📆 18 Jun 2022 | ⏱️ 14 minute read

Extreme Capitalism Ruins Everything

Why Can’t America Fix Any of its Problems?

I talk about a lot of different issues on this journal: everything ranging from beastiality[1] to transgender athletes[2] to private online shopping[3]. On some of these issues, especially cultural issues, there exists legitimate disagreement. But on many there is a broad consensus, at least here in Burgerland. We’re only made to believe there isn’t because that’s what’s in the interests of the very rich and powerful.

Why is it that policies which poll well among most Americans either never come to fruition or fall under attack? To take just one statistic from a Gallup poll, 70% of Americans have supported the legality of abortion in at least some circumstances since 1975.[4] So how can the U.S. supreme court release a draft opinion to overturn a woman’s right to an abortion? Most Americans are concerned about global heating[5], but we never see any political will to act on it. The list goes on.

The reason for this is America has been steadily moving towards plutocracy for about half a century now. Plutocracy is an illegitimate form of government where the wealthy dictate politics and the will of the majority is ignored.

Money in Politics

Robert Reich’s main preoccupation in life is to spread awareness on the issues of inequality, money in politics, and plutocracy. He’s the former U.S. Secretary of Labor and political commentator who does a lot of important work on these issues and should be promoted. He has a website[6], Youtube channel[7], and Twitter[8]. He has made podcasts and written articles and books about these subjects which you can find on the media outlet he founded, Inequality Media[9].

I’d like to include his latest tweet:

“The NRA buys off Congress. No action on guns.
The oil industry buys off Congress. No action on climate.
Insurance companies buy off Congress. No action on health care.
Pharma buys off Congress. No action on drug prices.
Money in politics is the root of our dysfunction.” - Robert Reich[10]

He’s right. It doesn’t matter what else we push for politically. If we can’t get money out of politics, we won’t see any change as long as it’s against the interests of the wealthy. You can learn a lot more about inequality from him than me, since he has basically dedicated his life to it. I highly recommend checking him out.

As Reich himself understands, getting money out of politics isn’t enough though. We have to stop power from concentrating in the hands of the few. Wealth is a form of power. Therefore we must stop people from accruing too much wealth. And for that, we have to put an end to extreme capitalism.

Why Extreme Capitalism Ruins Everything

What is extreme capitalism? Extreme capitalism is the economic system we have here in Burgerland. What does it look like? It’s very easy to see, but most people don’t have the right perspective. It’s hard for us Americans to have this perspective for the same reason fish don’t know they’re in water. They’ve never seen air.

We hear about universal healthcare and free college tuition in other countries, but it’s not real to us. We’ve never walked into a hospital and not had to worry about billing or insurance. We never experience that, especially those of us who don’t travel abroad. And when you’ve spent so long living in an extreme capitalist society, you have to start questioning all of what is considered common sense to deprogram yourself from it.

The Transcontinental Commercial Cesspool

For example, most Americans are not used to hearing that they live in a transcontinental commercial cesspool. I point it out and they just brush me off or say that’s “just the way it is”. Resist the urge to make excuses for a moment and consider it. We have advertisements on television, ads on the radio, ads along the freeway, ads at fuel pumps, ads in airplanes, ads at the movie theater, ads on public transportation, ads on store windows, ads on major U.S. social media and streaming services, logos on clothes, and more. People living in urban centers see thousands of ads per day. Does that seem reasonable?

Since I use free software[11] almost exclusively with ad blockers, I’m insulated from online advertising. But when I go out into the world, I still see ads. When I get in a car and the radio comes on, I hear them. When I drive anywhere, they’re in my peripheral vision. If I didn’t want to see any ads, I’d probably have to gouge my eyes and ears out. I only buy what I need, so ads have no relevance to me. I’ve only bought maybe one two things I saw in ads in my entire life, yet I’m sure I’ve seen thousands of ads. So they’re just an annoying waste of my attention. Advertising was not always this pervasive.

I can’t even get many Americans to acknowledge the problem at all. They think they’ve learned to tune out the ads, but the ads are still subconsciously influencing them. When you accept the dogma of extreme capitalism, you make excuses for the ads and to refute them I’d have to get into all the implications of it, but that’s for another entry. For now I’ll just point out there was a time in the past when advertising wasn’t so pervasive and nothing bad happened.

So we have to make it easier for people not to consume product by getting rid of all these ads and helping industries that rely heavily on advertising to find a different business model. And here’s an idea: if an industry or a business can’t exist without intrusive advertising, for instance telemarketing, then it shouldn’t exist at all. If all telemarketing suddenly stopped, would anybody except telemarketers care? Why is nobody talking about how bad advertising has gotten? We need legal limits on advertising.

No Right to Repair

Then there’s the right to repair. See Louis Rossman[12] about this one. In the past, goods shipped with guides on how to repair them yourself with detailed diagrams. Companies didn’t treat their customers like idiots who are too stupid to be allowed to fix their own stuff.

Is it not insane that the newer vehicles produced today including cars, trucks, and John Deere tractors can’t be repaired by their owners? You used to be able to work on your own vehicles, but not any more! Now you have to take it to the car dealership because only they have the tools to fix it. If you actually want to repair your own vehicle, you have to buy the old models.

It’s the same in tech as well. Wanna fix your new laptop? Well you better take it to the laptop repair store because good luck taking it apart. Modern repairable laptops are still pretty niche.[13] If you want something you can actually repair, you have to research what you’re buying first and most people aren’t going to do that. You should be able to go to your local Best Buy and anything you buy should be repairable, but no. Instead we’re stuck paying a quarter of the price of the laptop for a few replacement keys for the keyboard.

But companies are forgetting one thing: Once we buy something, it’s ours! If we want take the risk of trying to fix something ourselves, then damn it we should be able to! It should be illegal to make products purposely hard to repair. The customer should have all the same information and tools the company repair technicians have.

The Obesity Epidemic

Thanks to extreme capitalism, we also have an obesity epidemic here in Burgerland and other western nations such as the U.K. as well. Why is that? Did a large segment of the population just lose willpower? Of course not. There are several reasons. One is that processed foods became more prevalent. People only wanted so much food, so companies figured out how to make addictive unhealthy ultra-processed food so people will eat more and the companies can sell more, health consequences be damned.

If you want to actually eat anything healthy, you have to stick to the edges of the supermarkets and resist all the temptation in the middle. People don’t like to hear this, but the truth is some X% of the population is not going to be able to resist that junk food enough of the time not to be overweight and no amount of imaginary willpower is going to fix the fact.

The End of Focused Attention

The same thing is happening with focused attention all over the world. Johann Hari’s book Stolen Focus[14] is a fantastic analysis of why people are having so much trouble paying attention these days. We all know social media and technology are personalized to be maximally addictive in a way no previous media platforms were able to be. And, like food, we know that X% of the population just isn’t going to be able to resist doom scrolling no matter what. And that X seems scarily high.

Whenever I see very young children playing on Ipads all day, giving their childhood to these huge companies that profit off of them, it depresses me. It’s wrecking their brains. The thousands of engineers at Google and Netflix and Facebook have figured out how to hijack the brain’s reward system and profit off of it. We are puppets pulling our own strings and we have no idea the long term implications of this on mental health.

It’s to the point you can’t even watch a full movie or have a meal with people any more without them pulling out their phones to watch some mindless Tiktok because they’re not entertained for two split seconds. And I can’t even be mad at them because they’re victims. These online platforms have destroyed their ability to pay focused attention to anything. Professors don’t even ask students to read books any more. They tell them to go watch short Youtube videos because they know their students’ attention can’t stay on any one thing for too long. People just live in this blur of constant stimulation and switching tasks, incurring the overhead of context switching and exhausting their brain.

One of the most important points Johann Hari makes in his book Stolen Focus, which by the way I plan to dedicate an entry to, is that unchecked capitalism leads to overconsumption and attention problems. The more focused attention people spend on one single task at a time, the less they will be task switching. The less people task switch, the less ads and media they see and the less products they’ll consume. After you’ve saturated the consumer base for a product and you cannot raise prices any more, the only thing you can do is make people consume more. Make them interrupt their day more often doing what you want them to do. That necessarily means less attention dedicated to more important things.

So extreme capitalism is literally incompatible with the ability to pay focused attention to things. How can we solve personal or society-level problems if we don’t have the attention span to evaluate problems and come up with solutions? How do we educate a population that can’t pay attention because they all got hopelessly addicted to social media before the age of five?

We have to make it easier for people to pay focused attention not by shaming them for “lacking willpower”, but by removing the environmental factors that caused the problems in attention to begin with. To expect individual “willpower” to prevail on the whole over a systemic society-level problem is a strategy that will always fail. Should individuals still do everything they can? Absolutely. But we shouldn’t be so focused on individual actions that we forget the true cause of the problem, which demands a collective solution.

Bullshit Jobs

Extreme capitalism also means an unthinkable amount of human intelligence and creativity go to waste performing bullshit jobs[15] that either harm society or don’t provide any real value. If you do find some job which uses your intelligence and creativity, then it might still be for evil purposes. For example, if you’re a Google engineer tasked with making Youtube even more addictive to children.

When your population is drowning in student debt and medical debt they can never get out from under and paying sky high rent because of zoning laws and because there’s no low income housing, you force intelligent creative people who would otherwise be helping society to do demeaning bullshit clerical and administrative work which doesn’t really need done.

If you’re in Burgerland, you won’t necessarily get any benefits either. No paid vacation time. No maternity leave. No union membership to help you collectively bargain. Undemocratic workplaces where the decisions all come from the top down, not from the bottom up. No right to disconnect[16] so you’re always on call ready to be interrupted at any moment of the day. Workers are subjugated while CEOs make record profits.

What’s the alternative to this? Socialism. A society where nobody falls through the cracks, where intelligent people aren’t forced to work bullshit jobs just to survive. A society where you would be expected to contribute back if able, but if you decided not to work because your job was evil or pointless or you weren’t able to work, you wouldn’t starve. You’d have the free time to do what you thought was important and contribute to society in your own way rather than taking orders from a superior.

No Consumer Choice

Extreme capitalism leads to effective monopolies as well. Consumers have no choice who they give money to. Everything is secretly owned by a few large corporations, so “voting with your wallet” is impossible. Starting a small business that competes with places like Walmart is impossible. There’s no room for small players. You either become as big and ruthless and efficient as Walmart or you’re pushed out of the market.

The government implicitly endorses the monopolies by becoming intertwined with them. For instance, some U.S. government web pages have Google tracking scripts on them. If you don’t pay one of the few big telecommunications companies for a phone number, you become socially crippled and you can’t get a job or conveniently schedule appointments with dentists or doctors.

Crime and Inequality

Extreme capitalism yields extreme inequality which breeds violent crime. When an economic system guarantees some people have a lot and others have nothing, a social tension between the haves and the have-nots starts to arise. There’s lower social cohesion, higher stress, and worse health which leads to more violence.

You can say people choose crime, therefore it’s their fault, but I’m not making an argument about whose fault it is. My official position on that is that determining who is to blame for high crime rates is playing the wrong language game and blame isn’t a useful abstraction for solving the problem of crime. Regardless where you place blame, if you have higher inequality in a society, you will have higher crime. That’s just a fact. Therefore we should reduce inequality if we want to reduce crime.

Environmental Destruction

Extreme capitalism is incompatible with focused attention. It’s incompatible with a healthy population. It’s incompatible with a peaceful population. Any one of these on their own would be reason enough to do away with it, but the worst is it’s incompatible with a livable planet. Extreme capitalism is destroying life here on earth. It encourages overconsumption, which destroys the ecosphere. Pretty much everybody knows about climate change and the collapse of the ecosphere by now, so I won’t reiterate it.

So humanity has two choices: abandon extreme capitalism or suffer the collapse of technological civilization. What will we choose? I suppose we’ll find out, but we’ve long since passed the point where we can pretend extreme capitalism is this engine of equal prosperity. Rather, when unregulated, it seems to be an engine of inequality and suffering.

I am not against business or competition. But business is not more important than human well being. Business should serve human well being. If it doesn’t, then what’s the point? What good is work if it’s work that makes others suffer or is simply there just so people don’t starve? The puritanical idea that labor is inherently valuable is idiotic. Labor is only as valuable as the well being it produces.

Conclusion

I’m not advocating anything radical. I’m not advocating getting rid of capitalism, only extreme capitalism. Extreme capitalism will be humanity’s downfall. It is not this magical engine of equal prosperity that libertarians and conservatives like to make it out to be and it has to be reigned in by a democratic (not plutocratic) government and replaced with socialism. That’s my two cents.

Links:
🔗 1: Is Beastiality Immoral?
🔗 2: On Transgender Athletes
🔗 3: Private Online Shopping
🔗 4: Abortion Gallup Poll
🔗 5: Glossary: Global Heating
🔗 6: Robert Reich
🔗 7: Robert Reich on Youtube
🔗 8: Robert Reich on Twitter
🔗 9: Inequality Media
🔗 10: Robert Reich Tweet
🔗 11: Free Software
🔗 12: Louis Rossman
🔗 13: Framework Laptop
🔗 14: Stolen Focus Book
🔗 15: Automation, Bullshit Jobs, And Work
🔗 16: Right to Disconnect