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Corporatism and the illusion of “scarcity”

October 28, 2011

Here’s an exchange I came across on a board:

The other day I saw someone spend £35,000 on a contemporary art piece by Ai Weiwei, which was merely a glass jar of sunflower seeds. That’s it. These are people with more money than they could possibly spend and they have no clue what to do with it so spend it on useless crap. There are people lacking basic necessities in this world and for people to be blowing so much money on useless goods is immoral and obscene. Do you disagree with this?

If there is nothing illegal, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with how they spend their money. Wow, you guys want to really be intrusive in controlling how others spend money. Unbelievable! If you believe that this person is spending money poorly and you think you have a convincing argument, convince that person to spend it on your just cause, instead of just passive aggressively reporting it here.

My answer:

The problem with this is not about it being illegal or not, but that, to put it as the Zeitgeist films have pointed out, we are operating under an illusion of scarcity with this competitive system, where there seems to be only so much money, and it has to be divided in a fashion where those at the top have most of it, but then they are basically throwing it away (and then these people’s defenders blame the poor, unions, government regulations, etc. for “burdening” them, and thus as it were “forcing” them to take the jobs elsewhere).
However, the way they’re living is not one of scarcity; it’s one of abundance; ridiculous “money to burn” abundance, but the system they are running makes it seem like it is scarce, as it is in fact scarce for everyone else. [The conservative response that giving the rich more will create a “bigger pie” is a de-facto acknowledgment of a notion of scarcity. The debate is on whether that is true, or who is really to blame for there being such an apparently small pie].

So that rich person spending that much on that kind of stuff, perhaps (along with his board members, shareholders, “the market” led by other CEO’s like him, etc) might have raised the prices on their goods, cut quality, cut jobs, worker pay, etc. while reaping the benefits of deregulation and tax cuts (while his conservative defenders all scream we are becoming “socialist” and persecuting guys like this and forcing them to make the cutbacks they do), so he’s making it seem like he HAS to have the level of money he does, or he is being wronged (robbed of “his” money, which is then given to the “undeserving”, etc); or in other words, making it seem like he is being deprived of his right to live, but he is not “living” with that money; he is being completely frivolous with it.

Again, the issue is not about “rights”, and “legality”; but about the line they are feeding us (through their conservative mouthpieces and defenders), that there is no money for anyone else (and it is all our fault for not “working hard enough” like he did; as if there was really so little money that one had to be a CEO to live decently). And then blaming other groups for eating up all the money.

No, all the money in this economy is not going to a color TV or stereo or food stamps for the poor, or salary and benefits for unions and other workers, or even for health care. It’s going to glass jars of sunflower seeds, and other stuff like that! ($89,000 pheasant hunts, wine tasting courses, etc).

In the same discussion, someone had also said:

Poor people work hard, sure. But the value of one’s labor is not determined by effort; it is determined by the results/consequences or quality of one’s labor. Business owners’ labor have more important and higher-order responsibilities for the business as a whole than the labor of someone performing menial tasks. Thus it is more “fair” that the owner gets the larger share than the person performing the menial task.

Your idea of “fair”, so it seems, is that one should be paid solely based on effort. I don’t think this is tenable because I don’t see how you can accurately determine how much effort a person is putting into a task. Even in your example, how do you know that billionaire is not working “100 times harder” than the school teacher?

My response to that was Funny, but when responding to the problem of poverty, Conservatives (who defend this system) then begin focusing on “effort” (how those on the top must have put forth so much more of it, and how those on the bottom, haven’t, and are thus “lazy”, etc).

A couple of other good articles:

From → Politics

  1. On the comments section to that next to the last article, someone posts:

    Apologizing for the failure of capitalism is why we’re in this mess. It is flawed system that has never worked. Capitalism wasn’t designed or invented. It was discovered. It was discovered and named by Karl Marx, the authority on capitalism. Capitalism is just a run over from mercantilism. It’s not a system at all. The only way for it survive is if the so called system wasn’t dependant on unlimited growth. Impossible! How stupid can we be. Nothing goes for ever. Especially when we live on a finite planet with finite resources. And then you have to ignore the countless break downs of the so called system. The rich perpetuate it for the poor suckers who have very little chance of becoming rich, like winning the lottery. It’s a suckers game for poor suckers. The casinos or a suckers game for poor suckers. Very few winners, mostly losers. Are getting the parallel – 1% winners (the rich) and 99% losers. The poor suckers in this country are about to learn just what American exceptionalism really means. It’s pure Kool-Aid.

    He then links to this site, and I don’t know what they’re completely all about yet, but what they’re saying is interesting.

    One person responds to him:

    Capitalism just “is” like laws of physics and the universe. It wasn’t invented and it is not a political system. People with freedom use more capitalism to improve their lives and people without freedom are not free to use it. Dictatorial/Socialist governments use capitalism to fund their government and reward their elite. Free and democratic governments generally do not use capitalism (at least not as much) and the people under that system use it freely. Capitalism is NOT the cause of our problems government is, or more accurately regulations put in place by governments is responsible for the collapse. Capitalism will/can save us but only if government gets out of the way.

    This somewhat sums up the attitude of capitalism as some divine rule. It just “is”. Like God is the “I AM that I AM”. Though it’s correct that Socialist governments are said to be really “state capitalism”, so it can be seen as just a different aspect of the same system.
    Since man is a created being, and capitalism is a product of human interaction, then it is created, and not eternal. This should prove once and for all (From a Biblical viewpoint) that it is apart of sin (just like socialism is). You can’t divorce the sin from the sinner and say that the sin is only wrong because imperfect sinners can’t help themselves (i.e. “the problem with capitalism is capitalists, while the problem with socialism is socialism itself”. What causes one groups of sinners to differ from another? How did one group of sinners choose this faultless “natural” system, while others chose this inherently flawed one? There still must be something good about the first group, even if you try to credit god with it).
    You can point out that it is from our nature, and thus that we can’t naturally help it but so much, but then it does not need to still be justified.

  2. Additional article defending capitalism against “class warfare” from the “ability to please one’s fellow man” angle:

    Class warfare thrives on ignorance about the sources of income. Listening to some of the talk about income differences, one would think that there’s a pile of money meant to be shared equally among Americans. Rich people got to the pile first and greedily took an unfair share. Justice requires that they “give back.” Or, some people talk about unequal income distribution as if there were a dealer of dollars. The reason some people have millions or billions of dollars while others have very few is the dollar dealer is a racist, sexist, a multinationalist or just plain mean.

    In a free society, for the most part, people with high incomes have demonstrated extraordinary ability to produce valuable services for — and therefore please — their fellow man. People voluntarily took money out of their pockets to purchase the products of Gates, Pfizer or IBM. High incomes reflect the democracy of the marketplace.

    In a free society, in a significant way income inequality reflects differences in productive capacity, namely one’s ability to please his fellow man.

    So it’s all in the character of the person (as usual).
    This stuff still ignores all the strings those already up there can pull, such as overpricing. That they see people are willing to pay anything for their services, and then take advantage and jack up the prices, and people pay more, and then later wake up to find themselves struggling. Of course, this is usually blamed on the government for taxing and giving the money to those selfish lazy, or perhaps just ungifted (talentedly inferior) yet still undeserving people. It operates on a devaluing of everyone else’s work and service. It’s like if one is not a top entertainer or executive, they haven’t “earned” a decent living! Then, we tell them “just work harder” or assume that the complaints are a coming from people who just want “something for nothing” (govt. handouts).

    IT still does not address the illusion of scarcity!

    Additional point to this

    The problem with how much people make is the illusion of scarcity, which is even highlighted by the defense many give, that the CEO’s often had to work 20 or more hours a day (or up to a hundred or more hours a week) to get where they are. Some will even chide the workers “you work your 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week and then go home, yet you want more for nothing”.

    Yet those extended hours are not normal, and in fact not healthy (for themselves, physically, or for their relationships). The 8 hour day and 40 hour week (with 8 hours of rest) was settled on because it was the most conducive to health.

    But now, the extended hours, in these arguments, are being made the standard, or what’s normal or the basic reqirement, for “success”, or even to keep your head above the water. Just working the normal hours is being called “lazy” even!

    But all of this holds only under a severe case of scarcity. Like the Ice Age, where there just isn’t enough for everybody, and only the strongest who scramble the hardest can gain enough to survive decently.
    (Does anyone think, why is this the model of success in modern day America?)
    But wealth is not really that scarce. All of this is only justification for it being increasingly concentrated.

    Here’s another article, (I found posted by a conservative), that promotes the illusion of scarcity. It likens the OWS and other liberals to a child throwing a temper tantrum because he couldn’t get his toy —because the store burned down; yet he keeps demanding, and “He will not hear it, and he will take home what is rightfully his. Only this time, he won’t. This is not because his parents have gained some courage, but rather because God fashioned the world in such a way as to contain times when even cowards must say no.”:

    (Not for the rich, though! He always supports them getting all they want, even if the store did burn down!)

    To sum it up, the illusion of scarcity is an excuse for “civilized” humans to revert to the ‘law of the jungle’, for their own maximum convenience, and at everyone else’s expense (which they are then made to blame on others, including those lower than they!)

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