Thursday, August 3, 2017

David F. Ruccio — Keywords: capitalism

Yesterday, in a comment on my “Culture Beyond Capitalism,” which was reposted on the Real-World Economics Review blog, “Econoclast” requested I post the entry on “Capitalism” I wrote for Keywords for American Cultural Studies.
Here, then, is the text of the pre-publication version of that entry.
Here is my take on capitalism.

Capitalism is a high-level abstraction, the scope of which extends into many disciplines, economics obviously, but also law, sociology, political science, anthropology, systems theory, history and social and political philosophy, evolutionary biology and psychology, and its reach includes value theory and action theory.

Therefore there is no simple definition that captures the meaning of "capitalism." In Wittgenstein's terminology, "capitalism" plays a role in a variety of "language games" distinguished by similar but varying rules.

Broadly speaking, capitalism privileges ownership, while socialism privileges work.

Regarding the factors of production, capitalism privileges ownership of financial and real property (capital) over labor (workers) and the land (the environment).

Regarding society, capitalism privileges individuals — legally defined as natural and fictitious persons — over social relations. At its extreme the capitalist view is that society doesn't exist; only individuals do.

In the broadest sense, capitalism is an ideology and as such combines positive, normative and prescriptive elements.

Since this ideology is highly individualistic it is incompatible with democracy as government of the people, by the people and for the people, which it regard from its POV as "the tyranny of the majority." Constitutional republics are designed to overcome this perceived shortcoming by enabling the elite to govern, on the principle attributed to first US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay, "Those who own the country should govern the country."

Occasional Links & Commentary
Keywords: capitalism
David F. Ruccio | Professor of Economics, University of Notre Dame


Jim said...

I fully agree - capitalism is an ideology. It's an ideology because it distracts us from the core of what the system is and has been for 5,000 years -- minority power over the majority. The system isn't a capitalism of which inequality is a side-effect, it's inequality of which capitalism is an ideology.


Tom Hickey said...

Right, Jim. It didn't take a Marx & Engels to point out how the dominance of land ownership under feudalism's land lords morphed into the dominance of financial and real capital under capitalism. It's an extension of the same principle under different modes of production during the transition from the agricultural age to the industrial age.

Since end of the age dominated by communal hunting/gathering tribes, history has been the story of elite domination that Marx described in terms of class structure and power. This was subsequently taken over by sociology and poli sci, while being ignored in neoclassical economics as the justification of economic liberalism (capitalism).

It's a one-sided ideology and when adopted as a policy tool it leads to paradoxes that call for resolution, which leads in turn to the oppositional forces arising in the historical dialectic. Capitalism itself is the "cause" of socialism as a counterweight to the imbalances resulting from imposition of a one-sided ideology.

Jim said...

"Capitalism is the 'cause' of socialism".

I wouldn't put it exactly that way. Is minority power the 'cause' of the drive for democracy? Inequality the cause of the hope for an egalitarian future? Far better (IMO) to think of equality / democracy as the moral ground base, our natural condition, with inequalities as aberrations demanding correction.

Tom Hickey said...

I was speaking from the POV of dialectical logic where one-sidedness draws forth a reaction to it.

Actually, a number of reactions may be drawn forth that vie to occupy the next historical moment and the most powerful one eventually overcomes the rest.

When the present historical wave will crest and begin falling is anyone's guess and what the rising wave will look like is obscured from view so far.

Marx concluded that it would be socialism, but transnational corporate totalitarian now seems to be distinct possibility. This would further extend and consolidate elite rule. This would fit in with the concentration of digital technology in few hands that span the globe in reach.

Stay tuned.

Kaivey said...

Life could be so lovely but it is messed up by the elite. People are made to work very hard indeed and don't realize the system is rigged. Hundreds of school leavers may apply for a job where only one person will get it. When they don't get the job they blame themselves for not being good enough. Most don't blame the system for the lack of good jobs.