Why are there so precious few who truly get both sides of the political spectrum?

Thank you for the question. Here are what I believe are some contributing factors that have gained increasing prominence in the past couple of decades:

1. A deliberate, carefully planned effort on the part of political activists, think tanks, and corporate media to divide, polarize, and demonize across the political spectrum in order to secure votes, increase campaign contributions and media viewership, and secure political status. It is much easier to appeal to fear and anxiety, play the blame game, and energize “Us vs. Them” polemics than to thoughtfully explore nuanced political philosophy and policy positions.

2. A downward spiral of biased media reporting that was instigated by ending the Fairness Doctrine in 1987. As a consequence of that very ill-informed decision, consumers of news media are simply often not presented both sides of the argument on political issues in any meaningful or reasonable way.

3. Social media echo chambers, the illusory truth effect, and consequent groupthink. When algorithms and like-minded groups of users amplify extreme, biased, and often false information that confirms their worst fear and mistrust, there is no longer room for discussion. Political topics become too highly charged with emotional rhetoric to allow moderating (or even true) viewpoints.

4. An unfortunate dumbing down of the U.S. voting public. There are likely a lot of factors contributing to this — poor nutrition, increased collective stress and anxiety, incomplete education, epidemic levels of ADHD, cultural opposition to “intellectualism,” etc. — but it is increasingly obvious that a lot of folks cannot reason critically at all, and instead quickly race down a rabbit hole of logical fallacies and contradictory assumptions.

5. Overwhelming input streams that folks often just don’t know how to manage, leading to feeling paralyzed, confused, and consequently more vulnerable to the influencing factors listed above. For example: way too much information funneled at all of us 24/7 from all directions at once; increasing complexity in nearly every decision we need to make; equally increasing pressure to make important decisions at much higher quantities and at much faster rates than many previous generations; accelerating technological and cultural changes that are increasingly difficult to track, let alone accept or fully incorporate on cultural and interpersonal levels.

6. A consumerist culture than encourages us to “bandwagon.” We are conditioned from early childhood to be guided by advertising and cultural norms that basically say “Hey, you don’t need to have your own agency or be thoughtfully informed, instead you just need to buy this or that and we’ll solve all your problems for you.” This conditioning runs so deep in U.S. culture that many folks simply conform to the latest cultural fads — which often originate at the fringe extremes of the political spectrum — in order to feel a sense of belonging and empowerment.

7. State-funded disinformation from hostile foreign actors that takes advantage of all-of-the-above and makes them much worse to serve the agendas of that country.

My 2 cents.

I have a million dollars and you don't. Are we really "equal under the law?"

This question seems focused around whether folks have equal rights when they have different resources. And yes of course in practice the haves and have-nots are not really equal “under the law” or in many other contexts. Some examples:

1. Your million dollars can buy you an excellent lawyer, whereas my lack thereof may mean I must rely on an overworked and underpaid pubic defender. Any reasonable and observant person knows that many innocent poor people go to jail simply because they do not have a competent defense, whereas many rich people avoid court judgements altogether because they have excellent and expensive attorneys. In addition, due to how cash bail laws work in reality in the U.S., a poor person is often not able to post cash bail, and thus loses their job because they remain absent from work (and then their housing after that, etc.) before they have even gone to trial. In essence, then, a poor person is often punished as “guilty” with pretrial incarceration, where a rich person is not. That is certainly not “equality under the law.”

2. If circumstances beyond my control (natural disasters, pandemics, economic downturns, a physical disability, a sudden illness, etc.) cause me to lose my job and become homeless, my choices will be very limited if I don’t have someone to advocate for me or help me with my situation. Statistically, I am very likely to remain homeless, jobless and/or sick. You, on the other hand, can much more easily relocate, stay in a hotel, buy a new home outright, get the healthcare you need, and so on. You have a much greater probability of recovering or adapting — much more easily than me. But the point is that “under the law” we may appear to have equal opportunity to rent or own a home, or be protected in some way from further calamity, yet in reality we really don’t.

3. If you start a family and end up with a special needs child, that million dollars will come in very handy in assisting your child with special education, custom equipment, therapies, and so on, so that they may actually be able to become functional and independent over time. If my family suffers the same challenges, the likelihood that my child will gain the same level of independence and function is (statistically and realistically) much lower. Once again, “under the law” both of our children may have a right to equal levels of education or healthcare…but in reality your child will effectively have “more rights.”

I could go on, but these examples will hopefully shed light on the reality that a paucity of personal resources has very clear negative impacts on personal liberty, and an abundance of personal resources has very clear positive impacts, even under laws designed to treat them equally. To believe otherwise is the result of either ignorance of the realities of being poor, or ideological convictions that also have no basis in fact.

My 2 cents.

Question from John Anderson:

I am decidedly in the “poor person” category. I have also been on the losing end of a court case against a wealthy person. I am not blind to the advantage of having wealth, especially as it applies to the ability to hire better lawyers. That doesn’t change my view on the nature of my equality under the law with that person. I had as much right as he did to hire better lawyers even if I hadn’t the ability. The fact I could not afford to do so is not proof of a lack of the right to do so. Both he and I had to make our case before the judge. The very fact that we both did so is in fact proof (in my mind, anyway) that we were both equal under the law. I was not barred from appearing before the judge to argue my case. There was no assumption of guilt for me, nor prohibition against making whatever arguments I could to defend my position. And of course, like everyone who goes before the judge, I thought my position just and his unjust, and felt wronged by the judge’s decision. I also admit that the other man felt every bit as justified in his position as I did, and was gratified that the judge ruled with him. Our sense of justice is often subjective.

I can’t afford to purchase a new house on the beach, but I have the right to do so. No law forbids me from doing so or permits only those with a certain level of wealth to do so. I can’t act well enough to be the next Batman, but I have the right to do so. No law forbids me or allows only actors of a certain ability. I can’t run fast enough, catch well enough, etc. to play in the upcoming Superbowl, but I have the right to do so. No law forbids me from doing so or permits only those with a minimum physique, etc. If I wanted to, I could take acting lessons, I could hit the gym, I could invest wisely, and gain the skills to be the next Batman, or the muscle to be the Superbowl MVP, or the wealth to buy that beach house. There is no law that forbids from doing any of those -I am limited only by my current bank accounts, skills, fitness.

Wealth, like skill, good looks, physical strength and intelligence, conveys advantages or privileges, not rights. Beauty, physical stature and abilities, natural intelligence, aptitude and ingenuity, are all often inherited from our parents. Why shouldn’t wealth be, if they have it to give? Who has the right to decide how to dispose of their wealth?

You argue your point very well! And I do appreciate the distinction between “ability” and “availability” that you are making. If rights are only meant to convey equivalent “availability” rather than equivalent “ability,” then my side of this argument has no merit.

Except protected rights ARE also meant to convey equivalent ability, and not just the same availability. We are not talking about sports, or fame, or in fact the earning of wealth itself — all of which could fairly fall within the “ability” framework of your argument. We are instead talking about equality under the law, which has always expressly implied more than just equal “availability.” Some examples:

1. If I can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed on my behalf. Why? Using your argument, I should be able to bone up on the law and defend myself, or take out a loan against my house to hire a good attorney, etc. Right? Except that’s not a realistic expectation, and so public defenders have been part of proposed equal ABILITY of an adequate self-defense. These attorneys would not exist if equivalent ability was not part of the equation of equal justice.

2. In the same way, a variety of special protections exist under the law for the disabled, children, the elderly, and so forth. Why? If these individuals are expected to somehow rise to the occasion when given the same “availability” of their protected rights — regardless of their objective abilities (or lack thereof) — why should they receive any special treatment at all? Because part of equal rights under the law is to attempt (successfully or not) to level the playing field with respect to one’s ability to execute or achieve those rights.

3. In an admittedly extreme extension of logic, if I am accused of vehicular homicide but subsequently end up in a coma from a brain aneurysm, according to your reasoning I should be tried in absentia for my crimes. It’s not the court’s fault (or the victim’s family’s fault, or society’s fault) that I can’t stand trial. Justice must be served. Except, as I’m sure you would agree, I must be “competent to stand trial” before that trial can proceed. Ergo: I must have adequate “ability” to answer for my alleged crime.

So, to put a very fine point on it, in any court of law, if my advantage in ability is extraordinary, and my opponent has profound deficits in their ability, there is not going to be anything close to “equality under the law” unless a judge makes special provisions on my opponent’s behalf, or both parties are forced into one of many leveling processes (such as mitigation, expedited jury trials, etc.). This is a well-known problem with many imperfect solutions. And, unfortunately, a hefty wallet can almost always find ways around these leveling approaches.

In reality, corporate officers of corporations who have knowingly killed tens of thousands of people through deliberate malfeasance (tobacco, pharmaceutical, and petrochemical industries for example) have never been held accountable for their genocidal profit campaigns. But innocent people who can’t afford a good defense have ended up on death row with alarming frequency. So anyone sincerely concerned with justice must ask: “Why is this so?”

Well…it’s for precisely the same reason that the wealthiest corporations often pay little to no taxes: they can afford the expertise to skirt “equality under tax law” and tilt the scales in their favor.

I hope this clarifies things a bit.

Why has tech innovation slowed? Is it because of free market capitalism?

There are a number of reasons why technology innovation has the appearance of slowing down — and in some cases really is slowing down. Among them are:

1. Much of the low hanging fruit (technological solutions to universal human challenges) has already been invented, developed, and refined.

2. Much of what remains is more complicated, takes more time, and costs more to research and develop.

3. There are efforts by well-established industries that dominate a given sector to discourage or constrain innovation — the most obvious example being the petroleum industry’s funding of climate change and alternative energy skepticism.

4. Over the past fifty years, commercialism has created tremendous downward pressure on technology costs while generating extremely high expectations of technology benefits. That’s simply not a winning formula.

5. Complexity and massive interdependence across complex systems in modern technology itself is interfering with both rapid development and disruptive innovation. It just takes longer to ensure integration, compatibility, and even moderate levels of future-proofing.

6. Another consequence complexity is a lack of extensibility, and how that impacts costs. A simple example of this is writing a piece of software that is backwards compatible with several iterations of hardware. At a certain point it becomes too difficult to accomplish in a profitable way, which in turn places an increasing cost burden for innovation on consumers — not just monetarily, but also in new learning curves. Buying a new smartphone or laptop every year is a pretty hefty expectation. Therefore a balance has to be struck between rapidity of innovation based on technology, and rapidity of deployment based on consumer acceptance and willingness to bear all of the costs.

Hope this helps.

Why is authoritarianism on the rise?

Thanks for the question. Here are some reasons why I think authoritarianism is on the rise:

1. White men have lost status in society. This is frightening. So, in their insecurity and fear, they turn to strongman leaders who seem like carnival mirror imitations of masculinity but whose pedantic, overconfident, authoritarian style reassures these insecure white men that someone is still on their side.

2. Modernity is increasingly complex, confusing, overwhelming, and scary. Rapid change — both cultural and technological — is increasingly alienating many people who feel excluded or left behind by those changes. Authoritarian leaders can appeal to this disorientation, confusion, and anxiety, and create scapegoats that have nothing to do with the actual causes, but are very useful in ginning up votes. These leaders also tend to appeal to nationalism, which helps restore pride.

3. There is increasing exploitation, abuse, and enslavement of the have-nots by the haves everywhere around the globe. This makes people want to rebel, to regain agency and self-respect, and some authoritarian candidates have a knack for hoodwinking people into believing that they (those candidates) have all of the answers to restore freedom and dignity to folks who feel beaten down. In reality, however, authoritarians usually oppose the real remedy democracy itself — and good government and civil society — making these the “bogeyman” that have caused all the problems for the have-nots. In reality, it is big business, crony capitalism, and capture of elections and government itself by wealthy owner-shareholders that have created this imbalance and oppression. But authoritarian leaders are usually in bed with those same plutocrats, and not at all interested in addressing the underlying problems. So in fact the problems just get worse.

4. The masses have been numbed into complacency, indifference, and apathy by a moderate level of wealth, entertainment, constant calls to action (from politicians, advertising, etc.), poor diets, lots of propaganda and disinformation, a decline in IQ and education, and other things that distract or impede them from taking appropriate action or even clearly understanding the problem. I see this as a modern version of “the spectacle,” with many other characteristics and contributing factors that you can read about here: L7 The Spectacle

My 2 cents.

Why is America so fervently capitalist? Why do they reject socialist/liberal policies with such indignation? What makes them so different from Europeans?

Thanks for the question. Here are some of the top reasons why folks in the U.S. are so “fervently capitalist” and suspicious of “socialism” and social liberalism:

1. Our commercialistic and religious fundamentalist cultures have made us a lot more gullible. We respond to advertising and marketing as if it is truth — which is great for companies selling products, and great for ideologues, con artists, and cult leaders selling lies. Consequently, when right-wing propaganda (Red Scares, “cultural marxism,” McCarthyism, Trumpism, Jordan Peterson, and other neoliberal disinformation) demonizes socialism and liberalism — or makes socialists and liberals scapegoats for outcomes that are actually caused by capitalism (like unemployment, income inequality, influx of immigrants, etc.) — Americans are just more likely to believe the hype. When I lived in Germany, I was stunned by how much more informed and cautiously critical even German kids were than most American adults.

2. Partial reenforcement is powerful. It is absolutely true than one-in-a-million people in the U.S. can work their way from poverty into affluence, and an even smaller number can become extremely wealthy. America really is the land of opportunity. But those are the exceptions, not the rule. Most businesses fail. Most people do not realize their dreams. And most people who try to become wealthy remain poor. Psychologically, though, this reality doesn’t matter, because if even one person in the U.S. wins a major national lottery and becomes a millionaire, people will still believe becoming a millionaire by playing that lottery (or starting a business, or inventing something, or writing books, or performing music, etc.) “is a real possibility.” Which, of course, it is…it’s just not very likely at all.

3. Americans actually don’t reject socialist/liberal policies — or, rather, they are raging hypocrites about it. The regions of the U.S. that are the most heavily pro-capitalist and anti-socialist are also reliably where the largest dependency on government programs can be found (see PolitiFact - 'Red State Socialism' graphic says GOP-leaning states get lion's share of federal dollars). It’s pretty funny, actually. Also, according to most polls, whenever socialist and liberal policies are described to respondents without loaded trigger language (for example, describing features of the Affordable Care Act but not calling it “Obamacare”), the response from a significant majority polled is positive. Most Americans actually like “liberal” policies — until they are told by right-wing media outlets and authorities that they shouldn’t (see Majority of Americans support progressive policies such as higher minimum wage, free college, and Working-Class Americans in All States Support Progressive Economic Policies - Center for American Progress Action).

4. Lastly, there are nut-job market fundamentalist outliers who are very vocal. Just like Twitter “cancel culture” doesn’t represent most left-leaning folks, there are frothing-at-the-mouth far-right crazies who get a lot of attention on the Internet and in mass media, but who don’t represent a majority of more centrist right-leaning Americans. I’m speaking of course of fans of Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, and other thought leaders for the broken brain crowd — many of whom subscribe to the right-libertarian movement funded by the Koch brothers.
As a consequence of one or more of the above influences, U.S. citizens have the appearance of being rugged individualists who conflate freedom with laissez-faire capitalism. But that really isn’t true. In the U.S., as elsewhere, the embracing of socialist and liberal policies has actually made capitalism much more successful and enduring (see ). At least…they have up until now…

My 2 cents.

If corporations create jobs and pay people who then pay taxes, how would/is increasing the taxes corporations pay help the economy?

Thanks for the question. A positive relationship between corporate tax cuts and “encouraging investment” that leads to economic growth is a fairy tale unsupported by data. It is, in fact, very similar to the fairy tale regarding supply side “trickle down” theory, which has also been soundly debunked (see The IMF Confirms That 'Trickle-Down' Economics Is, Indeed, a Joke).

Just let the data speak for itself. Take a look at Corporate tax rates and economic growth since 1947. Although there is a superficial correlation between higher(not lower) corporate tax rates and better GDP growth, there is not much evidence that lower corporate tax rates increase GDP growth. The net effect is statistically pretty neutral.

However, how those tax dollars are spent (and when in the business cycle they are spent) can result in highly variable impacts on the economy — which is why there is such a wide range of “multiplier” estimates for government spending (frequently between 1 and 3). In general, government expenditures during recession have a much larger positive impact than during an economic boom. Expenditures on infrastructure may provide an immediate boost to certain industries, but then a much longer and more gradual multiplier as new business expansion is built upon that infrastructure. In the same vein, government spending that results in free education can have a substantial impact on economic growth many years after those students graduate and become productive contributors to the economy.

But probably the highest “multiplier-friendly” activity the government can do is research: there is lot of research the private sector simply won’t do — and hasn’t done in the past — which leads to new innovations, technological advances, and even entire new industries. Many of the things we rely on today (cell phones, the Internet, computers, life-saving drugs, etc.) were mainly the consequence of government research that was then used to deliver products to the marketplace by private companies. And of course whenever government programs are able to put more money into the the hands of consumers, while at the same time government is directly spending on goods services, this can stimulate aggregate demand (and, consequently, GDP) much more than business investment alone ever could.

At the same time, there are of course lots of things government spends money on that aren’t really all that great in the multiplier department. A good example is defense spending. Some research (see Mercatus Center study at George Mason U) suggests that the multiplier impact of defense spending on the U.S. economy is less than 1. The hypothesis is that in defense industries specifically, government spending “crowds out” private sector spending. So again it does make a difference how the money gleaned from corporate taxes is spent.

But if government doesn’t have money to spend, then clearly either there is going to be less of a multiplier, or there or going to be government deficits. Now the impact on deficits on the economy is a bit more complex, so I’m going to duck that one for now. But suffice it to say that long-term deficits can actually mess up the economy in a number of unsavory and dramatic ways.

My 2 cents.

What did Adam Smith outline about the dangers of capitalism?

Thanks for the question.

It’s a challenge, I think, for anyone to pick passages out of Smith’s work that apply exactly to today’s context of modern capitalism. Those who are friendly to classical liberalism and neoliberalism have made many errors doing so, and those who feel modern capitalism is problematic have also made errors picking-and-choosing from Smith’s work. With that caveat, here’s what I think might be relevant to this question:

1. The problem of business interests being at odds with public interests, and business having too much influence over both commerce and government. Smith touches on this frequently in Wealth of Nations, and uses the argument to encourage vigilant and thoughtful governmental oversight of business so that the public’s interests may be protected and business influence be reined in — Smith calls this “good government.” Without good government, Smith warns, the purveyors of commerce gain too much power. Why is this problematic? Because Smith observes that this particular breed of folks cannot be trusted with the public good; he writes of them: “The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.” (Bk 1, Ch.11) Further, Smith observes that such men often come to operate according to a disturbing principle: “All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” (Bk 3, Ch.4)

2. The “absurd tax” of monopolies, and — once again — the dangers of their influence on government. Also not serving the public’s interests are monopolies that eliminate competition — which Smith warns are a natural objective of business, in order to maximize profits. “To widen the market may frequently be agreeable enough to the interest of the public; but to narrow the competition must always be against it, and can serve only to enable the dealers, by raising their profits above what they naturally would be, to levy, for their own benefit, an absurd tax upon the rest of their fellow-citizens.” (Wealth of Nations, Bk 1, Ch.11) In addition, monopolies can gain inordinate coercive influence over government itself: “like an overgrown standing army, they have become formidable to the government, and upon many occasions intimidate the legislature. The member of parliament who supports every proposal for strengthening this monopoly, is sure to acquire not only the reputation of understanding trade, but great popularity and influence with an order of men whose numbers and wealth render them of great importance. If he opposes them, on the contrary, and still more if he has authority enough to be able to thwart them, neither the most acknowledged probity, nor the highest rank, nor the greatest public services, can protect him from the most infamous abuse and destruction, from personal insults, nor sometimes from real danger, arising from the insolent outrage of furious and disappointed monopolists.” (Wealth of Nations, Bk 4, Ch.2)

3. The lack of representation of worker interests and needs. “In the public deliberations, therefore, [the laborer’s] voice is little heard and less regarded, except upon some particular occasions, when his clamor is animated, set on, and supported by his employers, not for his, but for their own particular purposes.” (Wealth of Nations, Bk 1, Ch.11) Smith does seem to think laborers aren’t always capable of constructive input to government — because of their lack of education, information and time — but he clearly doesn’t trust businesses to represent worker interests either.

My 2 cents.

Please note: excerpts from Smith’s Wealth of Nations in the above answer can easily be found via a full search string in quotes.

Is individualism the motivating force of capitalism?

Thanks for the question.

No, I don’t think individualism writ large is the motivating force of capitalism. I would break down capitalism’s motivations this way:

1. Acquisitiveness towards property, wealth and power seems to be a primary driver — especially in order to gain social position and prestige, and to exercise such collected power and wealth independently of government, society, or even moral expectations. In essence, we could say this is “selfish accumulation,” which is a rather ugly facet of individualism, especially when combined with lording it over other people. But individualism has other, more positive aspects — such as freedom of thought, creative freedom, expressive freedom, freedom of choice, etc. — for which capitalism falsely claims to provide advantages. In reality, capitalism deprives most people of most individual freedoms — through coercive marketing, addictive products, titillating groupthink, wage slavery, debt slavery, and so on — so it can’t claim the more positive benefits of individualism at all.

2. A mistaken but widespread belief that capitalist markets provide the best solutions to human challenges. In reality, capitalist markets provide profitable products and services to people by persuading them that those products and services solve certain challenges — even if they really don’t. Think of pharmaceutical products marketed to treat a certain condition that don’t outperform placebo or cheaper treatment options (this happens a lot). In fact, capitalism is quite ingenious at inventing “needs” that never existed, then synthesizing demand for products and services that fulfill those previously nonexistent “needs.”

3. A mistaken belief that wealth itself solves human challenges. Sure, lifting folks out of poverty is great, and capitalism has been pretty good at that. But at what price? This is the faulty reasoning of the capitalist, who tends to ignore the importance of strong civic institutions to sustain society over time; or the need to consider and plan for negative externalities (i.e. pollution, carbon emissions, destruction of ecosystems that support all life, etc.) created by rising standards of living in the industrial age; or how wealth in excess can make people childish, callous and disconnected from others (see Paul Piff’s research on this). In other words, wealth alone doesn’t solve some very important fundamental challenges…and in fact can make them worse.

4. A sort of anthropocentrism and egocentrism — a belief that humans are entitled to do anything they want, both collectively and individually. Again, this isn’t really “individualism,” it’s more akin to a mental illness like Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

My 2 cents.

How would a non-capitalist society promote self-motivation and personal drive?

This question reveals the destructive tendency of capitalism to condition folks to falsely believe they require “external” motivations to do things. It really is a profound disconnect from how humans actually operate, which is mainly from intrinsic motivation — at least until that spark is repeatedly discouraged, snuffed out, and replaced with external drivers and addictions. Capitalism’s primary self-perpetuating mechanism is persuading and coercing consumers to consume, and that means creating dependency on such consumption — a process I call infantilization or toddlerization — and annihilating all self-sufficiency and self-directedness in the process. Ironically, this is often “sold” as freedom of choice…a sort of appeal to individualistic gratification. But it’s actually quite the opposite, because it removes the only substantive choice available to liberate oneself from addictive cycles of craving and buying.

So, to the contrary, people don’t need “society” to promote self-motivation and personal drive. It pre-exists and is hard-wired into most people. All any “non-capitalist” society would really need to do is to is resist interfering with this intrinsic capacity. Humans are quite ingenious about inventing things to do, as well as the reasons to do them — think of every folk tradition that predated capitalism, every creative act (symphony, painting, sculpture, poem) that wasn’t done for profit, every idea that was written down and shared because its author thought it was compelling, every invention and scientific discovery that occurred from the the pure joy of researching and experimenting. Really…human existence is mostly about such natural inspiration. Capitalism just commoditizes this output for a buck…and then perpetuates the myth that the only reason we do anything is for personal gain. It’s quite laughable.

Of course, capitalism isn’t the only system that exploits people or aims to interfere with self-sufficiency and create habitual dependence — that’s a longstanding goal of many systems of social enslavement, from dogmatic and controlling religious institutions, to political tribalism and purity testing, to authoritarian and plutocratic governance, to fear-mongering disinformation campaigns. It’s all basically about the same thing: an attempt to control masses of people for the benefit of a few ruling or affluent elite.

Which means that simply removing capitalism is not sufficient…we must also remain vigilant toward the many other faces of oppression.

I hope this was helpful.

What are some examples of how deregulation hurts consumers?

First, let’s remember that regulations are usually put in place when a problem has already been identified: when worker or consumer health, wealth and safety have already been jeopardized by business practices already in play. With that said, some of the worst examples of how deregulation (or not implementing or enforcing existing regulation…which is essentially the same thing) hurts consumers and workers:

1. FDA “delayed review” of e-cigs (2017): Vaping deaths and latest wave of teen nicotine addiction.

2. Trump rollbacks of OSHA and other worker safety regulations (2017): steady increases in worker fatalities and injuries, especially in the mining industry.

3. Rollback of FCC oversight (2017–2018): allowed carriers (AT&T, Verizon, etc.) to sell geolocation data of customers to bounty hunters, stalkers and other nefarious surveillance.

4. Non-enforcement of existing EPA regulations (2017–2019): increasing health risks to workers, consumers and children from pesticides and petrochemicals; increasing health risks and shortened life expectancy for millions of people due to air and water pollution (see A Breath of Bad Air: Cost of the Trump Environmental Agenda May Lead to 80 000 Extra Deaths per Decade).

5. Deregulation of airlines (1978): loss of rural routes and service frequency to remote areas and low-volume airports (with the remaining service at much higher prices); decline in consumer safety; “sardine can” seating; nickel-and-dime-you-to-death pricing on everything (luggage, food, drinks, etc.); longer average travel and wait times; many lost jobs; etc. [Something very similar happened with the deregulation of railroads in 1976 and 1980, which likewise led to the abandonment of passenger rail service to rural areas.]

6. Deregulation of banking industry (repeal of Glass-Steagall 1999; deregulation of savings and loan industry in 1982) and lack of SEC oversight: the 2008 economic crash; the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s & 1990s.

7. Deregulation of energy industry (1990s): higher cost of energy; more interruptions and outages with supply; awe-inspiring financial misconduct and fraud (Enron); lack of innovation and new energy sources development.

8. Ending the “Fairness Doctrine” (1987): opened the door to highly biased, inaccurate and deceptive “news” organizations (mainly right-wing like FOX News), that helped deepen polarization and paranoia in America, and eroded trust in journalism.

9. Deregulation of telecommunications (1996): Rapid consolidation of media ownership into just a handful of companies (Clear Channel, etc.) who standardized content across all regions — leading to the loss of local news, local arts and entertainment performers and programming, and a general homogenization of broadcasts into identical, nationwide programs that, consequently, homogenized thought across America as well. The 1996 Telecommunications Act deregulating cable also led to much higher prices across the cable industry.

The list goes on…but these are some of the obvious ones. We will very likely have even more data on negative consequences of deregulation in the years after the Trump Presidency’s aggressive agenda has played out. In particular, the promised deregulation of the FDA approval process on medical products will likely have a devastating effect on human health.

My 2 cents.

What big-name corporation has been proven to have done the most harm to the environment?

Thanks for the question Nick. The real problem here is that nearly every “big-name corporation” is competing for the honor of “doing the most harm to the environment.” Your pick of the litter:

1. Chemical pollution (Dow-DuPont, Northrup Grumman, Honeywell, Koch Industries, etc.)

2. Oil & Gas greenhouse emissions (ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Shell, etc.)

3. Plastic polluters (Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, etc.)

4. Toxic air polluters (Boeing, BASF, Huntsman, General Electric, Eastman Chemical, LyondellBassell, etc.)

5. Deforestation (Palm Oil, Beef Cattle, Soybeans — mostly state-owned companies in Madagascar, Nigeria, China, etc.)

If you pick the worst-of-the-worst, who actually pollute in MULTIPLE ways to an astounding degree (air, water, persistent chemicals, greenhouse gases, etc.), then the list gets smaller:

1. DowDupont

2. Koch Industries

3. ExxonMobil

4. Northrup Grumman

5. Shell

6. Berkshire Hathaway

7. LyondellBassell


9. Celanese

Here’s some helpful resources: Top 100 Polluter Indexes, Powerbrokers of Zero Deforestation

My 2 cents.

What's wrong with a moderate level of gun regulation like waiting periods, strict and comprehensive background checks (including for gun shows) and requiring safety training? Moderate regulation may b

“What’s wrong with a moderate level of gun regulation” is that, in the United States, there are a lot of extremely irrational, fearful, self-righteous folks who allowed themselves to be hoodwinked by the firearms industry. It wasn’t until after the firearms industry realized that its military weapon sales were tanking (i.e. no more wars) that the 2nd Amendment suddenly had more to do with personal gun ownership and self-defense, and not with well-regulated militias. This was part of a deliberate propaganda campaign to deceive and mislead American consumers. If not for the desire of gun mfrs to market military style weapons to civilians, there would likely only be a few fringe extremists who believe what is now fairly mainstream among card-carrying NRA members.

And of course it’s not infringement. You need a license and training to drive a car lawfully. You need a license and training to serve food to people safely. You need a license and training to build a house for someone. You need a license and training to operate a ham radio out of the privacy of your home. All of this has to do with public safety. And for folks to say that applying what is a normal and reasonable consideration for other potentially harmful skills and privileges in society to guns is somehow unreasonable or unconstitutional…well, what can I say? It frankly boggles the mind…until you realize these folks have been spoon fed their talking points by the companies that make assault weapons.

Unfortunately, it’s not all that surprising that this has happened in the U.S. Americans are hard-wired from birth to believe false advertising…it’s just part of our commercialistic culture: we tend to believe what we are sold.

Oh…and rest assured that nearly all of the claims that “gun regulations don’t solve or stop anything” are statistically dead wrong. Just more lies to sell more guns. Lots of studies show that gun regulation has a positive impact on reducing crime stats and accidental death and homicide stats (both in the U.S. and in other countries). Again though…truth and evidence don’t matter to a lot of 2nd Amendments defenders, as they’re drunk on the Cool-Aid of “alternative facts.”

That said, here are some articles that may be of interest to reasonable, sane people who haven’t bought into the pro-gun-mfr-lobby con-job:

How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment

How The Gun Industry Funnels Tens Of Millions Of Dollars To The NRA

State Gun Laws That Actually Reduce Gun Deaths

States with strict gun laws have fewer firearms deaths. Here's how your state stacks up

Firearm Laws and Firearm Homicides

The Supreme Court’s Worst Decision of My Tenure (re: Columbia v. Heller)

My 2 cents.

Is the capitalist system fueled by lies when you boil it down? Why or why not?

Thanks for the question Randall. Of course it is. Capitalism is dependent on continuous growth, but it also aims for increased efficiencies — both of these are motivated by a desire to enlarge profits, but the two expectations actually work against each other. If I create a really good product that “sells itself,” and is also durable and easy to maintain, then as soon as everyone who recognizes the benefit of that product (for them) purchases one, I will go out of business. So I either have to a) convince others who do not need or want my product (i.e. who don’t recognize its benefits) to purchase one, b) persuade customers who have already purchased one that they need a “newer, better” model, c) offer additional services and products to augment the original purchase, d) make sure other companies with competitive products can somehow be constrained, e) change the production quality of my product so that it will continually break and require replacement or repair….or some other strategy along these lines. You see the problem? In order for my business to grow, innovation isn’t enough. I have to start being a little…shall we say…deceptive, or coercive, or manipulative, or underhanded. There is really no way around it. And the larger my company, and the longer it remains in the marketplace, the greater such pressures will become. Hence the drive towards monopoly.

But, in most developed civil societies, there are laws that protect consumers to a limited extent, so this limits what my business can do to maintain growth. So the easiest course is usually to lie…to falsely inflate quality, or functionality, or durability, or prestige, etc. It’s called marketing, and it’s how most products and services that have little or no actual value to consumers can become wildly profitable. For example, how many people do you think knew they had “restless leg syndrome” before they were sold a pharmaceutical solution for their “disorder” on TV…? I would estimate that more than 60% of purchases in the U.S. are driven by such artificially generated demand. Which is why the U.S. doesn’t produce very much any more domestically in terms of manufactured goods…the diminishing return on profits as the U.S. market became saturated, and domestic labor and materials costs increased at the same time, became untenable. That’s why companies have had to outsource. And it’s also why the U.S. economy has been “financialized.” It’s much easier to grow profit through speculative investments and consumer debt than it is via manufacturing — because it’s using other people’s money. And once consumers start accumulating debt — or become addicted to stock market or futures gambling, as the case may be — that condition generally persists. Forever. And as real wages have remained flat for many decades, and the cost of living has increased, and people kept being sold things they don’t need…well…we ended up with the main driver of the U.S. economy being speculation and debt maintenance. And how did consumers get suckered into such a situation? Well they were lied to of course, and then given some cheese every once-in-a-while to condition a compulsive reflex to keep buying and investing indefinitely.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Joan Spark:

The way currencies work are the driving force behind the growth demand for the economy.

And as you have noticed, the real economy can’t keep up with that demand, exponential demand to be precise. At best a real economy can do linear growth, which - tadum - produces growth rates that trend towards zero.

This means, as the holder of money have leverage over every other participants in the economy (monopoly, why is another matter) they extract the exponential demand out of a system that at best grows linearly.. which leads to your observation: “..real wages have remained flat for many decades, and the cost of living has increased, and people kept being sold things they don’t need”

Shall I go on?

TL;DR: you’re blaming the wrong guy. Capitalism is not the problem, monopolies under private control which create cronyism are the problem.

You are touching on a larger conversation in macroeconomic theory around aggregate demand, and I would agree that you have part of the picture in view. But that wasn’t really what I was aiming at — which was more microeconomic in focus. There is a lot of ground to cover in AD, and monetary variables are just one set among many inputs. I don’t disagree that cronyism and clientism amplify the preexisting antagonisms of market economies…but they only make them worse, they don’t initiate the problems. It’s like negative externalities, or opportunity costs, or perverse incentives, or moral hazards…these things are already in play, but some conditions have a fertilizing effect.

How Wealthy Trump Supporters Will Overturn Democratic Wins in November 2018

Current excitement about a "Blue Wave" of Democratic wins in November is, I believe, woefully misplaced...for the simple reason that the wealthiest Trump supporters (inclusive of Vladamir Putin) will use every underhanded tool at their disposal to prevent or reverse any Democratic victories they can. What these powers-that-be care most about is winning by any means possible - they will lie, cheat, steal, harass, sue, bully, intimidate and hoodwink in order to hold on to their political influence. How do we know this? Because we've seen it in many recent local and national elections:

1. Outrageous gerrymandering of congressional districts to favor Republicans.

2. Relentless disenfranchisement of Democrat voters, the poor, people of color, etc. and/or preventing them to vote on election day.

3. Aggressive attempts to hack into all levels of the election process, and the DNC, in order to disrupt free and fair elections.

4. Lockstep passage of legislation - coordinated by A.L.E.C., the State Policy Network, etc. - at the national and State levels to disrupt anything progressive: environmental protections, worker protections, unions, consumer health and safety, voting rights, etc...

5. Highly targeted deceptive manipulations on social media to persuade voters of ridiculous claims.

6. Threats, intimidation, fear-mongering and punitive policies from the White House itself to further disrupt and divide the Democratic base.

7. Relentless, carefully orchestrated smear campaigns.

8. Invented or manufactured crises that are then shamelessly blamed on Democrats.

So why should anything be different in 2018...and what other tactics can we look forward to? Court challenges for any election outcomes or lower court rulings that don't favor Republicans? Sure, with a new far-Right Supreme Court Justice on the bench, this will almost certainly be a tactic.

In the past, the only thing that has consistently countered such nefarious "win-at-all-costs" Right-wing strategies on a large scale has been a broad upwelling of authentic populist grassroots excitement for a given candidate or agenda. This is what propelled Obama to his initial victory, what energized Bernie's rise to prominence, and what promises to undermine the centrist DNC status quo as it did with New York's election of Ocasio-Cortez.

But we should always keep in mind that whatever has worked previously to elevate the will of the people into our representative democracy will always be countered by new deceptions, new backroom dark money dealings, new astroturfing campaigns, and new methods of hoodwinking by those on the Right who want to destroy our civic institutions. Nothing on the Left can compare - in scope or the amount of money spent - to how the Koch brothers coopted the Tea Party, how the Mercer family funded Breitbart and manipulated social media through Cambridge Analytica, what Rupert Murdoch accomplished with FOX News, or how the Scaife and Bradley foundations fund fake science to weaken or reverse government regulations. Billions have been spent to deceive Americans and create "alternative narratives" that spin any and all public debate toward conservative corporate agendas. And when the Supreme Court upheld the "free speech" of corporate Super PACs funded with dark money in its Citizens United ruling, that just opened the floodgates for more of the same masterful deception.

So don't count on a Blue Wave to save us from a truly deranged Infant-in-Chief and his highly toxic agenda. Civil society - and the checks and balances of power for the U.S. Republic itself - will very likely continue to be methodically demolished and undermined by neoliberal plutocrats. I wish this was mere pessimistic speculation…but I really don't believe it is. As just one example of the effectiveness of these sneaky destroyers of democracy, consider how well-organized, well-funded, and effective the "science skepticism" of the past few decades has been. Take a few minutes to absorb the graphic illustration below, and then ask yourself:

1. Do we have caps on carbon emissions, and the necessary investment in green energy technology to replace fossil fuels, to avoid further escalation of climate change?

2. Have neonicotinoid insecticides been banned so essential bee populations can be saved?

3. Has the marketing of nicotine vaping products to teenagers been stopped to prevent them from lifelong addiction and health hazards?

4. Has the proliferation of GMOs been seriously slowed until we can better understand its long-term impacts?

5. Do a majority of Americans even believe any of these issues are even an urgent concern…?

Neoliberal Self-Protective Propaganda Machine

Along the same lines, how good are working conditions at the largest U.S. companies? How high are those worker's wages? Will Social Security be able to pay 100% of benefits after 2034? Are wildly speculative investments on Wall Street being well-regulated? Are U.S. healthcare costs coming down? Are CEOs being held accountable for corporate malfeasance…and if so, how many have actually gone to jail?

The answer to these and countless similar questions informs us about the direction the U.S. is taking, and how nothing that interferes with corporate profits or the astounding wealth of their owner-shareholders will be allowed to flourish as long as conservative Republican (and possibly even centrist Democrats) hold power. In short, elected officials friendly to corporatocracy need to keep getting elected to keep this gravy train in motion. And so there is no cost too great to expend in order for them to win, and the highest concentrations of wealth in the history of the world have brought all of their resources to bear to perpetuate those wins. This is why a Blue Wave alone cannot triumph in November. Perhaps, if every single Left-leaning voter - together with every single Independent-minded voter - comes out to make their voices heard at the ballot box, it just might make enough difference. And I do mean every single one. But a Blue Wave alone will probably not be enough. In effect, what America requires for a return to sanity and safety is what we might call a Blue-Orange Tsunami - perhaps even one with a tinge of Purple, where Independents, Democrats and the few sane Republicans remaining unite their voices and votes against a highly unstable fascistic threat.

Short of this, there is just too much money in play, carefully bending mass media, social media, news media, scientific research, legislators, election systems, judges, government agencies, public opinion and the President himself to its will.



The Underlying Causes of Left vs. Right Dysfunction in U.S. Politics


To support a new framing of this longstanding issue, my latest essays covers many different facets and details that impact the polarization of Left/Right discourse. However, its main focus centers around the concept of personal and collective agency. That is, how such agency has been effectively sabotaged in U.S. culture and politics for both the Left and the Right, and how we might go about assessing and remedying that problem using various tools such as a proposed "agency matrix." The essay then examines a number of scenarios in which personal-social agency plays out, to illustrate the challenge and benefits of finding a constructive solution - one that includes multiple ideological and cultural perspectives.

Essay link in PDF: The Underlying Causes of Left vs. Right Dysfunction in U.S. Politics

Also available in an online-viewable format at this academia.edu link.

As always, feedback is welcome via emailing [email protected]

In an anarcho-capitalist society, would coercion exist? Why (not)?

Absolutely. AnCap likes to frame “coercion” as a feature of the State, but ignores how it also manifests in free enterprise. Capitalists regularly coerce consumers and workers — regardless of whether the State aids or legitimizes these actions. This is true even for small business…not just monopolies. But monopolies — which can occur (and have occurred) naturally, and without mechanisms of the State — often amplify the scope and intensity of that coercion. Capitalism, by its very nature, encourages coercive practices — the company store, truck systems, share cropping, wage slavery, debt slavery, deliberately addictive products and services, brutally non-competitive practices, deceptive manipulation of consumers through fear and threats, etc. have always surfaced spontaneously in capitalist systems — and thus there is really nothing inherently “free” about a free market. Most market fundamentalists, including anarcho-capitalists, will rail against these characterizations of inherent coercion…but I’ve yet to encounter a valid counterargument that wasn’t steeped in neoliberal hoodwinking, irrational knee-jerk bias, ideological groupthink, and unsubstantiated beliefs about “unicorn” economics. Folks will just want to believe what they want to believe, and when you get a large enough group of them agreeing on what are often bizarre cognitive distortions, no amount of reasoning “from the outside” can free them from their delusions. It’s a sad state of affairs for the human species, and if we can’t break free of these immature, tribalistic mindsets, it does not bode well for our humanity’s future….

My 2 cents.

Is middle America at risk of being permanently shut out from the modern economy? What policies, if any, would help revitalize these communities?

Thanks for the question.

This line of questioning has been around for many decades now. When I worked at a Public Policy Center in the 1990s, for example, the revitalization of failing rural communities centered around addressing precisely this concern. I also think the degradation of economic mobility and the U.S. middle class is so keenly felt right now that this alone contributed more than any other single factor to Donald Trump getting elected in 2016. There is a sense of desperation in the air. So what can be done….?
Here are a few options that IMO are worth reflecting upon:

1. Mixed economies have always thrived because they strike a balance between corporatocracy and maintaining a more egalitarian civil society. Right now civic institutions are under attack all around the globe, and most acutely in the U.S. Restoring those institutions (the rule of law, vibrant democracy, promotion of educational access and intellectual inquiry, the primacy of science, progressive taxation, robust social safety nets, etc.) is certainly a worthwhile objective in this regard. The challenge, of course, is that there is a well-organized, well-funded pro-corporate, market-centric neoliberal propaganda engines (see L7 Neoliberalism) that have decimated the public discourse, obscured good data, and distorted truth in favor of laissez-faire and crony capitalism — thus counteracting the benefits of a more balanced or “mixed” approach. So part of the solution will have to be an aggressive effort to disrupt this propaganda campaign and undermine the false narrative created by right-wing think tanks and corporate media. This is doable…but it needs to become a central focus of progressive-leaning politics in the U.S. The liars and cheats need to be called out and shut down…and, optimistically, Trump may have become a catalyst for precisely this sort of shift in the Zeitgeist and populist activism. The impact the Parkland students have had (i.e. Florida gun legislation) is an example of what can happen when bullshit policies and ideology are confronted head-on by ordinary folk.

2. Raising awareness about the inevitable negative consequences of conspicuous consumption, unsustainable production practices, and self-sabotaging growth-dependent economics is also a key component. Here again we’ll need to counter pervasive neoliberal propaganda, but once ordinary folks understand that America has been — collectively, individually and nationally — living well beyond its means for some time now, this will help reintroduce a sense of “reasonableness” to the economic discussion, and indeed create more realistic expectations about the future. As a culture (and an economy), we simply can’t keep over-consuming while insisting the supply of cheap labor and abundant natural resources will remain unlimited forever. It’s just silly. But once we awaken to the realities of what “sustainability” looks and feels like, the economic disparities have a real opportunity to attenuate — if only because the wedge of scarcity can them become less wide, and less pointy.

3. Moral maturity is a big piece of this. It has always been the case that Americans lag behind other developed countries in the sophistication of their values hierarchy. The immature “I/Me/Mine” mentality (i.e. individualistic economic materialism) has consistently been a huge contributor to really unfortunate and self-sabotaging social, economic and political choices in the U.S. Of course, it does serve commercialistic consumerism quite well…when folks are infantilized and dependent, they buy stuff reflexively when they are “sold” on exciting self-centered benefits. So breaking free of this childishness is an essential process. Who do we do this? I have many ideas that I discuss in my Integral Lifework literature (see freely downloadable stuff at Integral Lifework Downloads), but mainly it’s about self-nurturing across multiple dimensions of being. This is somewhat ironic because on the surface it still sounds self-absorbed, but consider that among the dimensions being supported are things like “Supportive Community,” “Fulfilling Purpose” and “Affirming Integrity.” In other words, many of the dimensions being addressed specifically challenge a self-centered ideation and identity. In any case, the underlying assumption is that when human beings are fully nurtured, they naturally express their prosocial tendencies…and prosocial tendencies are what “moral maturity” amplifies and supports.

4. Lastly, I think the ultimate solution will demand we depart from capitalism altogether, as it is that system which inherently generates inequality, scarcity and economic instability — but of course this will take both time and a very clear vision of where to go next. But before we can even have that discussion, the groundwork has to be addressed via the issues and activism described above. Otherwise, as when Klaatu offered his gift upon arriving on Earth, a reactive, fearful and immature populace will try to kill any new ideas.

My 2 cents.

Is Peter Thiel correct that in stating that less democracy is desirable and required to save capitalism?

Well…hmm…Thiel appears to exhibit some fairly psychopathic ideation, along with a paucity of emotional intelligence — a combination that is routinely rewarded by modern capitalism. Among the many things he simply doesn’t understand or appreciate is human motivation itself: why do people do what they do? In his universe, the will to power/wealth/superiority is really the only viable, universal prime cause. There is nothing else. This fundamental failure (of both imagination and cogent observation of the human condition) could have been influenced by Thiel’s exposure to folks like Rothbard, Rand, Friedman, Mises and the like; but I think the starting point in this case is just an inner brokenness and lack of cognitive-emotive facility. Thiel is stuck.

And it is that stuckness — that profound limitation — which leads Thiel to his conclusions about democracy. It’s a bit like a child insisting that a dog ate his homework. Blaming welfarism, feminism, progressivism, socialism…or any other “social justice” agenda for the failures of capitalism is…well, it’s just stupid. Really stupid. Capitalism is its own worst enemy, and, with a brief and unique exception of laissez faire in Sweden during the late 1800s, has otherwise universally ended up eating its own tail without socialistic and democratic reforms. Why? Because of natural monopolies, resource depletion, market saturation, the spread of price-inelastic demand across most commodities, lack of profit incentive for public goods, increasing concentrations of wealth and exponentially expanding wealth disparities, negative externalities, inevitable wage stagnation, and a host of other factors. Democracy has absolutely nothing to do with any of these. In fact, it is usually democracy and socialized approaches that contain capitalism’s drive to self-immolate; they are the only reason capitalism’s inevitable death has been delayed.

So, just like the Presidential candidate Thiel supported, and the counterproductive US economic agenda playing itself out now around the globe, Thiel’s ideas in this area are woefully misinformed and, ultimately, really destructive.

My 2 cents.

Is the United States economy due for a correction?

Well it doesn’t look good in terms of both domestic fundamentals and international trade, considering:

1) The lack of U.S. investment (and political will) around green energy — along with a concurrent attempt to return to the rape-and-pillage model of extraction industries — means both that a highly innovating and job-creating sector will find a place to thrive somewhere outside of the U.S., and that the U.S. will lag behind in implementations and thus be subject to unstable resources, unsustainable production, and amplified negative externalities.

2) Nearly all categories of consumer spending are increasingly dependent on personal credit and increasing debt, and consumer debt burdens cannot increase without limit — thus demand will either attenuate in precipitous ways across multiple sectors, or competitive price inelasticity will shave profit margins to growth-choking levels.

3) When you remove some potential short-term variability, it appears that wages and job growth may remain largely stagnant over the longer run. Ironically, any potential “trickle down” to wages from a lower corporate tax rate (though there is no evidence that this will even be the case — see the next bullet) will be offset by trade protections that encourage low-paying jobs to return to the U.S. — jobs with such tremendous downward pressure on wages (from years of sweatshop exploitation and ever-increasing production efficiencies) that they will likely become the targets of automation.

4) Cuts in corporate and higher income tax rates will not stimulate economic growth — this has always been a neoliberal supply-side fantasy that has never borne fruit. Instead, we already see the amplification of a post-2008 trend where companies hoard cash reserves and buy back stock, further enriching owner-shareholders. And both globally and in the U.S., this concentration of wealth in the top <1% only exacerbates income inequality to an astonishing degree…it never “trickles down” to anyone else, but instead gets tucked away in trusts and offshore accounts — at least this is what all of the available data indicates for the past 40 years.

5) Stock market gains have been largely psychological, and are (once again) relying ever-more-heavily upon speculation and speculative instruments that either are not backed by material assets, or by extremely irrational valuations of assets.
Regulatory constraints on financial institutions are on schedule to be relaxed to pre-2008 conditions.
International trade deals are being threatened and/or scuttled by Trumpian protectionism and the “uncertainty effect” of his leadership style.

6) Intellectual capital is being jeopardized by discouraging immigrants from attending U.S. universities, an ongoing mishandling of the student debt crisis in higher ed, and a lack of investment and excellence in K-12 (alas, neither the profit motive nor aggressive performance metrics have made U.S. education any better).

7) The ongoing assault on the ACA and Medicare will almost certainly result in a shrinking healthcare infrastructure and increasing costs, even as demand accelerates with an aging baby-boomer population — and possibly an increase in disease vectors resulting from climate change. The consequence in the short term from any single one of these will be rapidly rising healthcare premiums and huge losses at hospitals that must serve the uninsured. When you combine all of these variables, I think this trend is one of the more explosive “crash inducers.” Will taxpayers be “bailing out” hospitals and insurance companies next…?

8-) As a more controversial prediction, exponential increases in product complexity, combined with ever-more-rapid product lifecycles, are inviting at best a form of consumer exhaustion — and at worst a concerted consumer backlash — in either case further reducing demand and potential economic growth.

9) As another speculation, since the U.S. government is trapped in a deficit spending spiral that will be amplified by the recent tax reforms, this will — given the current administration’s irrational belief in outdated economic models and ending “the nanny state” — likely result in de facto austerity measures similar to those that have decimated other economies. Paul Ryan and his ilk have already broadcast their intention to do just this.

….And these are just a handful of the known and possible factors. There are dozens of others all pointing in the same direction: increased market instability, excessive leveraging, inflated valuation, hampered productivity, flat or falling real wages, precipitous decreases in demand, increasing trade imbalances, and overall economic stagnation. Add to this that the Federal Reserve now has very little room to maneuver in terms of monetary tools, and anyone with a lick of sense can see the writing on the wall.

My 2 cents.

Do capitalists and mercantilists believe and try to make "beggar thy neighbor" in trying to accumulate wealth?

Yes of course — “beggar they neighbor” has been a demonstrated propensity of both systems. I think the interesting part of the question is why this has been the case, so I’ll take a crack at that….

Basically I think this is a consequence of moral immaturity among the cultures that developed mercantilism and capitalism, and the subsequent creation of systems, cultural norms and institutions that have reinforced this moral immaturity, and kept people (and whole cultures) from “growing up.”

Now this is a very difficult topic for folks who are immersed in a “greed is good” culture, and have really never known anything else. It’s the fish-not-comprehending-the-ocean sort of situation — everyone is swimming in it and breathing it and very seldom really stepping back to consider the depravity of the situation. And there is also a lot of “pro-greed” propaganda to content with as well.

But it is possible to wake up to what is really going on…and how really, really bad it is for the human species in terms of future survival. We can only hope that enough folks will wake up soon enough to start turning the Titanic in a more positive and sustainable direction.

My 2 cents.

What does Corporate Social Responsibility in a developed country look like?

A2A. In my experience, there are really five distinct aspects to this topic that are generally considered in formulations and assessments:

1. The intent of CSR for a given organization.

2. Its ideological context of CSR for that organization.

3. The internal and external marketing spin.

4. The efficacy of a given company’s approach (with respect to its intent).

5. The impact of CSR on the bottom line.

Only when all five of these areas are carefully assessed can we know what CSR “looks like” from any perspective. Often only one or two of these areas are examined or emphasized, which is one way to quickly skew data to confirm a preexisting bias. Taken altogether, however, we can begin piecing together the objectives and effects of CSR in a holistic way. What makes this challenging is that, in many instances, the change agents involved (top execs, board members, activist shareholders, etc.) are not entirely transparent about one or more of these components, preferring to engineer outcomes that align with an undisclosed or deliberately clouded agenda. Needless to say, CSR can be used as cover to accomplish many objectives that are not — in any way — socially responsible.

That said, when there is transparency, genuinely prosocial intent and ideology, and a skillful approach, the result can be a measurable offset to negative externalities, an improved work environment for employees, a higher quality product or service for customers, and (potentially) an increase in brand and employee loyalty from those with shared values. However, none of this necessarily facilitates one of the two extremes promoted by proponents or critics: i.e. cumbersome business processes or improved profitability. Once systems, metrics and adjustment strategies are in place, it generally seems to be the case that CSR is not that difficult to implement, but also has little impact on the bottom line one way or the other.

So really, if the intent is genuine, the results can satisfy that intent without having much influence on business at all. Which is interesting, since, if the intent is not genuine and the efforts are superficial, this can actually backfire in a spectacular way once it is disclosed (see factor #3).

My 2 cents.

Was the busting of Standard Oil necessary and or was it already losing control of it's monoply?

I see this question has already received plenty of neoliberal propaganda in response, so I’ll try to balance the scales with some sanity.

Yes, absolutely Standard Oil’s monopoly needed to end. Adam Smith was perhaps the first to write passionately about the dangers of monopoly, and Standard Oil’s 90% marketshare could have been a poster child for Smith’s predictions. After all, it resulted in:

1. Ruthless and destructive anti-competitive practices involving spying, lying, deception, back room deals, bribes, threats, physical violence, etc.

2. Careful and deliberate amplification of political corruption that supported Standard Oil’s monopoly.

3. Extraordinary, near-absolute influence over markets (price controls, supply manipulations, etc.)

4. Widespread public distaste and mistrust in the resulting consumer conditions imposed by Standard Oil.

While it is true that Rockefeller’s initial success was fueled by increased efficiencies and clever cost recovery strategies and innovation, those advantages paled in comparison to the truly brutal market manipulation that Standard Oil imposed later, when it had finagled and coerced the power to do so.

My 2 cents.

Why do some intellectuals oppose capitalism?

Thanks for the question Noah.

Well considering the “capital flight” of intellectualism among right-leaning ideologues over the past fifty years, I would first say that there are very few intellectuals who are not opposed to capitalism in one way or another. To be educated, intellectual and reflective almost always leads critical thinkers to question capitalist systems and principles. The few bright and often well-meaning advocates of capitalism are often required to shut down a lot of their brain power (and reject entire swaths of pertinent data) in order to fully embrace capitalism - especially in its current neoliberal configurations. The exchanges I’ve had on Quora on the subject reveal that most pro-capitalist folks are a) compliant with neoliberal propaganda and its reflexive and uncritical groupthink, b) mostly ignorant of contradictory or mitigating historical and current facts, or c) so encumbered with selective bias that they have distorted all of history and modern economic events in favor of their worldview. There are exceptions…but they are pretty sparse.

That said, there are a number of reasons why folks who lean intellectual are critical of the current brand of neoliberal capitalism. Here are some of the rationale:

1) Modern capitalism has arguably become the most destructive force in human history. In terms of its impacts on the environment, social stratification, concentrations of wealth and power, justification for armed conflicts, genetic homogenization (of food supply), injurious health conditions, etc. In other words, its negative externalities are compounding exponentially, and there is no indication that this will cease.

2) Modern capitalism is unsustainable. Currently about 5% of the Earth’s population uses approximately 28% of the Earth’s resources. As capitalism has globalized, the tensions around resources and how they are distributed has inexorably escalated and will continue to do so - as has the tension between the haves and have-nots. An inevitable tipping point will be either a) the exhaustion of resources as economic mobility spread further around the globe, or b) the extinction of economic mobility as scarcity increases or resources are depleted. There’s really no way out of this conundrum…only some creative ways to delay it (such as the financialization of the global economy, which has already been occurring).

3) Modern capitalism is inherently unjust. All the positive justifications for capitalism that once existed - the wisdom of the crowds, the tragedy of the commons, the theory of labor appropriation, interference with negative liberty, rational self-interest, markets solve problems most efficiently, wealth production, etc. - have all been either debunked entirely, or overridden by changes in how current capitalism functions. There is a lot to work through on this topic, but the consensus is that empirical data strongly suggest that: consumers are not rational, the commons has been managed without private ownership or central government interference, privatization is highly destructive to both public and common goods, consumers are manipulated en masse (defeating the wisdom of the crowds), Locke was just plain wrong about his property assumptions, crony capitalism and monopolies completely distort market dynamics, real wages (i.e. effective buying power) have been stagnant or declining in the U.S. an some other industrialized countries since about 1972, and property ownership actually interferes with liberty more than almost all other antagonists combined.

4) Neoliberal propaganda is preventing most people from seeing any of the above. (See Neoliberalism | L e v e l - 7)

There is a lot more to discuss along these lines, but my time today is limited. Please check out the Level-7 link above for more info and resources.

My 2 cents.

Comment by Henry Resheto:

"I think you got this wrong.

So called by you “pro-capitalist folks” do not owe anybody any explanation. Those who suggest alternatives do!

Let me start by stating that capitalism is not a theory, it is not even a “system”; it is simply what is.

The very term was invented by K. Mark in order to critique exiting state of affairs; in order to mock them, in order to prophesize the better world to come.

But really what capitalism is, it a simple “normality”. It is what people do when they are left to their own devices. Somebody called it a “spontaneous normality”. Spot on!

I am a computer programmer. Let’s say I negotiated with some company that I will sell them my time and perform some coding for them at the rate of $50/hour. They agreed – I agreed. We are both happy. K. Marx called it capitalism... whatever.

Now, if you want to get between me and that company and offer us the alternative form of arrangement you have to explain it to us. You have to sell it to us – we don’t own you anything. We surely don’t own you any explanation.

Judging by your headline “Libertarian Socialist” I suspect you would not like the very nature of our relationship as employer-employee. You probably think I should along with all other people at the company form a coop, and we should collectively run it. I don’t like the idea, and the burden of proof that it would be better for me is on you.

So far I didn’t hear good arguments. I don’t want to run this stinking company. I want to come, to write some code, to hand around water cooler during a break, to check Quora on my phone every now and then. And then after doing that for eight hours I want to leave with $400 in my pocket. Nothing more.

This is between me and that company - I don’t have to explain myself to nobody else."

I think you are illustrating the psychology that allows capitalism to function Henry - but your attitude has been shaped by modern culture. In contrast, humans have survived as a species because of our prosocial traits - research “prosocial traits” and “group selection.” People actually have to learn to be selfish, individualistic, materialistic and disengaged from social responsibility - and that’s precisely what commercialism teaches us to be. Why? So that we can be good consumers, of course…nice and dependent…and good workers…nice and compliant…and good debtors…perpetually in debt. BTW capitalism isn’t natural - at least no more than feudalism was - look up “primitive communism” for what existed for millennia prior to industrial society. Capitalism is basically an outgrowth of mercantilism and the “democratization” of wealth. As such it’s an understandable stage in human cultural development. But it’s only been around for a brief time, and has already outlasted its usefulness - mainly because it’s simply not sustainable. If you want proof…well wow…you’re in luck. It’s abundant. Read Thomas Pickety’s Capital in the 21st Century for starters. Or visit my website: Level 7 Overview

My main point was simply that you have come to believe a lot of things - like, for example, that you and your employer are both part of a “voluntary” exchange, which is almost certainly NOT the case - because you have been immersed in a commercialized, consumerist culture. Many people share these beliefs…but it does not make them accurate or true. For example, you do not get to choose what language to code if you want your work to be valued in the job market…that is dictated by current demand, which in turn is created by non-competitive practices, monopolies, fads and back room or board room deals…rather than rational agency or market dynamics. You also don’t get to choose how much you will be compensated - that is likewise formulated by rather capricious valuations, which rise and fall with the whim of corporate culture, access to cheaper labor, and the downward pressure of economic immobility and the current status of the economy. I was an IT manager and consultant for many years, and only saw exceptions to this with legacy systems that would cost more to upgrade than maintain - making increasingly rare legacy skill sets more and more valuable and thus tilting the scales to the employee’s advantage.

So although you believe you have agency in such transactions, you are really just a cog in a larger mechanism. You can easily be replaced with a cheaper warm body, because the corporate production system is designed specifically with that eventuality in mind. But perhaps you have “no problem with that” either - even though it holds the implication of violence (that is, does not value your contributions as an individual, or recognize and reward your commitment to a given community, and your compensation can change or livelihood withdrawn at any time). In other words, there is most certainly a coercive threat involved in such an arrangement. You may have become immune or inured to it over time - or because of a particularly resilient personal constitution you exhibit - but the threat exists nonetheless.

Further, I would assert that capitalism has done - and continues to do - tremendous harm. For anyone who truly believes in the NAP, embracing and perpetuating capitalism is the height of hypocrisy.

What's the most unhealthy thing that society encourages us to do?

A lot of answers on Quora have touched on the symptoms that are unhealthy, without touching on the root cause. Nearly all of the most destructive “unhealthy things” that have been described so far are the product of one thing: a belief that capitalism is the most viable economic system, and our perpetuating and participating in that system unquestioningly. If we want to move away from conspicuous consumption, unhealthy diets, addictive products, self-destructive lifestyles, an obsession with accumulating “stuff,” wanton destruction of the planet and exhausting of its resources, etc., all that we really need to do is transition to a different political economy. One where corporations are not in charge, where we aren’t programmed to solve all our problems through purchasing decisions, and where people actually participate in self-governance through democracy. One where caring about our fellow human beings takes priority over exploiting them. One where wage-slavery, obscenely disparate concentrations of wealth, and fencing off the world into private property are abandoned in favor of a commons-centric, worker-managed, more directly democratic model. One where technologies, innovations and advances are designed primarily to improve the well-being of the greatest number for the greatest duration…instead of just making shareholders happy. One where civic responsibility is mainly about enhancing the public good, rather than just championing childish individualism. There are many ways we could do this, but the primary feature of any new system will be giving up on capitalism altogether. We need fundamental change, not a facelift to hide our mistaken trust in a broken concept.

To that end I have a work-in-progress, which you can view here: Level 7 Overview. This is intended to be a participatory effort, so please feel free to send me your thoughts. Just please take time to look over what’s there first. :-)

My 2 cents.

Open Letter: Apology from U.S. to the World for Electing Trump

Hi Folks. We’re sorry about Trump - for a number of reasons.

On the one hand, we’re sorry that nearly half the U.S. electorate:

• Is unable to think critically or separate fact from falsehood.

• Could not see Mr. Trump for the erratic, narcissistic, blowhard demagogue that he is.

• Is swayed by conspiracy theories, irrational fear-mongering, neoliberal propaganda, yellow journalism and false advertising.

• Confuses gambling of inherited wealth with business acumen.

• Has the mistaken impression that voting once every four years is the only political obligation necessary to support civil society.

• Allowed entertainment value to override wisdom and common sense.

• Actually believed that Trump would follow through on his campaign pledges.

You might wonder why so many people fell under the spell of this mass-hysteria. Here are some likely contributing conditions:

• Poor diets and insufficient exercise, which negatively impact brain development and function.

• Tribal conformance and groupthink brought on by insular and homogenous communities.

• Frustration, anger and mental illness, brought about in part by the multigenerational stresses of waning social status and economic immobility.

• The immaturity and entitlement induced by commercialistic habits, compulsions and dependencies.

• Economic insecurity resulting from globalization and the boom/bust cycles of growth-dependent capitalism, along with the ever-enlarging wealth inequality created by monopolization, cronyism and clientism.

• Rapid cultural and technological change, which were also accelerated by growth-dependent capitalism.

• Below-average analytical and emotional intelligence, which interfere with the capacity to comprehend or navigate complexity.

• Willful ignorance as a lazy, amoral choice.

We are sorry about these conditions, too, because they are a consequence of our ongoing committment as Americans to invest in conspicuous consumption, atomistic individualism and greedy materialism as our guiding lights, while at the same time decimating our public education system, news media integrity, and cultural truth metrics. We have also routinely abdicated our political obligations to corporations and individuals with huge concentrations of wealth, allowing them make more and more of our decisions for us – and take over more and more of our government and civic institutions – and we’re sorry for that, too.

On the other hand, those who appreciate complexity, want to champion progressive values, and believe in a more participatory, informed and egalitarian future are also sorry. Because we didn’t make our case to the American people, or effectively counter the ridiculous spectacle of Donald Trump…or in many cases even go out and vote. Shame on us.

So for all of this…and for the inevitable suffering of so many millions of people that will result from a morally and mentally crippled Trump administration…we are also truly and deeply contrite. In our confusion and pain, we the people of the United States of America have allowed an impulsive, feckless idiot to become our leader. Intuitively, most of us knew this was a bad idea, and that “making America great again” was really just a last-ditch attempt for poor and middle-class white people to feel like their penises mattered (or feel like their father's, husband's or son's penises mattered, as the case may be). But, like tantruming children, too few wanted to face the reality of that shrinking decline…or have much compassion for it...so a lot of folks lashed out.

Again, so sorry.

What is needed to improve the amount and quality of civic engagement in the United States?

I think there are several issues in play, and we will need to address all of them for civic engagement and a sense of responsibility to be fostered. This means removing barriers as well as inspiring participation - and also holding folks accountable to some degree. Mainly I think we need to return governance more directly to the people - and in a more distributed and localized way - so that citizens have “skin in the game” as it were. Currently, our elected officials and their work are too far abstracted from the day-to-day concerns of average citizens, and this creates a “consume and forget” model of electoral abdication.

To address this I think we first and foremost require more frequent and direct forms of democracy, and some of my ideas about that are discussed here: Direct Democracy. Also for the long term, I would offer proposals around community involvement (see: Community Engagement) that emphasize non-governmental as well as governmental institutions and processes - many of which are well-tested in the real world. I also envision a system of social credits for utilizing essential infrastructure and services that is tied directly to civic participation (see: Social Credits System).

At the same time, we will also need to remove substantive barriers to folks even wanting to be involved - and ensure they have enough accurate information to do so skillfully and meaningfully. Regarding the former, I discuss the some of the primary concerns here: The Spectacle; Commercialist Distortions; Neoliberalism; Oppression of Women; and The Tyranny of Private Ownership. Regarding the latter, I would promote major revisions to education, the press and public information management that depart from today’s coopted and corrupted practices (see: Education).

Of course not all of this can happen at once. But if we don’t address all of these issues to a radical degree, I just don’t see change happening. The systemic failures and opposing forces are just to great. In terms of first steps, I discuss some of those here: L7 Action

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question: https://www.quora.com/What-is-needed-to-improve-the-amount-and-quality-of-civic-engagement-in-the-United-States)

Why do the top 1% of people in the world have half of the world's wealth?

Setting the statistical details of your question aside, and focusing on the underlying observation of extraordinary wealth inequality, I believe there are a combination of factors. Here are the most significant ones (in no particular order):

1. Capitalism. It is the nature of capitalism to concentrate wealth by rewarding owner-shareholders while exploiting worker-consumers and capturing everyone and everything else (i.e. environments, governments, technologies, etc.) that can be placed in service to profit.

2. Consumer Mindset and Addiction. This is a bit more subtle, but essentially imagine a world where everyone is convinced (individually, socially, culturally) that happiness, well-being and success are all externally consumed, and that the self-actualization principle with the highest efficacy is conspicuous consumption. Further, imagine that the products and services being offered are habit forming in nature, so that the pressures to consume create a snowball effect, thereby infantilizing the public and making people perpetually dependent. Why perpetually? Well because those products and services don’t actually deliver happiness, well-being or success…so the cycle continues.

3. Cronyism and Clientism. Through regulatory capture, revolving door self-empowerment, corruption of democratic institutions (corporate personhood, SuperPACs, the Hastert rule, gerrymandering, etc.), authoring legislation (A.L.E.C., etc.), quid-pro-quo political dealings and so forth so that the wealthy maintain de facto control over any government that is supposed to counter their overreach…thus expanding plutocratic wealth and power.

4. Financialization and Speculation. A nasty runaway train that often involves socialization of risk, extensive leveraging, and huge amounts of debt…all in order to enrich the captains of banking and industry who are already wealthy enough to play such high stakes games.

5. Monopoly. Consolidation of production, assets and influence in every industry - and often across multiple sectors - that concentrates economic controls and wealth production in the hands of fewer and fewer people.

6. Clever Propaganda. I think Milton Friedman was the first to really champion neoliberal delusions for the common person, persuading them that government, taxes and “socialist” policies would sabotage their well-being and the American success story, and that all challenges could be solved by a “free” market. It was of course a fabricated narrative without any basis in fact, but it has sold well. So now we have everyone from the Tea Party to Trump supporters voting against their own best interests, and blindly throwing their energy into this perpetual hoodwink.

7. The Spectacle. This is a complex idea that I elaborate on in the link provided, but essentially think of an elaborate, self-perpetuating engine of panem et circenses, executed via mass media and mass consumption, that anesthetizes the masses into complacency. Just enough affluence and entertainment to make them forget that their votes don’t really count for much, their “freedom” is becoming much more limited, and their real wages have been stagnant or declining since 1968.

I explore many of these topics and more on this website: Level 7

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question: https://www.quora.com/Why-do-the-top-1-of-people-in-the-world-have-half-of-the-worlds-wealth)

The Unseen Tragedy of a Trump Presidency…and Our Collective Responsibility

Between A Rock and A Hard Place

Like many other progressively-minded folks, I am in still in shock over what happened last night, and likely will be for some time. I have an image burned into my memory of a team of seasoned journalists finally conceding to what the voting results meant, sitting around the table in stunned silence, staring at their hands. Fifteen seconds of dead air said it all. And now those same pundits are attempting to explain away the errors in their predictions, pointing to a much deeper and larger pool of angry white folks than anyone imagined as a primary factor for Trump’s victory. So I wanted to speak to that group, along with my more like-minded progressive friends, in exploring exactly what this election means for the United States of America.

The real tragedy in this election will not be the thousands of young women who, once Roe v. Wade is overturned, are either forced to obtain illegal abortions, or to live in poverty without support as they struggle to raise an unwanted child. The real tragedy also won’t be the millions of Americans who lose their health insurance, are unable to obtain adequate coverage for chronic conditions, or can’t afford healthcare once the Affordable Care Act is repealed. It also won’t be the immigrants whose families are ripped apart by accelerated deportations, or the millions of businesses – including the farming backbone of America’s food supply – that close down because they can’t find workers for entry level jobs at subsistence wages. And it won't be a runaway train of "Trump effect" bullying against the LGBT community, people of color, nerds, disabled folks, social outcasts and the other traditional objects of fear and hatred by ignorant white people. The real tragedy will also not be those billions among our next generations who, because of the U.S. abandoning global climate agreements and strategies, will have to navigate a chaotic weather, rising sea levels and an explosion of tropical diseases. All of these may be predictable outcomes of a Republican majority under Trump’s leadership, and they might be very unpleasant for Americans to suffer through, but they are not the most extreme travesty now in the works.

What is really the most tragic and distressing consequence of this election actually pertains to all those angry white folks who voted for Trump. Why? Because he promised he could help them. But here’s the rub regarding that, folks: Trump can’t help you. The demographics of the U.S. are still going to shift to a white minority population, even if all immigration were to be cut off. All those people of color who are U.S. citizens are still going to have families, and the population trends will remain basically the same. Good jobs are still not going to be available to U.S. workers, because no industry can afford to pay U.S. workers a decent wage and still produce a profit for goods sold either in the U.S. or on the global market – it has been true for some time that U.S. companies depend on cheap labor and resources sourced outside of the U.S. to maintain the growth and affordability of their products. This is one reason real wages have been in decline for many decades. In fact, you could say that the economic isolationism championed by Trump is about the most effective way to destroy any chance of jobs or a living wage in the U.S. And because Trump’s tax policies will focus on benefiting the most wealthy Americans, and will do absolutely nothing beneficial for the middle and lower classes (possibly even raising taxes on those groups - see Batchelder), this whole combination of tactics is almost guaranteed to make the plight of most white, middle class, blue collar Americans already struggling to make ends meet a hell-of-a-lot worse. Trump’s strategies will also burden Americans with increasing amounts of debt, as we must of necessity plunge further and further down the rabbit hole of financialization. A ballooning national deficit will merely be the tip of this spear.

In terms of international relations, jihadi terrorism, friendliness with Russia and so forth, the prospects for improvement are equally dire. But of course the U.S. isn’t the only player on the world stage, so who knows: maybe these issues will resolve themselves despite any poor choices we make in terms of U.S. trade or foreign policy. But my main point – and the one that I hope will evoke some empathy and compassion for angry white America from my progressive friends – is that all those folks who voted for Trump are now truly and resoundingly fucked. Because of their blindness and resentment regarding the inexorable realities of the modern world, they have chosen a government that will make things much, much worse for themselves over the short and long term. Americans voting against their own best interests has happened before – most recently with the eight years of a Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz debacle – but this hard lesson hasn’t yet been fully learned by the American electorate. Perhaps it never will be. Perhaps we humans are just prone to making irrational choices when we are fearful and distressed, and the consistent Republican investment in amplifying such fear and distress in order to win elections is now reaping its just rewards.

But, for our dear angry white Americans: remember those “elite” you have blamed for taking away your liberties, eroding Christian values, creating terrorism, ruining the U.S. economy and threatening your way of life…? Well, you just elected more of them into office. Gingrich, Juliani, Trump, Pence and their ilk are not your champions or your friends, they are a potent team of self-obsessed, arrogant, power-hungry sociopaths who will take America deep out into the woods, bend her over a log of lies and delusion, and violently ravish her – economically, politically, socially and spiritually – very much against her will. All the while they can of course invoke Randian, Libertarian or neoliberal propaganda that rationalizes such actions as “American exceptionalism,” further empowering corporate oligarchy at the expense of U.S. citizens. But you will likely be too busy trying to survive to fully appreciate how you have been duped. This is what you’ve done…to yourselves. And so this is why I sincerely feel progressives should go beyond patience, beyond endurance and tolerance, beyond kindness and sympathy, and reach out to console and, yes, help Trump voters as best they can in the coming months and years. Those who understand what the outcome of this election really means must overcome our disappointment and grief, and arm ourselves with agape. Because when the Trump Administration is done raping and pillaging its very own supporters, those fellow Americans will not just feel doubly betrayed and doubly hurt, they will feel cold and alone in those haunting woods, with copious amounts of patriotic blood streaming endlessly from their…wherevers. And they will need our help.

So to explore longer term and more realistic solutions to our current dilemma – as well as what activism we can engage in to move us toward those solutions – I would encourage folks to visit my latest website: http://www.level-7.org, and in particular the Action Guide. What we are now facing may indeed be a chaotic transition of sorts (take a look at my friend David MacLeod’s thoughts on this topic at his Integral Permaculture blog), but if we can shift our focus away from damage control to a new, truly workable vision for tomorrow, we just might emerge from the next few years with a chance of healing and hope. This is our collective responsibility. We can no longer be passive consumers of domestic politics, trusting the advertising claims of the product we are being sold during the election season, then disengaging from civic responsibility the rest of the time. To fuel our optimism, we also know that left-leaning folks are the real majority in the U.S. - it's just that half of us didn't vote in this election. So we all need to be more conscious, informed and proactive purveyors of our democracy persistently and perpetually. Together, we must fully understand what is happening in our country and around the world, and make thoughtful decisions about how to proceed. And if we can care enough about each other to recognize the real pain we all share – and how to remedy the conditions that caused it through our own cooperative efforts – then our vision for a more harmonious and mutually supportive future could actually become real.

My 2 cents.

What is the long term effect of rent seeking on the economy?

Thanks for the A2A Joel.

IMO “rent-seeking” is just a smokescreen for the profit motive. Sure, Tullock’s conception of rent-seeking illustrates one of many “easier” ways to make a profit…but the issue is really that, regardless of the level of “government interference” in markets, unethical capitalists will still attempt to capture other people’s surplus with as little effort as possible. Here are some common examples brought to you by corporate America:

1. Engaging in high-risk speculative investments using other people’s money.

2. Perpetuating debt-slavery (among poor consumers using excessive interest and predatory lending, among developing countries using “structural adjustment policies,” etc.).

3. Exciting artificial demand (through blatantly false advertising, deceptive persuasion, etc.) for products that either do more harm than good, or don’t deliver on what was promised.

4. Using publicly funded discoveries (i.e. academic and government-funded research) to create products and services that enrich owner-shareholders (extremely common in pharmaceutical and high-tech).

5. Paying workers less than a living wage to perpetuate wage-slavery and tax-funded welfare subsidization (i.e. Walmart).

6. Relying on publicly funded infrastructure (roads, bridges, communications, utilities, etc.) to facilitate free enterprise while avoiding or evading paying taxes or otherwise funding that infrastructure.

7. Patent trolling.

8. Callous disregard for health and safety of workers and consumers - and/or environmental destruction - in order to maximize profits.

9. Anti-competitive practices (hostile takeovers, price fixing, corporate espionage, kickbacks, single-sourcing, etc.).

10. Crony capitalism (cronyism, clientism, regulatory capture, pork barrel projects, A.L.E.C. legislation, etc.).

11. War profiteering (i.e. Halliburton)

Please note that although only a few of these examples can technically be categorized as “rent-seeking,” all of them represent the same essential qualities of unethical behavior.

What are the negative long-term effects? Simply put, they contribute directly or indirectly to the vast and ever-compounding negative externalities of capitalism:

Endangerment of consumer health and well-being.

Exploitation and abuse of workers.

Corruption and capture of political institutions.

Increased infantilization and external dependencies of consumers.

Huge concentrations of wealth in a decreasing minority of owner-shareholders at the expense of an ever-deepening impoverishment of worker-consumers.

Monopolization and consequent lock-down on new innovations.

Dumbing down of the general populace in order to facilitate exploitation agendas.

Environmental destruction and resource depletion.

* Economic instability (boom/bust cycles).

So, in summary, the “long term effects” of rent-seeking and the many other expressions of the profit motive on a growth-dependent capitalist economy are, ultimately, self-destruction.

I would also recommend perusing these posts as well:

1) T Collins Logan's answer to What are some common misconceptions people have about capitalism? (https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-common-misconceptions-people-have-about-capitalism/answer/T-Collins-Logan)

2) T Collins Logan's answer to Is Capitalism morally justifiable? (https://www.quora.com/Is-Capitalism-morally-justifiable/answer/T-Collins-Logan)

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question: https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-long-term-effect-of-rent-seeking-on-the-economy)

What should we as a society do to end capitalism?

I’m going to sidestep the details of your post - I think I understand what you’re getting at so I will answer the main question instead.

To end capitalism, which I agree would be a very wise, important and increasingly pressing direction to take, will require a multi-pronged approach, and a different emphasis of approach in different parts of the world. Here are some possible components that could be combined into different transformative forces to bring about that change:

1. Disrupt the status quo. There are countless ways to do this, but essentially we need to make “business as usual” unprofitable for corporations and shareholders, while at the same time reducing access to commercialistic distractions that have medicated consumer-workers into a sort of reflexively compliant, self-gratifying infantilized state. The choices here are things likes hacktivism, boycotts, disruption of commercial transportation and communication, etc.

2. Educate the consumer-worker. The neoliberal propaganda you see reflected in many of the answers in this thread must be countered with both facts about our current reality (i.e. the consequences of capitalism that are destructive to civil society, nature, human health, etc.), as well as a new vision about how we can move forward.

3. Educate the owner-shareholder. There are plenty of wealthy people in the world who understand the problems inherent to our current form of capitalism, and who see the wisdom of moving away from it. We can provide them with resources, information, alternative proposals, etc. to allow them to help enable such a transition.

4. Empower the consumer-worker. We can return democracy to the people, removing it from the hands of corporations and their wealthy shareholders where it is now. One way to do this would be to follow Switzerland’s implementation of direct democracy to counterbalance our corrupted legislative processes. In the same way, all institutions and organizations can shift away from owner-shareholder control to consumer-worker control; this has already been successfully modeled around the world. Essentially, this is just implementing direct democracy in all enterprises and institutions, and can be accomplished via any number of mechanisms, from consumer-worker organizing to legislation to the philanthropic acts of the owner-shareholders themselves.

5. Decentralize political and economic institutions and controls. In the words of E.F. Schumacher, “Small is Beautiful.” Every business, institution, process, etc. can orbit around community-level decision-making. This reflects the principle of “subsidiarity” and is essential to preventing the inefficiencies and disconnected abstraction of decision-making that occur through larger central government controls - or via large corporate monopolies. This process of decentralization can also be accomplished voluntarily - once enough consumer-workers and owner-shareholders have awoken from their consumption-medicated sleep.

6. Make rational, world-tested choices about which services and products should be generated via not-for-profit mechanisms. For me this is a pretty long list, and includes things like healthcare, mass transit, energy production, public safety, education, water, roads, communications infrastructure, credit unions, etc. I call these “essential infrastructure and services,” and see them as falling under common ownership and management (i.e. all of society).

7. Institute a system of social credits that moves us away from a money-based economy. It will take time to accomplish this, and it could happen gradually in conjunction with an exchange economy, but the valuation of goods and services would be based on a more multifaceted assessment (inclusive of a more comprehensive array of externalities) via direct democracy. I call this “holistic value.” Ultimately, I also think the concept of private property also has to be relinquished for humanity to gain true freedom, but that process may take a few generations.

8. Encourage moral maturity, and hold everyone accountable. This is probably the most challenging aspect of transformative change. As individuals, as cultures, as a society - perhaps even as a species - we really need to grow up. The materialistic individualism that capitalism reinforces works mightily against this maturation process, keeping us fixated on lust for stimulation and stuff, childish power trips, competing with each other and so forth. So the dismantling of capitalism alone (if it is done in a compassionate, inclusively democratic and orderly manner) should help people nurture a sense of civic participation and communal identity that capitalism destroys. But we probably also need to encourage moral maturity - looking beyond I/Me/Mine - through various culturally encouraged practices. My own approach to this is Integral Lifework. In terms of accountability, social credits could be accumulated for actively participating in civil society, and earning those credits could at a minimum provide access to higher quantities or qualities of “essential infrastructure and services.” In the opposite direction, there could be social credit penalties (less access to services, lower quality services, social debits, etc.) for not participating in civil society or violating its agreements. But really direct democracy itself creates an excellent self-regulating means of accountability: when government is authentically by the people, the people come to recognize their own responsibility.

Unlike many revolutionary radicals of the past, I do not believe that forceful expropriation of property or persecution of the elite is a wise course; in fact I think violence begets violence, and the methods of any revolution will taint the new systems and institutions that follow from that revolution. I also disagree with those who would encourage the hastening of capitalism’s “natural conclusion,” or letting everything crash and burn to see what arises from the ashes. The problem with this approach is that humanity has become far too powerful - and its society and infrastructure far too complex - to permit a constructive catastrophic reset. Higher-order solutions require a solid foundation of civil society, technological stability and peace. Like any other form of suicide, our options become rather limited after we make a self-destructive decision. In the same way, we will want to move forward on all of the components discussed here, rather than just a few of them; all of the pieces are required for any transformation to sustain itself over time.

As to proposals of what a post-capitalist political economy could look like, I’ve written a few essays and a book on that topic.

My 2 cents.

(see https://www.quora.com/What-should-we-as-a-society-do-to-end-capitalism)

Of Pot, Guns & Trump: The Origins of Irrational, Destructively Conformist Groupthink

Obviously this short post won’t persuade anyone currently in the thrall of active lemming events, as these collective memes are highly resistant to contrary evidence. In fact we could say that one of the chief characteristics of such movements is their promotion of habitual confirmation bias and an extremely high tolerance for cognitive dissonance. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Probably the easiest way to appreciate parallels between the way pot fanatics, gun fanatics and Trump supporters think is to chart out some of their more exaggerated claims. And by “exaggerated” I simply mean without sufficient basis in fact to be embraced as accurate; that have too little supportive evidence to reveal any causal relationships; and that are essentially non-rational ideas living mainly in the imagination of their proponents. Some examples:

I could of course spend a few hundred pages documenting why the beliefs of each group are “inaccurate,” and perhaps I will expand this into an essay at a later time to do just that. However, there is a much easier approach, which is to challenge proponents of pot, guns and Trump to produce supportive evidence for their claims. I have done this on countless occasions, with invariably reliable results: they can’t. Instead, I will hear statements like these in response – often using exactly the same wording – from each group:

“Well the government suppresses all the good data about this. They don’t want anyone to know the truth.”

“I know there’s really good research that proves what I’m saying – I just can’t remember what it is right now.”

“I don’t trust those kinds of academic studies. They get proven wrong all the time.”

“If you’d seen what I have seen, you’d know what I’m saying is true.”

“You don’t understand what’s at stake here. This is much bigger than facts.”

“The proof is all over the Internet. You just have to look.”

“Everybody knows this is true. I’m surprised that you don’t.”

And so on. And even when a seemingly reasonable piece of favorable research surfaces (such as John Lott’s work on crime stats and gun ownership), it quickly turns out that the research methodology is flawed, and that countless other studies have come to different conclusions using the same data.

So what is happening here? From the perspective of Integral Lifework, explanations are fairly easy to hypothesize. Human beings want to have more personal agency; long for acceptance and community; are understandably overwhelmed by modern complexity and seemingly contradictory information all around them; are angered at being used and manipulated by forces beyond their control; feel out-of-sync with the rapid pace of change around them; and often make impulsive emotional decisions in reaction to all of these antagonistic variables. It’s perfectly understandable. In response to the many demands, pressures, stresses and inequities of the modern world, well-meaning folks will rely on purely emotional reasoning to react or choose a course, then seek solace and support in like-minded communities. And, thanks to mass media, the Internet, and a proliferation of propaganda fueled by both self-serving enterprises (gun manufacturers, pot growers or Trump himself) and fanatic adherents, it has become relatively easy to energize and maintain blindly conformist mass-movements…as long as you keep things emotionally charged and the facts a bit fuzzy.

I should interject here that it isn’t entirely fair to label this kind of reflexive-groupthink-adherence as “idiotic” or “ignorant.” This observation is an understandable one – and one I myself have sometimes slipped into out of exasperation - but it’s a bit unfair. Why? Because it is much more likely that the aversion to critical thinking among these groups issues from genuine insecurity, anxiety and ongoing suffering. As human beings, we need community, we need a purpose, we need to feel useful and connected and important. In fact, these are essential dimensions of nourishment in the Integral Lifework model. And when we suddenly find ourselves part of a movement that energizes our being in these dimensions (and perhaps for the first time), it is very difficult to step back, take a breath, and critically assess the validity of our trajectory. And this is especially true when our fundamental needs have not been met for years or decades – when we have been deprived, distracted and anesthetized away from taking good care of ourselves by a mainly consumerist, externalizing and infantilizing model of well-being.

What is the solution? Alas, in the short term, we’ll probably just have to ride each of these populist waves to their unpleasant conclusion. History seems to indicate that only when folks are allowed to obtain what they think they want, then realize it isn’t providing the expected result, will they become open to alternative approaches. And even then, we humans have a tendency to commit ourselves to one ill-considered path after another until we eventually find our way. Personally I believe we will have to move away from capitalist orientations entirely, with the consumerist model fully exhausted, before civil society can grapple with constructive alternatives to enduring human problems.

In the long term, I still believe there is hope…if we can survive into an era when reflexive groupthink fueled by fear and insecurity infects smaller and smaller numbers of people, until it passes away entirely. In the meantime, we can promote more nuanced and multidimensional avenues of healing for personal confusion, anxiety and suffering. In fact, as humans are meaning-making, self-justifying organisms that relish imitating each other and joining in communal activities, alternatives to more caustic memes must be perpetually generated. Something is required to fill the void. That’s what Integral Lifework practice tries to advocate, albeit one person at a time. But as long as capitalism prevails, lowest-common-denominator mass marketing will continue to promote self-serving, ultimately destructive habits of consumption, where large numbers of people will keep lavishing their personal power, money and passion on ineffective or counterproductive attempts to lessen their fear and pain – options like pot, guns and Trump.

My 2 cents.

What has Elon Musk failed at?

Answering the question: "What has Elon Musk failed at?"

1) Elon Musk has failed at the very thing others seem to believe he is good at: being an entrepreneur, innovator and business leader in a competitive market. His biggest “successes” (Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity) are almost entirely dependent on government subsidies, lobbying efforts and tax magic; they are not profitable in themselves and much of their business risk has been socialized. Rather than exemplifying the “American exceptionalism” Musk is always lauding, these enterprises are poster children for crony capitalism and taxpayer-funded ventures.

2) Musk advocated for migrating PayPal’s server architecture from Unix to Windows when he was CEO. That was exceptionally idiotic from both a business and technical standpoint (i.e. Windows has not only always been much less scalable, extensible and stable than Unix, it has also been much more expensive to deploy, license and maintain), and frankly brings his other technology choices into serious question.

3) Musk routinely sacrifices ethics on the altar of his personal vision. For example, SolarCity is probably the most unethical PV installation company in existence, using highly misleading sales tactics to persuade unknowledgeable consumers to commit to what is arguably the worst option available (in terms of bang-for-buck) for their residential solar power. Pro-capitalist folks might argue this is just “business as usual,” and that caveat emptor is the only relevant guideline where exploitation for profit is in play, but in my view ripping people off in the name of green energy is just a form of reprehensible carpet bagging.

My 2 cents.

Comment by Jared Croft: "SpaceX was funded by the government along with competitors, was given less funding than them, and has out competed ULA in price by over 50%. It isn’t a public company, so you are speculating when remarking on its profitability.

Tesla got a bail out in 2008 (along with many other car companies), which they paid back. It got tax breaks and some nearly worthless land in Nevada, but sunk in billions of dollars in exchange. All EVs are subsidized, not just Tesla cars.

Amazon has scarcely been profitable for 20 years. Tesla isn’t profitable because it is investing in rapid expansion rather than resting comfortably on its core revenue stream. If it were resting on its core revenue stream, its stock would immediately plunge because investors like it because they think it will expand. Why else would they value such a small company with a market cap above Chrysler?

So: SpaceX saves us money, government relative to Tesla is unbiased (everyone got a bailout; EV subsidies are general), and lack of profitability for a rapidly changing and expanding business is not an effective criticism (either for most “fanboys” or investors).

I think these criticisms are a reductionist view of the free market vs the government, not a “this is not the most effective way to make the world sustainable or humanity multiplanetary thing”. Engineers care about solving problems, not politics."

Jared 80% of SpaceX funding is from the government. That has been disclosed despite its not being a public company. Whether the American taxpayer will be getting value out of these military and NASA contracts is indeed a different question, but let’s not forget that NASA bailed out Musk in 2008…when SpaceX was, according to Musk himself, about to go under after three failed Falcon tests. The point is that the U.S. taxpayer effectively saved Musk in the midst his failure, just like we did for U.S. automakers, and it was via a contract for future, as yet unproven SpaceX services…so we haven’t been paid back yet. Well good for him; now he’s part of the crony capitalist club and was able to socialize his business risk. That’s simply a fact - not speculation.

As I’ve answered in another comment, the U.S. taxpayer received a 2.4% return on their DOE loan to Tesla - it was paid back early specifically to avoid having to provide Tesla shares which would have improved that return. So…not a noble gesture, but a money-saving one. DOE is estimated to have lost about $1.6 Billion by not structuring the deal the same way Musk did for his own $38 Million investment in Tesla. Could any of this be the result of Musk’s aggressive lobbying efforts in 2009, and his 12 flights to DC in his personal jet? As I also describe in that comment thread, there is also a difference between R&D investment (i.e. the DOE loan), consumer incentives to purchase EVs, and the Treasury bailouts…it is important to tease these differences out. To wit: the American taxpayer directly funded the success of the Model S, a Veblen luxury good - again that’s a fact. Toyota’s tremendous success with the Prius among more average consumers, by contrast, simply did not come about in the same way (yes it’s an apples to oranges comparison, but hopefully you’ll see the point I’m trying to make).

As for how the market values stocks…come on, after so many crazy, bursting bubbles (especially in the tech arena), can you really not appreciate that such valuation is all about hype and psychology, and not reality?

And, perhaps most importantly, throughout all of this Musk continues to trumpet that “the market will come up with the best solution,” and that government subsidies aren’t needed (and of course shouldn’t be given to his competitors). His fans likewise give Musk credit for all of these flashy, taxpayer-funded accomplishments. Really? Is the hypocrisy not glaringly obvious here…?

Comment from Dan Spawl: "Do you have references for the unethical PV business?"


Solar panel company pocketing govt subsidy cash intended for homeowners

(see also SolarCity comes under more criticism for siphoning the subsidies of its small solar customers)

Surprised solar customers find themselves with liens - Watchdog.org (notice the references to SolarCity’s repeated denials to placing such liens)

Solar Panel Leasing Scheme Threatens Home Ownership

SolarCity (consumer complaints)

Solar Industry Under Fire

Why Treasury Is Investigating SolarCity and Solar Third-Party Funds

Elon Musk patent hypocrisy on display in growing SolarCity patent portfolio - IPWatchdog.com | Patents & Patent Law

Lots more…though it appears SolarCity may be scrubbing the Internet of its worst offenses. My own comments (on a PBS story that put SolarCity in a surprisingly favorable light) were…for some odd reason…deleted from every server around the country where I posted them. These were on both moderated AND unmoderated threads. Nothing I said was inflammatory or provocative - I just exposed the leasing vs. owning issues. I’ve been posting on those threads for years without incident…never had one thing deleted in over fifteen years. But the SolarCity comments (again, purely factual) were removed within six hours.

Comment from Larry Velez: "This week in Tesla’s shareholder meeting Tesla showed the negligible impact that the DOE loan had on Tesla and how they repaid it early with a penalty for doing so. I think the question is whether these companies would exist without any government incentives and the answer is yes - they all would because most of the reason they exist is because of investors. Toyota and Daimler specifically invested in a big way in Tesla. Those investments were life changing, the government incentives were. For that reason I think Point#1 is not valid."

Larry I would encourage you to read the other comments (unfortunately nested ad nauseum as they are - my apologies for that!) that discuss this point. Lots of pertinent info there that discuss SpaceX and SolarCity in addition to Tesla. Regarding your thoughts on Tesla - there actually was a substantial penalty for NOT paying the loan off early: Tesla would have had to begin paying part of the repayment with shares; this is how Treasury made money back on the bailouts, and DOE really missed out on this. Instead of the 2.4% return on their investment that they got, American taxpayers could have received closer to the 3,500% that Musk did on his investment in Tesla. And of course Daimler and Toyota made similarly sweet returns on the measly $50Million they each contributed (I think it totals something close to $1Billion). More to the point: this is why Musk went to the DOE in the first place…the loan was a LOT cheaper and a LOT bigger than standard VC terms. As for its impact, nearly everyone who has been watching Tesla agrees that the DOE loan was the main facilitator of the S Model development. Musk makes a big show of Daimler’s timing and public perception behind Toyota and Daimler’s contract for EV batteries, etc., but all of that is mostly for show. It’s just PR spin compared to the heavy lifting performed by the American taxpayer. Lots of articles on all of these points can be found via credible sources.

That said, this same pattern appears in SpaceX and SolarCity…in some ways much more dramatically. None of these companies would exist…at all…without the U.S. government and crony capitalism. Innovation simply doesn’t occur in the a marketplace of established, mostly monopolized industries, without serious incentives. This is mainly a consequence of price inelastic demand - there’s just no margin for R&D there, and angel investors still want some hope of success, not just impulsive, unsecured risk. Which is almost certainly why Musk focussed on luxury EVs, which are Veblen goods sitting comfortably within price elastic demand. In certain markets - especially high tech - innovation has almost always been instigated by public research. It’s almost humorous to hear the Chicago or Austrian school neoliberal types trumpet the superiority of a competitive market to produce, say, disruptive innovations…when so much that has occurred in the last fifty years was a consequence of public investment (academic research, government research and piloting, government incentives, etc.). Here’s a fun link on Silicon Valley, the pride of crony capitalism: Silicon Valley: Your Tax Dollars at Work

Comment by Kirk Bushell: "You couldn’t actually be more wrong. Space X and Tesla are not alive based on subsidies, though certainly Space X did get its initial business from government. However, so has many other private companies and tbh - government was the first natural business opportunity there.

As for Tesla - lol. No. For one, Tesla is profitable and very quickly paid back a loan from the government within a few years. The fact of the matter is that Musk with every business venture - from Zip 2 through to Space X, has seen an opportunity and worked toward it. The fact that Tesla has 400k preorders on their Model 3 which is yet to be released should tell you a thing or two about what they’re doing. Here’s a hint - people are interested. Very interested.

Now if we want to say what Musk has failed at - education would be one. He left a scholarship early to pursue business opportunities. He’s also not very good with people - he takes offense easily and will get quite defensive. But as far as business is concerned - he is yet to fail in any real way.

Your point about him being essentially a crony capitalist is absolute bullshit. Look at his comments he’s given regarding:

Lockheed Martin getting a 4.6 billion contract for the same work that Space X is doing for 1.6 billion.
His comments regarding General Motors and other companies seeking the production of EV.
Musk wants competition, for numerous reasons - but most importantly of all he simply wants to see the world go beyond fossil fuels and to the stars, and he sees every step in that right direction as the right one - regardless of whether it’s with him or not.

I will happily concede I am a fan of the guy - he’s taken massive risks (not many can say they’v risked 180 million on 2 businesses and nearly sent themselves bankrupt). He’s one of the few people who will put his money where his mouth is.

As for him advocating windows/unix.etc. - this is merely a subjective technological choice, and I don’t think is a reflection of his “failures” - though me personally, I’d say it’s a wrong decision also ;-)

I’d love to see references/information regarding Solar city’s sales tactics, because I am yet to hear or see anything. Imho this looks and sounds like rumourmongering simply because people don’t like the guy.

Musk has had his fair share of critics. So far he’s proven every single one wrong."

Kirk I appreciate the thoughtful reply, but I think you may have blinders on. :-). Here’s why: Musk is constantly contradicting himself in both word and deed. My take (after doing some research and trying to figure out why this is) is that he has a lot of passion directed in a lot of different directions (in the sense of ADHD), and consequently plays fast-and-loose with whatever facts/thoughts/people he has at hand in order to move his goals forward. I don’t know that this is the case, I’m just speculating. However, the evidence of such contradictions is abundant:

1) He’s spoken a lot about the restrictiveness of patents on competition, and moved several Tesla patents into the public domain. If you only look at that data, and combine it with what he did with Hyperloop, he looks like a champion of Open Source. Except…he did the exact opposite with SolarCity, which has dozens of patents in the pipeline and generates more applications every few months. In that enterprise, he has been doing exactly the opposite. There may be very good explanations for this difference, but my point is that you can’t take Musk at “face value” on what he himself has said…you need to look deeper into his enigmatic choices.

2) If he’s not into crony capitalism, then why has he allocated so much time and energy to lobbying and strategic campaign donations? Look into how he got the $ 20 Million in gift from Texas taxpayers for the SpaceX facility…as well as the public beach closing for the same. He greased the wheels for three years with state legislators to get that deal. And of course Texas taxpayers had little say in the matter. Classic crony capitalism. And this is only the tip of the iceberg…Tesla alone received $1.3 Billion in government subsidies for a company that, despite your assertions, has not been profitable at all (How Tesla Motors Could Be Profitable if It Wanted To -- The Motley Fool). Sure, there is consumer interest (heck, I’m interested in the new, much more affordable model myself!), but that doesn’t offset the realities of Musk’s socialization of risk with taxpayer funds. Musk has, of course, promised that Tesla will be profitable in 2016…we shall see (according to the Motley Fool article just linked, it doesn’t seem likely). But the point is that the taxpayers won’t see all of their initial investment refunded…except of course that $452 Million loan you mentioned; a nice gesture, but it doesn’t change the ongoing math.

3) I think you already found my SolarCity links in another comment thread here. Let me also reiterate that I myself will save roughly $67,000 (over 20 years) in comparison to a SolarCity leasing proposal for my 5kW PV system by installing it myself. It was actually quite easy and almost anyone could do this IMO. I received quotes from four other PV installers who were happy to direct me to HERO, PACE, credit union green loans, and a number other financing options to own my installation at a fraction of the cost (usually about a 50% savings) to the SolarCity option. Sure, I beat those numbers by doing the installation myself, but the point is that “the competition” was happy to help me “go green” and not rip me off in the process. Just sayin.

BTW, I’m really not a rumor-mongerer. Although I had direct negative experiences with SolarCity myself, I didn’t even start looking into Musk until I was asked about him in another Quora question. I have no axe to grind…I’m just looking at the facts. I happen to think Musk’s vision is pretty cool - green energy, electric cars, traveling to Mars, reusable rockets - the teenage SF fan inside me is cheering for him…absolutely. What I take issue with are his ethics and his tactics. Just because the status quo is corrupt doesn’t mean the status quo should be capitalized upon to line one’s own pockets and further one’s own personal vision. From my reading of Musk, he would do pretty much anything to make his dreams a reality - the ends justify the means. For me, the means are important. Perhaps essential. In fact, if we don’t learn to operate differently (as a species), then colonizing Mars isn’t going to help us in the long-term. Just my 2 cents.

Comment by Aayush Agrawal: "I don’t agree with you, but well said.

As for why i don’t agree with you, even though Musk has taken quite a bit of government and taxpayer money, quite a bit has come out of it too. Vertical landing in particular will already pay off. Once patents expire, NASA’s own savings would be gigantic enough to justify the money funneled into SpaceX so far.

Similarly Tesla’s push for electric is making ripples. Among other things, Musk has shown that it is indeed possible to create a great car that is fully electric."

I completely agree that Musk’s impact on technology is unquestionable - and I greatly admire some of what he’s done and much of his vision (going to Mars, etc.). My point is more about the “how” of it - how he has gone about this. If he had said “hey I’m a socialist and I believe that government has a key role in innovation and should fund my ideas,” I would be a lot less critical. But that is not the narrative in play: Musk is held up as an exemplary entrepreneur, a glory of American exceptionalism. I find that problematic…to the tune of about $5 Billion in state and federal subsidies. What could any number of bright folks achieved in a collaborative way with that kind of support? Something to think about. Essentially, it’s like someone who wins the lottery being viewed as a “successful entrepreneur.”

Comment by Chet Bel: "Clean energy is a scam, originally started by Al Gore and perpetuated by likes of Elon Musk who become heroes in the process. At the end every clean energy initiative is subsidized by carbon fuels and without carbon fuel no clean energy will be sustainable."

That is a patently false assertion Chet. Hydroelectric has been a relatively inexpensive and sustainable part of energy production all around the globe since long before Al Gore was born. Geothermal is likewise cheap and sustainable has been in use from the late 1800s - like hydroelectric, though, it’s not readily available everywhere. Right now concentrated solar tech holds the greatest promise for 24-hr solar availability (using molten salt for thermal storage), but this also will only work in certain parts of the globe. Wind farms are also surprisingly efficient, cheap and sustainable…but again are geographically limited. Thus the main problem with all of these relatively cheap, sustainable options is power distribution - though I believe the Norway’s hydropower is helping offset Germany’s over-reliance on coal after Merkel shut down several nuclear plants. Yes it’s a complex landscape but it would be unwise to oversimplify it as you have, especially since the oil and gas industry itself receives some of the largest government subsidies of any industry…ever.

[extended back-and-forth over benefits and costs of renewable energy...then the conclusion...]

Well Chet I do worry about folks like you. Misinformation is a real problem right now - too many people don’t filter propaganda, as you yourself seem to be concerned about. And yet you parrot propaganda…we are all hypocritical creatures, I can feely admit that. Cany you? Regarding “agenda-driven media” I tend to evolve my ideas from a different path than mass media or special interest media. I’m not really a participant in mainstream media memes, mainly because they are agenda-driven, just as you point out. Instead, I do my own research, and come to my own conclusions. I also have a good friend who has designed and executed very large renewable energy contracts, and probably understand the ugly side of renewables (politically, economically and environmentally) slightly better than most people do because of that.

However, to your point about global renewables, as of last year:

Costa Rica: 100% of energy production from renewables.

Uruguay: 85% from renewables.

Kenya: 60% from renewables.

Scotland: Exceeded 100% in renewable energy generation in total MWh.

Denmark: 40% from renewables overall.

Germany: 30% from renewables overall, 50% during peak periods.

Here is some historical data on a wider range of countries:

List of countries by electricity production from renewable sources

Now Chet, if you’d like to describe in detail how each of those countries has destroyed people’s lives - or the environment, or their economies, etc. - with renewable energy, then please feel free to do so. I am eager to learn what I don’t know. However, please use accurate data. For example, hydropower currently accounts for 51% of all renewable energy in the U.S., for 6.8% of total energy production in the U.S. (as compared with solar, which is only 0.2%). Note that 51% of renewables is a significant number, and that this predates Musk and Gore. You keep sidestepping that simple historical fact in your…er…excitement. China’s production via hydroelectric is around 17%, but it’s growing quickly. India’s is around 14%, and is also growing. Neither country produces “>20%”. Specifics matter.

You should probably also read this: Hydroelectricity.

‘Nough said.

Chet Bel's response: "The countries you cite are less than 10% of the world's population. I am saying that renewal energy is not sustainable when you decide to bring it mainstream, which is approximately serving more than 50% of the world's population. Also several of these countries have ideal geology for renewable power, not every country has massive tropical rainfall like Costa Rica to make Hydro Electric nor Geothermal. Also Costa Rica's 100% is more media hype, it was only for a few days and not sustainable. This is just one ref. on this:

Please also understand damming of river has serious consequences, a fact not shown by mainstream media. This is just a ref:

Now tell me why are effects of damming rivers not studies as extensively as environment impact of fossil fuels. This is due to the likes of Al Gore, and people like you who drink the 'green' Kool-Aid, that environmental impact of renewable energy is not given that much attention. Its easy to hate one target and that target is fossil fuel. This is just one example !

I can keep giving you facts but you choose to ignore my argument, this is not a boxing match as your seem to think.

I will sum up that the world was not designed to sustain this high a human population. If the world population was < 1 billion, maybe renewable energy was sustainable at 100%. Infact our human ancestors survived purely on renewable energy. At our current population, fossil fuels are the only large scale alternative and demonizing them for the sake of renewable energy is a pipe dream and plain stupidity."

I stand corrected, Costa Rica is at 90% renewables, with peaks of 100%.

I also agree with you that this isn’t a boxing match. What I am trying to do is educate you about things you don’t seem to understand, and which you haven’t supported with any evidence. Wherever you got this idea that renewables are somehow more destructive or unsustainable or injurious than fossil fuels, you are simply mistaken, and in fact you haven’t provided any comparative evidence to support your view. So I am trying to remedy your ignorance on this matter, and you are resisting. At some point, I will throw in the towel, but your attitude is so extreme, unfounded and misdirected (in that you don’t appreciate what is causing the things you are upset about…i.e. crony capitalism), that I am giving it one last try….

Your position is much like being upset about some large scale epidemic of illness, and focusing your anger on the people trying to come up with a vaccination. “Those vaccinations cause horrible side effects! It’s wrong to spend so much money on them! It’s a scam! A conspiracy! We don’t need them!” Instead of focusing on the cause of the problem (i.e. the source of the epidemic), you are focusing on the ineffectiveness or externalities of some proposed solutions. You need some help understanding this disconnect, and that’s what I’m trying to provide.

Let me demonstrate what I mean by comparative evidence:

A1) Tehri Dam: 100K population displacement and resettlement conflict; societal disruption; sensitive and rare environmental destruction of 40+ sq miles; seismic risk; flooding risk (and consequent population displacement possibly >20K); major corruption issues; net quality of life benefits to (non-displacement-affected) surrounding population in energy production, improved infrastructure, jobs.

B1) Niger Delta: 30Million population toxic poisoning and premature death; societal disruption; ongoing sensitive and rare environmental destruction of 30,000+ sq miles (10Million gal spill each year; pollution; forest clearing); major corruption issues; net major degradation of quality-of-life issues to surrounding population in increased violence, illness, poverty, oppression, exploitation.

So to make this comparison “apples to apples,” lets use MWh of potential energy production:

Tehri Dam: 2175000 MWh/yr

Niger Delta: 3256000 MWh/yr (using BOE=1628kWh)

So according to your position, Chet, the Niger Delta oil operations should be far less destructive in every way than the Tehri Dam. Instead, they are more destructive by factors approaching 200 to 600 times the actual AND potential destruction caused by Tehri per MWh - using any metric (societal, health, environment, ecology, lifespan, corruption, violence, cultural disruption, etc.). And that’s being generous, because really if we include the stats for the entire Tehri Hydro Power Complex, the comparison would make the Niger Delta more than 500 to 1500 times worse per MWh. And that’s not factoring in the benefits that the Northern Region receive from the dam (as opposed to the tragic lack of any benefits the people of the Niger Delta receive).

And this is just one example! And I could easily provide dozens more. This is why people are “targeting” fossil fuel - not because it is a convenient scapegoat, but because oil and gas extraction are horrifically destructive…and getting more so as oil and gas become more scarce and challenging to extract. This is why this isn’t a boxing match, Chet: you are simply, utterly, completely and tragically mistaken. So I would strongly encourage you to consider what “Kool-Aid” others have been feeding you, rather than thrashing around Quora with more ill-informed accusations. Your theory simply isn’t supportable with facts.

To fully appreciate the impacts of fossil fuels in only the areas we’ve been discussing (local environment, culture, etc.), I recommend you research something called “the oil curse.” Here are some links:

Why Natural Resources Are a Curse on Developing Countries and How to Fix It

Dutch disease and What Dutch disease is, and why it's bad

Resource curse

Now regarding population, I completely agree with you there. Human beings are just an incredibly destructive species. But this has zero correlation with supporting global population with a combination of renewables and conservation (energy use reduction), which almost always go hand-in-hand where the ROI is clear.

As to your statement “Now tell me why are effects of damming rivers not studies as extensively as environment impact of fossil fuels.” This is again is completely ridiculous statement - an utterly false premise. Just Google “Tehri Dam” and “controversy” and see how may political and environmentalist articles show up that are critical of Tehri and the Indian government - do those petitions, protests, ecological studies, demonstrations, etc. compare in size and scope to, say, the petitions, demonstrations, studies and protests around tar sands in Canada…? I think so Chet. I think so.

‘Nough said.

Does capitalism marginalize the masses?

Answering the question: "Does capitalism marginalize the masses?"

Of course it does - but not directly. Both the ideal and the real-world manifestations of capitalism empower those who appropriate the most capital, and marginalize those who don’t - usually via exploitation, oppression or outright enslavement. The “freedom” so vaunted by pro-capitalist ideologues is - again both in theory and reality - restricted to those with the most capital. Everyone else receives a highly propagandized illusion of freedom, without the power to self-actualize. Because of this, the de facto outcome of capitalist systems is huge wealth disparity, with its concomitant property ownership disparity, political influence disparity, and continuous degrading of economic mobility. Ultimately, then, those at the bottom of this feeding frenzy are the increasingly impoverished masses, who often don’t realize just how impoverished they are (because they have been provided huge amounts of debt and endless stimulating distractions to shield them from this awareness). It’s a bit like the frog-in-a-pot-of-water slowly coming to boil phenomenon. There are moments (like 1929 or 2008) when the illusion is shattered, but that’s when government steps in to regulate, bail out and prop up the fundamental flaws of a capitalist system.

My 2 cents.

Can we fix capitalism so that wealth inequality no longer grows unboundedly by using the cooperative business model as a substitute for our current system of publicly traded stocks?

Answering the question: "Can we fix capitalism so that wealth inequality no longer grows unboundedly by using the cooperative business model as a substitute for our current system of publicly traded stocks?"

It would be an excellent start, but it wouldn’t “fix” capitalism.

Member-owned or worker-owned cooperatives function quite well in a competitive marketplace, and can even scale to large enterprises - as evidenced by Canadian credit unions, the Mondragon Corporation, etc. And this approach does eliminate some of the problems and disconnects that shareholder ownership has created in U.S. companies. But it doesn’t really address the runaway “finance economy” reliant on rents, capital gains and asset appreciation for what have often been high-risk speculative instruments. So I think you will also want to restructure the financial framework of the economy, and likely also the monetary system itself. Then there is the issue of private ownership vs. State ownership vs. collective management of resources. As long as resources belong to the State or private entities, there is ample opportunity for either exploitation or corruption. If, on the other hand, resources are viewed as not owned at all, but freely accessible to everyone via an agreed-upon, collective system of management, then corruption and exploitation (and depletion) can be averted. Finally you will also need to address the form of government, as concentrations of power nearly always have the same corrosive effect as concentrations of wealth. Some highly distributed system of direct democracy or consensus democracy will probably be your best bet here.

In any case, there are lots of existing and proposed political economies that address all of these issues in various ways - but you will want to address ALL of them to avoid the historical pitfalls of each of the systems that didn’t.

My 2 cents.

Does the term "the evil elite" have any true grounds, or otherwise, we blame others for our misguided actions?

In answer to Quora question "Does the term "the evil elite" have any true grounds, or otherwise, we blame others for our misguided actions?"


As Kelly La Rue pointed out, the Pike letter is a hoax...and seems to be the grandchild of a much more pernicious hoax perpetrated by Leo Taxil (see Albert Pike to Mazzini, August 15, 1871: Three World Wars?). And whether Clarence Sherrick is correct about the purpose of such hoaxes, they do seem to provide an excellent smoke screen and distraction away from what is really going on.

So what is really going on? Well that's a lengthy topic. But here are some links for you to peruse:

On How Corporations Control U.S. Politics:

Exposing ALEC: How Conservative-Backed State Laws Are All Connected

ALEC's (Non)Disclosure Policy | BillMoyers.com

Video on Koch brothers taking over Tea Party


On how the U.S. and its companies use the IMF and World Bank to exploit developing countries:

Top Ten Reasons to Oppose the IMF

How the World Bank, IMF and WTO destroyed African agriculture

IMF's four steps to damnation

Regarding the Iraq War being engineered for profit:

Upworthy | War Contractors

Halliburton, KBR, and Iraq war contracting: A history so far

Tenet Details Efforts to Justify Invading Iraq

Regarding the Super-Entity & Concentrations of Economic Control

Revealed – the capitalist network that runs the world

Interlocking directorates

The Corporate Community


How All Of This Ties Together


Bilderberg Group


My Conclusions So Far:

I would recommend you dig into some of these links and arrive at your own conclusions. Try to find the common themes that connect all of these facts, events, people and outcomes.

For me, the unifying pattern is pretty clear: there are a few hundred people in the world who have a pronounced influence over both global trade and financial institutions, over any mechanisms of government that can impact these holdings, and consequently over how both international wars are waged and how laws are written all the way down to the municipal level. It's rather breathtaking. But having such power does not indicate a conspiracy, per se, but rather a kind of "natural selection" via exploitative capitalism, in which the plutocratic elite are protecting their influence and enlarging their wealth. Sure, it results in a modern form of feudalism, but the perceived "coordination" is, I think, just a result of universal practices that have proven effective in retaining power over time, rather than a carefully planned and executed manipulation. But I could be wrong.

What seems clear is that more folks should wake up to this reality and care about it. I once asked my grandmother, who lived through Nazi Germany, why the Germans didn't rise up against Hitler or at least challenge what he was doing. She looked at me calmly and smiled, then said "Well because they had bread to eat." We could expand that to bread-and-circuses, to spectacle, to a materialistic individualism that infantalizes consumers so that they become dependent on commodities in every dimension of life. Again, though, this need not be a conspiracy...it's just commercialistic capitalism at work.

So are the elite "evil?" I don't think so - they are just human, susceptible to human failings as we all are. But capitalism...well, that is evil IMO. It is the pernicious, systemic, excessively corrosive force that empowers the elite to enslave others, destroy entire cultures, and decimate the planet.

My 2 cents.

Why would an oil surge drive world stock prices higher when the price of oil is essentially a tax on most businesses?

In answer to Quora question: "Why would an oil surge drive world stock prices higher when the price of oil is essentially a tax on most businesses?"

Thanks for the A2A Joel.

Your instincts about what the relationship between oil prices and stock prices "should" logically be is shared by many - in fact a goodly number of market analysts seem to have been anticipating that lower oil prices would have a positive impact on stocks for the reason you point out (i.e. production and transportation costs on the supply side), and because consumers have more disposable income when oil prices remain low. Except...well, it hasn't played out that way.

Why? Frankly I don't think anyone really knows. Some of the opinions in other answers here are interesting, but they are primarily speculation. One theory that hasn't been discussed is that the correlation between oil and stocks is a result of investor risk aversion: investors are seeking safe havens in uncertain times, and both oil and stocks are perceived as volatile right now. At least this is one way to explain the correlation. Another is that "oil is driving sentiment;" that is, acute awareness of oil price fluctuations is having a psychological impact on the market. Again, though, nobody is sure why this is happening, as oil volatility doesn't correlate precisely with economic productivity or other predictive metrics.

Here is how one CNN Money article describes the psychological correlation (i.e. what investors are thinking low oil prices mean...even if they don't really mean those things):

"-- Falling prices often signal softness in demand that can foretell an economic slowdown. However, many experts believe this oil crash is mostly being caused by the epic supply glut, not weak demand.

-- Cheap oil is causing U.S. oil production to cool off, weighing on profits from energy companies and the economies of states like Texas and North Dakota.

-- The threat of billions of dollars of oil loans imploding raises the risk of trouble in the banking sector.

-- Chaos in the oil patch is causing junk bond yields to spike, especially in the energy sector.

-- Russia, Venezuela, Brazil and other countries that rely on oil exports are slumping badly, causing concern about a new emerging market debt crisis.

-- Falling energy prices and the global stock market reaction have cast fresh doubt on whether the Federal Reserve will be able to raise interest rates this year."

Still other folks speculate that the correlation is a predictable consequence of fluctuations in aggregate demand...but that doesn't fully explain things either.

As with many issues in our complexly interdependent modernity, no one really understands how the global economy functions - at least not in a way that can anticipate and explain correlations like this one. There are plenty of theories and grand generalizations, but even in hindsight it's extremely difficult to tease out all of the causal links - especially since many critical events are the result of undisclosed backroom deals, deceptive business practices, cronyiest manipulations, and unanticipated externalities.

My 2 cents.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of consumerism?

In answer to Quora question "What are the advantages and disadvantages of consumerism?"

Unfortunately what makes consumerism advantageous for producers and shareholders also makes it disadvantageous for workers, consumers, the environment and just about everything else. These factors include:

1. Cheap methods of mass production that facilitate consumerism appear to provide consumer choice, but of course actually do the opposite: they homogenize production. For example, most of the big pizza fast food chains in the U.S. obtain their pepperoni and pizza crusts from the same companies, creating the illusion of choice where there really is none. Great for production efficiencies and higher margins, but not so great for human welfare (in the case of fast food: monoculture sourcing and excessive processing undermines dietary diversity, food safety and security, nutritional value, etc.).

2. Along the same lines, "cheaper" always comes at a cost...somewhere. The consumer may bear the cost in reduced product quality or health risks; the workers may bear the cost in lower wages or exploitative practices; the environment may bear the cost in greater pollution or resource depletion. So consumers may enjoy a temporary increase in purchasing power, but eventually all those hidden costs catch up with the economy, increasing the cost of living and decreasing real wages. The producers don't bear any of these costs themselves - so again, great for them, not so great for everyone else.

3. Another advantage for producers is the habituation of consumers to externalized solutions - what I call "substitution nourishment" - so that consumers avoid taking responsibility for their own well-being, or ever become internally resourceful, but instead fixate on buying stuff to fulfill all whims, needs and desires (to find love, to be happy, to be healthy, to feel secure, to feel empowered, etc.). This habituation is great for corporate profits, but again not so great for human welfare.

4. Another psychological impact of consumerism is the internalization of highly destructive values. For example, a belief that pretty much everything in life is disposable, replaceable, easily accessible for immediate gratification, and not dependent on human relationships. This belief undermines social cohesion, creates the illusion of individual autonomy, and supplants all kinds of interpersonal trust with purely contractual or monetary relationships. The result is a dependence on acquisitiveness and consumption for society and many of its relationships to function at all. In fact such values have infected romantic and family dynamics as well (consider the expectations of most American children at Christmas time or on their birthdays, the expectations of material exchanges and consumption at the center of many dating and marital relationships, etc.). This trend is once again great for producers and shareholders, but not so great for human relationships.

I could go on, but hopefully you can see the pattern. About the only positive thing that consumerism has provided our society is accelerated innovation and convenience, but again this has created substantial negative impacts on worker wages and conditions, consumer health, and environmental destruction. If we were to include such negative externalities in the cost of production, all substantive advantages of consumerism are confined primarily to the wealthiest elite in society - corporate executives and shareholders, and the bankers who hold their assets and enlarge them through reckless speculation.

My 2 cents.

Does capitalism hurt underdeveloped countries?

In answer to Quora question "Does capitalism hurt underdeveloped countries?"

It depends on your values system and how you define "help" and "hurt." For some, increasing overall wealth is the only metric they care about, and both anticipated externalities and unintended consequences become fairly irrelevant. These folks tend to see the history of global capitalism as lifting many underdeveloped countries out of poverty. For others whose evaluation is more holistic, and who view quality of life as involving many more factors than just wealth, then that same history is viewed through a more refined, nuanced and multifaceted filter. For them, capitalism has created just as many problems as it has solved - and sometimes more serious problems than previously existed. And I think there is a cultural blindness in play as well - one that tends to project Western commercialistic and materialistic values and expectations onto other cultures who don't operate the same way.

So where we end up is that a pro-capitalist belief matrix will tend to make a very basic assessment of change after global capitalism has impacted a given culture: Are people now making money? Do they have running water? Sufficient food production? Electricity? Technology? Expanding infrastructure? Are they buying Western stuff? Are they fully engaged in trade? Are there jobs? Well then capitalism has worked and any "hurt" that occurs is their fault. And that's pretty much it. But the more holistic and nuanced evaluation will include other factors. Is the wealth production highly distributed or concentrated? Is the running water safe? Is the food causing a Type II Diabetes epidemic? Is a majority of the population benefiting from technological improvements, or just a few people? Is increased trade having an enduring positive impact on economic opportunity, education, health outcomes, etc.? Is the development sustainable? Are there increases in negative externalities (pollution, environmental destruction, health risks, resource depletion, etc.) that are offsetting positive benefits? What is the quality of work available - are people being exploited or enslaved? And so on.

I think the desire to simplify, to see things in black-and-white, is a normal human response to what can seem like frightening, ever-increasing complexity. But ignoring all but a handful of self-affirming (and often also self-aggrandizing) variables is a disastrous way to energize or organize an economy. It's like running through a forest with a blindfold. But our current form of State capitalism is driven by growth - and the pressure to keep growing is tremendous. Which is why, on an international scale, corporations are always searching for the next underdeveloped sweet spot for cheap resources, cheap labor, lower taxes, and just the right level of blindness, ignorance or greed to keep people running frantically through the woods in hopes of a brighter tomorrow.

(Along these lines I also like John Bailey's answer.)

Does capitalism answer our innate desires or subconsciously create desires that we didn't originally have?

In answer to Quora question "Does capitalism answer our innate desires or subconsciously create desires that we didn't originally have?"

Thank you for the A2A Karl.

A central challenge of a growth-dependent, commercialistic system like the form of capitalism widely employed today is that many "basic physical needs" (food, shelter, clothing, etc.) were widely met a long, long time ago in any advanced society - and are in fact quite easy to satisfy. So, in marketing terms, there is "market saturation" with respect to these needs. Which means that producers and advertisers must increasingly emphasize certain approaches in order to keep selling stuff to people, and we might summarize these approaches as follows:

1. Amplifying product differentiation. This is usually a matter of either adding value or lowering price - or both. The idea is to increase appeal and convince consumers that the product is more appealing or more satisfying in some way.

2. Creating an "externalizing" substitution dynamic. This simply means to convince people that needs that aren't actually getting met by the product are being met my it; it's s deliberate deception. For example, X product will make you happy, Y service will help you find love, Z subscription will keep you informed. These products and services won't actually fulfill those needs, but if a consumer is convinced to pay for them out of a belief that they will, then there can be a placebo effect that induces ongoing dependency. It's a bit like playing the lottery: perhaps, someday, if I just keep buying X, Y or Z, then all those advertising promises will come true...

3. Creating an addiction. Simply engineering a product that is highly addictive. Sometimes this is a physical addiction (nicotine), and sometimes this is an emotional addiction (reality TV shows), but the idea is to provide zero actual nourishment at very low cost, while keeping consumers "hooked."

4. Engineering social cachet and relying on the lemming effect. Veblen goods often fall into this category, but so do most products marketed to children, or that rely on current social trends. In rare cases, such as with Apple products, a company is able to create the social cachet rather than rely on an existing fad.

5. Capitalizing on fear and insecurity. This often entails creating a "bogeyman in the closet" that is imaginary, but amplifies some widely held suspicion or fearful tendency. This is used very effectively in marketing everything from pharmaceuticals to guns.

6. Sex. And of course anything that hints at sexuality can be "interesting" enough to purchase or pay attention to. Sometimes this is just another substitution dynamic...but sometimes it really is just about sex.

Now what's perhaps most interesting here is that the objective of this flavor of commercialism is to infantilize consumers or toddlerize them - that is, to make them unquestioningly dependent on the product or service being sold, so that they avoid considering other options, never realize they are being duped, and, most importantly, never begin to self-actualize so that they are less dependent and more self-sufficient (i.e more grown up). In order to accomplish this and to maximize marketing reach, the marketing emphasis will tend to hover around the lowest common denominators of human desire and impulse (whether those are being "met" or being "created"). What are infants concerned with? Pleasure, sustenance, safety, etc. What additional things are toddlers interested in? Testing limits, getting their way, being liked, etc. And if commercialized consumerism can barrage people with messaging and products that keep them anchored and fixated on those immature foci, then consumers will be less likely to search for more sophisticated nourishment or more mature stages of personal development. They will be less likely to "grow up."

In essence, if producers can keep people from growing up, it is a lot easier to sell them stuff.

My 2 cents.