“Capitalism” is a major contemporary shibboleth distinguishing two tribes, “capitalists” and “socialists” often generating added hatred and obscuring the common humanity both tribes share.
Wikipedia describes capitalism as an economic system based on private ownership of “the means of production” and gives a number of characteristics of capitalism. Most of these features are not inevitable and in themselves can be morally neutral or even beneficial – ethical benign corporations exist – in the UK Timpson seems to be one – and employers are slowly realising that treating workers well can, given good leadership, lead to increased profits.
Capitalism like any other economic system is created by the actions of human beings and attributing the undoubted evils of the system under which much western society lives to the personified abstraction known as “capitalism” absolves the humans involved of responsibility for their actions and treats “capitalism” as a force that cannot be resisted. The same thing can be said of socialism, but that is an argument for later.
Business has hijacked capitalism. Business is run by people. People are subject to various biases, including peer pressure and a largely uncritical belief in authority, which in the political sphere is the high road to dictatorship.
The archetypal business model today is the corporation, an organised mob that has been granted personhood and powers such as immortality not possessed by the humans that make it up.
Corporations became unpopular in Britain for a while after the South Sea Bubble with corporations replaced by family run (and sometimes paternalistic) businesses. After Adam Smith published his Wealth of Nations employers, ignoring his companion volume The Theory of Moral Sentiments selected only the parts of Wealth of Nations that they wanted to hear, began to replace the old concept of a fair wage with that of a market wage.
The reasons for this shift are complex. A desire to reduce costs is only part of it. The rest seems to have been generated by a fear of losing out, of being regarded as weak, the commoditisation of labour and a feeling of superiority to workers. It was facilitated by the enclosure of the commons and the highland clearances which created a flood of workers into the growing industrial cities like Manchester. People were cheap and replaceable. Machines were and are expensive and hard to replace. They had the added benefit of deskilling important groups of workers such as weavers, thus justifying a reduction of wages.
The same deskilling process is seen to day in software development where corporations salivate over the prospect of replacing developers with Artificial Intelligence a prospect that seems a long way off. Artificial Intelligence will work 24/7 and not need wages and be much less likely to argue than humans and cannot leave to work for a better employer.
It is useful when hearing the word “capitalist” to replace it with “corporation” or occasionally “employer” or even “management” since humans in charge of the machine that is a corporation directly caused the evils of today’s capital based society. And most of those humans were managers, not owners, who tended to fall into the trap of imagining that they were different and superior to the people they managed.
Corporate culture is set from the top and the owner or founder run business that started small is becoming increasingly rare, which means top management share the blame if their organisation develops a toxic culture. Too often they are cocooned from what happens to staff at the bottom.
It does not help that the underlying principles of Human Resources facilitate a worker vs manager view rather then a “we’re in this together” view and tend to reinforce the notion that managers are a superior race.
The current ills of the neoliberal capitalist system under which much of the world lives is the result of human actions driven by base desires such as the love of power and the desire to feel superior to someone. The evils in this system are perpetrated by managers who one can guess go into management because of a love of power or a reaction to a dysfunctional childhood. The principles of Human Resources tend to divide stakeholders in a corporation and to regard workers as commodities.
So when you hear the words Capitalism or Capitalists replace them mentally with Corporatism or Corporations or even managers in order to highlight the fact that all the evils we see are the result of actions by flawed humans (all humans are flawed) and put the blame on them.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2022 AlexK2009