Thursday, December 22, 2016

Capitalism vs. Corporate Feudalism

248 days until my first class.

I am thinking . . . I really need to fit John Rawls' A Theory of Justice into these next 248 days.

I am still working on Henry Sidgwick, Methods of Ethics. I am finishing Book III of this. I am going over it fairly carefully and I have come up with ideas for two more short (2000 word) papers to write.

Paper 1 would address Sidgwick's claim that a theory of ethics would have propositions that do not contradict each other. If a moral proposition says "X" and another says "not-X", then this would be a problem. I want to suggest that it is a better idea to think of moral principles as analogous to forces. There is nothing contradictory to have something being acted on by one force pushing up and another force pushing down at the same time. Instead of deciding whether something is right or wrong in some absolute sense, agents instead look at the force of the reasons suggesting various options and go with the option suggested by the most and strongest reasons.

Paper 2 concerns Sidgwick's idea that some type of subjective feeling is essential for value. He actually holds an "intrinsic value" theory of ultimate good. There is something that has value for its own sake - that all people should aim to maximize the value of. This has something to do with a conscious state. This is in contrast, of course, with the view that I hold that if a person has a desire that P, then states of affairs in which P is true have value for that agent in that the agent has a motivating reason to realize such a state. But "P" can be any proposition. It need not be about a conscious state.

Sidgwick knows that it is a fallacy to argue from the premise that each person has a reason to seek his or her own X that each person generally has reason to seek X for everybody. He accuses J.S. Mill of making this mistake. Yet, if he knows it is a mistake, then it is a mystery why he thinks he is not doing exactly the same thing.

On another front, I am focusing my attention on my next largish paper on the Template for Rebellion. This is a paper on how to solve all of the problems of the world - from curing cancer to bringing peace to the Middle East.

Well, it may not be that ambitious. However, it does address practical moral issues. And it is concerned with a type of rebellion - with using the political system to take political and economic power away from those who are abusing it. Though one of its earliest sections is on non-violent use of the existing political system.

I addressed one of the subjects in this paper in my last post - on why government regulation is a bad thing.

But not all government regulation is a bad thing.

Prohibitions against vandalism, theft, assault, and murder can also be characterized as regulations. A prohibition on walking into your neighbor's house and walking off with whatever you like is a limitation on your freedom. If I could use my neighbor's credit card when I make purchases, I could easily increase my economic "bottom line" - but this route to economic improvement is blocked by government prohibitions. Government regulations have hindered employment opportunities by prohibiting people from hiring assassins and arsonists - who would otherwise pay taxes and contribute to government revenue.

If you try to shut down one of these regulations that suck $1.00 per month out of each person's pocket and gives $300 million to the very wealthy, you can expect the very wealthy beneficiaries to spend a few tens of millions of dollars in lobbyists, public relations campaigns, and media manipulation to keep it open. The regulations they actually oppose tend to be prohibitions on vandalism, theft, assault, and murder - when they can improve the corporate bottom line.

That seems to be an unreasonable claim, but it is true.

We see an example of this in the topic of climate change. Those who argue for - and profit from - activities that contribute to global warming are arguing for a legal permission to kill and maim people and destroy their property when it is profitable to do so. They are arguing against "regulations" against vandalism (the destruction of property), assault (assaults on the health and bodily integrity of others), and homicide - at best negligent homicide and at worst knowing homicide - when it is done by a corporate feudal overlord in the pursuit of profit.

When it comes to poisoning the air and the water supply, neglecting worker safety, and neglecting the wellbeing of those who live near corporate facilities, the objection to "regulation" is often an objection to a prohibition or restriction on activities that kill or maim people or destroy their property when engaged in the pursuit of profit.

As another example of the way that public relations firms engage in deceptive selling, these legal liberties to harm the life, health, liberty, and property of others is marketed under the brand name 'capitalism' - an elixir which, if consumed in sufficiently large quantities, will bring boundless prosperity to everybody. However, there are two problems with this claim. First, it is not capitalism. Second, the only people made richer are those who are given a legal license to harm the life, health, liberty, and property of others. Those who posses the lives, health, liberty, and property that the feudal overlords can take without compensation find themselves dead, sick, injured, with their liberties infringed, and their property taken or destroyed.

The capitalist system does have a problem in that the transaction costs involved in buying consent from each and every individual that may be harmed. One of the ways around this problem is to have the corporation negotiate with a representative of the people who, in looking out for all of their interests, negotiates with the corporation for just compensation for harms done (or for risks imposed on others). This type of activity would have the opposite effect of what the corporate-feudal lords argue for in that it takes wealth from the corporate-feudal lords and gives it to those whose lives, health, liberty, and property are put at risk of harm. This is exactly why the corporate-feudal lords argue against it - and why they make the claim that "capitalism" means that they can harm the lives, health, liberty, and property of those in the lower classes without offering compensation.

This is why I argue that the system of rules that the corporate-feudal lords are trying to sell to the rest of us be given a more accurate name; corporate feudalism. Capitalism argues that all people are morally equal, whereas corporate feudalism argues for moral and legal inequality. Those who have enough wealth can kill, maim, poison, and enslave others and take or destroy their property in the pursuit of even more wealth. Those in the lower classes, on the other hand, face harsh punishments if they should try to kill, maim, poison, and enslave others and take their property in the pursuit of personal wealth.

Let a member of the middle and lower classes take even so much as a dollar belonging to somebody else, spray-paint or otherwise vandalize so much as a brick wall, or strike a person in anger or frustration, and they risk imprisonment and a criminal record that will do continuing harm. This is meant as a deterrence as these types of activities are considered to be wrong and need to be discouraged for the overall good of society.

At the same time, corporate-feudal lords can make decisions that ultimately destroy whole cities, kill thousands if not millions while putting countless others at risk, defraud millions of customers for billions of dollars, and the worst they suffer is a fine carefully designed so as not to seriously harm the well-being of the company. Corporate-feudal lords take these rather insignificant fines as merely "the cost of doing business." When the next opportunity to make a profit comes along - another course of action that threatens the lives, health, liberty, and property of others - the bean counters simply add a line that estimates the fine that the company may have to pay and the odds that they can avoid paying even that - and then they go on to make their decision.

As I said, this is not capitalism. It is put into a bottle that has "capitalism" on the label. It is called "the American way". We are told that this elixir will heal all of our economic ills and help everybody. However, capitalism, strictly understood, simply prohibits people - even the very wealthy - from harming the life, health, liberty, and property of others without their consent. And it has to be freely given consent - consent given by fully and accurately informed agents who are not being lied to and who are not being threatened.

These people are not "capitalists".

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