Repost from the old site.
Super-commenter James Schipper responds to the Problems of Democracy Under Capitalism post with this insightful comment. My comments follow:
James Schipper: There are two serious restraint on capitalism: competition and the need to make a profit.
Competition between capitalists insures that the power of capital over consumers and labor is limited. Capitalists have a common interests in the preservation of the capitalist system, but at the same time, capitalists compete against other for the favors of the consumer and to get the best employees.
Always remember that what makes capitalism work is not so much private property but competition. Private property without competition combines the worst of socialism and capitalism.
The need to make a profit sets a limit on what the corporate media can do. Newspapers have to find readers and radio and TV stations have to find listeners and viewers. This implies that they can’t be too overtly propagandistic, otherwise the readers, listeners and viewers will stay away.
Commentators like Rush Limbaugh have a large following but only because they primarily discuss non-economic issues. If they spent most of their time defending business, their popularity would quickly plummet. Imagine the reaction of Limbaugh’s fan’s if he started to extol CEO’s who make stratospheric incomes while their companies lay off workers. It is far safer to extol the uniformed heroes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Plutocracy is a cause that can’t be truthful about its aims. That’s why the Republicans want ordinary working Americans to worry about college professors who have an elitist lifestyle rather than about executives and capitalists who have an elitist income.
It is ridiculous to suppose that latte-drinking, opera-watching, Volvo-driving eggheads who read foreign novels and watch foreign films are somehow a danger to working stiffs. A party that represents the rich has to be deceitful or else condemn itself to insignificance. The Republicans are such a party.
Robert Lindsay: James makes some excellent points above, especially about how “pointy-headed intellectuals who can’t even park their bicycles straight”, as George Wallace famously put it, into a sort of populist enemy by the Republican Party, and also about how conservatism is always, by its very nature and necessarily, dishonest.
Here the Republican Party is playing into the anti-intellectual nature of US populism. We have never been a European-style cafe society, and probably never will be.
Also Republicans are taking an increasingly popular critique of their own sure elitism into a critique of fake elitists called “limousine liberals”. Problem with limousine liberals being, I guess, that they are hypocrites. Similar diatribes have been launched against something similar called the “Hollywood Left”.
This point is superbly made by Philip Agre in a seminal 2004 essay, What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong with It? As Agre succinctly and immaculately:
Q: What is conservatism?
A: Conservatism is the domination of society by an aristocracy.
Q: What is wrong with conservatism?
A: Conservatism is incompatible with democracy, prosperity, and civilization in general. It is a destructive system of inequality and prejudice that is founded on deception and has no place in the modern world.
Increasingly here we have what are more or less monopolies, James. We have cable and telephone monopolies that were supposed to be regulated, but the government has basically given up regulating them. We have computer monopolies in the form of Intel on chips and Microsoft in apps and OS’s.
Starbucks comes into a town, sells at a loss to drive all competition out of town and then jacks up prices. Walmart comes into town, sells at a loss to drive everyone out of business, and then keeps on selling at low cost. However, Walmart mostly sells crap. Here Walmart is violating the monopoly principle of driving up prices while adhering to the monopoly principle of selling crap.
We are now having higher-end stores opening up that charge a lot more than Walmart but at least do not sell crap. As long as there is competition in a market, prices and quality are typically relatively good.
However, the government now operates in the interest of monopoly capital, and, insanely, “free market” economics is opposed to all antitrust regulation. Traditionally, there was bipartisan support for antitrust legislation.
The new bipartisan opposition to antitrust legislation is one of the legacies of Milton Friedman’s “Chicago School of Lies” free market fundamentalism snake oil that has created a Gramscian cultural hegemony in US economic thought in the past 35 years.
The Friedmanites published all sorts of nonsense, lies and BS. They went down to Chile, used it as a testing ground for their insane theories, blew up the economy, and then covered their tracks and lie about it to this very day.
They published papers and books on antitrust that overturned nearly 3/4 of a century of perfectly valid economic and legal scholarship that showed unequivocally that prices rise and the quality of services and goods nosedives as markets become more consolidated. These works made up a bunch of fancy-sounding crap that made a dishonest case that all of this proven science was not true.
Monopolies do not produce high prices and crap service and goods. Everything we know is wrong. Instead, reality is inverted and monopolies cause low prices, great products and superb services.
What we are seeing in the US is the move to more and more consolidated markets and more and more monopoly-type markets. The moves by Yahoo and Google and Microsoft on the Internet foretell an Internet that is increasingly monopolistic.
The one good thing about capitalism is competition.
Capitalists love to talk about how much they love competition, but the truth is that they hate it. Competition only benefits the consumer. All businessmen secretly want to be monopolists. All of those businesses dishonestly taking Microsoft to court for being a monopoly actually want to be monopolies themselves.
There are natural monopolies. In the US, those include phone, cable, power, water and some others. Those natural monopolies must be regulated by the state, other wise they will turn into natural unregulated monopolies, which are disastrous for consumers and society.
It’s highly dubious that corporations compete for the best workers anymore in the US, except at the highest levels. Corporations and business are perfectly happy to replace good workers with illegal aliens and H-1B and H-2B guest workers from other lands.
Both types of workers are usually much inferior to native US workers, but business no longer cares about quality in the US. Computer companies and homebuilders are perfectly happy to produce crap code and homes that fall apart in a few years. No one really cares about quality anymore in the US, and no one cares about workers either.
The whole culture is centered around getting rich, and that usually means being an employer and hiring labor. To be a worker is to be a schmuck, soon to be taken out by illegal aliens, machinery, a computer program or guest workers from India or Ecuador.
Fordism is progressive type of capitalism named after Henry Ford.
Ford found out his own workers could not even afford to buy his cars, and he was outraged. He resolved to pay his workers enough to buy his cars. This became a progressive strain in capitalism – to pay workers enough so that they would be well-heeled consumers able to buy plenty of products, while at the same time preserving high profits for business. Fordism is done and gone; it’s history.
Everything is now globalized, and no one worries about whether or not people can afford to buy your stuff. If labor in one place costs too much, just outsource, move the plant overseas, hire illegals or bring guest worker scabs from India. If workers in one land can’t afford your stuff, ship it to some rich people overseas. As long as enough people somewhere can afford your stuff, there’s no need to pay workers enough to buy your stuff.
Furthermore, James misinterprets the degree to which Rush Limbaugh is a reactionary. I believe he does extol high corporate salaries. You now have the phenomenon of the low income, working class or middle class, White, usually younger, male, who will defend plutocracy and the politics of the rich to the hilt, despite the fact that it is against his interest.
In this way, the plutocrats have actually been honest about their project and have created a Gramscian cultural hegemony of “plutocracy is good” whereby tens of millions of suckers swallow this crap whole and spout it right back at you without thinking. They did this by saturating the media with pro-plutocrat messages and making it seem reasonable.
They also did it by creating a Lottery mindset, which was unfortunately always a part of US culture (see the Horatio Alger books). Your average White male working stiff will tell you that he too is going to become rich one day. Anywhere from 25-50% of Americans say that they will be millionaires one day. Fully 25% of Americans already describe themselves as “rich”. Almost all of these people are White.
The problem with James’ media model – that media outlets must compete for readers – is that there is no competition.
There is no Left alternative to Time, Newsweek and US News and World Report. On TV, there is the ultraright Fox News and MSNBC and the rightwing CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC. All of these are corporate-owned and spout one pro-corporate line.
It is true that CNN now has Lou Dobbs, who spouts a sort-of progressive populist line. It really is against CNN’s interests to keep Dobbs on there, but I guess he is there because enough folks want to hear the message.
What you get instead is a pro-corporate message increasingly draped in fake populist clothing. On Fox News today, they went on and on with a fake populist message about lowering gas prices. Incredibly, they denounced speculation in oil prices, but of course, they did not offer the reasonable thing to do to remedy this – regulation of commodity markets.
Instead, they argued for massively increasing domestic oil production – in the ANWR, in the oil shale of the US Rockies and in offshore deposits. They said that the increased production would so glut the oil market (!) with new supply that this would force the commodity market to drive oil prices downwards, and this would “beat the speculators”.
What is interesting is that Fox News was forced to admit that the problem in oil prices is almost entirely due to speculation. What they left out is that increased oil supply probably would not do anything to drive down prices, because the price is not being set by supply-demand anyway. So here you see the fake populism of the Republican Party – sell a fake populist but actually wildly pro-corporate message – “Open up the oil fields!”
Even if this project passed and we able to drill in all these new deposits, it would not put a dent in oil prices. But the US public is so stupid that they would have forgotten about that long ago. If a bunch of Republicans got into office on this fake promise, this is all that matters.
The US public is like a kid with ADD – no attention span. Politicians are never held accountable to promises or projects because no one ever follows promises through for years to see if they come through or not. Politicians get elected on a pile of bull, and then no one is ever there to call them on it later on.
Bush has substantially caused these oil prices by failing to regulate commodity markets (and they will never regulate those markets), but the Repubs are going to stick Obama with it. Bush caused the Iraq mess, but Obama will be stuck with that too. And both of those things are catch-22’s with few non-painful ways out.