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Democracy Versus Capitalism

Entry 1764, on 2016-01-23 at 21:32:44 (Rating 3, Politics)

I recently read an article saying that writing anecdotal introductions to your real subject is a bad idea. Unfortunately, you might notice that this is a technique I use in most of my blog posts. I think it adds a bit of context and I prefer it to just launching into the main subject without any gentle ramping up to the serious point under discussion. So I might continue with this and just apologise in advance to those who think it's a waste of time or makes the post too long.

As you might already know if you read this blog I listen to a lot of audiobooks and have been listening to a mix of modern and classic fiction, and some non-fiction about subjects as diverse as history, physics, general science, and economics. My current book is a science fiction novel, "Red Mars" by Kim Stanley Robinson. It's another story dealing with the colonisation of Mars but very different from the one I mentioned in my last blog post (Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles).

The thing I found most interesting about the book was not the discussions of space travel, future technology, or life on another planet, but more the way politics and economics was incorporated into the story.

According to the dictionary economics is "the branch of knowledge concerned with the production, consumption, and transfer of wealth." It is interesting to note that it is not claimed to be a science, and although I think the subject can be approached scientifically it usually isn't.

Modern economies reward certain behaviours with more wealth and many economists just treat that as the natural way things are, like a physicist would treat the movement of an object in a gravitational field as just the way the laws of gravity work.

But the difference is that the rules of economics occur in an environment which is primarily constructed by society, and the current structure of these rules has no inherent inevitability. So when we learn in recent news that just 62 people in the whole world have the same wealth as the poorest half of the human population (about 3.7 billion people) that isn't the result of any natural law, it is the result of a carefully constructed system designed to benefit a certain type of person.

And what type of person is that? Well, contrary to what the elite might tell us it is not the most deserving, the most productive, the group who contribute most to society. In most cases it is quite the contrary: people (and corporations) who are good at avoiding making a fair financial contribution (through tax avoidance for example), good at ignoring any commitment to the world apart from maximising profit, and good at dodging inconvenient negative aspects of their activities (such as environmental damage, climate change, and social inequality).

There is no doubt that the same issue arises in all polito-economic systems to some extent, and it could even be that capitalism leads to the best outcome compared with alternatives. The Soviet era is hardly a great recommendation for that particular alternative, after all.

So I am saying that conventional capitalism might be bad but just might be less bad than the alternatives. The problem is where it is going. Big business is gaining more power and many companies now have far more cash (and probably more power too) that most smaller governments.

My thought is that any individual or group of people who get too much power - whether they be a democratic government, a socialist dictatorship, an out of control military, an individual dictator or king, or a multinational corporation - is a bad thing.

So we do need some way to hold back the power of big business and it seems that government is the only realistic way to do that. Unfortunately the corporate world fully understands this and that is why most governments are under the control, to varying degrees, of big business. This is very obvious in the US but happens everywhere to some extent.

Capitalism will fail and hopefully something better will arise in its place, but until that happens the only thing we can do to prevent the worst excesses of big business is to have governments control them more.

But that didn't work so well in Red Mars and it doesn't seem to be working too well in real life either. It seems that the battle between Democracy and Capitalism is definitely being won by Capitalism at the moment. How bad it will get until the balance is restored I just don't know.


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