Before Supporting Capitalism, Be Sure If You’re An Actual Capitalist

I am, for the most part, a socialist. I do not believe the principles of rationality, equality, and liberty should be limited to national governments. Once employers get large– say, more than $25 million in profit plus salaries– they are effectively utilities and ought to be treated as such. If they do not serve the public and their employees well, they ought to be shut down or nationalized.

Being a “job creator”, as rich people love to call themselves, does not give one the right to act with impunity. The ultimate “job creators” of the 20th century are Mao, Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. They are not remembered well. When the very-rich threaten to move their money overseas, I say we should let them. The value in this country is in the skills, working capacity, and market of this country; if they want to move their wealth overseas to avoid paying taxes, that’s fine– they won’t have access to anything this country offers. When the super-wealthy, self-titled “job creators” threaten a capital strike, I laugh. It would be like a third-world dictator, when his powers and salary are reduced, threatening to quit dictatoring and make hotel art instead.

That said, I don’t have a moral or ideological problem with capitalism. In fact, I think every society needs some element of capitalism within it. It’s going to emerge anyway. People trade, they gamble, and they like to buy and sell things. The left-authoritarian nightmares of the 20th century taught us what not to do when it comes to socialism. Knowing that market activity is both inevitable and often desirable, it’s always better to have it legal and well-regulated than to have a black market for goods as prosaic as light bulbs.

If socialist means “one who believes that Enlightenment-era principles of rational government ought also apply to employers and the economy,” then I’m a socialist. But I do not think it wise or desirable to eradicate all elements of capitalism. Command economies do not work; we ought to fix the market economy rather than get rid of it. However, most of today’s socialists would agree with me on that principle. We don’t want a dramatic overhaul of our government or economy; we simply want to free ourselves from the perverse private government– the corporate system– that serves only the well-connected, absurdly rich social climbers who call themselves “executives”.

I’m a software engineer. What amazes me is how many programmers are dumb enough to think that their being “highly paid” (relative to the more-fucked rest of the working class) entitles their bosses to subject them to daily status reports, arbitrary emotional deadlines, absurdly long hours, and humiliating micromanagement. They tolerate this because they think their bosses see them as capitalists-in-training, rather than permanent subordinates. Once they’re old and smart enough to realize they were wrong, they’re replaced due to ageism.

The corporate system is, I note, not especially capitalistic. Executives are not compensated based on market rates for executive “talent” (ha!) but rather on what a closed social elite thinks it can get away with. It is not a meritocracy. On the contrary, it exists to ratify hereditary aristocracy by allocating to the children of the rich certain tokens that are theoretically available, but extremely difficult to get, within the middle class. Every time a middle-class kid from Idaho or Chinatown gets rejected from the Ivies despite her 4.0 GPA and 1600 SATs, the upper-class legacy admits with 3.2/1200 look brilliant. The system is far more social than it is economic; market capitalism is just another language it has learned how to speak (in the same way that it has subsumed, humiliated, and made into an easy-to-hate effigy, the superficially left-leaning academic, cultural, and media elites).

The truth is that if you don’t have generational training, the ease of presence that comes from wealth, and most importantly familial connections, you are very unlikely to get a capitalist-in-training job. You are more likely to be labor forever. If you’re an adult, as opposed to some quixotic kid waiting to be “discovered” by a venture capitalist at The Creamery, you’ll align with your own interests accordingly.

Indeed, one of the things that embitters a person with age is to watch mediocre people continually get bought out of the mistakes of youth, and to be offered opportunities they didn’t really earn, while those of us in the 99 percent have to pay multiply for every mistake we make. I don’t give a shit that they have more money or live in bigger apartments– if they want to buy $30,000 bottles of champagne with gold flakes, so they can literally do what Tywin Lannister did not, I am fine with that– but it pisses me the fuck off not only to live in a system that pretends that they highborn mediocrities are better than us, but to have pretend to go along with it. If society decides it doesn’t need real talent in important roles, then I disagree, but I shall accept its choice of mediocrity. I draw the line at smiling while I watch it burn.

Here’s why I can’t respect so many software engineers: their macho subordinacy is an embarrassment; they take abuse with a smile.

If you get to pick your projects and you move into an R&D role where you get paid to do whatever you want, good for you. If you’ve decided you want to climb a managerial ladder, and you know the executives are going give you a glass elevator, then great– I’m glad it worked out for you. I understand why you would like corporate capitalism. If you’re working hard and still get the standard-issue crappy treatment– if you’re in your late 20s or 30s and still have to work on Jira tickets and interview for your own job every morning– then you are an idiot to believe in meritocracy (unless you contend that you have no merit, in which case your views are consistent and you may be right).

Is capitalism good or bad? That’s a complicated question. Capitalism worked quite well in the 1940s–70s. If you had a car and a college education, you could drive into a new city without connections on Wednesday, make calls from the hotel room on Thursday afternoon, have a lunchtime “interview” with an executive on Friday where you talked about Roman history or your literary/artistic aspirations, and start in your new job on Monday. If you were 30, you’d get a management job if you wanted one; at 35, an executive position was on offer. If you actually worked an honest day, sober, you were considered a go-getter and would get rapid promotions. That’s the country the Boomers inherited– and took away from us.

It is reasonable to believe in capitalism if and only if you think we stand a good chance of (a) getting that system back, and (b) making it more broadly available than it was, since the high era of capitalism was not kind to all groups. If you believe that market systems can be part of a program that restores such a society (and, honestly, I do) then you can support capitalism and not be stupid or immoral.

I’m not against capitalism. I don’t consider business inherently immoral. It’s not. However, it galls me when people support the existing (clearly failing, whatever it is) system because they are thoroughly unable to recognize that, barring radical changes– sweeping social and economic changes that their bosses, at least, would decry as “socialism”– they stand no real chance of becoming capitalists.