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Capitalism: War of the Words

Kudzu house

Life is frustrating here among the humans. Humans have this thing called language that they can try to use to exchange thoughts and ideas between each other’s brains. It seems like a spiffy thing. This language can be spoken, or even written down so as to save for latter or reproduced and delivered to many humans. The spoken language, made up of all these individual words, is really fun because the humans combine the audible spoken words with hand motions and facial expressions, and even just slight changes in the human’s voice, which they call things like tone or inflection.  I can just point with my finger and say, “Give me that cock,” and the other human will use his hands to pick up the rooster and physically lift the rooster and move it through time and space into my hands. Oh, you thought I meant something else? You are obviously have a dirty mind, or are anticipating my next paragraph.

Yes, it is obvious, this language thing isn’t that useful at all unless the humans all agree what all these little individual words each mean. Often humans actually mean the opposite of what they say! Ya dig, my peeps? Or maybe the humans say really crazy, convoluted, stuff, but most everybody usually knows what the speaker means even then because … well, they learned what it means from being around other humans. Crazy things like, “I need a wife like I need another hole in my head.” Or, “A woman without a husband is like a fish without a bicycle.” That’s all clear, right? Left? Whatever. So if everybody understands that a cock is a rooster, everything’s fine. And if everybody understands that Tiny Tim is actually a very large man, everything is fine.

But the world just gets more and more complicated, and there are more and more people, and there are more and more words, and there are complicated systems already in place and it’s like we are all in a leaky boat and everybody just grabs a bucket and jumps in and helps bailing out the boat. We are all confident and intelligent humans and we can see the hole in the boat and we just do what we know needs to be done. But the world isn’t a leaky boat, not even close really. For instance, I do not believe that I will ever truly comprehend how complicated this world is, heck, I never even figured out my own marriage, much less how to program my old VCR.

So this whole language thing is a lot more complicated than it appears at first. It turns out that words can be wonderful–or deadly. Shh, remember, loose lips sink ships. See, despite all those useful and fun things we thought we could do with words, other people (not me!) actually use words to deceive, or to trick, or to confuse other humans.

Lies, lies, lies. Yeap, I’m talking ‘bout lies. Tiny Tim is a lie, he’s actually very big! And I don’t want another hole in my head, and you probably want to keep your hands off my cock. But none of those things really impact the major systems of the world, so we should just set Tiny Tim and my cock to one side for now and move to the big lie, capitalism.

Apparently nobody can agree what capitalism is. Heck, we humans can even argue about what the definition of “is” is. We humans are pathetic. Anyway … you might imagine that all of use agreeing on the definition of capitalism is would be rather important, because it seems capitalism is popping up everywhere these days, like kudzu (look it up ;-).

So let’s take a really brief tour of the rainbow of thoughts and ideas out there about this word capitalisim.

From our old friends Merriam and Webster:

CAPITALISM: a way of organizing an economy so that the things that are used to make and transport products (such as land, oil, factories, ships, etc.) are owned by individual people and companies rather than by the government

Full Definition of CAPITALISM: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.

Definition of ‘Capitalism’ from Investopedia:

A system of economics based on the private ownership of capital and production inputs, and on the production of goods and services for profit. The production of goods and services is based on supply and demand in the general market (market economy), rather than through central planning (planned economy). Capitalism is generally characterized by competition between producers. Other facets, such as the participation of government in production and regulation, vary across models of capitalism.

A couple of definitions from our old frenemy, Ayn Rand:

When I say ‘capitalism,’ I mean a full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism—with a separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.


The recognition of individual rights entails the banishment of physical force from human relationships: basically, rights can be violated only by means of force. In a capitalist society, no man or group may initiate the use of physical force against others.?[“What Is Capitalism?” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal]

From The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics (It is not concise at all; it is really like Tiny Tim!).

And now Google gives a definition right on their search page without any attribution, which says:

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.
synonyms free enterprise, private enterprise, the free market;
antonyms communism

My personal friend, Wikipedia, at least indicates there is some disagreement.

Different economic perspectives emphasize specific elements of capitalism in their preferred definition. Laissez-faire and liberal economists emphasize the degree to which government does not have control over markets and the importance of property rights. Neoclassical and Keynesian macro-economists emphasize the need for government regulation to prevent monopolies and to soften the effects of the boom and bust cycle. Marxian economists emphasize the role of capital accumulation, exploitation and wage labour. Most political economists emphasize private property as well, in addition to power relations, wage labour, class, and the uniqueness of capitalism as a historical formation.

Proponents of capitalism argue that it creates more prosperity than any other economic system, and that its benefits are mainly to the ordinary person. Critics of capitalism variously associate it with economic instability and an inability to provide for the well-being of all people. In contrast to both perspectives, socialists maintain that capitalism is superior to all previously existing economic systems (such as feudalism or slavery) but that the contradiction between class interests will only be resolved by advancing into a completely social system of production and distribution in which all persons have an equal relationship to the means of production.

Kudzu light pole

But all of these definitions fail me, because I know they are all wrong, and they are all trying to obfuscate words and phrases and prevent actual meaning from reaching humans, for whatever reason. How do I know they are all lying? I used the same method I used to discover Tiny Tim is not tiny but actually rather large–I opened my eyes and looked.

I can see that the word capitalism is used to mean that all the profits are going to the one who contributed capital to an endeavor. That’s obvious. But I studied equitable distribution, and in a marriage, one spouse can raise the children and cook meals, while the other can earn capital, but in the end, once the cooked goose or the capital exists in the body of marriage, those things must be apportioned between the entire body (usually two humans). If you’ve been divorced you might be familiar with equitable distribution, for the rest of you, heck, maybe you should just get married.

Anyway, long ago, people spoke of capitalism as a marriage of capital. Often people used the word partnership rather than marriage, cause we all know that we need marriage like we need another hole in the head. For instance, check out this article from 1902, “Harmonizing Labor and Capital by Means of Industrial Partnership,” from the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (Really good article, educational! Author writes of profit-sharing and increased productivity and all kinds of radical ideas).

Obviously in capitalism all profit goes to one member of the partnership. I think the whole thing with the word socialism really muddied the waters and all the Ayn Rand types were all wound up and became anti-government and all carrying-on about freedom while the lefties were all about regulation and anti-monopoly and taxes. The word socialism somehow left the train of thought about the partnership between labor and capital and replaced labor with a big over-bearing government and taxes and force. But where is the method called laborism, where all profit would go to labor, and those who invested capital would only get the prevailing interest rate on their investment? Oh, that doesn’t exist? Damn, cause that would be nice. Essentially, somehow, somebody, seemed to obliterate the concepts of a marriage, ora  partnership, between capital and labor, and switched the conversation to the corporations versus the government. But wait, when did the humans who contribute labor agree to forfeit their equitable share of  profits?

Some people are talking about liberty and force, and some are talking about efficiency, and some call free-markets synonyms, and communism antonyms, and some are talking about command and control economies, and some are just blah, blah, blah.

Wait just a moment, did somebody say force? Like, work for me and make me profit or starve and die! Heck, that’s called coercion, a type of indirect force. That should be against the law, forcing people to work and make somebody else a profit just to be allowed to live.

Ooops. Somebody in the back said it is? Well, anywhere else other humans might make you sit down and shut up, but here, we’re crazy, so maybe this is where you belong, hang around. But while we are on the subject, this crazy fellow says that renting slaves for eight hours a day is as bad as owning slaves and violates our indivisible rights and shouldn’t be allowed, and we humans should only tolerate corporations that split the profits between those humans who invest capital and those humans who invest labor (and themselves.) He may actually have a point. See also: master and servant relationship and think about it. Maybe read what that crazy dude has to say. He argues that the only just way is for there to be a partnership between labor and capital, that all humans who become laborers receiving a wage should actually be considered self-employed and in partnership with the humans with capital and the profits should then be split.

(Short side trip: In essence Ellerman says one man has a hammer, and a stack of wood worth 1000 schmeckles, while another man can use a hammer very well. If the man who is good with the hammer builds a finished house which can be sold for 101,000 schmeckles, then they should split the resulting 100,000 schmeckles profit, minus the sandwich (wages) the man who is good with the hammer ate while he created this fabulous house. Capitalism is what dictates the absurd condition that all profit should go to the guy with the hammer. (Some argue that the man with the time and ability to build a house is actually worth more than the man who supplied the hammer and wood, but that’s another argument entirely.)

OK, OK, I need to wrap it up. All I wanted to point out is that capitalism means that all profit will go only to those who contribute capital. Co-ops and other worker-owned corporations don’t stick to that system. Struggling to find justice in a world obsessed with property rights–ownership–those organizations return much of the organization’s profits to the workers, who are also the owners to satisfy the property-control obsession, and also often proportion some profits to pay for the loans for the initial capital used to create the business, or actually allow investors to own a portion of the company and then apportion the profits between labor and capital.

The bottom line is that these co-ops and other worker-owned corporations don’t violate any of these definitions except my own. These co-ops and worker-owned corporations operate in a free-market, and respect property rights, and don’t force work out of people, and everything else in all those other definitions. So they must be capitalistic. And study after study has shown that they have higher productivity than share-holder only owned corporations, so that sounds like it will produce the most goods in the most efficient manner possible, so that would be good. And investors actually make more profit, dollar for dollar invested, and the worker humans have security and better financial prospects. But those organizations don’t divert all profit to the 20% who own 80% of financial assets–and I think that is really the sticking point for many–or certain–humans.

But I am telling you, capitalism isn’t characterized by freedom, or command and control, or efficiency, or any of the other bullshit other humans tell you. Capitalism means the opposite of equitable distribution; capitalism means all profits go to the guy who owns the monopoly board, and everybody else losses. Capitalism means the man with the hammer and wood ends up with a valuable house, while the man with the priceless skills to build a house ends up with just a sandwich. Well, either way, just keep your cock away from mine, and you and me should be just fine.

Cross posted at Equitable Principles

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