Recent Items

Gaius Publius: Pathology, Khashoggi, Capitalism & Climate Change

Yves here. I have some quibbles with Gaius’s piece.  First, the disdain of upper classes for lower classes is hardly unique to capitalism.  This was a feature of ancient Greece and Rome, of feudalism, and landed aristocracy in England which slowly lost out to the rising bougeoisie during the Industrial Revolution. You see it, for instance, in a prettied up form in Shakespeare, in comic scenes where the low status characters are the butt of jokes, often for their mangling of English.

Second, there are versions of capitalism where the elites do not become as distant from everyone else, due in large measure to different social priorities. Japan has long recognized that in a market system where people need to sell their labor as a condition of survival, not having enough work to go around is destabilizing. Entrepreneurs in Japan are revered for creating jobs, not for getting rich. In Japan’s post bubble years, executives and top managers took pay cuts to preserve employment. The gap between entry level and top level pay, which was never as large as in US companies, narrowed further.

Gaius is correct, however, that in late-stage capitalism, American-style, the gap between the rich and everyone else has grown so wide that the rich deal do not live in remotely the same realm. They fly in private jets, They summer at second or third homes. They have servants do what most people have to do in part or in full for themselves, like cook, clean, run errands, shop, raise their kids.

In The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi described long form how market systems ground up social orders, and reformers would manage to impede that process enough to make the pace of change tolerable, if not still painful for many. For instance, we’ve repeatedly pointed out, the average wage for ordinary people fell during the first two generations of the Industrial Revolution in England.

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. GP article archive  here. Originally published at DownWithTyranny

Capitalism is an economic system that encourages people to act from the most pathological individual motives and promises the best social outcome.

Noam Chomsky said that our current ideology is producing a nation, a world, of psychopaths. From an interview with Rob Kall:

R.K.: Okay, so you have written and I am going to quote you here,

“if you care about other people that’s now a very dangerous idea. If you care about other people you might try to organize or to undermine power and authority. That’s not going to happen if you care only about yourself. Maybe you can become rich, you don’t care whether other people’s kids can go to school or afford food to eat or things like that. In the United States that’s called libertarian for some wild reason. I mean it’s actually highly authoritarian but that doctrine is extremely important for power systems as a way of atomizing and undermining the public.”

Now, since we last spoke I have been doing a series of articles on psychopathy, psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists and it sure sounds like you’re describing them when you describe people who don’t care.

N.C.: Well there is a huge propaganda effort that we are all aware of to try to turn people into psychopaths who don’t care about anyone but themselves. That’s not new actually. They go back a hundred and fifty years, the early days of industrialization in the United States. Working people were bitterly condemning the industrial system that was being imposed, the way it was taking away their freedom, and one of the things they condemned is what they called the new spirit of the age– ‘Gain wealth forgetting all but self,’– Exactly what you’re describing. That’s a hundred and fifty years ago and ever since then there have been enormous efforts to drive these sociopathic attitudes into people’s heads. [emphasis added]

About this, Chris Hedges adds from his personal experience:

At the age of 10 I was sent as a scholarship student to a boarding school for the uber-rich in Massachusetts. I lived among the wealthiest Americans for the next eight years. I listened to their prejudices and saw their cloying sense of entitlement. They insisted they were privileged and wealthy because they were smarter and more talented. They had a sneering disdain for those ranked below them in material and social status, even the merely rich. Most of the uber-rich lacked the capacity for empathy and compassion. They formed elite cliques that hazed, bullied and taunted any nonconformist who defied or did not fit into their self-adulatory universe.

It was impossible to build a friendship with most of the sons of the uber-rich. Friendship for them was defined by “what’s in it for me?” They were surrounded from the moment they came out of the womb by people catering to their desires and needs. They were incapable of reaching out to others in distress—whatever petty whim or problem they had at the moment dominated their universe and took precedence over the suffering of others, even those within their own families. They knew only how to take. They could not give. They were deformed and deeply unhappy people in the grip of an unquenchable narcissism.

I would take statements like that last one literally. We’re ruled by people “deformed and in the grip of an unquenchable narcissism.” Note: This isn’t just Trump he’s talking about.

Corporations As Force-Extenders for the Pathology of the Rich

Hedges’ observation certainly explains why executives at the Ford Motor Company would use a cost-benefit analysis to decide how much safety to put into the Ford Pinto, a car prone to explode from a simple rear-end collision. As one law student at Wake Forest University bloodlessly put it, “Should a risk/benefit analysis be used in situations where a defect in design or manufacturing could lead to death or seriously bodily harm, such as in the Ford Pinto situation?”

That cost-benefit analysis goes like this: Which is more expensive, to settle lawsuits resulting from death claims, or to upgrade the product so fewer people are killed? Human executives at Ford weighed the options and chose to settle the death claims instead.

See what I mean? Psychopaths.

Hedges generalizes the situation this way: “It is essential to understand the pathologies of the uber-rich. They have seized total political power.” He goes on to characterize rule by the super-rich as observed by such varied writers as Aristotle, Sheldon Wolin and C. Wright Mills. “Once the uber-rich take over, Aristotle writes, the only options are tyranny and revolution. They do not know how to nurture or build. They know only how to feed their bottomless greed.”

Keep “tyranny or revolution” in mind; we’ll come back to it.

In today’s world the wealth-producing engine of the super-rich is corporate capitalism. As I wrote some years ago, big corporations loot the wealth of the world so their true owners, the CEO class, can loot their corporations and buy anything else on earth they want or need. When only the rich have money, the whole of the rest of the world is always for sale.

Now that the super-rich have bought the U.S. political system, the last piece, their last lock on power, is in place. Tyranny or rebellion: if the political system can’t be recaptured in an orderly, electoral way, nothing but withdrawal of the “consent of the governed” can change course we’re on.

The Ubiquity of Assassination

Which leaves us where? Not in a good place. For another example of rule by psychopaths, consider the Khashoggi murder, but from a different perspective:

Tech executives withdrew in scores from a high-profile Saudi investment summit amid the uproar over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — but top Silicon Valley companies show no signs they plan to unwind their lucrative business ties with the country.

The oil-rich kingdom, with its long history of human rights violations, is the single largest funding source for U.S. startups — and a financial pipeline for companies like Uber, Twitter and Tesla.

It’s not just the Trumps of the world that live by death. Our liberal gods as well are steeped in blood (including the blood of cheered-on, murderous intent). The pathological desire to murder to gain wealth, to kill to retain power, is everywhere we look. To quote an old commercial, we’re soaking in it.

The Pathology of the Climate “Debate”

Which brings us round at last to the climate catastrophe we’re about to face, the single greatest world-historical issue in the world. As Dave Roberts pointed out here, climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation are not the same, either morally or in their results.

Mitigation is a collective and widespread effort by a society to lessen climate damage by collectively addressing the causes. Where will the money come from? The society as a whole.

Adaptation, on the other hand, is intensely local: What one town or state will need to adapt to climate disasters will be different, and differently expensive, than what another town or state will need. Where will the money come from? That too will be local.

A program of mitigation is collective and deeply moral; also deeply effective, to the extent that good choices are made, since the force of the tsunami itself, as it were, is lessened. A program of adaptation-only, however, is a program of abandonment, a program of “each to his own and look out below.”

Needless to say, we’re on the path of adaptation only, of not really acting until disaster is at the door, and have been for decades. And when the moment occurs when the waters do rise, the super-rich will only protect themselves, the poor being left to fend as best they can. “Who gives a crap about some imbecile?” said the CEO of Home Depot about anyone not like him. You can see this attitude as well in the discussions they have amongst only themselves.

Rule by psychopaths takes us to this place. So long as we’re frozen to inaction on our twin disasters, climate and wealth, this is what waits for us. We’re ruled by these people until we choose not to be, or events overtake us all.

Exxon On the IPCC Report

But let’s not close on that somber note. Let’s close instead with a humorous quote, with Exxon’s response to the latest IPCC report:

ExxonMobil CEO Depressed After Realizing Earth Could End Before They Finish Extracting All The Oil

…”Just think, one day soon, we’ll all be gone and that oil will still be there in the Earth, never to be removed, [said CEO Darren Woods]. It’s a travesty.” At press time, Woods announced ExxonMobil’s plans to quadruple its oil production in an effort to extract it all from the Earth while there was still time.

Ok, that was the Onion, but they’re never really wrong, are they?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

36 comments

  1. Synoia

    First, the disdain of upper classes for lower classes is hardly unique to capitalism. This was a feature of ancient Greece and Rome, of feudalism, and landed aristocracy in England which slowly lost out to the rising bougeoisie during the Industrial Revolution.

    The UK Landed Aristocracy retain their attitudes to this day. Regardez-vous le partie Tory.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Yves and Synoia.

      Synoia and I went to schools in England where this attitude was, if not encouraged, certainly not discouraged.

      I recall a series of careers talks organised for pupils with a couple of years of schooling left. The talks by manufacturers, at a time when industrial giants dominated the (new) FTSE 100, were poorly attended. The talks by “merchant” banks and Lloyd’s insurance brokers and “fashionable, not fish and chips”, regiments were oversubscribed. Upper class wannabes from the middle class were offended and made a show of being offended when it was suggested that they attend talks by industrial firms.

      One classmate, son of a naval officer, wanted to go into property and become a rentier. This was at the time of much real estate speculation, the “Lawson Boom”. Alan Sugar had just given up on building a computer manufacturer, Amstrad, and gone into property.

      Oddly enough, the genuine aristos were not like that. One classmate, who is heir to an earldom and later chaired the Scottish Landowners Federation, studied natural sciences at school and university and spent some time in industry before taking the reins of the family estate in the Scottish Borders.

      1. Oregoncharles

        I think your last clause explains the attitude of the “genuine aristos;” they’re basically farm managers. The ones that chose NOT to do that long since faded away.

    2. The Rev Kev

      I don’t think that the next generation of elite is going to be much better. Last year it came out that students from some of the UK’s most prestigious universities were going around and snapping selfies of themselves with poor homeless people while flashing large denomination bank notes in front of them. That same year, when there was a protest crowd going through the city of London, those working for financial firms were waving bank notes as the protesters below. In the long run, this will not end well.

      1. Olga

        Not quite (or, perhaps, fundamentally wrong). Feudalism differs from capitalism in some major aspects. For one, in feudalism, most folks were attached to land. Their lives were not easy by any means, but they typically could feed themselves. In villages, folks helped each other to build shelter. Feudalism existed before industrialisation, and with very different energy sources (and it was the change in energy sources that enable the growth of capitalism in England). Again, in the countryside – where most people lived – cutting wood for heat and even obtaining oil or candles for light was not out of reach for most. Judging by the village life, there was much more cooperation between the people.
        It may be more accurate to say that aristocracy is just another manifestation of a (bizarre) human desire to rule over others and to create hierarchies – but not to be confused with the economic conditions that underscored the various production/labour systems.

  2. JBird4049

    The Ubiquity of Assassination

    If you are American, I would not be focused on the Saudis, the Chinese, Russia, or some other country, but would be looking at the United States extensive history of violence of the rich, the powerful, businesses especially corporations and the various manicipal, state and federal governments upon any American individuals and organizations that sought reforms or even the enforcement of already existing laws and rights.

    Ministers, priests, business owners, politicians, unionists, civil rights advocates and so on and their various organizations. Everything from beatings, assassinations, blackballing from (any) work, false arrest and framed, destruction of businesses and offices, the IRS, anything at all. There was and will be very forceful efforts at denying the governed their right to revoke their consent.

  3. ronnie mitchell

    Great writing as usual, I’ve read and ‘shared’ that Chris Hedges several times but maybe I’ll have to read Down with Tyranny’s Gaius post for myself just to witness, and make note of, one of the rare articles that doesn’t find some way or another to shoehorn in something with a reference to Putin.
    DWT is great for the nuts and bolts of campaigns across the Country but even tho tRump has brought more sanctions on Russia and evicted more ambassadors from Russia than anyone else, gave the ok to issue lethal weapons to those rabid anti-Russian leaders in Ukraine, bombed Russians’ ally Syria (as Russia is there on defense), withdrawal from nuclear arms treaty with Russia and now NATO has the largest military exercises since the Cold War right on Russia’s doorstep but tRump is a tool of Putin.

    That list of examples is a helluva lot longer but at what point does this not exemplify McCarthyism , or for a more recent example, Maddow-ism? This tying virtually everything related to tRump is using valid arguments about the tRump, for which there are plenty of proven facts that need to be condemned and actively opposed, to V Putin as a collaborator whether or not there are facts to support it. The ‘defense contractors’ aka war mongers gotta love it
    This is flirting with nuclear war for the sake of political arguments that never talk about ‘diplomacy’, talking to the other side,taking the word of “anonymous sources say” as gospel even tho so any millions of people are dead and displaced across the world because the word of the same “sources”. Ya ever notice that none of those sources ever talk about peaceful alternatives?
    So I leave DWT as a bookmark but only for the glimpse into races across the Country, nothing else as it is a boon for the latest version of McCarthyism I grew up with in the 1950’s only now its with Rachel Maddow, DWT and those like Marcy Wheeler.

    https://www.truthdig.com/articles/some-of-our-biggest-cheerleaders-for-war-are-not-who-you-think/

  4. cnchal

    > . . . if the political system can’t be recaptured in an orderly, electoral way, nothing but withdrawal of the “consent of the governed” can change course we’re on.

    Easier said than done, but here is a baby step. Turn your mobile tracking device off for a week, buy nothing with it and use cash instead. Then do it the next week again and so on. Soon Mr Market will realize the jig is up and massacre the tech overlords on your behalf.

    That will kill two birds with one stone, because it will extend the financial massacre to the Saudis. The dumbest money on the planet deserves to die.

    I read a quick comment from Wuk the other day which went something like this, “every dollar is a bullet in economic battle”. Shoot wisely when you have to, and don’t let the psychopaths capture your bullets.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      There is another version of that saying.

      Every dollar is a bullet on the field of economic combat.

      So people can adopt and use whichever version sounds more compelling and poetic.

      Lernnit livvit luvvit. ( Learn it, live it, love it.)

  5. Skip Intro

    One might reasonably consider KSA (and Israel for that mater) as colonial bastions of the US empire, and embodiments of its political pathologies.

    (reply to JBird4049)

  6. Doug Hillman

    Hedges description of rich pricks reminds me of Tom and Daisy in F S. Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby. Other people are not real to them, merely resources in orbit, lacking legitimacy or intrinsic value and easily manipulated, discarded or killed without consequence. They view virtue in others as weak and stupid and their own vice as clever and noble. They are reckless with others’ lives and leave a wake of destruction for others to clean up. But in our new reality, if these mad men (mostly) are not stopped soon, then either by ecocide or nuclear war there may be no cleaning up.

    It is especially contemptible in the US — now a defacto criminal enterprise of war racketeers. Up to two thirds of the national budget is squandered on totalitarian espionage, extortion, blackmail, torture, and industrial-scale slaughter. This is the primary rotting foundation of filthy lucre upon which these smug rapacious psychopaths have built their towering soulless egos. Glaring evidence is the recent pseudoreligious worship of St John the Warmonger. Obama is just the latest war-criminal enabler to join the ranks of these reptiles, and Trump too is now being assimilated into the swamp

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Yes, this is a great line:

      They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

      1. Michael Fiorillo

        Yes, we used this quote while fighting the hostile takeover of the public schools in NYC and elsewhere, all funded by billionaires aligned with both political parties, under the euphemism of “education reform.”

    2. JW

      The Diamond as Big as the Ritz is the most hilarious fiction I’ve ever read. It should be required reading though it slides into racism in a few paragraphs.

  7. animalogic

    The most frustrating thing ? That a significant proportion of Westerners simply have no idea where the effective cause of most of today’s problems should be sheeted home to. The “Uber rich” are an abstraction, hidden behind “politicians”, “bureaucrats”, “companies” & “unions”….and other political epiphenomena. Thus – the continuing success of the “Right” in elections (Brazil the latest political grotesquery)

  8. Richard

    Environment and Society will be a forced loci for human set intent aka freewill and the barrel of the gun is no “won” butt fire earth aire and water…

    ( Change ) A set intent from false circular greed avarice of human mind in past/future psycho time acting out false discriminations at the expense of society and environment is what a set intent borne of capitalism is…

    So change the set intent is the plan and this time John Lennon cannot be murdered to stop the enevitable fear that will envelope the Uber rich as they no longer get along in a world based upon earthly brotherly love-

    Cheers after long thoughtlessness and thank a clean thoughtless mind for present climate change result, because no one can change mitigate or adapt n o w, and the true fact is what will survive the dimensional slip from psycho time faulty discriminators is those who clearly understand with their left brains and wait to see what flowers from the right [action]

  9. hemeantwell

    I’d like to know more about what passes for child rearing among the uber rich. It’s one thing for a ruling class to develop a nasty, demeaning hostility to the lower classes. It’s very functional, allowing them to be treated instrumentally, as disposable inputs to whatever sort of labor process — industrial, military — you might want to set up.

    But it’s something else when the sociopathy corrodes all of your relationships. That’s when narcissism is in full force. I’ve read plenty of case histories from mid-century psychoanalysis that starred a family in which one or both parents were remote, self-involved and so exacting in their expectations that their children felt they could only fail to approximate a model of perfection. Life then becomes a project of off loading a sense of inadequacy onto others. You’re constantly trying to empty a boat that’s gone awash with shame and longing.

    So my hunch is that Hedges’ recollections conflate some, blending together narcissistic personalities and class narcissism. Now, it might be that social competitive demands would induce narcissism in kids who were not set up for it early on. Perhaps the defense and growth of their class position requires them to amass as much social power as possible; like feudal lords constantly preparing for the next campaign, you can never know if you are powerful enough, what coalition of forces will be coming over the hill.

    1. barefoot charley

      These behaviors go back all right. Nineteenth-century children of the American rich who were insufficiently red in tooth and claw were commonly diagnosed with neurasthenia, which we might think of today as Henry-James disease. They were weak, depressed wafflers disappointing their parents by consuming the family fort(une) rather than multiplying it, as good American scions must. The presidential Adams family contained such disappointments, drowned in alcohol. Henry Adams’ wife Clover likely qualified. Eleanor Roosevelt’s father. Many others. If you weren’t a psychopath like Daddy, you were no damned good! And of course you knew it.

  10. Mark Alexander

    Hedges: “It was impossible to build a friendship with most of the sons of the uber-rich.”

    I had a similar experience when I was 16 and spent a month on a tour of Russia with a bunch of Choate kids in the summer of ’71. I was the only public school student in the group (long story). I was tormented by one of the Choate kids in particular the entire time. Chip, as he was known by his worshippers, never failed to let me know, at regular intervals, what a contemptible worm I was. I did manage to befriend another kid, though; he was the son of Polish immigrants, and was regarded with similar contempt by Chip. It was pretty clear that schools like Choate are less about education, and more about building early connections with other elites.

  11. DJG

    I was working yesterday with the Antifederalist paper, Brutus No. 1. As much as I admire James Madison’s style, skepticism, and clarify, I fear that his adversary may be the one who foresaw better what would happen to the U S of A:

    If respect is to be paid to the opinion of the greatest and wisest men who have ever thought or wrote on the science of government, we shall be constrained to conclude, that a free republic cannot succeed over a country of such immense extent, containing such a number of inhabitants, and these encreasing in such rapid progression as that of the whole United States. Among the many illustrious authorities which might be produced to this point, I shall content myself with quoting only two. The one is the baron de Montesquieu, spirit of laws, chap. xvi. vol. I [book VIII]. “It is natural to a republic to have only a small territory, otherwise it cannot long subsist. In a large republic there are men of large fortunes, and consequently of less moderation; there are trusts too great to be placed in any single subject; he has interest of his own; he soon begins to think that he may be happy, great and glorious, by oppressing his fellow citizens; and that he may raise himself to grandeur on the ruins of his country. In a large republic, the public good is sacrificed to a thousand views; it is subordinate to exceptions, and depends on accidents. In a small one, the interest of the public is easier perceived, better understood, and more within the reach of every citizen; abuses are of less extent, and of course are less protected.” Of the same opinion is the marquis Beccarari.

    History furnishes no example of a free republic, any thing like the extent of the United States. The Grecian republics were of small extent; so also was that of the Romans. Both of these, it is true, in process of time, extended their conquests over large territories of country; and the consequence was, that their governments were changed from that of free governments to those of the most tyrannical that ever existed in the world.

    [And then later there is the argument about what a standing army does to ruin a Republic…]

    1. Eclair

      Ah, lovely quote, DJG. We have devolved from a country of leaders who actually thought about the structures of power and government and wrote eloquently about their ruminations, to a county of rulers who shout, USA! USA! USA!

      The inevitability of it all is comforting.

  12. George Bailey

    When I was in law school one of my professors, Joel Bakan, was writing a book called “The Corporation”. It argues, convincingly, I think, that the corporation is itself structured as, and has the characteristics of, a narcissistic sociopath, as set out in the DSM psychiatric disorder manual. After practising corporate law focusing on global finance in London, NYC, Toronto, my only quibble with his thesis is he didn’t expressly spell out that sociopaths will usually rise to the top of a sociopathic structure like that. (If you mention the common good, a sustainable future, stuff like that in a boardroom you’ll soon be escorted out of the boardroom as a hopelessly naive lunatic.) And the corporations rule the world. (Bakan also made a documentary of the same name. A bit long and covers too many bases but worth finding and watching.) None of his work made much impact on many of my fellow corporate law students, but as someone who once really dreamed that an enlightened corporatism would somehow save us from environmental ruin, it is a useful book for a deeper understanding of our escalating crisis. I fear the sociopaths KNOW they are sociopaths and have been busy creating structures of power to make the world conform to and protect their values. And each other. It would be interesting to test our leaders for sociopathy and see the results?

    1. Jaundiced Bureaucrat

      I would add to your point that not only is it the organizational structure that promotes sociopaths becoming the apex predators of the corporate world, the bureaucratic nature of work in the corporation creates a dehumanized environment wherein those with anti-social personality disorders can thrive. Consider the drudgery of working in purchasing, human resources, pr, auditing, etc.; these don’t offer any intellectual challenge, often require you to do things simply because you’re told, and you’d have to be a tool beyond all tools to have a passion for any of them. The only things for people to be interested in, then, are workplace drama and/or the zero-sum politics that people have to play in order to advance. As a result, success is determined not by competence or output (since there’s very little to actually produce) but by influence and perception. And who better to succeed in this kind of cultural matrix than the classic con artist?

      1. Left in Wisconsin

        the bureaucratic nature of work in the corporation creates a dehumanized environment wherein those with anti-social personality disorders can thrive.

        Yes, but the issue isn’t the nature of the work, it is the nature of the corporation. In a well-run small business or a well-run government bureaucracy, administrative work can be a fulfilling career. Part of it is the sense of how the task fits into the whole.

    2. ChristopherJ

      Yes, George.

      Corporations enabled the pooling of money for business and introduced the concept of limited liability – the concept that the owners of (capital) corporations could (and should) not lose more money than they had invested, if their business went bad.

      Corporations enable rich people to veil their activities and hide behind the corporation’s non-human persona.

      A strong government, one that works for the people, would regulate corporations to death so that their concept of social responsibility, to give people good, well paid jobs, to not harm the environment, to make good products or deliver good services for a good price…

      Well, none of us know what that utopia looks like as there are no ‘strong governments’ – the very nature of those who see power – these are the wrong sorts of people to lead us. Our governments accept donations from the corporations and, inevitably, we get the results that we have.

      Only one way to take that power (and wealth) back, and we all know it.

  13. Henry Moon Pie

    Other than a general “Right on!” to Gaius’s piece, I have two points of response:

    I agree with Gaius’s point about how to deal with climate change but I don’t like his choice of words, i.e. “mitigation” and “adaptation.” His point seems to be that the moral way to respond to climate change is with a ” we’re all in this together” attitude that supports a collective response. The current–and immoral–way of dealing is “Better look out for yourself, bud,” which puts the burden of adapting to baked-in climate change on the individual, or at least the individual family. Gaius argues, and I agree, that this means the rich will do OK while the poor will bear the brunt. But “adaptation,” especially as used in the concept of Deep Adaptation, will be a necessary component of “mitigation.” We will all have to adapt our expectations and life choices if we are to meet this threat together. Maybe a better way of making Gaius’s point would be to contrast dealing with climate change with solidarity for our mutual benefit rather than competitively as individuals under a Laws of Manu approach.

    My second comment relates to Hedges’s experience with the rich at his New England boarding school. While disdain is certainly a factor, I’ve also found the rich to be surprisingly fearful folks who are convinced that nearly everyone they meet is trying to take their money. It limits their ability to respond to situations in a more empathetic and trusting manner. My freshman year in college, there was an opportunity to go to an “away” football game about two hours from our campus. None of my social group had a car except for one fellow with whom I had gone to high school (a Midwest prep day school). My roommate and I, both working class scholarship kids, brought it up to our transportation-enabled friend, thinking between ourselves but not saying to him, that we’d take care of the guy’s gas and buy him lunch if he’d take us. Instead, this fellow came back with an offer to drive tied to our agreement to pay him a per mileage fee down to the tenth of cent including his pro-rated insurance and wear-and-tear. He assumed that we’d take advantage of him without nailing every nickel down in advance. He was not a candidate for a gift economy situation. I’ve found that fear of the unmonied among most of the rich people I’ve been around, especially those who had inherited their stash.

    1. Phil in KC

      As one who has multi-millionaires and the occasional billionaire among my clients, I can tell you that they are extremely tight-fisted, indeed. Dickens had this particular kind of person nailed in the character of Ebenezer Scrooge. Demanding, unpleasant, and altogether shocked when you no longer jump at the possibility of them giving you an extra dime, that’s how these people roll. I don’t know that they are all sociopaths, but for most of them, they haven’t used their money. Instead, their money has used them.

  14. Ignacio

    I’ve often heard of NIMBYs as more conservative and radical that the ultra rich. Radical Centrists are also the explanation of Bolsonaro’s success in Brazil (no link but posted here at NC). So it iseems that these ultra-centrists migth be more dangerous than the ultra-rich, although the later are more responsible for the current situation.

  15. Oregoncharles

    “market systems ground up social orders”

    I think this reflects a category error, an important one I’d like to see discussed here. Markets and capitalism are not the same thing; they aren’t even the same KIND of thing – even though both capitalists and Marxists would like us to think they are, to their own benefit.

    In brief:* Markets are a mode of exchange, in which production and prices are feedback-regulated. They can certainly fail and have their own problems, but Yves is talking about capitalist systems, above. Capitalism, OTOH, is a mode of ownership; it describes the participating entities – potentially not in a market at all. It means that ownership and control are separate from participation in the enterprise. The opposite is worker ownership.

    Conflating the two is hard to avoid, because we live in a capitalist system that trumpets itself as a “market system” – even though a very degraded one.

    The familiar example of non-market capitalism is state ownership, as in Bolshevism/Communism. The bureaucracy are not the workers in the enterprises, plus it concentrates ownership and power. Another example is a highly monopolized private enterprise system. Monopoly cancels markets; for instance, we don’t presently have a market system outside certain narrow areas. One of the problems with markets is that they tend to concentrate ownership because they operate primarily by trial and error, eventually leading to monopoly and self-destructing. To maintain the feedback control, there has to be a countervailing force of some sort, normally government – though the above article suggests that Japanese culture ha had a similar effect.

    At the same time, we have examples of worker-owned enterprises, like Mondragon or two different retail chains around here, operating successfully within even our capitalist more-or-less market system; you could call that market socialism (JMG insists on calling worker ownership “syndicalism,” which is usefully precise but unfamiliar).

    Pure examples probably wouldn’t function, so it’s a matter of emphasis and which mode predominates.

    In the particular example of the Industrial Revolution, feudalism was “ground up” by the Enclosures and other measures that broke down traditional feudal relations. That was a precondition to the growth of predatory capitalism – which itself is pretty feudal. I suppose market systems could break down social orders, too, because feedback-regulated systems tend to have “minds of their own,” but they would do so far less if under control of the people in them.

    *And I do mean brief. My comment is full of elisions, in the interest of brevity.

    1. Left in Wisconsin

      This is a good comment but I think I would distinguish between “markets” and “market systems.” The original quote referenced Polanyi, who was making a specific claim about capitalism (but was not a Marxist): that if you organize society on the capitalist fantasy that markets are natural and self-correcting, disaster ensues. The specific markets he focused on were land, labor, and money. In each case, capitalism treated as market commodities things that were not market commodities.

      The “naturalization” of markets is a key ideological component of capitalism. That is how you end up with “market systems.”

  16. Oregoncharles

    I wonder what prep school Hedges went to. I went to one, too, but it wasn’t like that. Maybe it wasn’t for the uber-rich; we certainly weren’t. I experienced real friendship, and was accepted despite being one of the oddballs (we had our own clique). There were touches of adolescent ruthlessness, but no more than most high schools – maybe less, because it was a boarding school. I didn’t like it, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed high school back in Indiana any more; my brother did go there, and had his troubles with the school.

Comments are closed.