That’s just how capitalism works


You didn’t think it was to benefit citizens, did you? It’s to enrich the already wealthy.

If you wear glasses, you might have noticed that they’ve been getting steadily more expensive in recent years, no matter which brand you buy and no matter where you shop.

That’s because a giant-but-obscure company called Luxottica bought out Sunglass Hut and Lenscrafters, then used their dominance over the retail side of glasses to force virtually every eyewear brand to sell to them (Luxxotica owns or licenses Armani, Brooks Brothers, Burberry, Chanel, Coach, DKNY, Dolce & Gabbana, Michael Kors, Oakley, Oliver Peoples, Persol, Polo Ralph Lauren, Ray-Ban, Tiffany, Valentino, Vogue and Versace); and used that to buy out all the other eyewear retailers of any note (Luxottica owns Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Sunglass Hut and Target Optical) and then also bought out insurers like Eyemed Vision Care and Essilor, the leading prescription lens/contact lens manufacturer.

Controlling the labs, insurers, frame makers, and all the major retail outlets has allowed Luxottica to squeeze suppliers — frames are cheaper than ever to make, thanks to monopsony buying power with Prada-grade designer frames costing $15 to manufacture — while raising prices as much as 1000% relative to pre-acquisition pricing.

It’s even worse for lenses: a pair of prescription lenses that cost $1.50 to make sell for $800 in the USA.

That’s why I bought my last couple of pairs of glasses through Zenni Optical.

There is this utopian dream that with more automation, workers will be required to work fewer and fewer hours while maintaining the same productivity, eventually leading to a paradise where only a few hours of routine work will be required of every person, allowing them to pursue their own muse and be creatively productive. We know now this is not going to happen. Instead, the capitalist class will reap all the benefits, will use their power to arbitrarily demand greater profits for themselves and themselves alone, and will keep the working classes in their thrall with a) economic desperation, b) racism & division to keep them fighting among themselves, and c) cheap entertainment, like reality TV.

We’re doomed, aren’t we?

Comments

  1. unclefrogy says

    yes we are doomed all right but not I fear to suffer forever in some kind of capitalist serfdom but more likely some kind of spasmodic violent upheaval. There are to many fools at the top and at the reins of power who are consumed by greed and are to self sighted and short sighted to see the catastrophe they are growing.
    let them eat cake only works for a little while.
    uncle frogy

  2. citizenjoe says

    Luxottica even forces cookies down your throat if you want to look at their web page.

  3. susans says

    Some of the discounters will not make all lenses, i.e. lenses with prisms, forcing some of us to buy from the more expensive sellers.

  4. Rich Woods says

    We’re doomed, aren’t we?

    I wouldn’t know. I’m too busy eating bread and watching circuses.

  5. says

    Capitalism makes markets more efficient for sellers, by relentlessly driving down quality of products. Anyone who has traveled by air since the 1980s has doubtless noticed how the floor pricing was reached and the airlines began to “unbundle” their offerings so as to confuse customers with fake lower prices. Great stuff.

  6. says

    My last pair was also from Zenni. $75 for no-line bifocals. Locals wanted over $700.

    Got my eyeglass prescription from my optometrist. Put those values into Zenni’s website. When the Zenni glasses arrived they were perfect, but I took great care to measure everything carefully. For my interpupillary distance, I used a digital caliper, leaned in close to a mirror and got the caliper points as close as I dared to my pupils, while making sure I relaxed my focus so my eyes were straight ahead and not crosseyed.

    Everyone says the optometrist will not give out your interpupillary distance value (they know the score with these online shops), I didn’t even ask since I knew I could measure it pretty accurately myself.

  7. raven says

    Everyone says the optometrist will not give out your interpupillary distance value (they know the score with these online shops), I didn’t even ask since I knew I could measure it pretty accurately myself.

    Two years ago, I had my eyes checked, I asked, and the optometrist gave out the interpupillary distance without batting an eye. It’s a federal law that you bought that prescription so it is yours. I don’t know if that covers interpupillary distance though.

    The Federal Trade Commission enforces the Eyeglass Rule. It requires eye doctors — ophthalmologists and optometrists — to give patients a copy of their prescription – whether they ask for it or not. It’s the law.May 5, 2016
    Complying with the Eyeglass Rule | Federal Trade Commission
    https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/complying-eyeglass-rule

    I bought a pair from them anyway, local business and all that.
    I don’t remember the exact price but it wasn’t much over $100 or so.

  8. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    Interpupillary distance is not usually listed on the prescription, but it is always in their records and must be given to the patient upon request just like any other aspect of their medical record stored by a licensed medical service provider.

  9. DanDare says

    This is why when Paul Keating was PM in Australia he introduced all these ownership restrictions on media. Anti monopoly stuff. It forced Rupert Murdoch out so he moved to the US where he ended up owning everything.

  10. thirdmill says

    Anyone who thinks deregulation is good for consumers hasn’t flown since 1978, when the airlines were deregulated. I’m old enough to remember when there weren’t fees for everything, the food was decent, and the seats were big enough that you could stretch your legs. Oh, and you could change your reservation for free.

  11. hemidactylus says

    I have two pairs of glasses I bought over the past decade. Originally they were for driving purposes but I sometimes wear them to watch a movie or TV. Strangely now my vision is good enough for state driving requirements per vision test a couple years ago. Not sure if it improved. Maybe. The last time I had tested in early 2000s I was wearing contacts and was asked which I replied honestly. In 2016 when I got a vision test at an optometrist I realized I was passable but bought new glasses anyway.

    My reading vision is still good. No cheaters yet. But really tiny print strains my eyes. Maybe distance improved and reading degraded slightly. My theory is watching HDTV since 2011 made me focus on crisper images. Or age related anatomical changes. Dunno.

  12. wzrd1 says

    Age related changed resulted in my no longer required eyeglasses to compensate for mild myopia, back in my 40’s. My 50’s brought maturing trauma induced cataracts, resulting in the removal of the natural lens and implantation of an intraocular lens. That was purchased directly from the manufacturer.
    Eventually, I’ll have to get the other eye done, but the cataract in that eye is far less “mature”.
    But, I do require reading glasses and I followed the Chief of Ophthalmology at Temple University Hospital’s advice, “dime store glasses”, typically around the price range of $1.00 – $20.00, depending upon the brand and typically purchased in lots of a half dozen. That way, it turns into a “who cares” if I accidentally drop a pair into a storm drain or sit on a pair or simply misplace them.

  13. teejay says

    I’m trying to imagine a more perfect juxtaposition of posts to illustrate PZ’s intellectual dishonesty and can’t do better than this one and the one immediately preceding it.

    In the preceding post, PZ takes a weird shot at Jordan Peterson (how despicable do you have to be to ridicule someone’s eating habits, especially when those habits appear to provide relief from real health problems). In doing so, PZ claims Peterson’s fans are “immune to reason.”

    Then, in the very next post – this one – PZ claims capitalism doesn’t “benefit citizens” and asks if we’re all “doomed.”

    To believe either of those things is the very definition of being “immune to reason.”
    To believe capitalism (i.e., freedom) doesn’t benefit citizens you have to throw out the entire history of the nineteeth and twentieth centuries. You have to throw out the great failed socialist experiments in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, the Italian Socialist Party, and Venezuela, just for starters.

    To believe capitalism doesn’t benefit citizens you have to believe that someone born on the Korean Peninsula would be better off in the North than the South.

    To believe capitalism doesn’t benefit citizens you have to believe the citizens of a free country are worse off than those of a socialist or authoritarian country, when by almost any measure the opposite is true. To believe we’re all doomed you have to think things in free countries are getting worse instead of better – and there’s almost no evidence of that at all.

    To believe capitalism doesn’t benefit citizens you have to throw out the research of people like Steven Pinker and Deirdre McCloskey, to name just two who spring to mind, along with pretty much every other non-Marxist economist or historian active since the end of WWII.

    And finally, to see just how silly PZ’s argument is, all you have to do is ask yourself one question: would you rather be the richest person in the world in 1900 or live on the poverty line in a capitalist country in 2019.

    If capitalism doesn’t benefit citizens, that answer should be easy! You’d much rather be the richest person in the world in 1900. But because capitalism (freedom) has been such a powerful force for good in the world for so long, a person living near the poverty line in a free country today is much better off than the richest person in the world was just 119 short years ago.

    So tell me again, PZ, who, exactly, is immune to reason?

  14. ck, the Irate Lump says

    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden wrote:

    Interesting. Wonder if the same is true here in Canada.

    Generally, yes. Optometrist are pretty much universally considered health care providers, so they should always be required to give your health records to you upon request (I’ve pretty much always been automatically given my prescription whenever I’ve seen an optometrist), but the PD is measured by the optician before the purchase of glasses from them, and I’m not sure they are subject to the same rules in all jurisdictions (they are in Ontario [PHIPA] and Manitoba [PHIA], but it could be different in other provinces, so YMMV). This separation of duties also means that unless you’ve purchased eyeglasses from them, they’re not going to have any records.

    In short: you should be able to get access to that if you ask for it. Your personal health information belongs to you, so they’re not generally allowed to deny you it.

  15. raven says

    teejay the cosmically stupid troll
    To believe capitalism (i.e., freedom) doesn’t benefit citizens you have to throw out the entire history of the nineteeth and twentieth centuries. You have to throw out the great failed socialist experiments in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, the Italian Socialist Party, and Venezuela, just for starters.

    I’ve never seen a Peterson troll that wasn’t very stupid, very dishonest, and a raging polyhater.
    That is you.
    Like Peterson, just about every sentence is just factually wrong.
    I’m not spending much time on a really dumb troll but some of this is really Peterson class lies.
    1. Capitalism isn’t synonymous with freedom.
    Huge numbers of capitalist societies are and were dictatorships, some of them incredibly vicious.
    2. Nazi Germany wasn’t a failed socialist experiment.
    It was a pure corporate capitalist fascist economy,
    The first people they sent to the concentration camps were communists and socialists.
    3. Same goes for Mussolini’s Italy.
    4. Venezuela isn’t an example of failed Socialism.
    It’s all a very capitalist failure, greed, corruption, and incompetence doomed them.
    5. By the way, you left out the commies of China who somehow are rising to rival the USA in just a few short decades.

  16. ck, the Irate Lump says

    teejay wrote:

    And finally, to see just how silly PZ’s argument is, all you have to do is ask yourself one question: would you rather be the richest person in the world in 1900 or live on the poverty line in a capitalist country in 2019.

    While i’m guessing your definition of “capitalist country in 2019” excludes all the countries currently ripped by corruption, and strife, but rather include only “nice” places like the United States. Would I rather be someone like John D. Rockefeller, a man who lived to age 97 in luxury, or someone living with the constant stress of not making ends meet? That’s easy. I’d pick to live Rockefeller’s life every time. His life would’ve been less convenient, but he lived a hell of a lot longer and in better health than the working poor do in his country today. It’s a piss poor attempt at a gotcha, and you should feel bad for having made it.

    Also, it’s cute how you defined your ideology (capitalism) as good (freedom), so that you can just assume your conclusion. It’s a typical libertarian tactic and terribly dishonest.

    This is why you should not get your education from the YouTube channel PragerU…

  17. raven says

    teejay flat out lying.
    If capitalism doesn’t benefit citizens, that answer should be easy! You’d much rather be the richest person in the world in 1900.

    Teejay isn’t even making a logical reasoning error here.
    This is just stupid and a lie.

    Are we better off now than a century ago.
    Yes, lifespans are up 30 years in a century and so on.
    Then the troll just arbitrarily credits capitalism for this.

    This is factually wrong!!!
    The US GDP per person went up 6X in a century.
    85% of this increase was due to advances in…science.
    Science. Science. Science.

    I could document this with a 6 page scholarly paper or a dozen but no one would read it.
    Here is one source. Read it yourself, it was open access the last I looked.
    What’s so special about science
    (And how much should we spend on it)
    William H. Press
    Science 342 2013 p. 817

  18. raven says

    According to Peterson and his trolls, we don’t live in a capitalist society anyway.
    We live in a feminist, cultural Marxist, postmodern dystopia.
    And Peterson has the cure for that which (no surprise) involves sending him lots of money and hating everyone that isn’t a white fascist male.

  19. ck, the Irate Lump says

    raven wrote:

    3. Same goes for Mussolini’s Italy.

    Also worth noting: Mussolini’s party wasn’t the Italian Socialist Party. He was a member of that party for a time, but was expelled in 1912, long before he took power of Italy in 1924. His party was the National Fascist Party. I don’t know if this mix up was intended as a slight-of-hand, or if teejay was just so incompetent and lazy that they did not know this and could not be bothered to look it up.

  20. sarah00 says

    The Guardian had a very interesting article last year on the dominance of Luxottica globally. It was quite depressing and, as a long-term glasses wearer, anger-inducing as I realised just how much I have been fleeced over the years simply so that I can see.

  21. unclefrogy says

    To believe capitalism (i.e., freedom) doesn’t benefit citizens you have to throw out the entire history of the nineteeth and twentieth centuries.

    capitalism is perfectly compatible with slavery and gross labor exploitation you have to go no further than to look at the history of the 19th and 20th centuries in the united states, hell look at the rest of the world while you are at it. The colonial empires of england france belgum were noted for the lack of freedom in those countries that were the colonies. The early prosperity of the US was the freedom to exploit african slaves and confiscate lands belonging to the native inhabitants, all over the world capitalism has exploited those who do the work, the markets in which the work is done and the customers for the goods and services as much as they can.
    the only reasons we in the later part of that history had a wider participation in the prosperity are unions and governmental regulation. this whole conservative/libertarian bs argument just misses the point completely.
    To take the world wide struggles we have been enduring for all of my life, it was never a contest between socialism and capitalism at all though there have been some who were involved with that conflict. The main conflict is older than capitalism and communism per-say it is at the root liberty vs. tyranny, a struggle between democracy and authoritarianism.
    the ceo’s of the corporate world and the investor class are every bit as privileged and powerful as any Duke ,Count or Potentate in any period in the past you can name and just as exploitative as well.
    uncle frogy

  22. hemidactylus says

    @24- teejay

    Though much of Pinker’s book reads like libertarian (Cato) talking points while he’s not channeling the ghost of CP Snow he does uphold Scandinavian style heavier social nets and point out how the US is exceptional in a bad way. Yes in general things are getting better and Pinker’s dematerialization (peak of “stuff”) and demonetization (things getting cheaper or free…wikipedia and Youtube instruction) are interesting. His extreme poverty argument has issues and Jason Hickel is an antidote to that in The Divide. The structural adjustment regime imposed on debtor nations is sickening. Pinker’s rice fields to factories argument for improvement of the global poor is a bit hard to swallow. The 2013 Savar building collapse and Foxconn Suicides run counter to that narrative though Pinker would probably counter such availability heuristic negative news events with actual trending overall. And he does acknowledge things should be done better.

    One of my favorite quotes from Pinker’s book is: “And they [right-wing libertarians] have translated the observation that tax rates can be too high into a hysterical rhetoric of “liberty” in which raising the marginal tax rate for income above $400,000 from 35 to 39.6 percent means turning the country over to jackbooted storm troopers.” In this Pinker is explicitly countering Hayek style slippery slopes.

  23. Scott Petrovits says

    I’m trying to imagine a more perfect juxtaposition of a brain-dead Peterson troll’s intellectual dishonesty with their seemingly never-ending font of ignorance, and couldn’t do better than teejay’s. Bravo?

    As for glasses, I went with Warby Parker last time. It’s time for new glasses again, and it’ll either be WP or Zenni. I’m lucky in that I don’t (yet) require special lenses. I paid over $300 for glasses just once in my life, and vowed never to spend that much on fancy plastic ever again. When my vision requirements preclude ordering from an online retailer, I’m not sure what I’m gonna do. Lasik’s pretty cheap these days, right?

  24. OptimalCynic says

    Free market capitalism is responsible for Zenni too. It’s the expected response when a group is making excessive profits, someone will attempt to enter the market and undercut them to get some of that lovely moolah for themselves.

  25. atgc says

    @違う : I’ve been reading PZ for a long time and I have not seen many overt critiques of capitalism. It’s gratifying to me because, like PZ, I was radicalized relatively late in life. (Assuming I’m right about his view; I’m not sure)

  26. Rob Grigjanis says

    atgc @38: I certainly remember quite a few anti-capitalist posts since I started reading here, about seven years ago. I suspect that growing up on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder gives one a certain perspective, even with the advantages of being cis hetero white male with educational opportunities. Worked for me.

  27. Rob Grigjanis says

    Brian Pansky @41:

    the person you’re responding to is a mean-spirited troll who hasn’t been banned for some reason.

    Huh? You mean chigau? I have no idea where you get “mean-spirited” or “troll” from.

  28. teejay says

    Capitalism and freedom are, despite your protestations, roughly synonymous. Freedom is exactly what PZ rails against in this post. He doesn’t like the fact that Luxottica is free to buy up retail glass outlets and then try to use their market share to increase the price point. I say try, because PZ and Optimal Cynic and many others have figured out the market will always generate alternatives, including Zinni.

    Here’s a question – if capitalism isn’t freedom (i.e., the free market) then what is it? Private citizens owning a country’s trade and industry and doing with them what they choose? Sounds a lot like freedom to me. What is the alternative? Government choosing/regulating what companies like Luxottica can and can’t do with their money? Sounds a little less like freedom. But I’m willing to listen – give me a definition of capitalism that excludes/precludes freedom.

    I do want to take a bit of time to dissect uncle frogy’s argument, because it’s a common misperception. It might feel like a CEO is every bit as powerful as a Duke or Count or – I assume – President or other similar politician, but it’s not true at all. If the CEO of Luxottica were that powerful, they could force their workforce to accept little or no wages for their work. They could force agreements with their suppliers to provide raw materials for free. They could make and enforce rules preventing competitors like Zinni from being able to sell their glasses. They could do all of this by threat of violence, which is how governments – which are truly powerful – operate. This is not to say the CEO of Luxottica has no power, they obviously do. They have much more economic power than I do, right now. But if I studied this and saw a true imbalance, I could decide to enter this market and compete directly with Luxottica, like Zinni is, and take some of that power away. This is the point most collectivists don’t get. There is no competitor for government, except other governments. But in a free, dynamic economy there are as many competitors to Luxottica as the market can stand. A CEO’s grasp on ‘power’ is limited and fleeting. Just ask the former CEO of Blackberry.

    I see at least one person decided they’d rather be the richest person in 1900, and being free from worry does have some appeal. I don’t fault your choice. But even that answer is telling. It’s about the only way you’d be better off. Would you be able to say that about socialism or communism or any other other system of political economy? Can anyone here point to another every remotely similar success story?

  29. markr1957 says

    I’m having cataract removal surgery over the coming month, so if things go to plan I’ll never have to buy prescription glasses again. Sticking it to the man my own way.

  30. says

    I hope everyone (including PZ and teejay) could agree that (near?) monopolies are pretty bad for the people who don’t own them. This is the case regardless of one’s stance on the freedom of the monopoly owner or the goodness of capitalism without monopolies.

    This point of agreement is probably a much better place for any disagreement here to start.

    @teejay

    Freedom is exactly what PZ rails against in this post.

    To the extent that he pins it all on “capitalism”, perhaps. But that doesn’t let Luxottica off the hook.

    Being free to choose something doesn’t automatically make the choice a good choice. (so hopefully it’s clear that a critic could complain it was a bad choice without railing against freedom itself)

    And sometimes one person’s free actions limit the freedom of others. This is the case with ownership of vast amounts (again, monopolies being extreme examples). Ownership gives the freedom to the owner, and forbids the freedom of the non-owners (and I think that’s actually what makes ownership a desirable/useful concept at all, because this can simplify planning and conflict resolution). So then the question isn’t “pro-freedom” VS “anti-freedom” , but whose freedom.

  31. says

    Capitalism and freedom are, despite your protestations, roughly synonymous.

    Bwuh? LOLOLOLOLOLOL.

    No. Capitalism and economic freedom comes a little closer, but still fails.

    Capitalism is an ideology and economic system in which society protects capital. We do this in very important ways. I even think that they can provide a net benefit, but they aren’t “freedom”. The first and most foundational feature of capitalism is the granting of legal personhood to pools of capital.

    In “economic freedom” you could start a small business any time you wanted, but if it went broke your creditors could come for your house and your clothing and anything else you possess to satisfy that debt. Indeed, before capitalism this is precisely what happened for persons who went into debt to create or support an economic enterprise.

    There is no capitalism without protections for pools of capital and the investors who placed capital in such a pool via the mechanisms of incorporation and other legal personhood schemes.

    Capitalism means something, nitwit. Even if you’re just careless and didn’t mean to write something as mindbogglingly stupid as “capitalism and freedom are … roughly synonymous” which would make “capitalism” somehow involved in Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the civil war, you still can’t make capitalism and economic freedom into rough synonyms. They aren’t. Get over it. If your education in economics is so shallow that you don’t understand that capitalism isn’t capitalism without regulatory protection for investors and capital, then maybe step back for a bit and stop mouthing off about a topic on which you’re obviously not competent to contribute.

  32. raven says

    teejay lying some more
    Capitalism and freedom are, despite your protestations, roughly synonymous.

    This is a lie.
    A very simple and obvious lie.
    Repeating a lie over and over doesn’t make it true.
    1. Nazi Germany was capitalist.
    Mussolini’s Italy was capitalist.
    Franco’s Spain was capitalist.

    Most of the 212 or so countries in the world today are capitalist states of one sort or another.
    Quite a few of them are dictatorships.
    Saudi Arabia, the Iraq of Saddam Hussain, the Syria of Bashar Assad, Myannmar of the military generals, and any number of Third World dictatorships are capitalist.
    Capitalism and Freedom have nothing whatsoever to do with each other, a simple empirical observation.

  33. raven says

    teejay the ignorant idiot.
    Here’s a question – if capitalism isn’t freedom (i.e., the free market) then what is it?

    I already saw teejay’s problem long ago.
    He is profoundly uneducated and has zero idea of what any of the words he uses even means.
    It is like trying to explain advanced physics to a 5 year old.
    To take just two examples.
    1. Capitalism doesn’t even exist you mindless idiot!!!
    There are a large number of socio-economic systems that fall roughly under the term capitalism that share some properties and have some huge differences.
    There is laissez faire capitalism, regulated capitalism, fascist capitalism, and a large number of other variations.
    These differences aren’t trivial, they matter and matter a lot.

    .2. The Free Market doesn’t exist either.
    It certainly has zero to do with capitalism.
    Free markets are created by societies in general and govenments in particular.
    The so called Free Markets are human made, human constructs maintained by societies with some difficulty.
    Capitalism left to itself always destroys free markets in favor of monopolies and oligopolies.
    This isn’t theoretical, it is empirical, what we see happened every day around us.

    This is basic economics which you are obviously totally ignorant of.
    Read Robert Reich, a well known economist and former member of Bill Clinton’s administration for a good explanation.

    Robert Reich (The Myth of the “Free Market” and How to Make the…)
    robertreich.org/post/61406074983
    Governments don’t “intrude” on free markets; governments organize and maintain them. …

  34. raven says

    Robert Reich
    (Robert B. Reich is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration,…)
    The Myth of the “Free Market” and How to Make the Economy Work for Us
    MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2013

    In reality, the “free market” is a bunch of rules about (1) what can be owned and traded (the genome? slaves? nuclear materials? babies? votes?); (2) on what terms (equal access to the internet? the right to organize unions? corporate monopolies? the length of patent protections? ); (3) under what conditions (poisonous drugs? unsafe foods? deceptive Ponzi schemes? uninsured derivatives? dangerous workplaces?) (4) what’s private and what’s public (police? roads? clean air and clean water? healthcare? good schools? parks and playgrounds?); (5) how to pay for what (taxes, user fees, individual pricing?). And so on.

    These rules don’t exist in nature; they are human creations. Governments don’t “intrude” on free markets; governments organize and maintain them. Markets aren’t “free” of rules; the rules define them.

    I’ll put this here on the off chance that a few people stumble onto this thread and want to learn more about what the so called mythical free markets really are.
    They are human made constructs that otherwise don’t exist.

    As Reich points out at length, much of our society’s politics is involved with, who writes the rules of the free market to their own advantage.

    This is as obvious as Trump et al. rewriting the tax code to favor the 1% oligarchies and cutting corporate taxes.
    Currently in our society, the free markets aren’t very free.
    They are in fact, organized by the wealthy to distribute the wealth of our society from the many producers to the few accumulators.

  35. raven says

    One more fact for the road.
    Our current robber baron form of capitalism has a built in drop dead feature.

    The system has been set up by the 1% to enrich the 1%.
    As they get richer, the 99% get steadily poorer.

    At some point, the 99% no longer has the money to buy anything except the necessities of life and sometimes not even that.
    The system then freezes up and dies because it is based on ever increasing levels of consumption.

    This may already be happening.
    The recovery from the 2008 Great Recession was long and unusually weak.
    Because most didn’t have a whole lot of extra money to buy things with.
    Similar phenomena explain why the Third World remains…the Third World.

  36. teejay says

    It’s no wonder there aren’t many fans of capitalism here, nobody knows what it is!

    Raven in particular gets a failing grade. Let’s discuss the Robert Reich quote first (I’m assuming it’s legit).

    OF COURSE the rules of capitalism/free market systems are human creations. The rules of human freedom – freedom of speech, the press, assembly, etc. – are also created by humans! They don’t exist in nature, either. To the extent the US or any other country is free, it is in part due to the laws put in place for the protection of those freedoms. Reich isn’t saying anything revolutionary here, and I would mostly agree with his point. Where you go off the rails is here:

    The system has been set up by the 1% to enrich the 1%.

    See, here’s the thing. If this were true, then being poor 100 years ago would look and feel a lot like being poor today, if not worse. Except it isn’t worse. It’s a whole lot better. So much better that, in almost every way measurable, people who are ‘poor’ today in free countries are head and shoulders above the richest people of a century ago. This is the 99% I’m talking about, and they are demonstrably NOT getting poorer. I mean, you have to exist in a parallel universe with the flat earthers to believe they are.

    Capitalism is an ideology and economic system in which society protects capital…The first and most foundational feature of capitalism is the granting of legal personhood to pools of capital…There is no capitalism without protections for pools of capital and the investors who placed capital in such a pool via the mechanisms of incorporation and other legal personhood schemes.

    This is just gibberish. Society protects capital? From who? If you’re trying to say that people own their own stuff, and the government can’t take it (except through due process of law), then I agree. Property rights is one of the rules Robert Reich is talking about. But the “first and most foundational feature of capitalism” is most decidedly NOT “the granting of legal personhood to pools of capital.” That’s close to the silliest thing I’ve heard anyone say about capitalism, and I read all of raven’s comments. I would say capitalism rests on a foundation of property rights coupled with the freedom to do with that property what you choose. Hence why the two words are synonymous – you can’t have capitalism without freedom.

    Think about it this way: if you live in the US, your body is your body (your property) and to the extent you can do things like walk down the street, go get a coffee, talk to your friends, go to work, etc., you are free to do all of that because of the system of rules set up in this country. You’re not free to do everything – you can’t kill someone without repercussions – because that’s one of the rules. It’s the same thing for your house or your car or computer or the five bucks you found in the couch. You’re free to use that in almost any way you choose because of what we’re calling capitalism. In other countries, and in other times in history, your body wasn’t your own and your stuff wasn’t your stuff. It was the government’s or a rich noble’s or someone else’s. We’ve had something like a natural experiment with those two forms of political economy and the data is in. Capitalism – freedom – wins, hands down. And it’s not even close, which is why it’s hilarious when PZ rails against Peterson fans for being “immune to reason.”
    Pot, meet kettle.

  37. raven says

    teejay the ignorant idiot being wrong again:
    See, here’s the thing. If this were true, then being poor 100 years ago would look and feel a lot like being poor today, if not worse. Except it isn’t worse. It’s a whole lot better.

    This is wrong again.
    You’ve made this claim before and didn’t even bother reading what I wrote above.
    You are ascribing the difference between conditions today and a century ago to…capitalism.
    It has nothing to do with capitalism and everything to do with Science, Science, Science.
    repost of #29 again.

    teejay flat out lying.
    If capitalism doesn’t benefit citizens, that answer should be easy! You’d much rather be the richest person in the world in 1900.

    Teejay isn’t even making a logical reasoning error here.
    This is just stupid and a lie.

    Are we better off now than a century ago.
    Yes, lifespans are up 30 years in a century and so on.
    Then the troll just arbitrarily credits capitalism for this.

    This is factually wrong!!!
    The US GDP per person went up 6X in a century.
    85% of this increase was due to advances in…science.
    Science. Science. Science.

    I could document this with a 6 page scholarly paper or a dozen but no one would read it.
    Here is one source. Read it yourself, it was open access the last I looked.
    What’s so special about science
    (And how much should we spend on it)
    William H. Press
    Science 342 2013 p. 817

  38. dorfl says

    About what capitalism is: Capitalism is any economic system where the means of production are privately owned.
    That’s the entire definition. Ownership of your body, your car or those five bucks is completely irrelevant. You can have capitalism without those things. You can have those things without capitalism.

    Hence why the two words are synonymous – you can’t have capitalism without freedom.

    That doesn’t even make internal sense. Even if it were true that freedom is a necessary condition for capitalism, it wouldn’t follow that freedom is a sufficient condition for capitalism. There would still be a possibility for freedom without capitalism. Of course, it doesn’t matter, since – as has been repeatedly pointed out – it’s an empirical fact that capitalism can coexist just fine with dictatorship. Any theoretical argument you have that says otherwise is irrelevant, since it contradicts observed reality.

  39. consciousness razor says

    So much better that, in almost every way measurable, people who are ‘poor’ today in free countries are head and shoulders above the richest people of a century ago.

    The trouble is that you’re neglecting all sorts of other causes, for no reason whatsoever.

    Hence why the two words are synonymous – you can’t have capitalism without freedom.

    You should learn what the word “synonymous” means. You can’t have it without the letter Y, but that’s no reason to think they’re the same thing. But just comprehending that they belong in such different categories (e.g., one’s an “-ism” and one isn’t) should already have told you how incoherent it is to say they’re the same.
    Also, don’t ignore an objection that was already made above — it’s not the mere presence of freedom which is under dispute, and nobody doubts that some (wealthy and powerful) people have certain freedoms under capitalism. There is nonetheless a problem that not everyone is so free, due to the fact that it is conditional on how much wealth a person has.

    You’re free to use that in almost any way you choose because of what we’re calling capitalism.

    Who’s “we’? You are calling a bunch of things “capitalism.” You’re probably not going to be reasonable any time soon, but it shouldn’t be too hard to at least be clear about who is saying what.

  40. raven says

    It is so easy to see through the truly simple minded like teejay.
    1. He is profoundly ignorant and has no idea what the words he uses even means.
    2. He is also a near illiterate, unable to read and assimilate new information.
    No point in documenting anything with copies and references, because he can’t read and understand them.

    This is the same as trying to explain algebra to a cat. A waste of time because the necessary cognitive capacity simply isn’t there.

  41. says

    It’s the same thing for your house or your car or computer or the five bucks you found in the couch. You’re free to use that in almost any way you choose because of what we’re calling capitalism.

    No. That’s just not true. Capitalism has existed for less than 200 years. Mercantilism far predated capitalism (by 250 years or more) and under mercantilism you could also spend the 5 pieces of silver almost any way you chose. The existence of money and the ability to spend money on your choice of goods is not a defining feature of capitalism. Hell, even under communism you have that. What you don’t have under communism is private pools of capital owning production capacity and using that production capacity for the profit of the owners of the capital. You may or may not also have price controls and/or centrally dictated pricing, but even if someone other than the retailer sets the price, you still have the ability to spend your money on whatever is available in the market.

    The ability to spend money freely is NOT a defining feature of capitalism. It is, in fact, a defining feature of money. That’s the purpose of money, and for as long as we have had money, including thousands of years before we had capitalism, people have been free to spend that money as they see fit. They spend it, save it, or give it away as they choose in capitalist, socialist, communist, physiocratique and economically anarchic economic systems. Your “five dollars in the couch” example is ignorant drivel.

    Capitalism is not capitalism without specific protections for capital. This is not merely the same protections we give for any other property. If you own a car and drive your car into someone’s house, you will owe the damages to fix their property. If you own a corporation and by your instruction your corporation poisons the land under someone’s house, the corporation owes the property damages, but you don’t. This is a consequence of protecting the investor and thus the process of investing even when it screws people damaged by the actions of a corporation you own and control. The consequences to you of owning and operating a corporation are entirely different if that corporation ruins someone’s property or kills them than the consequences to you of owning and operating a lawnmower that ruins someone’s property or kills them.

    And that’s not some accident. That. Is. Capitalism. In fucking Sumer you had markets with people free to spend their money or not on the products desired. In Qin dynasty China you had markets with people free to give their money to a specific merchant or to decline to give their money to a specific merchant. You did not have capitalism, which was invented in the 1800s (around 1850, IIRC) as an extrapolation of mercantilism’s increasingly corporatist direction of movement.

  42. consciousness razor says

    Ask yourself this, teejay: are you free to ride a unicorn? Of course you’re not, because you don’t have a unicorn, because there are none. If you did have one to ride, then it may be acceptable that you can freely ride a unicorn, on the condition that doing so causes no serious harm.
    A freedom to do as you wish with “your” X is like that, no matter which X it is. There is no coherent claim you could make that poor people are “just as free,” to do what they want with things they do not have.

  43. raven says

    https://science.sciencemag.org/content/342/6160/817
    What’s So Special About Science (And How Much Should We Spend …

    …one sees that, post-Sputnik, total R&D per GDP has fluctuated between about 2.2 and 2.8%. Without minimizing the importance of the up-and-down fluctuations (these are, respectively, beneficial or destructive to the research enterprise), U.S. investment in R&D has largely kept pace with the size of the U.S. economy. Indeed, following Solow’s theory, it is likely responsible for up to 85% of U.S. economic growth.

    Here is a link to the article on the role of science in modern economic growth.
    I know teejay is incapable of reading it but who knows, maybe someone else will.

    It’s estimated that advances in science explain 85% of this recent 6X growth in per capital GDP.
    Solow, the guy that discovered this is BTW, a Nobel laureate in…economics.

    It makes sense.
    Land area and resources are largely fixed.
    Increasing the number of people increases GDP but not GDP per capita, the relevant measure here.
    Advances in science and technology however, can result in huge increases in productivity per person.
    These increases are what drive GDP per capita increases.

  44. raven says

    teejay being wrong again

    If capitalism doesn’t benefit citizens, that answer should be easy! You’d much rather be the richest person in the world in 1900.

    This is a simple minded logical fallacy that I’m sure most of you saw right away.
    It’s a correlation.
    Correlations don’t imply cause and effect.
    This logical fallacy is so old, that the original is in Latin because the Romans discovered it.

    The rise in US per capital GDP is also correlated with the rise in high fructose corn syrup and the adoption of the microwave oven.
    Neither has anything to with causing it however.
    You all are dealing with a total nonthinker here.

  45. dorfl says

    Just for the hell of it, I want to point out that teejay has managed to take three logically distinct positions on the relationship between capitalism and freedom. I’m also pretty sure that he doesn’t realise that they’re distinct.

    Here he’s essentially saying that capitalism and freedom are equivalent. That is, if you have one you necessarily have the other:

    Capitalism and freedom are, despite your protestations, roughly synonymous.

    Then he promptly challenges people to refute the statement that capitalism is compatible with freedom. That is, he’s suddenly making the much weaker claim that capitalism does not imply lack of freedom:

    But I’m willing to listen – give me a definition of capitalism that excludes/precludes freedom.

    Then he switches position again, to the claim that capitalism implies freedom, which is also weaker than his first claim but stronger than his second claim:

    Hence why the two words are synonymous – you can’t have capitalism without freedom.

    I’m not sure why I’m writing this. A guy who thinks nazis are socialists is a guy who doesn’t do any reading beyond skimming the introduction of wikipedia articles, so this is not a discussion that’s going to lead anywhere.

  46. teejay says

    I’ve never debated a creationist, but this must be what it feels like. How does one have a rational discussion with people absolutely certain of something that’s convincingly disproven by mountains of data?

    That doesn’t even make internal sense. Even if it were true that freedom is a necessary condition for capitalism, it wouldn’t follow that freedom is a sufficient condition for capitalism. There would still be a possibility for freedom without capitalism.

    And what would that be? What would freedom without capitalism look like? You can walk to the grocery store all you like but you have to ask permission to buy anything? The people who don’t make internal sense are those trying to decouple freedom from capitalism because they think one is good and the other is bad. I don’t think you’d catch PZ in that argument. I think he understands his philosophy well enough to know freedom has to be curtailed in the name of safety and so ‘good’ people can do ‘good’ things with other people’s capital.

    The rise in US per capital GDP is also correlated with the rise in high fructose corn syrup and the adoption of the microwave oven.

    Nice! Raven thinks they have a correlation-is-not-causation argument, except they didn’t go that one little step further and actually test it. You see, not everyone around the world has a free economy, and we can measure things like GDP and many others.

    When you do test the hypothesis you find that economic freedom (capitalism) correlates with higher GDP, high income across the board (and especially in the lowest quintiles), higher standard of living, longer life expectancy, etc. And it’s not even close. You’re really trying to argue that the world is flat. Let’s put it this way: what data would you need to see to be convinced capitalism (freedom) helps the poor more than it hurts them? You have to have an answer, otherwise we’re talking about a religious belief and we can’t have a reasonable discussion.

    The trouble is that you’re neglecting all sorts of other causes, for no reason whatsoever.

    Welcome to the discussion. What other causes? Also, see above. Your causes have to be able to explain those data as well.

    The existence of money and the ability to spend money on your choice of goods is not a defining feature of capitalism. Hell, even under communism you have that. What you don’t have under communism is private pools of capital owning production capacity and using that production capacity for the profit of the owners of the capital.

    Do you realize your second and third sentences contradict each other? If you can spend money on your choice of goods, then you can spend it on production capacity and use that production capacity any way you see fit, including to make a profit. You’re right, people didn’t have that choice in the Soviet Union. They might have been free to spend 5 rubles, and perhaps this is where my analogy was inexact. For someone like Jeff Bezos, his version of 5 rubles is the Washington Post. He’s either free to spend his money to buy that newspaper or he’s not. By your own admission he wouldn’t be able to do that freely under communism, but he can, and did, under capitalism.

    You’re dancing around the subject and trying so hard to exclude the concept of freedom from your definition, but you can’t do it. If a thing – be that 5 dollars or rubles or the Washington Post – can be owned by a private citizen, and that citizen is free to do with that thing what they please, then they’re in a capitalist/free system. If it can be owned by a private citizen but they can’t do with it what they please, then you’re not in a capitalist system, you’re in something else entirely.

    If you own a corporation and by your instruction your corporation poisons the land under someone’s house, the corporation owes the property damages, but you don’t….

    Pretty sure that CEO is going to jail, but regardless. I’ll go back to the Robert Reich quote raven posted. There are rules to a capitalist, free market. It’s not an anarchist market. What precise legal status a corporation has under the US federal code might be of interest to you, but has no bearing on what the word capitalism means, or whether free markets are more or less effective than socialism at lifting people out of poverty.

  47. consciousness razor says

    Welcome to the discussion.

    That’s not worth much. If only you were willing to have a reasonable discussion….

    What other causes? Also, see above. Your causes have to be able to explain those data as well.

    It’s not hard to think of many things which were different 100 years ago. It’s not my job to support your claim that nothing else is relevant – that’s your job and you aren’t doing it. Maybe you haven’t realized yet that you are conceding that your argument is fallacious. You should see that as a problem for you, not a problem for me. I don’t need to show that a premise is false, because this simply does not have the form of a conclusion which could validly be derived from your premises. That would be the end of it for a reasonable person — but of course you could try making a different argument, instead of just repeating the same crap as if that helped.
    Anyway, it should be you explaining away all of these things, in order to give credit to “capitalism” or “freedom” (or both, since they’re not the same). But I will take a moment to make a few general remarks about the last century in the US, since you seem to have no clue about what the fuck you’re doing. Then we can have a polite, welcoming discussion about how fucking dishonest, ignorant and/or delusional a person would have to be to disregard any consideration of them. One hundred years is an arbitrary timeframe, but I will stick fairly close to it, since you consider it important for some obscure reason.
    (1) Amendments 16 & 17 were ratified in 1913, and 18-26 came between now and then. It may even be appropriate to count Amendments 13-15 (ratified 1865-1870), which may have a variety of significant effects that are not instantaneous but instead develop over the course of several decades or more. Most relevant are the abolition of slavery, the due process and equal protection clauses, the income tax, and multiple improvements on voting rights. If you want to toss in the repeal of prohibition as well, that’s fine too (1919 was exactly 100 years ago, after all).
    (2) Numerous other laws, regulations, political institutions, etc., which were devised in the last century have had a significant impact on poor people as well as the society in general. To give a few specific examples off the top of my head, there are new programs like social security, medicare, medicaid, the G.I. Bill, a plethora of civil rights acts and SC decisions, and a wide variety of regulations on industry and finance which are typically aimed at protecting people from corporate greed and incompetence. The last category means for instance that we can do more to prevent monopolies, cheating and fraud, exploitation of workers and consumers, pollution, and so forth.
    (3) There have been numerous, dramatic scientific and technological developments in the last century. It’s hard to even know where to begin with this, but I shouldn’t have to give you an entire history lesson about it. And it shouldn’t have to be said that we’ve learned more about the world and can do more to improve our situation, compared to a century ago. The education system as a whole has also radically improved and expanded, even in my own lifetime, much less a whole century. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s the sciences, math, engineering, medicine, the arts, philosophy, history … practically any particular field you care to name has advanced, in a way which makes people’s lives better.
    I’m sure with a bit of thought you could add some more, to see just how thoroughly wrong you were. But that sort of critical self-reflection is what an honest and rational person would do. It’s not what I expect from somebody who’s mainly interested in believing that they must have been correct all along and selling their bullshit to the rest of us.

  48. says

    They might have been free to spend 5 rubles, and perhaps this is where my analogy was inexact.

    Do you even language? That wasn’t an “analogy”. That was an “example”. You could also call it a “hypothetical” since, in fuller language, it is a “hypothetical example” rather than a specific example from the real world. What it is not is an “analogy”. You’re not really talking about one baboon giving a nut to another baboon who just spent a half hour grooming the first. You could say spending $5 from behind the couch on a haircut is an analogy for the baboon giving away a nut. But when you’re talking about spending $5 — you’re actually talking about spending $5.

    Seriously, it’s no wonder you’re so messed up when you’re going around using words without even knowing what they mean.

    For someone like Jeff Bezos, his version of 5 rubles is the Washington Post. He’s either free to spend his money to buy that newspaper or he’s not.

    But this presupposes that something like the Washington Post exists. The existence of a corporation (an “embodiment” or legal person) as a separate thing from both the individual, human owners of property and able to be bought and sold separately from the assets of the corporation itself is no older than Mercantilism. Without corporations you can buy or sell a printing press, but you can’t buy or sell the Washington Post.

    Because of this, we have thousands of years of examples of free markets without the ability to buy or sell the Washington Post, because nothing like the Washington post could possibly have existed.

    Your analytic framework fails in part because you can’t see the distinction between owning the means of production – e.g., land, draft animals, plow and seeds – and being able to sell what you produce without having your profits taxed into nothingness. Generally through history people have been free to spend their $5 on whatever was at the market, and people have been mostly free to own means of production, but governments intervened after goods were created and before they were sold to monopolize certain markets.

    This is no different from what happens today in the US. Remember you insist that the US is economically “free” despite rules existing. One can buy anything that is in the market, provided one has the money. However there is no market in sarin. If you produce or store sarin, you are arrested and your sarin confiscated and destroyed. In various times & places production of particular dyes (e.g. tyrian red or tyrian purple), certain weapons (e.g. today, fusion explosives, in the past things like longswords or crossbows), certain modes of transportation (e.g. passenger aircraft or steamboats or sailing barges), or certain alloys or oxides (e.g. plutonium oxide, crucible steel) have been restricted markets where production required some form of license or leave from the government. Depending on the time or place, it’s possible that such license or leave was not granted and that those products were only produced by the government.

    Thus the markets of ancient Tyre were apparently “economically free” even though the market for tyrian red was monopolized by the crown.

    But that’s not the only way you’re wrong. You’re also wrong because buying the Washington Post presumes that someone might actually have that much money in their metaphorical couch cushions. A defining feature of capitalism is the permissive attitude of governments toward the amalgamations of large enough pools of capital to buy such things as a billion dollar media company.

    in a time and place where the estate tax is set at 100% you might be free to buy anything that’s for sale, but no one other than the government has enough money to buy the local equivalent of the Washington Post. Even if the estate tax alone doesn’t manage this, estate taxes combined with wealth taxes would and in many times and places did. The tax schemes of medieval Europe were designed such that wealth could not accumulate to such a degree except among the noble. Thus to achieve that wealth one had to hold a governmental position (a barony, dukedom, etc.). Yet the markets of medieval Europe were quite free, with few government-monopolized industries. This was due to the relative sophistication of those governments where (among other things) it was recognized that accumulations of wealth could easily purchase mercenary services sufficient to overwhelm the crown-approved landholders. In other words, excessive wealth could be a source of destabilization and violence.

    But they didn’t want to ban mercenary services. It was useful to the crown to have caravans hire their own guards, for instance. This indirectly taxed caravan merchants by outsourcing road security costs to those persons who had the largest interest in secure roads. It appeared as a cost of business, rather than a tax, but from the perspective of the government who would have had difficulty collecting the tax for at least some stretches of road, it amounted to the same thing. It also gave violent thugs something to do other than raid caravans and/or cause trouble for their local lords.

    This agriculturalist-market economy was not capitalist, but not because you weren’t free to spend money on buying the Washington Post. Rather it was because you were taxed sufficiently that you couldn’t come up with the money to buy the Washington Post…unless you were a noble, and at that point the distinction between “private” ownership of production and “government” ownership of production becomes muddled.

    Without a reliable way to distinguish an ennobled person from the government in which the ennobled person serves, there is no clear “capitalism”, no truly private ownership of the means of production, even though all the persons with the money to buy an enterprise the size of a Washington Post were, indeed, allowed to do so. In fact, if one made enough money, it was quite common to simply give a large donation to the crown in a country that needed the money. For the favor of not forcing the crown to wait until you committed a crime or died to gather up your wealth, you were then made a hereditary noble, and at that point your accumulation of wealth no longer bothered the crown, but rather was in its interest.

    In practice this doesn’t have to be that different from a capitalist society where a business license is simply made very, very expensive. And yet it is. Because capital isn’t given a life of its own. Your enterprises are literally yours. They aren’t those of the Washington Post that you just happen to run and from whom you reap profit. The failures of your business are your failures, and the bankruptcies of your enterprises are your bankruptcies. There is no wall between the capital and the individual. Nor is there a way to own an enterprise as large as the Post without joining the government. Yes, the Post is yours at that point and not the Queen’s. But you are now part of the government, so how can this be said to be private ownership of the means of production?

    In short, it can’t.

    The resulting economic system is different from a truly centrally-planned economy such as existed in the Soviet Union, and means of production are still owned individually by specific nobles, but the nobles are the government and so “private” ownership as understood by capitalism does not exist, even though truly “public” ownership as understood by soviet communism also does not exist. Worker ownership as imagined to exist under true socialism also does not exist. The relationships of subsidiary nobles to the crown is simply different from either the relationship of a private citizen to the soviet state, or to the US government, much less from the worker/enterprise relationships prioritized under socialism. None of these describe ownership of enterprise-scale production under systems of heritable noble status like European feudalism.

    So Bezos of a thousand years ago could have bought the contemporary version of the Post, but he’d have to buy nobility first, as if paying for an expensive business license. And once he does, he’d be considered part of the government.

    In the end, you have a free market – buy anything you want! – but if you buy enough stuff, you’re simply recategorized as “government” and not “private”. Is this capitalism? Absolutely not. There is no private ownership of the means of enterprise-scale production. However there is private ownership of small-scale means of production (a loom, for instance). It’s a mixed and incoherent system by the modern idea of an easy split between private and public ownership of the means of production. It’s certainly not capitalist. Yet, with the exception of certain industries/markets that are monopolized or highly regulated (e.g. amber, crucible steel, swords, crossbows, certain types of ships) you can produce and sell anything you have the means to produce and sell and you may purchase anything you have the money to purchase. In fact in Tyre, for instance, the royal monopoly of tyrian red did not prevent private production on the scale of individual families. Nor did it prevent the private purchase of quantities of the dye. However, any dye created by a producer by a private citizen could only be sold to the crown, and any private citizen who wanted to buy the dye or cloth had to purchase the product from the crown. Neither production nor purchase was outlawed, but the dye had to pass through government hands to be legitimate and production in quantity was limited to the government (who purchased raw shellfish secretions from individuals who gathered them, then processed it by boiling the secretions for several days with certain additives to deepen the color and change the chemical nature to make it readily absorbable by fabrics).

    Market economic freedom is thus easy to maintain in the midst of a regime of taxation, feudalism, and government or government-regulated monopolies over certain luxury and/or military goods. As with the example of Tyre, we have many specific time periods and governments to point to where economic freedom is maintained under such conditions. Yet capitalism is non-existent. The freedom to buy a Post does not imply that such a thing as the Post can exist or freedom from anti-trust regulations, government monopolies, regulation of products or substances defined as dangerous that might prevent someone from buying the Post (should it exist) without permission from the government, which might not be granted unless you literally become part of the government.

    I’m really not sure why I wrote all this. You are almost certain to ignore all this and assert again that if the markets are free that is capitalism and if the markets aren’t free then capitalism doesn’t exist, while entirely overlooking the fact that capitalism isn’t defined as a free market. It’s defined by ownership of enterprise scale production. Pre-corporatism (that is, pre-mercantilism) we couldn’t have conceived of capitalism as we understand it. Nor would the idea of being required to purchase a patent of nobility or license of dispensation before one is allowed to produce or sell red-dyed cloth be in any way distinguishable in the minds of feudal Europeans from being required to purchase a business license and comply with the requirements of regulations on discharges into a water supply in order to produce dyed cloth in northern Ohio today. They wouldn’t understand at all that they weren’t “free” to buy their way into a feudal status allowing them to produce dyed cloth under supervision of the crown but that Ohioans were “free” to buy their way into a corporate status allowing them to produce dyed cloth under supervision of the state.

    And even with all your inability to explain the distinction to them that the government’s granting nobility is different than the government granting a business license because the nobility is part of the government and thus the means of production are no longer privately owned, the distinction would remain. And the system would not be capitalist.

  49. says

    Separately:

    If you own a corporation and by your instruction your corporation poisons the land under someone’s house, the corporation owes the property damages, but you don’t….

    Pretty sure that CEO is going to jail, but regardless.

    What? Bwhahahahaha. Have you been paying attention? The entire banking industry was systematically committing felonies during the Bush43 regime in the US. Their corrupt and felonious conduct led directly to the largest recession since the Great Depression and swindled many investors who were misled about the security of various debt instruments. Did a single one of them go to jail?

    Did the CEO of Union Carbide go to jail after the Bhopal disaster killed thousands and poisoned the land around the chemical plant so severely that new negative health effects are still being created to this day in persons who are born in or move to Bhopal more than 30 years after the chemical release? Not hardly. Not even the CEO of the local subsidiary went to jail. Rather, executives were quietly and quickly flown out of the country.

    Your ignorance is fucking laughable. Sure, some CEOs go to jail. But can one be “pretty sure” that CEOs will go to jail when a toxic chemical leaks from a local plant? Pfft! Not hardly.

    You’re living in a fantasy world.

    and

    What precise legal status a corporation has under the US federal code might be of interest to you, but has no bearing on what the word capitalism means,

    Yes. Yes it does. Because if the legal status of a corporation grants control to the government, you have communism. If the legal status of the corporation is that of an extension of the government, even if privately operated, you’ve got something that might be mercantilist (though true mercantilism requires more than this, this is essentially the role and nature of corporations under mercantilism). If the legal status of the “corporation” is simply that of a patent permitting certain business activities, but you’re not able to sell that permission to another private person (though another private person could go to the government and get their own permission slip and then buy your factories separately in order to perform the activities licensed) then you have something compatible with the personal-government economic systems of Pharaonic Egypt or the city-states of Ur and Sumer and Tyre and Sparta and Carthage.

    The legal status of corporations as entities to themselves, permission slips to carry out business activities, collectives of workers, official departments of the government or semi-independent subsidiaries of the government go to the heart of whether means of production are privately owned, and that goes to the heart of whether or not a system is capitalist.

    With one change to state laws of incorporation – the requirement that 51% of a board of directors is appointed directly by the government that licensed the corporation to exist – you go from capitalism to something very, very different, regardless of the nominal ownership of the corporation.

    Legal. Status. Of. Corporations. Matters.

  50. says

    Life expectancy in USA has been falling consistently for the last four years. Are USA getting less capitalist?
    Life expectany in USA is lower than in Canada for the last fifty years. Is Canada more capitalist than USA?
    No.
    Life expectancy has nothing to do with capitalism whatsoever. It has to do with availability and affordability of – healthy food, sufficient shelter, advanced healthcare. And maybe some population genetics and environmental factors that are beyond our control.
    “Freedom” does not come into the equation.

  51. teejay says

    There’s a line in I, Robot where Will Smith’s character calls his parter/love interest the dumbest smart person he knows. That’s about how I would characterize you, Crip Dyke.

    Do you even language?

    I don’t know. Do you?

    Your analytic framework fails in part because you can’t see the distinction between owning the means of production – e.g., land, draft animals, plow and seeds – and being able to sell what you produce without having your profits taxed into nothingness.

    My analytic framework treats each side of that equation as equal. And why should they not be treated as equal? You offer no evidence for it, and just assume it to be both true and good. Also, “the means of production” is such an antiquated term is doesn’t mean much in today’s economy. What are “the means of production” for this website, and who owns it?

    Generally through history people have been free to spend their $5 on whatever was at the market, and people have been mostly free to own means of production, but governments intervened after goods were created and before they were sold to monopolize certain markets.

    If you think of land as a “means of production”, and you identified it as such in my first quotation of you, then you couldn’t be more wrong about who owned the land. It wasn’t the ‘people.’ In First Nations or Aboriginal cultures, for example, land generally wasn’t owned. In the Western tradition, systems like feudalism saw monarchs own the land that their tenants, sub-tenants, etc., paid a price to use. Markets in each case were highly controlled and not ‘free’ in any sense with which we now use the word.

    Remember you insist that the US is economically “free” despite rules existing. One can buy anything that is in the market, provided one has the money. However there is no market in sarin.

    I know a few people who insist there is such a thing as freedom of speech in the US. They must be idiots. There are rules about free speech, it can’t be “free.”

    But that’s not the only way you’re wrong. You’re also wrong because buying the Washington Post presumes that someone might actually have that much money in their metaphorical couch cushions.

    There WAS someone with that much money is their metaphorical couch cushions. His name is Jeff Bezos! $250 million (the purchase price of the WaPo) is a rounding error for his accountant.

    But that’s not the real point:

    A defining feature of capitalism is the permissive attitude of governments toward the amalgamations of large enough pools of capital to buy such things as a billion dollar media company.

    Ahhh! [Angels singing] Thank you! This is – euphemistically and unintentionally – exactly what I’m trying to say. The ‘permissive attitude’ of which you speak is called…drum roll please…freedom! Call it a defining feature, call it a synonym, you’re the language police, call it whatever you want. Capitalism does give people the freedom to buy such things as a quarter-billion dollar media company. Full stop. And that’s a GOOD THING.

    I’m really not sure why I wrote all this. You are almost certain to ignore all this and assert again that if the markets are free that is capitalism and if the markets aren’t free then capitalism doesn’t exist, while entirely overlooking the fact that capitalism isn’t defined as a free market. It’s defined by ownership of enterprise scale production.

    You’re quoting the Marxist definition of capitalism and passing it off as a universal definition. Here’s what google says about capitalism:

    an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.
    “an era of free-market capitalism”
    synonyms: private enterprise, free enterprise, private ownership, privatized industries, the free market, individualism; laissez-faire

    Synonyms…free enterprise, free market. Hmm…must be those damn libertarians infiltrating google again. We need to get more right thinking progressives in there.

    But let’s forget all of that for a moment, Crip. and let’s assume your critique of capitalism is correct. It’s not about freedom. Freedom has nothing to do with it. Good. Then answer some or all of the following:

    Why has it outperformed all other forms of political economy in the last say 150 years?
    Why have Communism and Socialism and all the rest failed so spectacularly?
    Why have the poor gotten so much richer over that time frame?
    Why has poverty decreased so much?
    What economic explanation do you have?

  52. John Morales says

    teejay:

    Synonyms…free enterprise, free market.

    Also, via your quotation, laissez-faire.

    But let’s forget all of that for a moment, Crip. and let’s assume your critique of capitalism is correct. […] Then answer some or all of the following:

    To what purpose? Her critique is correct pursuant to your assumption, and therefore any answers would perforce be predicated upon it being correct, regardless of their import.

    But sure, I’ll undertake the task.

    Why has it outperformed all other forms of political economy in the last say 150 years?
    [has it really?]
    Why have Communism and Socialism and all the rest failed so spectacularly?
    [have they really?]
    Why have the poor gotten so much richer over that time frame?
    [relative or absolute poverty? Because income inequality has increased over recent decades]
    Why has poverty decreased so much?
    [relative or absolute poverty? Because income inequality has increased over recent decades]
    What economic explanation do you have?
    [economic explanation for what?]

  53. says

    What economic explanation do you have?
    [economic explanation for what?]

    I know! I know!
    For the questions being begged up there by teejay: all those assumptions put into “What makes White Puff the undisputed King of Toilet Tissue?” form.

  54. says

    But let’s forget all of that for a moment, Crip. and let’s assume your critique of capitalism is correct. It’s not about freedom. Freedom has nothing to do with it.

    Wow, you are thick.

    I did not critique capitalism. I critiqued your poor understanding of capitalism specifically and/or words in general. As I said in many more words later, under European feudalism one was free to buy anything one wanted, included purchasing entire trade-enterprises, but in order to do so one had to first become part of the government. Thus freedom existed, but private ownership of large economic enterprises did not.

    In this way, you can have “freedom” without “capitalism”. This disproves your facile statement that

    Capitalism and freedom are, despite your protestations, roughly synonymous.

    It even disproves the more limited claim that capitalism and economic freedom are roughly synonymous.

    Your understanding sucks. This is not a critique of capitalism. This is a critique of your brain. Other people have made critiques of capitalism, and you should feel free to challenge those if you like. But if you can’t understand the distinction between a critique of your personal level of knowledge and a critique of capitalism itself, then your intellect is even more compromised than I could ever have suspected from a single over broad statement.

  55. dorfl says

    @teejay

    About your questions about the performance of capitalism compared to other economic systems: Are you using the correct definition of capitalism here – that is, the one used by Crip Dyke, which you dismissed as ‘Marxist’ – or some definition of your own?

    Because while it is true that capitalism has correlated with growth in prosperity, it’s generally worked best in the form of fairly aggressive social democracy. That is, high taxes, strong regulation, strong unions and a great deal of state involvement in the economy. Whenever we’ve tried to ‘set the forces of the market free’, the results have tended to be less than impressive.

    Also, I wanted to comment on this thing:

    Also, “the means of production” is such an antiquated term is doesn’t mean much in today’s economy. What are “the means of production” for this website, and who owns it?

    Notice how this response basically only makes sense for things like websites? The computer you’re viewing the website on was produced in a factory. The electricity powering the computer was produced in a power plant. Antiquated things like ‘food’, ‘furniture’ and ‘clothes’ also require means of production to create. The term is just as meaningful today as it was in the 19th century.

  56. says

    The website itself is also produced by a server somewhere. Somebody had to program it and maintain it. Somebody owns that physical hardware.

    It’s all perfectly applicable, including the notion that somebody can own the “means of production” (i.e. the server and code) while having nothing to do with actually producing anything. The fact that such ideas have to be adapted to a changing society doesn’t mean they’re suddenly meaningless.

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