fucking Kirk, due to Piker’s poor performance one can say that Charlie Kirk “won” the debate.

    Sam Sedar vs Charlie Kirk was an entirely different matter though. There was a lot of bullshit spewed by Charlie Kirk but he eventually lead it all slip: https://youtu.be/-vcjouOcsXY?t=2277

    Basically, he’s rich and he doesn’t want his taxes to help those who need it. It’s all about “I got mine, fuck you” but we all suspected that, but if any fucking Republican rightwinger wants to muddy the water and distract with unrelated bullshit, you can just show them this.

  22. mailliw says

    KG @26

    The term “capitalist” predates occupational pensions, so in effect we can choose whether to extend it to people like PZ.

    .

    Many private pension schemes and by the sound of it many ones for those in public service in the US depend on people investing all their lives in the hope that they will be able to become a “capitalist” when they retire. I suspect that in a great many cases this provides barely enough for the ordinary pensioner to live on, and certainly no surplus to invest further.

    I would see a non-capitalist society as a society which contains no capitalists and a capitalist society as one that contains a very, very small number of capitalists. This very small difference does, however, appear to have a remarkably large effect.

    I can thoroughly recommend Thomas Piketty’s “Capitalism on the 21st Century” for more on the subject.

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