Tag Archives: capitalism

Capitalism and the virus

All the evidence at this point suggests that the environment in which you are most likely to catch the virus is as follows: It’s a crowded space with poor ventilation. In the UK we’ve seen hotspots around university accommodation. Amazon had a significant outbreak in their workforce. Obvious candidates include crowded trains, cramped workspaces, over-crowded schools, and of course busy social locations like pubs.

What these locations all have in common is that they are designed to extract the maximum profit for the minimum cost. Space is money. Businesses that can squeeze more people into less room can make more money because the overheads are reduced. And whether that’s cramming people into a bar or a warehouse, the implications are similar – there is a health risk.

To do anything safely at the moment, we need space between people and good ventilation. This doesn’t combine well with trying to get the maximum profits for the least space. Capitalism does not equip us well to deal with the virus, and it has given us workspaces and social spaces that, by their cramped nature, are problematic at the moment. And really speaking, always were.

Imagine a world in which we wanted nice things. Imagine a world in which workspaces were always comfortable, healthy and good to be in, and where living well was more important than shareholder profit. Imagine well ventilated workspaces. Imagine workspaces where the mental and physical wellbeing of employees mattered.

Capitalism teaches us that all of these things should be sacrificed for the good of the profit margin. But surely there is more to life than profit? If we are to survive this virus, there has to be more to life than profit.


Internalised capitalism, actual poverty

I’ve been seeing a meme doing the rounds that identifies a set of experiences as internalised capitalism: Feeling guilty for resting, self worth based on career, putting productivity before health, believing that hard work leads to happiness, feeling lazy when you can’t work and using busyness to avoid your needs. It struck me that this can be as much about poverty as it is about capitalism.

If you are comfortably off, then you might be able to avoid these feelings. But, in reality most people are a paycheck or two away from total disaster. One big, unexpected bill can throw most people into difficulty. If anyone depends on you, then that’s a lot of pressure to be under. So you work when you’re ill, because you have to try and stay ahead to keep you and your people safe. There is no job security anymore, no certainty, nothing much you can count on to help you if things go wrong, in too many parts of the world.

The more poor and insecure we are, the more tightly we are tied to all these things. The more reason we have to fear poverty, the more obliged we are to internalise the capitalism and sell ourselves to survive. Capitalism is not a system that creates wealth for all, it is a system that thrives on poverty, and fear of poverty. It would be nice to be able to avoid internalising that, but the more vulnerable you are, the fewer options you have.

Capitalism doesn’t work for most of us. Things that really need doing – growing food, caring for the sick and vulnerable, raising children, looking after the land – don’t actually pay very well. The best way to make money in this system is not by working, but by using the money to make money. The most successful capitalists at the moment seem to be the disaster capitalists who are able to play the markets and make money out of things going wrong for everyone else. Capitalism does not feed the hungry, or shelter the homeless, or safeguard the environment. At which point it seems fair to ask what use it is.

The work we do should be meaningful and useful. There is no shortage of that sort of work that needs doing. Identifying with our work, in a context where our work is making things better, would be fine. No one should have to fear the consequences of not being able to work. No one should have to work when they are ill. No one should spend their time mostly exhausted. Human systems should work for the vast majority of people involved in them, not a small minority.


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