The question of the morality of writers making a living from their writing has landed in my in-box and in other locations I’ve frequented a few times in the past, and it will no doubt come up again in the future.
I got an angry, nasty email from one writer clearly against writers being compensated for their work, though, and this particular foaming-at-the-mouth weasel-in-a-blender tirade got me thinking about writers who want to be paid for what they create—and the shit they take for admitting it. The writer of this e-mail ignored my clearly and publicly stated policy of NEVER reading anything submitted to me by anyone but my agent. He sent me something he had written, requesting my comment, and following my stated policy, I deleted his work unread.
To which he sent the following missive (in my response to my I Have A [Writing] Dream e-mail and post):
You need MY help? But your the great genius Holly Lisle, why would u need little ‘ole me’s help? Oh, i see, it isn’t a writing dream you have anymore, it’s a money-making dream. So you need all the little idiots to help u with that. I needed help too, Holly Lisle… “I send u little letter, needing one maybe two line of response but there was no response, i get sad and think holly lisle not friend any more, that holly lisle like all other American capitalist, she want only my credit card number and no care about my own dream. holly lisle bad, holly lisle corrupted, like robber baron in my own country who steal from poor and make peasant go hungry…” I get this kind of blather all the time here, you people trying to make money off the idiots; speaking good words, but having no intention of backing any of them up unless a credit card number is forthcoming. shame, shame, holly lisle, you corrupt American businesswoman. you go, girl; you’ve come a long way. i did read one of your little essays, about not changing the world. are u serious? * if u got the time to think up all that crap, u got too much time. don’t bother replying, there’s nothing more to say.
Now, understand that the person writing this is a competent native English speaker and someone who actually aspires to be a professional writer (I have to guess he’s American from the lack of British spelling anywhere in his email.).
Why he chose to present himself in such a stupid way eludes me, but there you have it.
Look past the fact that my e-mail was not about me making money—I’ve been supporting my family with my writing for the last eighteen years—but about me getting to a point in my life where I want to help other writers make a full-time living from THEIR writing. He was pissed because I didn’t respond to his manuscript, or whatever it was, and he decided he was going to flame me. It happens. Fairly frequently. It wouldn’t happen if people read the goddamn FAQs, but that would assume most people were willing to work for their knowledge, rather than demanding someone who did work for it hand it to them on a silver platter.
That’s not why we’re here. We’re here because my frothing correspondent reveals a nasty (if prevalent) resentment of people who make money by creating things.
Of which I am one, and fervently so.
So I am going to talk about money, and the making of money, and why, if you are someone who creates, you have every right to work toward being compensated—and compensated well—for the products of your mind.
What Is Money?
Most people are surprisingly foggy about this. People currently running the US government are VERY foggy about this, to the detriment of the country.
Money is not a thing. It is an idea. Money is the amazingly brilliant and civilized idea that if two human beings agree on a standard unit of measure that can represent the value of unlike items, people can trade with each other freely for anything, without the use of force.
Prior to the creation of money, people who wanted something had the following options for getting it:
- Take it by force, with a club, a gun, or the claim of divine right.
- Steal it by subterfuge, deceit, or misrepresentation.
- Trade for it with items the owner of the coveted item would accept as having equal value.
Money is the means of exchange for men and women of integrity and good will—because of its standard and broadly accepted value, you do not have to come up with a dozen live chickens of egg-laying age and three bushels of wheat to purchase a table and two chairs made by your neighbor, who needs only chickens and wheat.
You can work at whatever trade you choose, receive your compensation in standard currency, and go out to buy a table and two chairs from someone who can then use your currency to buy a dozen live chickens and three bushels of wheat. Or an X-Box. The two of you don’t have to dicker back and forth about whether the wheat is good or kind of old and so not as valuable as you say it is, and you don’t have to figure out how to walk around with twelve live chickens in your pocket.
Money is moral, and the most civilizing element created by humankind.
And is it made (invented, summoned from nothingness) by people who create things that other people value.
If you have an idea, and you sit down to write a story—and your story doesn’t suck (VERY important point)—you have created something good and worthwhile that did not exist before. You have created something of value, you have added to the wealth of the world, and by doing so, you have invented money from nothing.
This is how the Gross National Product (or Gross Domestic Product) of any nation grows. Not by government action, but by the efforts of individuals.
Governments do not add to the wealth of the world. They create nothing. Rather, they take—either by the consent of the governed, or by force—wealth that others have created. Moral governments use the wealth taken to carry out the will of the people, and nothing more. Immoral governments expand the reach and scope of the government, and decrease the rights of the people governed.
Governments who deal with debt by printing more money (while not creating more wealth) dilute the value of existing money. This causes inflation—and it’s what’s coming next in the current US economy.
Only the act of creation brings forth new wealth.
You can judge the basic morality or immorality of any philosophy by how it deals with money.
Money gives people the power to live their own lives, to choose their own paths, to be independent individuals. Money promotes good will by allowing value to be exchanged for value—for allowing both parties to “win” in the trade. Money releases people from lives bound to scratching out a meager existence growing their own food, building their own homes, and weaving their own clothing, and allows them to work in whatever fashion they desire, and to trade easily for those goods and services they do not create themselves.
Philosophies either promote freedom and independence, which are made possible by money; or they promote dependence and force, and revile money as a tool of evil or the possession of wicked men and “robber barons” because it moves people away from whatever form of force the philosophy is pushing.
Here are examples of philosophies of force.
“Don’t struggle to think your own thoughts—we’ll tell you what to think and save you from all that messy confusion.”
“Don’t act for your own benefit—serve our demands under our direction and we will take care of you as we see fit.”
“Don’t create. Consume.”
“Don’t value your own life—value everyone else’s lives and sacrifice your own for the greater good, as defined by us.”
“Don’t be an individual. Be a collective—because we can force collectives to do what we want, and individuals are pains in the ass.”
“Don’t expect value returned in exchange for value given. Give us everything you have that is worth anything while you’re alive, and you’ll be rewarded once you’re dead.”
“Take by force from those who create, give without interest in merit to those who don’t create to bribe their loyalty.”
The philosophy of money—the philosophy of capitalism—is simple.
“Stand on your own two feet, choose your own path, earn your own way, create value and trade honorably with value given for value received.”
So yes. I’m a capitalist. Fervently, ardently so. I believe in the value of the individual, in the beauty of human creativity, in the right of human beings to hold their own lives as worthy of living to their highest potential and to pursue their own dreams.
Because this matters to me, I put some of the money I have earned from my own work (I invest some of my profits, in other words) into creating ways to help people who also value independence and creation make their dreams into their reality, the way I have done for myself.
My ability to help others is dependent upon my making a profit—if I don’t have enough to feed my family, I don’t have enough to invest in anyone else. This is true for ALL capitalists, and it’s the reason jobs are disappearing right now. Not because capitalism is evil, but because a program of taxing those who create into poverty kills the creation of wealth for everyone.
Are there corrupt capitalists? Of course. Human beings don’t always live up to their highest ideals, and some resort to theft, trickery, manipulation, and force because these are easier than honorable exchange. Those who do these things do not represent the spirit or philosophy of capitalism when they do, though, any more than a murderer is a legitimate representation of what it means to be human.
Are there corrupt socialists, corrupt communists, corrupt anti-business governments? Considerably more than there are corrupt capitalists. The use of force breeds corruption.
If you want to live your life on your terms and pursue your own dreams and create something wonderful, if you want to stand on your own two feet and earn your own way in the world, don’t snarl at the businessmen who make profits and invest them in jobs and the creation of opportunities that benefit everyone.
Money is not evil. It’s the best and most liberating idea human beings ever had.
*“Saving The World Through Typing” is a funny essay, but I’m dead serious.
‘Andre’ not only drank the Kool-Aid, but like many pseudo-intellectuals, he swallowed a dictionary and threw it back up at random.
“Speed is Golden” but might leave some misspellings, poor grammar, and a lack of proper jargon.
Back on June 1st, you stated, in a reply to Andre, something that needs to be kept in mind, always, regarding any political/religious system. “There are crooks everywhere.”
I used to be a Democrat, growing up poor in Montana and the Dakotas [yay, trailer park kids!] I absorbed a lot of liberal ideology. Being part of that group, though, with my eyes open and thinking for myself, I saw that the leaders were quite often lying, scheming, crooked and vile persons.
For a while, I was involved in a religious movement that had a tendency to veer to the political right. In this group I continued to think for myself, and found that the primary tenet of their own philosophy, The Bible, pointed out the hypocrisy of most of their leadership, and illuminated them as lying, scheming, crooked and vile persons.
My wife is a charismatic person, and there was some talk with local political folks who thought she would make a great candidate for the right-wing in this area. Then she met some of the party leaders here, who were lying, scheming, crooked and vile persons, and that ended that.
When I first came east of the Mississippi, I got temporary work in Union shops. Some of the Union people, particularly toward the top, were lying, scheming, crooked and vile persons whose personalities were defined by 1]Envy 2]Greed and 3]Hubris.
Some of my clients [I have run my own business for almost 20 years] have small groups of amateur Objectivists; Ayn Rand devotees. I have not yet found any particularly vile persons among them, but I smell the distinct odor of Jim Jone’s special coolaid recipe as I realize that any “Objectivist” who doesn’t play fair could easily win all the marbles from these people.
It is a proven historical fact that, left unchecked, “Capitalism” can become “Organized Crime”, in which case it is no longer pure Capitalism. Another proven historical facts is that forms of communalism only work if all the participants are voluntarily involved without threat or coercion. Certain religious communities have such systems, and people who don’t like to share opt out or are excluded. Government imposed communism or socialism quickly become organized crime on a large scale. [cp. fictional “Feegash” and The People’s Republic of China. Long-term plans for Global Domination; secret manipulations of capitalist market, political systems, public opinion.]
The differences are large, though, if Capitalism is really Free Market and not centralized. Non-centralized systems may exclude the cheats and crooks to preserve themselves. When government or a central authority [Wall Street, nationally Organized Labor, etc] has too much control of the market, then Capitalism can quickly become dominated by a few people, and the most corrupt will work harder to get to the top of the system.
Self-evident fact– Most “Street corner Socialists” who preach that the “Rich” – defined as anyone who has anything desirable – should share with everyone, are remarkably selfish when they get anything of their own. What we see, if we really open our eyes and ears, is that GREED does not come with money, GREED precedes money. The major difference is that GREED is called ENVY when your greed is for something owned by somebody else.
Critics of the economic system should also be aware that the US does not have a Free Market, so observations about corruption and capitalism in the US have no validity. The US Federal Government and other institutions [labor, Federal Reserve, foreign national interests, individual states, etc] all seek to gain control of the system. Pennsylvania has a set minimum price for milk; tobacco and alcohol production are heavily restricted and taxed; petroleum is subsidized.
Certain small business owners know from bitter experience that they are trapped between labor [“You can’t paint in this town, buddy, you don’t have a Union card”] and Government-supported business [“We’re sorry, but the State relies on prevailing wage rates determined by insurers.”]
Yes, Andre, it is sad when your nation’s businessmen, bankers, and politicians sell your country to another. Yes, US banks and business used to buy a great deal from other nation’s corrupt businessmen, bankers, and politicians. Yes, the US banks, businesses, and politicians have been selling this country, machine tool, patent, and contract, to the Chinese.
You see, greed works in many ways; one day you would sell your birthright because you are hungry [not dying, just hungry] and discover later that your birthright was worth a great deal more.
Those who don’t understand Capitalism miss out on the blessings of it, and those who speak the loudest against it are usually thieves.
I used to be a Democrat, too. Registered, liberal, and everything.
I discovered that the philosophy of liberalism does not lead to better lives for individuals.
I discovered the same thing about Republicans—I tried them out, too. Same result.
Also Christianity, Taoism, Wicca.
I read both widely and deeply in each of these five philosophical approaches to living your individual life, and in each, discovered that what people said would happen if their philosophy was used Did. Not. Happen.
The simple rule of human survival is this: If you try something and it doesn’t work, and you give it enough trials to see that it consistently doesn’t work, you stop doing that. You find another approach and try it. You do not just keep trying harder at the thing that DOES NOT WORK.
With five philosophies that were failures behind me, I tried Capitalism. Read widely and deeply. And found for the first time in my life that the philosophy of Capitalism applied to my own life resulted in exactly the outcomes it promised. It continues to do exactly that. It helped me. It helped my family. And it allowed me to share my help with other people who chose to ask for it, and who valued what I offered.
My application of Capitalism to my own life has so far resulted in the improvement of my life and the lives of the folks I love…and also in the betterment of the lives of thousands of people I have never met personally. I have their letters.
The second half of the simple rule of human survival is this: When you find something that does work, Keep. Doing. That.
I loved your post Holly. I could never have written such a detailed account of economics as you did and applaud the style and accuracy of your post. And I have to admit that I laughed hysterically at some points in the post (the visual I got with “walking around with chickens in your pockets” was truly a Monty Python moment).
The thing I love best about you as a writer is your determination and forthright attitude. I enjoy your books too but…they would not be nearly as enjoyable if I did not appreciate you as a person as well.
Hope you have a wonderful summer Holly!
On the risk of getting the pro-capitalists all over me, there are a number of things wrong with a capitalist economy.
So far it has always been those who exploit the most needy best who make the most prolific profits.
Those who have next to nothing will always provide cheap labour. It used to be the native poor, then it became immigrants, now it is third world countries who are being squeezed like lemons for their resources (labour, produce, services, …)
And yes, you have the entrepreneurial spirits, like Holly, who become creative out of necessity, and quite a few make it, and make it ok enough to have a reasonably comfortable life, but (speculating here) Holly is probably never gonna hit the Fortune500 list, in spite of being a good deal more creative than most companies on it.
You will argue this will happen anywhere in whatever system, and you are probably right.
BUT imho the problem with a capitalist system is that it does NOT reward creativity or even effort as such, it rewards you for being smarter than the next guy. It is based on competition, not on cooperation. It has inequality designed into it. (Watch the Mondragon experiment on YouTube to see how and why industry – or banking/health care/education/anything – based on cooperation can function and be more succesful than capitalist run organisations EVEN in our capitalist economy.)
Why in our economy are one person’s working hours worth less than someone else’s? Is my time less valuable than yours? Why can a person have a salary 35 times and over that of their peers putting in similar hours for the same company?
CEOs have more responsabilities maybe, or put in more hours, but an inequality of that magnitude is basically inexcusable. And I’m not even talking about golden handshakes, shares, trips, and other benefits…
Raising kids has always been an unpaid job, but it “creates” A LOT of wealth for a nation, its entire future. Teaching kids has traditionally been low pay, most artists are scraping by, scientists outside mainstream economy controlled thinking can not get funding… Where’s the reward in all this good work other than knowing you are doing it because you want to?
People harming the environment on the contrary, endangering our future including all life on this planet, or getting rich off other’s people’s needs or misery are making Billions (petrochemical industry, pharmaceutical industry, insurances, banks…).
Many people have worked/are working unselfishly on things that help the world progress (ok, one individual at the time if you wish). As a result there EXIST cheap and clean ways to have free or near free energy for everyone, there ARE ways of reversing a number of socalled incurable diseases, of producing enough quality food for everyone, etc.
None of this information is mainstream. Because it’s flawed? No, because Big Money, Big Power are blocking public access to this knowledge (buying and losing the patents, funding forged studies showing whatever improvement someone found won’t work, bribing, threatening & even killing the scientist’s that work on these things) so that these goods/this power doesn’t reach the public.
I’m not saying this couldn’t happen in other types of economy, but capitalism sure knows its deal of corruption…
Paying it forward is a brilliant thing, Holly is doing heaps of great work and has improved the life of a number of individuals, including my own – and however much we may agree on the benefits of capitalism, I will be forever grateful for her help – , but most of the world doesn’t have the kind of ethics Holly has, and corruption and exploitation are rife.
This is not going to get solved by a free market economy; it’s a thing of individual conscience, increased consciousness, growing awareness of what is going on in the world, raising your kids with ears and eyes open, learning to think for yourself, and sharing what you know, saving the world one individual at the time 😀
It seems to me like you have a few arguments with capitalism:
1) Exploitation of the needy to make profit.
2) Lack of reward for creativity of effort.
3) Unequal payment for labor output.
You also raised some other points, which I want to comment on first. You mentioned companies “getting rich off peoples’ needs or misery” are making tons of money, and also implied that destruction of the environment is tied to capitalism. I don’t know that this is in any way related to capitalism; if at all, then the reverse is true. Capitalism fuels an economy better than any other system humanity has used. This results in higher standards of living, better education, and – as a result, *more* public awareness of pollution and environmental issues. Nigeria has spilled more oil per year *every* year since the 1950s than the entire Gulf spill will dump. But the people there lack the education we have, and are unable to combat this. In the USA, the Gulf is recognized as a disaster area precisely because we *are* so well educated – and informed – which is a direct result of our economy.
Cheap or free energy is pretty much a myth. Solar isn’t there yet, ocean power is in its infancy, and nuclear isn’t free if you consider the drawbacks of maintenance and storage of the spent fuel. Incurable diseases are. I’d love to see documentation that someone is sitting on a cure for some major disease – frankly, capitalism pretty much *prevents* this, because there would be so much profit from such a cure that we’d see it immediately on the market. As for food… I’ve seen estimates that the USA could produce all the food needed for every human being on the planet. By ourselves, through the use of modern (and sustainable) agricultural techniques. The issue is not that we can’t do it – the issue is that poor nations cannot *buy* it. That’s because their own economies are hampered by the greater corruption, lower education, and generally lower productivity of non-capitalist nations. That last is a generalization – there are also a host of ethnic issues in large swathes of the world that the US largely doesn’t need to deal with. But even these would gradually fade if the economy was improved.
OK, back to your main points.
1) Exploitation of the needy happens. Unfortunately, it happens in capitalist economies as well as others. I’d argue that it happens *less* in capitalist economies than others, however, because in a capitalist nation, the worker can go elsewhere. If every nation were a high-productivity capitalist economy, we wouldn’t have anywhere to go for cheap labor, and things would shake down and settle out a bit.
2) I just don’t see a lack of reward for creativity and effort. No way. We see more millionaires being made every year now than ever before. Well, maybe not since the recession. 😉 But it is *easier* for a high-energy person to succeed on a large scale here in the US than it has been at almost any other time in history. Education is cheap and good. We have more free time than we know what to do with. Most of us opt to just do OK. I’m there too. I’m bright, and have decent health. If I was committed to spending a hundred hours a week using my brain to gain wealth, I’d have probably done pretty well for myself by now. I have other priorities (family, wanting “in” to a field with mediocre reimbursements, etc.). The option is there for folks. But it is almost exclusively those who exhibit high levels of creativity and effort succeed.
3) You ask “Why in our economy are one person’s working hours worth less than someone else’s?” Because they’re doing something of more value to society. Full stop. If that were not the case, they’d be getting paid less. Teachers get paid less because we, as a culture, value them less. If that were not the case, we’d fire our politicians over and over until they raised teacher salaries. People who earn more per hour are those who are seen by society at large as having a greater value. Smarter, stronger, more creative, more energetic, more educated – whatever it might be that makes them seem more valuable, there is *something* there which makes them so. I’m not saying our cultural values are always in the right place, mind you. But those values absolutely dictate the value of time. Walmart execs (and shareholders) earn more money per hour than a craftsman who runs a shop producing high quality furniture because we value “cheap” more than we value “quality”. Again, not saying that is a good value – but that is the value we have as a culture.
Our version of capitalism has issues, for sure! Mostly, they happen when artificial constraints are placed on competition – through laws, government interference, lobbying by the rich, etc. To date though, I have yet to see a government use a system I’d prefer. Most of them are much, much worse.
I’m not putting my foot in the Capitalism aspect of this post. Theory vs. life experience is always going to be messy. Money is always a sore point when a person wants more things than the money they have will allow them to afford. Anyone with a credit card balance can feel for this (by making this point I am not saying that balances are always accumulated from discretionary spending – busted bones or wounded cars are not optional expenditures if you can’t work out a payment plan with the repair people instead of Visa or MC).
What ticked me about the writer whose assumptions prompted the original posting was that all he had to do was send his writing to Holly and she would obviously stop everything else she was doing and give him the feedback he was demanding. He may or may not have looked at, or even FOR, the relevant FAQ before launching his MS at Holly, but he chose to act as tho those restrictions just didn’t apply to him. Feeling you’re entitled to whatever you want because you want it is not a healthy thing and I have to say that my take on him, based on these impressions, is that he wouldn’t have been willing to listen to any changes or corrections Holly might have suggested to his Magnum Opus. He doesn’t seem to have been looking for help so much as validation.
I aspire to becoming a self-supporting writer and frankly have bought many of Holly’s products because I’ve read her work and bought her work and she’s a symbol of who I want to be when I grow up. Becoming self-supporting involves getting paid for my work. If I made bricks, I can’t see anyone arguing that I should not be paid for making them if someone needed my bricks.
Simply, money is a tool. You sell X hours of each day to the company that employs you based on an agreement between the two of you that Y is a fair amount of ‘credit’ for each of those hours and, on an agreed-upon schedule, the company transfers that accumulated credit to you, less the costs the society you live in has decided you owe to help support the communal functions like fire/police/hospital etc.
The point is that, as a tool, money has no more good or evil than a hammer. After all, the quote is ‘The LOVE on money is the root of all evil.” Chasing the accumulation of money for no purpose other than to Have the money is a sad, cold thing. Money that does nothing but sit in a bank staring at the bill next to it has no purpose. Money is a tool that benefits no one if it isn’t used (like manure, as Dolly Levy said).
I make things. I write, I make jewelry, I knit (socks as well as bags I felt), I crochet lace (with cotton thread finer than the yarn I make socks from). I put my effort and my own materials into what I make and I expect that people who like what I make will exchange the sums I require from them in return for the items they want. The fact that I want a larger sum that some people want to exchange for my items doesn’t mean I am at fault in some way for expecting to be paid for what I make. I know the effort I put into my creation and if you want to resent that I feel my work is worth X but you only want to pay Y, yelling and screaming about how unfair a money-grubber I am because of this will not endear you to me or make it likely I will make any move to help you.
I can hear the frustration in the rant Holly posted and I can hear sour grapes. I can also hear his focus on the the financial aspect of his complaint. He equates help with money and sees Holly’s post asking for help as tho she was asking for financial contributions.
I do wonder if he would be so indignant if someone asked him to give away his knowledge or expertise to any one who came up to him?
I agree with everything in your reply. The email to Ms. Lisle was completely uncalled for and inappropriate. If he simply took the time to read her guidelines he would have known that she would not read his unsolicited manuscript and he would also know the reason why.
Another thing that I would like to add is some people simply look for a reason to argue as a way to make themselves appear intelligent. It was really sad to see the people that took the time to actually initiate an argument with Ms. Lisle over the opinions she chose to post on her website. Free speech still exists and she has the right to say whatever she likes. If there is someone out there who doesn’t like it, no one is forcing them to continue reading. At the end of the day, I’m pretty sure Ms. Lisle does not cry herself to sleep just because Joe Nobody thought her opinions were wrong. To become a successful writer, you must develop a thick skin in order to deal with the people who simply do not appreciate your way of thinking. Obviously the people who got offended because Ms. Lisle stated that communism is down Road A instead of Road B aren’t there yet.
Ms. Lisle, please ignore the small minded comments and focus on getting better. Your real fans will be waiting for more of the guidance and expertise that you have obtained through your experiences. Thank you for everything you’ve done to help other writers realize their dreams.
Of course you can’t save the world through typing. Or through speaking, or through any kind of reasoning. You’re trying to convince people that life on the other side of those mountains could be better, and that that chance is worth the risk of the journey. In the end, there’s only one way to convince them.
Get up and start walking.
I’m going to *cautiously* disagree, Moira.
I’ve been a teacher. No, you cannot save the world through teaching children to have self-respect, confidence, discipline, and to love learning. But you can make a difference.
I’ve been a soldier. No, you cannot save the world through taking up arms against those who would harm others. But you can make a difference.
I’m a nurse. No, you cannot save the world by helping sick people regain strength, or by being present as the dying ease out of this life. But you can make a difference.
Can you save the world through writing? No – I’d say not. But… Can you make a difference? I doubt many of us would be doing this if we didn’t feel that was possible. 🙂
I don’t think Moira was saying you can’t make a difference, any more than Holly’s essay says you shouldn’t help people. I think you and Moira are in aggreement for the most part.
You are not saving the world by teaching. Not saving the world by helping sick people. Not saving the world by taking up arms in the defense of others.
You are saving individuals, and this MATTERS.
“Saving the world” is a meaningless abstract concept that people fling around when they want to sound important, and when they’re looking for a way to push their agendas down the throats of the unwilling without having to to deal with the ugly realities of what they’re going to have to do to enforce their agendas.
If you doubt me, give me a clear, workable definition of “saving the world.”
Saving (or helping) the lives of individual people (who WANT your help) is important, it is magnificent, it is worthwhile.
“The WORLD” is, in truth, entirely composed of individual people, and each of them must be helped one at a time, and helped ONLY if they want your help, or you’re doing nothing of value.
But see, the way I look at it… If enough people help other people, then they are, collectively, “saving the world”.
You may not be able to do it all at one time. But it’s still part of the deal.
I *do* understand what you’re saying, Holly; I’m not being deliberately obtuse. I just think that in the long run, it’s the little bits of good we all do which collectively *do* “save the world”. I think we agree on this, we’re just saying it a little differently. 😉
There is no “collectively.”
There are only individuals, each either doing his level best to make his own life matter, or else trying to force other people to to an agenda so the forcer can see himself as having value.
I will not lump all those people who are doing what matters with their own lives and helping other folks make their own lives better together into a little mass of “collective.” Each does what he does for his own reasons, and others benefit.
Neither will I give those who are attempting to use force to dictate how others live their lives the protective coloration of “collective action,” with a crappy side order of “but he means well.” Each one of those bastards is making personal choices for personal reasons, and other folks are paying the price.
Of course, pure communism doesn’t work. Neither does pure capitalism. You can’t create a perfect system because people will never be perfect. Instead, we — meaning our society — create a blended society attempting to use the best of both.
Yes, people should be allowed to make as much money as they can — within the limits of ethical and legal boundaries. It’s deciding what those limits are that confounds us. Some corporations and some people have done terrible things to make money. Our government — which too often attempts to control us instead of protecting us and control does not equal protection — has done questionable things at times. All governments do. Why? Because they’re made up of imperfect people, and imperfect people will make mistakes. So it comes back to those limits and how we decide what those limits are.
Now, Holly is attempting to Create something new. That Creation will require funds. Holly has to raise funds. She will do that by selling parts of her Creation. With those funds, she will be able to Create more. Creation requires time, effort, and money. In requesting our help, she is asking that we believe in her Creation and that we show our belief by helping her achieve that Creation. It’s not a battle of art vs money. It’s money (or our ideas, thought, effort, web skills, marketing skills, etc.) helping art.
Capitalism is a tool, just like everything else. We just have to harness it to accomplish what we went.
Well, anyway, that’s how I see it. Your mileage may and probably will vary.
Hi, Stephen—trying to catch up. I’m having a not-bad day and am actually able to sit up, so I’m going to answer this.
Mostly, you and I are in agreement. I disagree here:
People should be allowed to make as much money as they can and desire, so long as they do it without the use of force, deceit, or by breaking the law.
There are laws about what people can do with money, and these are sufficient (rather more than sufficient, actually). Limiting the amount people can make limits what they can create.
It is, 100% of the time, a bad thing.
Actually, I meant what you said. I guess I wasn’t clear. When I talked about limits of ethical and legal boundaries, I didn’t mean limits on how much money they can made, but limits on how they make the money. In other words, keeping people from making money by means of slavery, illegal drugs, terrorism, child pornography, etc.
But I’m a great believer in making lots and lots and lots of lovely money. 🙂
If we’re talking the Rule of Law, then I’m a believer, too. And we’re in complete agreement.
So is it OK for a medical insurance company to raise their customers’ rates by 35% while at the same time giving their top execs each multi-million dollar raises? (California, earlier this year) It was legal. They didn’t use deceit. But it doesn’t seem especially fair to me.
Put another way, I think people should be able to sell for a fair price whatever they can create, in whatever quantity they can create it. If a writer can write and sell a dozen books a year, more power to them. But when someone deliberately raises the price of a commodity that people need, but have a hard time buying from someplace else, just so they can line their pockets more, I see an issue.
Capitalism is under fire in our culture today, largely because a great number of people have been gaining great sums of money without regard for the welfare of others, or even worse – through the creation of hardship for others. I suspect Holly would say something about force being involved there (and I’d agree), because force is not just about *physical* force. To work well, capitalism needs to be as fair and equitable as possible to all participants.
The primary problem with the insurance industry today is the stranglehold the government has placed on those commodities. Without the regulations that force the insurance companies to provide a broad spectrum of care to ALL policy holders, or deny them the ability to market their policies across state lines (to name just two of the ways the govt is restricting this arena) then insurance companies would have more competition within the marketplace. With more competition comes more competitive prices, made feasible only by sound business practices on the part of those insurance companies. The companies are completely within their ethical rights to charge what the market will bear. But that ONLY works if we have a free market. And healthcare, currently, is one of the least free markets we have today.
Laissez Faire Capitalism, when practiced as such, is fair and equitable to all. It is an economic system based on trading values, wherein people are free to rise and fall based on their virtues and achievements. The insurance companies wouldn’t be able to “create hardship for others” if people had more of a pool to choose from.
I was going to reply as Sarah did, but she beat me to it—and eloquently. So I’m going to simply say “what she said.”
Pure communism is a utopian form of government – it’s pretty much an ideal system for an ideal world. Everyone gives in to the system to the maximum they can, and takes back only what they need. It IS perfect. Just one flaw.
Humans don’t work that way. 😉 We don’t produce very well without some sort of impetus to do so. Taken as a species, we’re pretty lazy; it’s been one of the primary motivations for our technology (do/accomplish more in less time). It’s one of the biggest problems with socialist societies – if everyone is guaranteed a certain standard of living regardless of work output, there is a tendency for a very large percent of the population to drift toward a very minimal level of work.
There’s never been a communist government. China and the USSR are/were socialist (extreme socialist with a ruling oligarchy), not communist. I don’t really think communism can work on a societal level, although you see something very close to true communism occurring at the unit level in the US military (there’s irony for you!). That works because there is an extremely strong *external* motivation for everyone to work maximally (death by enemy fire).
Comparing capitalism and communism as effective social structures is hard. In an ideal form, communism beats capitalism hands down on *every* level. In an ideal form, every person in the communist system works maximally all the time, contributes maximally to society and takes minimally back. The result is a *huge* surplus of work effort which can generate new art, new science, more wealth of every variety.
But in practice, capitalism beats communism as a system in every possible way – because communism is unstable at best, and unimplementable most of the time. It just doesn’t work at all. Capitalism, for all its flaws (and there are a number), works pretty well for most of the people most of the time. It’s worth noting that most of the issues the US version of capitalism has are rooted not in the core philosophy of capitalism, but in where that has broken down due to socialist intervention… But even in a non-pure form like we have, capitalism is simply better suited to human nature than anything else we’ve come up with. So far, anyway.
Postscript: I just read your article on not saving the world. I should have read it before posting, probably. That’ll teach me to shoot off my big mouth (figuratively). Nevertheless. To revile Marxism and religion for inciting mass human suffering while here ignoring the identical crimes spawned by those in pursuit of the capitalist goal is absurd. And to tell people that we shouldn’t be trying to ‘save the world’? Not only are you fighting a losing battle, but I’m glad of it. One of the things I admire most about humanity is that so many people down the ages have tried to help each other.
I try to stay out of these things, but Jen, did you really read that article? She was hardly suggesting that people not help each other. Look at the title of the article. It isn’t about not helping people it’s about not trying to save the world. Because saving the world would mean, likely as not, trying to force your ideas onto everyone else. There’s a big difference.
I’m also not sure I understand your notion that pure communism is the best system. Are you saying this with the understanding that a pure communism system has never and, in my opinion, will never function in a human society. If so, how can you believe it’s the best system?
If you truly believe it will work, then I think that’s absurd. It’s been tried and failed. It’s a system of force, where people have little or no free will to decide the direction of their lives. A pure communist society might work on a small scale, for a short time, if a group of people come together all agreeing to do it. But eventually, someone will want a bigger share of the pie, for whatever reason. Because they’ve been there the longest, they have the toughest job, they provided more of the start up money or supplies, etc.
Well said Michelle.
In fact, not even small groups of dedicated communists fervently and passionately committed to living the pure system can make it work. The history of the American Pilgrims starts with them importing pure communism as their working model, and abandoning it in desperation because the results left them starving to death.
Link note: Because I remembered my history, and because I remembered that the Pilgrims started out communist, I did a search on “communist Pilgrims.” The link I discovered was the best of what I got in a quick scan of results.
I am not a religious person and don’t agree with the religious interpretation at the end of the post–I think the bonds we share with our immediate families are perfectly explained by genetics, common cause, and love. But the history presented in this particular post actually included original sources from Governor Bradford’s diary. So that’s why I chose it.
I’ve been helping people reach their goal of becoming writers for more than twenty years now. I don’t just “try” to help people. I actually do it—one person at a time, and only those folks who want to be helped.
Folks who set out to save the world aren’t interested in who wants to be helped and who doesn’t. They’re interested in forcing their own agendas—their own vision of what help entails.
So what are you doing to help people?
I would like to point out, Holly, with the utmost respect, that you work in a fortunate facet of the capitalist system. You create your own product, you sell it (I think I’m correct in thinking you do a great deal of your own marketing, or are very engaged in it), you gain the profit minus agent and publishing house fees etc. Creative jobs like yours do well in a capitalist system. To extend yourself to say that capitalism is a good system for all (I know you didn’t say those words precisely, but I’m assuming that as someone who values the positive in humanity you wouldn’t knowingly advocate a system that only benefited a select few), I feel, is erroneous.
Capitalism is an individualistic ethos, and that is why we find ourselves with massive corporations destroying small businesses, with highly paid bankers out for all they can get. ‘Corrupt’ CEOs aren’t truly corrupt, according to the view of someone who is purely capitalist, because a capitalist is never required to look out for anybody but themselves.
Personally, I find communism, pure communism, a much kinder concept.
The problem is that people can be evil regardless of economic system. The Communism you describe will fail in this regard. People will serve their own interest, and in your system can do so under the aegis of legitimate force through the government. Also, Capitalism ties money to good reputation, so at least the CEO should keep this in mind…BP aside.
Hi Jason! First off, I don’t really like the word ‘evil’, so I’ll avoid that. But it’s true, people fall prey to avarice no matter where, when and under what system they live. That’s just how we are. And I agree, there is something to be said for the importance of a ‘good reputation’ in capitalism. However, a good reputation in a capitalist system can only have importance regarding ability to fulfil expectations, promises etc. My point about capitalism is that it’s about only money. I favour communism (and I said ‘pure communism’ to mean purely the concept, not a pure implementation of it exclusionary to other ideas) because it at least primarily concerns human well-being.
Sigh. Of course he wants something for nothing… And of course you’re part of the Evil Empire for not giving it to him! After all, aren’t we all entitled to whatever we want, without having to work for it, without having to suffer to accomplish things? That’s what modern western culture is all about, right?
Yes, that’s sarcasm. 😉 Unfortunately, it feels like more people think that way these days than used to, and it’s a trend I am not happy to see.
There’s an old saying that I love – “give a person a fish, and you feed them once; teach a person to fish, and you’ve fed that person for a lifetime.” OK, with world fish stocks falling that might not be as literally true as it once was… The allegory is sound, though.
But what do you do when the person you try to teach angrily turns to you expecting a handout of fish, instead?
You say, “Okay. Good luck with that. Plenty of folks in the world want to know how to fish. I’ll teach them.” And you walk away.
Money is the oil in the engine of government. Too much or too little and the engine won’t run. Also, don’t put it in the power steering. Don’t put it in the wiper fluid. Only put it where the engine is designed to have it.
Texanne, Keri–Thanks guys. 🙂 I was worried that people might read my post as an “oh poor me” rant, and that wasn’t what I was going for.
Kinjal, so long as distribution is voluntary from the “haves” to the “have-nots,” and so long as the “have-nots” ask for themselves and don’t have a presumptuous government agency asking for them whether they would or no, then it’s all right. As I see it, the idea of a “well meaning system” is the whole problem. A system has to be created to account for the worst and allow room for the best, but by its nature a system of government must not start out with *just* the idea of providing for the common comfort. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” –Preamble to the US Constitution (aka The Rules). A government must do all those things, for all those people, for all that time, and more importantly, it has to balance them so that all 7 things are taken care of equally and fully. There are two ways to do that: micromanage every little thing, or only oversee things a bit and trust the people involved to know what they’re doing and do it right. In general, capitalist societies are more trustworthy for governments because the little people are demanding value for value. Micromanaged societies end up with laissez-faire attitudes (you know, the “I get paid the same whether it’s done right or wrong” thing) and are less trustworthy. Hence, capitalism is good for government, because the government gets value for its money, and its citizens see the value in their government. Micromanaging governments tend to fall into two catagories (“indoctrinate ’em” or “I have the guns, I make the rules”)–both of which are aimed at keeping the citizens from getting ticked at the government and making a new one…which leads to the idea of liberty, which is a whole ‘nother post…er, essay. 🙂 Capitalism seems to reward people for their honesty and goodness by making honesty and goodness be in the people’s best interests–value for value.
I might be wrong, and if so, I welcome having where and how pointed out, although for the sake of Holly’s board it might be better to e-mail me–schroe29 (at) uwosh (dot) edu.
Just a quick note- I think you may have a misunderstanding about the term laissez faire. Pulled from Merriam Webster: 1 : a doctrine opposing governmental interference in economic affairs beyond the minimum necessary for the maintenance of peace and property rights
2 : a philosophy or practice characterized by a usually deliberate abstention from direction or interference especially with individual freedom of choice and action
Laissez faire capitalism is actually the best economic system for individual freedom.
I meant the actual French words, laissez ([laisser]to leave, let, or allow; [-er, +ez]verb form: you, plural or formal/command, present tense) faire (to do), which combined translate into “let it be” “let it alone” and “it’s done” (my personal favorite: “meh”). Also, a permissive attitude. I was actually after the concept that when a person gets paid a fixed amount for showing up, the quality of their work doesn’t matter as much to them; a craftsman is a stickler for getting his work right while an hourly laborer is more permissive of bad quality.
However, you’re right–I used the wrong term here, because I didn’t realize that the English meaning wasn’t a direct translation. Thanks for pointing it out! 😀
I honestly think the point is that you are trying to better yourself. It’s nice to hear someone who talks about the assistance they receive talking about it as though it’s only a step on the ladder, rather than the top of the mountain. I hear so many people talk about how they’re entitled to this, blah blah blah.
Stick through school, do your thing, get a job, a career, and stand on your own two feet 🙂 Then you can return the favor by helping someone else do the same 🙂
Well. I’ve bookmarked this post as well; it’s definitely half a semester’s worth of economic principles that I need to look into more. Between this and the long list of Tom Clancy’s fiction, I might not need to actually take an econ class. 🙂
I consider myself a capitalist, and I hate the position I’m in. I’m a college student with a kid to raise, a husband who I can’t afford to keep and can’t afford to divorce, and no job (yet). I live in an apartment with income-based rent, and I get foodstamps and state medical insurance. I am very grateful that these resources are here to help me and my daughter right now, but I HATE having to use them. I hate that other people’s tax money was taken from them to house and feed me and my family. I want to be out and earning my own money, and I’m doing everything I can to get off the state “payroll.” If I died today my daughter would have nothing but my college debt and whatever her father could provide.
I hate that.
I love the capitalist system because I know that when I work hard enough, and if I’m smart with my resources, my situation will change. I know that I can improve my daughter’s life by working harder and teaching her to do the same.
Thanks for sharing all of this with us. It has made some things, including ideas from certain people on campus, much easier to understand. If only I could argue that well… 😀
Keep working at it Danzier. Once you’re on your own two feet, that tax-payer funded support becomes an investment. Succeed, take care of your kids, and give back. It’s all good. :)TX
Holly — thanks so much for all this! It was not only enlightening (jeez, girl, you’re so ruddy well-read, I feel like a slacker!), but it caused me to question some of my own internal biases, some of which I wasn’t even aware of.
Thank you (again) for making me think instead of following along like a sheep. You (and Thomas Kuhn) are always good for a paradigm shift!
Personally, I think anything by Ayn Rand is fabulous. “Atlas Shrugged” really helped me change my life. No joke.
Oh, and an interesting quote I found, though perhaps extreme, but entirely fitting:
“Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of other men. Blood, whips and guns–or dollars. Take your choice–there is no other.”
– Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
The truth is pretty extreme. Doesn’t make it any less true.
Holly, wow. I’m marking this for further reading when it’s not midnight. I’ve still got 500 more words to write before bed!
I plan to look through and pick up any books you mentioned, but are there any others that I might look at? I’m finding as I get older (I’m twenty) that I believe a lot of things without having much to support them. I’d like to fix this.
Thank you for saying this. As I’m sure you know, it was necessary. I look forward to more of your writings. Hawkspar was awesome, definitely my favorite so far! Thank you.
Gosh what a post to read this morning. Well done on your responses Holly.
I think the saddest part of the email you received, is the fact the ‘writer’, showed that they do not take pride in their writing.
What I mean by this is; they wrote to you as an author, they wanted you to give credence to their work, therefore verifying they are a writer.
For me, they cannot be a serious one. To use ‘u’ in place of you and holly lisle with no capital letters, showed me the ‘writer’ has taken no care on presenting a professional persona. That would be enough for me to click delete.
Then when they did not get what they wanted, they went into a rant about money.
I am writing a novel, I want to be taken seriously. I will make mistakes in emails and postings, but I will not cut corners. I will use full words and check my spellings. I take pride in my work. If my novel is ever published, I want to receive the money I earned for writing it. For me, this is the gold medal, the recognition that an unknown reader found it, and paid cash for it. Their way of exchanging goods. I live in Cyprus and could do with a few items for the home. The stranger in the US who might buy my book would not look kindly on parceling up a TV as the exchange item for my words. Cash, money or whatever it is called is an exchange item.
If I ‘exchange’ 1,000 books for cash and you only exchange 20, I am the richer of the two. Does that make me a capitalist? No it might mean I am a better marketer, a better writer…ah stop me there…jealousy that is the reason for the emailer’s rant…*grin*
Once again I find myself in total agreement with Holly. I am a Life Coach and Naturopath Doctor. I assist people through all sorts of difficulties both physical and emotional, and because I’m in a “helping healing profession” people sometimes have the impression that I should be volunteering my time or accept donations that are easy for everyone to afford. I “give” my time when and where I choose and it is not my obligation to make it possible for everyone to afford my services. I dislike the sense of entitlement group. Oxygen is free, but if you get in a jam and need it delivered to your home every week in a tank, well you’re going to have to pay for it. If you get something free… someone worked for it. I give plenty and I won’t be guilted into giving to people just because they have less than I do. I’ve put in my time and effort and here in America everyone has that same option. In my opinion Holly is totally correct in her thinking… AS USUAL! I appreciate her and get a lot of great insight from her as a valued guide. Thank you Holly.
Oh dear, I suppose I am a really bad person for getting paid for my work as a hospice nurse for thirty years. During which time I raised my four children on my own after two nasty divorces. Perhaps it would have been more honorable to steal the money or the food and clothes. I write now that all of the kids are grown. Do I hope to get paid someday for the hours of hard work I put in. You betcha. Am I ashamed of that? H*ll no!But I am thankful I was born in a country where I have opportunity and freedom of speech. Even if it gives the same freedom to the whining idiot who e-mailed the tirade to you. Writers write and hopefully are able to make a living doing so.
I do love a good debate and solid discussion that comes when people are involved and care passionately about something. This was a wonderful post although it came out of unkindness and yes, even cruelty.
The guy did something that provoked thinking for a lot of us. Nothing like having to listening to two or more sides to an idea. It helps to bering clarity and an opprtunity for the distilization ( is there such a word? I don’t have a dictionary handy) of ideas.
Thank you for sharing that email and your responses and thank you for providing a forum where ideas can be explored . Here they are generally looked at by people who enjoy examing ideas. There’ll always be cranks.
Such a lively discussion. What a treat. Sometimes people forget that discussion isn’t permitted in non captitalist counitries. That alone is enough to make me grateful to live in a capitalist country.
He makes for a good character. I’d hire him.
Wow Holly, I think my brain is swimming.
There’s so much information I’m going to have to bookmark this page to come back to it and read again. I’ve never studied capitalism before but it seems as though I should have, because it sounds like I am a capitalist. If you get very simple, isn’t it true that any artist that pays their way making paintings and sculptures is a capitalist? Any author that doesn’t make people read/buy their books is a capitalist, right? Any trade craftsman would be as well. Any person who sets up a booth at an art fair is. Any person who sells bracelets at concerts, any person who believes that making money doing things they chose to do would count in your definition. So long as they don’t force/coerce others to take their wares. And so long as no one is forcing them to make the wares.
Thank you. Every day I learn more about myself, by reading about you.
Huzzah! You’re fantastic, and I loved reading both this post and your replies in the comments section. There are not enough outspoken proponents for Capitalism, and far, far too many people who believe the garbage that Capitalism and a free economy are evil. This is, in part, propaganda spread by a community of government officials and rabid ‘intellectuals’ who would prefer to see the country- nay, the world- in chains, be they figurative or literal.
Also, this post is a great primer! I will definitely keep it in mind to refer people to who are having problems understanding the basics, and aren’t quite ready for Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.
Thanks again for being made of awesome.
I don’t know. I’m torn on the subject.
I love money and the idea of it, but I hate capitalism. I hate capitalism cause I feel like a slave to it. Advertisements making me wants things I don’t even need but momentarily brainwash me to think I need. But that’s the lame reason I hate capitalism.
In the perfect world, capitalism would work. But we don’t have a perfect world. We have the poor. I can’t say, “Well they just didn’t try hard enough”, while children are starving and being raised by people who don’t know any better. So when they grow up, they’ll just keep up the cycle of poverty. It’s only the exceptions and often good luck that people get out of those conditions, but why does it have to be so hard? Why does it have to be so much against them making it?
I believe there should be a mix of capitalism and socialism. I believe everyone, regardless of what you do or don’t do, should have enough food to eat, clothes to wear, place to sleep and overall feeling of safety for absolutely no reason other than it being a basic right as a human being.
Now, if you want another car (or a luxury car with the DVD player and navigation system) , or that five story mansion, or you want to create the next Mona Lisa, then you better get to work.
I think, if we erased the desperate need for money, we’ll see a revolution in creativity and productivity. People will no longer be held back with the fear or misconception of not being able to live off doing what they want to do. It wouldn’t exist anymore. Kids would be encouraged to pursue their passions cause regardless, they’ll be alright. (Well, okay there may be people who simply think certain occupations aren’t good enough for their children, but that’s different and my imagination is running off on its own…)
Anyways, that’s my two cents on the subject.
Amber, you’re wrong. There were a lot of kids in my school who were more talented than me, and who were smarter than me. And MOST of them lived without the desperate need for money.
What I had that they didn’t was that I was hungry. (In my case, this was NOT a metaphor.)
I discovered that some of the kids I went to high school with would pay me a dollar apiece to have their names written in large, fancy calligraphy on sheets of typing paper. So I brought plain paper to school and when I had free time, I wrote their names for them. One dollar was one extra lunch.
Someone (it might have been my art teacher, Mr. Stanfield) gave me some sheets of shrinking plastic left over from something else. I took those sheets home, and after I finished my homework, I spent weeks drawing our school mascot on the sheets with indelible red and black magic marker, carefully figuring out how to fit as many as I could on each sheet, so that I didn’t waste any of that precious plastic.
I painstakingly cut each one out with an Exacto knife, hole-punched it, and cooked batches of mascots in our oven. I then took my shrunken, solid plastic mascots to school and sold them as trinkets to my fellow students for a buck a pop. Again, one buck equalled one lunch.
I had study hall during a lunch period that year. I know one of my friends, Merri, knew I ate lunch both periods whenever I could—she teased me about it pretty hard, because she couldn’t figure out how I could eat two lunches a day (AND barter for extra peanut butter squares when they were available) and still stay so skinny.
I didn’t tell her it was because I was getting a carefully measured 650 calories a day at home, homecooked by a mother who had to feed five people on damn near no money, and who bought groceries once a week from a list in which every item was figured for a specific meal, and no snacking between meals was permitted because doing so would have meant we didn’t have enough for later meals in the same week.
Back then, I could have supplemented by eating a horse and not gained weight.
My friend Jean, who hangs out here, knew me then. She was a senior that year. I ate first lunch with friends from my own junior class, and when I’d made enough money, second lunch with her and a couple other seniors. I don’t think she was one of the folks who knew I was eating two a day whenever I could scrape up the bucks to do it.
My point is, I learned to be an entrepreneur by being a skinny, hungry kid. I am a writer because of everything I’ve learned in my life, and my childhood was a GIFT.
It’s the people who are given everything who are deprived. Most of them never amount to anything, because they’ve never learned how to be hungry, or how to use that hunger to envision ways of improving their own lives.
Your life is your own example, Amber. Are you a hungry kid? Are you going to figure out how to do something worthwhile because the desire burns inside you?
You are responsible for your own behavior, your own future. If you’re hungry (this time metaphorically, not literally) you’ll do something of value with your life.
If you’re not, you’ll waste your life and spend it blaming others because they didn’t make you do something good with it. But NO ONE can make anyone else value their life, or desire something better.
The beautiful thing about capitalism is that, if you are hungry, and if you do desire something better, you can make it for yourself. You’re not trapped in your fifth grade world in the Shel-Mar trailer park in New Philadelphia, Ohio, wearing homemade clothes and government-issue glasses for the rest of your life, or sleeping on a fold-out couch with a bar across the middle so uncomfortable that most nights you end up sleeping on the floor because it doesn’t suck as much.
You can see the world you want to live in, and you can figure out a way to work to get there.
If you live in a capitalist system, your right to self-determination is both recognized and protected by law, and you can make your life what you want it to be, as I did.
If you live in a socialist system, you’re part of a collective where need is a virtue and individuality is a problem to be fixed, not a freedom to be cherished—and your desire to improve your own life will be regulated out of possibility by artificially limited resources, and by all the people who need things more than you do.
First, you’re confusing capitalism with advertising. As defined above, you hate advertising.
But the deeper problem with what you’re saying is that you’re denying responsibility for your own wants. You’re claiming that advertisements “make you” want things.
You’re a big girl. You’re responsible for your own life, your own actions, and your own thoughts, and you can certainly turn off the television. You don’t have to watch advertising.
What you’re saying here is that you want someone to save you from having to think. What you want is someone to make those choices go away. But someone who chooses for you is also going to be choosing for those of us who value independent thinking, and don’t want to live our lives having them run by a government mommy.
Your choice would be to take away MY choice. This is a bad thing.
Finally, you resent being advertised to, but how would you know ANY services or products, including those you value, existed if their creators could not tell you?
And how would you have anything to buy (including things you need for your own survival) if the creators went out of business because they were forbidden to let anyone know what they made existed?
Need is not the marker of what is worth buying or having. Need is NOT a virtue, and by thinking that it is, you’re adopting a premise that will eventually destroy you if you don’t question it.
Everything you physically need, you could have by living in a cave and eating cockroaches. Wanting something better than bare subsistence is moral, and exemplary. Working to create something better than that is magnificent. (Also a lot of fun.)
Anything that improves your life (and you get to define what “improves” means to you) is worth working for and having. The value of your own life is your standard. Whether you choose to do something with your life or not is (at least as long as you live in a marginally capitalist system) up to you.
Exactly, I think we are becoming too complacent as a nation. We have been given too much societal wealth as a default.
I cannot agree with this more.
I had a good job with a good paycheck and I was doing really well. Nothing was “given” to me; I earned the job and the paycheck. I was self taught in 90% of the skills that I needed for the job. But I wasn’t happy with this job as a career. I had money, I didn’t feel that desperate need for the money, and yet I rarely felt a drive to create and finish, to become more. I was complacent.
It wasn’t until I became that “hungry kid” as Holly puts it, that I realized that relying on anyone but you to create you own weath is allowing yourself to play the hostage. I didn’t really feel the need to start my own business and work really, really hard, become a better and more independent me until I realised it was the best option out there.
I know not everyone is like me but I would say I am a good representation of the more common wolves in the pack.
Nope. I never knew you ate two lunches. I never knew you did your art so you could eat two lunches. There’s a lot I never knew in my self-absorbed, comfortable world.
Okay, you do make really great points and I rather carelessly said things which you answered well to. But there is still something that does bothers me that I believe can be linked to capitalism.
Fear. I know we are responsible for our lives and the quality of our lives. But a lot of us don’t know this. I am weak, I admit it. I don’t want to take away choices, but I wish I can make them without fear of making the wrong one.
Perhaps the world is perfect the way it is. Perhaps “struggles” and pain make us stronger. But if we don’t know any better, we can also succumb to despair. We can do only that which we believe can do. But there’s a lot of people being told they can’t do what they want to do unless they want to starve.
I know its a lie, but it’s a convincing one. As a teen, I believed it. It wasn’t until I met people like you that I figured out otherwise. And even then its a personal struggle of believing in myself and then forgetting and believing in the lie.
What you describe beautifully only truly works for everyone if everyone was as strong as you. Those lacking strength will be bent by those who reinforce the lie. The parents. The friends. Some people need help (if this weren’t true, you wouldn’t have so much business and fans as you do) and not everyone can find help.
But it’s true. People who are starving do whatever it takes to rise to the top. But some turn to crime to get there because they don’t know any better. They don’t believe they have any other choice, they are ignorant.
In other words, starvation is good for some and bad for others. Some rise, some fall even further.
I suppose we can say well that’s their responsibility. Capitalism makes it so. I cannot ignore the other half of the coin. Capitalism is great through your point of view. But for others, it means differently.
I can’t change anything. Maybe it is better this way. I’m not disagreeing with you, but I am saying that capitalism has a price that shouldn’t be ignored.
Also, about Advertisement. It’s such a BOOMING business because of Capitalism. There’s one thing to make sure people know of your business and what products you have to offer, it’s another to do whatever it takes to convince them to buy it, whether its convenient for them or not.
Advertisement uses psychology, repetition, brainwashing. It does whatever it takes to get you to spend money, even if its something that will sit in your closet collecting dust after you used it only once. Turning off the t.v. isn’t going to solve it because advertisement is everywhere.
Honestly, it’s not really a big deal. It’s a nuisance to me because of my own nature (I feel inclined to please others even at the expense of myself and thus, perhaps buy things that won’t help me simply because they want me to).
It’s easier to want the world to change instead of changing yourself. I know this. But I’ve been trying to change for so long, I’m tired. So I forget sometimes that I can’t control anything and can only control my own actions. Because it’s hard. Complaining is easy.
It comes down to personal choice. Some people choose to steal because they want what they have not earned. Some people choose to work because they detest the unearned.
You cannot remove personal choice, you cannot make everyone do the right thing—and capitalism will never work for everyone, because many people choose to blame people who work and create lives they want to live (with or without a lot of money) rather than seeing those people as examples they can use to improve their own lives.
In a free country, and in a free-market economy, you always have the opportunity to do the right thing. You always have the opportunity to do the wrong thing. And you always have the opportunity to do nothing. (In tyrannical governments, whether secular or religious, this is not always the case.)
If you do nothing, you do the wrong thing by default. If you do the wrong thing, it is by choice, not by circumstances, and you bear the full weight of both your decision and its consequences. And if you do the right thing, it also by choice, and not by circumstances—and you bear the full weight of your decision and its consequences.
It is easier to complain. But complaining won’t get you a life you love. Only action will—and only the actions that you know are good for you.
Hang in. You can do this. You can be the person you want to be instantly—living the life you want to live takes longer, but you can create that, too.
“I don’t want to take away choices, but I wish I can make them without fear of making the wrong one. ”
Life is about risk–and even if I choose to stay in bed to avoid making the “wrong” choice, I risk blood clots in my legs that could break loose and travel to my heart or brain and now I’m dead…
Oops. Wrong choice.
Them unintended consequences’ll git ya every time.
Holly, I hate that you had to receive such an email, but I LOVE the fact that you used it to explain money and capitalism!
I’ve tried to figure out exactly what I want to say in this comment several times and nothing can match the emotion in my heart when I hear someone defend the capitalist philosophy.
Holly, you would make a damn fine Texan.
That’s high praise.
Texanne, I’ve been trying to get her here for years, but, alas, she has family elsewhere and seems called to be with them (can’t blame her for that).
Wow. It’s amazing the sort of adults that are being let loose on the world these days.
Holly, I just want to thank you for the work that you do. You’re create a language clinic in particular has helped me immensly, especially since I’m not an organized person in general. Having the worksheets on hand to fill out whenever I come up with a new word or language rule is wonderful. I’ve used the Think Sideways modules for several of my stories, including the novel that I recently finished, my very first novel ever.
So thanks again Holly and keep up the good work.
It has always amazed me how some people refuse to put value on others time and efforts. Your policy on not reading anything to sent by your agent make sense on many levels, and you have clearly articulated your reasons. It is not evil to want to make a living in your chosen profession. In the last year I have used your materials and workshops and have always felt that I have received value for my money. You try hard to share on many levels and it is sad to see someone not appriciate your efforts. Keep up the good work.
This is an excellent essay on capitalism. It is sad that here in the US, capitalism is seen by so many as evil, when it is the affront to capitalism that is likely to be the down-fall of our society.
I know you are not an overly religious individual, but for those that may argue in that vein, the bible does not decry money as evil, either. 1 Timothy 6:10 says, in part, that the ‘love of money’ is the root of all evil. That can apply to the capitalist (in name only) who is dishonest in his dealings to the guy at the convenience store who spends every penny he has scratching lottery tickets. One has money and wants more at any cost, the other has no money and wants it without having to work for it.
This is a good post and you should feel good for posting it. 🙂
I’d like to separate my contempt for the moron who feels that you have an OBLIGATION to help him, just because he asks you to, by giving away the services which you do FOR A LIVING; and the rather extreme, Rand-ish way in which your post turns all forms of cooperative action into “force”. You would, I presume, define a strike as “force”? You would define a scab as “freely selling his/her own labor” regardless of the effects of scabbing on everybody else involved?
A strike is voluntary employees with marketable skills stopping work and impeding the production of their workplace in an attempt to force an employer to meet their demands.
How would YOU define it?
Mr. Lowrey would presume to speak for me, apparently, and has attributed to me values I do not hold. Since he seems to have disappeared without further comment—and since his presumption is wrong—rather than stand accused of something I find morally abhorrent I’m going to address this issue.
There have been throughout the world and through recorded time organized work stoppages. Some of these have been not just moral, but a moral imperative for those involved. Not all work stoppages are the same, though.
I’ll use US history as an example, and coal-mining towns as my specific, since they existed in my region of the country and I’m familiar with their history.
Coal-mining towns during the 1800s and early 1900s were owned by the owners of the mines. The houses were company houses, the stores were company stores, and the money was company scrip.
Scrip, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, is a form of payment printed by individuals or companies and redeemable ONLY by those companies. The military at times used scrip, as have other entities who wished to control the actions and exchanges of those who received payment from them.
Scrip is a form of coercion—it is immoral in nature because, unlike money, it limits trade and removes choice from the trader. The presence of scrip is proof of the absence of capitalism.
People who worked in these mines lived in debt to the company, and could not walk away from their work because the companies employed enforcers to make sure no one left without paying their debt. But between rent, services, and buying from the company store (the only place they could buy because their pay was not in real money) at prices that ensured men had to borrow just to feed themselves and their families, not just the original employees, but generations of their children and grandchildren, were trapped serving the family debt.
THIS IS NOT CAPITALISM, first of all. In capitalism, every exchange is voluntary by all parties. If coercion exists, capitalism does not. Those US mining towns were slavery prettied up enough that the US government looked the other way for a long time. The mine owners were slave owners. The mine workers were slaves.
The mine workers were not engaged in a strike. They were fighting for their freedom and their lives, and the lives of their children, and they had the moral imperative and every justification not just to organize a work stoppage, but to do anything within their power to free themselves and their families from their owners.
Every human being on the planet has the right of self-determination—the right to decide how he chooses to live his life, and the obligation to live with the consequences of those choices. The business owners who were in fact slave owners bore the legitimate consequences of their insupportable and evil actions; the striking miners, some of whom died in their fight for freedom at the hands of company enforcers, were heroes.
The OTHER kind of strike is where workers under no duress, who are paid with real money, who are free to pack up their bags and leave the employer at any time, decide they don’t like the conditions of their employment. In this second kind of strike, employees choose to attempt to coerce the employer into unilaterally changing the terms under which they work under threat of damaging his business and his livelihood if he does not comply.
In THIS instance, the strikers are the thugs, and the employer (whether one guy, or a corporation, or even a BIG corporation you think is evil) is the wronged party, and is legitimately within his rights to hire outside workers, to fire those who are striking, and to seek whatever legal protection he can get to preserve the existence of this thing he has created.
If work is voluntary, and the terms of work were agreed upon by both parties at the time of employment, and if the employees are free to seek other employment, then strikes against the employer are immoral and insupportable.
If ANY one or all three of the following conditions exist—if the work is involuntary, the terms of work were dictated by the employer and forced upon the employ who could not refuse employment because of any form of coercion, OR if any form of coercion prevents the employee from going elsewhere—then any steps the employee takes to free himself and others trapped with him from the employer are moral.
Along with the right of self-determination comes the right to fight for your own survival. In such circumstances, creating a work stoppage is the politest and least destructive of a whole host of legitimate options I can imagine.
@Tim of Angle
I would, at that point, classify the carpenter as a capitalist. He is creating value and selling it for profit. I don’t understand why you find that strange. And Marx firmly believed that the size of the economic pie is fixed and finite. Capitalists do not. Therefore there is a necessary connection between Capitalism and creating wealth.
Using Scumpeter as a source explains a lot. And you don’t really explain what these “specific ways” are. The disconnect must be before we get to a high level. I simply said that a anyone adding/creating value where none existed before is a capitalist. Again no other system recognizes that occurs. But hey if you want to add in the fact that they must sell that value creation/addition to be a capitalist, I am okay with that.
Thanks for the addition. I’m waiting for the definition of capitalism that Tim of Angle has promised. It should be interesting.
As for Marx, he was an idiot. The proof that the economic pie is not fixed and finite—not a zero-sum game—is simple.
Human beings started cooking the economic pie when the first two humans traded objects they valued to each other rather than killing each other to get them. At that point, the products of the economy consisted of skins, meat, fire, pointy sticks, and pointy rocks. (A simplification, but not much of one.)
If economics were a zero-sum game, that would STILL be the economy.
So I’m also hoping Tim of Angle will take a shot at declaring that it is, and then attempting to prove that the economy has not grown in the last million years.
No problem, I just have never understood that aspect of socialism or communism. It simply doesn’t value risk high enough. Everyone has their pathetic job and everyone is supposed to do it until they are used up and die. I prefer a system where I can gain a skillset which allows me to create or add value to something else and get paid for it–according to the market.
I guess I am right there next to you at the Capitalist line. I, too, wonder how Tim’s definition of Capitalism will emerge.
Still waiting for it myself.
My philosophy of debate is this: If you don’t understand your subject well enough to define the terms in your own words, you don’t know it well enough to have an opinion worth recognizing.
*blinks* Well… Uhm. Even writers need to eat. And pay bills. Unless there is another way to buy food, and pay bills? Except for barter. I doubt the phone company would accept that.
There are a surprising number of people (some of them editors, and one an editor I actually worked with for a while) who do not define writing as work, and who think writers should create as a gift to the world and work a “real” job to pay their bills and feed their families.
This falls under my category of “Some people are idiots.”
Wow, just wow!
I’ll bet that editor would have bristled and sputtered mightily if someone had held that view about what she or he did for a living.
‘You can add to the wealth of a society by creating value where none has existed before.’
Very true. No necessary connection between that and capitalism that I can tell. A carpenter creates value by sawing a tree into boards; haven’t ever heard anybody classify carpenters as ‘capitalists’.
‘Holly’s statements on this aren’t even controversial.’
Well, then, let me be the first.
‘You can add value in many ways.’ Also true. But capitalists add value in certain very specific ways, ways well defined in the relevant literature. You might start with Scumpeter’s *Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy* and point out where artists in general or writers in particular qualify as capitalists. I’ll be the first to admit that my undergraduate program in Economics at Yale didn’t cover everything, so hey, I’m here to learn.
Just because you’ve never heard anyone say it doesn’t mean it isn’t so.
Break out a Venn diagram. On one side, fill a circle with all capitalists. On the other side, fill a circle with all carpenters.
Intersect the two circles so they overlap. The carpenter/capitalists will have the following characteristics:
Capitalism is a system in which all actions by all parties are voluntary. If at any point in the chain, coercion is used on anyone for any reason, what you’re looking at is NOT capitalism.
I’d suggest that if you’ve read the “relevant literature” by your definition and don’t understand how writers, artists, or carpenters for that matter, could be capitalists, you might want to read more broadly.
The nice thing about definitions is that they’re short. So give me YOUR definition of capitalists, and let’s see how it stands up to reality.
The problem with that is, that I don’t have “my” definition of capitalists, since capitalists is a word that had a definition before I got here and I don’t feel at liberty to be Humpty-Dumpty and pretend that words mean what I say they mean regardless of anyone else. I’m perfectly happy to tell you what economists mean by the term capitalists, since you appear to be unfamiliar with it; I hope that will do.
This is made more complicated by the fact that I don’t us the term “capital” or “capitalist”, since those are terms invented by Marx to fit within the realm of Marxian discourse, and whenever you talk about things using the other guy’s terms you’ve surrendered half of the field. Marx viewed the world as containing three “factors of production”: land (by which he obviously meant natural resources or raw materials), labor (physical effort applied to production), and “capital” (whatever else went into the process of production). It is in the later category that Marxian analysis breaks down, because (as Peter Drucker never tired of pointing out) the key to the whole shebang is knowledge, which is the most important “factor of production” and conspicuously absent from most economic analysis other than his.
But I’m perfectly happy to cite a dictionary definition (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/capital): “accumulated goods devoted to the production of other goods”. Now, I think it rather intuitively obvious that a capitalist is one who provides capital, i.e. these goods that are used in making other goods — which means that the essence of being a capitalist is providing tools, specifically tools that leverage the labor and raw materials used in production to increase their productivity. I don’t see any room for “writer” anywhere in there, unless (like Drucker) you write about business processes. (I’ve learned a lot from science fiction and fantasy, but I can’t say that it’s increased my productivity at all. Probably the reverse.)
I do not question your status as “capitalist” – indeed, your educational efforts seems to certify to that quite handily. My objection was to the evident misunderstanding of “capitalists” as ‘someone who makes money by creating things’. (Which phrase appears to have disappeared from your original post.) Someone who makes money by creating things is a producer, certainly, but not ipso facto a capitalist. Writers can certainly be capitalists (just as they can be bookkeepers — you do balance your checkbook, I trust?) but it has no necessary connection with their being writers.
I haven’t changed the post in the slightest since you read it. It remains exactly as it was when you responded to it.
I’m under the weather today, so will have to reply to the rest of your comments later.
Am feeling marginally better, so will get another section of this.
Who do you think defines words? God? The Definition Fairy? People like you and me write definitions, and if you go through a dozen sources and research “capitalism,” you will find a dozen different definitions, depending on the bias and intent of the writer defining the word.
The definition you use is your working definition. It is one of many, not monolithic, and certainly not infallible. It was written by someone, just as my definition was written by me. So when I ask for your definition, I don’t want some snotty remark about pretending that words mean what you say they mean. I want to know what your understanding of the word is. That’s the only way we can have a conversation about this.
The advantage my definition has over yours (which isn’t even the definition I requested—capitalism—but instead is a vague definition of “capital”) is that I have used and tested mine in my own life, in creating both fiction and nonfiction, and I know it works. My life and the lives of hundreds (in some instances thousands) of other people are better because I could apply my definition to my work and get results. (I have the e-mails and testimonials from the people who have told me how something I have written has helped them, too, and will be happy to bring this material out if you doubt me.)
Nothing is “intuitively obvious.” Things that seem obvious are frequently, when tested, proven to work nothing the way people intuited.
If you don’t see how a writer can be a capitalist, it’s because you’re operating with a non-working definition of either “money” or “capital.” If you assume money as a concrete object rather than an idea, and define capital as money, as many people do, rather than as a social agreement based on the trade of unlike objects, then you trip over the reality that very few writers invest in their writing with infusions of money.
If you understand that money is an idea, but fail to grasp that capital is whatever an individual has to create with, again you trip up over confusion between what you assume is a concrete that is in fact an ephemeral.
When you understand that a writer’s capital is a combination of his ideas, his passion, his work ethic, his drive, his time, and his storytelling ability, and when you understand that his risk in bringing all of those into his work and before the public is no less than the risk of a Steve Jobs presenting an iPad for public approval, you can clearly see that writers invest in their products, assume risk, amortize their risk across numerous works created over numerous years, some of which will succeed and some of which will fail, and profit by their work only if they bring a successful product to market, you understand how writers are capitalists.
(Writers who write books in tenure systems or grant systems or other subsidy systems are NOT capitalists—their survival as writers does not depend in any way on market forces, so the quality of their work is irrelevant to their success.)
Well said from the beginning, and this post is no different. I don’t know why making money touches such a nerve with people. Maybe they need to see what the Soviet Union or Cuba is like.
@Tim of Angle
Actually it is very simple. You add to the wealth of a society by creating value where none existed before. Holly’s statements on this aren’t even controversial…You can add value in many ways.
Thank you for putting these ideals in such pure and simple terms.
You’re very welcome. I’m glad I could present something you found useful.
I have to agree to point money in the modern terms money is a tool. One of the best things I’ve ever heard on money was by the late Earl Nightingale, to Para Phrase money is a warm house, food, a vacation, transportation, enough money is piece of mind.
Where money becomes evil is the reaction people have to it, some people allow them self’s to become a slave to money and money the master, this is a sad part of modern life. I think this e-mail is unfair, and sad.
This e-mail also strikes me as also pretty common, just being in plenty of writers groups and classes and one of the frustrating things about trying to get published. Too many people especially young people get into writing not for a love of telling a story or a curiosity about the world, they think it’s an easy way to become rich and famous. All have no idea what a war their in for, just not completing a work in a timely manner, but getting it published. On the surface it sounds simple most never dig and really learn the business end of publishing they get angry and frustrated. Had they did some research they would went to college and got a degree in Physics, or Finance.
Hang in there Holly.
Money does not “become” anything, including evil. It is what it is—an idea that value can be exchanged for value without exchanging the actual items of value desired by the two parties.
Money has no intrinsic value. The paper in your wallet and the coin in your purse are worthless unless both you and other people agree to exchange them freely for items you each value. All money has to give it worth is the goodwill and agreement of those who exchange it.
How people use money can be evil. Or good. People’s reactions to money can be stupid, evil, venal, cruel, dishonest—or wonderful, enthusiastic, generous, brilliant, and creative. But the exact same twenty-dollar bill used to hire someone to murder someone else can the be used to invest in paint that an artist will use to create a painting that will delight the eye and the soul.
Money is neutral, and the concept of money is always moral. The only thing that changes is people’s understanding of money, their intent in its use, and their reactions to it.
While I fully support your desire to live well and feed your family and to help other people willing to work with you (values I myself share), I have to disagree that money is universally good. It’s a mixed blessing. If money becomes an end in itself–something which I believe capitalism as a doctrine encourages–then you end up with serious imbalances in society, just as governments or religions or anything else, if they become ends in themselves rather than tools for liberating the people, cause more problems than they solve.
Consider this: http://www.lcurve.org/ I simply don’t believe that the guy with the 30 mile high stack of bills has really worked harder or contributed more to society than any regular, reasonably responsible person who only gets an inch or two of bills.
Anthropologically speaking, the invention of money tends to coincide with the development of agriculture, which is also when we tended to get large social hierarchies and the use of force by a state to redistribute wealth as it sees fit. To a far lesser extent this was the case with pastoral herding peoples as well.
But before any of that, most of the world’s population were hunter-gatherers, who tended to exchange goods in a fairly free fashion without money, such that everyone took care of each other voluntarily. There was little need for the use of force, as there tended not to be any permanent leaders, specialists, or social classes either. And there was no need to steal, since you could easily ask for or create the things you needed.
I’m not saying we should all be hunter-gatherers or anything; I’m just saying there are alternatives to currency-based market systems that don’t involve totalitarianism or tyranny.
I believe it’s possible to realize money-less systems in the future, too; not communism, but some sort of post-capitalism. This is a theme I hope to explore in my writing. Of course, I’ll absolutely hope to get paid for this writing as long as I live in our current, market economy. But even as I do, I’ll keep hoping we’ll move beyond the excesses of such a system.
If it were just regular folks doing what’s needed to prosper, I’d have no problem with capitalism as it is today. But as it is today, with governments controlled by the wealthiest 1%, it’s becoming a major liability. Capitalism evolved out of feudalism and seems, now more than ever, in danger of collapsing back into it.
Sorry for the lecture. It’s only my view of things, but something I needed to say.
I’m willing to engage in discussion with you, but only if you’re willing to define your terms and support your statements.
So, here are the statements you need to support so we can actually carry on an intelligent conversation:
Define “money”. You are clearly not using my definition, which is money: an idea that value can be exchanged for value without exchanging the actual items of value desired by the two parties.
So give me the precise definition you’re using.
What you believe is irrelevant. What you can prove matters. Can you prove that the man coerced his 30-mile stack of bills from others, obtained them illegally, or otherwise did not earn them in fair exchange with people who traded with him voluntarily?
If you can, then you’re right, and he does not deserve the money he has. If you can’t, then what you’re dealing with is not his issue, but YOUR issue, in which you don’t think it’s fair that anyone have more than you do.
I’m game. Define one with specifics, and provide a working real-world example.
First I want to say that the person who sent you that angry email was completely off his nut, and I think you’re justified in saying so.
Anyway, I’ll endeavour to provide some evidence / reasoning for my point of view regarding capitalism & money.
I think our definitions are pretty similar. Money: A system of tokens (representing value) which standardizes exchange without the need for directly trading actual goods.
But the underlying assumption of money—the need to standardize the exchange—is that exchanges will be immediate and reciprocal, that the goods being exchanged (or represented by money) are of primary importance, and that the person you’re dealing with can’t necessarily be trusted (otherwise there’d be no need for an immediate exchange). Non-economic relationships with that person are secondary, if they’re considered at all (which is important, but I’ll come back to).
As time goes on, money itself becomes more important than goods; a good in itself—as evidenced by modern banks & similar institutions, which routinely trade currencies, lend money at ridiculous interest rates, and otherwise manipulate the system to gather up ever increasing numbers of imaginary tokens without actually producing anything.
Did he take his stack of bills from people at gunpoint? No, probably not—or at least, not usually. But there’s also a very slim chance that he started in the gutter and earned that cash through hard work and honest ingenuity in the fashion of a capitalist hero. It happens, occasionally, yes, but it’s more likely he was born into money, sent to an expensive business or legal school, and in turn has well-placed connections. So, he’s got a considerable head start on the average joe.
As to the voluntariness of exchanges that gain this person that big stack of bills, well, chances are, if he works for a big corporation, his company uses advertising and other sales tactics designed to manipulate people into buying things that they may not need, or can’t really afford.
I suppose you could say people are just stupid for falling for it,
but psychologists have fairly well demonstrated that people are often far easier to influence than is generally assumed; by taking advantage of a whole series of cognitive biases and personal insecurities. Not to mention, in a lot of cases the billionaires don’t just generate the advertising, but own and control the media itself, and are able to drive society in a number of ways (such as promoting consumerism, dissatisfaction, and political unrest).
There’s also the possibility that the guy actually DID take the money at gunpoint, as various North American banks did when Argentina’s economy crashed (due to the application of extremely neo-liberal economic policies) and made off with everything they could carry—literally, in a convoy of armoured trucks with armed escorts in the middle of the night. Much of that money wasn’t theirs, but belonged to account holders who were not permitted to withdraw it. See a documentary film called “The Take” for more information; or also here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argentine_economic_crisis_(1999%E2%80%932002)
As to whether this money is gained illegally, well, with the amount of money these guys throw at members of democratically elected governments through lobbying and campaign contributions, they pretty much get to write the laws themselves anyway–subverting democracy. And if they ever do get in trouble; they can hire whole legal teams to defend their interests, while the average person can’t.
I won’t get into the ways corporations abuse the public trust in environmental matters (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons ), or in matters of armed conflict around the world. Most of what I’ve said here is pretty well summed up in the documentary “The Corporation.” (http://www.thecorporation.com/ )
So, while I don’t think this is proof that individual billionaires are necessarily “evil” (I’m sure most aren’t; a bit greedy, maybe), I do think corporations, in general, are; and have demonstrated that issues of coercion and voluntariness are rather murky in capitalism as it’s practiced.
That’s not to say capitalism is a totally bad idea–it’s had many benefits. But it has also brought with it crony capitalism, where instead of promoting freedom, capitalism undermines it. Heck, even Citibank thinks the developed world is no longer run democratically, but by a plutocracy–and they seem to think that’s a good thing (see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plutocracy#Modern_politics and the actual memo here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/6674234/Citigroup-Oct-16-2005-Plutonomy-Report-Part-1 and here: http://www.scribd.com/mobile/documents/6674229 )
I’ve got no issue with people having more than me–in fact, I’m pretty used to it and okay with it (I’m actually unhappy with having a whole room full of books and furniture–it’s a major fetter).
It’s 1% of the population having significantly more than the other 99% combined that I have a problem with. I don’t think everybody has to be uniformly equal, but nor do I think that monumental inequalities are justified either, even if someone thinks they earned their billions.
And realistically, why should the remaining 99% support a system that primarily benefits that 1%?
Studies have shown
that various measures of social strife (such as obesity, teenage birth rates, infant mortality, violent crime, prison populations, suicide rates, depression & other mental illness, alcoholism, and foreign conflict) are all significantly higher in nations with higher income inequality, while rates of class mobility, educational performance, and even the big supposed core benefit of capitalism: innovation, are all significantly lower. (See: The Spirit Level, Wilkinson & Pickett, 2009; http://www.amazon.com/Spirit-Level-Equality-Societies-Stronger/dp/1608190366/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1275414290&sr=8-1 )
This is how civilizations fall.
Well, as I mentioned in my earlier post, most hunter-gatherer societies were/are working examples of societies which are egalitarian without tyranny. You can read a specific example here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_stratification#Anthropological_overview and here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_H._Turner
Pusuant to that, I’d like to comment on something you said in a reply to another commenter:
First, members of stone-age cultures tend not to kill each other and take their stuff—post-agricultural states and occasionally pastoral nomads do that (see here, near the bottom: http://anthro.palomar.edu/subsistence/sub_6.htm ).
And stone-age hunter-gatherers generally didn’t “trade” for things, at least not the way we think of trade. Food was often plentiful and generally shared voluntarily, tools could be made by almost anybody, and anything else was a luxury that would be given freely, as a gift, with no immediate expectation of reward. The central feature of these exchanges were to build upon personal relationships between members of the group, or between groups.
Such cultures often have no concept of equivalent value, even when they do trade / barter. For example: Often members of the !Kung San (in Southern Africa) would herd cattle for their pastoralist neighbours. They might watch the cows for weeks or months at a time, and in exchange they might barter for a cow, or a couple of cows, to take home. The point was that it was always inconsistent—it didn’t matter how long he worked, or how many cows he got in return, as long as he got something. It didn’t matter because he was more concerned with building trust and a personal relationship with the other party, than with gaining anything material.
You can find more information on this stuff here (although this page talks generally about a variety of small-scale economic patterns, not just hunter-gatherers): http://anthro.palomar.edu/economy/econ_2.htm
Also see this, noting that the use of tyranny to enforce social policy was a non-issue in band cultures, with tyranny rising as populations rose and political structures became more complex:
This is not to say we should all live in the stone age. But it does refute the Hobbesian myth (presently perpetuated by modern economic theory) that mankind is essentially aggressive and selfish. These things are the results of our social arrangements, not our inherent nature.
Second: Marx wasn’t an idiot. He made a lot of mistakes (like his Hegelian notion of history, and the need for revolution), and there are many holes in his philosophy (see here, second paragraph: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_stratification#Karl_Marx ). But the idea of a society not ruled by an elite few is a good one; and essentially in agreement with democracy. Meanwhile, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse-tung were egomaniacal madmen who took what Marx wrote and poisoned it to further their own ends. But then, a lot of stupid crap has been done in the names of Adam Smith and Jesus, too.
Third: the economic pie in many was IS finite, though in a few ways it is not. Certain resources, like “culture”—stories, music, art, technology, what have you—is unlimited, of course. But things like livable land, minerals, and oil, are all finite until we can either invent replicators or space travel, preferably both. Even resources which should reasonably be renewable, like wood, food, clean air, and clean water are effectively finite if we continue to abuse them. We’ve only got this one little Earth to play with, and like it or not, the physical substrate that our entire economy rests on is finite, even if our creativity isn’t.
Anyway, sorry for the length of this reply, but I wanted to be thorough. This represents most of my thoughts on the subject. I don’t expect you to agree with much of it, but, well, there it is.
In any case, that guy had no right to yell at you; and I see nothing wrong with wanting to make a decent living doing what you love on your own terms; even if there are serious problems with our current economic & social systems.
Oh, god! Again, you’re assuming. All the way down the line, you assume that he comes from money, you assume that he works for a big corporation, you assume that dishonesty played a part in his accumulation of wealth…
Look at me. I make a decent living now. But I grew up in trailer parks and mission fields, raised by parents who had damn near no money at all. For years, I shared a fold-out hide-a-bed couch with my sister in the front-room of the single-wide trailer, where we didn’t even have a wall or a door—no privacy, no place to keep our stuff (what little stuff we had). We didn’t have a washer or a dryer, and the thing I remember most from my teenage years was doing creative things like artwork to earn money to buy myself extra lunches at school because I was always hungry. (The thing I remember most from fifth grade, on the other hand, is wearing government glasses—obtained when my parents were missionaries in Alaska—and homemade clothes to school and being teased mercilessly about both.)
You. Don’t. Know. This. Guy. You don’t have a clue what he had to do to get where he is, anymore than you had a clue what I had to do to get where I am. You just assume that if he has money, someone gave it to him.
In fact, however, the majority of millionaires in the US (of which I am NOT one, but think it would be cool to someday be), are self-made—they are like me, only a bit farther along. About 90% of millionaires are first-generation, and made their money either through a business they built from nothing and own that provides goods or services to people, or by working as a mid-level or higher corporate employee.
But I and people like me—people who are doing all right in a capitalist economy, even if we’re not yet rich—are the rule, NOT the exception. The exceptions are the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts, because frankly, most of the kids and grandkids of people who make a success of themselves are worthless leeches who squander the fortunes they did not build.
Your assumptions destroy your argument. You simply have no idea what you’re talking about, how wealth is created, or who creates it. Everything you say is poisoned by false beliefs about people who make money, and what part of the economy they represent. And by jealousy. Reading what you’ve written and realizing you actually believe it is depressing as hell.
50% of the economy is small business—little guys like me who run one-off businesses, employ a few people, create some wealth, roll a whole lot of it back into the economy. And the really rich guys? They create a helluva lot of jobs, donate hospital wings and invest in multi-million-dollar business incubators to help small guys get started.
Jealousy is a bitch, dude, and your bitterness is showing. Research into how things really work will set you free.
Read The New Elite: Inside the Minds of the Truly Wealthy.
Perhaps I made an assumption about billionaires coming from privileged backgrounds; but I made no assumptions about their level of disproportionate influence over government or society. I backed up those claims pretty well. Like I said, even Citibank believes the world is run by plutocracy. Really, I don’t care how they got their money, it still doesn’t justify their level of influence.
Nor did I say that wealthy people were necessarily evil—I specifically said they weren’t. I did say that big corporations were evil; which is pretty well borne out by the evidence.
Meanwhile, you’re making all sorts of assumptions that you can’t really back up—about the early history of humanity and the origins of money, about human psychology (the science has pretty well demonstrated, for example, that desperation is a very impoverished motivational tool–there are much better ways that don’t damage people), about capitalism itself (which, in the pure and wholly voluntary form you’re describing, doesn’t exist in the real world) and even about me personally.
I’ve shown you nothing but respect; but, apart from picking one possible assumption out of my post, you don’t really address about 90% of what I said. The best you can manage is a personal attack: “Well, you don’t like it because you’re just jealous.”
Seriously? I figured you were a little deeper than that, Holly.
Anyway, let’s just agree to disagree. Sorry to have troubled you.
Isn’t it amazing the discussions that get started by those three little words/concepts: money, politics, and religion?
As for money, regardless of which side you come down on, there is one end reality. People use and try to collect it. Why? Because they need it in order to compete in the survival game of the modern world.
Now, I’m not saying that’s bad or good. I’m saying that if you don’t have it, you want it b/c of what you can procure for your individual/family’s life. People who have some of it want more of it, usually, b/c it has a perceived importance and, therefore, power.
It’s the perceived vs. actual power that gets people in trouble, I think. (And this is purely a personal opinion here.) Human beings tend to define themselves by how others perceive and judge them. If that weren’t so, we wouldn’t have race, sex, wealth, etc. issues couched in terms of discrimination. Even that word defines itself by itself–an act of sorting. It doesn’t matter what is being sorted.
You have money vs. no money. Workers (of varying types) vs. non-workers. Those who work for little/no money vs. those who have lots of money who work/not. See? Sorted. Defined. And obvious.
But what about those able-bodied workers who no longer work when work is available at lower pay than they are accustomed to? Should they expect those who still work to pay them for no longer creating? (BTW-I’m only using this example to prove a point.)
If a society comes down to whether a person works, doesn’t work, should be paid/not and whether any of these categories have more weight than any of the others, we’re in a sorrier state than I thought.
For in the end, the true villain here isn’t money. It’s FEAR. Fear of not having enough, fear of not being respected, fear of having no power, fear of falling behind your peers, or any of thousands of other fears which drive the human motivational bus to the mall and other destinations each day.
“I believe it’s possible to realize money-less systems in the future, too; not communism, but some sort of post-capitalism.”
Sorry to reply so late after you originally left this comment, but have you heard of the Venus Project? It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a modern moneyless system other than communism. Basically, once technology would get to the point that just about everything can be easily produced, things won’t be scarce anymore (greater supply than there is demand for), so money wouldn’t be necessary.
I am curious as to the logic behind defining ‘Capitalist’ as ‘someone who makes money by creating things.’ Was Leonardo da Vinci a capitalist? Beethoven? Nietzsche? I don’t think that word means what you think it means.
My definition was intentionally simple, because I didn’t want the post to turn into a book. It was already long.
There are certain conditions that must exist, and certain things you MUST do, to be a capitalist. Some of these are personal, some depend on your market.
Was Beethoven a capitalist? Using those criteria, (and ignoring the fact that he had a “stage dad” who pushed him to the piano because the father saw the chance to make a profit—Beethoven as an adult was free to walk away from the piano and never touch it again, so in that regard he chose his profession) Beethoven was quite the capitalist. Even though he lived beneath repressive governments, he found a decent loophole—he chose his students and customers, created the work he valued and not work he was told to create, and at some points in his life made pretty decent money from it. Elements of the patronage system crept into some of his exchanges, but most were free-market trades, and even with his patronage deals, at times he noted that he managed to make a profit.
Da Vinci was less fortunate. In his world, the church was the biggest customer and most folks were its chattel.
While Da Vinci chose his profession freely and studied with others who had done the same, he didn’t have a free market in which to sell his work to any who might want to buy it.
As a result, he spent most of his life in variations of the patronage system, in which he was told what to create and received the compensation his patrons chose to give him.
What he could have done if he had been free to pursue to the fullest extent anything his passion drove him to explore boggles the mind.
Nietzsche also operated primarily within the patronage system. He was appointed to the Chair of Classical Philology at a university, and created under a tenure system. He created under a protectionist umbrella, and while he was creating them, his ideas did not withstand the test of the open market—he did not sink or swim based on the value of what he created.
So no, he wasn’t a capitalist.
I love it when people think you’re factually incorrect. I get a chance to see how smart my mom is again and again 🙂
I love it too, because then I get to learn from her replies. 🙂
Of course DaVinci and Beethoven were capitalists. They created things (music, art and etc…) that others wanted in order to live the lives they wanted, within the limitations of the societies they lived in.
Nietzsche was a philosopher. He certainly created, his ideas have perpetuated the careers of many others of his ilk. From 1779 to 1788 he lived as an itinerant author. He was definitely working and creating to support himself and his ideas through creation.
Bravo. Most eloquent. I could not agree more.