The Sacrificial Rites of Capitalism We Don’t Talk About

By Lynn Parramore, Senior Research Analyst at the Institute for New Economic Thinking. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

Every society has at least one dominant story. Think of it as the official line: Here’s who we are, what we’re doing and why. But if you pay attention, you may notice other stories, too. Stories that circulate below the radar — and sometimes right out in the open — contradicting the official narrative. Most people don’t openly acknowledge them, but the signs are everywhere.

Think of Catholic saints beaming their polytheistic, atavistic messages on brightly colored church windows. See the majestic Mary, whose exaltation helps to hold at bay the tensions of a monotheistic, father-centered religion officially in denial of the divine feminine. The Queen of Heaven papers over gaps in the main story, making it more appealing, more workable.

The Church needs Mary. Without her, the dominant story might fall apart.

So deployed, counter-narratives are not necessarily a threat, but can serve to constrain a system’s instabilities, balance its tensions. Supritha Rajan, an English professor at the University of Rochester, sees the dominant story of capitalism working in this way. Part of a wave of humanities scholars taking a closer look at the meaning and history of capitalism, her book, A Tale of Two Capitalisms, reveals how the fields of anthropology and economics, along with the literary form of the novel, which developed together in the late 18th and 19thcenturies, cross-pollinated each other and worked in tandem to investigate and offer new theories about human nature and culture. Together, they helped create a new story for the citizens of an emerging world.

Rajan was born in India and emigrated with her family to Massachusetts at the age of seven. She is attuned to how the dominant narrative of capitalism appeared at the height of Britain’s colonial power, a time when major thinkers often looked to far-flung countries like India as sites of static, superstition-ridden, “primitive” cultures that the capitalist system would render obsolete.

Capitalism’s official story, Rajan explains, charts a linear progression from magical-thinking hunter-gatherers doing their “trucking and bartering,” as Adam Smith would have it, to today’s rational global capitalists engaged in free competition. This story insists — and here we come to a tricky part — that when individuals act in their own interest, the best results occur for everybody. Millions of self-centered actions add up to create an equilibrium that gives birth to a society that is fairer and more stable, creative, and abundant than ever before.

Quite a tale! But far from the whole story, says Rajan. She warns that accepting it at face value blinds us to the ways it damages our lives.

Rational Agents, Ritual Actions

Rajan charts the development of anthropology as a distinct field of study at a time when practitioners tended to separate things like ritual and magic — often performed communally — from the main flow of modern life. By then this stuff belonged on the periphery, contained, perhaps, within a few hours at church on Sunday or in entertainment halls. Anthropologists held that the relegation of the “irrational” to the margins was what distinguished advanced societies from the backward places where such activities remained central to life.

Rajan started with a hunch that magical rites, sacrificial rituals, and sacred values were not just relics of a pre-modern past, but actually woven right into the story of capitalism from the beginning. They exist everywhere under our noses, popping up in everyday economic activities and permeating even the high-tech exchanges of the global marketplace. What we are taught to think of as irrational and rational are actually mobile, flexible categories that continuously overlap.

To test her hunch, Rajan revisits the time when capitalist speculation and credit was replacing Britain’s traditional land-based economy. Technologies like the telegraph were collapsing time and space, and social life was morphing from extended kinship models to the nuclear family we know today. At this time, anthropologists were shaping a story that human society developed from a focus on primitive religion to the embrace of scientific rationalism. Any pre-modern ideas that might appear in the new forms were supposed to be merely fading ghosts.

Political economists, she notes, went even further: They insisted that the capitalist economy had exorcised these ghosts altogether. The new human being was hailed as “homo economicus” — a rational person who pursues wealth for self-interested motives. He, for such a being was imagined to be male, belonged strictly to the realm of the profane.

The great Victorian novelists, who were very much engaged with these developments, sensed that something was not quite right in the story. They noticed that capitalism was producing not just abundance and stability, but inequality, alienation and misery. Yet in criticizing the new system, they tended to accept and even buttress the separation of categories of experience insisted upon by social scientists. Thomas Carlyle’s famous condemnation of the “cash-payment” as “the sole nexus” of capitalism, for example, posited an economic realm as one in which ethical and religious values hold no sway.

But was it really so?

Rajan takes up the case of Charles Dickens, often viewed as the great anti-capitalist of Victorian literature, who observed that a society of self-interested economic actors could produce tremendous horror. Ideologically opposed to various aspects of capitalism, he turned to sacred ideas like sacrifice and ritual to imagine a community invested in values like disinterestedness, reciprocity, and communality — the very values endangered by the capitalist model of self-interest.

In A Tale of Two Cities, whose plot begins in year 1775, Dickens depicts Paris as a city stuck in backward economic and social modes in contrast to the more productive, modern city of London. But in order for capitalism to work harmoniously in London, something of the religious sphere had to be added to the sauce. Dickens casts a woman, Lucie, as the person who takes the stink away from all the selfish business conducted by the men — a Victorian “angel in the house,” an emblem of all the non-utilitarian values that homo economicus supposedly had no use for. Lucie, like many other female characters in Victorian novels, is supremely compassionate and sacrifices for the greater good: she is homo communis.

Dickens makes this female homo communis the servant of homo economicus, keeping his house and guiding his better nature. Like Mary’s role in the Catholic Church, she makes the official story of capitalism more palatable and helps conceal its failures. Contra the popular view of Dickens as something of a radical, Rajan points out that with his storytelling, he reintegrates sacred values in a way that ends up helping capitalism to expand. (As a popular author selling books, she notes, capitalism was serving him quite well). What had been disinherited from economic thought and pushed out to the colonies returns to the city as the domestic woman who synthesizes market and non-market values. This move, Rajan argues, is a frequent pattern not just in fiction, but in all of economic thought. It’s a second narrative that conceals the gaps in the official story.

The Visible Hand

Like their novelist friends, early social scientists were not insensible to the possibility that a society of self-interested economic actors might end up in constant warfare. When they asked how the interests of individuals could be harmonized, they often ended up thinking about ethical values. Homo economicus might drive the story of capitalism, but political economists kept coming back to ideas like communality, consensus, reciprocity, and just distribution — even ritualistic behavior.

Rajan notes that theorists of economic equilibrium, for example, tended to present society as achieving a balance between self-interest and self-sacrifice for the success of the whole. Leading 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill and William Jevons, an English economist and logician, described the ideal modern capitalist as a person who has the discipline to make sacrifices — abstaining from short-term pleasures and working hard today in order to stockpile money for the future. This ethos of sacrifice becomes key to social cohesion and stability — just as it was, Rajan points out, in so-called “pre-modern” societies.

The ideas of sacrifice and sacred values also come to play in theories of labor. Adam Smith described labor as “the most sacred and inviolable” form of property a person owned, positing it as a sacred source of the nation’s wealth, the pious foundation of the economic system itself: “We sacrifice ourselves in our labor in order to have the gift of ourselves in return,” he wrote in The Wealth of Nations. Labor is sacrificed, sacralized, and regenerated. British political economist David Ricardo, Mill, and Jevons followed him in describing a circular, gift-sacrifice economy embedded within the labor theory of value.

John Ruskin, a critic of industrial capitalism, glorified the worker as a kind of holy martyr who ensures the reproduction of life and the stability of society through the sweat of his brow. In the creation of the worker-martyr, Ruskin bridges the rift between the secular and the religious. In colonized places, a herder sacrificing a cow to promote the well-being of the community would be considered primitive, but a modern person sacrificing her labor was something else entirely. (Rajan notes that Karl Marx also picked up the idea of labor as sacrifice, although for him it was obscene, rather than glorious, that capitalists accumulated wealth on the backs of sacrificing laborers).

Economists, despite their professed adherence to rationality, also continually presented economic forces as quasi-magical energies. Think of Smith’s famous invisible hand, a sort of god of the market that coordinates human actions and somehow overcomes atomized individuality. Rajan astutely observes that the notion of communality lurks here — people unconsciously coordinating their actions to arrive at a societal consensus.

Late 19th century economist Alfred Marshall went so far as to invoke the concept of medieval chivalry to explain how modern economic systems should function. In “The Social Possibilities of Economic Chivalry,” he criticized contemporary accounts of the free market and described a middle path between government non-interference and a systemic welfare state, calling on a “spirit of chivalry” which could drive people to combine self-interest with self-sacrifice. This model would function to uphold the paternalistic administration required for the British Empire.

As the discipline of economics continued to develop, Rajan shows that while professional practitioners might come to focus more on mathematics, scientific objectivity, and moving far from their roots in moral philosophy, they could never fully banish the old ghosts — chiefly because they weren’t ghosts, but central players in the new order. The modern capitalist system, she argues, can’t do without the ethics of communality, interdependence, and reciprocity that are officially associated with pre-modern, pre-capitalist societies. Market and non-market values always operate right alongside one another.

Finding a New Plot

If you have lived and breathed global capitalism since birth, examining its narrative can feel a bit like a fish analyzing water. But, as Rajan argues, we have to examine it because its flaws and strains are threatening to dry up the entire pond.

It gets tougher every day to deny the human wreckage wrought by capitalism everywhere it exists — the steaming heap of alienation, market failures, inequalities, and rigged outcomes. Proponents of globalization cheer unfettered capitalism as the vehicle for spreading democratic values, freedom, and reciprocal exchange, but in reality, as Rajan notes, entry and participation are not equally open to all. This reality is currently erupting into worldwide unrest and the rise of right-wing populism. Clearly, the official story and what happens on the ground don’t match: Lots of people work hard but get little benefit, while plenty who do not work at all get rich.

Belief that the magic of markets will result in global solidarity, progress, and wealth for all is sounding a bit like magical thinking.

The official narrative of capitalism is easy to recognize, but the second one is harder to see: You have to piece it together. Marx described capitalism as ideological false consciousness, but Rajan detects something more complex, arguing that if you can show the ethical ideas and the sacred, communal values baked into capitalism’s own paradigms and premises, you can begin to hold it accountable for those ideals in the globalized world economy.

For starters, we can acknowledge that human beings are not simply atomistic competitors, but beings that seek to share a common experience and fate. Perhaps that is why the Occupy Movement was such a heady experience for many. The slogan “We are the 99%” was a respite from the oppressive “I” — the painful anomie of individualism that the official story insists upon.

When we speak about this unspoken narrative of capitalism, we can give up pretending that moral and economic values are opposed or somehow separated. We can say clearly, for example, that the financial crisis of 2007-8 was not just a failure of markets, but a failure of morality — for what else can you honestly call it when predatory banks escape justice as ordinary people suffer? We can question who is doing the sacrificing, and for whose good the system is working.

We can also see how the strategic deployment of sacred values and ritual can be used to conceal harmful activities. In Silicon Valley, executives instill eastern values like mindfulness and meditation into workplaces in a way that covers up the exploitation of employees and consumers that many companies are built around. A firm may spy on people to turn a profit, but the espousal of sacred values (recall Google’s former “Don’t be evil” motto) helps hide the exploitative mission. We can call out executives who ascribe intrinsic value to people, even as they strip away what people need in order to survive.

If we can clearly see the double narrative at work, maybe we can insist that homo communis should not be the servant of homo economicus, but the master.

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  1. Sound of the Suburbs

    Is capitalism the problem, or do we just not know what it is?

    Did you know capitalism works best with low housing costs and a low cost of living?
    It’s obvious really.

    Employees get their money from wages and the employers pay high housing costs through wages, reducing profit and driving off-shoring.

    Disposable income = wages – (taxes + the cost of living)

    There is another term in the brackets with taxes.

    A new ideology had captured global elites and it told them just what they wanted to hear.

    Unbeknown to them, the whole thing was based on a flawed economics that had led them to believe small
    state, unregulated capitalism was something it never was.

    William White (BIS, OECD) talks about how economics really changed over one hundred years ago as classical economics was replaced by neoclassical economics.

    He thinks we have been on the wrong path for one hundred years.

    The Classical Economists had observed the world of small state, unregulated capitalism as it was in the beginning and it really was very different, but how were today’s elites going to know that?

    “But the rate of profit does not, like rent and wages, rise with the prosperity and fall with the declension of the society. On the contrary, it is naturally low in rich and high in poor countries, and it is always highest in the countries which are going fastest to ruin.” Adam Smith / Classical Economist

    “The interest of the landlords is always opposed to the interest of every other class in the community” Ricardo 1815 / Classical Economist

    Boy, is it different.

    You can’t get it working well if you don’t know what it is.

    1. Sound of the Suburbs

      They had the same problem with neoclassical economics in the 1920s.

      Richard Vague has analysed the data for 1929 and 2008 and they were even more similar than they initially appear.

      Real estate lending was actually the biggest problem in 1929.
      Margin lending was another factor in 2008.

      The belief in the markets, and price discovery, gets everyone thing that inflating asset prices equates to creating wealth.

      In the 1930s, they pondered over where all that wealth had gone to in 1929 and realised inflating asset prices doesn’t create real wealth, they came up with the GDP measure to track real wealth creation in the economy.

      The transfer of existing assets, like stocks and real estate, doesn’t create real wealth and therefore does not add to GDP. The real wealth creation in the economy is measured by GDP.

      Inflated asset prices aren’t real wealth, and this can disappear almost over-night, as it did in 1929 and 2008.

      Real wealth creation involves real work, producing new goods and services in the economy.

      Neoclassical economics predates the GDP measure and caused an old set of false beliefs to resurface.

      1. Sol

        Real wealth creation involves real work, producing new goods and services in the economy.

        Yes, very much in agreement with you. It seems we’ve forgotten what money is, that it has no inherent value itself. It’s just a mathematical means to denote value. Lasagna and surgery are valuable, money just answers the question “how valuable”.

        Say the US produces 70 gigawatt hours of electricity at $.17 per kwh, for an electric industry valued at $11.9m. (I know, yes, yes, reality has more zeroes, and also check my math, i may not be coffee’d enough for this.) Say China produces 115 gigawatt hours at $.06 per kwh, for an electric industry value of $6.9m.

        Now we get the fun of deciding whose economic production was greater. Ha!

      2. Ian Perkins

        “The real wealth creation in the economy is measured by GDP.”
        I thought GDP measured all kinds of unproductive activity.

        1. Sound of the Suburbs

          They believed in the markets in the 1920s and after 1929 they had to reassess everything.

          They had placed their faith in the markets and this had proved to be a catastrophic mistake.

          This is why they stopped using the markets to judge the performance of the economy and came up with the GDP measure instead.

          I’m not saying GDP is perfect, but it was a step forwards from using the markets and it’s the best thing we have at the moment. I think Michael Hudson has been doing some work on this to improve this measure.

          There has been a lot of cheating going on as well, to massage the numbers to look better than they are.

          GDP was low after 2008 and we (UK) added drug dealing and prostitution to boost it by 5%. The GDP stat. went up, the economy stayed the same.

          The stats. aren’t what they used to be.

          Part 4 : Loaded Dice

  2. Amfortas the hippie

    the Bull is just for show. Somewhere in a basement vault, there’s a stone effigy of a Grasshopper God…ravenous, all consuming,with no morality or ethics, save “i shall Devour”.
    for all the pretension of the economists, that their systems and models are “Just Like Physics”, some of us have known in our bones that there’s an infernal deity at the heart of it all….and that we, the workers, the poor and the Earth, Herself, are to be sacrificed to that egregore, in an ultimately vain, nihilistic attempt to satiate it.
    Systematic Bribery…along with pointing at and yelling about various scary Others…convinced a large portion of our neighbors that this edifice was Science, rather than the very religion their sacred texts warned them about. That right there is why so many Americans are incapable of Irony.
    My favorite Marxist word is “reification”….the act of giving an object or a concept a quality that it does not inherently possess.
    the greatest triumph of the instrumentalising, world devouring, alienating Machine is convincing so many people that the chains they wear are status symbols, and removing even the ability to think otherwise….instilling in them the belief that the fetishes and instruments and schema are more real than Reality…that they are Trancendental, like a holy mountain.
    That it cannot be challenged, let alone modified.
    I reckon this is the challenge that MMT faces…rendering the Grasshopper God into just another interesting primitive lump of worked stone, the product of human thoughts and hands.

    1. coboarts

      It’s one thing to realize that everything you’ve been taught is a lie. It’s another to realize the depth and breadth of the deceit.

    2. John

      You might reconsider your view of the bull if you read about the Minotaur.
      The Greeks understood the monstrous nature of the half human- half bull that could only consume humans for nourishment.
      That bull in Wall Street is a perfect symbol. The story of the Minotsur wisely points out the human agency in the story. With grasshoppers there is no human agency.

      1. The Heretic

        Perhaps the Vampire is the perfect effigy of modern capitalism. A creature that can appear as a respectable human, that slakes his bloodlust at night, who kills many victims but anoints a selected few into becoming other vampires.

        1. Amfortas the hippie

          i’ve spent an inordinate amount of time with grasshoppers the last 3 summers.
          they are the perfect critter for Moloch…and for global monopoly capitalism as currently configured.
          these eat garlic down into the ground, strip the bark from fruit trees, and are all up in the mesquite and beebrush in their millions.
          haven’t observed them eating all that much grass…and in fact, I’ve hidden my herbs and smaller fruit trees in grass i’ve allowed to grow up around them.(millet is good for this, it seems)
          they fill the same ecological niche as a prairie fire.
          mobile and voracious, consuming everything in sight.

  3. Off The Street

    A firm may spy on people to turn a profit, but the espousal of sacred values (recall Google’s former “Don’t be evil” motto) helps hide the exploitative mission. We can call out executives who ascribe intrinsic value to people, even as they strip away what people need in order to survive.

    One struggle in today’s world revolves around identifying and calling out the exploitative missions. Both steps are more difficult when there are active campaigns of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt to prevent or undermine engagement and communication. Critical thinking and commitment to human dignity never go out of style although they do have obstacles to overcome.

  4. Sol

    Game theory speaks of two classes of games; competitive, and cooperative.

    Competitive games are games of elimination. They have a strong, albeit limited, advantage to humans in their ability to measure.

    Strategically, it’s easier to get the competition eliminated via rules than to be reliably better-skilled, so if the game leaves that option even remotely on the table, humans seem to leap at it. Why bother with the fuss and effort of being the best when its easier to strictly limit who is allowed to play?

    I think capitalism’s greatest story is meritocracy. In reality, capitalism seems to despise merit for lowering the value of capital.

    Might be why it consistently dies from stagnation and entropy, as is a closed system’s wont. Possibly. I’m not an expert in game theory, i just read a lot.

    1. Hughf


      “capitalism seems to despise merit for lowering the value of capital”.

      Intriguing. Can you do me a favour and expand on that a bit?

      1. Another Amateur Economist

        Capitalism builds up capital to consume nature’s resources. (No consideration for nature.) It overcapitalizes and consumes nature until nature is exhausted. Then capitalism consumes itself. This is where we are now.

        An unregulated fishery is the perfect instance: People start to fish. More and more fish, more and better boats. It’s the race to catch the most fish. Until the fish can no longer sustain their population. Then it crashes.

        So there is this over developed, high tech fishing fleet, with no fish to catch. Meanwhile, the fishermen owe the banks for the money they borrowed to invest in their (now useless) boats. The banks repossess the boats, plus the fishermen’s houses they used for collateral. Except it is all now without value, as the whole point of the houses was to house fishermen close to the (now non-existent) fish. Even without owing the bank, they now have no income to maintain their houses. Or their living. I call it the: The Revenge of the Fish.

        For a sustainable fishery, the fish must be held first, ahead even of the fisherman, ahead even of his living, if necessary.

        The same with humanity and nature. Nature must be held first. But self-interested individuals, a self interested society, and in particular, self-interested capitalism, is incapable of the self-restraint necessary to do this. Thus: The Revenge of Nature.

        This actually seems to miss your question. But: Capitalism reduces all capital to food. Then to garbage.

        The Capitalist values the worker not for his work or his skill, but only for the profit that can be taken from it. He would have no use for Michaelangelo, except he could take a profit from the admissions fee to the Sistine Chapel.

  5. Anarcissie

    I am surprised that war does not seem to be mentioned above (or I missed it). It is clear from modern history that capitalism requires war, because in every phase of the development of global capitalism the leading states have been war-making imperial powers. That should not surprise us because capitalism is a configuration of the state, and not only is war the health of the state, it is the state. Internally, class, necessary to the state, is maintained by internal war (police action), and externally the polity is maintained and expanded by conventional war and imperialism.

    But war requires military organization, and successful military organization requires its practitioners to set aside their individual interests and to cohere as a group through sacrifice of the self. Paradoxically, the individuals who compose a military unit must suspend their individual interests to preserve their individual interests, or they will be destroyed, both as a group and as individuals.

    Practitioners of capitalist individualism look the other way as they hire or compel others to enter military collectivity to defend and extend their realm. But the repressed returns in monstrous form, and capitalist polities slide toward the fascism they have cultivated in their servants.

    1. Ian Perkins

      China is a war-making imperial power? Or China hasn’t been a leading state in the development of global capitalism?

    2. Travis Bickle

      Well, yes. Don’t give this line of thinking short-shrift.

      Anyone who has spent any time with senior mgmt in a big company knows how physically….aroused….these guys get when the chance comes to employ a military metaphor, or otherwise equate what they’re doing to the real thing, be it plan a sales campaign or buy out another company. On the most objective and obvious level, note how the usual managerial hierarchy of, say, Mktg Manager, Mktg Director, VP Mktg, (perhaps Sr. VP Mktg), leads to becoming a GM, which typically lines up perfectly in terms of reports and organizational responsibility with captain, major, LTC/Colonel, and Brig. General. Same applies north of GM as business units are organized into larger units led by a genuine, multi-division CEO.

      The professionalism of corporate america (even more so multinationals), hews closely to the military model mentally, which is essentially fascistic. When Union Carbide hit that mess in Bhopal, a careful cost/benefit was done, the cash-exchange was made (hat tip, Clauswitz), and they moved on. It happens everyday, as sale people (at every level of a company, really) negotiate to the bottom line. Refer to how Big Pharma is currently dealing with the blowback from opioids mktg.

      Even vine-swinging amateurs like Trump follow this model, he being the equivalent of one of the less capable warlords now running around, say, Libya.

      It’s all one system really, with artificial differentiations that only serve to distract us. But it’s all organic, and hardly done by design. Certainly no one person or cabal made things the way they are. This is the Human Condition as it progresses, ultimately toward negative time and space.

  6. Hamford

    Well if Wall Street’s recently unveiled “Defiant Girl” isn’t akin to the Vatican’s Virgin Mary?

    “[Wall street] needs the [defiant individual], otherwise their story may fall apart.” The story of thriving individualism in the face of the market is a huge fraud.

  7. Ian Perkins

    I’ve always thought there’s a contradiction right at the heart of this Homo economicus idea.
    According to the economics I learned at school, my self-interest should supposedly lead me to disregard others’ interests and so-called economic externalities. Yet avoiding climate catastrophe or ecosystem breakdown seems to be very much in my self-interest.
    I think the supposed rationality embodied in Homo economicus is in fact a profoundly irrational faith in market capitalism’s propensity to deliver collective good, an irrational belief that by just doing my job (a common excuse for all manner of things), I’ll benefit myself and everyone else.

    1. Abi


      And when you really think about it
      I) how did someone think this
      II) why do so many believe it

      1. Ian Perkins

        I’d guess
        I) Most people need a job in order to get by
        II) They may be aware that their job has negative consequences for society as a whole
        III) They sleep more easily when told that, in fact, by doing what they do the best possible outcome is achieved.

  8. Susan the other`

    Thanks for this link. Lynn Parramore’s review of Rajan’s book ‘A Tale of Two Capitalisms’ is so nice I read it twice. Really. This is a lovely essay.

  9. Jeremy Grimm

    [Comment to Amfortas at 8:39 AM] — I really like your image of a Grasshopper God — perhaps a Locust God. I think a statue in the old style of some of the Indian Gods with their many arms could present a powerful visual and conceptual attack on Neoliberalism [I am reluctant to call the present system Capitalism.] In contrast to John at 11:20 AM I believe there are considerable inhuman aspects to Neoliberalism. Corporate Persons have demonstrated inhumanity aggregating and amplifying the inhumanity of even the coldest inhumanity of their most sociopathic and psychopathic human servants. I also believe a new image is needed to replace the old images of Mammon or less used Moloch. We need an image that captures the full alien inhumanity of Neoliberalism.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      system selects for psychopathy.
      neoliberalism = anti-Humanism.
      the Opposite of Humanism.
      human bean=battery/interchangeable part.
      I am More than a widget.
      fuck the bean counters.
      eat them.
      Eat them all.

  10. Mattski

    Dickens anti-capitalist? No one thinks that. He was an apologist, as even his apologists acknowledge. Still, this is largely on the mark. More interesting, perhaps, to go directly to what development economists and theorists like Inkeles and Rostow thought–they went looking for people willing to sell out their fellows and tradition on behalf of business opportunities, and celebrated them as “modern men.”

    Of course, all such thinking takes place in implicit dialogue with socialist thought. All of American sociology can be seen as a response to Marx, who Parsons was obsessed with. Shocking how few actual sociologists you meet who have a clue about this. (Hell, about anything. The last three people who taught the Social Movements class at my university knew about the movement for food sovereignty and Via Campesina, for decades the world’s biggest social phenomenon.)

    Read Lefebvre (start with Marx’s Sociology) and you see that there are other huge domains of knowledge and potential thought being neglected. Guy was an enormous inspiration to the 68ers, pretty much neglected here.

  11. Tim

    “that when individuals act in their own interest, the best results occur for everybody.”

    That’s the new twisted version of Capitalism we are left with.

    Originally I would think the idea is allow everybody to do their best and on average the best will occur for everybody. It certainly is the case with Team sports (meritocracy).

    It got twisted when people decided that yeah, I’m go to do my best and I don’t care if the outcome is fair or not, I got mine; screw the rest of the team.

  12. eg

    I enjoyed this very much, thanks, though I wonder that no mention was made of Adam Smith’s very own “Theory of Moral Sentiments” which if I understand it correctly outlines the habits of mind (which I suppose would mean “culture”) that are required for human beings to live with one another profitably along the lines of his often misquoted “The Wealth of Nations”

    Without the “moral sentiments” capitalism degenerates rapidly into a war of all against all that cannot end well.

    Human beings are pack animals — this “individualism” stuff is just wishful thinking on the part of psychopaths and their fellow travelers.

    I would point out also that the “myth of barter” is nowhere to be found in the archaelogical record — transactions having begun as debt in the Bronze Age temples. Another “Econ 101” idiocy that needs to be thrown upon the trash heap of intellectual history …

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