Capitalism: Neutral or Religious Problem? - Mothering Forums

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Old 02-08-2008, 08:05 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Is capitalism inherently exploitative? Does it valorize greed as a virtue? Is it a "neutral" economic structure within which people can be personally ethical? Is there such a thing as a neutral economic structure? Does capitalism (especially modern capitalism) break down families and communities and if so, should we care from a relgious point of view? Can its bad tendencies be controlled?

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Old 02-08-2008, 09:46 PM
 
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Er... dunno. My personal view is that any system of economics or government would work perfectly if humans were perfect; and no system will work perfectly given that humans aren't. Capitalism, communism, socialism, monarchies, democracies... no system is perfect enough to mitigate the fact that humans are selfish, greedy so-and-sos who will manipulate anything going to fulfil their own sinful desires.

So yes, capitalism doesn't work; but I don't think any alternatives would 'work' either, in terms of curing sin.

Which I realise is a fairly lackadaisical attitude to have, and it's just as well I'm not in politics. But it's the best answer I've got.

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Old 02-08-2008, 11:31 PM
 
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OMG. I agree with Smokering.

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Old 02-09-2008, 12:54 AM
 
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Er... dunno. My personal view is that any system of economics or government would work perfectly if humans were perfect; and no system will work perfectly given that humans aren't. Capitalism, communism, socialism, monarchies, democracies... no system is perfect enough to mitigate the fact that humans are selfish, greedy so-and-sos who will manipulate anything going to fulfil their own sinful desires.

So yes, capitalism doesn't work; but I don't think any alternatives would 'work' either, in terms of curing sin.

Which I realise is a fairly lackadaisical attitude to have, and it's just as well I'm not in politics. But it's the best answer I've got.
Good points, yes.

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Old 02-09-2008, 12:54 AM
 
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LOL. An historic occasion. World, beware.

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Old 02-09-2008, 01:02 AM
 
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LOL. An historic occasion. World, beware.
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Old 02-09-2008, 01:04 AM
 
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Is capitalism inherently exploitative?
I answer yes to this, and I don't know to the rest. I'm interested to see what others have to say.

This is my first post on this forum but I have lurked a bit.

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Old 02-09-2008, 01:19 AM
 
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My thoughts are that modern capitalism is not a morally neutral system, as it basically is motivated by greed. I think it should be a religious concern, and frankly, it baffles me a bit that there are currently such strong ties between Chritsitanity and big business capitalism.

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Old 02-09-2008, 11:33 AM
 
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Wow. I totally agree with Smokering. Humans are imperfect, and any system is going to be flawed (and liable to be abused) as a result.
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Old 02-09-2008, 11:39 AM
 
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I also think our opinions are colored by experience somewhat. I have friends, who are living such privelaged lives in a free and democratic capitalistic country who idolize communism and find fault with democracy and capitalism. My husband, OTOH, while he appreciated the local village culture and community in his home country suffered severely under a national communistic government. So....he's not particularly unhappy with the opportunities he has here in the States. Having seen his father work hard and lose everything in a redistribution of property, he is not at all opposed to hard work being rewarded.
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Old 02-09-2008, 12:20 PM
 
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I believe that capitalism is the purest form of consensualism and is not inherently "evil" in any way. In fact, the pursuit of profit (benefit for one's own self via monetary value) is merely a symbolic representation of an exchange of value. The constructs of personal property, assumed. (a huge caveat) I believe in the inherent generosity and communal spirit of humans and that the presumption that humans are inherently evil to be the root of most all conflict.




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Old 02-09-2008, 12:22 PM
 
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Capitalism as it is currently performed, and as it has been performed historically, is inherently unethical yes, and so a serious spiritual concern.
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Old 02-09-2008, 10:43 PM
 
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Capitalism as it is currently performed, and as it has been performed historically, is inherently unethical yes, and so a serious spiritual concern.
I would have to agree. Most of the changes to western capitalism since the middle ages have made it more unequal and centralised wealth.

There was always a distinction between rich and poor, but at one time manufacture of goods was controlled by workers through the guilds. Those who wove cloth for a living owned the looms, determined the prices of their goods, and controlled working conditions. The destruction of the guild system was brought about by the wealthy who ended up owning and controlling the production of goods, which made the economic system far more unbalanced.

One big change was the legalization of interest. In most of Europe, at one time, it was illegal to charge interest on anything. It was considered to be against Christian teachings. Our current economic system is now based on the idea of interest, which has certainly been of no benefit to the poor, but which has made a small number of people/businesses very wealthy.

Other changes over the years have had similar effects. The only time there was a "break away" from this system was during Communist revolutions, which brought about an economic system which had problems of its own.

I am not sure if you could call the medieval economic system "capitalism" but whatever it was, it was fairer and less morally suspect than the current one.
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Old 02-11-2008, 04:34 PM
 
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I am not sure if you could call the medieval economic system "capitalism" but whatever it was, it was fairer and less morally suspect than the current one.
I've always thought that the medieval system was feudalism. If that's true, how would it have been fairer?
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Old 02-12-2008, 04:58 AM
 
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I've always thought that the medieval system was feudalism. If that's true, how would it have been fairer?
Why could it not have been fairer? There is unfairness in both systems, of different kinds.

Anybody involved in a craft or some type of manufacture would belong to a guild. The guild provided services for its members and their families, like funeral expenses, dowries and a kind of health insurance. It strictly regulated prices and competition so no single producer could corner the market or drive others out of business. Even the wealthiest, for centuries, had no say in how weavers, bakers etc. worked or how much they made - that was decided by the workers themselves, as a group. Until the change to the modern capitalist system, even the wealthiest were not allowed to manufacture an item made by guild members. It kept both wealth and power balanced.

When you say feudalism is unfair, maybe you mean the existence of serfdom; but even serfs had more rights and legally protected privileges than modern day wage workers.
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Old 02-12-2008, 05:59 AM
 
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Well, capitalism is one thing, corporatism is another. I truly believe that corporations have no redeeming value. They are intrinsically amoral. They are creations of the worst aspects of human greed merged with the worst aspects of mob mentality and all wrapped up with equal rights but fewer responsibilities than humans. I do not believe that they are in accordance with the natural order of life.

Business, I don't think there's anything intrinsically wrong with that. You make something, you have something, you sell it and use the proceeds to buy something you want. That's fine. You can perform moral acts as a businessperson or you can perform immoral acts, but either way you, yourself, the individual, can be morally accountable for your actions. You can choose to pay your workers a living wage or you can choose to keep them as slaves. You can choose to be honest in your business dealings or you can choose to lie. In the case of the individual business owner, I agree with the pps who point out that regardless of the system, people will be flawed individuals and there can be good and bad in everyone.

But you bring corporations into it, and that's a whole different kettle. There is no personal responsibility. There is no *person.* There's a legal entity. There's assets. The only responsibility is to the shareholders. If you're the head of a corporation, and you *want* your business to have more ethical practices, you can't do it! Every effort is made under the corporate model to remove every trace of the possibility of human conscience meddling in profits. And corporate apologists have the audacity to talk about free markets! A market isn't free if there's a corporation in there. There's no "free market" when a court says that a living breathing human being and an imaginary bureaucratic smokescreen have equal rights.
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Old 02-12-2008, 11:44 AM
 
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Brigianna, I could not disagree with you more!

The only issue is the governmental "favors" afforded corporations. The whole tax benefits and loopholes, and directed funding (ie paying tobacco growers not to grow, etc.). The corporation is as moral or amoral as the shareholders allow. And there is no restriction on the consumer's decision making power.

When a company is allowed preferred access to the market through government restricting competition, therein lies the imbalance of power. The market will always rebalance itself with free entry.

The pursuit of money is no evil.


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Old 02-12-2008, 06:06 PM
 
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The pursuit of money is no evil.
I don't know about 'evil' but it is ethically questionable at the very least so long as there are those whose access to resources is compromised or denied in order to pursue material gain.
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Old 02-12-2008, 06:18 PM
 
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Is capitalism inherently exploitative?
So far it has been.

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Does it valorize greed as a virtue?
yes. The manufactured nobility in 'pulling oneself up by the bootstraps' and The idea that protecting capitalism means protecting 'freedom' , and then the flipside---being anti-capitalist means willing to do away with our Fundamental Freedoms as Human Beings.
People who use the system, rely on social safety nets, panhandle or otherwise engage in self-sustaining activities that are deemed non-productive are considered to have less worthy character and less virtue.

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Is there such a thing as a neutral economic structure?
Well, I think that theoretically there could be. Captitalism certainly doesn't even pretend to strive for it though. I think a good strong benevolent socialist dictatorship with the goal of anarchy is the way to go. Although I don't think it's gonna happen anytime soon

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Does capitalism (especially modern capitalism) break down families and communities and if so, should we care from a relgious point of view?
I di think so, yes. I think that patriarchal capitalism essentially eschews any notion of 'chosen family' if it is not commoditisable. Therefore, any family that deviates from the acceptable (read: commoditisable) norm is shunned, disparaged and broken down. This is spiritually harmful. Any type of community formation that threatens economic gain and private enterprise is considered deviant in our caitalist society.
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Old 02-12-2008, 06:20 PM
 
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I don't know about 'evil' but it is ethically questionable at the very least so long as there are those whose access to resources is compromised or denied in order to pursue material gain.
Independent investors of capital who use their own money, or acquire other capital investors, are not "compromising or denying resources to others".


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Old 02-12-2008, 06:21 PM
 
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Independent investors of capital who use their own money, or acquire other capital investors, are not "compromising or denying resources to others".


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as long as there are people starving and dying of exposure they are.
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Old 02-12-2008, 06:24 PM
 
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as long as there are people starving and dying of exposure they are.
Give away your money. I do too. But, I am not my brother's keeper. Nor do I believe in a martyred life. Forced handing over of funds earned, is stealing.


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Old 02-12-2008, 06:25 PM
 
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Give away your money. I do too. But, I am not my brother's keeper. Nor do I believe in a martyred life. Forced handing over of funds earned, is stealing.


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alright then.
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Old 02-12-2008, 06:33 PM
 
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WuWei, can you speak to the apparent contradiction between these two statements?
Quote:
I believe in the inherent generosity and communal spirit of humans
and
Quote:
I am not my brother's keeper. Nor do I believe in a martyred life.
one thing I'd like to point out about ststement 2 is that the idea that posessions are essentially lifeblood (as in, without them you are being 'martyred') is a very capitalist notion.
But what I see as an apparent contradiction leaves me rather nonplussed. What am I missing there?
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Old 02-12-2008, 06:33 PM
 
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I don't think capitalism itself is intrinsically evil or unethical any more than I believe communism, socialism, or any other economic ism is.
The problem is partly people, and partly bad planning, IMO.
At least in a capitalist society we have the choice of which businesses we support. It really is true that we can "vote" for more ethical practices on the part of big businesses, just by choosing where we buy things.
For example, sometimes I shop at Safeway. Not too terribly often b/c it's about 3-4 times the cost of shopping at the Commissary any given day; however, every time I go, I see more "free range" and "organic" stuff under the generic Safeway organics brand. The great part is, that organic stuff is usually cheaper than the normal stuff--at Safeway-- so I ALWAYS buy it there. The more I buy, the more they make, the more affordable it becomes. The other part is that Safeway gives some really good benefits to its employees. I believe it's so expensive compared to the commissary because it has to be in order to pay/give benefits to all the workers. Almost half of the workers at the commissary are paid only in tips.

There's room for ethics in every system. The question is whether we're aware of the need, and aware of the mode of expressing that need.

RE serfs/feudalism: Call me crazy, but I don't think serfdom is at ALL even halfway as good as capitalism for the rest of us. I like being able to choose what I do for a living, being able to move, being able to choose what style and material my clothes are made in and being able to--you know-- afford having a doctor see me when I'm sick. I also like the idea that if someone declares war, my untrained brothers won't be pulled from the fields and tossed as arrow-fodder in front of the lords. And that I can't be raped by a lord 'cause he decides he feels the need for a roll in the hay, YKWIM? O.o
As far as guilds go, not all trades were guild-worthy. Bakers certainly weren't. Big trades like weaving and dying and metalcrafting, things that took years of apprenticeship, THOSE were what merited guilds. And the guilds were primarily to keep upstarts who didn't pay fees to the guilds from doing business
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Old 02-12-2008, 06:39 PM
 
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WuWei, can you speak to the apparent contradiction between these two statements?
Quote:
I believe in the inherent generosity and communal spirit of humans
and
Quote:
I am not my brother's keeper. Nor do I believe in a martyred life.
one thing I'd like to point out about ststement 2 is that the idea that posessions are essentially lifeblood (as in, without them you are being 'martyred') is a very capitalist notion.
But what I see as an apparent contradiction leaves me rather nonplussed. What am I missing there?
I don't believe that charity must be forced. Nor do I believe that one must martyr oneself for another's benefit. I am a capitalist. Capitalism is an exchange of value for value. Effort is valued based upon supply and demand. Artificial constructs of value (by a governing force) only cause inflationary, arbitrary and devalued products and services. I trust the humanity of man to share. But, I also trust the consensual exchange of value for value, based upon market forces, untainted by governing constraints.


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Old 02-12-2008, 07:10 PM
 
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Give away your money. I do too. But, I am not my brother's keeper. Nor do I believe in a martyred life. Forced handing over of funds earned, is stealing.


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In a Christian context, though (and I'll need to do some searching to get some references), are we not our brother's keepers?

A few passages come to mind, one in Luke, where John the Baptist, I believe, says that if you have two coats, you should give one to a person with no coat. Another is the story in Acts about the early Christian community - and God striking down the couple who didn't contribute all their money to the common good, then the one about the rich man (and the camel passing through the eye of the of the needle), Matthew 5:42, which states "Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." and so on.

Now, for some reason, there are always explanations for these passages that seem to allow for other interpretations...like the old "the eye of the needle is a gate in Jerusalem" one, or it's really OK to have two coats, as long as you give something to the poor, etc. However, I think the trend in the Gospels is against greed, against building up personal wealth and basically against capitalism. It's also interesting to me, that while statistically speaking, I would bet that there are many more passages in the Gospels, Acts and Epistles relating to greed, wealth and poverty than there are relating to homosexuality, many people seem to believe that the Bible gives a clear picture on the appropriate Christian stand towards issues relating homosexuality (and sexuality in general), while at the same time finding the passages relating to greed, wealth and poverty open to many different interpretations.

It's even gone so far as for some groups to look upon their wealth as being not an obstacle to their salvation but a blessing from God...and if wealth means blessed by God, then poverty could mean not blessed by God or might even be considered sinful. From there, it's not much further to consider poverty as a type of sin, and start embracing the notion that if the poor would just "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" then they could get ahead.

I think that is why some Christians can so strongly support capitalism, they see wealth as a reward for hard work and a blessing from God, and the absence of wealth as a punishment or the result of not working hard. However, by that notion, one would almost have to believe that if the poor worked harder, while working to lead a Christian life and get in God's favor, then there would be no poor. Capitalism, however, falls apart as a system without a significant number of people in a lower class.

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Old 02-12-2008, 07:27 PM
 
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Brigianna, I could not disagree with you more!

The only issue is the governmental "favors" afforded corporations. The whole tax benefits and loopholes, and directed funding (ie paying tobacco growers not to grow, etc.). The corporation is as moral or amoral as the shareholders allow. And there is no restriction on the consumer's decision making power.

When a company is allowed preferred access to the market through government restricting competition, therein lies the imbalance of power. The market will always rebalance itself with free entry.

The pursuit of money is no evil.


Pat
But corporations are not naturally occurring competition; they are an artificially created legal fiction designed specifically to shield business owners from liability for their own actions. How can that be free or balanced?
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Old 02-12-2008, 07:44 PM
 
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But corporations are not naturally occurring competition; they are an artificially created legal fiction designed specifically to shield business owners from liability for their own actions. How can that be free or balanced?
Corporations are liable for their actions, as are the management, and that liability outcome affects the shareholder ("business owner").


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Old 02-12-2008, 08:39 PM
 
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Wu Wei, your username has inspired me to dust off some of my thoughts on Taoism and Politics. This thread seems the most appropriate place to do it since Taosim is a spiritual approach to many. Why simply compare capitalist morality with Christian, right?

It seems on first glance, that Taosim and Capitalism would go rather nicely together. The notion of individualism would certainly be a strong argument to support that notion. It seems to me (from what I've read) that Taoist beliefs have been used to form the basis of many libertarian ideals. However, I think there are some fundamental differences which are so compelling that I find the two beliefs actually unreconcilable.

1) A passage in the Tao te Ching states:
Understanding sparse and sparser still
I travel the great Way,
nothing to fear unless I stray.

The great Way is open and smooth,
but people adore twisty paths:
government in ruins,
fields overgrown
and graineries bare,

they indulge in elegant robes
and sharp swords,
lavish food and drink,
all those trappings of luxury.

It's vainglorious thievery -
not the Way, not the Way at all.

It seems pretty apparent to me that there is an overt eschewing of the trappings of monetary excess. The notion of moving away from the aquisiton of material wealth is in direct contradiction to Capitalism. Rather than the aquisiton, Taosim promotes the relinquising of material pursuits.

2) Capitalism is all about the efficient and most materially beneficial utilisation of resources. In order to do this, people, communities etc. need unhindered freedom to pursue this aim. Anything else would be inefficient. The competition that naturally developes from this unfettered path towards the accumulation of material wealth aids the rise and justifies the defence of capitalism. Taosim states that competition in order to accumulate wealth is actually a step below cooperation (which implies that everybody's needs are met). I studied the Sun Tze which really defines the Taoist position on competition and it is decidedly in opposition.

3) The Laotze and the Chuang-tze state that the path of least work is the surest way to happiness and success which, of course is in direct opposition to the capitalist ideal which states that true virtue and merit comes from hard work.

It seems to me that the fundamental spiritual basis for Taosim is in direct contradiction to Capitalism. I think that sometimes, especially in the west or especially for people driven by the pursuit of material gain, the individualist aspect of Taoism (which I fundamentally disagree with in my own life but that's another topic) seems to fit nicely with free market capitalism. But, in my opinion, this is a fundamental error.
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