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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Capitalism: A Hate Story

In Year 1 of Obama, two fat cats named Michael Moore and Harvey Weinstein released a movie. Their magnum opus was "Capitalism: A Love Story". The unsubtly sarcastic point after the colon was that capitalism was an unmitigated bag of evil. And to reaffirm the faith of capitalism-haters in the evils of capitalism, here was a movie put out by a bunch of corporations owned by millionaires.

The traditional image of the anti-capitalist as a ragamuffin who dies of consumption in his garret has always been at odds with the real image of the anti-capitalist as a rich man or the son of a rich man. When Obama launched his big push for higher taxes, he enlisted as his ally none other than the richest man in the country. And when Occupy Wall Street's demographics were broken down, the courageous opponents of capitalism turned out to be the sons and daughters of the upper class.

This sort of thing isn't a surprise, it's history. Lenin's father was a nobleman. Cuba's dictator attended Castro's wedding. The man of the people is rather often stuck at the bottom of the top of the pole. The people who make revolutions are not the dispossessed, but those who are close enough to see what power really looks like, but have no hope of wielding absolute power unless they enlist the mob. They are close enough to see the throne, but not close enough to non-violently sit down in it.

That's not even the case in America. Here we instead have the bizarre spectacle of Nicholas II and Batista calling for a revolution against the petite bourgeoisie. It's a class war being waged by billionaires against people earning six figures a year. It's millionaires making movies for profit using workers to denounce the practice of making things for profit using workers.

All of this is done in the name of democracy. Just look at the Democracy Alliance, an alliance of left-wing billionaires spending huge amounts of money to win elections. What could be more democratic than that except actually paying individuals for their vote. But just as there are bad capitalist movies and good capitalist anti-capitalist movies, there are bad billionaires who use their fortunes to influence the political process and good billionaires who use their fortunes to etc...

The Koch Brothers are bad. George Soros is good. Sheldon Adelson is bad. The Sandlers are good. The good billionaires on this list have arguably done far more damage to the little people and to the political process, but good money and bad money have nothing to do with real world consequences. Good billionaires give money to the left. Bad billionaires give money to the right or just swim in giant piles of it every evening before taking a cruise on their solid gold yachts.

We are told incessantly that income inequality is a serious issue by organizations receiving millions from the holders of billions to say that. But income inequality is only a serious issue in some sectors. It's fashionable to talk about the outrageous compensation packages for CEOs in for-profit companies, but not the outrageous compensation packages for CEOs in non-profit companies.

The president of a snack food companies who uses corporate profits to cover a huge salary is an evil pig, but the president of a charity who pulls in a huge salary using donations and government grants is a humanitarian. Again, the non-profit president is arguably a worse human being than the for-profit president, but it's not about the consequences or the moral weight of the act.

Good evil CEOs work at non-profits and do nothing while chewing up public money that is taken by force from the people. Bad evil CEOs oversee the production of products that people voluntarily buy.

Similarly the university presidents of liberal arts colleges who saddle their students with six-figure debts in exchange for useless degrees are advancing the cause of knowledge, no matter how many dirty deals they make with financial institutions. But the presidents of for-profit schools that hand out useless degrees in exchange for five-figure debts are a blight on the educational landscape. It's not just anybody who can hand out useless degrees in exchange for debt. You have to know some Latin too.

Good people support taxing the middle class and bringing in huge numbers of unskilled workers to the country to work cheaply and then tax the middle class some more to cover their social benefits. And of course they're good people. They even offer the children of the middle class a chance to go to college and rack up six figures worth of student debt that they can then use to write essays protesting income inequality.

And there's no conspiracy to see here. If you think that you might as well suspect that the Democracy Alliance wasn't really about promoting democracy, but about using giant piles of ill-gotten loot to hijack that democracy.

Ever since the birth of democracy and even before it, politics has come down to who claims to care the most for the people. There was hardly a monstrous tyrant who didn't claim that his heart bled red for the people. Usually it was the people who ended up bleeding red, but the sentiment was there. We still suffer from a surplus of humanitarians who ache for the opportunity to take power and do the will of the people. And by the will of the people, they mean their own will.

It doesn't really matter if you call it capitalism or socialism or anythingism. Power is about power and money is about money. Strip away the labels and you have a lot of powerful people trading money for power with the agenda of accumulating more of both. It doesn't really matter what you call a billionaire who makes his fortune on currency speculation trying to dictate elections or a former politician who uses his clout to promote a crisis that his investments tend to profit from.

They're the good guys, if you listen to the people concerned with income inequality, which is to say that they give piles of money to the right causes and it would be impolite for all the good guys to notice that they make even bigger piles of money bashing capitalism.

The concern trolls of income inequality tell us that the escalating gap is a crisis, but that's another distraction. The issue isn't how big the gap between you and the CEO of Sears is. The issue is how much of a challenge it is for people to make it to the middle class and stay in the middle class. And that's not a problem that can be solved by taking more money from the CEO of Sears.

Confiscating wealth may be a tempting strategy if you're a Russian peasant in 1918, but the wealth redistribution invariably applies more to the largest segments of the population because even in a country where the poor really are poor, their resources can be indefinitely confiscated, while those of the rich cannot be.

The revolution may start with the merchants, but when all the wine is drunk and all the mansions are sacked, and Lenin has sold the best paintings in the museums to Armand Hammer (another good lefty tycoon) it trickles down to the peasants who retain wealth through sheer numbers. Armand Hammer flies the paintings home and the peasants get marched off to collective farms. The income inequality problem doesn't actually get solved, but no one talks about it anymore for fear of being shot.

It's always easy to frame the problem in terms of the hoarding of capital by the wealthy, but the wealthy aren't actually hoarding their wealth. The wealthiest Americans tend to give their wealth away through various foundations. Bill Gates is spending his fortune trying to wipe out Cholera. Ted Turner has plugged it into the United Nations. David Koch had given hundreds of millions of dollars to Lincoln Center and MIT. It's not a new tradition either. The names of Carnegie and Rockefeller are all over landmarks in New York City, including libraries and theaters.

If the ladder up the classes has gotten shakier, it is doubtfully the fault of the plutocrats for being rich. The 1 percent is not a new phenomenon in the country's history, nor is the denunciation of them for being rich. Americans have had a complicated relationship with wealth for a long time and that hasn't changed. What has changed is the rise of a third factor.

It's silly to talk about the conspicuous consumption of even the most outrageous rich, when the government rips through more money in a day than every billionaire combined could possibly spend. And that spending has been driven in no small part by agitation from political organizations funded by billionaires and millionaires, sometimes out of an insistence on political philanthropy and sometimes for darker motives.

Incomes haven't become more unequal because the rich have grabbed all the money and stuffed it into a vault, but because the traditional ladder of success has been cut away and replaced with a clumsy government elevator that sometimes comes and sometimes doesn't, and requires a whole lot of maintenance. But its defenders say that elevators are modern and smooth. They may not fit many people, but it is a quick easy ride. And the people down below are told to demand that the rich make more elevators for them and then everything will be alright.

The middle class wasn't wiped out by the individual accumulation of wealth, but by the political accumulation of wealth and power. The shift from capitalism to socialism means that the poor live better than they used to, but that they have nowhere to go. And that the middle class is on the road to joining them in a society with a small upper class and a huge lower class that is somehow meant to subsidize its own government benefits. The capitalist ladder over which millions could swarm has been traded in for a socialist elevator that takes you to the top floor if you denounce capitalism often enough, but mostly never goes anywhere.

Rather than a society of aspiring merchants and builders, we instead have a society of beggars and philosopher-kings. The beggars are expected to be angry and the philosopher-kings are expected to be charitable. Eventually the philosopher-kings will expect the beggars to work for very little in exchange for that charity and the beggars will find that social justice protests don't work well against machine gun nests. Some might think that's conspiracy, but it's mostly just history.

21 comments:

meema said...

Quote of the week - “The shift from capitalism to socialism means that the poor live better than they used to, but that they have nowhere to go. And that the middle class is on the road to joining them in a society with a small upper class and a huge lower class that is somehow meant to subsidize its own government benefits.”

Not even when I was young did I ever dream or aspire to be rich, as is defined by the trappings of wealth, a huge mansion, a status to maintain, the right clothes, the right “people” to hobnob with, the protocols and social graces, all seemed to me as more being owned than owning. As far back as I can remember all I ever wanted was the freedom to be who I am, to pursue my interests and arts whether they make money or not. I am a poster child for laissez-faire.

Note to the 99% - Leave me alone and stop doing things for my own good as though you think you know better than I what that is.

fsy said...


The wealthiest Americans tend to give their wealth away through various foundations.


I think that genuine, old-style philanthropy is a very important ingredient in a successful free society, and one whose importance is being consciously played down by the left, who want all generosity to come from the government. Mitt Romney's campaign should have made more of his charitable activities, and of the difference between voluntary giving and the paralyzing effects of government "welfare".

Edward Cline said...

Daniel: This is one of your finest essays. I'll be recommending it to one and all. I'm hard put to find my favorite passage in it, but this one sticks out:
"It's silly to talk about the conspicuous consumption of even the most outrageous rich, when the government rips through more money in a day than every billionaire combined could possibly spend. And that spending has been driven in no small part by agitation from political organizations funded by billionaires and millionaires, sometimes out of an insistence on political philanthropy and sometimes for darker motives."

Speaking of government power, and in an instance or propinquity, your readers might like to read this column, about how Kevin Spacey's "House of Cards" is an education in the art of acquiring the means to loot the country with the help of billionaire lobbyists, corrupt politicians, and the anti-capitalist mainstream media.
http://www.familysecuritymatters.org/publications/detail/house-of-cards-bewitched-by-power?f=must_reads

painterman said...

"The shift from capitalism to socialism means that the poor live better than they used to.."
Daniel... are you suggesting this is causal, and not a mere correlation?
I understood that it was the rise of (relatively free-market)capitalist wealth that allowed the poor to live better... and that socialism is a parasitizing corruption of the capitalist host (returning the people back to poverty.)

AG said...

.Speaking of Michael Moore; his latest crusade is against the TSA for stopping and questioning a lying Palestinian documentarian who made a liable and slanderous movie about the Israelis and was being honored at the Oscars. Apparently Michael Moore thinks the TSA should spend less time and effort on people from a place like Gaza which is actually run by Terrorists, and go back to groping 8 year old wheel-chair bound defenseless children from America. And it doesn't matter that the Palestinian liar didn't even have and actual passport, he had an invitation to the Oscars, and that is good enough for the Jew Hater Moore.

ericcs said...

God help me, but I'm beginning to believe all the conspiracy theories that the superrich are behind every communist/fascist revolution and power grab of the past 100 years, including Dear Leader Obama. They do this not because they want more money, but instead because it helps to consolidate power. The elite crave a world government in order to control all the little people, because the elite are absolutely convinced of their own superiority.

Logically, this leads to the following question... if there was no such agenda, how would our current world situation (especially European and American) be any different? Oh well, time to take a shot of Cuervo Gold and dull my senses.

Anonymous said...

Dan,I hardly know where to begin!That being the case I will start at #1.
1)Pure democracy is a fraud,a Punch & Judy show put on by the elite establishment to make the underclass's believe that they controlled their own destiny.It is mob rule in a sports jacket.2)America's Founding Fathers set up a Constitutional Republic with checks & balances to protect society by fragmenting various power factions.In effect they put up political firewalls & encouraged decentralization of power.This system mitigated much of the damage caused by the sociopaths & power mongers who sought to control the republic.3)This arrangement was necessary,if only partially successful,in protecting the public from the political wolves who would feed on them.4)Pure democracy cannot work because a vast majority of the populace are clueless as to"what it is all about".Manipulating them is like stealing candy from children,they had to be protected from the wolves.5)there is a great deal of misinformation put out by the power elites & disseminated by their dogs in the mass media.We can call it "Molding public opinion" or "directed history" if that sounds better!6)One piece of misinformation (meme)is that the establishment is made up of left wing schemers in the mold of Lenin,Stalin,& Mao.This is completely false.The elites are NWO statists & their center of power is not Moscow or Bejing.Rather it is Brussels & Wall street,& Washington.These elites who are strangling the world are not revolutionaries,they are Central Bankers,WallStreet embezzlers, & very powerful oligarchs!If you don't believe me,just ask Howard Beale,if you can locate him!7)The politicians are merely puppets for these oligarchs.7)If you don't believe me concerning the New World Order (NWO)& their conspiracies,Which the media shills claim is myth,Perhaps you will believe David Rockefeller.Rockefeller is one of the richest & most powerful men in the world.Rockefeller,in many speeches & quotes(not widely quoted by the lap-dog media.....naturally!)touts & promotes this NWO & himself as one of it's leaders 8)If all of this sounds like I am against capitalism your assessment is completely wrong,I am 100% for capitalism.My problem is that what we have today is not capitalism.Call it Mercantilism,Fascism,Corporatism,call it what you like but it is not Capitalism.What we have is controlled,manipulated,contrived Statism,an extreme centralization of wealth & power!
PS want to pull the pin out of the whole smelly mess? it's simple,elect a president who has the nerve to reactivate Executive order #1110 & give him a battalion of armed guards to see that he survives!

SID WEINER/RETIRED

IgorR said...

Harvey Weinstein, one of the first fat cats you mentioned, was the one who invited Mooch to the Oscars, and thus perhaps did us all a favor by causing her to jump the shark as this was too Big Brother-ish for even the ultra-lib gliterati. Things have a way of righting themselves, but more often then not there is a period of great troubles in the middle.

In relatively free economies income inequality is positively correlated with upward mobility, not negatively, the big question is how free we still are? Many at the top are so corrupt that things like monetary policy are just vehicles for making money on knowing major stock and bond movements in advance. But what is the way out? Will the system right itself without total disintegration and chaos? Nobody knows, but that's what our lives are becoming more and more about.

Gee said...

The President has declared war on the rich and thinks that most of us cannot count to 100 without help.

He is proposing paying for his welfare state by taxing the rich - though if he taxed them at a 100% rate - the income from those people would be less than 1% of increase under his plan. There isn't that much income in the country.

Anonymous said...

"Eventually the philosopher-kings will expect the beggars to work for very little in exchange for that charity and the beggars will find that social justice protests don't work well against machine gun nests. Some might think that's conspiracy, but it's mostly just history."

Best concluding paragraph EVER.

Doug Mayfield said...

The Reverend Ike said 'The best way to help the poor is not to be one of them.'

If charity has merit, surely it does so on a voluntary basis, not the vicious 'charity at gun point' practiced by the Left.

I'm not sure if emphasizing his charitable activities would have helped Romney, but the real problem, the problem which he should have addressed, should have attacked the Democrats for their statist power-lusting approach, is grabbing our hard earned money at gunpoint to pay for the waste and corruption that is government, federal, state, and local, in this country.

GWest said...

The Democracy Alliance website is really quite... creepy. I can imagine all the text (there really isn't much) being spoken in HAL's voice.

Anonymous said...

Anony: I was going to write something exactly like that about the closing paragraph.


Keliata

Anonymous said...

A great article with a currently relevant end - with the way the President and Congress have accelerated enacting Executive Orders & Congressional Laws against the citizens the last couple of decades.
"A republic if you can keep it", replied Ben Franklin in response to what do we have [from the constitutional convention]. It is too late to keep it but not too late to regain it. For all the people's "cluelessnes", primarily focused on their own lives, the information age is waking up increasing numbers - who do have a conscience, and who do have the spirit of self-responsibility that is the ideal of America.
The key to renewal will be whether the military supports the people; I have heard rumors of firing generals whose background reflects they would not order troops to fire on citizens.
There is always something left out of an article. With a reconciling agenda here, I emphasize what you describe - anyone having all the power is bound to create an evil scenario. Simple, effective rules have always existed to prevent absolute power - but for power allowed to smoke screen & block their implementation. Such rules would limit big business and allow workers to co-exist in prosperity, without equally absolute power seeking unions.
But when a government uses two-faced laws and its full force to back absolute power business practices, or the same for labor as is now happening, and in both instances vaporizinf the wealth built and saved by the people, generation after generation [Congressional hollow promises of retirement], you have the mess we now enjoy, increasing poverty for all.
By the way, I am an attorney who feels our profession has let the country down, partially because we are taught to advocate - which means always pitting one against another and not finding enough solutions without ego and without power. But I was also a navy officer, and believe the military will side with the people. Hope is first step.

Anonymous said...

"The most dangerous thing about democracy is that the majority of people do not know the dangers of democracy"

-Murray, a once proud but now ashamed U.S. Military Officer. Waking up is a bitch. Got Trivium??

Anonymous said...

Very interesting and insightful cometary. Respect. Our world is is very complex, and issues are often so distorted relative to ones perspective. Nonetheless; issues are rarely "black or white" but usually a mix thereof, or shades of gray.

I contend that there is some validity to most intelligent peoples perspective, even if you do not agree with them. I "like" Michael Moore's books and movies (and humor), and respect that he is participating in the democratic process, which is more than I can say for most people! I think he raises issues that should be recognized and addressed, even though I do not always agree with him. I have also watched two documentaries that were highly critical of him that I think were valid. One was by an adoring young film student who followed him for years, (as he does to others in his films) only to be repeatedly denied and disrespected. By the end of the documentary which becomes the chronicle of her frustration, she is no longer a "fan." The other documentary includes the financial records of his money handlers who are investing in the very companies he so strongly claims to object to!

At any rate: not all of us differentiate the "good Billionaires from the bad Billionaires". I would perhaps rather have the "known Devil, than the unknown Angel" The self righteous "liberal" plundering Billionaires are worse than the standard "garden" variety Plunderers in that they add additional layers of hypocrisy and deceit to what in both cases is often excessive and selfish behavior.

Then there are the self made men who achieve greatness and wealth by virtue of great contribution to society.

Should Billionaires be able to dominate, pass on their power, create dynasties, and force society to their will, forever changing it because of the fortunate circumstance of their wealth? Probably not. But then who should lead and shape society? The "ignorant" masses? probably not. (I like the saying: "Democracy is like two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner.")

Usually, but not always, when power congregates the best interest of the majority, or future generations is not the primary concern.

These are the issues that we should address and contend with.

One of the first "lessons" my parents taught me is: "Never put or push someone down in order to lift yourself up."

There are many important issues including world population control. I like my "beer" analogy: You put the yeast (people) in the sugar/nutrient solution (earth) and it consumes and multiplies, excreting alcohol and carbon dioxide until it dies in its own waste. I love beer, but a dead earth is not good. So maybe the "evil" ruling Billionaires who promote wars, pollution, bad food, and bad medicine, and that appear to be trying to "kill us" are really trying to do the world, and future surviving generations a favor?

Are you aware of the recent discoveries that now document that there are not dozens or hundreds of Galaxies, but billions of Galaxies in the "known" universe, with billions of suns in each!

I think we should all agree to spread the wealth more equitably, respect and love each other more, and take better care of our planet.

Whatever helps us accomplish this is "good" and desirable, and whatever does not should be improved upon.

All the best,
Gil de la Roza

fsy said...


If charity has merit, surely it does so on a voluntary basis, not the vicious 'charity at gun point' practiced by the Left.


Exactly what I said.

fsy said...

How is it that more people do not see that our "philosopher kings" are naked? If even a minority of them were people of clearly outstanding character, living the ideals they preach for others, there might be some room for debate about their principles, but as it is, anyone with their eyes open can see them for the coarse, greedy boors that they are (and that's putting it much too politely.) I guess not too many people have their eyes open.

econopolitics.com said...

Income inequality is a real problem. Not because it is "unfair" but because for the economy to be sustainable, consumption increases MUST match production increases.

When productivity gains don't lead to middle class income gains, both consumption and GDP growth suffer. The only way they don't is if debt increases. That was the situation between about 1980 and 2007. In 2007, the borrowing stopped and the economy has been weak ever since.

The same thing happened in the 1920s and 30s.

james wilson said...

Your money does not cause my poverty. Refusal to believe this is at the bottom of bad economic thinking--
P. J. O'Rourke

alphaisassumed said...

@ Doug Mayfield " I'm not sure if emphasizing his charitable activities would have helped Romney, but the real problem, the problem which he should have addressed, should have attacked the Democrats for their statist power-lusting approach, is grabbing our hard earned money at gunpoint to pay for the waste and corruption that is government, federal, state, and local, in this country."

I think it would have helped to emphasize the charity work. He was being framed as a vulture capitalist in all the swing states and being accused of killing people with cancer as his campaign sat by and did nothing. Vulture capitalists don't anonymously buy ALL the milk for veteran's hospitals for years. This would have countered Obama's narrative perfectly.

Greed is a human instinct. The GOP should harness this instinct to get us jealous of the Washington power elite instead of the producer class. After all, (crony capitalists excluded) CEO's live high on the hog with their own money, Washington kleptocrats do it with OURS.

But I doubt the GOP will take this approach. Too many of their campaign consultants are part of the very class we need to denigrate. If we really take it to them like we need to, they won't get invited to the right cocktail parties anymore.

I'm a newbie, but the insights in this post were exemplary so you go straight to my blogroll. I'll be back. A lot.

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