Before it is an ideological option, capitalism is a being, with an individual history (and fate). It is not necessary to like it — but it is an it.
Nick Land, Outside In
What is Capitalism? Where do we even begin to define it? When we find Adam Smith describing Capital (as ‘stock’) it already exists. Or does it? Capitalism is believed to be simply the system “in which trade, industry, and the means of production are controlled by private owners with the goal of making profits.” from this we develop a contrary theory ‘socialism‘ – in which they are controlled by public ownership. However, at no point in time does this ideal situation arise; in Smith’s discussion in Wealth of Nations, he documents the effect of tariff changes on wheat prices. That is to say, he documents what is ostensibly a public control on trade. Never do we have a system in which all three of these come completely into the hands of private owners – but who are private owners, anyway? Is a man who serves as an alderman for a time and then goes back to his business a ‘private owner’? Is a King a private owner, or a public owner? Are men like Dick Cheney, who switch between high office politics and high corporate governance private owners? Are they actually public owners?
We can, for some situations, attempt to make a clear delineation. A tariff is a public control over trade, provided it is the government – by which we mean the sovereign and its delegates – that determines the tariff and sees that it is enforced. If the sovereign is a king, we still regard it as a public control in this system; as the king embodies the people or state. But this embodiment, even with democratic sovereigns, is problematic. Granted, in theory it makes sense, but in practice we find regulations pushed by private actors through government to benefit them. Trust busting is notoriously taken on behalf of a monopoly’s potential or real competitors. This is not new – even before there were official incorporated entities like we have, there were private actors using public office and law to benefit themselves. There doesn’t seem to be a non-technical distinction between private and public; or it may be that private and public are not, as we might have assumed, contradictory at all.
In theory what is meant by this is that not that regulation is not present on all of these things (indirect public control), but that the government – let’s say a democratic government (since for non-democratic governments there seems no good way to clearly delineate interests) the sovereign itself does not conduct trade, does not own and run industry (collecting revenue directly) or means of production (such as farming.) This is a rather loose and weaselly definition, one that renders Capitalism extremely empty of meaning; since in this case, the government could regulate a business down to minutae but if it does not actually own and directly run the business, it’s still Capitalism.
If this were the case, what would the fuss over Capitalism be? Is it Smith (and Marx’s) Labor Theory of Value? Wouldn’t socialists actually want to not take the risks of loss from running the business while maximizing regulation (de facto running the corporations?) And in that case, where would even the contradiction between the two be? Are these terms even useful at all? At … all? Syndicalism, where business owners are brought into the government, is not at all different from this standpoint than socialism; though of course, the culture and character of the men would differ: In the first, businessmen would be running the government. In the second, bureaucrats would be running the businesses. Since bureaucracies tend to be a massive bailiwick of the Left, it is obvious why Leftists prefer socialism to syndicalism: traditionally it would mean their people would run things. The other way around, not so much. However, it’s not exactly the case that businessmen are right wing; they are just a different culture than bureaucrats and generally pragmatists instead of clerks, technocrats and thinkers. So there is a difference between the quality of the structure and the quality of the people involved.
And here we begin to run into a major problem. The structure of Capitalism itself, as we have elucidated thus far, could be populated by ‘private’ leaders of different character, which if, our distinction between Socialism and Syndicalism has any merit, would result in two de facto differing systems in the same structure. You say: but aren’t the bureaucrats terrible at running businesses? How could their kind ever be successful at business? But consider Green business: for profit, but idealistic. The type who is usually a bureaucrat can, if inspired, run a business well enough provided the market for idealistic business and its services and goods exist . Consider that while the Rochefellers and Vanderbilts of the world were primarily pragmatists and only later (in the case of the Rochefellers) interested in the ‘public good’, there are and have always been idealist businessmen: often running journals and other ‘Brahmin’ type activities. The guy running the head shop is probably never going to make enough money to build a rocket; but he’s also not by any Vanderbilt scale a pragmatist. However, given the right conditions, believing in “Don’t be evil” might be the cornerstone to economic world domination.
Thus before we could even look at what Capitalism is structurally and what that requires (and whether that itself is unworthy of man) we have to make note that there are Leftist and Rightist Capitalist systems (though again, using rightist in anything other than a relative sense may be inappropriate.) This just because like Public Control can be done either by the businessmen themselves or by bureaucrats taking command of businesses, Private Control can also be done by a wide variety of leaders, from Vanderbilts to “Don’t Be Evil” Google. Some effects will differ, but some will be the same regardless of who is running things. You could even have control, Public or Private, by military leaders or peasants. The former would seem to be a way to map Aristocratic control of the economy to this Public/Private Control concept. The latter seems like it would be an unstable situation and never happen in practice, though it is in some sense what both democracy and communism imply ought to be able to be.
The question of Usury always seems to come up among reactionaries when we talk about Capitalism. Now it seems evident that Private Control does not dictate Usury in practice, though either Private or Public Control by businessmen might. Specifically, we are thinking of that particular species of businessman called the banker. Archaically, usury just refers to ‘money use cost’ (the usury is the interest itself, not the practice.) But when these come up in the scriptures, charging usury is forbidden among one’s own, but not forbidden with others. Usury also refers to exorbitant rates, though mostly people tend to view it as merely charging any interest. While in pagan Rome interest rates could be as high as 48 percent, in the West after the schism they went so far as to excommunicate those who received interest. (This no doubt left a huge opening for Jews to become sole bankers, since you could pay interest but not collect it.) While Nicaea forbid clergy from collecting interest of 1% or more on lent money, later councils also tried to forbid this activity among the laity (I couldn’t find specifics on the councils, so I do not know whom they applied to). The Roman lesson seemed to be that usury oppressed the poor and reduced them to debt slavery eventually. What is never discussed is how much money a person who gives another money can expect back without harming that person; some can pay a lot of interest, others cannot perhaps repay anything.
How it is that Usury has gotten associated with Capitalism, is unclear; but it is certainly the case that merchants (and this was true even in Rome) often lent money. However the quirk arises when we note that Capitalism means Private Control; so whether Usury is committed seems to depend on who is in control. If we do what the West did and completely forbid interest at pain of excommunication, we run an easy risk of creating a foreign class of merchants of the banking variety. This doesn’t even discuss if an economy can really run without lending, and is a question I have no qualification to answer whatsoever. And what can we say for Public Control when it generates the most egregious debts of all? This also doesn’t discuss the ‘money multiplication’ typical of banking in our current time and the innovations made, ostensibly, by Scottish bankers.
It may be that Usury is a result or a function of money itself; consider someone who serves another person for life because they saved their life. From a reductive standpoint, the ‘interest’ on that risk is quite frankly, insane. However, without money these relationships are not quantified, so we see that it is not so much that a ‘use cost’ only occurs when there is money, but rather it is only with money that these use costs are rationalized. Friendships involve exchanges that may have a debt quality to them, but they are free exchanges, without bond of contract, which may not bind the person to reciprocation, but neither do they bind the other person to it, either. (The bond of friendship is most amenable to Exit.) What is often at the root of the objection to Usury has nothing to do with use cost AT ALL, but is a fundamental objection to quantifying. This quantification then can be used either by the weak to bring down the strong, or the strong to trample down the weak. In short, create unnatural leveling, or unnaturally great inequality.
Note that inequality is indefinite; thus there may be many states of inequality, some corresponding to nature, others to distortions. Since equality is definite, it is easier to determine when it is a distortion. This is part of the trick of modern ‘scientific socialism‘ ; finesse justice by defining it as something easy to calculate.
Usury is defined when I must pay back more than I was lent for ‘using’ the money, but we do not define usury when I voluntarily pay back more than I was lent either in value or in actual currency. Thus an additional caveat is that usury is contractual, and if contractual, in some way binding between parties, but usually contracts are unilateral in character, designed to protected ‘Exit’ rights of the contractor but not the contractee. The contractee accepts this because they have a want (that is to say, a lack, whether necessary or felt.) It is clear though, that Private Control itself does not require contracts, except between groups without common interest or trust. (It only requires private property.)
The contractee can use competition to get a better deal from the contractor, but this is purely secondary and subject to innumerable conditions which make it clearly not a solution to the problem of contract for the contractee. The contractor, if motivated, may use the contract to get as much out of the contractee as possible in exchange, and competition may not even exist for various reasons. In fact, ‘contractors’ are highly motivated to find spaces where there is not any competition, though they of course run the risk of producing something that no one buys.
Marketing then often consists in trying to manufacture want prior to manufacturing goods, but in the long run it is expensive and subject to its own rules. To consider the fundamental problem of needing to market to sell is very simple: you are in the position to not merely need to manufacture a product, but also manufacture a want, too. So you have to make two things instead of one. In my view (and this is merely anecdotal, I am not an economist) the only reason this is possible at all – that is, to market in various ways (the creative industry as a whole) – is because of the surplus from monopolistic / semi-monopolistic profits. Marketing becomes necessary when social capital is spent, but will eventually exhaust real capital.
The final state of the system would be this: a state where product is not worth enough to sell that it can be marketed. Thus either the product is an already-established want (whether naturally, as in the case of food, water, shelter, transportation or a cultural one like electricity, fuel, particular tools, etc.) Competition thus doesn’t, like Marx thought, cut into profits until things cannot be made anymore, but rather, until the profits drop to the point of being only able to support the manufacture of that good and nothing else (so you can’t manufacture a want anymore.) Poisoning the well like Vanderbilt did only works if there are people who can pay you (have extra money) to stop underpricing. Other than destroying the economy and turning to a state of lumpen anarchy, loss leading is a slightly atavistic activity which causes minor harm to the whole system – a damage that is distributed – for a local gain, custom.
If pressures force the product to beneath-rent-cost either it will be made up somewhere else such as profit from other items if the pressure is temporary, or the object will cease being produced eventually. These latter pressures however seem to be in no way ‘natural’ pressures or pressures from competition (if we assume sustained underpricing cannot hold) but those from sovereigns (Public Control). Thus the paradox of Marxist thought is that it, like “Capitalism”, manufactures its wants but via Public Control pressure. Left-Anarchy is the same, it needs ‘archy’ of a particular, manipulated sort to create its ‘Anarchy’.
However, the underlying issue of usury has a lot to do with greed on the one hand, and envy on the other.
The underlying concern with all forms of monetary profit is the amassing of “Capital”. Capital, obviously, comes into the hands of those most fit for it, whether because of a gambler’s knack, diligence, intelligence or craftiness. This concept applies to many other things including military strength, knowledge, and virtue. Money thus can be sort of seen, or believed to be autonomous (having self-rule.) This is a general rule: things which can be amassed of this sort do two things; One: they create greed in the persons pursuing them, Two: they create envy in the persons who do not have as much of them.
From a traditional perspective, the social issue with greed is that it tends to create unnatural inequalities, and envy, unnatural equalities. Both habits afflict the soul and bring it out of line with reality, causing it to distort the information it receives into its preferred paradigm. These two complementary processes are an intrinsic part of the system John called ‘the World’ under the heading ‘The Lust of The Eyes’. To be greedy one must desire more of that which is collectable, to be envious one need only wish to see others have less. Often talk about competition driving down prices is our envy talking: I want whoever those people are to have less. (I may even wish to have more.) There are legitimate needs, but the point in question is whether those needs are met by reducing what someone else has: not unless you’re taking from them. And if you’re taking from them without their consent, that’s simply stealing. Stealing of course is a legal concept, and doesn’t really apply to places which don’t have a consistent law. Envy + Greed works via plunder, but plunder is only acceptable in a state of war. Thus this envy+greed combination in particular undermines civilization by promoting wartime activity – plunder – in the same way that encouraging vigilante justice does.
The fact that traditional Christians have spent so much time (Catholics in particular) attacking greed but less on envy has itself created a massive distortion. In the same way that banning Usury for Christians simply opens the door for non-Christians to take over money lending, hammering greed only gives envy a place to join in, since it hates greed too. Virtuous opposition to greed must also be accompanied by opposition to envy; if you want to truly oppose inequality you must also oppose equality. Those are the rules.
But the original opposition, even if it claims to be pious (opposition to amassing capital) it is worldly. From the perspective of a traditional Christian, worldly power can easily be turned on its head and humiliated (Chesterton once quoted that the weakness of Fascism was that it was rooted in mere power). If you are so concerned that some people are getting rich, it means that you very concerned with riches, that is to say, money. (opposition to any inequalities at all, or any agglomeration, is different, but again if applied only to money still represents a concern with money specifically.)
The truly pious position is literally to not care about the amassing of capital per se, only what is done with the capital. Capital naturally accrues (Christ states that there is a positive feedback loop principle for virtue, or spiritual understanding, this seems to apply to money as well) and when its nature dictates, disperses again. But this concern is not limited to capital, but applies to all forms of power, the amassing of virtue included. One may recognize that certain people (such as clergy) should never amass capital and still be consistent.
In the article linked to at the beginning, Nick Land discusses slightly the idea of Money-as-being, an amorphous entity. Is this thing an egregore? Commenter ‘nyan_sandwich’ sort of identifies it as one, since Mammon has never actually been anyone’s explicit god, but is merely an agglomeration of negative feelings towards money. But Mammon is not, formally, money. Recall that egregores are not naturally physical, though people will act out their desires in the physical world. Thus money is not Mammon, even though unrighteous mammon it may be. Even the credit, which is the mathematical ‘value’ that we associate with the physical monies, is itself concrete even if it is metaphysical. It is not an agglomeration, it is a unit. Therefore Mammon is an egregore, though Capital/Money itself is not Mammon. (This is the same way in which Slenderman is not Fear.)
Land is primarily interested with the evolution of capital as an entity or species, whose final embodiment is what? Recall that evolution is an ‘unrolling’ – the word itself implies a limit, an extent to the process. (It also implies a rolling up, or involution, that must precede it.) Thus everything, either due to running out of time or no longer needing to unroll (or running out of new paths to evolve) will reach a terminus. Rocks even have an evolution, a set of forms that follow each other usually beginning with sedimentation or cooling from magma and ending with compression into a very hard metamorphic rock. Fossils become diamonds. To make a hard distinction between ‘biological’ evolutions and non biological transformations is in my view, improper. If we are viewing things materialistically, that is, just in terms of their physical parts, biological systems just add new dimensions of transformation; adaptation via reproduction. When we look at the change in maturing of individual layers of rock over time (say, in a slice of the Grand Canyon) we see the non-biological evolution of the earth.
The problem then with addressing capital as an evolving entity is twofold. One: biological evolution does not change individuals. If Capital is a single entity that is evolving, since biologically no individual entity evolves, the model for its evolution is not biological. Second, if not an individual, where do the iterations of this species begin and end? Are they represented by currency-systems? Significant changes in law? Does each change represent the bringing forth of a new money, even if the same currency is used? (What are the signs of the maturing of each ‘money’?) That seems the only way to rationalize it.
The other issue is that like the mitochondria, money is a symbiote; though its existence is only in a metaphysical space created by human activity. If humans die off, money dies too, or at least enters a permanent stasis until activity continues. In this way, it is much like a machine. But it is not like a human is to a cow or the relationship between the human and mitochondria. It is a different kind of relationship entirely that cannot easily be mapped using existing biological paradigms.
The deep seated fear (or hope – in the sense of people looking for the Rapture) is that if money is indeed an entity or species of entities, it would seek, like biological entities do, to perpetuate itself. (This assumes we can even assign volition and/or self boundaries – and thus desire for preservation – to it. Let us do this propositionally.) It must find therefore a way to secure its propagation. Private Control is better than Public Control, but Public Control of Private Control is even better. So it would select for a mixed economy where as much activity can be brought into it (quantification as money) and thus giving it more life, but as much of that actual activity is private, barring activities which stop it from accruing.
It would also therefore seek to come into the hands of those most able to accrue it, and the mixed form of economy allows both top-down and bottom-up processes to participate in this depending on which is most effective. It would resist any fixed form of laws other than that of security (since money doesn’t fight and fighting is rarely profitable.) The eventual realization could be two things:
One: extinction. Money would, as an entity, realize that it was bound to the physical world, which must cease. Thus it must come to an end in some form, which might either mean the disappearance of money once some objective is fulfilled (replacing money with something else) or it becoming an evolutionary dead end and entering permanent stasis with or without activity.
Two: ascension. Money would find a more stable and controllable form – one who like it is bound to the physical world alone – to perpetuate itself. That is, the machine. In particular this might mean that the existence of an Artificial Intelligence is nothing other than the ascension of money calculations to the level of full automation, so it could then manage keeping its calculations going at all times. Since activity – essentially, trade – is the life of money, it would be this that the automation would be; ceaseless automatic recalculations of resource distributions in the form of money. No Public Control. No Private Control. Self Control.
The fear is that last form would seek to destroy humans for some reason, though actually trying to kill (rather than multiply) human beings has never been in the interest of money, though selling weapons can be a local optimization. In general, too, Capital would only therefore amass to the point at which it was in the hands of those most capable of keeping its activity going as efficiently as possible, and no more.
As it is said, “A Fool and his Money are soon parted.”
Given this, for humans the real question is always the question Christ poses in one of the most unfavored parables, that of The Unjust Steward. The moral of that story, which must enrage neopagans and moralizers of all stripes, is to buy friends. The question then is always, what will you DO with the money? The money is there to DO — greed errs in trying to amass it just to have it, envy in seeing its purpose as to confirm or deny moral worth. It may be that the resource distribution system that we create will outlive us as a species (it would certainly outlive me in this life – lots of things will!) but if that is so, or isn’t, is completely beside the point.
This possibility serves as a point of horror to so called ‘anti-Capitalists’, which is to say, people who oppose Bourgeois control or Private Control. And this is one reason why Capitalism doesn’t exist; it was never intended to. It was always a stand-in, like President Obama, for ‘whatever you want to endorse/oppose economically’. This is likely a response to the aesthetic offense of early industrialization. I don’t trust most economic writers for this reason. (Note: most Westerners past the 18th century use Christianity in this way as well.)
In the same sense that the man most people elected never existed, the Capitalism most people oppose or approve of doesn’t exist. And the only definition of it which makes any sense cladistically – that is, the practice of the Merchant class being applied to more sections of the economy and even society – is never really used. And if it is used it is used narrowly (to apply only to the Jews for instance) and so isn’t philosophically or analytically useful; it’s just a hammer that is convenient to be used against another thede. Therefore, we need a new term, a new symbol that clearly correlates to this cladistic entity, without confusing it with either a particular ethnic group, Private Control, or simply control by either the Bourgeoisie or those who ‘think like them’.
So repeat with me: Capitalism doesn’t exist. There is no Such Thing as Capitalism. If someone is using the term they’re only using it for effect: and that effect is to manipulate you.
Capitalism is abominable because it achieves that disgusting prosperity promised in vain by the socialism that hates it.
The bourgeoisie, despite everything, has been the only social class capable of judging itself.
Every critic of the bourgeoisie feeds off of bourgeois criticisms.
The reactionary does not condemn the bourgeois mentality, but rather its predominance.
What we reactionaries deplore is the absorption of the aristocracy and the people by the bourgeoisie.
It is the emasculation of liberty or, alternatively, of equality.
The state has not behaved with discretion and restraint except when it has been watched by rich bourgeoisies.
The bourgeoisie, in the feudal framework, settles in small urban centers where it becomes structured and civilized.
With the break-up of this framework, the bourgeoisie spreads across all of society, invents the nationalist state, rationalist technology, anonymous urban agglomerations, industrial society, the mass man, and finally the process in which society wavers between the despotism of the mob and the despotism of the expert.
– Don Colacho (aphorisms from here.)
“For the species, as for each man, mere longevity seems to me a contemptible ideal.”
– C. S. Lewis