Category Archives: Capitalism

You Will Not Find Me On Facebook

I have no Facebook account.

I will never have a Facebook account.

For years I’ve inveighed against what I sincerely believe to be the blatant immorality of Facebook’s business practices, which, true to capitalism’s two primary goals, seem to be:


Make as much money as you can, any way you can.

Grow as big as you can, any way you can.

Custom, tradition, ethics, law, morality, authority of government, common decency, the health of local or of global environment, or any other considerations are, as far as possible, to be disregarded or neutralized as restraints on the monomaniacal pursuit of maximum profit and of maximum growth for growth’s sake.


Facebook thrives on attention.

In general, the larger the audience the more effective the advertisement, which justifies charging high advertising fees.

So…how to generate a large audience?

So simple…let anybody post damn near anything, especially negative things, because negativity has been proven to draw larger attention than positivity.

This practice damages political processes, social cohesion, and the psychological health of large swaths of the human community.

These consequences are, I believe, acceptable to Facebook so long as it profits.

I sincerely believe Facebook to be a poisonous presence on planet Earth.

There are others who have concerns about Facebook’s impact on our quality of life.

Please see below.


First, a link to a recent Vox article.

https://www.vox.com/recode/22677911/facebook-scandal-research-teen-mental-health

Next, an article recently published by politico.

https://www.politico.com/news/2021/09/21/facebook-paid-billions-extra-to-the-ftc-to-spare-zuckerberg-in-data-suit-shareholders-allege-513456

Finally, a document published in 2019 by MIT Technology Review, and republished recently by Pocket.


Click to access oct-2019-facebook-troll-farms-report.pdf

 

Capitalism (8th)

A prominent economist, (Milton Friedman, I believe), once declared that the whole “social duty” of a corporation is to make as much money as possible for the owners.

Here’s a different viewpoint: “Corporate social responsibility is measured in terms of business improving conditions for their employees, shareholders, communities, and environment.”

“But moral responsibility goes further, reflecting the need for corporations to address fundamental ethical issues such as inclusion, dignity, and equality.” —Klaus Schwab

Which do you prefer?

Capitalism (7th)

If, while drafting last week’s post—Capitalism (6th), I had been seeking evidence that free-market capitalism must in some ways be reined in I could hardly have done better than this:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/mar/18/toxic-chemicals-health-humanity-erin-brokovich

See below for a closely related topic:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/mar/25/us-military-toxic-chemicals-us-states

Capitalism (6th)

More on Corporations

I keep waiting for the day when a corporate president expresses shame for a corporate transgression against the public or the environment.  The statement would go something like this:

‘ On behalf of my company,its management, and its shareholders, I wish to express our grief concerning injuries suffered by people living downstream from our factory, along the Green River.  We are ashamed to admit that, over the years, our poisonous wastes have found  their way into the river, putting the community in peril.  We will do anything to relieve the suffering we have caused.  We are also concerned that safe storage for such potent chemicals now seems impossible, and so henceforth we will only use our facilities for safer forms of manufacturing.  Under no circumstances will we give thought to abandoning the community or its workers. ‘  

No such statement has ever been made, nor ever will be made by a publicly held corporation in America, for several reasons.

No corporate manager could ever place community welfare above corporate interest.  An individual executive might personally wish to do so, but to make this sort of admission would subject the company, and the individual, to legal action by local, state, and federal authorities, as well as to damage suits by victims.

It could also open management to lawsuits from its own shareholders.

U. S. corporation law holds that management of publicly held companies must act primarily in the economic interests of shareholders.  If not, management can be sued by shareholders and firings would surely occur.  So managers are legally obliged to ignore community welfare (e.g., worker health and satisfaction, and environmental concerns) if those needs interfere with profitability.  And corporate managers must also deny that corporate acts have negative impact of any kind, if that impact might translate into costly damage suits that hinder profits.

Though corporations may enjoy many ‘human’ rights, they have not been required to abide by human responsibilities.

The most basic rule of corporate operation it that it must produce income, and (except for that special category of non-profit corporations) must show a profit over time.

Among publicly held companies there is another basic rule:  It must expand and grow, since growth is the standard by which the stock market judges a company.

All other values are secondary: the welfare of the community, the happiness of workers, the health of the planet, and even the general prosperity.


The above quotations, while unflattering, aren’t meant to be condemnatory of free-market capitalism.

My stance in this series of posts (Capitalism 1st – 6th) is that we can do capitalism better by determinedly eliminating its more glaring flaws, one of which is discussed above.

It seems reasonable to require that private profit be pursued within a matrix of government policy, law and regulation designed to stabilize or improve the quality of life for all persons, as well as preserving local and planetary environment.

All quotations from: Mander, Jerry—In The Absence Of the Sacred ISBN 0-87156-509-9

Disclosures:  I have neither formal training in law nor a financial interest in any book cited anywhere on my blog.

 

Capitalism (5th)

A Good Faith Mistake Or Deliberate Legal Corruption?

Corporations used to have privileges, not rights.

In 1886 the Supreme Court seemed to decide a case, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, in a way that gave corporations the same rights as persons.

Corporations are not real persons, born of a biological process.

They’re artificial legal constructions.

So, why did the Court reason as it did?

It didn’t.

J. Bancroft Davis, lawyer, diplomat, former president of a railroad, was in service to the Supreme Court as a court reporter while the above cited case was before the court.

One of his duties was to write what are called headnotes for Supreme Court cases. 

Headnotes summarize key points used by the court in rendering its decision, and are the court reporter’s personal interpretation of the case not official opinions of the court.

Lawyers use headnotes as a sort of “Spark Notes” to quickly review arguments and court judgements.

Before the above cited case, according to the Bill of Rights + the Fourteenth Amendment to The Constitution, corporations, among other entities, had privileges. 

Persons had rights.

The distinction is important.

Davis wrote a falsified summary in his headnotes:  “The defendant Corporations are persons within the the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to The Constitution of the United States, which forbids a state to deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

This legal creativity raised corporations from the ranks of the merely privileged to the ranks of real flesh-and-blood persons having actual rights.

Corporate rights were not even at issue in the trial!

Davis’ “creativity” perverted the intention of the Fourteenth Amendment.

This went unnoticed.  His fantasy headnotes were cited in later cases, thus acquiring the status of precedent law.

So corporations exist in society with the rights of real persons, but without the moral constraints that typically govern their conduct.


Disclosure:  I’m not a lawyer.  I have no political or financial interest in posting this article.  The foregoing is my opinion based on research.

 

America

Land Of The Free—Home of the Brainwashed?

While researching a post I chanced upon comment posted by a reader responding to an editorial published in a British newspaper.

Despite its sarcastic conclusion, this comment is, in my view, worthy of sober consideration:

The average American is subject to endless brainwashing from many self-serving and contradictory sources, through their local newspapers, local TV and radio.

Their use of social media simply confirms their beliefs and prejudices.

They hear endless extreme religious propaganda from profit driven “churches”, advertising from companies desperate to make them addicted to fast food and the latest pointless products, political propaganda that’s way more extreme then anything experienced in the UK. This unregulated onslaught leaves them divorced from reality.

If  the “American way of life” were a coin, this comment might well describe the tail.

Capitalism (4th)

As a general principle of American law, people own their personal facts the same way they own their personal shirtsno one may make unauthorized use of either.

Enter surveillance capitalism—making money by selling our personal facts to advertisers, thus destroying our privacy.

One definition of privacy—the ability to control who knows what about us.

This must always be a qualified, not an absolute, right.

Public welfare sometimes demands intrusions, which, in my opinion, should always be strictly regulated by search warrant.

Another definition of privacy—self-selected aloneness—is essential for psychological health, and for cultivating a spiritual life.

Even regarding marriage an Arab poet once wrote, “…let there be a little apartness in your togetherness…”

Off by ourselves we can rest, refresh, become aware of inner guidance helping to solve our problems.

At such times, “heaven speaks.”

Heaven, (however you understand that term), never intended us to live lives devoid of privacy, locked into a technological fishbowl, constantly spied upon by plutocrat capitalists greedy to accumulate ever more money by selling our every discoverable personal fact to interested parties.

Add to this the government’s snooping and it’s plain we need to rethink our understanding of fourth amendment protection from “unreasonable search and seizure.”

It’s would seem that, to many in business and government, our precious the Bill of Rights has become rather inconvenient.

Regarding business, the profit motive does not justify literally anything.

Regarding government, The Constitution is not to be sidelined.

 

“I am a non-participant in social media. I’m not much attracted to anything that involves the willing forfeiture of privacy and the foregrounding of insignificance.”

—Billy Collins

“Facebook says ‘Privacy is theft’ because they’re selling your lack of privacy to the advertisers who might show up one day.”

—Jaron Lanier

“Saying you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is like saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”

—Jean-Michel Jarre

“Once you’ve lost your privacy you realize you’ve lost an extremely valuable thing.”

—Billy Graham

Socialism (2nd)

In what passes for intelligent political discussion in America, socialism has no redeeming characteristics.  It’s consistently slandered as a direct, unqualified, implacable threat to all we hold dear.

If that’s so, how does one explain that christian democrats and social democrats have functioned in coalition for years governing the German Federal Republic? ¹

Granted that no human system is or ever will be perfect, one has to admit that overall, Germany is a well-ordered, prosperous state, with national and local government maintaining mostly straightforward relationships with the electorate, including regular elections.

All socialists believe that capitalism is inherently unjust and unsustainable over the long haul, and should be replaced.

There are, however, differences in method.

Social democrat is a term for socialists who seek to reform capitalism bit by bit.  As proved by years of modern German political history, social democrats affect change through German democratic processes, which include, don’t forget, risking their access to political power in legally mandated regular elections.

Democratic socialists,² on the other hand, point out flaws in capitalism in an effort to gin up support for an all-out change in the economic system, placing the means of production under public control, again using democratic methods.

These socialists are not communists.  They don’t foment revolution.

When they lose at the ballot box, they do what other politicians do—conduct a postmortem and try again.

While we’re at it, lets briefly consider something critics of socialism seem to have forgotten—or perhaps like to ignore?—the direct influence of socialism on the American Democratic party during the Progressive Era, and on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Legislative results of that influence include the eight-hour work day, unemployment insurance, and Social Security.

How bad is that?

God help us if socialists ever get political power ?

Maybe not.


¹  Political parties active in The German Federal Republic include:  Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU);  their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU); their coalition socialist party partners, the Social Democrats (SPD)the opposition Greens; and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP).

² A word or two about Bernie Sanders: He calls himself a democratic socialist. His policies much more closely resemble those of social democrats. I think he selected the title “democratic socialist” because it sounds better.

Additionally, it’s been said that, as a matter of election tactics, he should drop the “S” word because it freaks out politically naive voters, and instead, present himself as advocating “catch-up” with other nations whose people already enjoy the benefit of programs he consistently advocates.

Wall Street = Main Street ?

“The Economy”  =  “We, The People ?”

Before the Covid-19 pandemic,  Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said the economy was doing very well.

At that same time, the following was true of the people:

  • yearly, almost half a million were going bankrupt, caused, in part, by medical bills
  • 20% of grade school students were living below the poverty line
  • 2.9 million grade school students were living in households where they are unsure when they might get their next meal
  • 25% of workers got no paid sick leave
  • almost 60% of Americans had total savings of $1000 or less
  • 48% of Americans had nothing saved for retirement in a 401(k) or similar instrument
  • no more than 35% of student loan debt holders were making regular repayment, and 25% had defaulted
  •  I could continue…

No doubt the economy, (aka profitability of corporations), was doing very well.

But what did that have to do with the people?

Were they being ignored?

If so, was it regrettable oversight or deliberate policy?

To be clear, I do not advocate doing away with “free-market” capitalism.

I do advocate carefully considered changes to eliminate its more glaring flaws.

“The benefits of economic freedom are secured only within the context of a framework of rules designed to link the pursuit of private profit to the *public interest.”

*public interest = stabilizing or improving the quality of life for all citizens”—From writings of Niskanen Center (a center-right think tank)

 

Socialism (1st)

Separating Wheat From Chaff

To be useful, any discussion of socialism and communism must amount to more than parroting right- or left-wing talking points. As intellectual activity, such parroting ranks just a bit higher than digesting ones breakfast while mistaking that process for thought.

A simple exercise in logic:  All dogs are four-footed animals, but not all four-footed animals are dogs.

Equally true:  All communists are socialists, but not all socialists are communists.

What’s the difference?  And does the difference make any difference?

Let’s talk.

A common misunderstanding—There are no real varieties of socialism.  Any apparent differences are mere window dressing.  In the end, they’ll all resolve into Marxism-Leninism—A Russian-style communist revolution, with concomitant destruction of capitalism, private property, markets, democracy and religion.

At the opposite end of the nonsense spectrum we find socialism touted as a panacea for all of life’s ills.

So the truth is..?

In 1919 communists split with all other socialists over the question of democracy.  Communists reject democracy in favor of destroying capitalism “by all available means”, pointedly including military force, to be accompanied by imposition of a “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

That other socialists have strongly supported democracy is not commonly understood. Critics of socialism don’t seem too eager to remind us of this—quite the contrary.

“(Democracy)…is both a means and an end.  It is the weapon in the struggle for socialism and the form in which socialism will be realized.¹ (my italics.)  Socialist and democratic socialist parties gave and give strong support to democratic forms of government, particularly in Europe following  WWII.

Communism is incompatible with democracy.

Socialism is not.

Incidentally, these names, “socialist”, “democratic socialist”, “social democrat”, etc., are not mere sloppy word salad.  They are labels for varieties of socialism indiscriminately lumped together in what passes for intelligent political discussion.

Please consider that the next time a pollster reports high levels of support for “socialism”.

For the most part, I think it fair to say that neither the pollsters nor those they poll know what they’re talking about.

More on socialism shortly.


¹ Eduard Bernstein (01/06/1850 – 12/18/1932) one of the fathers of democratic socialism.

 

Capitalism (3rd)

A prominent dogma of capitalism is that companies should be run in the interests of the owners, (shareholders).  Supporting discussion runs something like this:  Whereas all other stakeholders get paid fixed wages for work, fixed prices for supplies, fixed interest payments for monies lent, etc., the shareholders get no fixed returns on their investment in the company.  Therefore their risk is greatest.  If the company fails they lose everything. But all the other stakeholders get at least a bit.  So the company should be run for the shareholders’ benefit.

This line of reasoning ignores the fact that, (primarily small), shareholders are the least committed of all stakeholders.  A shareholder can simply sell shares and buy others. They prefer management strategies that maximize short term profits over long term survivability.  On the other hand, employees, who stand to lose pay/pensions/other benefits should the company fail, are much more firmly committed to the company’s long term survivability, likewise suppliers who may have fine tuned their businesses to meet the company’s specific needs, and also bankers who obviously want their money back.

To keep shareholders happy, ruthless cost cutting of labor, inventories,  managers, investments, (for example R&D, new technology to keep the company competitive), anything else possible, is the play of the day—anything to maximize short term profits.

Stock buybacks, another way of maximizing profits of shareholders, drain retained profits which could help the company to weather an economic downturn, (2008 for example), further damaging a company’s long term survivability.

Conclusion: Companies should be managed in the interests of the long term survivability of the company, not the shortsighted $hort term interests of fickle shareholders.

Recent experience proves the two are not synonymous.

Capitalism (2nd)

Federal law requires that corporation officers function in the financial interests of the owners, (shareholders).

A prominent economist, (Milton Friedman, I believe), once declared that the whole “social duty” of a corporation is to make as much money as possible for the owners.

It would seem that this combination of law and “social duty” has produced a pattern of conduct, a portion of which may be described thus:

•  The corporation will pollute the environment whenever doing so is deemed to be cheaper than installing and maintaining pollution controls.  Is there ever a time when dumping pollutants into the environment is more expensive than installing and maintaining pollution controls?  Perhaps—if the offending corporation is caught at it and is penalized by the government or loses in a court of law.

•  Weak or nonexistent labor unions enable corporations to offer fewer benefits and to pay lower wages.  Therefore “union busting” is to be accomplished by any means possible.

•  Government regulation inconsistent with maximizing a corporation’s profits is to be defeated by lobbying, also by contributions to reelection campaigns, in exchange for favorable legislation.  The same benefit may also be obtained by means of carefully concealed bribery.

•  Human beings are to be replaced by machinery whenever possible, because machinery will do a job much more cheaply than a human being, (no pay, no benefits, no paid breaks.)

•  Conclusions of scientific research militating against a corporation doing anything at all to maximize profits are to be discredited by means of covert, well-funded disinformation campaigns, also by reminding purchased politicians who paid the bills for their last reelection campaigns—continue to vote the “right” way and $$$ will continue to flow into your next reelection campaign treasure chest.

•  In relentless pursuit of maximum profits, corporations have all too often abandoned any shred of loyalty to the government / society that gave them birth, (gave them their charters), outsourcing jobs to any country providing cheaper labor, even including the “parent” nation’s most implacable political enemy.

This has the treble effect of strengthening the enemy’s economy, while depriving the “parent” nation of a certain amount of tax revenue, as well as depriving its citizens of jobs.

“Profit motive”, touted as justification (!) for all such conduct,  does not justify literally anything.

To be clear, I don’t advocate abandoning “free market” capitalism.

I do advocate carefully considered changes to eliminate its more glaring flaws.

Capitalism (1st)

Can We Do It Better?

Free-market capitalism operates differently from the way it is described by economists / politicians.

Given the significance of capitalism in our lives, “We the people” might profit from discussion of this difference, which I propose to offer in sequentially numbered installments.

Your comments, of course, are welcome.

Free-Market Capitalism—a phrase with strong popular appeal, is to my mind a description of a wish-dream.

It doesn’t exist.

Our belief that it exists interferes with our ability to do capitalism better.

Consider—in a truly unregulated market…

There would be no zoning laws.  There would be no licensing requirements for doctors, nurses, lawyers, electricians, plumbers, veterinarians, cosmetologists, bar tenders, waiters/waitresses, insurance salespersons, psychologists, real estate agents, and others.

There would be no building codes.

There would be no schedule of  controlled substances.

Selling and buying slaves would be legal.

Anyone could sell or buy any type of firearm.  Hygienic laws for food factories and restaurants wouldn’t exist.

There would be no maximum permissible interest rate.  Corporation officers would not be legally required to function in the financial interests of stockholders.

Regulation is assumed to be a negative influence on the (assumed-to-be-flawless) operation of the unregulated market.  People must be totally “free too choose” if, when, what, where, and how to sell or buy.  The free-market form of capitalism seems based on an assumption that no corrective whatsoever will ever be necessary to check the negative manifestations of human nature. ¹

Lets play “What if…”

“What if…” the government decided to get real on the subject of—lets call it the “Sexual Services Industry”, SSI for short, concluding that the world’s oldest profession, being ever with us, practical regard for public health and safety required the following:

Within a given municipality, all SSI workers would operate within a single precisely defined red-light district, the sole legally permissible area of operation, with substantial penalties for setting up shop off the reservation.  All would be required to purchase a license to practice, which could be suspended or revoked for cause, such as flunking periodic mandatory testing for sexually transmitted diseases, (STD’s).  In addition, all SSI workers would pay income tax, the proceeds of which, together with licensing fees, would help to finance the licensing, medical testing, treatment, and policing of SSI workers and their clientele.

What benefits might accrue to society through the above-described regulation of this hypothetical industry and its market?  For openers, no poxy doxy could operate until he/she tested clean. Granted that mandatory periodic testing is not a perfect system, it would unarguably guarantee some reduction in STD infections.

Confining all SSI workers to a single red-light district would make it easier for morally conservative folks, parents and their kids, school busloads of students on field trips, etc. to avoid contact.

SSI workers, operating legally, openly, in the red light district, therefore not fearing the cops, might be more likely to report people who commit crimes against them.  Criminals, realizing that SSI workers were no longer soft targets, might tend to lay off.  So, all other things being equal, the SSI workers could enjoy safer lives, and the city might enjoy some reduction in the crime rate.

In the above “what-if” discussion I have illustrated ways in which government regulation can serve useful purposes.  Before that, I noted types of regulation, which together with the inherent benefits, would be lacking in a truly unregulated, free-market practice of capitalism.

There is actually no market which is not regulated in some way.  We’ve lived with the regulations and the free-market hype for so long that we’ve become blind to both.

Capitalism is no myth.  Free-market?  That’s a myth.


¹ Some professional economists need to revisit rock-bottom basics—if it were really true under any circumstances that all checks on the negative side of human nature were unnecessary, then God needn’t have given Moses the ten commandments.

Once again—unnecessary?  Ask any lawyer, cop, detective, psychiatrist, priest, minister, rabbi, mullah, youth counselor, or parent for that matter.

Do you prefer a shortcut?  Ask crime victims.

Concerning Tumors

Seriously……

The organs in our body grow to a certain size, then stop.  They function in coordination with all other body parts for the benefit of the whole.  In a healthy body, there is no such thing as unlimited growth for growth’s sake.  All body parts “acknowledge” limits on their size and function imposed by something resembling higher authority—DNA.

Tumors “acknowledge” no such higher authority.  With no regard for the health of the whole, they engage in rampant, limitless growth, sometimes spreading to other parts of the body, where the rampant growth begins anew.

Left unchecked they are ultimately fatally disruptive.

Corporations and tumors—do you see a similarity?

Pushing The River

How Not to Live Life With Skill

Native Americans understand that attempts to force a situation to move at one’s preferred pace, or to coerce a desired result regardless of who might suffer, are naive, frequently dangerous.  They gently mock the absurdity of such behavior, calling it “pushing the river.”

Nowadays many seem to revel in deliberate disregard of this old wisdom.

W. C. Fields, a famous and frequently drunk actor, is reported to have lurched unsteadily past his rose bushes one morning, snarling at them as he passed, “GROW! DAMN YOU!”

So many of us are addicted to being in control.

We regard life as a competition for scarce material blessings, with definite winners and losers.

“The one who dies with the most toys wins!”

We fight hard to be “winners”.  “Nice guys finish last!”  OMG, we just can’t be last!

It’s not merely, “What will people think?”  The underlying terror is, “What will people, (who think like us), DO to us?”  We go so far as to think, speak and act as if the “losers” in this competition are arrogant to expect compassionate treatment.

I’m (very) loosely describing characteristics of Social Darwinism, which, carried to its logical extreme position, requires the losers to die of whatever combination of social, psychological, political, and economic abuse, plus malnutrition and disease, afflicts them, and to do so very quietly, mind you, so as not to disturb the good time the “winners” are self-righteously enjoying, (and that the winner-wannabees are striving so hard to begin enjoying).

Social Darwinism is popular with some of the fat-wallet set, who find in it a justification for their accumulation of wealth and simultaneously, for their condescending or even sneering attitude toward the “losers”.  And this despite the fact that capitalism inevitably produces a certain number of such “losers”.

Layoffs, plant closings, downsizing, hostile takeovers, out-sourcing, mismanagement resulting in bankruptcy, etc., all produce some number of “losers”, who are frequently characterized as inferior, parasitic, or morally torpid because they can’t deal effectively with such events, and need a social safety net to stave off disaster.

Little is said about the glacially selfish, and/or stupid, and/or feloniously illegal conduct of  some owners, managers, brokers, bankers or speculators who created crises for these so-called “losers” in the first place.  These people believe they have gotten away with something.

Here’s the catch:  Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, we all have functioning consciences, preprogramed to accept cooperative, compassionate conduct and to reject exploitative conduct.

The latter produces fear, guilt, and shame, which contribute to poor health, additional psychological problems, and self-destructive behavior aimed at silencing guilty consciences.

Attempts to silence guilty consciences don’t work.  Period.  End of story.

People with clear(er) consciences are free(er) of fear, guilt, and shame.  Thus they generally live longer, have better health, and are happier more often than their fear-, guilt- and shame-laden counterparts.

Which is worth more: being at peace with what we see in our mirrors, or attempting to silence rowdy consciences by, (among other practices), claiming that the “losers” are at fault, never the “river-pushers” who created the problems in the first place?

Care to share your thoughts?