17 August 2013

I have met the enemy and they ain't all capitalists

I am no fan of capitalism. An economic system based on greed and founded in patriarchal values is flawed at its roots. But the tendency of so many on the left to blame all our problems on capitalists is simplistic, unfair and false. It is scapegoating. Despite the system, like most other classes of people, there are good capitalists and bad capitalists.

Tom Steyer
I was reminded of this recently when reading about American billionaire Tom Steyer's challenge to TransCanada CEO Russ Girling to publicly debate the Keystone XL pipeline. Although capitalists are frequently blamed for our environmental woes, Steyer, employee of both Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs in his early years and founder of Farallon Capital Management, is an ardent environmentalist who has put his money where his mouth is. He and his wife gave $40-million to create the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy at Stanford University. According to Wikipedia, "The center focuses on the development of affordable renewable energy technologies and promotion of public policies that make renewable energy more accessible."

This is only one of Steyer's philanthropic ventures and he is one of 40 billionaires, including Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, who in 2010 pledged to give away at least half their fortunes to worthwhile causes.

When it comes to the environment, to say nothing of most of our other prolems, I am inclined to accept Pogo's famous dictum, "We have met the enemy and he is us." Pogo was not, I think, referring to possums—the anthropomorphized little cartoon character was referring to we human beings. We are all, or at least the great majority of us, responsible for the despoiling of our planet. Not only capitalists drive their cars too much, buy homes bigger than they need or buy too much stuff—most of us do, capitalists, communists, conservatives, liberals and socialists alike. Capitalists have far too much power, but that's largely the fault of our democratic laziness, not their fault for taking what we allow them to have. We may not have voted for the corporate-friendly Harper government, but we supinely accept the corrupt electoral system that put it in power.

Scapegoating the capitalist class may allow us to absolve our favourite classes, the middle and the poor, of responsibility and help us evade our own guilt, but it won't help us deal with the environmental challenge because it doesn't face the truth. Pogo did, and ultimately so must all of us.


  1. Actually, I think that the human invention of The Corporation is the enemy, because we hold corporations to a far lower standard than individuals. Tax standards, accountability standards, environmental standards all have harsher consequences for an individual, because they cant sever themselves from the consequences, the way a corporation was DESIGNED to.

  2. Unfortunately, Bill, Steyer is an exception. Warren Buffett is also an exception when it comes to inequality yet he dismisses climate change as a hoax.

    I think that anything or group that promotes unfettered growth in today's world places itself at odds with mankind. Capitalists discount the future, the world our kids and grandkids will have to live in, and, in doing that, cause great future harm and suffering.

    Capitalists keep us running into walls and we see them all around us. Some, such as deforestation and desertification, are visible to the naked eye from space. Others are tangible in such things as the collapse of global fisheries and the exhaustion of groundwater stocks.

    As Anon mentioned, corporatism is the love child of the unholy union of capital and political power and that's an enormous threat to our democracy.

    Of course there will be exceptions but they don't represent the face of the captains of capitalism.

  3. Mound, if the rest of us didn't demand, and demand, and demand the products capitalists produce, such ills as you mention in your third paragraph could be avoided.

  4. Bollacks Bill. We don't demand. We are forced into it. Ever try repairing and using a cell phone that is older than 3 years? Enforced obsolescence. My printer works great, but they don't make ink for it any more.

  5. Bollocks, Anon. I've never bought a cel phone and my printer, too, works great and I've never had any trouble getting ink for it. And, oh, I've driven the same car — a little, no-frills Honda — for 23 years and it still runs like a top. The lesson is buy less, and when you do buy, buy quality.

  6. I thihk, Bill, you'll agree that capitalism quite skilfully manufactures demand. It's instrumental to maximizing production and profit. There's an entire industry devoted to grooming children to become tomorrow's consumers and their parents today's. Their demographics are mapped and dissected and analyzed to death, the better to target them effectively.

    As we get older, Bill, we come to consume less, to get more life out of what we do buy, and hence become far less interesting to the forces of capitalism. We're debt averse for obvious reasons and that rules us out as players.