Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Chris Port Blog #324. "So long, and thanks for all the money." Is there a workable alternative to Capitalism?

A friend asked me today, "Is there a workable alternative to Capitalism?" Here's my reply...

 "So long, and thanks for all the money."

There is no alternative to change. There are various alternative systems. All create alternating problems (see "What is money?" footnote below)*. A problem-solving approach is therefore vital, whichever system is adopted. Dogmatism should be avoided in favour of aesthetics.

Personally I would propose a post-postmodern adaptation of Plato's Republic administered by 'philosopher kings/queens' (although Plato's ghost and I would probably come to blows over the arts – aesthetic curiosity is the best defence against tyranny).

The problem isn't really the system. All systems are doomed to failure. The problem is whether or not the system allows us to promote good leaders.

Leaders should be chosen wisely, for there are no utopias. Both co-operation and competition are healthy for human development. This suggests a mixed economy. Getting the mix right is the tricky part. The mix will always have to change to fit local anomalies and global trends.

Systems are designed to be predictable. Life is not predictable. All systems should therefore be negotiable rather than fixed. There is no substitute for wisdom and virtue (which are not the same as dogma at all). I would therefore focus on real education and the selection processes for leadership (at all levels). Promote the right people to the right jobs, promote confidence in wisdom and integrity, encourage resilience to setbacks and sharing of hardships, let everyone get on with doing what they are best at, and trust to luck.

The next problem is what to do with those psychopaths (e.g. conscienceless capitalists, criminals and tyrants) who act against the spirit of the law to exploit and destroy their fellow human beings for personal profit, power or pleasure. There are compelling arguments for killing them as enemies of humanity, but I can see a few moral problems with this - so it’s probably unwise ;) However, I do think it would be a good idea to at least inform them that wise and decent people are seriously considering whether to have them killed or not on the grounds that they are traitors to their own species. Perhaps, after that, they should just be imprisoned and re-educated instead?

An urgent, consensual, synchronized and peaceful transition towards popular wisdom and virtue is unlikely in the extreme in this most dangerous of all eras. Given this more realistic appraisal, regrettably I see no alternative to the traumas of resource wars, population culls, revolutions and famines on an apocalyptic scale (unless the Bilderberg group get their pampered act together in the nick of time - and time is very short now). Hopefully the survivors will come out the other side shocked into humanitarianism (the only durable system of ethics). There is no alternative. If our species is to survive, it’s going to have to find common cause in wisdom and virtue. Otherwise we will tear ourselves to pieces.

Looking at the current trends in most Western education systems, I regret to say that I'm not very hopeful about wisdom's chances of survival. However, I'm pragmatic and solipsistic. I'll just keep doing what I'm good at and trust everyone else to do the same. It'll either work out or it won't. If it doesn't, we didn't deserve to survive and something better will come along. Maybe the dolphins will grow opposable digits. I like dolphins :)

* "What is money?"

Money is a means of exchange. It was designed to replace theft and murder as a way of obtaining goods and services. Ironically, people steal and kill to obtain money instead.

In a closed system, money is a commodity.

Commodity money = (Power / Population) x (Goods + Services).

The rise of the merchant classes, financial derivatives and global capitalism, means that there are no longer any closed systems.

In an open system, money is a fiat.

Fiat money = (Power / Population) x (Goods + Services) x (Confidence / Pessimism).

This last fraction (Confidence / Pessimism) is inherently unstable. Nobody can control or predict the data input. Fiat money is therefore inherently unstable. So is all power derived from it.

Eventually (quite possibly sooner rather than later) I predict a return to semi-closed systems (tariffs) and commodity money. These measures are the inexorable precursors to resource wars and population culls.

This gloomy Malthusian prediction is not inevitable. However, in order to avert it, political leaders will need to put the merchant classes (global capitalists) firmly back in their place. The merchants should be middle-men, not the men behind the thrones.

As yet, I do not see such leaders. When they do emerge from the shadows, I would urge people to choose wisely. After the failure of the grey men, the era of the demagogues may soon be upon us again...

How The West Was Lost (Or: How To Betray Your Country In 7 Easy Steps)

I'm assuming that nobody in this forum is in favour of totalitarianism. However, I would argue that we already have it.

Rewording Wikipedia's definition:

"Totalitarianism (or totalitarian rule) is an economic system where corporations circumvent limits to their power and strive to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible. Corporate totalitarian regimes control political power through an all-encompassing propaganda disseminated through the oligarchy-controlled mass media, a single-minded profit-motive that is often marked by proceduralism, control over the politicians, regulation and restriction of paradigms (and thus language, opinion and speech), mass technological surveillance, and widespread use of terror (by proxy or moral panic)".

I would argue that the breaking up of this totalitarian world-view is the first stage to meaningful individualism and communalism (as opposed to communism).

The image of the relatively powerless individual standing against the vast impersonal forces of economics is a good place to start.

As a dramatist, I’m interested in updating some of the ideas of the German Marxist playwright Brecht:

See Brecht and the Status of the Political Subject in Brecht Unbound 

That is not to say that I’m a Marxist, or advocate Marxist solutions to capitalist problems. Even right-wing economists use analytical models derived from Marxist theories.

Aristotle claimed that happiness is an activity rather than a possession, doing well what is worth doing and what we are good at. In essence, virtue over venality.

Most of life's problems seem to be caused by other people valuing the MEANS of exchange (e.g. money and stuff) over the pleasurable END (letting people get on with doing what they are good at).

There are a few problems with this theory (e.g. some people are 'good' at doing bad things) but purposeful pleasure tempered with altruistic respect would seem to be the best way forward.

'Stuff' is usually just a surrogate for happiness rather than a meaningful relationship with the senses. Having said that, if anyone nicked my DVD collection I'd smack 'em in the mouth. I worked bloody hard for that AND IT'S MINE! (9/10 Aristotle).

See also: Unfortunately, some people are just dickheads”. World Peace and the ‘Dickhead’ Objection… Q.E.D.

Mitchell and Webb in Big Talk. "Sorting Out The Third World's Problems"


  1. How the BBC is misleading the public about the financial crisis

    '... More than 99% of the population are unaware that it is even possible for the money supply to shrink. They have no idea that this possibility has anything to do with the financial crisis, yet this phenomena is at the heart of it. No wonder the population at large do not understand the crisis...'

    '... Professor Charles Goodhart ... describes standard university teaching of our monetary system as “…such an incomplete way of describing the process of the determination of the stock of money that it amounts to misinstruction”. So anyone reading this who has a degree in economics – please note that your understanding of the way our monetary system works is probably wrong...'

    Climate change deniers 'are either extreme free marketeers or conspiracy theorists’, The Telegraph, Wednesday 29 August 2012

    The day the world went mad

  2. Truthout Interviews Chris Hedges About Why Revolt Is All We Have Left
    Wednesday, 22 August 2012
    By Mark Karlin


  3. 'The Crisis of Capitalism'

    Lecture by Professor David Harvey at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), 26th April 2010


  4. 'The Contradictions of Capital'

    Lecture by Professor David Harvey at the University of Warwick, 14th February 2013