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This is What Plutarchy Looks Like:

September 8, 2011 Leave a comment

This is What An Oligopoly Looks Like:

This is What A Plutocracy Looks Like:

 

 

EDIT: According to this, the four big banks only have 34% of the market as measured by total deposits.

How many of you were pissed off at the bailouts and still keep your money with one of these banks? Going down to your local credit union and opening an account is a better form of social protest than doing nothing.

 

 

Looking Beyond a Society Based on Consumption or Why I Am Not A Randian or Objectivist

This post is inspired by, amongst many other things, this particular “piece of writing” that I saw on Google News Spotlight. It’s not very good but I am linking to anyway in hope of maybe getting some cross traffic or baiting some Randians to come argue with me.

I haven’t read Atlas Shrugged, so please don’t mistake this as some type of review or critique.

Imagine a world where, instead of the capital owning class going on strike, the lower and middle classes went on strike. They stopped buying durable goods, stopped eating out, stopped going on vacations, stopped investing in their 401Ks. What would happen to the economy and industry then? Granted, the working classes are generally unable to go on strike for prolonged periods. They are called the working class because they have to work. They don’t have nest eggs and investments from which they can draw an income. So they work. They aspire, they consume, and they keep the economy moving along because they have to: they have to feed and clothe and house themselves and their families.

But they don’t have to buy new TV’s and automobiles or overleveraged homes. These are cultural values, specifically consumer culture values. Partially they are the legacy of the “American Dream” that is itself rooted in the scientific revolutions of the Enlightenment and subsequently mankind’s gradual ascent from a Hobbesian existence towards the current level of comfort and physical security afforded to us today. Human beings are an aspirational animal. We are hardwired to accumulate material wealth because material wealth brings security. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes perfect sense. The only problem is that sometime thousands of years ago, mankind started to cultivate the land and form societies. These societies began to offer to human beings a way to escape the Darwinian struggle for survival, to a certain degree. Over time, it has brought us to a point today where natural selection is still in effect, although social processes have created an evolutionary environment in which it is not always the most adapted that survive and flourish. We have created a world of equal genetic opportunity, which is almost assuredly a great thing, but we still have these evolutionary impulses to conquer and acquire, to hoard what is scarce, and to have anxiety over our relative social position.

All of these impulses are putting us on a collision course towards collapse. I am not an expert on environmental science or population economics, but I believe it is fair to say that the scientific community, by and large, has seen the writing on the wall. The level of economic growth, as it is defined contemporarily by GDP growth, is unsustainable. The stock of natural resources on our planet is being diminished and the world’s population is continuing to grow, both at ever increasing rates. From the time of the Industrial Revolution to the end of the Second World War, the world’s population has grown from 1 billion to 3 billion people. Only a fraction of those people were lifted out of what we would consider poverty and into the ranks of the working consumer class. Today, the world’s population is near 7 billion and more than half of those people are currently playing “catch up” with the Western world in terms of industrialization and standards of living. Even though today’s industrial standards are more technologically sophisticated and efficient than what was used during the 19th and 20th centuries, the cost to the earth of giving 3 billion more people plasma screen displays and three bedroom houses will be tremendous.

The consumerist cultural values that are intrinsic to the operation of the current global capitalist system are unsustainable, and from an existential viewpoint, completely unnecessary in today’s world of abundant food and relative interregional security. Many recent studies have been done that conclude people do not gain any marginal happiness with income levels over a certain amount. I am not sure what that amount is, but the mere fact that it exists should tell us something about the end result of an aspirational consumerist society: it won’t end until the earth is dead or we change our values.

The middle classes can stop wanting to become the upper classes, and the lower classes can be assured of their own rights to be enfranchised as global citizens who are able to receive benefits from the technological and scientific progress that has been made over the last several centuries, we just have to want it and demand it, first as individuals, then as a society. We have to change our values.

Back to Atlas Shrugged: Atlas would be screwed without society at large. If the upper class really are the innovators, idea people, and heroes of society (which is a claim I am dubious of, but for the sake of argument I will let it stand), they still need a stock of workers to bring those ideas to life, and a marketplace full of consumers who are willing to purchase these ideas. Philosophically, the nobility of the capital owning classes lasts only as long as you give credence to consumption as an end in and of itself.

Stephan Metcalf on Robert Nozick

http://www.slate.com/id/2297019/pagenum/all/

I never read the entirety of Anarchy, State, and Utopia, but I think that Nozick’s opus was more a book for its time rather than a timeless book (I do regard as timeless the philosophers’ from which he synthesizes his argument).

This article hits the nail on the head about what is right/wrong about contemporary libertarianism. Most of the people who call themselves libertarians today are really just self-interested assholes. They are benefiting from the historical and social coincidence of the world in which we live, where a set of ideas has been collected and defined as “Libertarianism”. By affiliating themselves with a philosophy such as Libertarianism, they are able to conceal their own moral bankruptcy with a veil of intellectual vanguardism. It is one thing to write and defend a well-reasoned piece of moral philosophy (as Nozick has done). It is entirely another to ignore one’s privilege and hide behind the haughty ramparts of someone else’s ideas while following a solipsist strategy of personal material enrichment.

DSK

May 22, 2011 1 comment

Rape is really bad. But so is convicting someone in the court of public opinion before they have a fair trial. I haven’t seen anything in the media that doesn’t assume his guilt is a foregone conclusion. Are we as a public so horny for revenge against the Masters of The Universe that we are willing to abandon due process?