My Ticket

Reading Marx’s Capital, Volume 1, Class 13

Do I Still Want My Capitalist Ticket?

It’s the end of December already and one of my goals for the year was to finish this series. Having read the book a few months ago, I’m now watching the final lecture. I think the break has been a good thing, it’s let me think about what I actually believe and how far I’ve been convinced by Marx’s arguments.

 

If There Was One Takeaway

The single biggest thing for me from this course has been a better awareness of who is telling the story and the interests they have in telling it (“follow the money”). In 2017, the year of fake news, this is more important than ever before. If I believe what I read, everyone is doing everything for the working people, the deserving people. For some reason, it’s only the people not telling the specific story who are ruining things.

It should have been a flashback to narrator and perspective from first-year English studies, but perspective matters.

Where Does the Money Come From?

Whether it’s Steve Jobs’ Apple or Issac Asimov’s Foundation series, origin stories are always about the hard work and genuineness and genius that lie behind the present situation.  But looking back to the origins of wealth there are endless stories of violence and compulsion at the start, which become legitimised by time.

Again, look at who is telling the story.

Need for a Consolidation of Industry

I agree with the idea of a “natural” capitalist path towards consolidation, whether it’s in the corporate area, especially with all the cheap finance available at the moment, or at a more local level, on the high street which repeats itself everywhere, or on the internet, which is also looking increasingly the same.

There might be hundreds of tiny stores on Amazon or eBay or Facebook, but they are on Amazon or eBay or Facebook, they are part of those larger platforms in almost the same way as the individual suppliers were brought under the workshop roofs a couple of hundred years ago.

And the story that brings them there is the same one – efficiency.  The results are not always so nice.

The Need for an Expansion of Capitalism

Capitalism needs to expand. Competition means productivity always needs to be improved (and to be fair to capitalists, they are in a cyclical trap too, always needing to invest in new technology to increase or at least keep up). As productivity rises, new markets need to be created, either by expanding into areas that used to be “free” (the gig economy where you can get someone to do anything for you in return for money) or changing from an ownership to a subscription model, or expanding geographically.

The endgame is expansion for expansion’s sake, there is no moral reason for it, just a treadmill of increase. The story though is that we need to consume more, to have more. I heard recently a programme with someone saying the reason for the economic slowdown was that people weren’t consuming enough – a narrative where the consumers were at some sort of moral fault.

Again, who is telling the story matters as much as the story itself.

The Solution

So I found lots of things to agree with, but it’s harder to put into action that is more impactful than clicking buttons to “like” and “favourite”.

Capitalism has bought a lot of good things (even for workers like me!), but it has no moral compass. One of the themes in emerging markets investing right now is the play on consumers and technology. As people move into cities, they earn more, consume more. As we improve productivity and can make things faster and more economically,  the gadgets that fill our lives are becoming cheaper. At the same time commodities are making a comeback in terms of rising prices – we need something to make all these cities and gadgets out of.

The hard part is there is no easy answer. What makes it harder is there is no immediate need to think about it. The urgent things are making sure children get to school on time, the important things are the ones that move more slowly – global warming, inflation, the question of will I still be employable in 5 years’ time. And to be honest, some of the choices I would have to take action aren’t nice ones, or at least not ones that make my life more comfortable in the short term.

So given that, I’d still like my capitalist ticket for a while. It doesn’t make me feel particularly good, but is convenient. It’s not making me stronger, but it’s not killing me. It’s giving me breathing space to think about these things and (without feeling like I’m repeating “First they came…”) to hope that something better comes along.

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