Capitalism’s maiden name

I once said Capitalism’s maiden name was Slavery. It would appear that Pope Leo XIII (pray for us) might agree:

a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself. 

From Rerum Novarum

When I was atheist, I considered myself socialist — though only having read The Communism Manifesto like once and not very well understanding it, and joining a local chapter of the Socialist party, I had no clue what the hell that really meant aside from people shouldn’t be poor and should have enough money to take care of themselves.

The timeline of my conversion to Catholicism overlapped my disillusionment with Socialism, insofar as I understood it. I started to think Capitalism wasn’t so bad, that with a free market it’s just a system in which people are given the freedom to do the right thing for one another.

A few years later and all I can say is it takes the precision of Grace to nuance this era (or error) in my life and not call it a second innocence or bald naivety. For the same reason that we believe capitalism could expand and satisfy great portions of human need and want, it only makes sense to accept they absolutely will not. The very freedom with which we — the loosest application of the pronoun I’ve ever granted — assume will work to the benefit of the greater lot of mankind is just the instrument for nearly all of the destruction we view in the world.

I would come to blows to defend that point. Or at least stare emptily into the eyes of someone defending it while I pray that Christ’s Most Sacred Heart shall have mercy on me. It should be obvious, especially to conservatives, that the same spoil of character which we easily accuse this or that celebrity of when they behave publicly like they don’t know how to behave is the exact and same dissolution of virtue likely to be common among those who do not step in front of a camera but instead decide, for their own profit, where the camera looks.

The moral failures are mostly obvious, or so I’ll assume. But what is not so obvious is the fact that no one really has a choice about what kind of system they’ll participate in. Capitalism and democracy don’t belong in the same sentence without their incompatibility made painfully salient. Chesterton noted both these points in a chapter of Utopia of Usurers. In “The Church of the Servile State”, he anticipates that

the new community which the capitalists are now constructing will be a very complete and absolute community; and one which will tolerate nothing really independent of itself.

In fact, it’s very easy to argue that not participating in the capitalist’s rules of engagement, community, society, or whatever it is to be called, results in poverty and the plainest tyranny — plain but no less tyrannical than capitalism.

For, on the second matter, that of democracy’s incompatibility with capitalism, Chesterton offers this poignant insight further in the same paragraph:

In every serious doctrine of the destiny of men, there is some trace of the doctrine of the equality of men. But the capitalist really depends on some religion of inequality. The capitalist must somehow distinguish himself from human kind; he must be obviously above it — or he would be obviously below it.

They will not fund public schools out of charity, they send their children to schools most people never heard of; they don’t eat with everyone else, nor the same food as everyone else; they afford better healthcare, housing, cars; have the lucrative jobs every MBA student dreams about; they, in short, have set themselves far apart from everyone else.

They rule from afar. Proper to the office of keeping slaves, they do well to promote a lively discussion  on the terms of our enslavement, rather than the rectification of any particular society itself which would abolish such a predicament. We may argue about free tuition, affordable healthcare or housing, raising wages, or immigration. We do not argue long, seriously, and publicly — not with the same manner — about breaking up banks, firing CEOs when their company misbehaves, making public shareholder meetings, evicting banks or corporations and keeping others out. We do not suggest a new law that would present a community with the opportunity to vote on a new commercial or apartment/condominium project, nor to have any of the towering traffic magnets knocked down once built.Who voted that California should spend over 3 times as much to build a train instead of desalination plants ; who did so after years of a drought?

Capitalist are frank about the despotism of a government that would so dare tell people how much they can earn or influence the behavior within markets. In the next breath they are defending America for being a democracy resplendent with freedoms and liberties. We have begun to talk more of free markets than free societies or, even more important, free communities. It is because we are being ruled, not represented. Capitalists have failed time and time again to recognize how much harm can be done to the average person because of vicissitudes in the workplace and economy, gentrification, free markets where perversion and vice are the rule of thumb, etc.

Leo XIII was entirely correct to claim the worker’s position is little better than slavery.  Chesterton was right to say that we can vote however we choose about issues we in fact have not chosen. Christopher Lasch was correct to claim that choice in America has come to mean choosing Brand X or Brand Y.

Thus, for all the facts, I think I am just in being angry with capitalism as an absolute failure of mankind.


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