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  1. RenegadeEvolution
    RenegadeEvolution August 14, 2008 at 12:40 pm |

    psst…me too.

  2. Kristen
    Kristen August 14, 2008 at 1:05 pm |

    I think…I think sometimes TWF, like any movement, can be too judgmental. Its all about that “should” word. How we “should” live. How we “should” act.

    I get a little uncomfortable when we start defining the “goodness” of people by some arbitrary rules that are not about harm reduction but rather are about maintaining an ideology.

    I grew up poor…as in government cheese poor. It wasn’t good. I didn’t enjoy it. I would do nearly anything to avoid it going forward. I worked hard, caught some breaks, received the unearned benefits of being intelligent, white, het, cis, etc, and now, like you, I’m a lawyer feeding the evil beast of evilness.

    Maybe after receiving the benefit of my education and my experiences, I “should” have turned my full attention to development economics (my passion) or children’s rights (another passion), but I wanted to eat, pay off my loans, buy a home, take care of my parents, and give my husband the opportunity to follow his dreams.

    Yes, I have a responsibility as someone who benefited from unearned privileges to actively engage in righting that injustice, but for me that doesn’t mean giving up everything I enjoy as penance.

    Its not something that makes sense to me, I guess in part because it isn’t something I expect of anyone else. There are tons of people who grew up with more privilege than I did. I don’t expect and wouldn’t want them to don sackcloth and ashes for the rest of their lives.

    But I understand where the feeling comes from. My mother truly considers me a complete and utter failure because (1) I don’t have children and (2) I have not dedicated my life to helping others. In her mind there is no justification for spending a Saturday cuddled up next my husband and dog when I could be working at a homeless shelter.

  3. Nikita
    Nikita August 14, 2008 at 1:08 pm |

    I’m in complete agreement.

  4. exholt
    exholt August 14, 2008 at 1:13 pm |

    It is seemingly rampant in progressive left circles, not just TWF.

    At my progressive radical-left oriented undergrad campus where the majority of students tended to be White suburban-raised upper/upper-middle class, there was plenty of talk about those choosing more seemingly lucrative majors such as economics and those who openly aspired to highly lucrative corporate-oriented careers as “sellouts” and “tools of the evil capitalist machine”.

    Though things may have changed since I graduated, when I was there…..most classmates who were aspiring to corporate-oriented careers tended to keep that fact well-hidden to avoid biting sarcastic comments from classmates. The prevailing position was that going into jobs which “serves society” such as NGOs, academia, etc is good…….going into highly lucrative jobs…especially in the private sector was bad and a sign the aspirant was a greedy self-centered “capitalist pig” out for him/herself.

    The fact many of those classmates had plenty of socio-economic privilege in the form of wealthy parents able to pay full tuition and/or had trust funds combined with the fact most ended up going into the very corporate careers they loudly denounced others for considering in college underscored this form of hypocrisy. A form of hypocrisy I could clearly see not only as a POC, but also a working-class student who was attending that institution on a near-full scholarship.

  5. Lance Hunter
    Lance Hunter August 14, 2008 at 1:17 pm |

    Capitalist here, too. That’s why Kiva is my favorite charity. Hell, capitalism can be a hell of a tool when used responsibly.

  6. jess
    jess August 14, 2008 at 1:20 pm |

    Hey, Octogalore.

    Forgive me if I’m misunderstanding your post, but it’s not my sense that anti-capitalists (privileged or otherwise) are questioning the value or importance of people having “Health insurance, housing, transportation … Backdrop for emergencies with kids or elderly parents … fulfilling employment, etc.” The questions of anti-capitalists, as I hear (and ask) them, are more like: Isn’t everyone entitled to decent health care, housing, transportation, and the like? And isn’t capitalism based on unequal distribution of resources that will prevent everyone from having access to those things? And (h/t http://www.enoughenough.org) “What is the difference between financial security and hoarding wealth?” And how might we work together to change social and economic structures toward a more just distribution of resources for everyone? And does an individualistic approach to “security,” financial or otherwise, really make any of us secure?

    Because I appreciate how you have offered a lot of yourself in describing how you landed at your current position, I will share in kind:

    I have lived a variety of different class experiences — from growing up in a financially precarious household with a sporadically employed single mom to currently earning a lower-middle-class income via relatively high-wage but part-time (by privileged choice) work, with connections to some newly created one-side-of-my-family wealth that I did not earn in the background (a major safety net), while other members of my immediate family remain uninsured and without savings or assets of any kind … and throughout all of these periods, in every one of the shifting and always-mixed class positions I’ve occupied, as I have watched myself and those close to me move between financial precarity and wealth, I have seen not increasing happiness or security with increasing wealth, but concrete examples of the ways capitalism is not about meeting everyone’s basic needs and creating widespread opportunities for meaningful work, but is instead premised on exploiting most people and the planet to create large profits for a few people, and on keeping us isolated and in competition, atomized, and, for most of the (few) people who benefit from it, largely incapable of registering how we are implicated in the exploitation …

    I’m not interested in spending a lot of time judging individuals’ job or other choices for navigating a system that forces many of us to compromise our values to pay our rent. I’m a lot more interested in wondering how we might create a system that doesn’t demand those kinds of choices. And when you call yourself “a capitalist,” I wonder what your capitalist prescriptions are for ensuring that those good things you’ve listed (decent housing and healthcare, meaningful work, etc.) are available to all.

    (Also, I read the Business section obsessively — usually first, even! Though I guess not for the reasons you’re suggesting … ;)

  7. oxygengrrl
    oxygengrrl August 14, 2008 at 1:32 pm |

    Wow. Spot on. Thanks for writing this. Although I work for a not-for-profit, I’ve been at it a while (I think I am, in fact, of that pesky third wave generation), so my income is decent, and my benefits are good, and I got lucky by buying real estate before the boom, so I’m not broke. And it’s my dirty little secret, too.
    I would add two things.
    One, it’s not entirely gendered, though I think you’re right that women are more likely to feel that guilt. But my (male) partner and I (female) both find ourselves not wanting to invite new friends to our place because then they’ll know we’re not struggling financially so as to pursue our creative/save the world/whatever dreams.
    Two, I think it might be kind of good for us. Even privilege you’ve worked for is privilege, and it’s not such a bad thing to be a little embarrassed by having more than others do. Because it keeps us working towards a world where more people can have more, right?
    Thinking there’s something wrong with inequality doesn’t mean you have to give up all the things that, as you say, give you the tools to fight inequality, but I think the problem comes when you buy into the idea that you are better than others because you have more. Thinking you’re worse isn’t great, but it’s better than thinking you’re better.

  8. PhysioProf
    PhysioProf August 14, 2008 at 1:35 pm |

    What you are really talking about is trying as best one can to enjoy one’s time here on Earth within the social systems that actually exist right now. Yeah, it would be nice to overthrow the capitalist patriarchy yadda yadda. But that ain’t gonna happen absent massive structural social, economic, and political changes at a global scale.

    I get screamed at constantly over at DrugMonkey for speaking the truth about what scientists need to do to succeed in academia, and helping them to do so: “PhysioProf, you asshole! The system is destructive! The system is unfair! You are a tool of the system, just perpetuating evil!” Well, the system currently exists in a particular state, and people who want to pursue academic science have no choice but to function within that system.

    Similarly, people who want to be able to feed, clothe, and house their families, and have some time and effort left over to try to make life for other people better as well have no choice but to function within the capitalistic patriarchal society we live in.

  9. No worries
    No worries August 14, 2008 at 1:37 pm |

    Congrats….most smart people are. You don’t have to have a PhD in econ to realize its the best system yet devised for maximizing wealth and happiness.

    Also, hasn’t capitalism been cool since the early 90s?

  10. Rachel
    Rachel August 14, 2008 at 1:38 pm |

    I consider myself a capitalist too, because most of the decisions I’ve made in my life have revolved entirely around money (with the exception of going to art school, I simply HAD to go, that was my path and I don’t regret it). I want to one day out-earn my boyfriend, and he is supportive of the idea of me being the breadwinner — even though he’s going to have to learn to cook when I’m in law school.

    Before moving in together (in… yikes ten days!) we had a couple of discussions about money. One was about bills, and the other was about my ability to continue to support myself. I don’t want to feel trapped by circumstances if things go down hill in our relationship and want to have money set aside to move out if I have to — living with him, interestingly enough actually will make me more able to move out than continuing to live where I am.

    I decided a few years ago that I wasn’t going to be poor for the rest of my life; that I would have health insurance; that I would be able to feed myself and buy new clothes when I needed them and new shoes when I wanted them. Since making that decision, my income has doubled each year… from 6 grand, to 12, and now from 12 to 24… of course, I have a full time job now, but that’s not the point. I actually feel more fulfilled making more money. I have more time to dedicate to volunteerism because I’m not scrounging around for my next meal. I can go places and do things, and more importantly, I can take care of my health.

    I don’t think wanting to make sure you take care of your own needs makes you a failure as a woman, feminist, or liberal. I mean, Ayn Rand is one of my heros, despite the fact that the majority of her ideals were completely opposite to what I believe — except I believe in earning what I’m worth and not feeling like I need to give it away in order to be happy.

  11. Manju
    Manju August 14, 2008 at 1:47 pm |

    It appears, though this may be observer bias, that feminism will be the last liberation movement willing to detach capitalism from their oppression. The civil rights movement and nationalist movements in particular, whose anti-capitalism was deeply informed by their anti-colonialism, are much further along the line in this regard.

    But while its fairly obvious how free markets can liberate ethnic communities I’m not sure the same can be said of women. Americas racism is profoundly limited by its free markets, allowing communities of color to create and run business as they like, more or less. The greatest example is the history of wall street, where banks like goldman and lehman where created by jews in part to off-set the wasp hegemony of the House of Morgan.

    I read somewhere (though it may be propaganda since it came from a pro-illegal immigration group) that 50% of illegal immigrants are middle class by 2nd generation, representing an extraordinary class mobility. Just take a walk into any neighborhood where illegal immigrants have settled and you can just sense the bustling economic activity. Sure, you got 5 families cramped into one house, but its clean, satellite dishes are on the roof (telemundo’s not enough, i guess) and little bars and stores everywhere.

    But there’s no gendered equivalent. Wall street is teeming with asians and jews but its all male. Even the relatively new hedge fund industry, mostly start-ups, resemble a gay bar. Ditto for silicon valley and the VC industry, outside of a handful of women-only VC firms.

    Women can’t separate themselves from men and build their own economy. So its unclear how free markets will be seen as a liberating force as it has recently for many POC.

  12. Sarah J
    Sarah J August 14, 2008 at 2:01 pm |

    I have to say that Octo’s guest posts have been some of my favorites thus far, and not at all because I agree with her all the time.

    This is an excellent post. It raises a whole bunch of excellent points and I think we all need to think about this some more.

    And I say this as a total pinko commie lefty type.

    I worked in retail for a while, ran a fairly good-sized small business, and hated my life. I hated my job. I had money, and had nothing else. But that job did give me essential skills, a rock-solid faith in my own capabilities, and enough money to go back to graduate school and spend this summer doing nothing but reading, writing, and doing an unpaid internship. I learned about various types of investment accounts, and briefly considered buying my own retail business before realizing that I am not a gleeful capitalist and that I love to write, and I wanted to make a career doing that instead.

    And Octo is absolutely right that this is a feminist issue and that it comes down on women far harder. We wouldn’t have ridiculous mommy-wars articles in the major newspapers and magazines where writers use a few anecdotes about rich women who left their high-paying jobs to be stay-at-home moms because it’s more fulfilling. When was the last time you read about a rich guy leaving his job to be fulfilled by his kids?

    I tend to believe that if we had a strong social safety net like other countries, people like me could be happier doing what they love to do without that ever-encroaching fear of being broke. But while we don’t have one, the best thing we can do is learn about money, and learn from people like Octo.

    thanks for this.

  13. RyanRutley
    RyanRutley August 14, 2008 at 2:02 pm |

    exholt is right that this is all over in progressive circles, and it goes beyond that. One of the underlying beliefs of Western civilization (I’m not sure about the East and otherwise) is that you have to do bad things to get money, and if you have money it’s because you’re done bad things. Converse, if you do good things you can’t accept any money for it, or you “did it for the money” and that’s a corruption of the true and pure spirit you have to do good things with, or they don’t count.

    Which is, of course, bullshit. As many have pointed out before, we pay athletes and actors and oil CEOs far more than our teachers and caregivers and spiritual leaders and so on. Which makes sense if your values are that money can only legitimately be earned for trivial or harmful things, and good important things should be done for reasons other than for the money, so those jobs can’t pay more than enough to just get by. Are those the values we want to keep living by?

  14. Renee
    Renee August 14, 2008 at 2:15 pm |

    Well I for one am soundly against capitalism. It is the cult of “I” instead of we and is solely responsible for many of the evils in this world. I want, I want, I want is repeatedly what has been said in this thread. No thought is given to fact that economic success is predicated on exploiting a “lesser body”. Every single privilege that is sought necessarily means that someone, somewhere will go without but hey live guilt free with your shiny baubles that is something to aspire to.

    What I find particularly stunning is that no one even thought to think about I need vs I want. I need means that you would not go without but still offer the opportunity for someone else to maintain a subsistence level. Still you don’t want to be called a capitalist dupe, better to go along with the system than realize that real and lasting change must come from below. Your bourgeois masters have so entrenched the idea that success means the ability to exploit that you take it for granted that what is sought, privilege is necessarily a good thing. The fact that people in India are encouraged to eat rats, if they are starving or that people in Haiti are eating fried mud with butter is something no one should concern themselves with. the cult of “I” has spoken. What good has capitalism done the world except increase the difference between haves and have nots? As the difference between the rich and poor widens year after year (is that Ben Stein I hear cheering) it becomes more and more foolish to align ourselves with the bourgeoisie. You have more in common with the average homeless person than you do with the ruling 1% but oh no lets embrace their values as though ultimately we will all benefit from this system of imbalance.
    You want to know why we have a food crises—capitalism
    You want to know why we have a homeless problem —capitalism
    Want to know why education is quickly becoming the preserve of the rich— capitalism
    Why do we have a mortgage crises— capitalism
    etc, and etc…but it is all natural right…, God bless me and no one else …blech

  15. FashionablyEvil
    FashionablyEvil August 14, 2008 at 2:18 pm |

    This is an interesting post and while there’s plenty think about, I got stuck here:

    pro bono piercing

    What on EARTH is “pro bono piercing”?

  16. Faith
    Faith August 14, 2008 at 2:18 pm |

    I’ve worked in non-profit/academia (HIV research) my entire career and 20 years later, I’m really good at what I do. I also get paid fairly well for what I do and I resent what I have heard in some circles, not to mention at NGOs where I have applied for positions, that I should be willing to make otherwise unacceptable sacrifices to be granted the opportunity to do this good work.

    I make a decent living because I’m really good at what I do. There aren’t a whole lot of people with the background I have and frankly, I do make a sacrifice because if I was working in for-profit, I’d be making about 2x the amount I am now. What RyanRutley said about the money=bad, good=sacrifice/virtue is pervasive in this community.

    Thanks for this article. Really hit home.

  17. LC
    LC August 14, 2008 at 2:26 pm |

    Fasionably Evil – Umm… it is offering to do piercing for no cost?

  18. LC
    LC August 14, 2008 at 2:29 pm |

    Discussions like this always remind me of when someone told me that despite people constantly citing the bible for “Money is the root of all Evil”, the actual quote is “The Love of Money is the Root of all Evil”.

    Not quite the same thing.

  19. dananddanica
    dananddanica August 14, 2008 at 2:44 pm |

    renee,
    do you really believe its that simple? Food crises are created soley by capitalism? How about the ability to raise capital, fund research and produce 5 times the food we used to be able to in the same area and distribute that food widely, if not perfectly, where does that come from? Capitalism I’d say, why do you focus on only the perceived ills and not the benefits at all? Again, homelessness is caused specifically and exclusively by Capitalism? In what world do you live where anything is that simple? Why even make such an idiotic claim? There is quite a huge gap between the 1 percenters and the rest of us but show me a society of more than 200 million where this isnt true, even Japan has a large gap despite what many people -feel- its like there. What is your alternative to our system? I dont wanna hear bullshit ideals and rosy hopes, give me the down and dirty details of how else society is to be carried forward without the ability to raise large amounts of capital to create a system in which the things you listed can be eradicated or ameliorated. As far as people in other countries being worse off, hell yes they are and that is in fact changing in most of the world, or are you going to continually chase the worst example you can find in the world to browbeat westerners? How the hell could we have changed things to make them significantly better for all the worlds citizens when we just in the last 50 years have had the true ability to have a worldwide reach? Gah, your comments on caplitalism are so tiresome to me and funny in that only a westerner could think about capitalism in that way. there are a lot of problems with our execution of it but at the same time it is the only way ive seen in which we can get the means to solve a lot of the problems we face, even the ones it itself creates.

  20. jess
    jess August 14, 2008 at 2:48 pm |

    Also, I’m kinda fascinated by this:

    it’s perfectly OK to have money that you had no or little role in producing. We all know TWF folks who fit this category. So you have deniability and can gently, knowingly scoff at those who did produce it as having lowly priorities

    I can’t think of any examples of third-wave feminists uncritically talking about having unearned wealth while being critical of people who have earned wealth. I do happen to know a lot of activists (third-wave-feminist and otherwise) who have unearned wealth and/or class privilege who either a) hide it, or b) are at-least-somewhat-to-very-much critical about it. But that doesn’t seem to be what you’re describing. Can you point me to some examples of TWFs who are out about having unearned wealth; deny its relevance/claim to be past it because they “apologize” for it or are otherwise uncritical about it; and scoff at people with earned wealth? This is a really unfamiliar dynamic/type to me.

  21. Holly
    Holly August 14, 2008 at 2:49 pm |

    Thanks for pointing a spotlight onto the gender imbalance that comes into play here, octo. I think it’s really important when talking about the politics of wealth and poverty and everything in between that criticism and acclaim of various kinds of strategies is not handed out equally at ALL. How many years has it been since feminists first started talking about how important it is for women to know how to manage our own money, to have financial independence, to know how to make it by in the hostile capitalist world and build some security and happiness for ourselves? It’s still true, it’s still important, and even for those of us who would like to resist capitalism (or at least the heavily abused form of it that we live under) we’d do well to keep that in mind.

    I come from a really similar background to yours, right down to the professor parents who probably should have been paying more attention to the business section as our family fortunes bobbled haphazardly. And now I’m much more firmly ensconced in the capitalist world world than my parents in the academy or a lot of my friends and collaborators who toil in the non-profit world. I often feel like I’ve inherited some of my family’s inability to deal with capitalism, the tendency to want to dwell in words and ideas instead of dollar figures. Or to put it another way, I suck at dealing with my own finances, even though I’ve run profit-seeking projects for international companies with million-dollar budgets. There are so many reasons to get over the political / ideological / psychological baggage about this stuff, from having more resources to share with your community to simply being able to plan for the future.

    OK, one thing I wanted to ask that I was suddenly reminded of when I read your post. Back when Jill was taking the bar, I posted a clip from Freaks and Geeks where Kim Kelly talks about wanting to be a public defender and dedicated it to all the bar-takers, especially would-be public defenders. You commented and said:

    And good luck to the other Bar takers, whether they want (or can afford) to be public defenders, or not.

    I didn’t quite get what you were trying to say at the time, but I think it’s connected to the discussion in this post, yes? Because public defender is one of those do-gooder jobs that doesn’t get paid much but gets a lot of cred in TWF circles, as you put it. The kind of job, along with some of the underpaid jobs Ryan Rutley mentioned, that you’re expected to make otherwise unacceptable sacrifices (as Faith put it) for. I think this points out an area that needs to change. I have quite a few friends who CAN’T afford to be public defenders, but work those kinds of jobs anyway by sacrificing more than they should be expected to. They didn’t come from wealth and don’t have it now; they live in cramped quarters with other people into their 30s so they can pay off law school bills on a public-interest-lawyer salary and do the kind of work that’s important to them.

    The point here is not that they’re so virtuous for making sacrifices or that everyone should be like them — that’s exactly the kind of mindset we need to move away from. The point is that we ought to be valuing and esteeming these kinds of jobs — teachers, social workers, caregivers who don’t have MDs, nonprofit jobs — and not just in a “you get social cred in an activist movement” kind of way. We ought to be paying them enough that everyone who actually wants to have a home and a family and save for retirement doesn’t have to drop out and get a capitalist job. Right? (I remember someone brought this up in another thread, the problems with anyone in a nonprofit being paid above $24k.) And this is to say nothing of the way this slants the whole nonprofit world towards being controlled people with class privilege, which I think was part of what you were alluding to.

    As a capitalist type who gets paid to entertain other people and hopes to keep doing that as long as I can, I do feel the sting of not having a job that’s “virtuous” enough sometimes. I guess I’ve learned to shrug that off, and it also helps that I can spin my job as something artistic (which it’s not, 90% of time, of course — commercial forces mean most of creative pros don’t get to make “art”). But you know, I feel like I have to worry less about having a stigma in activist circles and more that:

    a) poor people, women, people of color, and so many others are not being taught and encouraged to work the capitalist system to our financial benefit in ways that middle and upper class white guys are;

    b) people who have a drive and willingness to work in underpaid professions are forced out, or forced to make unreasonable sacrifices, in order to do that kind of extremely important work… unless they are privileged enough to have other sources of income;

    c) all the ideological and psychological turmoil over “what do I do with my money? how do I save enough? am I supposed to? should I give it away?” makes it way too difficult for many of us to manage our own money and give what we can — or even figure out what we can — much less have incredibly important conversations like the questions and topics posed by the enoug project, which Jess H. has just posted about. If we’re too busy feeling bad about having money, feeling ashamed of having worked the system to get by and get a little for ourselves, or worse still too paralyzed to even strive to succeed in capitalism, we will never be able to answer questions like “how do we save without hoarding?” and “how do we provide for our security WITHIN a community that we can invest in and trust?” and ultimately “how do we redistribute wealth in our society, starting one person at a time, without getting tangled up in our own knots?”

  22. Holly
    Holly August 14, 2008 at 2:57 pm |

    I like that sex work parallel, actually. Eliminationism, in another form.

    I also feel like I have to come out of the closet as someone who feels like there haven’t been any workable alternatives proposed that I think would actually distribute wealth better than regulated capitalism. What makes that easier to say is that there is a whole lot of flexibility in the term “regulated capitalism,” right — from the theoretical “total laissez-faire” model that only those who aren’t concerned about the general welfare really think is viable all the way to relatively planned economies (that also just don’t tend to work because of inefficiency). I mean, sometimes I really WANT to believe in anarchoprimitivism, but it’s not like I think it’s “viable” in the sense of “a system that could be implemented without killing 5.9 billion people.”

    This is all a bit of a sidetrack though. The points I find most important in the original post are not incompatible with wanting to oppose or reform capitalism, because capitalism is what we have to work with right now, what people have to survive in, and we need to make sure people can survive, especially the disenfranchised. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have more abstract / long-reaching conversations sometimes too, and I’d love to talk and learn more about economic systems. Probably a good exercise in economics intersecting with feminism.

  23. jess
    jess August 14, 2008 at 3:02 pm |

    one more for now, and then i really need to get back to earning my own rent money!

    i’m not sure how calling for less judgment around people’s job choices, or even calling for more support for/less shaming of women moving up in current (capitalist) system, equals being “a capitalist.” it’s that seeming conflation in your post that has me reading your critique as a critique of anticapitalism.*

    back later. need to work now.

  24. Kristen
    Kristen August 14, 2008 at 3:05 pm |

    Octo,

    I agree completely. By opting out of the power structure women cannot change the power structure.

    Renee,

    I second much of what Dananddanica said, but I want to add this: Capitalism is just a way of organizing people’s productive capacity, as is socialism and communism. Capitalism does not have a moral component. It is merely a system that is only as moral as its most immoral member.

    Capitalism has not caused the food crisis. People, careless of the needs of others, has caused the food crisis.

    It’s like blaming Christianity for the Crusades or Manifest Destiny for genocide. No theory or ideology causes harm or is responsible for the neglect of others. People are responsible. People choose to believe an ideology that helps them to get the things they want. If we magically transformed the world into a perfect communist state it would take only one single sociopath to rip the whole thing right apart.

    You can’t fix humanity by changing the rules, humanity will just change them right back. If you want to end suffering you have to fix people.

  25. Renee
    Renee August 14, 2008 at 3:11 pm |

    @ dananddanica..read Marx, enough said

  26. matttbastard
    matttbastard August 14, 2008 at 3:14 pm |

    Octo: When you use the term ‘regulated capitalism’ to describe your preferred economic system, are you talking about market socialism, economic democracy, or some kind of other mixed economy (eg, Swedish welfare model, Danish flexicurity, etc)?

    (As a social democrat [ie, the most conservative breed of flaming lefty] I support a mixed economy along the lines of the Swedish or Danish model, for reasons outlined in this 2001 speech by Canadian social democratic icon and former New Democratic Party leader Ed Broadbent:

    Market economies have been immensely successful in lifting the majority in developed democracies out of a life of poverty. They have also provided citizens with an immense range of personal choices and generated the wealth needed to provide effective social rights. At the same time, both in the distribution of income and power, capitalism is inherently unequal in its effects, which runs counter to the democratic goal of equal citizenship. The internal dynamism of capitalism also threatens to convert all of life into marketable relationships.

    Social democrats have responded by affirming the primacy of our democratic political institutions over the market. We want a market economy but not a market society. We have insisted that the government intervene directly to ensure that in certain areas, non-market policies replace the commercial and unequal affects of the market. Hence, the creation of the universal social rights based welfare state. Unlike market-driven liberals and conservatives who favour minimal “bail-out” or “safety net” welfare provisions for those “who are unable to look after themselves,” social democrats have seen key entitlements, in the language of the Universal Declaration, as human rights that belong to all citizens. We Canadians do not allocate political and civil rights on the basis of a means test. Nor should we do so with the right to health, university education or child care.

    )

  27. jess
    jess August 14, 2008 at 3:27 pm |

    ah! why am i here again and not working?!?

    I happen not to think a wholesale substitution of another system is workable.

    well, I’m with Vandana Shiva (et al.) in thinking that the system of global capital is precisely what is not workable, and that another system is our (people’s and the planet’s) only hope for survival. so i’ll keep hoping, and working, in that direction.

  28. Meowser
    Meowser August 14, 2008 at 3:29 pm |

    Octo, thank you so much for this post.

    I have so much guilt and shame around money, you just do not want to know. I owe all kinds of back taxes (I didn’t even get a stimulus check because it went toward my back bill with the IRS), I’m in debt up to my eyeballs even though I haven’t used a credit card in years, and if not for my boyfriend I’d probably be living in a cardboard box by now. (I’m aspie and earning a consistent living has always been a struggle for me, and I’m too “high functioning” to get any kind of disability. Whee.)

    And I feel SO ashamed and guilty for wanting my debts paid, wanting savings (savings! I’m almost 45! and all I have is $8000 in a 401K!), wanting to be able to travel and see my family and friends, wanting a little comfort, wanting fulfilling work that pays decently, even. How dare I?? I buy into what Renee says, that property is theft and that it’s all stolen from brown people and I cannot live with that guilt. Wanting even more than I have? That makes me even more of a murderer and a thief. And yet, if I stay where I am, I am not likely to survive. I’m damned if I do (make money), damned if I don’t. If anyone has experience in resolving their feelings about things like this, I’d love to read about it.

    P.S. Octo, I also wanted to tell you I love your piece (on your blog) about entitlement. It’s a really fresh perspective and I refer to it often.

  29. exholt
    exholt August 14, 2008 at 3:43 pm |

    @ dananddanica..read Marx, enough said

    Renee,

    I would have to respectfully disagree as the more deeply I studied from the Marxist canon and its implementation on actual societies such as Mainland China, the more I am convinced that Marxist theory is severely flawed as an implementable economic and political solution. This was arrived at from reading Marx and Engels’ own writings to derivations such as Lenin, Mao, Kim, etc….especially after studying the history of how Marxist derived regimes actually functioned not only in college, but also from years worth of recounted experiences from relatives, friends, and neighbors who had the misfortune of living under such regimes.

    Instead of creating a classless society, Marx’ call for the “dictatorship of the proletariat” meant that successful revolutionaries were often able to supplant the ruling elite with themselves. Thus, the citizenry just exchanged one tyrannical ruling elite for another arguably more tyrannical one.

  30. smmo
    smmo August 14, 2008 at 3:44 pm |

    I’ve read quite a bit on alternative economic systems and never seen anything that wasn’t severely flawed.

    Ignoring, of course, the severe flaws of the current system. Which is looking pretty not workable at the moment, on any number of levels.

    “Regulated capitalism” = taxes taxes taxes. Happy with that Octo? Because most people of means are decidedly not. Rubber meet road. Capitalism needs an underclass to succeed, and the only way the underclass isn’t utterly miserable is if the rich pay for them not to be. Wildly simplistic, I know, but basically true.

    Perhaps women feel more shame than men over wealth because we’re socialized to have more empathy? The solution to that inequity is not, IMO, women having less empathy.

  31. Sara Anderson
    Sara Anderson August 14, 2008 at 3:45 pm |

    jess, I’ve been struggling with the “what is the difference between financial security and hoarding wealth?” thing lately, since my four-years-stable (and well-insured and paid) job, with which I am supporting myself and my husband as he finishes law school at an inexpensive, state school (paid for with the kind of privileged money that is so often ridiculed: that passed on by relatives), has been jeapordized by an expensive (I’ve been calling it “fancy.”) and possibly disabling health condition.*

    The really disorienting thing is that I was originally diagnosed with a terminal disease, and things turned out to be very optimistic, medically. It makes it really hard to know what exactly I am entitled to get pissed off about. Two years ago, I was hating my job and keeping at it for the financial security and the fact that it is a good stepping stone for the kind of career I’d like to ultimately have.

    The question I’ve been asking myself is: Do I get to whine about my basically perfect life going off-track? Or is it the lame sob story of a privileged white lady who foolishly followed all the rules that couldn’t protect her from an extremely rare health condition?

    * Funny enough, my husband recently confessed that he thought I was being overly risk-averse by buying disability insurance when I started the job. It turns out he was wrong to the tune of our only income-earner (myself, a person who had almost no medical history before the age of 25) being out of work for 6 months this year, after having a six-figure operation. Real good insurance and lots of goodwill and support brought the out of pocket cost down to three figures.

  32. Brian
    Brian August 14, 2008 at 4:01 pm |

    Wow – this seems really great! Thanks for sharing!

  33. Lyndsay
    Lyndsay August 14, 2008 at 4:10 pm |

    I will acknowledge that capitalism and factories have made many things more affordable and in many countries not many people go hungry anymore and there is less poverty. However, I can’t ignore the negative aspects and the great things about non-capitalistic things we have. The first that comes to mind is health care. How many people benefit from health care as a business versus health care being government regulated. Same with education.

    If a job is not inflicting harm, I won’t judge it but when I watch Sicko and it shows those people working for insurance companies who are denying people necessary health care I can’t help but judge what they are doing and why they are in that job.

    Also, capitalism supports consumerism and how long can our planet support our levels of consumerism.

    I think we should be encouraged from a young age to consider where products are coming from and how ethical their production is.

  34. oxygengrrl
    oxygengrrl August 14, 2008 at 4:10 pm |

    Smmo: I’m actually ok paying taxes. I’m willing to bet a lot of the other progressives with an income are, too. I do feel it’s my responsibility as a citizen to do my best to see my taxes spent for the good of the country (which I see as meaning its residents), and I do strongly favor a system that taxes the wealthy more than it does the less wealthy (and does not tax the poor). But I’ve lived under what was called communism, and I caution against arguments that all that is wrong with the world is a product of market forces. Indeed, the development experience shows that market forces can be forces for good, as well as evil–including, importantly, empowering women in societies where they’ve been disempowered.

  35. bellatrys
    bellatrys August 14, 2008 at 4:26 pm |

    So…”I got mine, screw everybody else” is fine, so long as you’re the one doing the screwing?

    Wow. Really empowerful.

    BTW, you don’t really understand what “capitalism” is, if you think “making a decent living” = “capitalism.” Unless you’re one of the owners of a bigger business, then you’re not a capitalist really, you’re a useful tool of capitalists, a cog in the capitalist machine.

  36. bellatrys
    bellatrys August 14, 2008 at 4:29 pm |

    OTOH, being possessed of being a “got mine/screw everyone else” mindset *ought* to be a dirty secret, but most conservatives & libertarians I know are howlingly proud of it, although they feel enough of the prick of conscience (or at least social pressure) to turn around and argue that they’re really doing the best for everyone by trying to screw them over, in some mystagogical way, and thus deserve to be allowed to go on running the world in the same devil-take-the-hindmost way it’s always been run…

  37. Nora
    Nora August 14, 2008 at 4:38 pm |

    Two things about capitalism:

    1) for it to work, there must be inequality. some people must be living badly. there will be class privilege

    2) it is based off of unhappiness. for the economy to work, we must feel unhappy about something

    and, BeeTeeDubs, if you are actually working, you aren’t a capitalist silllllly, you are working for them. READ SOME EMMA GOLDMAN, PLEASE!

  38. Renee
    Renee August 14, 2008 at 4:47 pm |

    @exhot…there has never been an application of Marxist theories as he wrote them. First of communism in not meant to exist side by side with capitalism. Communism is the ideal state after progressing from capitalism to socialism and finally communism. Yes the dictatorship is meant to overthrow the bourgeoisie but keep in mind that the proletariat is the largest section of the population, therefor he meant that society would be ruled by the masses.

  39. Renee
    Renee August 14, 2008 at 4:49 pm |

    @Lynday
    I will acknowledge that capitalism and factories have made many things more affordable and in many countries not many people go hungry anymore and there is less poverty.

    So the ever increasing difference between the rich and the poor as well as the global food crises are just imaginary then? Wow excuse my delusion.

  40. SnowdropExplodes
    SnowdropExplodes August 14, 2008 at 4:52 pm |

    I’m puzzled by the concept of “regulated capitalism”.

    The economies that most closely fit that description, it seems to me, were the Eastern Bloc economies (there’s a lot of good Marxist analysis of exactly how Stalin’s Soviet Union reverted to being a state-controlled capitalist structure).

    Equally, it is against the nature of Western capital to be regulated. Particularly in the modern, globalised economy, individual nation-states are not equipped to regulate capital.

  41. exholt
    exholt August 14, 2008 at 4:55 pm |

    I do feel the sting of not having a job that’s “virtuous” enough sometimes. I guess I’ve learned to shrug that off

    Here are a few things that help me shrug off such barbs from classmates and some of the lefty friends/coworkers/grad classmates:

    1. Recalling the classist hypocrisy of the undergrad classmates who made such critiques.

    2. Understanding how Marxist/Maoist “solutions” were failures in practice from not only studying such societies academically, but having relatives, friends, and neighbors who lived under them.

    3. Recalling how one branch of my maternal family stayed behind when the Maoists took over China in 1949 because they were idealistic academics looking to create a “New China”…..and then seeing how such a movement ended up consuming those very idealists during the 1950’s in the 100 Flowers Campaign and the Cultural Revolution where my great-aunt, great-uncle, and my two aunts were harassed, beaten, persecuted, and then were forced into effective enslavement in the countryside. When I see/hear of people or organizations who acted like my undergrad classmates, I feel free to disregard them as little better than ignorant overprivileged busybodish tyrannical control freaks.

    4. Pondering whether this progressive-left tendency to lambaste those who aspire towards lucrative professions, especially by those with socio-economic privilege themselves is the new insidious method by which some of the socio-economically privileged use to keep the “unwashed masses” of upwardly mobile middle and working-class at bay.

  42. smmo
    smmo August 14, 2008 at 4:58 pm |

    The failures of Marxism are tragic and worth discussing, but do not – by themselves – constitute a defense of the failures of capitalism.

    Every single economic system has been a patriarchal system. Until we have a non-patriarchal system, I’m not willing to give up on something other than the death-march-to-oblivion that we have now.

  43. exholt
    exholt August 14, 2008 at 5:00 pm |

    Whoops….forgot to include the following

    and the 1960’s in the Cultural Revolution…

  44. Thomas
    Thomas August 14, 2008 at 5:08 pm |

    I always thought that capitalism was the opposite of central planning, not the absence of adult supervision. (Cue laugh track.) Seriously, capitalism is not the system we have in the US now. We have crony capitalism, which socializes the losses but privatizes the gains. This encourages people and entities to invest by chasing outsized gains and courting outsized risks, misallocating capital away from things that make sense to things that are stupid but could produce a windfall. (“Alt-A” liar’s mortages, resetting in two years, turned into tranches that back CDOs by Bear Stearns, then CDO-squareds, “insured” by monoliners without the money to back a fucking thing, and pawned off all over the financial system: I’m lookin’ at you.) We have a system where the already-powerful manipulate the laws to allow them to fend off the destructive process of real competition that is supposed to kill dinosaurs (MBNA-driven bankruptcy bill, I’m looking at you. Oil companies fighting to kill tax breaks for renewables so that renewable power stays too expensive to kill oil and coal, you too.) It’s the worst of all worlds: the power of capitalism to drive innovation and eat stupid ideas for breakfast gets lost, but the tendency to move wealth upward and magnify inequality that is capitalism’s most troubling aspect gets magnified.

    In US mainstream political discourse, there’s a huge blind spot. We keep hearing that there is no choice between what we have and a Soviet central planning model; or that any move to redress inequality will produce a sclerotic and anemic economy. They keep telling us, in short, that Western Europe doesn’t exist. But it does. Some people even like it there.

  45. Thomas
    Thomas August 14, 2008 at 5:21 pm |

    BTW, I don’t whine about my taxes. I’m a mixed-economy proponent in the Social Democrat ballpark, and I pay a lot of taxes, and I don’t whine. I just want a government that directs my tax dollars to redressing inequality, rather than funnelling money to foreign colonial adventures that primarily benefit Halliburton, Blackwater and ExxonMobil.

  46. Sara Anderson
    Sara Anderson August 14, 2008 at 5:33 pm |

    A lot of this conversation is touching on why I was pretty comfortable with Linda Hirshman’s (though I haven’t read it) thesis of Get To Work! When you stay at home and take care of your kids, the social and economic power you have is really only effective regarding your family. When you’re earning a significant income, you can use it to help promote yourself (probably a woman, being that this is a feminist blog here) or other causes important to you.

  47. Natalia
    Natalia August 14, 2008 at 5:35 pm |

    I own a certain percentage of a company. Am capitalist. Don’t feel guilty about needing to pay off my debts either. I know folk who do, but I view it as a personal thing, not a “good” or “evil” thing. I just don’t have that quirk. I could say that being born in the USSR had something to do with lack of said quirk, but all Soviets were not made alike.

    I have to say, I know *a lot* of people who vehemently tear into folks like me, then go out to 5-star restaurants and jet off to cool locations with their families. My personal is political, their personal is personal. I see it a lot in academia, but once again, it’s just one subjective experience of this phenomenon, I’m not preaching the gospel here.

    Anyway, good post Octo. I like it how you’re cool with making people uncomfortable if you need to tell them something. Wish I had that backbone.

    Cheers. :-)

  48. A male
    A male August 14, 2008 at 5:46 pm |

    “I read somewhere (though it may be propaganda since it came from a pro-illegal immigration group) that 50% of illegal immigrants are middle class by 2nd generation, representing an extraordinary class mobility. Just take a walk into any neighborhood where illegal immigrants have settled and you can just sense the bustling economic activity. Sure, you got 5 families cramped into one house, but its clean, satellite dishes are on the roof (telemundo’s not enough, i guess) and little bars and stores everywhere.”

    Those who work hard and stick it out may indeed be rewarded, as my ancestors were, but it is by no means secure:

    “Landmark study based on new ‘Middle Class Security Index’ developed by Demos and Brandeis University finds that 3 out of 4 African-American and 4 out of 5 Latino middle-class families are on shaky financial ground”

    [link]

    How many such families have adequate health insurance? What kind of educational and career opportunities are available to them? And what happens if any earners in their families are taken out of the job market, even temporarily? (In another thread, Grasping, Feministe readers I assume to be “mainstream” Americans openly speak of being as little as one month or two weeks from homelessness. Only my mother’s pension is keeping my family off government rolls, as well.)

    I didn’t realize living “5 families to a house” or living with your husband in a separate bedroom at your parents’, with your ailing grandparents and six or eight aunts and uncles like my mother did, was a sign of economic progress because they can watch other than “Telemundo.” People can get that life in “the old country.” Thank you very much.

  49. Meowser
    Meowser August 14, 2008 at 5:49 pm |

    Thank you, Octo. That makes sense.

  50. Ashley
    Ashley August 14, 2008 at 5:50 pm |

    I’m not going to try to write about some grand theory for how our economic system should work (I have none), and personally I could care less which career path individuals choose, so I’m not going to say who chose the “right” job and the “wrong” job.

    What I will try to do is put things in a little perspective. We don’t have to eat garbage to survive. That is relevant to this discussion.

  51. smmo
    smmo August 14, 2008 at 5:52 pm |

    We keep hearing that there is no choice between what we have and a Soviet central planning model; or that any move to redress inequality will produce a sclerotic and anemic economy. They keep telling us, in short, that Western Europe doesn’t exist. But it does. Some people even like it there.

    Yes. Pretty much a big Yes to the whole comment.

    Oddly enough, this reminds me of the many (many) discussions about Feminists and What they Should or Should not Wear. And once again, those who cleave to the status quo aren’t happy with the props they get from The P., they want props from everyone.

  52. A male
    A male August 14, 2008 at 5:56 pm |

    Well said, Thomas, what we have in the US, or communism (what is alleged to be communism) are not the only alternatives in this world, and I fail to understand why it is often viewed as such.

    I don’t complain about paying taxes, either. I know the social systems like those of western and northern Europe, need to be paid for by someone, and not only the wealthy.

  53. Natalia
    Natalia August 14, 2008 at 6:01 pm |

    And once again, those who cleave to the status quo aren’t happy with the props they get from The P., they want props from everyone.

    If I wanted props from you, I’d let you know. I’m not shy. ;)

  54. A male
    A male August 14, 2008 at 6:09 pm |

    And BTW, I have no problem with there being wealthy people. Just people who think, speak or act like those who have less, are less than they are. Like ignorant people on some other top ten feminist blog, who e.g., despite being university students suspiciously mum about their own occupations or tax brackets (or how their tuition or K-12 education was paid), rant about the poor having children they “can’t afford”, or “taking” “my” tax money.

  55. matttbastard
    matttbastard August 14, 2008 at 6:22 pm |

    Thanks for your response, Octo–also, what Sarah J said above. I’ve really been enjoying your tenure @ Feministe thus far. If Jill and Co. are looking for any new permanent front-pagers…

    by “regulated capitalism” I mean liberal capitalism, in which the state has a role in providing infrastructure, health care, school funding, schools and bridges that cannot be efficiently implemented by private entities. The govt should also implement patents and copyrights to encourage innovation.

    So how do you reconcile Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ with your contention that ‘regulated’ (or ‘liberal’) capitalism “adjust[s] for privilege issues”? I thought that economic (or ‘classical’) liberalism only allowed for the barest minimum of government intervention in the market (eg, roads, infrastructure, education, the military). Or are you using ‘liberal’ in a political rather than an economic context? And do you support some form of public health care delivery, and, if so, which one?

    For the record, I prefer flexicurity to the Swedish Welfare Model, and do acknowledge that the inherent protectionism of the Nordic Model as a whole is troubling. I would argue that one has to take into account the ROI the public gets from “massive taxes, high inflation, [and] high unemployment”. And, um, not to get all tu quoque in the hizzouse, but what was that about “creative ways to make [unemployment] seem less high”?

    With all that said, since we’ve established that your ‘regulated’ model leans more towards Adam Smith than it does Gunnar Myrdal, what improvements/modifications (if any) would you make to the current economic model employed by the US to help adjust for “privilege issues”?

  56. exholt
    exholt August 14, 2008 at 6:25 pm |

    The failures of Marxism are tragic and worth discussing, but do not – by themselves – constitute a defense of the failures of capitalism.

    It was not meant as a defense of capitalism so much as to point out how problematic the implementation of Marxist theory and its derivatives were in practice in reply to a blithe comment to “read Marx, enough said”.

    Personally, I’m of the view that social-democrat capitalism in practice is the worst economic system we have….until the currently available alternatives are considered…..

    Moreover, I am flabbergasted at how the vast majority of mainstream economists are seemingly more interested in defending their pet established economic theories rather than attempting to innovate a new theory that not only improves upon the best of what they all offer, but also moves beyond them.

  57. matttbastard
    matttbastard August 14, 2008 at 6:31 pm |

    Oh, and how do child care and parental leave fit in to your regular/liberal model?

  58. Ashley
    Ashley August 14, 2008 at 6:32 pm |

    Octogalore,

    I would argue that feeling ashamed is precisely what tends to get in the way of people doing much of anything useful. It takes the attention away from the suffering being pointed out. I’d prefer it if we gave up on guilt altogether.

    I was pointing out that the fact that there is poverty so extreme that people are eating garbage (and the fact that people are being encouraged to eat rats, as Renee described on her blog today) is relevant to any discussion of how resources should be distributed and how women can attain a decent quality of life.

  59. smmo
    smmo August 14, 2008 at 6:35 pm |

    It was not meant as a defense of capitalism so much as to point out how problematic the implementation of Marxist theory and its derivatives were in practice in reply to a blithe comment to “read Marx, enough said”.

    Sorry exholt, I missed that comment. And I completely agree with you about economists.

  60. matttbastard
    matttbastard August 14, 2008 at 6:38 pm |

    Moreover, I am flabbergasted at how the vast majority of mainstream economists are seemingly more interested in defending their pet established economic theories rather than attempting to innovate a new theory that not only improves upon the best of what they all offer, but also moves beyond them.

    An apt point — we’re still playing with variants of systems that were established in a 19th century industrial economy in our post-industrial 21st century globalised information economy.

    ‘Better than feudalism’ is a hollow endorsement.

  61. matttbastard
    matttbastard August 14, 2008 at 6:39 pm |

    Oh, and how do child care and parental leave fit in to your regular/liberal model?

    Ack–‘regulated‘, not ‘regular’.

    (Those damn communists be stealin’ my brainz…)

  62. La Lubu
    La Lubu August 14, 2008 at 6:40 pm |

    I barely have time to type out a response tonight, so to keep it short:

    what Thomas said.

    And…..I think there’s a distinctive difference between survival under a capitalist system that isn’t going to be changing anytime soon and seeking a continuance of the current practices of capitalism so as to benefit yourself at the expense of others. I agree with the others folks in this thread that said basically “if you’re working for a living, you aren’t a capitalist.” By the definition Octo gave above, I’m not a capitalist because I’m not an investor (though I do have a pension plan through my union that is, and I guess since I have a home mortgage that could be considered a type of investment even though I bought my house to live in, not for any potential increase in value—if it never increases in value, I’ve still “made money” on it as I wasn’t saddled with thirty years of yearly rental increases—and in my city, rent is significantly more expensive than a mortgage on an older home, about the one advantage to the Rust Belt). I’m not a believer in capitalism, and unless my numbers come up in the lottery (which I don’t play very often), I’m not going to be rich.

    Yet I also firmly agree with Octo that women shouldn’t have to be secular nuns voluntarily choosing poverty and feeling guilty about making ends meet. I sure the fuck did not enjoy poverty—I was angry every single day. Now I have a decent job with bennies, and my bills are paid. I can enjoy the simple pleasures in life (like a full stomach) and I’ll be damned if anyone can make me feel guilty about that.

    But here’s the thing: I can’t get away from capitalism (to oversimplify) being a game of musical chairs. The “winning” part of the system depends on plenty of “losers”. It’s not a win-win game. Also, one’s ability to succeed in the capitalist system depends a lot on one’s ability to fit in—even if only faking it (like Octo—hope I’m not assuming too much there, and if so, feel free to clarify or tell me to STFU!). There’s a reason we give out awards for fine acting—acting is a talent, and it isn’t easy—most people aren’t good at it. You have an advantage if you’re closer to the status quo or can fake being closer to the status quo.

    Furthermore, I’m always hearing about how capitalism is a meritocracy. It isn’t. In fact, if operates more like an oligarchy. Beyond the obvious critique of dumbasses being promoted to their position based on the pole position of birth, it’s also what we value as jobs. Some of the jobs most important to the functioning of everyday life are given short shrift in the capitalist system, while some jobs that really bring to mind the old-school term “parasite!” are well compensated out of any reasonable proportion (even allowing for a ridiculous amount of greed).

    ‘nother words, I’m glad there’s clandestine feminists in upper reaches (ciao, Octo!), but I’m not going to be one of them. ‘Cuz one of the other lies of capitalism is that You Can Do It If You Just Work Harder. Nope. No amount of working or cracking the books is going to give me the skills needed to do what Octo does for a living. I have a certain skillset, and it serves me well. I’m glad I can get paid a decent wage for the knowledge I’ve gained based on the skillsets I lean toward. Not everyone is so lucky.

    I think any job worth doing is worth paying someone a living wage to do it. and capitalism is pretty much opposed to that outlook. Capitalism is an amoral system—-the bottom line isn’t the lives of human beings, but a number at the bottom of the page.

  63. nonskanse
    nonskanse August 14, 2008 at 6:40 pm |

    Thanks for the post octo, I’m capitalist too. Don’t feel guilty! You like a system that rewards you based on how well you fill a demand.

    I would like a regulated capitalism that does not punish people (who cannot fill a demand well enough to live off of in today’s society) with conditions that make their inability to fulfill demand in the system more extreme.

    If that makes sense.

  64. Margalis
    Margalis August 14, 2008 at 7:04 pm |

    Nothing prevents a capitalist society from having a floor that people can’t drop below. In the US we have a floor, the debate is merely over where it should be.

    Starving to death in the US is pretty difficult.

    I don’t think there is any country on earth that practices completely free-market capitalism without any social safety nets.

    Complete economic equality of all people seems rather unattainable to me and I’m not sure it’s even a worthy goal. Some people having more money than others doesn’t strike me as inherently wrong.

  65. hypatia
    hypatia August 14, 2008 at 7:09 pm |

    I have to agree with smmo a lot here. Looking at Soviet Russia or Communist China as a justification for “Rah rah capitalism!” is pretty poor.

    I believe their are two parts to this. 1) Surviving in the current system and even thriving. I certainly don’t think that people should feel guilty for providing for themselves and their families or gaining a comfortable lifestyle through their success.

    However, we must acknowledge that the liberal capitalism of the United States is at the expense of equality and true democracy. That doesn’t mean we have the right answer to how means of production should be organized but if we are interested equality we need to look beyond the current system.

  66. Manju
    Manju August 14, 2008 at 7:21 pm |

    “I was pointing out that the fact that there is poverty so extreme that people are eating garbage (and the fact that people are being encouraged to eat rats, as Renee described on her blog today) is relevant to any discussion of how resources should be distributed and how women can attain a decent quality of life.”

    In order to use this as part of an anti-capitalist argument one needs to completely detach this incident from the underlying causes of India’s poverty.

    For over half a century India has embraced a political philosophy, Fabian Socialism, aimed at eliminating poverty and redistributing wealth. But one can’t redistribute what one doesn’t have, and the result was malnutrition and starvation statistics rivaled only by sub-Saharan Africa. Now when globalization, outsourcing, and free-markets are introduced over the last decade, an astounding 120 million people cross the poverty line. Just a coincidence?

    The nations of Brazil, Russia, and China of course are discovering the same thing, and the contest to see who’ll be the next economic hegemon is on. Of course, we all worry about the billions who live in squalor and die of starvation and from disease but we should not be blind to the fact that these individuals have the unfortunate destiny to live in world where capitalism is a dirty word: Cuba, N. Korea, or Venezuela; and until recently India, China, and the USSR.

    India’s predicament demonstrates that one doesn’t have to descend into the madness that was the ukrainian famine or cultural revolution to worry about the effects of socialism.

  67. Manju
    Manju August 14, 2008 at 7:24 pm |

    “However, we must acknowledge that the liberal capitalism of the United States is at the expense of equality and true democracy”

    True. but so is the bill of rights. Freddom is the ultimate goal of liberalism. Democray is just an imperfect tool to insure it.

  68. exholt
    exholt August 14, 2008 at 7:25 pm |

    ‘Better than feudalism’ is a hollow endorsement.

    Agreed. Speaking of “feudalism”….don’t get me started on a rant about how Marx and his successors misused and misapplied that term toward non-Western societies like China to denote “not industrializing/capitalizing along Western lines”. :p

    His concepts of “Oriental Despotism” and the “Asiatic Mode of Production” presents an orientalist picture of pre-19th century China as being an unchanging monolithic civilization which is belied by centuries of Chinese historical records and scholarship along with more recent contributions from Chinese and non-Chinese China studies scholars. This has been one issue such scholars have been trying to correct over the last four decades.

  69. Ravenmn
    Ravenmn August 14, 2008 at 7:57 pm |

    Anti-capitalist here. But I define it differently than Octo has.

    In classic Marxism, capitalists are those who profit off the labor of others. If you employ another human being and take a part of the wealth other people’s labor has created for your own pleasure, then you are a capitalist. Everyone else is either a worker or self-employed.

    Under this definition, I clearly choose to be an anti-capitalist. I have no interest in making money off of other people’s hard work. Capitalism makes this sort of profit possible. It is a system in which a small group of people can do nothing at all, hoard the wealth and watch everyone else suffer. That is morally repugnant to me.

    Also, I come from the working class, where respect for money is huge. There is none of this call to sacrifice! Workers join unions because they want to make more money, have more benefits and get treated with respect. These are not the people who are trying to make you feel guilty for living a good life. Our goal is to bring the good life to more people. Our goal is to make those rich lazy capitalists spend a little bit more of their unearned profit on the people who make that profit possible – the workers.

    Like Octogalore, I respect money, I’m proud that I make a decent wage (thank you, Typographer’s Union and it’s more recent incarnation, the Communication Workers of America) and I continue to support the labor movement so that more people will share in that wealth.

    I know this is not the popular image of the left these days, but it is a long tradition for the progressive movement in the U.S. Establishing decent working conditions, minimum wages (even though it sucks now), the eight hour day, child labor laws have all been a result of the activism of progressive workers. Our efforts have always been toward getting more money to more people so they can lead happier, healthier lives.

    I wonder where the disconnect happened. Where did “the left” get stereotyped into people who guilt trip anyone who has money? Third Wave feminists are doing wonderful work in who are in the union movement, helping to make sure more people get more money. Are they invisible?

  70. Margalis
    Margalis August 14, 2008 at 8:11 pm |


    That doesn’t mean we have the right answer to how means of production should be organized but if we are interested equality we need to look beyond the current system.

    Why should we be interested in equality?

    If everyone has enough food to eat, health care and a roof over their heads (etc etc) does it really matter if one person has a plasma TV and a Blue-ray player and one person is stuck with a plain old CRT and a VCR?

  71. Lyndsay
    Lyndsay August 14, 2008 at 8:18 pm |

    “So the ever increasing difference between the rich and the poor as well as the global food crises are just imaginary then?”

    Um no…I was talking about certain countries. I never said that there was no increasing difference between rich and poor in the world but that 100 years ago all countries were quite poor compared to today.

  72. s.
    s. August 14, 2008 at 8:28 pm |

    As the responsibilities of supporting family members looms ever closer, I wish someone has shared this knowledge with me when I was picking that major.

  73. Rockit
    Rockit August 14, 2008 at 8:53 pm |

    Surely the issue isn’t about earning money but how you do it. As someone above mentioned, the issue isn’t whether someone is well paid for their work but whether their work affects society in a positive or negative way (trickle down economics not counting). If someone works for a health insurance company or a corporate law firm it’s hard to defend their work as anything other than personal greed-based. After all if, as some people have mentioned, money for all these things is a neccesity then how much do you need to earn for it to be enough?

    And in my experience, people coming from a privileged family with a financial safety net below them only get ridiculed when they adopt or affect a working class warrior persona that isn’t theirs. Those are usually also the people who, once university ends, end up reverting fairly quickly and earning huge amounts for doing shitty, expolitative work later on. And dismissing anyone who thinks differently as ‘naive’.

  74. Lisa
    Lisa August 14, 2008 at 9:37 pm |

    Holy crap this is a long thread and I don’t have the energy to articulate an intelligent response to everything said here. A few things though: I find it really odd that Octo identifies herself as a capitalist. Sorry, I just do. I mean, I get the whole accepting that we live in a capitalist society and accepting that that isn’t likely to change in the very near future and just trying to make it the best damn capitalist society it can be and I especially get the argument that women who live in capitalist societies shouldn’t feel bad about providing for themselves and their families. But saying, “I am a capitalist”????? As many people have said, capitalism is a system that depends on there being inequalities between people in order to thrive…that’s NOT good…and you’re version of capitalism doesn’t sound all that progressive.

    With regards to Renee, who sounds like she just read Marx, like yesterday: the reason that the perfect Marxist society has never come to fruition, despite Marx’s really brilliant ideas, is that it’s impossible! Like any political theory – capitalism and feminism (in its many forms) included – it is impossible to perfectly replicate these theories in reality because people are dynamic and flawed and unpredictable and complicated.

    My dilemma is not that I am making tons of money, because I’m not, but that I am an academic who studies really cool and progressive social movements, but who makes little time in her personal life to do any of the really cool and progressive things that these social movements do in practice….you know, bills to pay, work to do, child to raise, blogs to read…

    One minor point about something Octo says: “Taking a historical perspective and looking at countries who have less capitalistic systems, you will see that poverty is not unique to capitalism.”

    You cannot separate the developed and underdeveloped world because the poverty in the underdeveloped world is pretty much caused by colonialism and exploitation by capitalist nations! Huge oversimplification, but you get what I’m saying.

  75. Heather
    Heather August 14, 2008 at 9:45 pm |

    • Ability to live below means so as to save money to switch to more fulfilling employment

    • Ability to retire sooner to devote time to philanthropic and other meaningful activities

    • Time to pursue activities that involve a fee, eg therapy or a gym membership

    These are the ‘big three’ for me. Specifically, college bills, my sport, and other activities I do on campus (some philanthropic) plus some money to go places with friends.

    I guess the way I try to ‘fight’ capitalism is by not trying to over-spend on some things. My big weakness is clothes, but I try to buy just enough food for my body (mostly concerned with perishables), so that I don’t waste food. I also don’t buy a lot of ‘gadgets’ to just have them. The ‘toys’ I have I genuinely use all the time (lap top/MP3/TV/coffee macine :)

  76. jon
    jon August 14, 2008 at 10:54 pm |

    The whole idea that there is something inherently radical and anti-capitalist about being, essentially, a self employed middle class hippie isn’t even radicalism. It’s a form of Reaganism. Do we all have free choice as to how we will earn a living? Only in Reagan land. Is consumption a political act? Yes, if you believe Ronald Reagan’s revolutionary theories. How did this far right wing crap ever become confused with opposition to capitalism? Capitalism is not about consumption. It is about production and relationships to the means of production. I’m sorry, but this neo-conservatism as preached by middle class neo-hippies is just the stupidest crap I’ve ever heard. I am an old lefty. I’ve been a union member and a labor activist since I was 17, and yes, I’ve worked for big corporations and government agencies my whole life. I’ve done more damage to capitalism through a one day work stoppage than any middle class hippie could do through a life time of veganism. Don’t let the right wing define your terms for chrissakes. They want you to believe that it’s all about consumption, and you’re buying it. Meanwhile, the majority of humanity works to enrich a tiny minority, never seeing any of the wealth they create. It is unbelievably smug to believe that leveraging your relatively privileged position in the petit bourgeoisie is radical. Jeez.

  77. exholt
    exholt August 14, 2008 at 11:02 pm |

    One of the underlying beliefs of Western civilization (I’m not sure about the East and otherwise) is that you have to do bad things to get money, and if you have money it’s because you’re done bad things.

    If we consider the adoption of Confucianism as the prevailing social orthodoxy from the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) till the end of the Qing dynasty (1644-1912), there was a great deal of suspicion of the merchant class by the imperial ruling elite. The prevailing social order below that of the emperor and the imperial family was:

    1. Scholar-gentry officials/scholars – Privileged for being the “brains” running the day-to-day affairs of the imperial state and propagating social orthodoxy and knowledge to train successors and encourage the rest of the populace to conform to the prevailing social order.

    2. Farmers – Producers of food and natural resources necessary for the agrarian-based economy.

    3. Artisans/Craftsmen – Designers and creators of useful objects and structures ranging from everyday items to symbols of the social order.

    4. Merchants – Though they can be useful in their talent in accumulating huge funds from commercial activities, they were also regarded with suspicion by the Confucian ruling elite. Some of this was due to the perception they made their living from “moving goods and money around”, not from the production of anything “useful” for individual or state use. They were also seen as a potential threat to the prevailing social order as their vocation had the potential of creating enough independent wealth to rival those of the ruling elite….a bad thing from their perspective. Hence, a prevailing prejudicial attitudes from many in the ruling scholar-gentry ruling elite of this class being “parasites” and self-interested to the point of disregarding the harmony and well-being of the prevailing social order.

    This attitude was still held among some Chinese intellectuals into the Republican and Maoist periods. A factor in why Marxist/Maoist theory held such appeal among so many of those intellectuals during the early to mid 20th century. Many others in those periods, however, felt such attitudes were self-sabotaging and regarded as relics to be discarded in the dustbin of history. The discarding of such attitudes was taken with greater gusto by many in the Chinese mainland with the implementation of economic reforms starting in 1979 in the aftermath of the Maoist instigated Cultural Revolution where a decade of social chaos, school/university closings, and the resulting devastation made most Chinese dubious in the legitimacy of Maoist revolution and Marxist/Maoist ideology.

    It was one reason why so many mainland Chinese classmates and co-workers I’ve met are surprised that Marxist theory is still studied and analyzed in American colleges. Beyond going through the motions to comply with national education requirements and ideological indoctrination requirements if in the public sector, almost no one takes Marxist/Maoist theory very seriously. Neo-liberalism with some Chinese socialistic verbiage is in vogue now.

    If anything, when I told my mainland Chinese classmates/co-workers that there were many American Marxists/Maoists at my undergrad, their immediate response tended to be a variant of “I cannot believe there are Americans who still believe in that BS” followed by uncontrolled laughter.

  78. rabbitwink
    rabbitwink August 14, 2008 at 11:23 pm |

    can someone define “cis”?

  79. Dan in Denver
    Dan in Denver August 14, 2008 at 11:54 pm |

    There are really only two variables in a modern, functional – which is to say, a capitalist – economic system.

    (There are premodern economic systems which function, which are not capitalist; they do not produce enough wealth to allow us to have six billion people. Great for communes, don’t work for nation states.)

    (And Europe is highly capitalist – one of the most capitalist societies on earth, in fact. Capitalism is just an economic system where the wealth of previous generations is reinvested to increase the value of the work done today. Europe has buttloads of previous generations’ wealth.)

    The two variables are, how laissez-faire is the government’s regulation of the market, and, what is the level of the social safety net, i.e., whaddya get out of the system if you don’t contribute much to it (whether because you’re old and sick or just a lazy sack).

    The more laissez-faire you are, the higher your overall growth rate, but the greater the chances that people will fall onto the floor you’ve set. The better your floor, the more the chance that people who fall onto it will “stick” because it’s better to be on the dole than to work. You can decide that growth is more important than a decent life for the very poorest, or the other way around, but whatever you decide you’ll end up with some combination of these factors. The whole left-right divide in the USA is in many ways just a disagreement about which is more important, opportunity or security.

    Renee and other people who seriously argue for Marx or similar ideas are either profoundly naive about the way the economic world functions (hint: not like Marx thought), or understand that Marxism = poverty but believe that the other benefits of a Marxian system (greater equality in the squalor) are worth it. Which is a defensible argument – I could put together a very good cultural case for why a Marxian system would be better for society despite the poverty – but there are Marxians who will pretend that Marx can get us to wealth AND fairness; he can’t.

    The ideal economic system, in the short run, is a Marxian redistribution of a huge pie built up by previous capitalist generations. We aren’t anywhere close to having a level of wealth that would make the prospect of that kind of long, slow decline attractive, imho. Wake us up when there’s enough for all six billion of us to have a nice house, two cars, and a yearly vacation to the Gulf, all in a nice green ecosustainable way. We’ll be about five centuries into the colonization of the solar system before we hit that milestone, and by then the wealth created by capitalism will have sloshed around enough that being poor will be like having halitosis; mildly embarassing, but nothing you can’t fix.

    In the long run, i.e., if you want next generation to have more wealth than this generation, capitalism is the only answer.

  80. La Lubu
    La Lubu August 15, 2008 at 12:00 am |

    Thanks, Octo. I’ve been kinda sorta thinking along these lines as I’ve been reading the book “Respect (In a World of Inequality) by Richard Sennett—I highly recommend that book. He touches on several meta-topics regarding respect and human interactions, economic systems being one of them. Lots of food for thought.

    Anyway, one of the elements lacking in capitalism is mutuality, that inherent reciprocity that comes from participating in community (which we have a big problem with anyway in the United States, there being very little balance between the needs of the community and the needs of the individual—it’s all individualism here, and fuck the commons). Capitalism gravitates toward an all-or-nothing gameplan, which neatly matches the individualism emphasized here—a particularly toxic blend that is more difficult to remedy as it’s not just an amoral economic system one has to fight, but a cultural tradition that (some) folks have emotional ties to—not just institutional ties.

    Now, I like to think of myself as one smart cookie, too…..but there are things I freely admit I can’t see myself doing, because I like to do things well, and if i know in advance that some area is something that despite my best efforts I’m going to be anywhere from suckalicious to “eh”—I pick something else. I’m under the impression that to do what you do, you have to have an affinity for working with people—and frankly, that’s not my strong point. I can communicate, but I’m not really that good with people. Well—put it this way: I’m kinda known in my Local as the “loyal opposition”. I make a good consigliere; I tell ‘em what no one else will.

    But hey, let’s pick something you won’t argue about—-brain surgery, maybe, or rocket scientist. I’m not concerned with financial equality amongst all people—I don’t think too many people are. I accept that the brain surgeon gets more compensation than I do, and have no problem with that. It takes longer to learn how to be a good brain surgeon than it does to be a good electrician. The standard working hours tend to be longer on average, and at odd times of the day and night, which can fuck up one’s plans something fierce. So, even though the brain surgeon doesn’t necessarily have more “needs” than I do, I think the sacrifices made for that line of work do require compensation that recognizes that sacrifice. But any work that contributes to the greater good (say, picking fruit) requires compensation that recognizes that sacrifice, that contribution to the whole. Captialism doesn’t offer that. Capitalism is the bully in the schoolyard, handing out beatdowns because it can, and whattaya gonna do about it?

    I also have an issue with the dissolution of the social contract that is part and parcel of capitalism. The idea that folks can work their whole damn lives and lose everything due to illness or injury, or work their whole damn lives and not have any safety net at all…..look, not just anyone can “make it” under capitalism, if “making it” isn’t just keeping the repo man off your back, but building actual wealth—wealth that can be passed on to one’s family after one’s death. Capitalism privileges unearned wealth over earned wealth. Inheritance—whether passed on through death, or passed down while still alive (in the form of housing downpayments, college tuition, or any of the various ways middle-class folks and above are able to privilege their children) gets a huge break in the system. Wages don’t.

    Now, I think what you’re saying is: those of you who CAN game the system, feel free to go ahead and do it, because your presence can be a stepping stone to lift others who are currently shut out. White men have used this system to give one another a leg up, and since they aren’t exactly throwing out the rope for anyone else—you can be that person. or as the inimitable Lyn Collins put it in song, “You gotta use what you got, to get what you want!”

    People have natural affinities for different types of work—there is such a thing as natural talent. Shit, I’d love to be as fast as Marion Jones, but being on the track all day and all night wouldn’t get me anywhere close. So it is with most of the jobs currently valued under capitalism. That’s one barrier, and does influence job choice.

    Meanwhile, the work that one does, shapes a person over time. This is where the “sellout” accusation comes in. Can a person be a collection agent without a reduction in their compassion? Some jobs take a piece out of a person—-higher rates of divorce, stress-related trauma (physical and mental), suicide….and realistically, being a part of that female vanguard into male-owned territory is one of those arenas. It ain’t for everybody. Being a part of that first wave of what you hope will be critical mass someday is trying. It’s kinda like sniper work, too—-quiet, alone, strategic targets. The civil rights movement taught (and still teaches) people (particularly young people) how to deal with those challenges, how to negotiate those territories, how to band together, how to ally with others fighting the same beast. Feminism has been seriously weak on that. Instead, we somehow expect individual women to go up against the wall alone, and maybe offer them (us!) a “good luck, sister!” at best. That has to change.

    But so does our economic system. Capitalism doesn’t answer to all of the stakeholders—it’s a cancer that exploits until there isn’t anything left—maximizing profit, slash and burn. That isn’t sustainable. There is no balance.

    And there is still the issue of “you are what you own”—the idea that one’s value as a human being is related to one’s possessions. When I’m working, I’m a valuable, productive member of society, no? And then when I’m unemployed, I’m a sponge, a parasite, a worthless piece of shit (with a kid, too, no less, so I’m upping my worthless piece-of-shit level—another part of the kyriarchy (thanks for the vocabulary, Sudy!). You know, someone has to make sure your fire alarm is working, the lights stay on, the furnace kicks on in the winter—and that person is sometimes me. Someone has to clean the toilets, scrub the floors, educate children, be the home-visit nurse, raise the livestock, sew the clothes, pick the fruits and vegetables, etc. These are all valuable jobs. But the human dignity of the people who perform them is scaled such that certain people are less valued than others—dignity is conflated with income. Partly because of the myth of “meritocracy”. We (those of us living under capitalism) haven’t developed rituals to deal with the inevitable inequality of a capitalist system in a way that bonds people into a coherent community. The labor movement used the eight-hour-day as one way of creating that bond—it wasn’t just a way for people to take a load off, it was a recognition of the human dignity and limits of the human body—something mass numbers of people could relate to. “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what you will!”

    (shit, I’m tired. I’m all over the place, here.)

    One last thing. Octo, you may be a little uncharitable towards your folks here. I’m getting the impression that maybe they are firmly “Limbo” people (as described in Alfred Lubrano’s book of the same name); people who jumped class. I’m leaning towards the idea that maybe they didn’t read the financial pages or get involved in investments or anything not so much out of “we’re socialists, we don’t do that sort of thing” and more because they didn’t have anyone to teach them. It’s daunting to learn that stuff as an adult (just like any other difficult skill). Who wants to admit they don’t know something that is taken as a given for adults to know (at least, in the class they entered)? They came up in an era when there wasn’t books like ‘Investing for Dummies’ or ‘Money Management for Morons’ and the like. There also wasn’t financial vehicles that were accessible to the average person—I can’t recall there being any talk about 401Ks or anything when I was growing up. About the only investing people from the working class did was buying property and either renting it or fixing it up to sell—and you have some building trades skills (and some spare time) to make that workable, or your profit will be eaten up by hiring others to do it for you. (again, just my assumption about your folks—-I hear shades of Limbo in your voice, and I figure you had to come by it honestly!)

  81. jayinchicago
    jayinchicago August 15, 2008 at 12:06 am |

    I think it’s completely ridiculous that you say you were raised “lower middle class” or maybe middle class and yet had two professor parents. The children of academics have untold CULTURAL privilege–and certainly this is important as one’s life progresses. You probably were expected to go to graduate/professional school after completing a degree, just as one example. I would consider myself raised lower middle class, but in a blue collar family and a blue collar town. I was not exposed to upper middle class culture (ie, books and art), and sometimes feel my family exists in a different world than my solidly middle class-raised friends.

    I don’t really have the fancy knowledge to counter pro-capitalist arguments–but I know so many people who are just not making it right now, that my sympathies lie with the anti-capitalists.

  82. La Lubu
    La Lubu August 15, 2008 at 12:56 am |

    The children of academics have untold CULTURAL privilege–

    Not necessarily. It is possible not only to get a degree, even an advanced degree, even to be one of those teaching people on the path towards getting a degree, and lack a certain amount of cultural capital. There are all kinds of “tells” (as poker players call it) when it comes to class. “Limbo” people, or those with the audacity to get an education that exceeds their upbringing, don’t always learn the codes.

    Hell, I asked a professor what “the Gray Lady” was, after reading an article in the Atlantic with that reference. He had no idea. This was a community college professor, full professor with tenure and everything, over thirty years of teaching under his belt, two master’s degrees, published—and he had no idea that the Gray Lady was the New York Times (I googled it). Why? He has a blue-collar background, and he’s still in Limbo!

  83. exholt
    exholt August 15, 2008 at 2:06 am |

    (There are premodern economic systems which function, which are not capitalist; they do not produce enough wealth to allow us to have six billion people. Great for communes, don’t work for nation states.)

    Dan In Denver,

    There is some recent scholarship done on non-Western societies which takes issue with your point that “premodern” economic systems were not capitalist. While it was not done according to the model set on 19th century Western European lines, capitalist enterprises in the form of owners exploiting laborers….including institutions that would be analogous to private sector partnerships and corporations existed as early as the Ming period (1368-1644) and possibly as early as the Southern Sung dynasty in the 1100s during one of the golden ages of merchant instigated commercial activities.

  84. A male
    A male August 15, 2008 at 3:54 am |

    “If everyone has enough food to eat, health care and a roof over their heads (etc etc) does it really matter if one person has a plasma TV and a Blue-ray player and one person is stuck with a plain old CRT and a VCR?”

    As an American, I speak from untold privilege compared to at least 80% of the rest of humanity, and I’ve seen some amazing rural poverty in the US and other countries to be acquainted with them, but I take offense at your earlier post, in which you said:

    “Nothing prevents a capitalist society from having a floor that people can’t drop below. In the US we have a floor, the debate is merely over where it should be.”

    “Starving to death in the US is pretty difficult.”

    IF everyone has enough [blank] is a damned big if. You appear to be making light of the lifestyles tens of millions of people right here in the US lead. As a matter of fact, tens of millions of people in the US do NOT have housing or decent housing, adequate medical care, or enough quality food e.g., fresh fruits and vegetables, to eat. I could show you a colony of thousands of homeless people living in tents or under bridges in a single community in Hawaii, where up to 40% of the children attending school (if they attend) are homeless, doing such as living under bridges. You won’t see them, because they are at the farthest point on the island from the tourist trade, partly by government action of clearing out parks and beaches in town. In the community where I live, 40% of children are on government health care. Good for the children, but those parents are themselves most likely ineligible for health care, because they can neither afford private insurance, nor are they “poor enough” to qualify for government aid for themselves (asset cap, including automobile and all financial assets at $3,500). Even with zero income for three years (nursing school), and if I had ZERO in the bank, my family eating out of dumpsters on the beach, simply owning a 1993 Toyota Camry with no A/C to get to school made me ineligible for health care.

    There’s more to quality of life than simply not starving, and that goes for any culture on earth I can think of.

  85. Margalis
    Margalis August 15, 2008 at 4:31 am |


    As a matter of fact, tens of millions of people in the US do NOT have housing or decent housing, adequate medical care, or enough quality food e.g., fresh fruits and vegetables, to eat.

    I think you are reading something that I did not intend. My point is that we have a floor, the question is where it should be.

    Right now it’s too low. But raising it up doesn’t mean abandoning capitalism nor does it mean we need economic equality.

    I’m not trying to say that since it’s hard to starve to death we’re in a good place, that was merely meant to establish the fact that we do have a floor, unlike in some places where starving to death is fairly common. If we can establish a foor we can raise the floor to an acceptable level.

  86. A male
    A male August 15, 2008 at 6:57 am |

    I really have a 1993 Camry with no a/c, as well as two other used cars and a motorcycle, and had a negative income of about -$50,000 per year during school, but I had money in the bank and was not actually homeless. That was argumentative. Sorry for any confusion. ANY adult who simply owned a clunker worth $3,500, even with ZERO money in the bank to feed themselves, zero income, and homeless on the beach eating out of trash, would be ineligible for subsidized care in my community.

  87. Rockit
    Rockit August 15, 2008 at 7:15 am |

    What gets me is the hyprocrisy: ‘Look, this is the way things are so live with it. Sure it would be nice if things change but I’m not going to do anything about it and there’s probably nothing that can be done anyway so what’s the point in complaining (and after all I’m benefitting from it so why rock the boat)? I like to think of myself as a progressive but only in situations where the outcome would benefit me and my immediate friends and family.’

    Yeah it’s exaggerated, but seriously, none of the capitalism-is-great people have made any attempt to justify the gross inequalities in healthcare, education, etc. which the American system’s built on, except to say ‘well that’s how things are’, and ‘but that would mean more taxes which would stifle growth’ and ‘well that more left-wing country has more benefits but the higher taxes mean…’, etc. It’s all very well to declare that capitalism is the only way to decrease poverty but any idiot can see that the western model isn’t currently achieving that – guess how many people are going to lose their homes/jobs in the recession while the upper class breezes through.

    And Dan In Denver, that last paragraph made no sense whatsoever.

  88. Jennifer-Ruth
    Jennifer-Ruth August 15, 2008 at 7:27 am |

    Capitalism relies on people not being equal to one another. The richest will get richer and the poorest will stay poor (unless they are lucky). “I want” seems to be the only concern – especially if you don’t have to see the underclass that capitalism is built on.
    I can understand that this is the world we live in and that we have to all get along as best we can, operating within in the system. But it is nowhere near good enough.

  89. antiprincess
    antiprincess August 15, 2008 at 8:02 am |

    haha!
    I would totally be a capitalist if I had any capital.
    what I have is ancient, lurking debt. debt that’s been sitting in the fridge forever and starting to leak out of its container, that everyone sort of ignores and nobody ever bothers to actually remove because, ew, then it would leak out everywhere and stink up the whole place.
    and, you know, ninety-nine days out of every hundred, it doesn’t bother me. we grind along, taking the bus to work, using library computers, enduring the humiliation of state-funded groceries, putting off doctor visits, ignoring various symptoms, being fearful of any slight disturbance in our perilous equilibrium – but it’s not so bad. I mean, at least we have each other, right? and we have our health more or less, and we’re not actually starving to death, and things will get better someday, and…
    except unless I address that debt, I’ll never finish college. and if I never finish college, I’ll never have any money. and if I never have any money, I’ll never address that debt. lather, rinse, repeat.
    so here I am. I try to tell myself I’m nursing because it’s best for the baby, but really it’s because I can’t afford formula and it’s just plain luck that it’s worked out as well as it did. I try to tell myself I’m environmentally conscious for using cloth diapers, but I can’t afford disposables and all the cloth ones I have were given to me (‘cuz I sure can’t afford those either). I give myself a big fat pat on the back every time I take the bus – cuz, look at my tiny carbon footprint! look how virtuous! but it’s really because I can’t afford a car and don’t know what I’d do with one if I had one.
    and it’s not the economy or capitalism that did this to me. it’s my own fault. I made stupid decisions twenty years ago and I’ll never get out from under them.
    but it is what it is. maybe in my next life I’ll get it together.

  90. Money Fan
    Money Fan August 15, 2008 at 8:34 am |

    Every time anti-choicers talk about the rights of the unborn, or when South Dakota votes not to allow D&X, we say that it’s properly the choice of the individual woman who is pregnant. But all of a sudden when it’s money, we’re supposed to ignore what individuals want and are each willing to enter into contractual agreements to obtain, on the basis of what the community decides it wants?

    No thanks. Keep your patriarchy off my uterus, and out of my wallet. My grandmother’s choices of what to do with her life were become a nurse, a teacher, or mother because The Community decided for her that those were the things they needed women for. We don’t need some new group of holier-than-thou assholes telling each of us what careers we’re allowed to have. Barring a return to primitivism (which it’s quite darling that people are using computers to post comments on the internet that they wish for it; oh really? How about you go first) the world is always going to need people to do unpleasant jobs. If plumbers made the same money as book store clerks, who would choose to fish around in toilets? Since the answer is nobody, and since we’re not going to go back to dumping chamber pots in the street, somebody’s going to have to be made to do it. Nobody should have the right to make me, or anybody else, do that, or any other job.

  91. La Lubu
    La Lubu August 15, 2008 at 8:58 am |

    I think innovation and effort are generated in significant part by triggering individualism.

    I think there’s something to that as well. (I think anyone that’s spent time on a committee would agree. Cat herding isn’t much fun) I disagree with a cousin of mine on the original stimulus for that though—I don’t think most people are primarily motivated by the profit motive, but rather the credit motive, which is somewhat different. The “look what I did!” ‘Cuz let’s face it, real innovation tends to come from folks who have a deep love for what they are doing—a love that transcends most (or even all) of the profit motive (think of all the undiscovered artists that keep on plugging away—they do it because they’re getting a charge out of it themselves, world be damned. More of a “I can’t not do it”.) And that plays into respect—being talented, or having a unique gift, gets one respect from others (we are social animals, after all). He argued to me at the last family reunion that competition was the key; that king-of-the-mountain impulse.

    Speaking of competition, if you ask me, I’ll tell you I’m non-competitive. That I don’t really give a shit how my performance is compared to others, that I compete with myself, yadda yadda. But that’s bullshit. I’m bullshitting myself, even. If you had seen me last night in karate class, especially at the end of the damn-near-two hours, when I was the next-to-the-last one in the circle (where everyone is coming at you with the pads and your job is to fight back, as if you were fighting off a crowd)—trust me, noncompetitive would have been your last thought. I watched a lot of folks with considerably more size, weight, and belt rank (and less age! Lot less age!) “phoning it in”. And the big, heavy guys wer reluctant to slam my pad with much effort. Dammit. I was gonna Show Them. I was gonna Kick Their Ass. You’re gonna remember me, motherfucker.

    Ahem. Where was I? Oh yeah, noncompetitive. (I’m also the one at the gym stealing glances at what it says on your treadmill, so I can push my numbers up higher….) I do think women in general are socialized out of expressing that competitive urge in this uber-competitive society, but that’s not the only thing holding us back from admitting it. See, part of why I felt free to Kick Ass in the circle was because it was a “fair fight”. I was the underdog, as a smaller, lower-ranking person.

    I have a problem with capitalism being the ultimate unfair fight. It’s one thing to be the underdog, pushing up from below. It’s another thing to be the bully, abusing one’s power. A lot of us (and not just women) have direct experience at being that bullied person—that person whom others have lorded their power over, and are reluctant to replicate that dynamic. Our memories aren’t short enough.

    As for the parsing out of what is and is not valued, I hear what you’re saying. What I’d recommend is that the floor be higher—that being on the lower end of the scale not result in being washed out. I’m advocating a return to the social contract, and a return to the recognition of respect. Mutual respect, a reciprocity even in the face of inequality. Again, I don’t have a problem with brain surgeons (or even busy lawyers) having “more”, even if (in the case of the busy lawyer defending embezzelers and such) I don’t personally much value the work—I can value it in the sense that it is necessary to keep the whole community afloat (rule of law, innocent until proven guilty, fair trial, etc.). But right now, it’s considered perfectly acceptable for folks who also make an important contribution to the whole to be left out in the cold. The commons, hell, even the feeling that we are all one community, is nonexistant. (and boy, is there a whole lot of nasty shit to unpack there! For example, white folks showed a lot more community feeling in terms of school referendums, when black folks were shunted off to substandard segregated schools—all the whining about the necessity of vouchers and “competition” neatly coincided with desegregation!) I mean, I live in a neighborhood that was originally formed “organically” (in the days before urban planning) as a mixed income neighborhood. At one point in time it was the edge of town, with stately homes nearby boarding houses and smaller houses of laborers, craftspeople, etc. You’d be hard pressed to find a combined family income of six figures anywhere amongst the what—5000 folks?—-these days. And that’s not really that much for a married couple, considering the poverty calculator for my area means a single mother with two kids needs an income of $42,000 to fend for her family (with no frills) sans government assistance.

    We don’t talk much about the effects of economic segregation, the pulling of money (and its attending tax base) away from certain communities.

    Ahh hell. Gotta get to work. I’ll be thinking along these lines some more.

  92. Torgrim
    Torgrim August 15, 2008 at 8:58 am |

    Making money doesn’t make you a capitalist. I’m a computer science student, and will probably make a comfortable living as a software engineer. But I’m also a bitter anti-capitalist (and revolutionary socialist). You’re not a capitalist unless you own working capital and make money by exploiting workers, or you actually believe in capitalism as an ideology.

    But I have to say that caring about making money (beyond what you actually need to live a good and safe life) is pretty damn distasteful in my eyes. I don’t think I have ever thought much about money, it is in no way a motivation for me. But I am lucky enough to live in a rich social democracy where the state provides free healthcare, education, and so forth. If I stayed in bed and refused to do anything, I could still live on social security.

  93. La Lubu
    La Lubu August 15, 2008 at 9:01 am |

    There’s more to quality of life than simply not starving, and that goes for any culture on earth I can think of.

    Thank you, a male. That’s another myth I’d like to see smashed—that people won’t work if the floor means a decent standard of living. That’s bullshit.

  94. Lisa
    Lisa August 15, 2008 at 9:10 am |

    Wow! LaLuba, you’re analysis here is truly humbling!

  95. Holly
    Holly August 15, 2008 at 9:54 am |

    La Lubu’s posts pretty much highlight exactly what I think the flaw in capitalism is. So, even if the other systems either have even more massive flaws, or are so hypothetical that they can’t even be compared, that still leaves us with a fucked up system that’s just flawed enough to let our economy and society stagger on, grinding up the bodies of the less privileged. What I think it boils down to is that capitalism is incredibly bad at securing anything in the commons — the stuff that we all have to share, the areas where there might not be individual profit but there sure as hell is general welfare to consider.

    Capitalism, especially at the individual competition level, won’t automatically consider the pollution of the oceans or the air; capitalism is good at making Viagra and terrible at curing malaria. A lot of economists (capitalist economists, even!) have talked about these flaws and why it’s necessary to do market design to try and account for them, why we need things like antitrust laws, why corporations might be a legal construct for limiting personal liability that spun way out of control, and so on and so forth. (I liked John McMillan’s book Reinventing the Bazaar as a good intro for laypeople.)

    Anyway, I don’t have any solutions beyond suggesting that capitalism needs to be regulated somehow (duh) and that we have to continue to struggle to find the best kind of market design that doesn’t result in some people hoarding far more wealth than they need while others starve, rampant neglect of the commons, or drastically uneven playing fields that stretch across generations.

    There’s so much room within the basic idea of competition for economic resources that I don’t think “capitalism,” taken at its broadest definition, necessarily even has to entail exploitation of workers. (Even though every form to date pretty much has, that still doesn’t mean it’s necessary.) I know plenty of people will disagree with that and want to throw everything attached to capitalism out wholesale. But here’s another way to think about it — what if we just regard some of the things mentioned in this thread, like the need for competition and innovation, the individual drive to earn, and the failure of central planning, as basic forces that we have to contend with? If only those things are taken as a given, then it’s possible to look towards some kind of economic model — and it’s probably at least a variant of capitalism — that encourages the kind of world we want to live in

  96. octogalore
    octogalore August 15, 2008 at 9:59 am |

    LaLubu – I agree that it’s not fair for folks who make less-economically-valued but still important contributions to be left out in the cold. I’m not sure whether there is a way to regulate our current system to solve this, but I have a feeling there’s a way to do it better. I do know that there are no systems that have managed to solve this problem, unfortunately.

  97. octogalore
    octogalore August 15, 2008 at 10:01 am |

    Holly, I missed your great comment before posting mine. I like this a lot:

    “But here’s another way to think about it — what if we just regard some of the things mentioned in this thread, like the need for competition and innovation, the individual drive to earn, and the failure of central planning, as basic forces that we have to contend with? If only those things are taken as a given, then it’s possible to look towards some kind of economic model — and it’s probably at least a variant of capitalism — that encourages the kind of world we want to live in.”

  98. Dan in Denver
    Dan in Denver August 15, 2008 at 10:10 am |

    Heh, Torgrim, what you forget is that capital isn’t just money. The knowledge you’re acquiring as a computer scientist is a form of capital, and when you work as a computer programmer you will be engaging in capitalism – just a capitalism of symbols rather than of cash wealth.

  99. A male
    A male August 15, 2008 at 10:41 am |

    I agree no one should dictate what other’s careers should be, Money Fan*, but I do not understand the rest of your message. Do you support this capitalistic system built on inequity, or not, or are you addressing that aspect at all? Does “keep your hands off my wallet” refer to not being willing to pay the level of taxes necessary to provide a safety net to the less fortunate, or to pay living wages?

    *Naturally, economic factors and personal finances will. There are even feminist posters who would like to be SAHMs, but do not have the resources to do so.

    In any case, this is why such as taxes, or a simpler life of less consumption or CO2 production, is necessary to be imposed. Not enough people will volunteer to share with others, or to cut their own consumption, without the “incentive” of taxation or high gas prices (and the likely depletion of easily obtainable oil in our lifetimes). I’m perfectly willing to pay taxes despite my family’s own needs. (I’ll also pay $10 or more for a gallon of gas.) But if one asked me to simply donate near one third of my income for the benefit of the community while my children receive free lunch at school and are on public health (and I was paying $639.50 per month in private insurance for no drug, dental or vision), I’d laugh in their faces.

  100. purpleshoes
    purpleshoes August 15, 2008 at 11:01 am |

    I’m afraid I, too, am too busy seeing that my rent is paid right now to read all the comments, but I just got out of school (where I did very well, did some solid original research as an undergrad, etc) and am trying to find work that is in line with my general vocation (which is, you know, to be Noble and Help People and Stand Up for the Oppressed etc). (Stop laughing at how wet-behind-the-ears I am. I can hear you.)

    The thing is, every time I find a job that is in line with what I want to do – which is the kind of work that everyone in the community says Someone Should Be Doing, or sometimes they put it as “Why isn’t anyone doing anything about that?”

    It’s half-time.
    It doesn’t have benefits.
    And the only people doing it are women who live in households where there’s a man with a Real Job providing the benefits and buying the groceries.

    What a gross dynamic.

  101. Farhat
    Farhat August 15, 2008 at 11:34 am |

    In any case, this is why such as taxes, or a simpler life of less consumption or CO2 production, is necessary to be imposed. Not enough people will volunteer to share with others, or to cut their own consumption, without the “incentive” of taxation or high gas prices (and the likely depletion of easily obtainable oil in our lifetimes).

    So basically, fuck choice and freedom and all those things. Kind of like Ford’s you can have your car in any color you like as long as it is black.

  102. Linnaeus
    Linnaeus August 15, 2008 at 12:15 pm |

    I realized that’s it’s been far, far too long since I’ve commented here at Feministe (hi, everyone!) and I hope this thread hasn’t died out just yet.

    A lot of people have already said things that I would have said, especially La Lubu, who did it with much better clarity than I could have mustered. I confess that the on the issue of capitalism vs. other economic systems, I’m pretty conflicted. I understand the perspective of people, especially those with direct experience (or those with families) of Marxist/Communist states, who point out quite clearly that those nations eventually failed at implementing alternate economic systems. Though I would say to the Chinese students that exholt mentions that the reason people in the U.S. and other Western nations still study Marxism is because 1) it’s historically significant and 2) even Marx was right about a few things, especially when taken into historical context.

    We all do what we can to live the best life we can. I don’t begrudge anyone looking for a lucrative career in this system; I myself will try to do so particularly because I’m carrying a massive amount of student debt (exacerabated by the fact that I chose history as my field of graduate study). It was my choice, and I’ll deal with it.

    That said, I tend to be more forgiving of some of the silliness in some anti-capitalist positions in left-wing thought because I think the broader critique of capitalism and discussion of what to do about capitalism is so very necessary. One may look as a bit of a rebel or non-conformist when one says, “I’m a capitalist” in the left blogosphere, but in the larger culture, it’s thoroughly mainstream. American culture in particular is rife with glorification of capitalism (particularly an idealized laissez-faire system that has never actually existed in practice anywhere), so a few folks who might go a bit too far in the other direction don’t really bother me all that much.

    I understand that capitalism is the system we have and it’s probably not going to go anywhere anytime soon, if at all. But if we’re going to settle with that, then we have to be willing to admit the unpleasant along with the pleasant. The fundamental unpleasant aspect is that inequality in capitalism is not, as the software folks would say, a bug – it’s a feature. This is something that even left-leaning folks are loath to admit. We can try to mitigate the effects of inequality, but in a capitalist system, this inequality can’t be erased if you want to maintain capitalism.

    When you have capitalism paired with a democratic society (the two are not equivalent, no matter what Milton Friedman might say), you add another layer of inequality. Money = power in a capitalist society. It may not matter much that I have a CRT television and Bill Gates has 50 plasma screens, but the fact is that he has way more access to political power than I do, despite the fact that legally speaking, his vote counts just as much as mine. One might argue that Gates should have more influence than me because he produces more, but that strikes me as begging the question, i.e., Bill Gates has more influence in a democratic society under capitalism because he’s a better capitalist. As I see it, great disparities in wealth are inimical to democracy, which is not a particularly radical observation (unless you consider Aristotle to be a radical).

    One thing to consider is that changes in capitalism may be less of a matter of choice as the “externalities” of capitalism today continue to pile up. We’re using up non-renewable resources at breakneck speed and a lot of the natural “services” provided for us in the environment are being eroded due to environmental damage, to say nothing of the potential that climate change has to throw things into serious upheaval.

  103. Joan Kelly
    Joan Kelly August 15, 2008 at 12:49 pm |

    What’s with people feeling the need to call Renee’s words “idiotic” and “naive?” Really, someone’s not allowed to think Marx had some valid points unless she herself has implemented a Marxist society that solved all the problems of the world? I mean seriously, what the fuck?

    Renee – if you happen to see this – I agree with much of what you said in your comments, and even if I didn’t, I still think it was fucked up how you were spoken to.

    It’s possible to disagree with what Renee said without insulting her, no?

    To the insulters – thanks for sullying what I think is actually an important discussion.

  104. Linnaeus
    Linnaeus August 15, 2008 at 12:55 pm |

    What’s with people feeling the need to call Renee’s words “idiotic” and “naive?” Really, someone’s not allowed to think Marx had some valid points unless she herself has implemented a Marxist society that solved all the problems of the world? I mean seriously, what the fuck?

    To riff on this comment a bit, If thinking that Marx had some valid points is equal to believing that we must implement a Marxist economy to the letter, then clearly, saying that capitalism is a good economic system is equal to saying that we must implement unregulated, free-for-all capitalism.

  105. margaret
    margaret August 15, 2008 at 1:42 pm |

    If and when you get blacklisted out of work because of your political beliefs, your property that some politician wants to steal, or because of identity/resume theft, you better hope to God, Goddess, and/or the Almighty Dollar that you are a capitalist.
    You will have to start your own business, file your own business taxes, scavenge your own merchandise, service contracts, and vehicles, and do everything the big guys do, on little or no money to start.
    You will have to do it all as far under the radar as you can, and with plenty of opposition.
    In a socialist country, you would be ripped off, jailed, and deprived of any and all opportunities except for minimal welfare assistance, not enough for a gopher rat to live on.
    Free enterprise and unregulated state borders are the only ways to survive under the circumstances.
    And yes, I have been there and am still there.

  106. exholt
    exholt August 15, 2008 at 1:58 pm |

    Though I would say to the Chinese students that exholt mentions that the reason people in the U.S. and other Western nations still study Marxism is because 1) it’s historically significant and 2) even Marx was right about a few things, especially when taken into historical context.

    One of the unfortunate effects of the Cultural Revolution and the perception of discredit it brought on Maoist revolution and Marxist/Maoist theory among many Chinese who lived through it is the hell-bent drive towards embracing “free-market capitalism” to the point it puts most American capitalists to shame.
    In fact, the “I’ve got mine/fuck everybody else” is not only held by many of the mainland Chinese I’ve met in China and in the US, but also openly stated not only without a hint of shame, but even a great deal of pride by some of them. Interestingly enough, these attitudes are so vehement that even the most ardent capitalists within the business/science oriented maternal side of my family felt this was over-the-top excessive as they do feel a sense that with great wealth/power comes a great deal of responsibility.*

    A byproduct of this singleminded tendency among most in the growing middle and upper classes in China is the increasingly anti-intellectual attitudes towards studying anything that won’t help one get rich as useless at best and a risky unproductive waste of one’s time if one considers the risk in studying something that may be interpreted as subversive by the ruling “Chinese Communist Party” which is now essentially has been communist in name only….especially after the acceleration of the economic reforms in the 1990’s.

    In fact, this is reflected in a sardonic joke that was mentioned by a Chinese grad student: Tsinghua graduates whose studies emphasized engineering, science, and econ/business end up successfully working for the public/private sectors. Beida graduates whose studies emphasized politics, liberal arts, and student activism end up graduating into prison due to the authoritarian one-party state’s intolerance for dissent.**

    * Yes, I ripped that off of the comic artist who does Spiderman

    ** Beijing and Tsinghua universities have been considered the Harvard/Berkeley and MIT/Caltech of China respectively.

  107. Joan Kelly
    Joan Kelly August 15, 2008 at 2:46 pm |

    Octo – I don’t have a problem with hard-hitting critiques and tough words, nor with substantive critiques from both sides. I found it distracting that Renee got called those things, and I didn’t see anyone else called those things, and nothing was said about that. You may be right that it’s condescending of me to feel like I am the person who could or should point that out. That is different than my point still being true.

  108. William
    William August 15, 2008 at 4:00 pm |

    I’m sure I’ll catch hell from some quarters for bringing the devil himself into this discussion, but Hayek (in The “Constitution of Liberty”) once wrote:

    From the fact that people are very different it follows that, if we treat them equally, the result must be inequality in their actual position, and that the only way to place them in an equal position would be to treat them differently. Equality before the law and material equality are therefore not only different but are in conflict which each other; and we can achieve either one or the other, but not both at the same time,

    I feel like that quote captures the real conflict that pops up in progressive circles when we begin to talk about inequality on a deep level. When you look at the more traditional sources of inequality (racism, heterosexism, misogyny, etc) you can have a lot of people lining up behind the cause of equality for a lot of different reasons. When you talk about creating equality, say between men and women, no one really loses anything. I don’t keep my male privileges in a little box underneath my bed, I didn’t carefully collect them through my own labor. “Losing” that kind of privilege is less an issue of taking something away from me than an issue of removing barriers from someone else.

    When we start to talk about money though, then we begin to run into issues of ideals rather than outcomes. Creating material equality requires that people be treated differently based on external values, generally under penalty of law. In other words, someone needs to be oppressed.

    If we’re going to be honest, we need to accept that under any system some people are going to be oppressed. We live in a world of scarce resources, with a great many people scatter over great distances and imperfect means of moving those resources around. More importantly, regardless of intentions, it is likely that there will not be enough of everything to go around. Somewhere, in any system, choices are made about who will be made to suffer and who will be given benefits. If you only have enough food for 10,000 people but have 100,000 citizens, someone is going to end up starving and the person in control of the food is going to decide who. Under capitalism it’s whoever owns the food, under communism it’s the central body that controls the food, under socialism it’s some combination of the two, but regardless of who makes the choices someone will starve.

    Even if there was such a thing as a flawless system there would always be the human element, there would always exist the lurking danger of greedy people who would learn how to work the system and take what they wanted. In capitalism the tyrants are business owners, in communism they’re party members, but the end result is the same. Some people get more than others because they’re willing to break the rules and abuse their fellow human beings in order to take what they want.

    The bottom line is that, no matter what our dreams may be, our societies are triage. The absolute best we can hope for is to contain, not eliminate, the damage done by human nature. Someone will always end up on the bottom. We like to imagine that discussions about capitalism and redistribution are about creating a perfect world, but thats a mirage. At best we can hope for a better world. The discussion is about what we will set as the core value of our society, what subjective yardstick we will choose to measure by. Is it striving towards, but never achieving, equality before the law? Is it striving for, but never achieving, equality of outcomes? Is it something else that lies entirely outside of the left/right binary we’re saddled with in western society?

  109. Joan Kelly
    Joan Kelly August 15, 2008 at 4:51 pm |

    I actually heard you the first time.

  110. season of the bitch » Capitalism, Socialism, and the Olympics.

    […] has an excellent post up at Feministe about being a capitalist. I agree with many of her points, and of course disagree […]

  111. Feministe » Individualism
    Feministe » Individualism August 15, 2008 at 10:39 pm |

    […] Comments season of the bitch » Capitalism, Socialism, and the Olympics. on Dirty Little SecretsJoan Kelly on Dirty Little SecretsCara on KBR Bans Cell Phones and Silences Rape Victimskiki78 on […]

  112. season of the bitch » The Saturday Morning Links Edition

    […] La Lubu has a comment on Octo’s Feministe post that says a lot of what I was trying to say below far better than I did. Octo also linked to this […]

  113. Natalia
    Natalia August 17, 2008 at 1:03 am |

    I can’t speak for every ev0l capitalist in the dark world and wide, but I don’t attempt to justify, say, the lack of healthcare for people who need it. I don’t think it’s justifiable, because, like many people, capitalism is not the only prism through which I look at the world.

  114. Natalia
    Natalia August 17, 2008 at 1:04 am |

    Oh, and, I do happen to be one of those people – the people who wouldn’t get proper medical care when they needed it. American healthcare system? I know its evil ways.

  115. purpleshoes
    purpleshoes August 17, 2008 at 9:09 am |

    Thanks, Octogalore: and in line with many other commentators, I also agree that it’s icky that we as a society expect someone to do the noble stuff, but we essentially expect private households to fund it. And something else that I realized in conversations (offline!) about this post – the fact that Noble Jobs that Help The Oppressed don’t pay diddly-squat means that most people who are in fact oppressed and don’t have an extra income laying around can’t take them. What a way to perpetuate a missionary mentality in the social services, yes?

    I agree with the basic point, as well, that it’s a little silly that we expect women to be ashamed for making a living. My basic values might include saving trees and seals and exploited laborers, but my basic values also include helping my family get out of debt, supporting my siblings in their education, and saving money so my own kids will hopefully not be massively poor.

  116. hmmpf
    hmmpf August 20, 2008 at 9:34 am |

    What a load of hooey. You are blaming feminism for feeling guilty about your job. You provide no examples, not one link, to prove there’s some mass of third wave feminism shaming women for making money.

    Your only example is some dubious anecdote where you bailed on a “healing circle” because you felt uncomfortable. Which reveals more about YOU and YOUR assumptions about how people would react, rather than giving them a chance. A healing circle at a fund raiser is not Third Wave Feminism – it’s pretentious liberal posturing. Of course everyone is going to act leftier than thou. Had you bothered to engage them, you might have found others had high salary jobs in addition to their crunchy cred.

    You do not allow for the possibility that the need to apologize is just your own hangups, instead of a problem caused by the big bad Third Wave Feminists.

    You also equate discussing economic justice and questioning market capitalism with shaming people who make money. Which isn’t what it’s about at all. A key factor for most rational social justice types isn’t just money, but how you make money, what you do with money and how you treat people from other incomes.

    No one is dictating an exact career, although people do have a right to ask uncomfortable questions if you are working for Haliburton or some other company which can be considered a problem.

    You are blaming your own discomfort with your job, and maybe your politics, upon the messenger, people who hold ideas other than your own. You are blaming a personal hangup – social anxiety about whether people will like you, lingering guilt or resentment from your parents politics – on an entire social movement.

    Such an arrogant concept “how dare Third Wave Feminism make me feel guilty about my money,” is a perfect example of privileged entitlement, no better than when guys complain about how they aren’t sexist but feminism still makes them feel bad.

  117. hmmpf
    hmmpf August 20, 2008 at 11:11 am |

    Also you really seem to be blaming your parents for not having as much money as you want them to have. This entire attack on third wave feminism seems to stem from this childish resentment of your lefty folks. Did it ever occur to you they did have good jobs and but the current the economic system of health and education made raising kids on those jobs difficult?

    Also, you act like Third Wave Feminists are going around telling women to take low paying jobs. So I guess all those essays about women in medicine and science didn’t happen. It seems to me your real problem is your feminist friends don’t automatically approve of YOUR high paying job in particular and for some reason YOU think there are no other good paying options for women.

    Meanwhile, over in reality, feminists like to get paid like anyone else. Some even find a teachers salary is more than enough for feminist economic security. If there’s a problem it might be that teachers don’t get paid as much as whatever you do even though they contribute as much (if not more) to society.

  118. octogalore
    octogalore August 20, 2008 at 11:53 am |

    Hmmph: something tells me your responses reflect more about your own issues than mine, since they don’t reflect what the OP actually said.

    As I told another commenter, giving examples would require getting specific about many people I like and admire. I think many or even most commenters understand the phenomenon I’m discussing without that.

    In your need for me to have a “need to apologize,” you seem to ignore the fact that I have not, in fact, apologized. Nor have I expressed any discomfort with my job, politics, or money. I’ll direct you to the last three paragraphs, which I think effectively sum up why this essay isn’t about my attempting to get third wave approval. In fact, I’m surprised I got as much positive response as I did.

    And for the record, I don’t work at Haliburton.

  119. exholt
    exholt August 20, 2008 at 12:53 pm |

    A key factor for most rational social justice types isn’t just money, but how you make money,…

    You’ve just underscored part of the OP’s point…..and one of the reasons I’ve viewed the shaming of those who pursued more lucrative and “less noble” careers as problematic. Especially when it is done by those who are racially and socially privileged with wealthy parents and/or trust funds towards those who were not as privileged as it frequently occurred at my undergrad campus.
    Remember….not everyone has the socio-economic privilege and the luxury to pick and choose their job/profession.

    Educational debts, attempting to establish oneself financially from scratch, and other onerous financial obligations are such that financial necessity forces those who are not as socio-economically privileged to choose to work for morally dubious institutions…or facing a lifetime of financial penury.

    This factor….along with the rank disrespect of the profession in American society is one reason every high school classmate including myself has refused to consider teaching public or private K-12 as a career.

    Speaking of which, the quote:

    Some even find a teachers salary is more than enough for feminist economic security.

    varies greatly depending on geographic region.

    Maybe in some wealthier suburban districts with high property taxes to fund the local public schools at a decent level…..but not if one is living in an expensive urban area such as LA, Boston, or NYC. I have known several working/middle-class idealistic college classmates who taught in Boston/NYC who ended up leaving the teaching profession after three or less years due to the extreme low salaries relative to living expenses, the widespread disrespect and even dangers of physical violence from students, and the lack of support/political machinations from higher-level educational bureaucrats meant that they ended up being both financially and psychologically burned out.

    Your comment that a teacher’s salary, especially at the beginning can provide financial security of any kind would most likely be met by bitter laughter by those classmates based on their own teaching experiences…

  120. hmmpf
    hmmpf August 21, 2008 at 7:24 am |

    Exholt, you only quoted half of the sentence, omitting the part which disputes the point: “A key factor for most rational social justice types isn’t just money, but how you make money, what you do with money and how you treat people from other incomes.”

    In other words rational progressives, like any reasonable person, have complex reactions to the entire person, not just their job title.

    Octogalore is making a broad generalization: Third Wave Feminism hates money and thus hurts women by leading them ignore their own need for financial security.

    Which is a bunch of right wing poppycock.

    Third Wave Feminism being all about saying women are equal in many lucrative skills. Third Wave Feminism is all about changing the law, which requires money and lawyers, etc. Third Wave Feminism is all about ensuring women have MORE financial protections in divorce and health care. Third wave feminism is about changing society so a teacher gets paid as much as a corporate human resources specialist.

    Octo seems to think disagreeing with the current state of capitalism is the same as hating money.

    Just like any large group of people, there are judgmental jerks in Third Wave Feminism. That doesn’t justify saying TWF hurts women by being anti-money. No more than guys who use their own divorce to damn the entire women’s movement.

    Octo’s anecdote doesn’t even prove lefties hate money, because she hid in the bathroom and just assumed the others would be hostile. She’s doing the very thing she doesn’t like: acting on her own presumptions rather than giving people a chance.

    I would suggest that if she’s having problems with progressive hostility, it’s not about her job. It’s probably because she uses such condescending and dubious generalizations about “the left” in her conversation. Now that I’ve read some of her other posts I can say it’s not about the money, it’s about you.

  121. Being Amber Rhea » Blog Archive » links for 2008-8-21

    […] Feministe » Dirty Little Secrets Love it!! (tags: reference capitalism feminism money economics) […]

  122. Feministe » Toward a Liberationist Feminism (Or, I Hope Pro-Capitalist Feminism Is an Oxymoron)

    […] racist/classist/heteronormative/ableist and otherwise absurd. But, after reading the comments in several threads here about capitalism and individualism over the past week or so, I do want to spend some […]

  123. exholt
    exholt August 22, 2008 at 5:42 pm |

    Octogalore is making a broad generalization: Third Wave Feminism hates money and thus hurts women by leading them ignore their own need for financial security.

    Which is a bunch of right wing poppycock.

    You naming it as “right wing poppycock” says more about your own partisan perspectives than the validity or lack thereof of the OP.

    My only disagreement with the OP here is that this is not only a problem with TWF, but is a widespread problem among many in the progressive left.

    Her experiences are believable to me as I’ve observed the exact same types of behavior with radical-left progressive classmates….most of whom were unabashed Marxists and Maoists at my radical progressive-left leaning undergrad campus.

    It was one reason many classmates who were planning on becoming a “capitalist tool” by majoring in economics or some other “mercenary” field and/or planning on a lucrative career in law, medicine, or business did their best to avoid bringing it up with anyone except extremely close friends.

    I was fortunate to have had family members whose recounted experience in living under a Maoist regime during its excesses as it has facilitated my being inoculated against some of the browbeating and intimidation BS they attempted to pull on me and a minute handful of other classmates who had the temerity to openly disagree with them in and out of class. As such, I saw it for what it was…silencing tactics and thus used real-life stories from family and historical examples all backed up by the historical records to deflect those tactics and then to rip apart their weak assertions/arguments.

    What’s more interesting was that after graduation and some years spent traveling, working for various causes, and more….nearly all of them ended up in the very corporate careers they used to criticize others for desiring.

  124. octogalore
    octogalore August 22, 2008 at 10:30 pm |

    Exholt — awesome points about shaming re “how you make it” and the hypocrisy of many who do that shaming.

    Hmmph: the fact that you are trying to make this personal, when I’ve made clear that my concerns aren’t about me, suggests that it’s not worth engaging as you seem uninterested in actually doing that. You’ve created a strawwoman and are having a good time setting her on fire, and I’m all about women having fun so go for it.

  125. B Moore
    B Moore August 25, 2008 at 8:24 pm |

    Thank you.

  126. Bo Pot
    Bo Pot August 29, 2008 at 3:41 pm |

    Capitalism is the most hierarchical force since monarchy. It is irredeemable. It cannot be reformed. Exploitation is integral to it.

  127. Being Amber Rhea » Blog Archive » Freewriting on privilege, class, inaccurate words, and frustration

    […] I’m a capitalist, and as such, as lot of “activists” irritate me and I feel alienated. That’s not […]

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