The Relationship between Capitalism and Government

I want to get into a topic that came up a few weeks ago, the difference between Markets and Capitalism. Boy, has this turned out to be hard to find simple, clear discussions of this idea online. So, the below excerpts are seriously, super long, and I apologize for that, but they tell a necessary story in three parts. The last excerpt is just there as a reference. As always we'll go through the readings on the day of the discussions!

The Safe Distribution of Private Power
—[In the US,] what we want to do, to the best of our ability, is use our public government mainly to ensure the safe distribution of private power. The basic idea was that if you distribute private corporate power widely enough, then people will compete among themselves in ways that are good for both our democracy and our economy.
—Did Wilson proceed to do this?
—One of the first things his administration did was fix the many flaws of the original Sherman Antitrust Act by passing the Clayton Act. The second thing they did was put the public fully in control of the money supply. A lot of people have problems with the Federal Reserve, and there’s a lot of reasons to have problems with the Federal Reserve. But the Federal Reserve we have today is better than having JP Morgan run the money supply, or Jamie Dimon.

Economic Models...的討論逐字稿

This is a partial transcript of our discusssion of Economic Models are the Foundation of Social Relations

—The second passage is about how we produce the culture we live in everyday through the way we live.
—The culture creates our way of living, and by living it we create the culture.
—So the culture is perpetuated.
—To survive, we have to eat food, so we do work. So what does that have to do with culture? If a poor person, they don't care about culture. If they can live, if they can survive, how he does so has nothing to do with culture.
—I think the culture here doesn't mean, for example, music, or painting. That's not the culture that we're talking about. Culture is the abstract, or the physical thing.
—Okay, i'll say it a different way. In Taiwan, not a lot of people can understand what you mean, when you talk about culture like music...
—'Culture', what the article is saying, is like an overall picture. In the past, we are in a culture that we eat what we produce, or we wear clothes that we made ourselves. It's more like 'lifestyle'.
—But I think culture as a word is very okay for this kind of issue.
—It’s like this, the chopsticks they use in Japan are not the same as the Chinese chopsticks we use in Taiwan, and Koreans have their own style of chopsticks. In the west we use forks and knives, but they use forks and spoons in Indonesia and Thailand, and they use them differently than us. This is what culture is. It’s not just the big stuff, it’s all the details of our lives.

—Okay, so since some more people have come in, let’s recap what we’ve talked about so far. There are like three steps in the points under discussion today, the first step is, libraries and bookstores. If an alien came down to Taiwan and stepped into Eslite, and then was taken to visit Taida’s library, they might not see the difference. They’re both a big building filled with books on shelves, and with people all around, and some people take books to the counter, make some sort of exchange, and walk out with books. But what is the big difference between the two, besides the fact that Eslite is such a beautiful place that everyone loves going to, and Taida’s library is perhaps less comfortable inside? The difference is that the basic principle of access to books in the library is “to each according to need” or interest, while the principle in the bookstore is “to each according to ability to pay.” Meaning, if you want a book in the library, you just go get it, or maybe you have to wait a bit and then you can read it. At Eslite, you have to think about if the book is worth 600NT or 1500NT to you or not, and maybe you can’t afford it. And if you’re poor, that’s all the difference in the world.

Economic Models are the Foundation of Social Relations

I want to get into a topic that came up a few weeks ago, the difference between Markets and Capitalism. Of the article excerpts we're going to discuss today, the first one is kind of ordinary, and the second one is from a very famous and very difficult text which has generated a lot of controversy in its existence. As always we'll go through the readings on the day of the discussions!

Libraries or Bookstores?
A nice illustration of the difference between capitalist and noncapitalist ways of organizing economic activity is the contrast between two ways in which people get access to books: bookstores and libraries. The United States turns out to have one of the best developed public library systems in the world. Ironically, perhaps, this system was largely founded through the philanthropy of one of the wealthiest and most powerful capitalists of the late 19th century, Andrew Carnegie.

What are the key differences between bookstores and libraries? When you enter a bookstore in search of a book you go to the part of the store in which the book is shelved, take it off the shelf, look at its price, and then decide whether or not it is worth it to you to spend that amount of money to have the book. Your access to the book is governed by your willingness (and ability) to pay for it. In a library you go to the shelf, see if the book is there. If it is, you take it and check it out. If it is not, you put your name on a waiting list and get notified when the book is available. The access to the book is rationed by time: your willingness to wait for it. The librarian then notes how long the waiting list is and, depending upon the resources of library, the level of community support for its activities, and its policies concerning waiting lists, decides whether or not to order more copies of the book.

The underlying principles of a library and a bookstore are thus quite different. The basic principle of access to books in the library is “to each according to need” or interest, while the principle in the bookstore is “to each according to ability to pay.” These two mechanisms have very different consequences in the world. Libraries are clearly more egalitarian in the sense that they embody an ideal of equal opportunity for all. No one is at a disadvantage because of personal resources. If bookstores were the only way of getting books, then poor people would have much less access to books. One can easily imagine libraries being used for all sorts of things besides books – movies, recordings, artwork, tools, video cameras, etc. And indeed, some public libraries in the United States do provide some of these. Imagine how the American economy would be different if libraries were ever to become a general, pervasive model for access to such a wide range of things?

Oh, Baby

“PLAYING God” is what medicine is for. Every Caesarean section and cancer treatment is an attempt to interfere with the natural course of events for the benefit of the patient. Not every procedure should be allowed, but a general sense of what is “unnatural” is a poor guide to what to ban. Transplants and transfusions were once considered unnatural, but now save many lives. That insight is why MPs were right to agree, on February 3rd, that Britain should become the first country to allow the creation of children with genetic material from three people instead of the usual two (see article).
By doing so, they hope to relieve terrible suffering. Faults with mitochondria—the tiny power sources inside cells—afflict about one child in 6,500, or 100 a year in Britain. The many conditions that result, a lot of them agonising and fatal, have no cure. So scientists hope to prevent them at conception, by transferring the healthy nucleus of an egg cell with damaged mitochondria into the body of an egg with functioning ones.

Time, Labor, Balance 討論逐字稿

Concluding statements
So for me, I was thinking about how when I was a child, totalitarian countries were the big scary thing that the news talked about. And it was presented as this brand new thing that came out of nowhere, that was somehow new and scary in the world. But tonight when we were preparing for our concluding statements I realized something: because Chi-ning said that thing about how in capitalism, you have to use every single bit. And that made me think of how in the Story of B they talked about totalitarian agriculture, that if something was the enemy of your crops, you had to destroy every bit of it. Like, wolves: we had to kill ALL the wolves, even though wolves don't actually threaten all of our cows. So it made me think that this is all on a continuum in our culture. The same ideas that started with the new kind of agriculture 12,000 years ago are the same ideas that led to capitalism and are the same ideas that lead to totalitarianism [極權主義/集權主義].

I don’t know if Angela arranged the paragraphs intentionally, that the capitalism was first and the balance was the last part. The paragraph that’s ‘in balance’ we should think, we are only guests in the world, I kind of agree with the idea that we’re only passengers, guests, we are not possessing what we thought we have, anything material or land or houses. And talking about the goal, I was thinking that, how can we decide or, I mentioned, define, that this is real or true or final goal for us, or for me! To pursue. I used to set the goal from others’ opinions, or social expectations, we should do this, this is good, this is better for your future or whatever. But I’m trying to discover, or define my own path or my goal for the next decade.

I thought the totalitarianism is not the same as capitalism. But if we want to be balanced in life, maybe we must try to use the benefit of capitalism. And also consider why totalitarianism is the little good…it’s not all good or all bad. I mean, sometime one thing is a good or bad, so it’s not totally the worst. If we want society to be better and better, we can consider capitalism and totalitarianism in balance
—Good idea, to not think about it as a dichotomy.

Time, Labor, Balance

Okay! This is one of those posts where I give you seemingly unrelated quotes, and in the discussion we find what connections there might be between them. What a way to begin the New Year!

Time Is Money
"Remember, that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor, and goes abroad, or sits idle, one half of that day, though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings besides.[...]Remember, that money is the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on. Five shillings turned is six, turned again is seven and threepence, and so on, till it becomes a hundred pounds. The more there is of it, the more it produces every turning, so that the profits rise quicker and quicker. He that kills a breeding sow, destroys all her offspring to the thousandth generation. He that murders a crown, destroys all that it might have produced, even scores of pounds."—Benjamin Franklin, as quoted in the summary of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Working Hard 2015/2/6的討論逐字稿

Final Statements:
—Do you have to be hard on yourself to be a good creator?
Is it really better, to be hard, to work hard, to develop yourself through adversity? I mean, can’t we just go drinking together? Hang out and talk and make beautiful things together?
—Well, all work and no play make Jack a dull boy.
—Yeah but all play and no work makes Jack an alcoholic!

—when we were discussing woman A or woman b being more virtuous, I was thinking one thing, the chairman of Foxcomm, Guo Taiming, he once said, I just told my daughter how to spend my money wisely, and then also, spending my money to help society, to help the community. So his daughter doesn’t need to work, but it’s better for…I mean she is just so lucky, but at least, during her childhood, her father was working very hard. Because this guy, the chairman of Foxcomm, did not really have rich parents himself, but he works hard, but his daughter, the next generation can deserve, can enjoy the achievement that he brought to them. So how do you say about that.
—it’s a good fate!
—and also she was very well behaved, she doesn’t spend the money crazily on luxury goods.
—maybe she will…
—but we speak good of her, so well respected. So yeah, she deserves to be his daughter!
—because she’s morally correct?

Working Hard

When you think of ‘hard work’ what are some of the images that come up for you?

Is ‘hard work’ a priori virtuous?
To ask this question through a narrative: Say there’s a person who’s worked hard all her life for her dream, she’s suffered a lot, but finally she makes it, the thing she was working on happens, she gets what she wants.
Then imagine someone else, who just for no reason, luck or the universe or whatever, totally just gets what she wants.
Who is more virtuous?

Why I am not a "Maker"

In this Atlantic article, Debbie Chachra brings up an important issue about global culture:

"Creators, rightly, take pride in creation. In her book The Real World of Technology, the metallurgist Ursula Franklin contrasts prescriptive technologies, where many individuals produce components of the whole (think about Adam Smith’s pin factory), with holistic technologies, where the creator controls and understands the process from start to finish. As well as teaching my own engineering courses, I’m a studio instructor for a first-year engineering course, in which our students do design and fabrication, many of them for the first time. Making things is incredibly important, especially for groups that previously haven’t had access."


Here's another excerpt from "The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible", this one from Chapter 21, Attention.

"Most of us have grown up in a society that trains us, from kindergarten or even earlier, to do things we don’t really want to do, and to refrain from things we do want to. This is called discipline, the work ethic, self-control. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution at least, it has been seen as a cardinal virtue. After all, most of the tasks of industry were not anything a sane human being would willingly do. To this day, most of the tasks that keep society as we know it running are the same. Lured by future rewards, chastened by punishment, we face the grim necessity of work. This would all be defensible, perhaps, if this work were truly necessary, if it were contributing to the well-being of people and planet. But at least 90 percent of it is not. Part of our revolution is the reunion of work and play, work and art, work and leisure, of have to and want to.


This is an excerpt from Chapter 24 of "The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible" by Charles Eisenstein.

"Pleasure, remember, is among other things the feeling we get from satisfying a need. The more powerful the need, the greater the pleasure. To follow this principle requires, first, accepting that our needs are valid and even beautiful. And not just our needs, but our desires as well, coming as they do from unmet needs. Hold your breath, and your need for oxygen generates a desire to breathe. Stay too long at a dull job, and your need to grow will generate a desire to break free of limitations. Society tries to confine or divert that urge to break free, channeling it toward something inconsequential like drunkenness, video games, or bungee jumping, but what are these pleasures next to the exuberant expansiveness of real freedom?

To trust pleasure is to controvert norms and beliefs so deep that they are part of our very language. I have already mentioned the equation of “hard” with “good” and “easy” with “bad.” The fact that words like “selfish” and “hedonist” are terms of disparagement speaks to the same basic belief. But the logic of interbeing tells us that among our greatest needs are the needs for intimacy, connection, giving, and service to something greater than oneself. Meeting these needs, then, is the source of our greatest pleasure as well.