On Capitalism and Ayn Rand, Part I

It has been too long since I expressed my thoughts to more than a small group of friends so I have decided to revive this blog, even if only briefly. Lately, what has been on my mind is capitalism and Ayn Rand – neither of which are very popular topics and neither of which I really should be thinking about with so many other projects to work on right now.

Lately they have become unavoidable subjects, especially capitalism. Nearly every Monday, Wednesday and Friday one of my professors finds a reason to critique capitalism and point out evidences of its “failure”. Rather predictably, he praises socialism to some extent. Though he is a kind, well intentioned man, I am becoming more and more impatient with his tangential ramblings. The overly gentle tone of his critiques reminds me too much of the repulsive characters in Atlas Shrugged. More than that, I am tired of hearing anyone call the current global economic crisis the “failure of capitalism.”

The economic state of the world is not capitalism’s failure, but our failure for allowing ourselves to be selfish, greedy and above all irresponsible. For naively believing that any economic system gave us the right to exploit the resources of the world (exploit not use), produce poor quality products and spend well beyond our means. We are all collectively guilty. I am tired of the academic community scapegoating capitalism, claiming that it enabled us and caused this.

No economic system is perfect. All systems enable human depravity. The greatest fault of capitalism is that in exchange for providing the greatest freedom for human productivity and ingenuity, it requires the most vigilance. To function healthily it requires people to constantly be responsible and humane. Consumers have to hold manufacturers accountable and the government does occasionally have to intervene but it also only needs to do so intelligently. (Meaning it should intervene to stop companies from exploiting workers or being fraudulent but bailouts may be going too far.)

To clarify, my frustration is not that capitalism is being critiqued. My frustration is with critics whom I feel are refusing to accept our responsibility for the monster that laissez faire economics breed. I believe along with Dostoevsky “that each of us is guilty before everyone…and [for] everything. I do not know how to explain it to you, but I feel it so strongly that it pains me.” Furthermore, I fear that people are searching for some perfect system, naively believing that once we discover and adopt it that we will no longer need to be constantly responsible. Instead, we will be able to be irresponsible with no consequences. Of course, they would never articulate this but I hear it in the undertones of their thought and critiques. Possibly I exaggerate too much, maybe they would be satisfied with a system that simply requires less work and in exchange offers less freedom and leaves less room for ingenuity. Both ideas horrify me.

I am fundamentally opposed to cheap/weak systems, systems that require less from us and give less to us. Systems that leave no room for true greatness or heroism, that are easy but not best. This is why I find myself refreshed reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Her protagonists have such a great capacity for greatness. I must continue these thoughts later.

7 thoughts on “On Capitalism and Ayn Rand, Part I

  1. The reason no system will work, in my opinion, is that we have a monetary system. Period. We allow ourselves to place an imaginary value on the resources around us, and then put our faith in the value of a piece of paper that is worth nothing more than the paper it's made of. And because we have placed a value on something worthless, we have enslaved ourselves to those who make this currency, since our money is merely a loan to the government, and the interest charged on the capital can NEVER be paid back, since the money doesn't exist (trying not to get deep in economic theory).

    Human beings were not meant to work umpteen hours a week in order to pay off our collective debt to a system of economic slavery. Capitalism, Socialism, Fascism; they are all symptomatic social programs that arise from the need to have a monetary system to control the people. Government, greed, human behavior: these are all merely symptoms. Take away money, and you take away these problems.

    You absolutely can run a society without money; something that wouldn't have been possible fifty years ago. We now have the technology to allow nearly every job a human being does now to be fully automated by machines. We have the technology to provide power to all the earth with sustainable energy forever(particularly solar and geothermal power).

    Without money, there is little need for laws, let alone government. Without money, there is no social class system, and therefore there is less crime, as almost all crime is necessitated by financial need. A society where people are not weighed down by work, by bills, by laws, by taxes; such a society seems too good, but it is certainly not unachievable. It wouldn't be perfect by any means, but it would certainly be better than what we have.

    Here's a website I have drawn most of my economic worldview from lately:

    http://www.thevenusproject.com/

    Read about this project. Here is also a movie to watch, which has started a sort of underground political movement (which I will also link), the ideas of which I adhere to:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7065205277695921912

    http://thezeitgeistmovement.com/

  2. Lindsey,

    I thought this is rather insightful. Many times it is easier to point to something or someone else and say that they are the problem.

    Lately I have been reading books dealing with the late 1800s and early 1900s. The people in those times worked 6 days a week for ten to twelve hours a day and struggled with being in debt to their grocer, doctor, general store, etc.

    Today many of us have the luxury of working around 40 hours a week – but we are in debt to our banker, credit card company, education loan lender, etc.

    The means of tender may change, the technology may change, but people are the same.

    As James 4 says “1What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? 2You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

    No system can ever replace heaven. We are responsible for ourselves in whatever circumstance that we find ourselves.

    Dan J

  3. Tod is so right, if we didn't have money, we wouldn't be greedy and would all love each other.

    In other news, you may be interested in reading my thoroughly postmodern critique of Marx. I'm not sure how much it would play into your discussion, since it is neither an argument for Capitalism, or a polemic against Socialism. Its just a critique of Marx.

    My fear of Socialism (whether total or partial) is that while we seek to have the government solve the issue of poverty in the name of 'justice', we absolve ourselves of the responsibility to answer the call of 'Justice' to be generous and personally give to meet the needs of others.

    You need to get frustrated more often.

    Seth

  4. Capitalism – people are both dogs and fleas

    Socialism – most people are fleas and a few are dogs

    Communism – all people are fleas, the dogs have died

    In order to succeed, you must be able to fail. The more outrageously you can fail, the more outrageously you can succeed.

    However, this is based on a society that is mostly trustworthy. A society that is thoroughly corrupt makes it almost impossible for people to reap the consequences of their actions. Think 3rd and 4th world nations like Haiti, Somalia, etc.

    In an open society where generally value is based on me serving you with products or services that you need or want. If I am creating products or services that people do not value the same as me, I will usually fail. The more people who can benefit from the products or services I provide, the more economic value I have.

    I can adopt and change through a lifetime of experiences and create more products and services that people want and need. Think people like Dave Thomas, Colonel Sanders, Orville Reddenbacher, Bill Gates, Sam Walton, and a vast host of others.

    All value of life is not entirely financial, but money is a portable means – that when valued roughly the same by all levels of society – enables a greater pool of people to participate.

    Societies who place artifical limits of class, race, religion, family connections and others above human equality surpress people who want to participate in the economic market of a country. This is true of many African nations.

    True freedom comes from within, yet it can be sabotaged by society. People who will do anything for money or whatever they value the most, have a moral code that does not value ethics. They see only that their goal is worth more than the fair treatment of fellow beings – whether they are Somalian pirates or financial manipulators.

    Which proves Lindsey's point. It is each individual's responsibility regardless of the social economic climate they find themselves in.
    A person who lives in a more free economic society with open markets and capitalism, has a responsiblity to select the products and services they create as well as the ones they exchange for to make moral and ethical choices. The market and capitalism are reflections of the collective individuals. If the market and capitalism fails, it is because of the individuals themselves and not the system.

  5. i think you're right on in pointing out how capitalism is often a convenient scapegoat and cop-out for social responsibility. i do think there is reason to critique capitalism, obviously. like any other 'ism,' it contains inherent flaws. you also talked around that.

    in the end i think we do have a responsibility to critique the system and culture in which we find ourselves. whether socialism, capitalism, or moneyless utopianism, we should never stop reevaluating and we should always leave room for open-ended discussion.

  6. I don't know if I made the argument that we would all “love each other” if there were no money, or that a moneyless society would be perfect.

    My argument is that society need not have a market system, or even a bartering system. If the resources around us were left for all to use, there would be no need to place value on them.

    I think a great argument against this is that human nature shows that people are too greedy to allow resources to be left open for general use … in other words, there has to be ownership in order for resources to be distributed, and the wisest form of having them distributed is in a free market system.

    However, I feel that human nature has become a “scape-goat” for human behavior. If we look at greed as a human behavior, one would see that greed may originate from a person's lack of receiving essential needs. Thus, hoarding resources would be the result of not having enough resources in the first place, so taking more than what you need to ensure your own survival for the future.

    However, is resources were left for free use, there would be less need, if not an elimination of need. Human behavior then is changed, as people no longer act based on their needs.

    Would all crimes and other socially detrimental behaviors be eliminated? Of course not, but the vast majority would, I argue.

    A real-world example is Finland, the safest country in the world. The poverty rate is near zero, so there is little need. On top of that, there is no penitentiary system, so “crime-doers” aren't just locked up to affect the radically low crime rates. Murder is almost unheard of, and other more petty crimes are dealt with via psychiatric systems, not penal systems.

    Human behavior, not human nature, is what makes a moneyless society possible. Again, not perfect, but far better.

  7. This from the Venus Project site (which I told you to visit):

    “If the thought of eliminating money still troubles you, consider this: If a group of people with gold, diamonds and money were stranded on an island that had no resources such as food, clean air and water, their wealth would be irrelevant to their survival. It is only when resources are scarce that money can be used to control their distribution. One could not, for example, sell the air we breathe or water abundantly flowing down from a mountain stream. Although air and water are valuable, in abundance they cannot be sold.

    Money is only important in a society when certain resources for survival must be rationed and the people accept money as an exchange medium for the scarce resources. Money is a social convention, an agreement if you will. It is neither a natural resource nor does it represent one. It is not necessary for survival unless we have been conditioned to accept it as such.”

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