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capitalism

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i also started a thread about this in the Help Me forum, but i thought i would add it under this forum as well because it attracts a different crowd of people. please don't delete this.

 

could someone please explain:

 

what is capitalism? (an ideology? a system of economic exchange?)

why is it bad?

how does it affect social relations?

how does it structure the way we think?

what are some alternative systems of thinking?

 

i am asking this because i've tried to read books by Zizek and Gibson-Graham, but they seem to operate under the assumption that capitalism is bad without ever really explaining what it is,and how it works. If someone could do a write-up about this, that help is appreciated.

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The reason why capitalism is bad is pretty simple. As Marx argues, in capitalist socio-economic systems, business executives make money, doing little or no work, at the expense of the workers, who are regulated to a sub-human value only worth what they can produce.

 

These processes of calculation and an assignment of capital value to human beings is what allows for their extermination. It's the reason why it's important when the CEO of a company dies, but nobody cares when another worker is killed in a construction site accident.

 

Additionally, a more appropriate impact in terms of the Africa topic is that of colonialism. It makes a lot of sense to many people that the reason why Africa is in its current state is not simply because of bad luck or geographical location. The capitalist exploitation of Africa's population, resources, and land, specifically in the 19th and 20th centuries, left it in its near-irrepairable state of disease and suffering.

 

It's hard to disagree with the notion that colonialism and globalization have sprung from capitalism. We do not globalize for indigenous peoples' benefits. The reason why the United States and China began to gain interest in Africa is not because of the suffering which occurs there, but because of the vast untapped resources which are available in the region. Developed nations constantly consume more and more resources, simply moving on to another resources to take theirs away. It's similar to what Agent Smith in the Matrix, comparing human beings to viruses.

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Capitalism can be concisely defined as the socio-economic system where the primary means of production is organized privately, through corporations and businesses, and based on certain values which are a result of a free market.

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Alternatives include socialism, natural market, etc. Most kritik alternatives won't actually provide a specific alternative, but argue that breaking down the Real of capitalism is a key prerequisite to form new alternatives

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I've heard Alts that read:

 

Do nothing

Challenge it

Speak out

Break down cap

Encourage Socialism

Reject

Reject the individual

Rethink capitalism and globalization

 

I think thats it.

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Additionally, Marx makes the argument that the more that a worker produces, the less he or she is worth and the more he has to sell himself to the towering system of capitalists that he or she has on their shoulders.

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The first person to really critique capitalism as we know it was Karl Marx. He wrote in the 1870s during the early years of industrialization in Germany. I'm not terribly familiar with Zizek, etc, but from what I understand they use Marx's thought as a springboard and interpret it and add onto it, etc (correct me if I'm wrong, you people who know more).

 

Well, what Marx originally argues (if I'm wrong, do correct me) is that capitalism creates a division of classes. In an industrialized world, capitalism leads to the division of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie are the people that have the means of production: they control the labor, the land, and the capital (money). The proletariat is the low-paid, worth-very-little labor force for the bourgeoisie. You can see this to an extent in our system. There are the rich CEOs, then the people kept on low minimum wage with just enough hours to get the job done and not get benefits, that the CEOs make money off of.

 

Marx argues that the creation of a lower, nearly rightless class is wrong and his alternative is redistribution of wealth and the equality of everybody-- this is communism.

 

Most authors don't support full-blown communism. But being familiar with Marx's original thought may help to put the authors you're reading into perspective.

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lots of critics of capitalism before marx -- two of my favorites: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Fourier & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre-Joseph_Proudhon

 

remember marx called his socialism scientific to distinguish it from all the utopian socialists who came before him.

 

among the alternatives, has anyone heard variations on 'localized resistance'?

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How can you not know what cap is? You do live in a capitalist country governed by capitalist rules after all. Whatever, the best alternative to capitalism is to reject cap and embrace a totaltarian subsistence government that gives you nothing except a shot of lead when you disobey. :) Or you could just embrace socialism or imagine the impossible.

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Well, what Marx originally argues (if I'm wrong, do correct me)...

Will do.

 

Marx identifies a shift in the division of classes. Even in the pre-capitalist society, there existed the land-owners and the serfs (or tenant farmers). As the means of production transfered to an industrial standard, where products were produced and sold as opposed to the use of home made goods, the capitalist class emerged. Laborers sought out employment as the farming opportunities dropped to levels below subsistence. This creates a relationship of social conflict wherein the capitalist factory owner desires the labor of the worker at the lowest cost possible. It is never in the capitalist's best interest to provide more than a subsistence level wage for the worker - except when the labor supply is short.

 

This conflict between the workers and the capitalist is defined as exploitation by Marx. It is the worker who creates the goods, and the capitalist who reaps the benefits. It is Marx's view that the worker is entitled to the benefits of his labor. Marx, in his Critique of Capitalism, is not arguing for redistribution of wealth per se, but the control of the means of production by the proletariat (the working class).

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To add onto what Brett says, the reason it is exploitation is because of Marx's notion of surplus value. The economists that existed at the time almost all believed that labor generated value (this is as true of Adam Smith as it was of Marx). So the capitalist might own a factory and the raw products, but the labor that went into the products is what generates value. The capitalist pays the worker only the minimum necessary for social reproduction if s/he gain (enough to show up for work the next day and to reproduce and make worker babies), in order for the capitalist to make profit they must take the value that is added by the labor. Since that value was not paid for, really the value has been stolen.

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How can you not know what cap is? You do live in a capitalist country governed by capitalist rules after all. Whatever, the best alternative to capitalism is to reject cap and embrace a totaltarian subsistence government that gives you nothing except a shot of lead when you disobey. :) Or you could just embrace socialism or imagine the impossible.
There's a big difference between knowing what capitalism is and how it is analyzed by authors critical of the system.

 

And thanks Scu - the concept of surplus value is indeed key to understanding Marx's view of exploitation.

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another twist is that exploitation is inclusive of but more than mere theft.

 

all the so-implied 'un-scientific' critics of capitalism knew that the surplus value of labor was stolen from workers, and capitalists made their various replies: 'well, it's the owner who takes the loss if the business goes under', for example. but marx took a holistic view: it's not only that workers aren't paid in full, but also that workers are forced to purchase goods from other workers who aren't paid in full either. thus workers become consumers of/participants in their own rip-off. (and it's here we can see the seeds of gramsci's concepts of false consciousness and hegemony.)

 

if i break your legs, i've stolen your ability to walk (without crutches). but if i break your legs and then sell you crutches, i've not only stolen from you; i've exploited your disability. it's a subtle but important distinction. even utopian socialists will say 'capitalism is theft'. but only marxists further say 'capitalism is exploitation'.

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Not to mention capitalism devaules all life. It converts the working class to a value and not a person. The capitalistic corportaion doesn't care about the individual. They just care that your worth what they pay you and thats all you are in a capitalistic system. No one cares about the Taco Bell worker down the street but the world would go mad if Bill Gates broke a finger.

 

Capital is valued more than anything, and thats a problem.

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