It's The Best We Can Do
"What is wrong with market solutions? They are usually the most efficient and effective." This is the kind of answer I often get when I criticize capitalism, neoliberalism, libertarianism and other variations of socioeconomic arrangements built around the free market economy. And I've been getting this same tired old answer for over 30 years now...
source: Wikimedia Commons
If you look at the world as it is now, have thought about it, tried to place our current situation in the history of human civilizations, and you still conclude that the market economy is clearly "the best we can do," I can think of only two reasons for that misguided conclusion; you're either simply not capable of understanding the meaning of the words "efficient" and "effective", or you think that not every human being deserves to live. These are both instant disqualifiers for me. Some things are not debatable, the basic human right for every individual to life and the pursuit of happiness is one of those things. A correct understanding of the words "effective", "efficient", and for that matter, "reasonable" and "fair", is another.
I've been hearing about the supposed effectiveness of capitalism in discussions for over 30 years now, and this is in fact the opinion of the vast majority of people I meet and talk to. But, as logic wonder-boy Ben Shapiro likes to assert, the facts don't care about your feelings not even when you're the majority. The dry facts state that, and here I go again, 1% of the world's population owns more than 50% of the wealth, and the poorest 50% of the population divides among themselves 1% of the world's wealth. That statistic alone should make you flee away from the "efficient" and "effectiveness" arguments instantly. And if you, for some unfathomable reason, still believe that this is "the best" that humans are capable of, it's certainly not something to be proud of.
An economy predominantly deals with two things; 1) the production of goods and services using available resources, and 2) the distribution thereof. However effective you think capitalism is with regards to the former, there's just no denying its complete and total failure with regards to the latter. And let me add that capitalism's success at producing an excess of wealth in record times, a success even Marx admits to, is largely due to the industrial revolutions at the end of the previous millennium. All the rest, including "the division of labor", are natural consequences of our ability to produce surpluses, a fact humanity has to deal with since the invention of agriculture approximately 12,000 years ago. These surpluses are the direct cause of the hierarchical organization of our societies that endures to this day. Since we produce more than we need, the surpluses have landed with a tiny minority, for more than 10,000 years now.
I wish Jordan Peterson well and hope that he and his family will be reunited soon. But... It's painful and embarrassing to see a smart man like that assert that the hierarchies we see in society today are not the result of capitalism, but the result of lobsters being part of our evolutionary ancestry. That there's no use fighting this hierarchy, because it's not a social construction but an evolutionary and biological fact about our species. In his debate with Slavoj Zizek, linked beneath (the actual debate starts after approximately 10 minutes), he literally says that social class-hierarchies have been with us since the Paleolithic, 3 million years ago... This is the kind of nonsense the world can do without because it is the exact opposite of the truth, and it cements the popular misconception that "free markets" are "the best we can do".
For 90% of the existence of the human race we have organized as classless tribal people; this has been established in study after study. Even the tribal people that survived until the last century corroborated this in interviews; many of them don't even understand the concept of hierarchies, simply because their means of production don't create surpluses. The class-hierarchy of a tiny minority that owns all the means of production and most of the wealth, against a large majority that owns next to nothing, is a man-made hierarchy that's is embedded in the way we've organized society for 10,000 years now. Capitalism, or neoliberalism to be more precise, is just the latest iteration of such a socioeconomic arrangement, the latest variation on slavery, feudalism or mercantilism; the basic principle of a rich minority exploiting the labor of the majority has never changed since the Neolithic or New Stone Age 12,000 years ago.
Marxism: Zizek/Peterson: Official Video
It's not even that the existence of hierarchies in itself is bad or good. It's the class-hierarchy that's intrinsic to the economy as we've known it for 10,000 years that doesn't work. It's not effective, not efficient, not fair, not just, not reasonable. Today's hierarchies aren't embedded in our genetic make-up, they're not "just the way things are", they're man-made and can be man-unmade. We share about 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees and bonobo's; chimpanzees have strictly organized hierarchical, male driven societies, while bonobo's have loosely organized much less hierarchical, female driven societies.
Chimpanzee society is male-dominated and features strong bonds between adult males and feeble ties between females. In the bonobo world, by contrast, female camaraderie prevails, while the bonds between males are weak.
source: The New York Times
Speaking hyperbolically we could say that chimps act like masters and slaves, bonobo's act like comrades. The kind of hierarchy that materializes is dependent on behavior and the environment. And we know all about behavioral psychology and the dry fact that the human mind can be taught to normalize and internalize almost anything. And we know of the power we have over our environment.
The next "argument" I often hear from the free market fanboys and girls is that free markets are the only alternative for "big government" that always fails in its attempts to plan the economy, and inevitably infringes on individual freedom. "You must like big oppressive government then" or words like that... These responses, the same for 30 years now, betray such a binary and closed mindset, and such a fundamental misunderstanding of the relation between politics and the economy, that I'm sometimes driven to despair by their silliness and persistence. If you don't like capitalism you must be a communist, you must hate freedom, and you must be blind to the atrocities caused by all the regimes that tried to make true the Utopian fantasy that's stuck in your head... This is so tiresome and stands in the way of any serious discussion about how to move forward.
Vladimir Lenin himself made clear that what he did was not communism, not even close. If you, like Peterson, Shapiro and all the rest of the so called political right and alt-right, point to The Soviet Union, North Korea, China, Cuba or even Venezuela to remind people of the horrors and oppression inherent in (pursuing) the communist Utopia, you've placed yourself outside the boundaries of reason and common sense. What Lenin and all that followed him had, was state-capitalism. Extreme state-capitalism bordering on fascism, and sometimes crossing over that border.
The New Economic Policy (NEP) was an economic policy of Soviet Russia proposed by Vladimir Lenin in 1921 as a temporary expedient. Lenin characterized the NEP in 1922 as an economic system that would include "a free market and capitalism, both subject to state control", while socialized state enterprises would operate on "a profit basis".
No matter how hard you look, you won't find a socialist or communist state in the whole of human history. Small communities, yes, but not states; they're all capitalist. You'll also find the occasional organization or workplace that's organized around socialist and Marxist principles, like worker-coops that distribute profits in a far more egalitarian way than a normal corporation does. But these are small islands in a capitalist sea that's approximately 10,000 years old. Large scale planned economies have failed thus far for this reason and the obvious other reason; that it was just too complicated, not possible to plan everything, to determine how much of everything was needed. That other reason isn't valid anymore; with AI and computer networks this has become easy, as is proven by the heavy use and effectiveness of predictive Bayesian algorithms in our online social interactions. Instead of using all this computing power and networked potential to trap us in our own comfort-zones for the benefit of a handful of mega-corporations, we could be using it to calculate, predict and plan the production and distribution of the basic needs for a comfortable life for everyone.
This would ensure every Earth-dwelling human the securities provided by the bottom rung on Maslow's pyramid. Only when we don't have to worry about surviving, not being able to get health care or have a place to call "home," can we ever be really free. And we're capable of doing it, ability or resources are not the problem here. We produce enough food to feed 12 billion people, yet we don't even manage to feed the mere 7.5 billion there are on the planet. And still people dare call this system "effective" or "efficient". Driven by neoliberal ideology we seek solutions by producing even more food; let's genetically manipulate the crops to make them bigger, more productive, let's grow the biggest fattest chickens in two weeks, that'll solve hunger in the world... This is simply not true. It's a lie built upon a lie, a lie that has become dogma. A dogma that has most of us convinced that humans need some outside pressure or incentive to move forward, forgetting that we invented plenty before the introduction of surpluses. Forgetting that necessity is the cause of true progress, not some sales figures or profit margins. There is no correlation between the size of governments and the people's freedoms, but there is a strong correlation between power imbalance and corruption, the misuse of power. And in our economy all power is based on material wealth. Do the math. Follow the money.
One of the boldest visions for a post capitalist society I've seen is the brainchild of Jacques Fresco called The Venus Project, as shown in the below linked documentary. Eventually we will leave capitalism behind us, reality necessitates it; what we must do is choose how. Will we let it all collapse with all the pain that'll come with that? Will we keep trusting in the Invisible Hand to take care of the "effective" and "efficient" extraction and distribution of our shared resources? Or will we face the facts and be the masters of our own future, will we dare design our own future? This is not the best we can do, not by a long shot. Give it time.
THE VENUS PROJECT - A NEW WORLD SYSTEM | Full Documentary
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The whole ‘evolution’ bit is a handy way of saying “eugenics” and “master race” without actually saying it, don’t you think?
Thanks for taking the time and making the effort to write and publish this. Brilliant!
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WhoaH!! Thanks so much for the kind words @metametheus! :-) And yes, there's a lot of "master race" dog-whistling going around...
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I will always promote free markets over everything else.