by Umair Haque
July 21, 2018

from Eudaimonia Website








Why Capitalism's Collapse

Feels Weirdly a Lot

Like Communism's...




Here's a funny observation.

 

Soviet style communism was always marked by chronic, predictable shortages. Especially for luxuries...

 

The line for jeans, sweaters, boomboxes, and TVs, which stretched around the block, always leaving people empty-handed  - while decadent Westerners simply trundled down to the store and bought them by the truckload.

But capitalism is collapsing now in a weirdly similar way.

 

It's marked by chronic, persistent shortages for just the opposite. Not for luxuries  - but for life's basic necessities. Medicine, hospitals, education, good schools, income, decent media, a home to live, income, jobs.

 

Even potable drinking water (see: Flint) and decent food.

 

In America, for example  - there's no guarantee you'll be able to get these things, because they're always in short supply. In fact, life seems to be designed precisely so that some people must always be at threat of going without them.

 

How ironic, when you think about it, no  - capitalism and communism both failing, in mirror images of each other? Why is that? And what does it mean?

It suggests to me that the future is a choice between two socialisms. Or it won't be much of a future at all. The good kind of socialism  - and the bad kind.

 

And that's because capitalism has proven to be a ruinous failure as the sole (or highest) organizing principle of a society  - which is what it's been for the last thirty years or so now. I'll make my case  - and you judge if it carries any water.

Unless you believe in cosmic coincidences, the reason that ultranationalist movements have popped up, seemingly overnight, is straightforward: economies are stagnant and so people's lives aren't improving.

 

But what does that really mean?

 

It means life has become governed by artificial scarcity. Middle and working classes are on the brink  - because capitalism makes things artificially scarce, so that it can maximize profits.

 

What things?

  • Healthcare

  • Affordable education

  • A mortgage an average person can pay off in a lifetime

  • Decent jobs themselves

  • For young people, marriage, having kids, and homes of their own...

When insulin costs thousands, though we all know it can and should cost pennies  - that's artificial scarcity.

And yet those are the lives the middle and working classes live now  - everything is artificially, not really scarce. Societies throw out tons of food. Newly built homes go to waste  - while young people live with their parents.

 

Billionaires shoot off space rockets, while young diabetics die without insulin. Society can easily afford it but it's forbidden, under the terms of neoliberal capitalism, to allow decent lives for everyone because then profits would stop growing and "growth" might come to a halt.

 

Someone must suffer  - and suffer badly...

 

That is how you get to the weird paradox of a "growing" economy in which life expectancy, income, trust, meaning, and happiness are all falling.

 

There isn't enough to go around  - but keeping things at just that razor's edge of artificial scarcity is the only way now capitalism can raise its profit margins.

Hence, for large chunks of the middle and working class, their lives are worse in many ways than a few decades ago.

 

Unless you believe that a bigger TV is a substitute for a stable job, a raise, savings, a mortgage you can pay off, healthcare you can afford, and stability that you can depend on.

 

The rich have grown astronomically richer  - but life below the line of being super rich is something between precarious and implosive, and that is because artificial scarcity keeps the basics of a decent life just out of reach, endlessly.

 

That's not a bug  - it's a feature of predatory capitalism.

 

And that is why the future is a choice between of two kinds of socialism.

(If you understand that above, then you will also see that capitalism  - at least in its current incarnation, something like monopolistic, financialized, mega capitalism  - has failed precisely because it is making a tiny number of people ultra rich, but only at the expense of the middle class and working class, for whom artificial scarcity is used as both a carrot and a stick.

 

Such an economy "grows" by generating more profits  - but only through maximizing artificial scarcities for things like insulin, hospitals, and decent jobs which makes life itself implode.

 

While that bargain surely works for elites and the rich, it is ruinous for society as a whole, because no one sensible will consent to it for very long  - turning instead to fascists, authoritarians, and extremists.)

So capitalism the way we practice it ends in implosive stagnation.

 

Artificial scarcities eating away at life:

chronic and persistent shortages, of all the basics of a decent life.

Yet these ongoing shortages are ever-present, things which never get "fixed"  - because they are exactly what capitalism must maximize on one side, to maximize profits on the other.

And that's why socialism is the future now...

 

But not all socialisms are created equal. Think of opposite poles of a spectrum.

  • On one side, lies social democracy

  • On the other, lies national socialism

  • Which of these should we desire?

  • Which is good, and why?

Let's start with national socialism.

 

What is it, really? American thinkers will dispute it even really exists  - but they are not known for thinking well.

 

National socialism is very as a form of socialism. It is simply something like "socialism for the true people" or a little more accurately,

"only those with pure blood, from pure soil, deserve to share in the fruits of society's labours."

Think of the "good German"...

 

He was very much a beneficiary of national socialism. He was provided a stable job, a regular income, savings, a home, healthcare, safety, security, the ability to take care of his family and children  - all for the first time, really, in decades. But there was a price.

 

Maybe his day job was a lawyer  - drafting laws to take homes from Jews.

 

Whom did those homes go to?

Well, loyal Party members, of course. Maybe he was a Gestapo officer, making sure Jews wore yellow stars. He was rewarded with money to buy things, a home, healthcare, a decent life  - but only if he took all that away from the wrong people, too.

Do you see the mirror image, which is the problem, yet?

The good German was playing a zero-sum game. I can have a decent life, finally  - but only if I take away yours.

 

The "work" that the good German was doing was really the work of repression. Of subjugating Jews, gays, and immigrants. Of dismantling the equality, freedom, and democracy.

Of perverting the rule of law, and using it as a weapon to seize people's belongings and money and savings and possessions and homes  - which then belonged to the good German.

 

That was what the new "jobs" in Nazi Germany really were. A zero sum game of taking life away from some, to give it back to others.

That is national socialism: one tribe decides to take all that belongs to a society, and distribute it amongst itself. Perhaps that is the answer to the "mystery" of why the good German turned a blind eye.

 

The cost of receiving the basics of a good life from the Party was that he did the very work of seizing those basics from another, a lesser human being, in the Party's eyes.

(How else is the problem of stagnation to be solved? Do you see the link here? That is the crucial thing, and if you understand it, so you also understand the future.

 

A society can solve stagnation  - shortages of basic goods  - in only two ways. The first is to dispossess some of its own people  - and then give those things, that medicine, that money, those homes, to others.

 

But who will be dispossessed, and who will possess? The impure  - and the pure. Hence, national socialism is structured along lines of racial supremacy.

 

But it is at root a way to solve the problem of stagnation, by taking from those who don't belong, and giving that to those who do.

 

In that way, an illusory kind of "growth," a sense of stability, purpose, meaning, belonging, and prosperity, are produced. But the price is that such a society will never be one that is free, democratic, equal, or fair.

 

National socialism requires people to do the work of subjugating and repressing each other  - that is its price.

 

As a zero-sum game, that becomes a negative-sum game, it can't take societies anywhere)

 

  • Don't we already see just that happening in America?

     

  • What is ICE, really?

     

  • What are all these weird new government agencies, whose sole job appears to be to repress and subjugate and harm those who are "impure," who don't belong, who aren't part of the right tribe?

     

  • They are effectively welfare programs for the pure, aren't they?

They are ways for a good member of the tribe, today's good American, to get income, a job, healthcare, savings, a home  - all the things that are in shortage today in America.

 

But the price is that he must exclude, punish, and hurt little children. That is a nascent kind of national socialism  - if you can do the job of dispossessing others, then the Party will reward you with all the things that you need to live a decent life.

 

That's a very real kind of socialism, too.

It should go without saying that national socialism is the bad choice. The one we shouldn't want. Because it is self-destructive. It "solves" the problem of stagnation in a foolish, small, and ruinous way.

 

When we take from some, to give what was theirs to ourselves, we have kicked off a vicious cycle that must  - must  - end in war, genocide, and our own sure ruin  - because we cannot do that to the whole world.

Then there is social democracy. What's the difference? In a word, everything.

 

The fundamental way it solves the problem of stagnation is different. Not by taking money, jobs, homes, possessions, and savings, from some, and giving them to the pure, strong, and powerful.

 

But by a society choosing to invest in itself.

  • To build more hospitals, highways, roads, schools, universities, labs, studios, homes.

     

  • To ensure everyone can have an education, an income, healthcare, insurance, safety nets.

Do you see the difference?

National socialism operates through expropriation  - I take what was yours, and now it's the Party's, to reward the most cruel and vicious with.

But social democracy operates through the exactly the opposite:

investment  - we all pool our hard-won savings, and invest them in things which benefit us all, because they are things we cannot have any other way.

Even a billionaire can't really set up a cutting-edge hospital, and keep it running for more than a few years  - it takes a society to do that.

So for social democracy, "socialism" isn't a way to merely "redistribute" things. It is a way to change what can be distribution at all  - not just who gets what, but what can be had in the first place. It's a way to expand the basic goods available in a society  - to the point that they're available to everyone.

 

In that way, it's a mechanism to solve the problem of predatory capitalism operating according to the law of artificial scarcity as a tool to skyrocket profits  - which costs lives, at this point.

 

Socialism is a way for a society to address shortage of basic, fundamental goods, like healthcare, education, transport, media, safety nets, retirement, pensions  - which capitalism has made artificially scarce.

National socialism, on the other hand, is a way to solve predatory capitalism's problem of artificial scarcity by making it impossible for some people, the impure, to have many things at all.

 

Which things?

 

Well, usually, it begins with jobs...

  • Then it's the right to buy thing, to go into stores.

     

  • Then it's homes.

     

  • Then it's savings.

     

  • Then it's the right to live in certain neighborhoods  - ghettoes rise.

     

  • Then it's the right to live in cities  - camps rise.

     

  • Then, finally, it's life itself.

Do you see the vicious spiral at work?

 

National socialism solves the problem capitalism leaves society with, which is shortages of basic goods, in a harmful and destructive way  - one must take more, from the impure, in more and more savage ways.

Jobs, careers, incomes, savings, homes, neighborhoods, citizenship  - life itself.

That is what it takes to keep "growth" going under the terms of national socialism, because it has always been operating by taking from some, and giving it others, according to the Party's judgment of who is purest.

But social democracy solves the problem capitalism leaves society with, shortages of basic goods, in a much more intelligent, civilized, and sustainable way.

 

It invests, so that those shortages are turned into surpluses. Hospitals, highways, schools, universities  - abundant enough for all to have access, at a relatively low price. And the "work" done is very different too.

 

The good German, whether the lawyer, the police officer, or the accountant, was doing the work of harming others  - but the social democrat, whether the doctor at the hospital, the professor at the university, or the builder of the bridge, is doing work that helps others genuinely realize themselves.

 

And in that way, because it unlocks our higher possibilities, social democracy is the far, far better choice.

Now. This essay has been far too long already.

 

You might say, at this point,

"But all that's obvious!!"

Ah, my friend. If it were would the world be where it is today...?