Episode #081 Communism vs Capitalism



hello everyone I'm Stephen West this is philosophize this no sponsor this week now as always if you want to help the show you can go to patreon.com/scishow the amazon banner but what makes this week special is that if you collect philosophize this t-shirts or if you're one of the many people that requested a t-shirt with the actual Daley's logo of the show on it well we have one of those now well really we have a tee spring campaign long story short it's like a Kickstarter two days left to buy it if not enough shirts get ordered they don't even print it you don't get charged yet that's something you're even remotely interested in front page of philosophizes org there's a banner click on it anyway let's get onto the program so let's all imagine something real quick let's imagine that you're walking down the street with a camera on a microphone and you're interviewing just random people in an average City and the modern United States you know just the first person you run into walking their dog down the road statistically speaking if you ask that person the question which do you think is a better economic system capitalism or communism what do you think they would say and by that I mean the economic ideology espoused by communism I realize it's much larger than that point is what do you think they'd say I don't thing it's a very controversial prediction to make that most Americans are gonna say capitalism I was born into a capitalist system look at all the prosperity its afforded me and my family look at all the innovations that have come as a result of capitalism and capitalism we have sprawling mansions in the Napa Valley and communism you guys got refrigerator boxes to live in in capitalism we have the Super Bowl and communism you guys have who can chase the rat underneath the dumpster the fastest and get dinner now maybe that's a little extreme but you know what's interesting is that for several years of my adult life this is not that far away from what I thought the differences were between the two I mean I don't think most Americans are given a fair representation of the criticisms Karl Marx had of capitalism and I think largely people are sold this bill of goods that communism and socialism the these are profane words and if somebody even acknowledges that anything about them is possibly a good point it's it's tantamount to being unpatriotic or somehow a bad American but there's something else interesting about this round twenty years ago if you walk down that very same Street and you talk to the people then you'd be much more likely to find people that won't even entertain the idea of socialism or communism people that raise their eyebrows to someone even asking if we should consider that something other than capitalism might work but something's changed in these last twenty to thirty years hasn't it I mean just look at these numbers look we have Bernie Sanders self-proclaimed socialist Democrat not only capable of running for president but also giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money winning entire states Gallup just came out with a poll a few days ago thirty five percent of Americans view socialism in a positive light that's a far cry from the way the things were not too long ago right so what changed and a common answer to this question is that people are starting to see the very real flaws in a capitalist system and they're looking to move on to something that they think might be better but again four years of my life I really had no idea that there were even critiques of capitalism I thought it was case closed I thought you know the only people that had a problem with there were people that were lazy and they just wanted the government to give them everything so they didn't have to work but I gotta tell you boy was I wrong when I first opened up Karl Marx several years ago now to be fair not everyone that's a proponent of capitalism is as naive as I was about it you know there's a good friend of the show on Twitter longtime listener and he referenced this week the quote capitalism is the worst system except for all the others it's a good quote you know most people probably fall into that category most people know that there's problems with capitalism they just see it as the best option that we got but nevertheless whether we've refined a system better than capitalism in today's world or not whether the first iterations of Karl Marx's vision of communism went horribly wrong or not I don't think anyone would disagree with the value of looking at well thought out criticisms of the system that we're currently in if for no other reason than to make it better and this is the value of looking at the criticisms that Karl Marx had of capitalism many of which have not been addressed many of which possibly cannot be addressed because they're built in systemically I guess one thing we gotta all accept is honest human beings as a capitalism is not a perfect economic system and despite the fact that we were born into it and that we see its effects all around us all the time and many of them we see is good it's not the only way that things have ever been done no there are many economic systems have been tried and Karl Marx as a philosopher taking a step back and analyzing them all next to each other would say that each and every one of these economic systems have within them contradictions built into them that are probably the reason why they aren't still in use today he called these competing forces built into these systems internal conflicts the feudal system in the Middle Ages had certain internal conflicts that led to the revolution slavery in the new world had certain internal conflicts that led to the revolution Marx is saying maybe capitalism has these as well what's an example of one of these well well I want to get to tangential here we're gonna be talking about this later in the episode when we talk about his critiques but I really want us to understand the systemic nature of these internal conflicts that Marx talking about and out of him they seem like unsolvable problems that will inevitably come to fruition no matter what we do because they're built into the economic model itself one thing that a Marxist might say is an internal conflict within capitalism is that capitalists you know these people that control the means of production owners of corporations mostly in our modern-day capitalists are always looking to make more capital it's kind of the whole thing there right anyway how do they get more capital well Marx would say a convenient place to start and one that is a huge expense to most high production profitable entities is employee wages employee wages can sometimes be thirty forty percent of your total sales so the capitalist tries to compensate for this they respond and they and they make things more efficient at the workplace maybe they introduce technology to take over certain maybe they lay people off they they have less employees do the same work that more employees used to do they stagnate wages as profits increase they do all this not because they're bad people but because they're operating within an economic system where capital is an intrinsic good know what happens Marx says is that naturally when you're paying less people less money capitalism begins to cannibalize itself these competing forces not only make it so that the employees you know the consumers of what the capitalist is producing have less money to actually buy what they're producing but it also ensures that because of this intrinsic good of capital coupled with the in order to an amount of control that a handful of people have over the means of production it ensures that without intervention the rich will always get richer and the poor will always get poor within a capitalist system you know a a Marxist would say a common way that a Marxist would look at the economic history of the 20th century is that since the inception of capitalism being the primary economic model in Western society a lot has changed since then they'd say it worked for a while workers in the Western world we're living on sort of economic islands so to speak they were able to demand a better quality of life from their employer you know better wages better work conditions etc but then around 1968 1971 depending on when you think global trade really started its massive expansion the people that controlled the means of production in these capitalist systems that had to pay these people in the West all these higher wages they looked at places like like China and India and Taiwan and they realize a these people over here will do the same work that they're doing for pennies on the dollar so the job started leaving Marxist often call this the mass exodus of jobs to the east and they'd say that we're actually still living in its wake in 2016 they'd say that you know how convenient that right around the mid-1970s that's when people started taking out credit cards that's when people started going into massive debt it's just a normal part of life fast-forward to today and just to graduate from college and to be able to contribute to society you practically have to go into tens of thousands of dollars in debt not to mention the house that you want not to mention the car that you anyway the point is Marx believes that there are certain internal conflicts built-in to the capitalist system and I guess the next question that we might ask is why didn't we see this coming I mean when Adam Smith writes The Wealth of Nations and he walked into some guy's office it's pulling the strings and he just he slams his book on his desk swap out capitalism read it why didn't we see these problems coming then well the answer is pretty complicated but one of the biggest answers and the most understandable is that we're living in a completely different world now really brief background on the origins of capitalism so during the transition phase between the feudal system and capitalism in Europe there were a lot of families that used to live and work the land or be part owners of the land that were displaced because of things called enclosure acts or things like the enclosure acts of the United Kingdom given your respective country now the enclosure acts were a series of actions that made land that used to be common land into land that can be privately owned so naturally the people that used to live on this common land had to find somewhere else to go a lot of people had to find somewhere else to go and survive so it makes sense that they went to where the jobs were now over this handful of generations at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution these people would have practically no choice but to make a massive change in their lifestyle they'd have to go from working the land to working in factories or textile mills things like that now it's important to understand the mindset that these nation states were in during this time they were just that nation-states that we're competing with each other nation states that were emerging into new worlds that they could trade with all of a sudden you could trade with India and China and the American colonies if you want the problem was how are you gonna make enough stuff to fill that new demand how are you gonna go from just making enough stuff for your nation-state and the surrounding neighbors to now ten countries worth of stuff twenty countries worth of stuff how do you ramp up production that much now you couple this with the fact that it was a widely held view at the time that the export capacity of your economy is directly related to your economic strength and when Adam Smith comes along and he introduces the ideas of specialization and division of labor of course you're going to grab onto that with both hands you know instead of having one guy that makes clocks all day long you know he works really hard for 10 hours and you might be able to make one o'clock by the end of the day what Adam Smith saying is let's have him specialize in making the let's have her over there specialize in making the springs and with this more focused specialized menial task is the only thing that they're doing all day there's much fewer moving parts to consider they refine their systems faster and faster and maybe eventually they can make a thousand cogs in a day so collectively 10 people might be able to make a thousand clocks in a day in this new system as opposed to be 10 clock should be able to make if each one of them had to do every facet of the clock production on their own Karl Marx would say wow what a great idea to make a lot of clocks this is what capitalism is great at making a lot of stuff and finding out what the next thing is we have to make and then making a lot of that stuff but he'd also ask is making the most stuff possible so that we can make the most money possible is that all that we should be concerned about Marx thinks it'd be one thing if humans were robots but they're not we're forgetting about the effects of the fact that it's ultimately human beings that have to make all this stuff which brings me to his first criticism one of the big criticisms he has of capitalism is that it alienates the worker from a sense of purpose or fulfillment now the point he's making is one that I think we can all relate to living in a capitalist system we've all had a job at some point or at least known someone that's had a job that they don't really like that much it's boring unfulfilled makes you feel like a meaningless cog in a machine Karl Marx says that this is a natural byproduct of that specialization that allows us to make so many clocks yes specialization is great at making a ton of stuff but the more specialized jobs become the less important the person feels that's doing the work for example if you're the guy down at the sriracha Factory and you work on an assembly line and you're the guy at the end of the assembly line that puts the green cap on top of the bottles all day long this green cap it's very difficult for you to see the positive effect that you're having on society you probably don't walk into a teriyaki place after work look around at all the bottles on the tables and be like yep that was me now mark says to feel truly fulfilled we need to quote see ourselves in our work to explain what he means let's go back to the clock making example if you're the person that builds the entire clock start to finish there's a craftsmanship to that there's a connection that you have with it the way that you build that clock is a representation of you and your personality let's say that you make a simple elegant clock made with attention to detail maybe that's you maybe that's the way that you approach every aspect of your life point is you see a little piece of you within that clock you'll walk around after work and you see your clocks hanging around and you feel like you've contributed something essential to the world sure you can only make one of them a day but the process was fulfilling to you but instead of that mark says instead of making one clock a day we got this guy churning out a thousand cogs a day and not caring about a single one of them and he says what happens is that this dynamic creates a disconnect between what we do to serve others in our society and what we wish we could do or what we know we're capable of doing if only the system didn't require you to be so highly specialized in an attempt to make as much stuff as we possibly can again for anybody that's ever worked a really monotonous job and you felt as though you had so much more to give to your fellow human beings than just that you can kind of see where he's coming from here so Karl Marx continues on and says look this alone would be a bad enough state of affairs but the sad reality is that this isn't the only negative effect on the worker state of mind the capitalism ignores another way that it undermines the employee is that it makes them feel terrified about how expendable they are as a single insignificant cog in this machine look if the recession in 2008 taught us anything it's that we are far removed from the days where you are a loyal employee of the company and you suck it up for the company and the company takes care of you in good times and in bad no if it means a better bottom line for them anyone is expendable Marx would have predicted this dynamic and he says that this feeling that the worker has this feeling that if they make a couple mistakes or if anything changes it's out of their control where it's no longer profitable for the company to have them as an employee you know what happens you have been terminated get out this is a horrible volatile place to spend every day of your life and mark says it goes all the way back to even our roots as human beings we hate to be rejected we're terrified of you know wearing the wrong color shirt or having the wrong haircut and then having our friends or our tribe cast us out into the wilderness alone – Marx capitalism ensures that this is always the case for the worker now we can begin to see a pattern emerging here right what I mean is both of these critiques of capitalism are a result of how production and then in turn capital is the primary thing to strive for and how that ignores and sort of dehumanizes the people that have to operate within it as workers again like we talked about a couple episodes ago – Marx the working class is the exploited class and he'd say not only is there emotional quality of life being exploited like in these first two examples but also their physical production see Marx believed that capitalism at its core was simply getting someone to do something for you for one price and then selling it to somebody else for a much higher price and if you doubt this at all Marx would probably ask you to take a look at the job that you have right now at some point and the process of getting that job you went in for an interview landed the job and they told you how much they'd pay you to do the work let's say 40 dollars an hour now at some level you realize that they're profiting off of the work that you're doing for them if they weren't they'd either pay you less money or they wouldn't hire you now all that they're doing there is getting you to do something for one price and then selling it to somebody else for a higher price in other words you're not getting paid what you're actually worth just what you expect the difference between what you're actually worth and what you expect well the companies have a name for this it's called profit but – Marx he says a profit is just a euphemism for theft well you at the bottom are working hard producing more than you get in your paycheck each week a handful of people at the top of the company are getting paid way more than they produce mark says why does the system have to be this way why do we necessarily have to have a dynamic where a small handful of people control all the means of production and use that power to blackmail the working class are we destined to be this way forever is there perhaps another economic system we might be able to adopt that addresses this maybe one that focuses on human prosperity exclusively as opposed to this this capital stuff that claims to lead to prosperity and on that same note Marx would ask why in the world would we ever be so satisfied with this volatile economic climate anyway why do we like it so much every morning you turn on the TV you see some dude in New York ringing a bell at the stock exchange and these people spend all day long looking at numbers looking at lines tracking the volatility of the economy dreading the idea of there being some horrific crash of the numbers that day oh no the squiggly line went down no oh wait wait it's going up it's gonna yes it's going up we just accept that every 10 years we have a steep decline maybe it fixes itself maybe it doesn't maybe we sink into a depression where people are just in bread lines suffering begging for work we've been told that these herbs and flows of the economy are just a natural part of the world but Karl Marx would say it's a hallmark of capitalism he'd say yeah remember before when the problem was that we couldn't make enough stuff well capitalism did its job it succeeded it made our economy way more efficient and productive congratulations the problem now is we're making too much stuff and the disparity between what's being produced and what's being purchased eventually compounds and causes these huge volatile spikes I'm not sure if that theory Shores up with what we think we know in modern economics but the important part to Marx is that we've done something pretty amazing there we have actually created an economic climate that is so productive and so efficient that in theory no one ever has to go without anything never what other eken system throughout history can claim to have done that more importantly to Marx we have more empty houses than we have homeless people we have more cars in these unsold dealership overflow Lots and we have citizens without reliable transportation in fact mark says if we have this capacity to produce way more than we would ever need there's more good news not everybody has to work anymore why not just sit at home or explore hobbies and enjoy your life if you can why does everyone have to work the human species has done it we've become so efficient with our economy people get to go home early from work the managers are going around the store finding people to send home point is we as members of this capitalistic society have been conditioned to think that this state of not working is a bad thing you know shucks the unemployment rates gone up it's really high this month I hope it goes down next month Marx would call it the freedom rate and just think about that for a second when we elect a president and beg for them to get America back to work Marx would look at that process and see us as begging them to put us back in Chains but anyway it should be pretty clear what Marx's position is given the similarities between these criticisms right it seems like there's two fundamental problems with capitalism in his eyes one is that private individuals have the ability to own the means of production which is a very small handful of people and number two is that when you give people that level of power over an economic system they're going to inevitably use that power to try to make the system work better in their favor for example the idea being that when a private individual owns a factory that has 500 employees and they all of a sudden see that they have the ability to go to Brazil and hire 500 people there for way cheaper than they're paying now it's not surprising in that decision point that they choose to move the factory to Brazil and put all the other people out of work now on the other hand to Marx if that factory if the means of production was controlled by the workers of the factory not a private individual well they would never choose to move the factory to Brazil they would never put themselves out of work they would ever go without the revenue generated to fund their communities police force or their schools anyway maybe I'm getting a little bit too far into future episodes oh speaking of future episodes even though we're gonna be talking a lot about criticisms of Marx in the future just when philosophers respond to him I feel like it would be kind of wrong for me not to mention a few common ones right now keep in mind again I'll talk about many of these in more detail soon one really common criticism of Marx is that everything Marx is saying is great on paper but it's actually not realistic it's actually a horrible delusional utopia when it's actually practiced another common one is that Marx fails to take into account human nature well enough that there's always gonna be the subset of lazy people out there that don't want to work and that if we take away the capitalist structure it saps some of any motivation to even marginally contribute to society another one is that not every job out there is gonna have people ready and willing to do it simply because it's fulfilling to them right I mean this isn't like the guy that makes the clock that's a representation of him you know some jobs just aren't gonna have that luxury like nobody's gonna crawl into the sewer and unclog it because they you know see a piece of themselves represented in the overflowing fecal matter who's gonna do those jobs Karl Marx that's the the question now Marx would have responses to all of these but the main thing he would say back to them is probably that at least the effects caused by these problems are manageable now compare these problems to the problems caused by capitalism currently the disdain that individuals are conditioned to have towards each other because they see them all as in competition with them the terrible effects on the environment because of the ceaseless desire to keep producing and consuming more and more beyond our means the massive income disparity where the the top 70 people in the world have more than the bottom 3 billion combined many of them dying of starvation dehydration curable diseases I think Marx would say look at the problems were satisfied with contending with as an alternative all right this episode was a huge test for me I hope it was as interesting to you as it was difficult to write expect a new episode very soon I'm back for real this time guys thank you for listening I'll talk to you next time you

18 thoughts on “Episode #081 Communism vs Capitalism

  • Capitalism is a broken system. The whole system is a pyramid scheme. Money only flows up. Never back down. It’s a slave system.

  • This was either a very poor description of Marxism, or Marxism is incredible ignorant. People are not starting to see the flaws in capitalism. People are starting to want free stuff, taken by the force of the government. Taking something without permission is the literal definition of theft. Taking something by force is literally robbery. How can such a backwards argument be made, that voluntarily choosing to accept a wage in exchange for an agreed amount of work, is theft? Can you please look up the definition of the word theft? The only argument you presented for this, was that if the wage paid was less than price of the end product, that the difference between the wage and product price is somehow magically equal to theft? Even if you assume profit is evil, (and no argument was made for this, it was just assumed), then at worst you've tricked someone into undervaluing their work. If I convince you to pay $100 for an apple, I may have deceived you, but I certainly haven't stolen from you. I haven't taken something without permission if you freely handed over the money. English words have definitions. You can't just swap words around like a magician attempting a magic trick and then pretend you've made an argument. I understand, you're only explaining Marx's arguments and these are not necessarily your own views. But you need to address these obvious violations of word definitions if you're going to attempt a fair defense of Marxism. It seems extremely unlikely that such a famous philosopher as Marx could be making such terrible arguments. This makes me wonder how badly you might be misrepresenting other philosophers. I hope this isn't the case, because I was starting to enjoy these podcasts.

  • Communism would work if everyone was giving and no one was greedy… sadly that’s not the world we live in

  • The rich get richer and the poorer get poorer is the equivalent of my car is slow because other cars are faster. You can make your car fast. No one is stopping you and it is even applauded.

  • Marx' theory makes no sense to me at all….Does he think if the Government was your boss that would fix everything?

  • Looking even more "deeper" , a job isnt 'natural' . Working to live , hunting, fishing, agriculture, etc. is. Talking about Marxism, communism, etc. Never lasts.

  • I find it interesting that people use global issues to critique a countries economic system. "The wealthiest 70 people own more wealth than poorest 3 billion people." If government's economies world wide were more capitalistic and were based more on individual's freedom of choice rather than government ran economies, do you believe this statistic would remain true? I don't believe so.

  • Wow you totally missed the entirety of capitalism in this video and don’t even go into socialism or communism etc.

  • I started reading Marx, he lost me when he started defining the value of labor and products.
    Marx has many assumptions which you should immediately notice and which, I think have been clearly shown to be false.
    And I feel that his book starts exactly in the way meant to befuddle readers into not properly thinking about what kind of underlying assumptions he makes…

    maybe the only really justifiable argument is that against the collusion between government and "capitalists" and it seems to be solved much better through democratic means than any communist models…

    I am sorry, but it does not seem to address many of the core problems of Marxism and seems to add aspects which I at least am not certain are actually based on Marx itself…

    All of this seems way, way too informal and shallow.

    I am sorry, but I just do not feel like I can trust your take on Philosophy based on this.

    If I want to deepen my understanding of Philosophy, I shall rather do the work to actually listen to the original, thank you.

  • These criticisms are interesting but seem to only apply to an overly simplified version of capitalism. Take the clock example: in a capitalistic society you have the option to buy a massed-produced clock, but there is also demand for more artistic or handmade varieties, so there is still a place in the market for that. Also, as another example, I work in an industry where there are fewer people then there are jobs, so the market actually works in my favor when we are talking about job security. The idea that capitalism only promotes mass-production and cut-throat work environments is not the reality in practice.

  • I came here from a recommendation from Ben Shapiro. I expected philosophical discourse and critical thought. What I got was high-mindedness, patronized, and it rubbed me the wrong way. I think you may be making a mistake and assuming that your audience is the general American to which this video seems to be intended for. Again, not from intellectual high-mindedness, but from the fact that you seem to be assuming your audience, I did not enjoy this video at all, and I certainly didn't feel like I learned anything. This mainly stems from the fact that you assume no one born under a particular system has questioned its flaws or merits. This is too much of a an assumption in my view. Anyway, just my two cents.

  • I came to Marx's first criticism of capitalism, on my own, back in high school but even back then I realized that the solutions were typically submerged in an emotional quagmire. In addition most of these solutions are surrounded by a hypothetical moral tension created by the realization that not everyone should succeed. Much like participation trophies if everyone is rewarded equally regardless of their input the outcome becomes meaningless and devoid of fulfillment. Not to mention Marxism has never in practice returned power to the people but rather has demonized the more successful in exchange political power.

  • It's refreshing to see someone give an honest breakdown of Karl Marx's work. Far too often people speak emotionally, almost like you're criticizing their religion using the title socialist like a pejorative, when discussing socialism and capitalism.

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