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Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Capitalism ad absurdam

I'm sure I've written about this before, although I can't find it, but anyway a little repetition couldn't hurt. It's my explanation of the irrationality and, ultimately, the complete unworkability of capitalism, using the technique of reductio ad (not so) absurdam.

I started the day reading about how Bank of America may close 10% of its branches because of the increase in online banking. Then, while out running errands, I passed an empty building where a bank used to be. And finally, as one of the errands, I stopped at an ATM machine to get some cash, an operation which in years past would have required an actual bank employee. Now online banking and ATM machines (and having less of the earth's surface required for buildings) would be good things...under socialism. Under capitalism, however, every such use of technology to enhance productivity means fewer jobs, more unemployment, more misery. And, of course, the banking sector which formed these three examples today is only one small part of the same phenomenon which is hitting pretty much every industry across the board, be it automobiles or newspapers or a thousand other things.

Here comes the reductio ad absurdam part, which is getting less and less absurdam every year: imagine a world in which everything is totally automated. Automobiles are produced entirely by machines, machines which themselves are built by machines, fed with products like steel which are themselves produced by machines fed with raw materials like coal which are harvested by machines. Oh, maybe there's one person somewhere pushing a "start" button, but that could be automated too.

So how does this world work? There are all sorts of products being produced, and the owners of the factories would be making a fantastic profit, except for the one factor mentioned in the post below this one - there's no one to buy the products! That's how this scenario plays out under capitalism, for a very simple reason - products are produced not for need, but for profit.

And under socialism? Since products are produced for need, we can just set the dials on the factory to produce how much is "needed" (decided in some democratic way, and factoring in and indeed prioritizing the need for a sustainable planet) and distribute it equitably among the people. People who now have more leisure time (and, in the reductio ad absurdam scenario, all leisure time) to write blog posts, go for a hike, write a book, take in a movie, or whatever else one takes a fancy to.

Reductio ad absurdam is, as its name implies, absurd. But doesn't the trend in today's world clearly indicate that precisely this scenario, albeit less extreme, is what we are confronting today? And isn't the solution precisely the same? No unemployment, just a continually reduced workweek to compensate for increases in productivity? And a workforce which shares (more or less, but one heck of a lot "more" than now) equally in the output they can produce, with profit taken out of the picture, so that an investment in training teachers or doctors, or building schools, all "non-profitable" investments, get an equal consideration for society's resources as investing in building a video-game factory?

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