conversation #5—inquiry into capitalism

At last week’s meeting all participants arrived at a consensus that we should further explore the subject of capitalism at our next meeting on Wed. Nov 2. The following questions arose:

  • Who are the so-called 1%?
  • What is capitalism, and how might we ascertain its viability as we move forward?
  • What resources do people recommend to better understand capitalism and its effects on our world?

More questions will arise, and you are encouraged to add your own in the comments section below, as well as any resources you would like to share with our community.

But first, here are some numbers, graphs and statistics provided by Idyllwild Arts instructor Sydney Robertson that indicate the degree to which the wealth gap has mushroomed over the past decades.

From Business Insider, 15 Mind-Blowing Facts About Wealth And Inequality In America

Recommended readings and viewings:

Here is a list of some readings and documentaries that have informed my own particular view of our current economic system:

Wendell Berry:

Referred to as the “poet of responsibility,” Berry straddles diverse worlds. He is a man of letters, deep ecologist, activist and Kentucky farmer. At the heart of his economic philosophy is the notion that in addition to understanding and valuing the land that sustains us, we must also value the people who work it if we are to create a healthy economy. He believes that economies must be locally based if they are to deal responsibly with the complex needs of any given place: ‘meet local needs first, then trade the surpluses.’ He also continually stresses the importance of  affection in our work and relationship to place. If we don’t feel genuine affection for where we are and what we are doing, we will be led hopelessly and destructively astray.

Finally, he is a powerful advocate of practicing the discipline of nonviolence: “What leads to peace is not violence but peaceableness, which is not passivity, but an alert, informed, practiced, and active state of being. We should recognize that while we have extravagantly subsidized the means of war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of peaceableness.”

Online essays:

17 Rules for a Sustainable Economy

Thoughts in the Presence of Fear (a response to the 9/11 attacks and their relationship to globalization)

Compromise, Hell! (Economic WMDs are being used against our own people in a version of “freedom” that makes greed the dominant economic virtue)

In Distrust of Movements (I add this one for Ray’s benefit—and for anyone who understands how easily the most well-intentioned movement can get corrupted)

Books:

The Art of the Commonplace (a collection of his agrarian essays. This is a good introduction—but any of his books will prove to be great reading.)

 

David Korten:

Another author with a diverse background: economist, captain in the US air force during the Vietnam War, former professor of the Harvard Business School, Asia regional advisor on development management to the US Agency for International Development, board member of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, and publisher of YES! Magazine. While working in international aid, he grew increasingly skeptical of what he was witnessing. From Wikipedia:

Korten says he became disenchanted with the official aid system and devoted his last five years in Asia to “working with leaders of Asian nongovernmental organizations on identifying the root causes of development failure in the region and building the capacity of civil society organizations to function as strategic catalysts of national- and global-level change.” He formed the view that the poverty, growing inequality, environmental devastation, and social disintegration he was observing in Asia was also being experienced in nearly every country in the world, including the United States and other “developed” countries. He also concluded that the United States was actively promoting—both at home and abroad—the very policies that were deepening the resulting global crisis.

He formulated a view that Empire is the source of the inequity of wealth and environmental destruction that we face today. Again, from wikipedia:

…the development of empires about 5,000 years ago initiated unequal distribution of power and social benefits to a small portion of the population they controlled. He also argues that corporations are modern versions of empire, both being social organizations based on hierarchies, chauvinism, and domination through violence. The rise of powerful advanced technology combined with the control of corporate as well as nation based empires is described as becoming increasingly destructive to communities and the environment. The world is shown as about to face a perfect storm of converging crises including climate change, peak oil, and a financial crisis caused by an unbalanced economy. This will cause major changes to the current economic and social structure. These crises present an opportunity for significant changes that replace the paradigm of “Empire” with one of “Earth Community”. Korten’s “Earth Community” is based on sustainable, just, and caring communities which incorporate mutual responsibility and accountability.

With his most recent book, Agenda for a New Economy, he argues that we should let Wall Street, with its focus on speculative “phantom wealth,” die so that Main Street and “real wealth”— based on local resources and community— can survive and eventually thrive. He also makes a strong case that “free market” economists have distorted Adam Smith’s view of capitalism. Smith did not believe markets could function in a healthy manner if goods were traded across national boundaries or if any single business monopolized the marketplace.

Ten Common Sense Economic Truths (“The old economy of greed and dominion is dying. A new economy of life and partnership is struggling to be born. The outcome is ours to choose.”)

2009 interview on Democracy Now!

Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth — I have a copy of this at home for anyone interested in giving it a gander. It’s also available at the local library.

Corporations:

Why is everyone so up in arms about this issue of corporate personhood? Here are some resources that will help you gain a better grasp of corporate tyranny and its impact on our lives.

The Corporation — I have a copy of this DVD for anyone who wants to borrow it and host a screening. It asks the question, if corporations are people than what sort of person are they? The filmmakers run the DSM IV psychoanalysis and determine that corporations perfectly fit the diagnosis of a psychopath. Packed with entertaining history and interviews with everyone from Milton Friedman to Noam Chomsky, this movie shines light on the many ways that corporations have damaged our world and distorted our perception of reality.

Unequal Protetion: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights — Thom Hartmann explores the history of corporations, making the case that the Boston Tea Party was actually a rebellion against one of the world’s first corporations, Great Britain’s East India Tea Company. He examines the gradual destruction of The Commons, community-held assets ranging from parks to public education to our airwaves, and makes a convincing case that the 1886 Supreme Court decision that established corporate personhood may be a bogus misreading of the case.

Naomi Klein:

No exploration of capitalism is complete without including the work of Naomi Klein. You may agree with her or hate her, but her critique of Milton Friedman’s radical free market ideology ought not be ignored.

2010 TED talk — Here, she uses the Gulf Oil Spill as a launch point to explore the ways our economy encourages us to become addicted to risk with potentially disastrous consequences. “As a culture we have been far too willing to gamble with things that are precious and irreplaceable.”

The Shock Doctrine — This short film provides an overview of her most important work to date. See it to get a taste of what you’ll be in for if you delve into the book itself. Frankly, I found it so convincing and upsetting that I was only able to make it through the first quarter. For now…

No Logo — A fascinating critique of the rise of branding and its influence on our lives. Barnaby spoke eloquently about this at our first meeting, and Klein lays it out bare here.

Naomi Klein’s website.

Peak Oil:

Capitalism advances a fantasy of infinite growth, while ignoring the reality that we live on a planet of finite resources. Most economists ignore the implications of this basic fact. If you’ve not seen it yet, this short film from Richard Heinberg briefly lays out the argument made by the Post Carbon Institute and other largely ignored ecological economists that there are very real limits to growth.

Darwin’s Nightmare:

Perhaps one reason we’ve wandered so far down the destructive path of our current economic system is that many of the more dire consequences are far removed from our daily lives. This gripping documentary graphically depicts the dark side of globalization as it impacts Africa’s Lake Victoria. Here’s the scenario:

Some time in the 1960’s, in the heart of Africa, a new animal was introduced into Lake Victoria as a little scientific experiment. The Nile Perch, a voracious predator, extinguished almost the entire stock of the native fish species. However, the new fish multiplied so fast, that its white fillets are today exported all around the world.

Huge hulking ex-Soviet cargo planes come daily to collect the latest catch in exchange for their southbound cargo… Kalashnikovs and ammunitions for the uncounted wars in the dark center of the continent.

This booming multinational industry of fish and weapons has created an ungodly globalized alliance on the shores of the world’s biggest tropical lake: an army of local fishermen, World bank agents, homeless children, African ministers, EU-commissioners, Tanzanian prostitutes and Russian pilots.

Nightmare, indeed! This film is difficult to watch, but I believe it’s important that we do—not only so that we better understand the consequences of colonialism, scientific hubris and unregulated globalization, but also because it serves as a cautionary tale of what life could look like everywhere if we don’t find a way to reform the current economic system. It’s widely available (try Netflix or the library system for starters), and I have a copy at home if anybody would like to swing by for a cheery little screening of this dark but brilliant film.

Please post your own thoughts and resources in the comments section below. Include your name in the body of your comment, so we can know who is recommending what. Thanks.

4 thoughts on “conversation #5—inquiry into capitalism”

    1. Thanks for posting these, Dave. Although, I don’t consider myself a Marxist by any means, the first piece offer up some useful critiques of capitalism. The second piece seems to base its argument mostly on the Stanford prof’s contention that wages have not remained stagnant for middle and lower income people. Are the numbers he’s citing inflation-adjusted? Do any of you readers know what to make of this? It sort of contradicts everything I’ve read heard or read…

  1. Here is a basic and easy to understand overview of BASIC ECONOMICS.

    It is from Thomas Sowell.

    http://www.altfeldinc.com/pdfs/BASICECONOMICS.pdf

    He is a one of a few academic conservatives that I read today. He is very cogent in explaining the basic premiss of conservative thought much like William F. Buckley. Very different from the right wingers that are hevily influencing the conservative movement today

    Here is his website a Stanford University

    http://www.hoover.org/fellows/9767

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