I’ve been thinking a lot about the opposition between ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’ which groups like the Tea Party reinforce. However, I am beginning to think this opposition is artificial in some serious way. By taking the current economic climate as a ‘capitalism in practise’ and following it to its logical conclusion, I want to argue that the end result will largely be no different from ‘socialism’. This is primarily a speculative fiction through which an argument by analogy can be made. My argument hinges on two primary concepts: (1) owners within capitalism will pay as little as possible for everything — labour, goods, etc — and the least they can pay is nothing, and (2) governments take the responsibility for public welfare precisely in the places where ‘normal’ people are unable to afford the ‘luxuries’ of a healthy, productive life.
The current state of affairs is that there is rampant unemployment. One of the dominant ways corporations exploit this is through unpaid (or horribly underpaid) internships whereby a person who needs an income to live ‘normally’ undertakes massive debt to work at below-market rates in order to get a job which pays at market rates. In some places (e.g. Georgia’s Georgia Works program and the new federal ‘Bridge to Work’ variation, UK’s workfare program), the government supports this initiative by pushing unemployed workers currently receiving unemployment funds to work at corporations which do not need to pay for that labour in return. In other words, corporations are receiving unpaid labour while governments compensate the workers involved at rates well below the minimum wage — hence my two central concepts above.
With the continued push for privatisation of every imaginable public service (education, construction, military, prisons, medicine, etc), we are seeing the rise of corporate ownership and control rather than any kind of ‘free market’ idealised utopia which libertarians so desperately want. Combining all of these elements, the logical conclusion is the collapse of a capital-based economy because the majority of people within the system will continue to be institutionally marginalised, de-valued, and discarded as anything but property. People will continue to work, but their subsistence will not come in the form of wages from their employer-owners but in the form of corporate-sponsored social programs which dictate the lives of their worker-slaves from what workers can ‘purchase’ with their work credits to how workers can spend their ‘free time’. A central government will disappear because its primary source of revenue — taxes from the working class — will have dried up; if it continues to exist, it will do so only through loans and bailouts from private corporations which shall use that power to control the social order.
Workers will be evaluated and valued according to their production; those who produce more will be valued more. Teachers will be evaluated according to how many of their students can understand basic instructions to become workers. Universities will be valued according to the direct ‘usefulness’ of their research (which shall be reduced to disciplines in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) because they will have become departments of industrial research for their corporate owners. Police and courts will be evaluated according to how many people are disciplined (through tickets and fines which require more work from the workers, or imprisonment for those which reject the corporation’s right to labour). Politicians will become corporate representatives and the political process will become one of agreeing on ways to exploit workers for corporate accumulation of capital. All media (internet, television, films, radio, etc) will be much the same — that is, artificially produced — with the added effect of being 100% propaganda for corporations.
Perhaps my handful of readers are wondering how would this be ‘socialism’. The answer is simple: workers have access to all basics of life — food, shelter, medical care, etc — without a mediating system of exchange (i.e. currency). Everything is reduced to a distorted version of Marx’s labour theory of value. This distortion arose through a capitalist supply-and-demand moment of inspiration: massive unemployment through the replacement of paid human labour by unpaid machine labour has produced an excess supply of labour which has driven down its value to nearly nothing. Every worker in the corporate system is reduced to a status equal to that of machines and nothing they produce has any value (because their labour value is also nothing). Instead, the value which corporations desire is the value of flesh — and they begin to exchange workers and potential workers while simultaneously trying to takeover each other. In the end, only one corporation remains and owns everything. In other words, those owners (which also eventually are reduced to one) have accumulated everything of value because they own the entirety of the planet despite the proliferation of brands which have no actual difference because their products are produced in the same factories by the same workers using the same source materials. The branding of products, corporations, and workers is used to control the workers by making them believe that there is a competition amongst brands and that their brand is demonstrably superior to all others.
The analogy to this fictive dystopia is simple: this planet has limited resources. The logical end of capitalism as it is currently practised and as a ‘free market’ ideal which libertarians and others wish it to become is the kind of future I describe. By going to its logical conclusion (albeit only through speculative fiction), there are clear dangers in taking the existing economy and moving towards a ‘free market’ utopia. The first danger is that it will actually produce a sort of corporate-controlled ‘socialism’ that most proponents despise. The second danger is the abuse of a corporate-government alliance to overstep government boundaries and revoke civil liberties. The obvious response is to increase regulations on corporations and break the marriage between corporations and governments rather than to deregulate, privatise, and lax regulations.