by Umair Haque
a Social Construction.
But what does that Really Mean...?
Capitalism is a social construction. Sorry, I don't mean that the way your college courses did.
I mean it like this:
Perhaps you find that a
little bit outrageous...
That is, that in the absence of "intervention", capitalism springs up by itself, magically, as noble savages truck and barter - and therefore, any interference in the laissez-faire marketplace is a "government" picking "winners" and "losers."
It's a particularly funny
myth because it reveals so much: how oblivious one must be to
history, the world, reality, and one's own privileged place in all
those, to tell it.
One of the things they bought and sold was people:
Why...? Because it was perfectly legal - and very, very profitable - to do so...
But it's not as if those slaves were saying,
In fact, they tried to escape, revolt, and rebel, over and over again.
They were murdered, tortured, imprisoned, beaten, whipped, starved, and lynched. By whom? By militias. Bounty hunters. Mercenaries. Police forces. Armies.
Paid by whom? Villages.
Cities. Towns. Governments.
See how some noble "natural state" of capitalism is a myth? The government was indeed "picking winners and losers."
But slavery wasn't abolished because the government stopped interfering - but because it interfered more.
Do you see my point...?
Capitalism is always a
social and political construction, not just because it's about what
we can buy and sell, nor even because it's about who is allowed to
have what, and for what purpose - but a system in which private
ownership of capital, in this case people, requires social
investment and support.
Suburbs, highways, little cookie-cutter houses, two cars in every garage, a white picket fence, Betsy and Bobby playing catch in a finely manicured front lawn.
Capitalism? Think again...
This was all driven by state intervention, too.
And black people, Latinos, Chinese, gays - they weren't welcome...
It was a condition of federal mortgage guarantess that loans not be made to blacks.
See what I mean by,
So what we think of as some kind of modern golden age of capitalism - the era of the American Dream - was nothing of the kind.
It was yet again a state picking "winners" and "losers."
They didn't receive all the subsidies, benefits, breaks, privileges - the capital. They were prevented from ever building capital.
Those who had capital
received more capital. Those who didn't, didn't. Social investment
and support shored up this weird, crazy deal. Are you beginning to
see the rule yet?
Let's do my third
They strip mined every industry in sight - from food, to books, to education, to media, to, today, journalism. America's about to have just a handful of news outlets left - because they've all been bought up, looted, and bankrupted.
But wait - why?
What happened was this:
Let's sharpen all that.
Capitalism is produced by socialism. It socializes losses. It privatizes gains. It needs social investment and support to keep doing both, in fact.
"Capitalism" is really just a way to say that,
Sometimes, those things are factories, sometimes they're bonds, and sometimes, quite terribly, they're even other people.
But note the wrinkle. The job of a "government", as far as "capitalism" is concerned, is to keep privately owned things running, going, operating - and yet that alone says that capital can't really exist by itself.
Yet without those, capitalism would have ceased to function in the blink of an eye, time after time.
Without social investment
and support, capitalism would stop overnight - even in America.
Imagine if the skies turned black, or the phone lines went down, or
the internet became gobbledygook, or the trees attacked us, instead
of stood there pleasantly, giving us air to breathe.
And that means that those already who have the most capital will always win. Imagine that you have a hundred times more money than me.
Won't you have the power to demand all kinds of concessions from me? Imagine you have a hundred times more social capital than me. Won't that make your power over me even greater? And so on.
And yet here I am, not
just begging you for a job - but subsidizing you while I'm doing
it, paying for that bailout, paying back that extortionate interest,
paying for the democracy which keep your contracts worth a dime
while you wreck it, and so forth.
"Capitalism" means the job of a government is that society supports and nurtures, protects and subsidizes, the capitalist, not vice versa. But the capitalist is the one who already owns the most, by definition. He has the least to lose.
He has the most information. He can buy up all your alternatives.
So this idea of
governance itself means the capitalist always wins - because the
government is enforcing his rule now: those who have the most
capital receive the most capital, and those who have none receive
Not any specific individual - but certainly amongst social groups.
It's not a coincidence that American billionaires are mostly white men - and white men were slave-owners, not slaves. Whites amassed so much capital thanks to slavery that they still hold ten times more, on average, than blacks. So of course it's vastly more likely that whites will be billionaires, or even millionaires.
Capitalism is a
construction of socialism - a system in which society subsidizes
those who own the most, not vice-versa.
The government is enforcing the capitalist's rule - whomever has the most capital receives most, and whomever has the least loses the most, or at best, wins the least.
Capitalism is a product of socialism, again and again and again.
And yet capitalism isn't the only kind of economy that we can construct, as social and political beings.
Instead of creating systems where the job of a
government is to enforce the capitalists' rule - the most capital
to the one who already has the most, nothing for the one who has the
least - we can create very different ones.
Those economies aren't "capitalist" in the pure sense above. They operate on a very different rule.
Where the role of a government isn't to protect those with the most capital - but those with the least.
You might even call all that, if you're American, "socialism", or "social democracy". Me and the rest of the civilized world?
We just call it common sense...