Glossary of Major Distortions(NOTE: This essay is a revised version of the original draft first published in the fall of 1982 in the premiere edition of Cyrano’s Journal, America’s First Radical Media Review. )
BUILD YOUR OWN LIST!
By Patrice Greanville
Capitalism is preferentially identified by its euphemisms: “Free Enterprise,” “market system,” “private enterprise.” “the American Way,” etc. Overt and pervasive partisanship in support of capitalism is not regarded by the American media as an ideological bias negating professional “objectivity” but rather something comparable to the serene acceptance of natural laws.
1 Capitalism = human nature
This propaganda equation is one of the oldest and most effective ideological weapons utilized in defense of capitalism. It pays off handsomely in a number of important ways. First, if capitalism is congruent with “human nature,” then the capitalist system must be the most “natural” and “logical” form of social organization, as people will have a built-in tendency to observe its basic rules. Second, “human nature,” as defined in bourgeois terms (which the press of course follows) is characterized by two significant traits: immutability and unalterable egoism.
The first “fact” automatically discourages most efforts at seriously reforming, let alone revolutionizing, society. Why should anyone bother if in the end the stubborn intractability of human nature will render all schemes for change and improvement of social conditions worthless and utopian? It’s evident that when sufficient numbers of people are made to believe that an eternal, immutable and invincible “human nature” will time and again scuttle the best-laid plans and the costliest sacrifices for change, then most threats to the status quo will be defanged at the outset.
The second “fact,” addressing the supposed individualistic nature of people, provides a convenient justification for the harsh, dog-eat-dog conditions that prevail under the so-called free-enterprise system. In this vision, all human motivation is supposed to flow from the desire for pecuniary gain and self-aggrandisement. Individuals are perceived uni-dimensionally as simple atoms of unrelenting hedonism, constantly pursuing the calculus of profit and loss, pain and pleasure, as they irrepressibly “maximize” their options to fulfill the dictates of hopelessly greedy natures. This is the fabled “homo economicus” of free market literature; the heroic “rugged individualist” so dear to conservatives, and supposedly the creature on which all human progress and wealth depend. But why do the media–and especially the wilier corporate apologists– embrace this tack with so much fervor? As suggested above, the very possibility of changing things is a highly contested ideological area. Radicals argue that society can and should be drastically changed. Conservatives (and the media, which incorporates the mildly reformist liberal viewpoint) contend that nothing basic can or should be changed because our behavior is rooted in an unchanging human nature true for all epochs, systems, and states of human evolution, and, besides, the system is quite sound as it is. History, however, when properly read, is not very kind to conservative social science. As economists E.K. Hunt and Howard Sherman have pointed out, “human nature” seems quite adept at changing to reflect each new set of prevailing social circumstances.
Thus, “it’s no coincidence that the dominant view or ideology under slavery supports slavery; that under serfdom [it] supports serfdom; and that under capitalism [it] supports capitalism. (…) Since our ideology is determined by our social environment, radical economists contend that a change in our socioeconomic structure will eventually change the dominant ideology. Before the Civil War most Southerners (including their social scientists and religious leaders) believed firmly that slavery, an essentially pre-capitalist, agricultural system, was natural and good; but after 100 years of dominance by capitalist socioeconomic institutions, most Southerners (including their social scientists and religious ministers) now declare that capitalism is “natural and good”. So the dominant ideas of any epoch are not determined by “human nature” but by socioeconomic relations and can be changed by changes in these underlying relationships. There is thus hope for a completely new and better society with new and better views by most people.” (F.K. Hunt and Howard J. Sherman, Economics, Harper & Row, 1978, p. xxviii.)
Further, if “human nature” is inherently greedy, competitive and egoist, how do we explain altruism, sharing, selflessness and social cooperation, which can be readily observed to this day in many human institutions and societies throughout the world? It should be borne in mind that class-divided societies and private property made their appearance barely 10,000 years ago, roughly congruent with the rise of agriculture, food surpluses, sedentarism and animal-domestication, while the bulk of our time on earth as a species has been spent under tribal or primitive communitarianism which stressed familial bonds and a sharing of the commonwealth.Question for our pro-capitalist theoreticians: Did native Americans have a human nature?
2 Capitalism = Americanness, loyalty to the United States, “the American Way of Life,” etc.
This is the second major fraudulent equation in the conservative arsenal, and one that, as its predecessor, has been deliberately injected into the American political consciousness by the system’s mind managers. Noam Chomsky, Michael Parenti, among other leading political scientists, have amply documented that such notions do not materialize out of thin air, that they are deliberately manufactured.
Great political benefits can be reaped from this sleazy piece of political legerdemain. For by successfully equating loyalty to capitalism with loyalty to the motherland, the ruling orders can more easily whip up support and legitimacy for policies which chiefly safeguard their interests.The ploy has been particularly effective in the area of foreign policy (see below) where the global interests of American business and the native plutocracy have been sold to the public as those of the nation. This has often served to silence and isolate critics, who have been thus conveniently smeared with the brush of disloyalty, suspicion or even treason. In extreme cases, homespun dissidents have been carted away under charges of “sedition,” “intent to subvert the political system of the United States,” and similarly dubious statutes. There is little doubt that the American ruling class has carried the art of mass deception to truly unprecedented heights. No other western nation would have the audacity of requiring loyalty tocapitalism–however camouflaged–as a prerequisite for good citizenship. Only in a nation where political illiteracy is high, and kept that way artificially by the powers that be, can such a fraud be propagated without too much challenge. Indeed, why should a historically transientsystem such as capitalism be equated with the more enduring essence of the nation, itself an extraordinarily elusive concept?
Questions for capitalism’s apologists: Will Americans be less “American” it they choose for themselves another social system? For that matter, were the Russians certifiably less ”Russian” after their October Revolution? Did the French revolution deny the French some of their precious “Frenchiness”? Are pro-Castro Cubans demonstrably “less” Cuban than those living in exile?
3 “Capitalism and economic freedom are inseparable from political freedom and democracy, indeed their historical guarantors.”
This claim, so readily bandied about by the media and capitalism’s apologists, can also be shown to be a sham. First, as the tragic situation in the Third World illustrates, capitalism simply thrives in many lands where democracy and the most elementary human and labor rights have been ruthlessly stamped out. In fact, in country after country where human rights have been brutally liquidated private investment is on the rise, and so is the support of’ the American government. The murderous repression of labor leaders, peasants, students, priests and anyone foolhardy enough to speak for the disenfranchised appears to be necessary to “improve the investment climate,” as it is clinically put by our diplomats, journalists and peripatetic businessmen. What is the reality admitted even in the American media? On December 1979, Juan de Onis, the New York Times correspondent in Buenos Aires filed the following report under this headline:
“ARGENTINE POLICIES PLEASE U.S. BUSINESS. Regime, Under fire for Repression, Is Acclaimed by Chamber of Commerce for Restoring Law and Order.”
The piece, a rare occurrence in the New York Times, goes on to explain that, “(A)s in Iran under the Shah, American business generally supports the authoritarian military regime in Argentina, which has violently repressed leftists and welcomed foreign investors.” Glossing over the thorny question of why Argentina’s conditions give rise to civilian sectors desperate enough to back up armed insurrection against the Army, a nearly suicidal choice in almost any country, de Onis proceeds to inform the reader that, “David Rockefeller, the banker, visited Argentina recently to give his support to the program of the Minister of the Economy, Jose Alfredo Martinez de Hoz. In the closing paragraphs we find that “United States investors are not deterred by the controversv over human rights. The Chamber of Commerce, led by Arthur Perry, a mining promoter, and Stanley Brons, a lawyer specializing in investment law, has conducted a campaign designed to emphasize achievements in law and order by the military regime, which crushed an armed subversive movement of left-wing Peronists and Marxists. In the Chamber’s view, publicity given to thousands of cases of people who disappeared after being arrested or kidnapped by security forces is part of an international campaign to weaken a Government that is doing what they believe is best for Argentina.”
We have used italics to underscore the totally unsympathetic and incompassionate manner in which de Onis describes the military’s victims. Is it an accident that he touches several bases likely to elicit a negative reaction in the thoroughly conditioned American reader? “Subversive,” “left-wing,” “Marxist,” “armed insurrection,” these are not exactly endearing terms in the American lexicon, despite the fact that every fourth of July the American nation loudly celebrates its own “armed insurrection.” When reinforced by a total lack of historical context, as it happens in this piece, the effect can only be to lead the reader to unwarranted assumptions. Here, the probable thought is: “They (the guerrillas) just got what they deserved.” This doesn’t hurt the image of the Argentinian junta, but it is a complete falsification and oversimplification of the hard and complex Argentinian struggle.
But what happened to the vaunted “inseparability” of economic freedom and political freedom? The fact is it never existed. “Economic freedom” has been sold in the U.S. as “inseparable from” and “indispensable to” political freedom and democracy because in that manner big business can better protect itself from the popular opinion. This is a high-handed lie worthy of Goebbels. “Economic freedom” is merely a felicitous euphemism of modern coinage for the market freedom of entrepreneurs, speculators and big property owners to do as they please, while the state piously withdraws to the minimalist function of’ “maintaining order, protecting private property, and enforcing contracts,” which is quite fine as far its the “haves” are concerned.
“Economic freedom ” and “political freedom”–at least in the historical epoch of capitalism–are neither inseparable nor indispensable to each other. Indeed, left to their own devices, they tend to move in profoundly antithetical directions. Real political and economic democracy represents a threat to concentrated economic and political power; the interests of the average working citizen simply do not jibe with those of the average oligarch. No amount of’ propaganda can deny that basic truth.
4 “Capitalism is the most efficient, rational, and productive system of economic organization.”
The immense superiority of the free market over socialist planning is simply taken for granted by the American media. Socialist countries are routinely depicted as economically backward, problem-ridden, and filled with dour-faced citizens eager to defect to the marvelous West. Images of consumer penury are frequently trotted out, while the corresponding historical contexts, which go a long way to explain these scarcities, are carefully expunged. Who hasn’t seen photos of barren socialist stores, their empty shelves an eloquent testimony to that system’s putative incapacity to “deliver the goods”‘?
Comparisons between capitalism and socialism are by definition a complex and slippery matter, informed to say the least, by divergent values. It is therefore not surprising to find that the topic presents rich opportunities for propagandistic manipulation. The following parameters require attention. For example, the “traditional” failure of Soviet agriculture and Russia’s desire for western technology serve here as prima facie proof of socialism’s unreliable and disappointing performance. Yet several factors are routinely left out or insufficiently noted. Take geography, for instance. Russia is three times the size of the continental U.S., but its topsoil is of much inferior quality, and the arable land scarcely one-third the size of America’s, a situation compounded by far less mechanization than in the U.S., the result of a far less mature industrial base, and frequent dislocations caused by war and isolation.
These circumstances are apparently not worthy of mention when shouting about the “failure of communist agriculture.” (What about the horrendous failure of agriculture in the underdeveloped capitalist countries?) Then there are grave omissions concerning history. As the capitalist press burrows deep to unearth every possible problem–real or imagined–afflicting the new nations, they systematically fail to mention the incredible burden of poverty and backwardness (“underdevelopment”) which the new regimes inherited from the deposed old order–an unholy mixture of superexploitative capitalism, feudalism and colonialism supported to the bitter end by American power.
Further, it is rarely mentioned that the very real hostility of the encircling feudal-capitalist powers has often meant tremendous internal dislocations in the countries attempting to construct socialism, even mildly progressive structures (Cf. Guatemala, 1954-5; Chile, 1973, El Salvador in the 1970s/80s, etc.). Russia herself provides the classical example. By mid-1918, less than a year after the seizure of power by the revolutionists, it was evident that an alliance between the major western powers and the native whiteguard counter-revolutionaries was seeking ways to overthrow the new regime.
Eventually, expeditionary forces from Great Britain, France, Japan, the U.S., and later Poland, made their way to Russian shores, and without even bothering to declare war, proceeded to intervene in that country’s civil war. American troops stayed on in Vladivostok until 1923, and the U. S. government refused diplomatic recognition until 1933, almost a decade after the rest of the other western powers had come to terms with the new reality. Cuba and Nicaragua provide more recent examples of all-out capitalist hostility and strategic economic and political warfare. The former has been the target of well-documented maneuvers to strangle its economy including a still-standing blockade; overt attempts at overthrow through military intervention and constant harassment by CIA-financed counter-revolutionary bands in and outside the country.
This policy against Cuba–the product not only of American inveterate anti-communist reflexes, but of allowing US foreign policy to be hijacked by a Frankenstein of their own creation, the rabidly reactionary Cuban exile lobby, has resulted in extraordinary dislocations in the Cuban economy, including a huge amount of money and manpower diverted to defense, serious problems in the healthy development of critical institutions, and a rather problematic dependence on the Soviet Union for sheer survival. For her part, Sandinista Nicaragua is confronted with similarly grave dislocations as the U.S. and its corrupt allies in the region openly threaten “destabilization,” while waging internal sabotage and even open war to keep her and the rest of Central America in the imperial fold. As usual, Nicaragua’s example might spread. It should be noted that capitalism itself never had to confront comparable enemies during its gradual development. First, because in its infancy technological capabilities did not permit rapid and devastating interventions by the feudal powers. Second, because the values of Capitalism were not, after all, so dramatically different from the ancien regime’s, and hence did not require the mammoth social and personal transformations necessitated by the socialist revolutions.
Feudalism and capitalism have regarded private property and its accompanying gross class and economic inequalities as ”normal” and just, even though the justifications and the rhetoric differed at points. Both held surprisingly similar visions of human nature, philosophy, the march of history and other subjects. That is why–among other things–bourgeois revolutions failed to enfranchise all citizens, failed to liquidate the social roots of injustice. Moreover, capitalism took several centuries to reach the stage of institutional maturity where distinctly progressive fruits could be observed, accompanied by a plethora of social ills and already evident tendency to gross exploitation, all of this lucidly chronicled by writers like Dickens and social reformers of the day.
The capitalist record is still quite contradictory in many regions of the world, if not uniformly bad for the majority, where the economy is continually buffeted by recessions, high inflation, endemic corruption and high unemployment. Not to mention horrendous inequality.
In fact, the U.S. itself, the citadel of world capitalism, as DK readers will promptly recognize, is also a land of pervasive crime and corruption; of huge and growing inequalities in economic and political power, (where poverty had to be “rediscovered,” however grudgingly, in the 1960s), and where tens of millions lack essentiall medical insurance, and where, on any given day, up to 18% of the population spend their lifetimes struggling against under- employment and unemployment, not to mention job and social insecurity in older age.
Of course, these flaws, having been long ago imputed to the “inevitable” order of things do not provoke the kind of furor reserved for socialist construction. In the midst of all the chaos and complexities involved in a thorough overhauling of social institutions, constantly besieged by enemies within and without, these hitherto backward countries are supposed to produce overnight perfect societies, with the kinds of economic goods and political graces that would satisfy the most exquisite sensibilities of critics in the capitalist metropolises. The media are thus happy to compare the market system performance with the harsh conditions of the past, or with that of half-asphyxiated socialist models–both of which, as in a game of crooked crapshoot, guarantee a flattering outcome. But what they will not do is to measure the US economy, for example, against its own potential under a much more egalitarian distribution of socioeconomic power.
Capitalism’s actual performance in the Third World.
BUT, even if we assume for a moment that all is well in the industrialized capitalist core, a statement already amply negated by the social convulsions seen in the recent past, how do we explain the fact that the so-called Third World–the capitalist “periphery”–remains perversely bogged down in massive poverty, despair and political repression? Is it not capitalist enough? In reality, a reality the media carefully avoid or deny, this sorry state of affairs flows directly from capitalism’s inherent nature as a profoundly inequitable, class-divided system in which most power and wealth are hoarded at the top.
Perhaps inevitably, the same class division that afflicts the capitalist nation pervades the society of capitalist nations. The result is two sets of nations: the rich and the poor, with the latter greatly impeded in their development by lack of technology and political, cultural, and economic dependency or “colonization,” now assured by a “neocolonial” relationship that perpetuates unfair terms of trade between the two spheres. As the American media look away from this embarrasing picture, two stratagems are used to cushion whatever bad p.r. might manage to bubble up to the surface.
First–and simplest–is to avert the eyes from anything genuinely positive and encouraging taking place in the socialist world. This is the old technique of omission. Thus few Americans are aware that Cuba–despite unrelenting pressure from the world’s pre-eminent superpower–has managed to stamp out widespread illiteracy and malnutrition; childhood and adult prostitution (although these days, due to prolonged scarcities induced by the blockade, some women choose to prostitute themselves to complement their normal income. –eds), high infant mortality (it is ahead of the U.S.), rampant political corruption and repression, and dramatically reduced all forms of crime–from petty hooliganism and thievery to the organized variety, while offering its citizens guaranteed employment, free medical care and education at all levels, and the best income and wealth distribution in the hemisphere, certified by the OAS and UNO, not exactly socialists shills.
These impressive facts are simply not sufficiently “newsworthy” to most American editors. The second trick in the media book is to concentrate attention on GNP growth and the adoption of capitalist models of development (about which more later), trotting out, from time to time, the “economic miracles” that have supposedly taken place in Brazil, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other capitalist showcases. Leaving aside for a moment the crucial fact that these “success stories” frequently have a pretty shabby underside of political repression and superexploitation, it should be noted that the bottom line is a notoriously inadequate indicator of economic conditions for the majority.
GNP figures, as normally peddled by American journalists, rarely shed light on a crucial aspect of economic performance: the manner in which the national income and wealth are distributed among different sectors of the population, and whether or not the goods and services produced are allocated to internal consumption or export.
As it turns out, while Brazil, for example, has indeed expanded its GNP, it has also concentrated a greater portion of the national wealth among a tiny minority at the top and most of its output is earmarked for exportation. The result: a larger GNP coupled with greater unemployment and misery among the masses, a fact amply documented by a recent UNO report on the Southern Cone countries (Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay), and a variety of reports published by none other than the Catholic Church’s office of social affairs.
4B. The best possible product?
While the system’s propagandists argue that the market system can and will give the consumer as good a product as the state of the art will allow, an essential contradiction of capitalist production is niftily overlooked. The consumers want, by and large, the best, longer-lasting product their money can buy. For instance, they may want to see razor blades capable of lasting 1,000 shaves or more; or cars which do not begin to self-destruct before they are fully paid off. The catch-22 is that the capitalist producer has something else in mind. The capitalist is in business not to meet society’s needs and maximize the “end use” of his products but simply to make as much money as possible. As the CEO of US Steel once proclaimed to an approving audience of shareholders, “We’re not in the business of making steel; we’re in the business of making profits.” (Since these frank words were spoken, US Steel has gone on to morph itself into an entirely different kind of company, with steel now only a relatively minor part of the portfolio of assets, all under the name of a new conglomerate rubric, the USX corporation. “In October 2001, USX Corporation shareholders voted to adopt a plan of reorganization. The plan resulted in the tax-free spin-off of the steel and steel-related businesses of USX into a freestanding, publicly traded company known as United States Steel Corporation — the name of the corporation when it was established a century earlier. The remaining energy businesses of USX became Marathon Oil Corporation.”--eds.)
Thus, in his pursuit of maximum profits, the businessman will promote, as much as circumstances will permit (i. e., consumer knowledge, brand loyalty, competition, government oversight) a product that will insure the highest possible frequency of purchase. The two sides have therefore incompatible agendas. In a capitalist economy, however, the final decision of what to produce, and how, is left to the commercial corporation. Hence, under monopoly conditions, the “better,” “longer-lasting” features of products will be more often than not quietly scuttled. Indeed, as GM itself helped pioneer, at times it is necessary to inject “built-in” obsolescence in order to energize demand. Or just ignore and cover up products flaws that may cause death and mayhem.
It follows that if the capitalists, as a class, are not too sanguine about the introduction of genuinely better, longer-lasting products, they will not be too eager either to finance or introduce technologies that make these very products possible. (The world’s costly addiction to petroleum is a prominent example of this, but far from the only one. Humankind could have moved to pocket-friendly, environment-friendly non-petroleum sources of energy a long time ago but the industry’s clout has blocked any real moves in that direction and a largely prostituted political class, worldwide, has seen to it to preserve what amounts today to a deliberate ecocide.)
The upshot is a very erratic rate of technological innovation and one which is once again left entirely to the whims of profit maximization instead of social and ecological benefit.
4C. Automation vs. jobs
This is a hugely important topic, and one that holds major clues to the supposed “riddle” of job creation and destruction, in other words, the actual level of employment we find in any society.
Despite the social and historical importance of this topic, the formidable American media continue to cover it for the most part inadequately. The typical treatment is an article that while dwelling on the various aspects that surround the introduction of a new, labor-saving technology, including the resistance and suspicion so often manifested by workers, fails miserably to make the essential connection: that automation need only cause unemployment and social strife under capitalism.
We should recall that machines were invented by humanity for three essential reasons: to liberate mankind from unnecessary, back-breaking toil; to increase social leisure; and to increase the quality and quantity of production (thus permitting improved social consumption). As a rule, however, the introduction of labor-saving devices under capitalism has curious, it not utterly perverse, repercussions.
Consider a new machine destined for shoe-manufacturing. Working with the old technology and a workforce of 100, Super-Capitalist Shoes, Inc. turns out 10,000 pairs of shoes per month. Now enter a new generation of machines. The firm in our example decides to purchase two new totally automatic machines that will increase production to 100,000 pairs, a tenfold increase in output, but will utilize only 60 workers, thereby laying off 40% of its labor force. Here we have a typical capitalist “contradiction.” On the one hand we have a much larger output and higher incomes for the very few, the social pyramid apex, chiefly connected with the private ownership and administration of the business enterprise (and the machines). On the other we have unemployment and lower consumption for the many, chiefly the workers’ side. This is the result of social relations not some inexorable economic law. Such social relations, enforced by the state and its coercive apparatus, create therefore an incurable process of inequality and poverty for the majority, issuing from the very core of the sociopolitical engine.
Naturally, if the fruits of higher productivity were distributed more fairly, ordinary citizens would have a great deal more of leisure time to develop their other personal dimensions. Under capitalist relations, with the capitalists in the saddle, there is no real leisure time for the majority, unless we are prepared to call unemployment a form of holiday.
For as automation spreads through the economy, more and more workers will be knocked out of the job market permanently or semi-permanently, depressing consumption precisely as more goods are being turned out! Thus, under capitalism, a fast rate of technological change and aggressive investment in labor-saving machines may actually help trigger recessions. (Question for capitalist purists: What would the corporate overseers do without liberal/socialist ideas such as unemployment insurance, federal retraining programs, income maintenance programs and other “built-in economic stabilizers?”) And by the way, keep this little fact in mind: No amount of retraining will guarantee a worker a job if the rate of job creation starts falling too far behind population growth.
4D. Whose fruit? Capitalism’s or modern industrialism’s?
The rise of the capitalist mode of production is intimately linked to the spread of the industrial revolution and the modern methods of socialized production, but the time may have come to try to separate the fruits of each. Capitalism’s defenders are understandably eager to credit capitalism as the major, it not exclusive reason for today’s affluence, such as it exists. Accordingly they have fetishistically invested private property with magic qualities it doesn’t possess. Their position may be boiled down to the notion that society’s optimal use of resources can only be secured through the subjection of science and industrialism to the regime of private property. In their eyes, entrepreneurial self-seeking is the best engine for invention, exertion, and abundance. While this may be true of some very specific cases, it is hardly true with respect to the modern mega-corporation, typical of mature capitalism, wherein private ownership is retained by a relatively small circle of speculators or absentee owners, several generations removed from the actual day to day management and production of the firm. In fact, it is obvious that a modern factory or a plot of land can be put to work to maximum benefit under either private or collective ownership, as long as the proper inputs and techniques are observed. (Including the proper ethical and ecological rules to direct industrialism, whose destructive power is enormous.)
4E. Selling us the rationality and efficiency of “Free Enterprise”
The American media have never given up singing the praises of the market system’s vaunted “efficiency,” its “democratic nature” (due, it is argued, to the rather spurious notion of “consumer sovereignty” or “marketplace balloting”) and, above all, rationality. Despite an economy in which corporate giants such as GM, Ford, U.S. Steel, prominent banks and other Fortune 500 firms routinely post losses totalling billions of dollars (Not too long ago GM and Chrysler necessitated a huge government bailout to avoid insolvency), the carefully-cultivated myth of private enterprise efficiency and superiority over public enterprise dies hard.
Three areas must be de-emphasized to accomplish this feat. First, the eyes must be averted from capitalism’s chronic underemployment, misemployment, and unemployment of human and capital resources (workers, land, machines, etc.) as this represents a total waste to society estimated by even mainstream economists at hundreds of billions of dollars per year, if not trillions, not to mention the unquantifiable suffering inflicted on people who must get by with totally inadequate incomes.
Second, the decision to allow the profit motive to control society’s production choices in quality, quantity and composition of output introduces further waste through the squandering of resources in luxury, frivolous, or “unnecessary” goods; entire categories of “throwaway” products designed ostensibly for consumer convenience (i.e. cheap cameras); or simply questionable production inherent in capitalism, such as, the paper spent every year on socially useless [and environmentally deleterious] advertising campaigns, glossy fashion magazines, catalogs, etc.
Third, there is a whole host of “social inefficiencies” or “externalities” inherent in the operation of a capitalist economy that go beyond the mere pollution of the air, land, and waterways. Capitalism’s selfish ethic and infamous rat race literally pollute people’s lives and decompose the social fabric which ought to hold the community together. Indeed, the colossal crime, mental health, and unemployment problems that plague the U.S. demand substantial social outlays everywhere for their mere control, let alone eradication. (Consider for a moment what the U.S. spends annually on prisons, rehabilitation, psychiatric counselling, courts, law-enforcement and welfare. These social costs, by the way, are counted in the GNP as “positive” expenditures). In fact, with alienation and mental dislocation running exceedingly high, the US easily outstrips all other industrialized nations in the incidence of serial and mass killings. In the international arena, endless wars and meddling in other nations' business compels trillions of dollars in needless and criminal expenditures, all the while the nation's infrastructure and renewal technologies are underfunded or put on hold.
Such inherent sociopolitical deformations cannot be expected to run for long without some opposition. And it is precisely in anticipation of such reaction by the public that the capitalist-dominated state makes preparations to put out the fires well in advance. Sometimes this takes the form of a beefed up police state, as we see now in practically all “Western democracies,” the 9/11 tragedy having given the ruling orders everywhere the ideal pretext to build a massive surveillance and repressive apparatus. And should not that suffice to control popular disenchantment, or the yearning for real democracy, an even more brutal Frankenstein is already being abetted in many areas of the empire, including the home front, fascism.
The drift toward authoritarianism and plutocratic tyranny cannot be arrested, only slowed down or momentarily interrupted given the essentially undemocratic nature of the system. As I said in another essay (Understanding American Capitalism) living with capitalism is like living with a sociopath in the room, a murderous maniac who bears constant watching.
Lastly we can argue that there is also a very real, not merely metaphorical, waste of life–the average worker-consumer’s life, that is–as a result of deliberately shoddy products, monopolistic prices, and built-in obsolescence, all of which force people to work two, three or more times than necessary for the same standard of living. This waste and relative overprice, in addition to the already gross underpayment received by ordinary citizens under capitalist social relations, whereby, by design, a disproportionate piece of the pie goes to an ever shrinking minority at the top of the social pyramid.
In the same essay mentioned above (Understanding American Capitalism) I quoted my colleague, Dr Susan Rosenthal, who summed up the problem of productivity’s theft by the capitalists rather brilliantly:
By 2000, U.S. workers took half the time to produce all the goods and services they produced in 1973. If the benefits of this rise in productivity had been shared, most Americans could be enjoying a four-hour work day, or a six-month work year, or they could be taking off every other year from work with no loss of pay. (See, Globalization: Theirs or Ours?)The lives and money wasted, the fear and alienation, the sense of powerlessness and constant insecurity that characterize a normal existence for a very large segment of the population (have you ever come across one of those insurance ads reminding you how vulnerable you are to this or that in America, from the shortcomings of Medicare to your funeral expenses?)–these are all hidden, unacknowledged, social taxes that we all pay for the privilege of living under capitalism.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
First trained as an economist, media critic, animal defender, and social justice activist Patrice Greanville is founding editor of Cyrano’s Journal Today and The Greanville Post. For further reading on these topics, please go to: CYRANOS JOURNAL—The Premiere Issue.