Tag Archives: capitalism

A haircut to die for

It may seem strange that so many people are keen to get out and shop, have haircuts and do other non-essential things during a pandemic. I wrote last year about the way in which white western culture especially, pays to get its needs met. More of that here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2019/08/04/buying-your-needful-things/

Often, a haircut isn’t just a haircut.  For a lot of people, it’s also about confidence and self esteem. It’s about fulfilling that need – created by social pressures – to look certain ways. It may also be the only time someone touches you kindly.

If retail therapy was your anti-depressant, of course you want to go shopping. If being in the pub was as close as you got to having friends, then you’ll be missing the pub, not specific people. The things people are clamouring to have back may not seem worth dying for, but these are things that we’ve been substituting for quality of life for some time.

Paying to meet your basic human needs keeps the economy moving. The less able we are to meet our needs through real relationships and meaningful experiences, the more willing we become to pay for them. Little wonder then that the UK government doesn’t want you hugging people or seeing your lover, but is happy for you to get in a crowded shop with a bunch of other emotionally fragile people who just want to feel better.

Is a haircut worth dying for? No. But a lack of self esteem might kill you, and having no one to touch you kindly may well give you such a poor quality of life that you can’t face it. Right now, a lot of people are going to make risky choices as a consequence of normal life being so inadequate. Most humans could be emotionally sustained by relationships. What we’re seeing, is people turning back to the things that they used to depend on as substitutes for the things real relationships give us.

Try not to be too hard on them, or on yourself if it affects you. Colonial capitalist culture has been ill, and making people ill, for a long time. This is a new manifestation of that.

Matching sets – making greener choices

My guess is that the idea of matching sets goes with the industrial revolution and mass production. For most of history, most of our ancestors would not have replaced anything that wasn’t broken. Most people would have put up with broken things, or fixed them, or only replaced what was broken. The idea of matching crockery is a pretty weird one when you think about it in terms of how we use resources. Matching kitchen furniture. Matching bathroom stuff – these things are bulky and costly to replace, but so often if one goes, the lot has to go.

Of course, this whole approach serves capitalism very well. If we feel tatty and shameful with mismatched items and are persuaded to throw everything away and get new ones any time a single thing breaks, we spend more.

I recently went round this with the kitchen floor. A number of the vinyl floor tiles were breaking up and not fit for purpose. Doing the whole floor was clearly going to take a lot of time and effort, so neither of us got round to it. Eventually it dawned on me that there was no need to do the whole floor. No need to take up perfectly serviceable tiles in order to replace them. We bought a single pack of tiles, removed the damaged ones, inserted the new ones – a job that didn’t take Tom very long at all in the end. A small amount of unusable material went to landfill.

We now have mismatched floor tiles in the kitchen. It’s perfectly functional. It looks like what it is.

So much of it comes down to what we think is desirable, acceptable, good enough, versus what we think will get us judged critically. If looking overtly green was considered your sexiest option, it would be persuasive. If you thought people would look on you favourably for waste-avoiding choices, then chucking a whole bunch of things away because one thing was damaged, would not be even slightly attractive.

Why capitalism doesn’t work

There are lots of reasons why capitalism doesn’t work. Some of them are ethical, some are about resource distribution, waste, and environmental harm. There’s not a lot of point arguing with a pro-capitalist from this basis, so I prefer to pick holes by other means. Capitalism does not deliver the things it claims to deliver. It does not work on its own terms for a good 99% of us. Most people in the system do not get to be as rich as they want to be.

The competitive element of capitalism means there have to be winners and losers. There have to be companies that fail, people who are paid less than their work is worth, people who pay more than the object was really worth. You can’t have profit without this combination of underpayment and overcharging. Capitalism works very well for the winners for as long as they continue to be winners, but the fear of losing is ever present. Losing your job, your home, you market share, your business, the edge, the advantage… that’s a lot of fear for a lot of people a lot of the time.

When the cost of living goes up, people push for higher wages. It’s pretty basic maths. Wages have to keep up with inflation, and inflation is the increasing cost of stuff. So, you put up the cost of stuff to increase profits, and so does everyone else, and then the workers start to squeal because they now can’t afford things. They may down tools, wrecking your profit. They may not buy because they are too poor – bang goes the profit again. The economy may falter. No profit there. You put the wages up and the profit margin shrinks, and so not very far down the line, you’ll put the price up again. Inflation is a consequence of trying to make a bigger profit. It delivers economic uncertainty, and there are always those who lose. In terms of economic gain, I don’t think most of us get much from it.

To be competitive of course, you have to drive prices down, and while you can do that by screwing the workers, producers, sourcing in cheaper developing countries and so forth, there’s a limit. What happens when the people in the developing country want a fair wage? We’ve exported jobs to China and India, where people desire western lifestyles, and they will start demanding fair payment for what they do. Getting a profit on cheap goods has depended on finding cheap labour to resource and countries willing to sell their natural assets at bargain basement rates. That’s not infinitely available.

Capitalism depends on growth, on ever bigger markets consuming ever more stuff. At present we have just the one planet, and finite resources, some of which are going to run out and some of which we over-exploit at our peril. We’ve over exploited the sea, fish stocks are in crisis. We’re over using carbon based fuels, we could render ourselves extinct. What you get when you push for constant growth, are boom and bust cycles. These hurt a lot of people for the benefit of the few.

In evolutionary terms, survival of the fittest seldom means the biggest (think about those really big dinosaurs and what happened to them) the most dangerous (like, ooh for example, the sabre tooth cats) or the most violent or aggressive. Evolution favours the flexible, and thus far we’ve done well as a species because we’ve been adaptable. A system that can only think about more exploitation, more consumption, more growth and more profit is not adaptable. The world is changing, and capitalism is a big angry dinosaur that may inf act be chewing on its own tail. As long term strategies go, this isn’t one.

Earning it

We hear a lot from the government about workers and shirkers, the hard working who deserve their money and the scroungers who deserve nothing. By this we are to understand that wealth itself is evidence of effort while poverty indicates laziness. That would be a very convenient explanation, skipping over how much wealth is earned and how much inherited. Wealth buys opportunity, education and connections, but if you acknowledge that, you have to recognise that massive earning differences have nothing to do with worth.

Now, if someone is out there saving lives, then it would be hard to over value their worth. Firemen would be a fine case in point. Would any of us argue with massive pay rises and bonuses for firemen, who risk their lives on a regular basis to save the lives and property of others? Firemen are heroes. We will never be able to thank them enough for what they do. But, compare that to bankers who take other people’s money and effectively gamble with it, and seem to get paid whether they make money for their bank, are mediocre or actually bankrupt a country. I’d love to know how that works. The guy at Barkleys Bank wisely declined his obscene bonus this week, perhaps recognising it might not be politic to take what he clearly hadn’t earned.

We have a system based on ideas of growth, market development, investment and whatnot. Now, skipping over the issue of infinite growth with finite resources…. I learn from the Guardian that the economic boom of the noughties was an illusion. Businesses were not investing or growing, and most of the money came from borrowing against inflated house prices. FTSE top 100 companies grew by 2.6 % on average per year while executive bonuses went up by 26 % a year, on average. My ten year old can do the maths. It’s insane. If a person gets paid way beyond what they earn, or generate for their company, they have not earned it. A bonus based on actual profits, actual development would make some kind of sense, but this doesn’t. It’s all about those in high places having the power to set their own pay scales and enough friends also in power to back them up. If you can’t show your company is thriving, you haven’t earned a bonus, and the only bonus you could earn would be in line with company profit. Anything else is TAKEN, not earned.

Let’s backtrack to those thought forms about hard work and earning your money. No company could survive without the people who do the work. The makers and builders, the ones on the shop floor, the ones talking to customers. These are the people at the bottom end of the pay scale, least valued by the company and they aren’t paid bonuses, in the normal scheme of things. Why assume if a company thrives that it is only due to the efforts of the management?

What I’d like is legislation that requires bonuses and pay rises to be linked directly to profitability in a meaningful way. (Not think of a multiplier and use that). I think there should also be a requirement that bonuses be paid out to every employee, not to managers alone, in situations of profit and success, and that people who are discernibly doing a mediocre job, or failing, should not get pay rises. Workers don’t get pay rises if their annual review doesn’t see them as being valuable. Why should bosses be different?

The irony here, is that this would be a system to drive genuine growth and investment. Full on capitalism. The people who claim to be capitalists evidently aren’t – rewarding failure and not investing to grow do not a capitalist system make. It’s not about the market, it’s simply a leech culture. And here’s me, anarchic and anti-capitalist with a vision that, although it alarms me to say it, is really speaking more innately capitalist in principle than what the capitalists are doing.

Yes Mr Cameron, we do have a culture where there are hard working people, and scroungers. Generally speaking, the scroungers are doing really well at bleeding the economy dry for their own benefit, while the hard workers are not anything like as well paid as they deserve to be. This is because we have a system that rewards power, not effort, or achievement. Just power. But that’s probably not worrying you, given that you are quite definitively In Power. However, as every leech knows, if you bleed a thing dry, you starve. A little enlightened self interest might not go amiss