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capitalism

Growing up in a commune probably should have given me an odd view on our capitalist democracy. Indeed I've never been able to get my head around our economic structure. It always seemed like it was based on something shaky that I couldn't quite define.

However, thanks to David Loy and the financial crisis of the past year I think I've figured out how to define the bizarre premise of what makes our culture tick (money).

So as I've always understood it, capitalism is the premise that he who owns the capital, owns the profits created by the capital investment. Communism is the premise that everyone owns the capital (just like we all own the air, water, earth, etc) so instead of the investors reaping the profits, we all should. And perhaps socialism (not sure) might be considered a mix of the two with no one (or everyone, or at least the community impacted) owning the capital and the workers (and maybe the entire community impacted) reap the profits. I totally made up those definitions - hopefully I didn't butcher them too much.

The weird thing is that they are all based on this idea of profit - of a future being better than the present. This idea that if I give my money, my labor, my investments, my life, I can end up with something better than we had before. It is highly risky and all based on a dream. Sometimes this dream drives us to amazing things (pro-capitalists love to tout this) including inventions and discoveries.

However, it is all based in hope and fear. All this hope and fear can make us do weird things.

As Loy points out in "Money Sex War Karma": "A capitalist economy is an economy that runs on debt and requires a society that is comfortable with indebtedness. The debt is at least a little larger than the original loan: those who invest expect to get more back than their original investment. When this is how the whole economy works , the social result is a generalized pressure for continuous growth and expansion, because that is the only way to repay the accumulating debt. This constant pressure for growth is indifferent to other social and ecological consequences. The result is a collective future orientation: the present is never enough but the future will be (or must be ) better."

Hope and fear - and it is all centered around debt, earnings, cash. This is the first I've come to this conclusion about how our capitalist society has shaped us into the culture we are - indebted to our children, the environment, other societies, and the past.

Can we find another motivator? Another currency? Is there an economic system that both encourages learning and growth (innovation) without discouraging death (recycling)?

Comments

A system based on continuous growth that exists in limited space with limited resources seems like a bad idea. The growth of the system demands expansion and development of resources to support itself. It cannot maintain this growth indefinitely, but it NEEDS to. I don't know what the future holds, but I can imagine that at some point - the growth driven economies of the world (which all now tend to be capitalist) will face a critical threshold where they can no longer grow. I don't know what the consequences of this would be but I imagine they would be disastrous. This growth is already having negative social and ecological impacts. In the sense that it rewards the "good players" of the system it reinforces a harmful world view in the fact that most believe that the accumulation of wealth is desirable. Wealth is the control of resources, so we are ever compelled to create and attain more. When greed is added to this system, the distribution of these resources is inevitably unbalanced - people will take more than they need. How do you define the value of a person's work? Why should some be "better off" than others, when they work equally as hard, simply because others are "hoarding" resources. Do i sound naive and idealistic? I know its more complicated than this but it seems to boil down this: Money is the collectively agreed upon system for the exchange of ownership and control. It permits the ownership and control of both survival essential resources and luxuries. The more you have, the easier it is to survive and the more comfortable you will be. This belief fuels the desire for people to attain more - for what is there to do in life but try and improve your chances for survival, and to do this as comfortably as possible? It is basic human instinct to seek security and stability. Where do you draw the line? When is enough enough? How do you get others to agree? (who decides what is enough for all?) This is the political/ideological battleground of recent human history. .

If we are ever going to change this, we as a civilization would need to redefine what it means to be "successful". Most people want to survive and to be happy. I believe nearly all human action is directed towards these goals. The survival part is easy when compared to the achievement of happiness. Everyone has their own idea of what would make them happy. When these individual definitions of happiness involve the free will and definitions of others, the prospect of being happy becomes complicated. In addition, most of these definitions of happiness are based in impermanent situations/relationships of form - they cannot last. When people's happiness is based in the attainment of things, i can see how the "more is better" tendency (greed) takes root. So what needs to change? How do we redefine success? We cant remove survival from the equation, but we can change our attitudes and understanding of happiness. I don't propose that the world become Buddhist, BUT, the Buddha did point out what this "pursuit of happiness" is all about. This is the path to the end of greed, to the end of "i need something outside of myself to make myself happy."

I know my response to the question might seem unrealistic. Can there be another motivator? Can we replace money with something else? I don't know, but it is something I would like to think more about. I do believe that the problem has deeper causes, and I do believe it has to do with our misguided pursuit for "hollow" happiness. Maybe the solution is not the replacement of money, but a shift in what we value.

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