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True Blue Jon
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Let's try to tackle a complex subject: capitalism. What does it bring out in people?

Brian Dudley (serdudds) said that greed is the lifeblood of capitalism. The movie Wall Street had that famous line "Greed is good."

Does capitalism bring out people's greed or does greed bring about capitalism?

Or maybe greed and capitalism are not intertwined. Wray Cason (Wrayman) said that the above statements are tragically wrong about about the nature of capitalism and by extension, the nature of people.

I don't have the answers. I only have my observations and my college classes in economics and political science and an old copy of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations that I haven't read in almost two decades. What do you think?
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John Taylor
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quozl wrote:
What do you think?


I'll be charging $5 for my response.
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Ben Carter
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I would say that people's greed remains a constant regardless of the economic system that's in place.

If greed is just the desire to acquire more possessions, then people are going to want to do that no matter what. And on the flip side, there will be some people that are content with what they have, regardless of the system.

I think that capitalism certainly allows greedy people to acquire things more easily than other systems, though. (Whether that itself is good or bad is probably a topic for another thread.) Capitalism may be a more favorable system for the greedy, but I don't think either greed or capitalism causesthe other.
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Some people are greedy, some not so much. The system doesn't make it more or less so. Actually, I reckon capitalism dampens the negative effects of greed and that systems like tyranny or socialism are more conducive to the negative aspects of greed because they tend to allow the truly greedy people to collect power and use that power to funnel wealth and assets into much larger and much more negative forms.

Making money and acquiring wealth gets a bad rap it doesn't deserve. I'm all for it and the capitalist system allows those who want to pursue it to do so while creating less damage to their fellows than most other systems. Plus, anyone can be be a successful greedy person in a capitalist system.
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True Blue Jon
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DWTripp wrote:
Actually, I reckon capitalism dampens the negative effects of greed


That's interesting. How do you think it does that?
 
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Bojan Ramadanovic
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The whole beauty and horror of capitalism is that it works in such a way as to give people what they want rather then what they, in someone else's opinion, need or should want.

As a consequence, in a capitalist system we are forced to face day-to-day with the fact that we, as human beings, place significant value on American Idol, SUVs, cheeseburgers, wrinkle-removing creams and triple-soft toilet paper.

Not that I think there is anything particularly wrong with any of the above.

If people wanted more symphonic music, public equestrian statues or rain forests Capitalism would be providing those instead.

Now there are two problems with this - one legitimate and other bogus.

Bogus problem is that some folks think they know better what Joe Public esq. *should* need and that therefore system that lets Mr. Public work for whatever reward he sees fit, even if it is the ability to watch football on the 60" screen. Those folks are unhappy with capitalism because it does not help them any to educate Joe as to what is "good for him".

Real problem is much more limited in that capitalism being rooted in the actions of individuals - does have problem dealing with some collective action issues. That is why identifying those issues and dealing with them remains relevant and legitimate purpose of the non-capitalistic methods such as government intervention. Key point is for the "I know better", category of folks as described above, to realize that not everything they do not like is a collective action (or externality) and that people *do* have a right to choose for themselves as long as they are not hurting others by doing so.

As an aside, all those base needs that some anti-capitalists abhor existed equally, if not more prominently, under non-capitalist regimes. Folks under communism/socialism wanted SUVs, Soap Operas and Colour TVs as badly as their western counterparts - they were just told they can not have them - no matter how hard they work (and as a consequence they ended up not working very hard).

In other words, Capitalism is a true mirror of society. We may not like what we see in the mirror but breaking a mirror and staring into a painting instead will not make us any less ugly.

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Eric "Shippy McShipperson" Mowrer
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I'd make a distinction between self-interest, which is healthy and drives capitalism, and greed, which is a negative trait and not healthy in any economic system. Greed is self-interest taken to the extreme, IMO.
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Wray Cason
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Thank for starting this thread. I think Gens comments are excellent up until the end where it is only in the field of law that I see the free market as a bad idea. The reason for that is Gens prior comment
Quote:
The game is no longer fun or fair when people have different rulesets.
The law is the one public institution where people really are properly equal. There is no other public context where pure equality makes sense or is applicable at all. I say "pure" this way because there are forms of sameness that are appropriate given certain contexts.

Enough of that for now though. My response to the OP is this.

Capitalism, or the free market, is the natural manifestation of people interacting. It is the very essence of freedom. It is an individuals ability to make his own choices with his money, time and energy. At its core, it is that simple. No other economic form is inherently free like capitalism is. Every other form assumes some kind of arbitrariness. Some people control and others are controlled. In principal, that is bad.

Now the really interesting and frustrating wrinkle to that is that human nature gets in the way. Some will seek to control and others will cede there control to others. In this way, capitalism by its free nature means that the pure essence of capitalism that I described doesn't always work. The conundrum then is what to do about it. Equality of the law is paramount. There simply must be rule of law. Beyond that, the situation is messy. What do we do with those that seek to control others? That is an easy target of attention, even if the answers are not so easy. A more neglected target of attention is the question of what to do with those that choose to cede their control. I see that as the essence of failure. The results of such are mightily unpleasant to our society.

I think most of the ire pointed at capitalism is due to the fallen state of those that cede their control and fail. The much maligned nanny state is a result of this. Those that fail due to other means have always had a leg up in America. Every American success story involves repeated failure. Those that choose not to take control of their lives are another situation entirely. The failures of such people are not the fault of capitalism as is often supposed.

So to tie a bow on this ramble, freedom to choose ones own destiny is the fundamental principal as I see it. Capitalism is the natural application that principal. The inevitable bad choices that are made by people need to be dealt with certainly, but those bad choices are not so much an indictment of capitalism. Those choices are the natural consequence of freedom. Some choose wisely, some don't. The beauty of capitalism is that everyone else has their own freedom to stop associating with such bad players. Capitalism kills such bad players. Corporatism, or the governmental influence on the free market can keep bad players in the game but that too is not an indictment of capitalism. It is the natural consequence of people making bad laws.

So to wrap a bow on the bow on this additional ramble, capitalism is freedom, plain and simple. That is to be preserved at all costs.
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TheLightSarcastic wrote:
Call me a dreamer,


You're not the only one.

Wrayman wrote:
The law is the one public institution where people really are properly equal.


That must be why OJ and I have a perfectly equal chance of murdering our wives and getting away with it. And why there's no disparity in sentencing (for identical crimes) between whites and minorities.

Equality is a lovely thing to aspire to, and we're certainly at a much better point than most societies ever, but we have a very long way to go.
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Wray Cason
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dysjunct wrote:
TheLightSarcastic wrote:
Call me a dreamer,


You're not the only one.

Wrayman wrote:
The law is the one public institution where people really are properly equal.


That must be why OJ and I have a perfectly equal chance of murdering our wives and getting away with it. And why there's no disparity in sentencing (for identical crimes) between whites and minorities.

Equality is a lovely thing to aspire to, and we're certainly at a much better point than most societies ever, but we have a very long way to go.
That is why I said the law is the one public institution where people really are properly equal. My intent was clearly unclear. There are many examples where people are not properly equal under the law. Properly speaking however, justice is blind. So basically, I agree with you.
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Chad Ellis
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Wrayman wrote:
Capitalism, or the free market, is the natural manifestation of people interacting. It is the very essence of freedom. It is an individuals ability to make his own choices with his money, time and energy.


I probably would have said "default" rather than "natural" (since I don't know what natural really means in this context) but Wray has hit on a very key point here.

Capitalism is almost fundamental. If you start off with recognizing the existence of property (including the ability to buy and sell what one owns) and the legal right to make agreements and engage in whatever behavior one wants provided it doesn't harm others you've pretty much got capitalism right there.

I think many of the challenges that we see with capitalism are not really about capitalism, per se, but with the human condition and the combination of empathy and wealth. Life has always been a struggle for survival for many/most people, with a privileged few living in luxury. Capitalism has increased the wealth of those nations that embraced it beyond anything that could have been imagined by our ancestors. That causes us to consider some amazing ideas, like eliminating poverty or guaranteeing all citizens a subsistence income regardless of whether they work or not.

Put another way, at least some of the "evils" of capitalism are things we only consider evil because capitalism has enabled such massive wealth creation as to make some unhappy realities seem not merely unhappy but unacceptable.
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Jorge Montero
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My school's principal never taught me the principles of capitalism, but he did taught me all kinds of other things that can be used to understand it. Never underestimate a Jesuit that drives a bimmer and has is self centered enough to remove chocolate from the cafeteria's dessert selection because he doesn't like it, so neither should the children.

Most of this talk about capitalism and freedom is misguided IMO: To be able to talk about the nature of capitalism, first we must define it. But, instead of definitions based on actual characteristics, I see definitions that are based on what they consider positive qualities, like freedom, puppies and apple pie.

The essence of capitalism IMO has very little to do with the fact that people can buy and sell as they please: First, no country actually has such levels of freedom in trade. Once we accept a few restrictions, one can come up with a system that does allow a similar freedom level without it fitting any modern concept of capitalism.

Modern capitalism is based on very strong property rights. Property rights provide freedom in some sense, but they also restrict it in many other ways: You are as free as your property allows. With IP rights, it's even more fun: If I come up with an idea independently from someone else, I might not be able to use said idea because someone owns it now. How is that really freedom?

The success or failure of a capitalist system relies mainly on two conditions:

The people have to agree that accepting other people's property rights is a good thing for them. If most people have little property and are miserable, the system fails. This is why capitalism on a poor country fails utterly.

The people that obtain the largest shares of the property have to be those that are the most fit to put said property to use. When a disconnect is created between wealth and ability, the system gains all kinds of friction, stops becoming a good search algorithm, and eventually fails too.

Many proponents of capitalism, instead of understanding that the system has to be constantly tweaked to make sure that both of those conditions hold. Instead, they assume that they hold, by definition. Therefore, they do not see that government is needed to make sure that both conditions hold, and instead they expect government to just make property rights as strong as possible, thinking that almost everything else that a government does is a bad thing. But it's precisely those programs that they hate so much that work to make sure that both conditions hold, and that Marx's predictions don't come true. Without some limited regulating actors, evolutionary systems not unlike capitalism crash and burn every so often in nature. We can create simulations in which such systems thrive or die, based on tiny changes to starting conditions. But it's just too easy to put faith on clean yet incomplete principles, instead of treading in the murky pools of uncertainty and moderation.
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True Blue Jon
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I'll just throw this wacko idea out there for you all to play with:

The sense that property can be owned pretty much defines greed to me.
 
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Jorge Montero
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dysjunct wrote:

Wrayman wrote:
The law is the one public institution where people really are properly equal.


That must be why OJ and I have a perfectly equal chance of murdering our wives and getting away with it. And why there's no disparity in sentencing (for identical crimes) between whites and minorities.


We don't even have to get to that: Laws make us equal only if we start from the same starting conditions. Since we don't, laws don't make us equal.

A law that bans pedestrians on roads without sidewalks applies to everyone, but it doesn't affect the people that have cars and those that don't have them in the same way.

A law that strengthens the rights of tenants has very different results on people with enough property to be renters than those that must rent to get a roof on their heads.

A law that benefits shoemakers helps people that already make shoes a whole lot more than those that don't make them and don't even know how to.

So even a law that is applied perfectly, with perfect juries and judges, isn't really treating people equally.
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First, I like puppies and apple-pie, so if capitalism is going to be brining those about then I am all for it.


quozl wrote:
I'll just throw this wacko idea out there for you all to play with:

The sense that property can be owned pretty much defines greed to me.


So you are saying you don't like the existence of property (becuase if you can't own it, then what does the word property mean)? Does this extend to all your possessions -- like your computer, for instance?
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SpaceGhost wrote:
So you are saying you don't like the existence of property (becuase if you can't own it, then what does the word property mean)? Does this extend to all your possessions -- like your computer, for instance?


Yes and yes. I believe in the open source movement and don't just apply it to information.
 
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What keeps someone from taking the computer that resides in the house you are residing in (see how I left off all of the possessive qualifiers )? It seems like your perspective would devolve to "might makes right". As soon as you make it illegal to enter into a residence and remove whateer objects are in there, it is an implicit creation of "ownership".

So are you also espousing a lawless society?
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True Blue Jon
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SpaceGhost wrote:
So are you also espousing a lawless society?


Absolutely not. What I am espousing is looking into the nature of capitalism. While "might makes right" doesn't define that nature, I do feel that it is a part of it but it is better defined as "ownership makes right". Of course, then that ownership must be enforced with might.

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quozl wrote:
DWTripp wrote:
Actually, I reckon capitalism dampens the negative effects of greed


That's interesting. How do you think it does that?


No time for a lengthy response because I'm too busy trying to find the origins of that F-22 that was patrolling near my house.

Basically, in my view, our capitalistic system allows government to supervise the exchange of goods, wealth, invention, etc. via whatever oversight and regulation the populace will accept. Other, more draconian, forms of government collect the wealth and hand control of it over to a select few... all government, government backed industry and military elites.

Certainly there would no question which system allows for the average citizen to acquire wealth through their own innovation, intelligence and hard work.
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Eric "Shippy McShipperson" Mowrer
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quozl wrote:
SpaceGhost wrote:
So you are saying you don't like the existence of property (becuase if you can't own it, then what does the word property mean)? Does this extend to all your possessions -- like your computer, for instance?


Yes and yes. I believe in the open source movement and don't just apply it to information.


Explain how that would work with physical objects that do not lend themselves to cheep and plentiful copies.

Sure would suck to come home after a hard days work and find someone else using that recliner I love so much watching the TV I've placed in the same room with it and the leftovers I was saving in the fridge are gone and the car is missing when I want to head to work for the day, hope they bring that back when they're done, I really appreciate driving to work instead of walking... I'll just call the boss and tell him I'm going to be late... oops, there's a homeless lady using the only phone I had in the house...
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Bojan Ramadanovic
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quozl wrote:
I'll just throw this wacko idea out there for you all to play with:

The sense that property can be owned pretty much defines greed to me.


Well, if so then it hardly has anything to do with capitalism

Under feudalism (very different economic system then capitalism) property ownership was, if anything, more fundamental. Clan/tribe based, so called, "gift-economy" as practiced by early Indo-Europeans on one hand and pre-contact north-west coast natives of North America on the other (together with many others) is steeped in the notion of property ownership. Societies as diverse as Ancient Mesopotamia and war-torn modern day Somalia and Afghanistan have in common both, that they are not, largely, capitalistic as well as strong idea of property.

Even the societies which nominally got rid of private property (though none of them managed to do it comprehensively because it is *so* inimical to human nature) just ended up recreating it under different names. Sure, apartment where I grew up in former Yugoslavia did not nominally *belong* to my parents but you truly could not tell the difference in the way either them or anyone else treated it.
Same held for the factories and other "means of producion" which were fundamentally "owned" by their directors and local party chiefs in every sense (and perhaps even more so) then the factories in the west are owned by their shareholders.

What it boils down to is that property ownership satisfies very basic human needs of security, constancy, (limited) autonomy and social prestige. It does it so very well that almost any system we could come up with that likewise satisfies them will in the end be virtually indistinguishable from property ownership.

Ofcourse, given that we recognize the property ownership as fairly fundamental human property - we get to the question of how to arrange it justly and that is where capitalism is one of the contenders (facing against things like feudalism, socialism, absolute despotism, gift-economy etc...)
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Wray Cason
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Jorge, I don't understand your point very well. The crux of it seems to lie in the following however.

hibikir wrote:
The success or failure of a capitalist system relies mainly on two conditions:

The people have to agree that accepting other people's property rights is a good thing for them. If most people have little property and are miserable, the system fails. This is why capitalism on a poor country fails utterly.

I understand that you are saying that capitalism ( I would as readily say freedom ) requires the rule of law. I agree. Lawlessness, or disrespect of property rights as you suggest, breaks down peoples ability to deal with each other reliably which would hamper capitalism greatly. What does that have to do with capitalism though? I don't imagine any economic system working in such conditions. The problem here is a lack of freedom caused by lawlessness. Correct the lawlessness and capitalism will naturally commence.
hibikir wrote:
The people that obtain the largest shares of the property have to be those that are the most fit to put said property to use. When a disconnect is created between wealth and ability, the system gains all kinds of friction, stops becoming a good search algorithm, and eventually fails too.
I don't understand this at all. I don't see this as true in any sense. In a lawful society, those that obtain the largest shares of the property are very likely those that are the most fit to put said property to use. Otherwise they wouldn't have obtained the property in the first place. If they cease to exercise that ability for any reason, the market will kill them off and other able players will take their place. That is a strength of capitalism. I just don't understand your point.
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ejmowrer wrote:
Explain how that would work with physical objects that do not lend themselves to cheep and plentiful copies.


I'd rather not divert this thread off the nature of capitalism but to answer your question and perhaps get into other aspects of the nature of capitalism, I'll answer:

I believe in stewardship, not ownership. I don't know how much of that you hear in an LDS church but in my churchgoing and readings of the Bible, the notion that the earth doesn't belong to us but that we are charged with taking care of it is an interesting and powerful notion that is contrasted with ownership.

I'm not saying stewardship is perfect, however. Look at a popular but fictional example in The Lord of the Rings: the steward of Gondor.
 
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Wray Cason
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quozl wrote:
SpaceGhost wrote:
So are you also espousing a lawless society?


Absolutely not. What I am espousing is looking into the nature of capitalism. While "might makes right" doesn't define that nature, I do feel that it is a part of it but it is better defined as "ownership makes right". Of course, then that ownership must be enforced with might.

I recognize your sentiment in the writings of Emma Goldman that I read a while back at your suggestion. I see this as terribly misguided. Think of property as the results of your choices and actions. You work hard to gather property for the survival, comfort and amusement of yourself and your loved ones. Respect for those results which you have endeavored to acquire is crucial if you going to continue to try to acquire more. If your choices and actions don't appear to amount to anything, it is exceedingly difficult see the value in the effort. If there is little or no effort, there is little or no wealth. If there is little or no wealth, there is little or no well being. If there is little or no well being, there is little or no survival. It all leads back to the principle of freedom and the enjoyment of the results of good choices. Property is a tool in this process. It is indispensable as a tool. It is not primary or causative. It is secondary and consequential.
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Wrayman wrote:
I recognize your sentiment in the writings of Emma Goldman that I read a while back at your suggestion. I see this as terribly misguided. Think of property as the results of your choices and actions. You work hard to gather property for the survival, comfort and amusement of yourself and your loved ones. Respect for those results which you have endeavored to acquire is crucial if you going to continue to try to acquire more. If your choices and actions don't appear to amount to anything, it is exceedingly difficult see the value in the effort. If there is little or no effort, there is little or no wealth. If there is little or no wealth, there is little or no well being. If there is little or no well being, there is little or no survival. It all leads back to the principle of freedom and the enjoyment of good choices. Property is a tool in this process. It is indispensable as a tool. It is not primary or causative. It is secondary and consequential.


Did you read all of them? I thought you gave up after the first.

Anyway, this is another thread, Wray. I believe there are other rewards besides ownership.
 
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