Posted November 15, 2012 by Cooper Point Journal in Letters & Opinion

‘Capitalism’ Rebuttal, the Beauty of Community Living

While I agree with last issue’s opinion piece (“Capitalism: America’s Misunderstood Economic Outcast”) on the unappealing nature of government cheese, I have to take issue with the author’s endorsement of capitalism as a political-economic system worth keeping around much longer.

The grievances of capitalism’s critics are well known: environmental destruction, corporate control, and widening inequality, to name just a few. While many people would like to believe that these are the products of a malformed, “crony” capitalism, these realities are simply current examples of what capitalism has always done: plunder the natural world, deprive the majority of the means for self-determination, and enclose upon full democracy. The core reason for capitalism’s destructive tendencies is that it fundamentally divides the population into two classes: a small “owning” class that controls the use of the resources needed for life, and the majority of us, the working class, who must sell their labor to survive.

History bears that these are not tendencies that can ultimately be corrected by willful and ethical individuals: market pressures to compete and make a profit invariably compel entrepreneurs to make decisions that degrade workers, communities, and the environment. Yesterday’s small, independent burger joint is today’s McDonald’s behemoth, and it got to where it is because its owners were willing to embrace a business model that underpays workers, uses the cheapest ingredients possible, and profits from harmful dietary choices. Once can further see the devastating forces of the market in the human rights abuses of Apple’s factory workers or the de facto slave labor employed in Florida’s tomato fields.

Some prefer to see these failures as evidence of the fact that humans are imperfect, calling instead for us to work within the constraints of the system. I’ll be the first to admit that humans are messy and imperfect. But I do not think that the actions of people in a system that rests upon domination and self-interested behavior should be used as the yardstick by which we measure human potential. A non-capitalist economy, wherein resources are cooperatively managed by all for all, can allow for the fuller development of those most valued elements of the human experience: compassion, dignity, and community. That the full expression of these qualities is incompatible with a system where, in the U.S., upwards of 1 million homeless people coexist with more than 4 times as many vacant homes should be evident.

To affirm the possibilities of a non-capitalist economy to give rise to more expansive and democratic lives, one can look at the establishment of commonly-owned workshops and community assemblies by the Spanish anarchists of the 1930’s, the 1994 Zapatista rebellion and their network of democratically-controlled territories in Mexico, or the Argentinian uprising of 2001 which saw many of the country’s poor assume control of their lives through the establishment of community-run councils, factories, schools, and cultural centers. One can even look at the free distribution of food by Olympia’s Food Not Bombs or at Evergreen’s own worker-owned cooperative, the Flaming Eggplant, to understand the possibilities, in embryo, for another world that exist all around us.

Far from being an “economic outcast”, capitalism is a system that fundamentally limits the ability of billions of people to develop their full potentials and participate in the decisions that affect their lives. While important reform movements have challenged these limits, the underlying logic cannot be changed. Invoking the bogeyman of “government cheese” serves to limit our political imaginations to the status quo and distract us from the urgent task of creating a more humane world where freedom and equality are all of ours to share.

By Ben Kercheval