The Echoes of the Mind (162) Capitalism


Money, so they say, is the root of all evil today. But if you ask for a rise it’s no surprise that they’re giving none away. ~ Roger Waters in the song “Money” (1973)

Capitalism is cold and calculating, devoid of emotion. But Socrates would not have been pleased.

What most counts is not to live, but to live aright. ~ Socrates

Humans are exploitative without regard to societal consequence (the dynamics of consequence typically being beyond ken, let alone of concern beyond personal gain or loss). Human technology coupled to unbridled greed begat an economic system that exclusively relies upon profiteering as a mechanism for allocating resources.

Exploitation incenses most simians: that a taker knowingly makes himself better off than his victim. At first glance, this moral instinct seems sorely dulled in humans.

Leveraging unfairness is precisely how capitalism functions to amass capital. Inequity is an inevitable cause and consequence of capitalism: the level of inequality produced ranges far beyond any tally of fairness. Yet capitalism thrives throughout the world. This owes foremost to the defective way in which moral judgments are made.

Determining intentionality is the first step in moral computations. ~ Jean Decety

Whether harm has been inflicted intentionally defines the ethical salience of a situation. Coincidental causality does not trigger moral outrage, however systemic it is.

Moral judgments are produced by reflexive mental computations that are unconscious, fast, and automatic. ~ American social psychologist Jay Van Bavel et al

Trade by barter is typically an apples-and-oranges exchange. Values are subjective, based upon respective needs.

Individual mercantile transactions fail to give an impression of unfairness because currency inserts a level of abstraction that blurs any inherent inequity. Owing to its obviousness, price-gouging is a notable exception.

The market system is not viewed immoral because it lacks motive beyond mere exchange. Failure to find malice fizzles feelings of wrongdoing. Drained of emotion, indignation has no legs.

Human lives as cogs in an abstract inequity machine is too cerebral to invoke widespread moral condemnation, except when the hangovers of its excesses become extended, such as during the Great Depression.

◊ ◊ ◊

As a cultural folkway capitalism provides an especial incentive to corruption, as the founding principles are utterly amoral: pursuit of self-interested exploitation under noncompetitive conditions.

The prevailing business culture in the banking industry weakens and undermines honesty. ~ Swiss economist Alain Cohn et al

Financial workers become more deceitful when thinking about their work. No other occupation inspires such dishonesty. The materialist frame of mind is a surefire formula for amoral behavior.

Capitalism warps the psychology of all that live under it. At best, poverty lowers the self-esteem of those afflicted with it. At worst, impoverishment provokes pathologies.

Cash is the mother’s milk of crime. ~ American criminologist Marcus Felson

Desperation generates crime. Having a mass of people within society struggling to live lowers the quality of life for all. Conversely, wealth engenders sociopathy. In filling the coffers of luxury, morality drains away.

As you move up the class ladder, you are more likely to violate the rules of the road – to lie, to cheat, to shoplift, and be tightfisted in giving to others. Straightforward economic analyses have trouble making sense of this pattern of results. ~ Dacher Keltner

The meat of the capitalist sandwich – the middle class – struggle as wage slaves for their entire adulthood. Employment is a continuing source of stress, and unemployment an even greater one.

If we take a late retirement and an early death, we’ll just squeak by. ~ New Yorker magazine cartoon