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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Capitalism and free markets: Are they really liberating for the customers?



Capitalism and free markets: Are they really liberating for the customers?


      Here is a conversation on economics you probably heard before (or at least you are familiar with the arguments presented):

 ''The problem with the economy is over-regulation! Hindering the free markets is what cause all our problems!

-No! DE-regulation is the REAL problem, tax evasion, unfair competition, lack of quality standards and environnmental guidelines...

-UNTRUE, governments have been imposing reglementation and new rules on companies for years now, it's only getting worse! Plus, many of these rules HARM competition, not the opposite!

-Are you kidding me? Most countries are removing any legislative barriers off the economy! There is more tax shelters than ever before! The savage competition leads to oligarchies and monopolies where big companies bully the small fries, with no chance of ever posing a real competitive threat!

-That's only because of regulation harming the little guys! Stuff like minimal wages sounds good on paper, but they render small enterprises unable to compete on the international level! With less regulations smaller companies could get a chance to compete with the bigger ones. 

-Regulations like minimal wages , safety protocols and quality standards are there to protect both the customers and the workers, without them we are back to the wage slave era of the 1800s! 

-If minimal wage is increased, or environnmental guidelines are being pushed, companies will have to fire employees and raise their prices, having no job and an high cost of living is way worse than just having bad work conditions and low wages! 

-Everyone says that, but that's not true, they could simply diminish their profit margins, from 4000% to say, 400% or 140%. That's not unreasonable to ask.

-Maybe, but why would they? They will simply relocalize elsewhere, and maybe stop selling to us. 

-They could relocalize, but they wouldn't stop selling us their products, first world countries are too big of a worldwide market share to miss...''

And so on and so forth. everything here seems familliar isn't it? I tried not letting my own biases transpire, but I guess just from the title you understand I am skeptical of the neo-liberal idea of the ''invisible hand of the market'' solving everything out. Doesn't mean that I am for planned economies either! Fuck those! They are even worse than what we have now! No, I think that while capitalism is flawed, it is the least terrible idea we came up with for our economical system, and so we should try making it work better, until someone come up with a better way of running an economy. So where should I start? Probably with definitions. Seems necessary. First of all, what is capitalism? Capitalism is an economical system where the means of production (machinery, land, knowledge, capital...) is owned by capitalists. Those who don't own means of production themselves are called the proletariate or working class. The only capital workers own is , literally, themselves, they thus sell their skills and their time to the capitalists, called in this case, the boss or employer. The proletariate member is called an employee once this relationship is established. Once again, familiarity might give you a sense of déja vue, which is not surprising, since this is how Karl Marx described capitalism: The exploitation of people lives by those in economical power. I don't really like Marx myself, I think his solutions to the problems a capitalist economy brings are actually worse in many aspects than the problems he wished to solve ( I may explain this later or in another post).I also loathe his obsession with dividing people in opposing teams: not every rich person is oppressing every poor person, and not every poor person is oppressed by all rich people.  However, his description of capitalism remains to this day a very useful model of the system we currently live in, hence why I'm using it. 
Also, Marx got a few things right about capitalism: The uttermost importance of capital, the inevitability of a globalized economy, the concept of ''added value'', the dangers of a lack of regulations, the philosophical positions behind a capitalist economy (such as the ''brand worshipping'')... and a few more. Marx really did his best to understand capitalism. He succeeded, but conluded that it was a sinking ship, and prefered to plan (see what I did there? hehe) the schematics for a new vessel: the planned economy. That ended out to be a ship made of Jell-o and popsicle sticks. despite the schematics, but hey, at least he tried... Turned out imprevisibility is what really drown Marx dream of an unified, stable, uncreative economy. Who could have foreshadow this? Ahem, anyway I talked for long enough about Marx, back on topic: Is free market absolutism the way to go to run a capitalist system?

If you like the economy as it is right now, then yes, apparently we are heading in the ''right'' direction... Remember 2008? The crisis was caused due to a lack of regulation on the american speculative mortgages markets ( plus some bad luck on other key markets, such as 2007 worlwide food shortages). The market was overflown with bad mortgages! What is a bad mortgage? Simple, it's a mortgage where people don't pay enough rent, or constantly delay payments (especially of the interests). So is it the fault of the consumer then? Partly, yes, but remember that usually banks refuse to give mortgages to poor people or the unemployed for a good reason: they can't afford it. Also, that isn't always a problem. Those who lend you money usually kind of likes that you are late on payment, as long as you pay the interests. Because that is what is worth the big bucks: interests. By lending money to the poor, some companies and banks ensure that they will get even more interests over time (those infamous ''subprimes'' with ''pay only the interests'' on a side note, why do you think that banks charge ''maintenance fees'' for accounts with less than 3000$? Because most people live paycheck by paycheck anyway...). After all, the quicker you pay your mortgage, the less interests you pay and that's something lenders don't like. Sure you are a safe investment, but not a very lucrative one... However, if those debt striken families (even middle class) can't even afford to pay interests... well that's where the real estate industry can lose it's money. Obviously, your mortgage lender usually don't care that you can't pay rent or interests: he ( or she, let's not be sexist there) can seize your house, and sell the mortgage to another lender or lend it back to another family. That is how it usually works. In 2008 however, mortgages had been, and this for a few years, very different... Instead of one mortgage per home, we saw appearing special mortgages that bundled multiple houses, that were then sold to a big wall street or foreign financial firm (instead of remaining the responsability of the bank). Those firms then fractionned the mortgage in as many parts as they wanted, and sold it to their investors so they could make money of the interests. Basically, they introduced mortgages ( loans) in the stock market. I'm simplifying  a lot here, so please, take all of it with a grain of salt. After the crash, many economists said: ''We warned you, you should have listened''. Pff... Everyone ''knew it in advance'' with hindsight right? Well,  they really DID know about the risks of subprime mortgages... In fact, they begged U.S financial regulators to do something about it, before the bubble burst! 
That's also not the only instance where deregulation harm the economy because of people natural greediness.

You know about tax shelters? Tax shelters (or tax havens) are countries or special areas in a country where taxes and normal reglementation don't apply exactly as they usually are. Companies and rich individuals love these, because since a company can be based anywhere, they simply make all of the profit making parts of the company in those safe havens from governments fiscs,  leaving only administrative parts for their actual country. Tax shelters typically have none or extremely low capital taxes, which is what companies fear the most. Those billions of dollars companies make as profits? Well those are supposed to be liable for taxes. Of course, companies don't appreciate the idea of sharing profits, so they simply don't. You might think of Luxembourg, Switzerland or even the Bermudas, but think again: Canada, the U.S and Ireland, to name only a few , are all tax shelters/havens to different degrees, for different needs. The U.S is loved by companies for the tax secrecy policies (the U.S doesn't have to tell other countries about how much taxes companies based in their country paid...). Canada is appreciated for the extremely low capital tax (about half of 1% on average, less than a third in some cases, for comparison the U.S rates are about 20% on average, remember that there is multiple levels) and the very... flexible laws on oil and mines exploitation. Canada's regulation is very favorable to those willing to exploit our ressources for us( I'm canadian, not even patriotic, but this pisses me of). Canada is even renown in the mining industry as one of the best places to safely invest and exploit the mines! ''Well, those are regulations, what are you talking about? Plus this brings jobs and investors! It's a good thing!'' Not really. Those ''regulations'' are basically statements that say '' there is almost no rules, come spend your money here!'', they usually create jobs, indeed, but temporary ones, since ressource exploitation is a temporary business ( a business that harm local communities by the way, sure it boost the economy for a few years... but then they go away and the town they settled in is now deserted, and economically struggling). Plus ,since it's multinational companies that own the rights to exploit canadian ressources, Canada have been exporting ressources for...basically nothing. Did you know Hydro-Québec, the province of Québec nationalized electricity provider, sell it's electricity cheaper to americans than to it's own citizens? It's true! So yeah, nationalizing might have been tempting, but it doesn't seems to solve all issues ( it does make sense for electricity, since multiple providers having to create their own power grids and power plants would mean a higher price for the citizens, so one government owned provider for all the country or province can create very cheap electricity, why do you think Quebec has one of the cheapest electricity in the world... nationalization and hydroelectricity, that's why!)... 


So until now, I talked about mostly one type of regulation, that I will call '' Structural regulation'' for the sake of this article. What I mean by this is any regulation that is used to tax a company or limit the ability of a company to overthrow it's competition, basically, regulation that try to maintain taxation and the competition in the markets. Those are things such as ''floor pricing'' ''ceiling pricing'' ''max number of employees between X hour and Y hour'' And other measures, often seen as proctectionists. Protectionism is simply when countries adopt policies to protect some of their industries. Most countries have some, especially on certain products, such as milk, beer or wheat. Taking my canadian province of Québec as an example, know that here milk have a ''lowest price you are allowed to sell'' policy, ''floor pricing''. This is to make sure that Québec milk producers can compete with China or the U.S. And since there is also quality standards that those foreign producers might not apply to their product, the milk market is protected. However, the profit margin can be pretty low, and shortages frequent if the governement doesn't adjust or automate the adjustment of the floor price... We also have  floor prices on beers, and a few ''ceilings prices'' or ''max price you can sell this'' policies. Those are what I would call structural, since they target economical structures, such as pricing. 

The two other types are what I would call ''quality standards'' and ''socio-environnmental protections''. The former is about how a company can sell their product or service, and, more importantly, what they can sell (no lead in toys, non-dangerous cars, non-explosive cellphones, non-toxic food, no dangerous services...) . Those are often enforced by governemental agencies , such as the FDA, for food and drug related products in the U.S, or a professional order, for service providers such as psychologists, doctors, opthalmologists, teachers, nurses... This type of regulation is what has been booming in recent years. The pro-free market libertarians complaining about the ''increase in regulations''? They are kind of right, this is the type of regulation that is on the rise, the other two are not. The latter kind, ''socio-environnemental protections'' are any policies aimed at protecting either the environnment or the workers. They have barely anything to do with the product or service, and are entirely focused on waste management, the ressources used for the products fabrication and delivery, workers' conditions and of course, workers' wages. You can probably guess that those are not very popular at the moment, with the very low number of unions and all that oil spilling in the oceans or exploding from pipelines... That is not to say that there has not not been demands for this type of regulations in recent years. All those striking workers and those people arguing for an increase of minimal wages are showing governments that they want the regulations.

 Not everyone wants them though, libertarians and neo-liberals are very fond of the purest form of free markets. They especially dislike the ''socio-environnemental protections'' and the ''structural regulations'', even hardcore libertarians and neo-liberals agree that quality standards are kind of a necessity, and useful to international trade (having compatible electronic devices sockets for example). Why don't they like those regulations? Well, according to them and some economists, increasing wages, using more ecological materials and using price floors or price ceilings is harmful to the countries who adopt those measures. They claim that if, for example, the minimal wage in the U.S and Canada was increased to 15$ an hour, companies that hire low wages workers will fire loads of their employees and raise their prices, that is if they don't stop producing/selling their product altogether in the  aforementionned countries. This is a ridiculous statement, for a few reasons: 1, companies have no interest in price gouging us if there is enough competition, that would be suicidal to their sales (their competitors would just have to maintain their prices), 2, more disposable income mean that those workers will spend more money, and thus more money on luxury products, or even just basic products, 3, companies would not lose money, they would lose part of their profit margin, very different, instead of making thousands or hundreds of times the worth of the manufacturing and retailing costs (the added value I briefly mentionned earlier), they will make slightly less, nothing to cry about, since they would sell more, which compensate for the lower margin,4, Why would companies with a big part of their market share in the U.S and Canada, like Mcdonalds for example, stop selling to them? That's ridiculous. 5, everytime wages increased or work conditions improved, people said this, yet there is still plenty of minimal wages workers...about a quarter of the population is on ( or close to) minimal wage in many first world countries. 6, ''they will leave us and relocalize their manufactures'' Most true statement of them all! It's true, many manufactures will close (even though this have been the case since like 30-40 years, but whatever...). We can't compete with China, India or sub-Saharan Africa so-cheap-it's-basically-slavery labor force. But since we don't really want workers with 18h day shifts, with no breaks and dangerous work conditions... That's a small price to pay I think, but otherwise, you score a point free markets absolutists. At least the primary and tertiary sectors (ressources exploitation and retailing/services) would thrive! Remember how free markets works? If the secondary sector (ressource transformation, manufacturing) is blooming in developping countries, it can only mean that goods are cheaper for us! Sure, that doesn't mean their work conditions will be good or that the environnment there will be protected, but there is only so much we can do... We can't regulate other countries, and the best we can do is agreements... Also Marx was kind of right: for us to remain as rich as we are, there need to be extremely poor countries to exploit, or machinery to replace all those workers (and then massive unemployment becomes a problem). Even if we wanted to compete with responsible companies that care about the environnemnt and workers' conditions... It would be nearly impossible, because of oligarchies and monopolies. 

An economical oligarchy is when very few  companies own the market shares of an industry. They are directly interdependant and will often create cartels to price-gouge the public. If there is, say, three major competitors holding most of the market shares for wheat, and one them lower it's prices, the other two will follow, to not lose their profits. However, in that kind of situation, since there is not enough sellers with a large variety of products, and a strong demand, the companies prices should only go down, since everyone know who the big names are, and they constantly increase their offer... Oligarchs don't like that, so they become cartels. Cartels are as old as civilization! There was cartels in antique Rome for example (it was about wheat, how fitting and still of actuality my example is, isn't it?). A cartel is when all those who produce and sell a produce, decide  to raise all of their prices together, so they all increase their profit margins (they artificially control the offer). So they kind of are artificially creating a monopoly that is shared among a few elites. A monopoly on the other hand, is when a company own the vast majority of the market shares of an industry on it's own. Luxoticca owns nearly 80% of the prescriptions glasses and sunglasses industry, from laboratories, to factories, to retail stores. Pepsico, Coca-cola and Nestlé  own  the majority of the soft drinks and junk food industries (an example of an oligarchy), have you ever wondered why chips and soft drinks are way more expensive if you don't take a generic brand from  another, probably national (like canadian company Loblaws brand of products ''no name''), competitor? Like oligarchies, monopolies create price-gouging, but usually it's worse since there is no (serious) competitor to incite them to lower their prices, so they usually charge the maximum amount their customers are willing ( or able to) pay for. Another terrible problem with monopolies, is the ''only one retailer'' problem. If everyone buy the same pet food , and suddenly there is a manufacturing error that cause lead to be put in it... millions of pets could die. Imagine how worse this is for other industries. Free market non-interventionnists, claim it's regulation that create monopolies, since quality standards or regulations can be an additional cost for aspiring entrepreneurs, and thus they get crushed as the small fries they are. This argument is, again, quite simplistic, pizza parlours have regulations, yet that doesn't stop this industry from being in a state of near perfect competition. Same thing with non fast food related restaurants. Or hairdressers. This is what we call a monopolistic industry. An industry is monopolistic if it offer a product or service that is always unique, regardless of competition, such as cooked on place meals, haircuts, make-up applied by a professional, prostitution... you get the idea. Those are what we have that is the closest to a near perfect competition. They can be highjacked by corporations, of course, for example restaurants or hair salons suppliers may be monopolies... but that's beside my point. Regulation does not cause monopolies, the evidence so obviously show that it is the lack of regulation and the leniency of those supposed to enforce those we already have that are causing the companies to buy out competition to create monopolies and oligarchies...

Ok so now you know what oligarchies and monopolies are, and I gave you the reasoning as to why we should avoid them, but  you may still use arguments such as '' that's how free markets works, if some company crush everyone, that's because they are the best, and they deserve their place.'' I disagree. If free markets are supposed to be free for everyone, being excluded from your right to compete  ( because it's realistically almost impossible) , means they are not free in the first place... Seems obvious to me. So am I for free markets? ehhhh not so much. Free markets left unchecked are bad for both the customers and the business owners. Not only because regulations help to make sure the products/services we buy are of quality, it also limits the power of the big companies to crush all their competitors. I guess I am more of a keynessian,economically speaking. It just make sense really, going to the extremes ''regulate everything'' or ''Deregulate/don't regulate everything'' seems pretty dumb. So now let's destroy both Communist/Marxist arguments and Libertarian/Anarcho-capitalists arguments, because it's fun!


First Communist/Marxist arguments. Communists and  Marxists believe in extreme regulation, planification and control are the key words here.  Not all of them are for centralized governments, or, you know, those ''globalization/meta governments'' conspiracy theories, so popular with the libertarian leaning crowd. Some of them are, obviously, those are the regular communists/marxists, who are fervent admirers of the philosophy that is the most popular in Africa and Asia: Communitarianism. This philosophy emphasize the link between the individual and the community. Ever heard of ''it takes a village to raise a child'' ? Well they take that concept very seriously, that and the "the sum is more important than it's parts''. Unlike Anarcho-communists however, they quite like the idea of centralizing everything, because it make it easier to create an efficient bureaucracy. You see, in a non anarcho-communist government, organization is essential, so the least obstacles the better. The centralized government is supposed to be egalitarian, in the ''everyone is equal, we swear'' angle but I always doubted that. The simple idea of a ruling class kind of undermine the whole idea of equality. ''oh but everyone's economically equal, and has equal rights, so everyone is equal!'' Yeah, but social hierarchies are not only economical or based on ethnicity/gender/religions... They are also, as the title implies, social. You see, no matter what you do, some people will always garner more respect and  jealousy than others. Beautiful, smart, popular, successful people will always be regarded as better than others, because of how the human psyche works. Even if you do pay the street cleaners as much as physicians, the latter will inevitably gain more respect than the former. And respect/jealousy, lead to a sense of superiority and entitlement. You can force people to be economically and legally equals, but you can't force them to respect everyone social status as equal. It's not difficult to imagine that those who get an higher social status start abusing their status to gain privileges. Like a renown physician asking for ''donations'' (not money since money wouldn't exist anymore) when he treats you... And since he's famous and got a lot of scary fans, you comply. Also, a marxist state need to have severe law enforcement, because greediness won't dissapear even if everyone live a decent life. Governemental corruption is also an inevitable issue. And power trips by those with power, may it be physicians, firemen, police officers, soldiers, etc.  But let's go back to the economy shall we? In a regular communist/marxist state, everything is regulated and owned by the state (which is supposed to be everyone... technically). You got quality standards, maximums and minimums number of a produce you can make, limits at how many (and which) people can do certains jobs, there is little to no variety of products. That way, it's not that hard to plan ahead and control the economy. However, the economy, no matter how much you plan, has an element of randomness. Bad weather and natural disasters can ruin crops and slow down production of manufactured goods, or extraction of ressources. If the planning is too tight, famines and shortages are highly probable (and historically, that has been an issue). And since communist/marxists state want to produce ''only what's necessary'' underestimating is inevitable. If you don't want to amass too much extra food or ressources, because of this concept, shortages due to random imprevisible, unforeseen events are going to happen often.It can also be difficult to constantly know what is the ''needed'' (also, who would decide what is necessary? how much food, clothes, cars, etc... and which ones are necessary? That part always puzzled me.) demand for something. In a capitalist system, markets are very organic, and work regardless of how experts estimate the demand to be ( not perfect, but the capitalist markets are more flexible toward uncertainty). No such luck in a planned economy. Of course, anarcho-communists have an answer for this: we produce how much we want (within the standards and regulations if in a non anarchist communist/marxist state, like environnmental regulations for example), but everything is for everyone  and everyone has to only takes what they need, not what they want. This is the ''stash'' concept. It's mostly anarcho-communists that likes it, but non anarchists ones also sometimes appreciate the idea. Non-anarchists count on the state to enforce everyone takes only their fair share, while anarchists count on peer pressure, social exclusion and mob justice. So yeah, both are terrible. There is also the fact that it is near impossible that all of the world would suddenly switch to planned economies, interactions with capitalists would be a neccessity, nowadays many countries couldn't be self sufficient. The main issue I have with communism, it's that it's such an antiquated ideology. It's functionnal: for a society that is still stuck with an economy focused on survival rather  than consumerism. During the Dark Ages, communism would have done wonders, since just surviving was an issue, and most technological innovations were to facilitate survival. But in a post-industrial society, were surviving hasn't been an issue for about a century(at least in first-world countries), it seems unnecessary. Many also wonders how entertainment or things such as smartphones or computers would have a place in such a society. Marx and many communist thinkers had  a distinct disdain for arts and entertainments. Marx viewed them as tools of propaganda, used to control the masses. He isn't wrong, they sure can be use for this purpose, the disgusting part is that he actually was okay with it, as long as it was to promote HIS ideas! He thought he had no choice to include them in his plans, because people would ask for them, so might as well use them as propaganda tools only! His disdain of ''non-productive'' creativity is quite amazing.  For him computers and phones would only be used for work and communication purposes. Video games, movies, litterature , arts?... All would need to comply and promote the ideology, or they are useless. Fun? What's that? They, ironically enough, take the same stance as extreme capitalists  on work: work is sacred and number one priority, all must work (except for capitalists, where having capital and investing it to make a living  is considered ''work''). Anarcho-communists are often confused with Marxists and the other communists, because for most communists, the abolition of the state is the goal (not just the abolition of private property and social classes) of communism. But of course communists believe to get there we need a communists/marxist state for an undefined period of time first, and then we'll get there, while anarcho-communists believe we can jump over that step and get directly to anarchism. I mentionned Communitarianism earlier, which is the main philosophy of the communists and anarcho-communists ideologies. It's considered an antagonistic philosophy to Individualism. It promotes social cohesion, respect of elders, family, importance of the community and of group identity. It's a philosophy that can be seen in Asian countries some Eastern european countries and many African countries. Sure, individualism has made it's way there too, but many aspects of these people lives come from this philosophy. In Asia, taking care of your parents (even financially or letting them live with you) when they get old is seen as a familial duty. In China that tradition mainly applied to men, that's part of why parents wanted boys more than girls: to take care of them, since girls become part of their husband's family and so take care of their husband's parents instead. Communitarianism is all in for a good healthcare and education system: no one shall be left out. However, their promotion of social cohesion mean that people must sacrifice their own desires and individuality. Since the well-being of the group is the priority, family members that disobey their elders or have unusual ideas are shamed and pressured to conform. Conflict avoidance is encouraged. They say that people are stronger, smarter and more efficient when united, but I don't think that's always the case. Groups tend to forget rationnality in favor of emotions, they tend to be innefficient if too big. But they are indeed stronger united though... That's part of why those that promotes this philosophy are quick to remember that there is multiple levels of communities. We are part of families, workplaces, schools, governments, nationalities, languages, religions... etc. Some communities are smaller and less close than others. Communitarianism is just focusing on the group rather than it's individual members. Ideas that relies on a sense of identity, are often communitarian in nature. Affirmative action is a left-leaning example where certain identities must be helped to achieve some arbitrary definition of equality, while nationalism is a right leaning one where you outright state an hierarchy of identity, and foreign is at the bottom of that .hierarchy. Not all ideas that come from this philosophy are bad in my opinion. Having universal healthcare and education, preserving linguistic minorities rights to speak their language (like the irish or the french-canadians), taking care of the elderly, tolerating religious communities, those are all respectable values and ideas that I agree with. I even think they help individualism in a way, but more of that later. So to come back to the economy: Planned economies are not applicable now, because we are in a consumerist society. They work fine in a society that focuses on survival, not a post-industrial one. The implications of such a system in a consumerist society implies a lot of restrictions on personal freedom. You would have to force people to feel content with what they are given, to not expect more books if they like reading, or video games if they like gaming, but who would choose what is necessary? Anarcho-communists believe in humankind more than me, they think we would be fine without enforcement, that people would naturally respect the informal rules of what is considered ''enough'' and what is ''too much''. And those who don't ? Shamed, exiled, pressured by their peers. Why have laws, police officers and courts when we got mob justice? YEAH! Eugh... The non anarchist communists are no better: they would force people to obey , with violence if necessary. Any system, in my opinion, that forces people to work without a choice is no better than slavery to me. A society without the right to free speech and individual's freedoms is not truly free nor equal.  In summary: planned economies are useful only for societies that struggle with basic survival, but ultimately we ahve to move away from them.

Now with Anarcho-capitalists/Libertarians. Their views are radically opposed to what we just talked about, but are no better. Small or no government that doesn't control or regulate markets in a capitalistic economy. They are obviously extreme individualists, as Marxists/anarcho-communists are extreme communitarians. They push the concepts of capitalism to their extremes. First the Libertarian vision. All industries are privatised, and except law enforcement and courts, everything is handled by the private sector. Of course there is no minimal wage or judicial aid or free healthcare/education. Or anything funded by the government to be honest. And here comes the first issue. If no government spending happens, who is going to make roads, electric and internet distributions lines, plumbing, sewers, environnmental preservation... Well the private sector of course! Exactly what everyone want, companies that charge everyone the price they want for sewers and roads. Not only we would get roads and sewers of varying qualities depending on the provider, but who would WANT to buy roads and sewers?  Everyone use them, but no one want to be handled the bill! Companies that make roads, sewers  or any similar utility service, would invest in them for their own interests, and charge people to use them. Imagine roads, ridden with toll booths! Or receiving a bill for the privilege of using the toilet, even your own. And goodbye the right to free clean water. Humans rights are for communists right? That's socialism, it's disgusting, paying for something you need to drink everyday just to live is much more like it. Much more humane. Yep, that sounds amazing. Plus, without regulations, no way to ensure that they don't make a lousy job with our plumbing and our sewers. And without a minimal wage, imagine how low wages could be.''But you can just refuse to work for a wage that doesn't please you!Without minimal wage, you can negotiate your salary way more easily!'' Oh really? Except that we need money to buy food, pay rent, electricity, and sewers and toll booths in that reality apparently, and since we have no choice (because we all need to eat and have a roof), and that we are all competitors for a limited quantity of jobs ( a shrinking quantity, with machines replacing workers more and more), we would have to accept the lowest wages possible, because people are always desperate for money. The capitalists would sure profit a lot from it! They would make so much savings, it would be insane! The gap between rich and poor would widen so much it would be depressing. They would cut in the number of jobs, the salaries, the safety measures, work conditions, the quality of their products, monopolies would appear... And monopolies with the power to pay you how much they want so you can feed youself and take that money back for what they sell that you need hold you in their hands, and can crush you if you dare to defy them. It's litterally modern slavery in it's most insidious form. Sure, drugs would be decriminalized and legalised, and same thing for prostitution, and socially, society would be very open to gays, and minorities which would indeed be great...  At the price of the rule of the richest people on Earth. It's basically the same as Marxism on the matter of work (work is sacred,at least for those without capital, the proletariate), except that we give you the illusion that, no really, you don't have to do a job you hate for a living! And you make so much money now that the government doesn't tax you! Sure you make 4$ an hour and work 60h a week in a dangerous job and you must pay for a way too expensive education and the inevitable health issues you'll get, but hey, taxation is theft! Remember that! Your grandchildren will inherit your college debts, but who cares!?The environnment would be fucked, but who cares about the birds and the bears when we can have money! And why even bother with a government? Let's be an anarcho-capitalist society! So now the rich truly will own the Earth! Laws? Offer and demand will be our unique law! I'm not making it sounds very positive, but it's just so retarded. At least planned economies work in societies that are still stuck in a state of struggle to survive (thus why they can't work now or ever again, unless we agree to go back to a society where survival is the priority), but wild capitalism? If you consider extreme inequalities and the return of slavery as fine, then it's functionnal. Marxism may impose work too, but at least you are a slave with guarranted  work conditions and some standards of living, you don't even have that with Anarcho-capitalism and Libertarianism. Law enforcement is privatized and gun ownership completely unregulated, because you have to defend yourself your property (in an anarcho-capitalist state, in a libertarian one, the government still enforce property laws) in some of their fantasies, so add private military and an ocean of firearms to that joyful utopia. It's really just fucking dumb, Sure, you may hate paying taxes, and may feel that they don't profit to you personally or to companies, but they do. You and companies use healthcare, education, roads, sewers... Research results funded by the government help to create new medecine, technologies or discoveries that everyone can profit from. Fair use allow intellectual properties to be used by anyone if for good reasons. Free speech laws protect your right to express yourself, your individuality. If everyone use something, like roads, isn't it fair that everyone, including companies pay for it, in the form of taxes? By pushing Individualism so far, they ironically begin to erase individuality. When your freedom is defined by how much moneybags you own, only the rich can express their individuality, everyone else is just a bland slave, which opinions and desires are neglected to make the gears turn all year round...  This ultimately come to what you consider to be freedom. There is ''negative'' and ''positive'' freedom. Those are in the ''substract/without'' and ''addition/with'' sense, not any emotionnal implication here. Negative freedom is the idea that dominates in the U.S, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and an Libertarian/anarcho-capitalist society. It's the idea that if there is no official obstacle to you doing something, then  you are free, simple. You have the right to healthcare or education, no one is stopping you. You have the right to own property. You have the right to live, to eat food and drink water, to sleep and get shelter. Positive freedom is the idea that not having official obstacles mean nothing if there is obstacles that make it nearly impossible for you to be free. You can't get healthcare/education in some countries if you can't pay for it, you are NOT free to get those.   You can't own anything if you can't pay for it. You can't survive if you can't afford food, tap water and rent, if your country doesn't support you. Money, that people like it or not, limit freedom for those who don't have enough of it. That's why I support universal basic income, universal healthcare and education system, social programs to prevent homelessness and people dying in the streets. Money, especially in countries without these programs, is divising us. It creates inequalities, unfortunately. I'm not advocating for Marxism, I did just criticised it after all. Anarchism, either communitarian or hyper-individualist and capitalist, is retarded. Plus, how would anarchists stop people from creating states if they want to unite together to make one? Sure you can talk about peer pressure all you want, but if a bunch of  social rejects or intellectuals want to create a state, or leave your non state for one of the still existing ones, how could you stop them? More importantly, why should you stop them?

To conclude, I think capitalism is the least terrible economical system we got. We should strive to tame it however. Wild capitalism is just crazy. As for politics, states shouldn't fear to intervene in the economy if it's for good reasons. We just need to not overdo it, we don't need to plan the economy. Organise it? Certainly. Try to control all of it? Nope. Like I said earlier, I guess I am more of a keynessian, a social democrat keynessian to be exact. I don't really align ideologically with them, but it's to give you a point of reference. I really hate ideological wars, they are silly and dogmatic. It's the ''let's find a culprit'' battle. May you blame governements, capitalists, white people, black people, Jews, Muslims, the poor, the rich, meat eaters, leftists,right-wingers, SJWs, Feminists, Men's rights activists... everyone want to find the cause of all evil so they can create a perfect society. But I doubt it's as simple. Everytime I think of Hitler. Hitler wasn't inherently an evil person, his intentions were quite noble: to help his countrymen and women to thrive and be happy. But Hitler did the mistake all ideologues do: he thought that there was a group responsible for his country's sufferings, the Jews. He seduced people with the promise of getting back the wealth that was allegedly stolen by the Jews. He also promised to improve the people themselves, by killing what he considered genetically inferior people: homosexuals, disabled people, mentally handicapped people, other religious groups outside of christians, non believers,  black people and of course, anyone with ''jewish genes'' ( which doesn't exist by the way, like there isn't ''muslim genes'' those are religions,they have nothing to do with genetics). Like most things in life, I think being moderate is the best. No need to overdo it. The economy doesn't need to be set in full planification mode or savage mode to work. So that was it, hope you liked that, and see you next time.-KeLvin




Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The philosophical perspectives behind your positions on abortion and veganism

The philosophical perspectives  behind your positions on abortion and veganism (and euthanasia, a bit...)



Hi everyone, KeLvin here! Today, we are finally doing more of what I'm studying: philosophy. I love philosophy and wish to share my passion with you. Maybe you remember my earlier articles? A reflection about the importance of art for society ( and also philosophy and science) and Argumentum ad lapidem: Is Philosophy mere existence absurd? Well, today there will be none of this ( this was litterally just to plug those here sorry about that haha ) and I will present you with Trolley tests! I call them like this because of the Trolley problem: a philosophical quandary  about utilitarianism vs Kantism. Fascinating stuff, really. SO, go do this test : ''Should you kill the fat man?''  and then this one ''Should You Kill The Backpacker?''( great site by the way, try their other tests if you wish, they are cool)  and come back here. Done? Ok, so now you understand the point of this: show if you have consistent, simple moral beliefs, or inconsistent, and thus more complex, moral beliefs. If you must contradict yourself, then you also must justify why you believe, for say, that torture is always wrong, but justifiable if the person being tortured did terrible deeds and that their torture could save lives... So, now that you are questionning your own ethics, let's do the same thing with THIS test: Whose Body Is It Anyway? I won't spoil anything, since you probably guessed it by my own title: it's about abortion. The test then ask you around the third question to choose between those four most common philosophical perspectives about what gives human life value:

1. Biology. The simple fact of being biologically human (from conception or very soon after) gives life value and secures the right to life (perhaps, for example, because god has created us in his own image and given us souls).

2. Sentience. The presence of sentience - the ability to have subjective experiences such as pain and pleasure - is what is important.

3. The Attributes of Personhood. The various attributes that make a human being a person are the source of life's value and the right to life: for example, self-awareness, intelligence, creativity and the ability to communicate.

4. The Potential for Personhood. The cognitve attributes of personhood make human lives worth living, therefore, if a human being has the potential to develop these attributes, then this is enough to secure the right to life.

As you can see, most people probably think one of those perspectives to be correct. Mine is ''the attributes of personhood'' which means I would not consider a fetus a person, but would consider a computer A.I to be if it had those characteristics. I also don't consider animals to be on the same level as us. You see where I am going with this isn't it? My view is the view that is logically the least likely to be anti-abortion and pro-veganism. ''Biology'' would be the most likely to be both Anti-abortion and pro-veganism, ''Sentience'' seems more likely to be pro-veganism and mildly pro-abortion and ''Potential for personhood'' is, logically speaking, likely to be both anti-abortion and mildly pro-veganism. Who would have thought religious anti-aborters had philosophical similarities with vegans? I would. Both of these people annoy the heck out of me ( you're lovely, I don't hate you , but please respect my positions, as I respect yours). And I am probably not alone, the site claim that 40% of people share my worldview, which is the most common one. Now let's think about why people might choose one of these views over another.

The first obvious answer is, of course, religion. A religion give you a lot of starting ethical positions, and most religions seems to think that the ''Potential for Personhood'' is the correct view for what gives human life value. Of the four views, this one is to me the most peculiar, since it's state that a fetus is entitled to the same moral considerations as an adult, because it will probably become a person one day. It's the only view that consider a possibility rather than facts. Rather interesting, but not that surprising coming from ideologies that believe in deities and destiny (hi apocalypse) without evidence. Euthanasia is also less likely to be favored by people who believe in the potential of personhood as what give human life value. If you believe this and, say, your child is in a deep coma with a very slight chance of recovery, you would refuse to euthanize them. Same thing with very sick people with debillitating diseases. Sure they can no longer speak, think, or feed themselves, but with this worldview, potential is what counts, so if someone WAS a person, but no longer technically is, that means they had or still have the potential to be a person, and thus it would be morally wrong to euthanize them, it would be murder in the eyes of those with this view, not mercy over a suffering living being that is no longer a person  but still sentient. This view is also more likely to be somewhat more vegan than mine, because of the consideration of possibilities. After all, maybe animals could one day have the attributes of personhood, hell some say primates or dolphins for examples are already fairly close, and thus are de facto considered as having the potential to be a person. That's a bit too much if and could to my liking to make up your perspective on what give human life value, but whatever, it's your moral views, I'll try to not judge too harshly.

The next thing to consider is upbringing, societal values and culture. Our families, friends, education system and medias, share with us, everyday, a myriad of different views about what is right and what is wrong. So the view that will stick with you about what gives human life value, could very well be the one that other people have been implying to be the right choice.
If your family is religious, you could embrace the view of the religion ( and your family), or choose to rebel and completely reject it. But what if there isn't a religion to give you all of your ethical philosophical positions on a silver platter? Well, then I guess it will depends on who you frequent and your own life experience. If everyone around you is vegan and tell you that #AnimalsLivesMatter, then I'm willing to bet you are less likely to share my view about how it's okay to eat them because they don't have as much self-awareness, intelligence or ability to communicate as us. Or maybe you do share my view, but  think that only some animals share those traits with us(like primates, cows and cats for examples, but not fishes). Then there would be kind of a contradiction if you chose to refrain from eating/using any animal product, because if you believe that only the animals with the attributes of personhood are our equals ( thus why you don't think plants, insects or bacterias are) why are you refraining from all of them? Wouldn't it makes more sense to be vegetarian instead of vegan and depending on the animals involved? See how interesting one views might get if there is a few contradictions? It takes a lot more reasoning to justify this latter example than it takes to justify mine.

What's next on the list? Oh right! Your personality, of course! If you are someone more emotional and prone to empathise strongly with others suffering, it wouldn't be surprising I think to presume that you are more likely to ''anthroposize''  animals and unborn humans. People who are more emotional are also more likely to believe in homeopathy as better than traditional medecine or to believe in ghosts. Shocker: most people are classified as feelers, rather than thinkers (personality wise, doesn't mean you are dumb or an emotional wreck). Not that shocking, I know,since most americans for example do believe in ghosts or angels... for some reason. People that are strict rigorous  thinkers accepting claims and arguments on logic and evidence only are less common than people that rely on what they feel is right, what they intuitively believe. If you're a feeler, which is statistically likely, I am not berating you, feelers are as important as thinkers, their different mindsets mean they are generally more artistically creative and more empathetic for starters.Feelers are idealists, caring and prefer to make everyone happy with some white lies if necessary. As thinkers as myself often look rather indifferent and cold. We just focus on different things! I focus on concepts, logic and the world around us, neglecting the human element, you focus on people, your relationships with them, and the well-being of everyone's involved! Both are fine, really! So is it surprising that abortion and veganism, both topics about protecting or not vulnerable creatures from humans choices, are often debated with emotions? Not really. It's understandable that people would argue with their own feelings in minds, feelings they think those who disagree should feel as well, because the subjects of those debates are living beings, with whom they empathized with, and think you should as well. Not all feelers are against abortion and eating animals, of course, some of them may empahize more with the women being forced to go through an unwanted pregancy or empathize only with animals they find cute or endearing, while not caring of what happens to insects and fishes... Emotions can be tricky. Not everyone experience them in the same way, hence why the most passionate on a debate are feelers, not thinkers. Feelers feel they are right because they believe in the righteousness of their beliefs and actions toward the goals of their beliefs.On the other hand, thinkers believe  their opinions are right, because they think their arguments are rational and superior. However, when you believe in your positions rather than your feelings, you are more susceptible to doubt. It's easy to doubt an argument, because an argument can be opposed with more logic, more arguments or deconstruction of yours.Believing in one's own feelings of truth is more stable, after all, people rarely doubt about how they feel in the present. They may doubt about how they should feel, but it doesn't change the fact that they are feeling something regardless. Why do you think all ideologies, religions and positions can be simplified to ''if you feel this toward that please believe what I think, because I feel the same''. ''Please believe in communism if like me you are fed up with anger because of poverty and workplace alienation'' ''Please believe that abortion is murder, if like me you feel there must be something after death, because death scare you so much that you need a comforting heaven to cope with it''. ''Please believe that eating animals is terrible if like me you feel bad for all the poor animals we kill each year, or your cat dying last month''. You get the point. We all experience emotions and empathy. The subject of our empathy or emotions is what usually differ. You think the economy is going bad? It makes you angry? Why not  target your anger toward[the unemployed/the government/your friend that is waving that hundred dollar bill/yourself] ? You pride yourself as being very empathetic, and thus you emphatize with [fetuses/animals/women/your stomach] and resent those who oppose your emotionally driven position, that is [women with unwanted pregancy/your stomach/the mystical patriarchy ( or just men)/vegans]. Anyway, your own character certainly influence your choices more than culture or religious groups do. Ultimately, you choose to accept or reject those influences in your mind. You can be forced to showcase a position by autoritarians bigots, but you can't be forced to believe in those positions. You are free to think whatever you want. Entitled even.

Ok, NEXT. ''Other beliefs''. No I am not going full circle here. By other beliefs, I meant ''non-religious positions that seems unrelated to abortion and veganism but actually may affect your position on those topics''. For example: if you believe strongly in free market capitalism, people trying to ban animal consumption and animal product use, might get on your nerves, even if you yourself chose to not eat or use animals. Counter-example: a vegan communist. I will let you imagine how this one would work. Done? Ok, next example: Utilitarians. This one  is interesting, utilitarians believe that the most moral action is the one that maximize happiness for the most people. SO, it is both possible to see vegan utilitarians and anti-vegan utilitarians. The former would say that we must also maximize happiness for animals, as they consider them as people ( here where beliefs intersects) while the latter think that to maximize humans happiness we shouldn't turn our backs to delicious and nutritious meat. Not mentionning all other uses animals products have.
 Told you it was interesting.

I could continue wondering for a while, but I think that would just hinder your own reflections. I gave you a few starting points, elaborated very little on them, and give them back to you. I am sure you now understand a bit more that people's positions on complex ethical matters such as abortions or animal use, are not as two-dimensional as their most ''passionate'' (read: extreme) debators could tell you. See you soon -KeLvin