Chapter 16: The Capitalist Creed
1. 307- “What enables banks - and the entire economy - to survive and flourish is our trust in the future. This trust is the sole backing for most of the money in the world.”
308 “Credit enables us to build the present at the expense of the future. It’s founded on the assumption that our future resources are sure to be far more abundant than our present resources.”
Is that human foolishness or brilliance at work, here?
2. Business looked like a zero-sum game…You could cut the pie in many different ways, but it never got any bigger.” This meant that, if one person got ‘richer’, someone else must be getting poorer - which explains why so many cultures developed a bias against wealth (as sinful).
311 - Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations .“…[A]n increase in the profits of private entrepreneurs is the basis for the increase in collective wealth and prosperity.”
i.e. Greed is good; by becoming richer I benefit everybody, not just myself. Egoism IS altruism.
Greed is good for the collective. Being rich meant being moral.
Are there any ways in which Smith’s theory was right? What was problematic about it?
3. 322 “Today some people warn that twenty-first century corporations are accumulating too much power.”
Agree or disagree?
4. 323 - Story of the Mississippi shares - people given a fantasy story, sold everything to invest — believed they’d found “the easy way to riches.”
323-4: Mississippi story - stocks became worthless; the big speculators sold in time and emerged unscathed. The little guys lost everything - many committed suicide.
What IS that, in humans? When will we learn? Similarities to the Bernie Madoff story of the last few years — a recent suicide connected to him, just this month.
5. 329 - The rise of European capitalism - hand in hand with rise of Atlantic slave trade.
“Unrestrained market forces, rather than tyrannical kings or racist ideologues, were responsible for this calamity.” 331 - “did not stem from racist hatred towards africans - those involved rarely thought about the africans.”
Also the Great Bengal Famine - financed by upstanding Dutch - loved their kids, gave to charity — but had no regard for the suffering of 10 million Bengalis.
How is it that a human can be kind and good in many ways, yet participate in something horrific and be indifferent to others’ suffering?
6. Capitalism - 2 answers to its critics:
1. capitalism has created a world that nobody but a capitalist could run
2. paradise is just around the corner - the pie will grow and everyone will get a bigger piece (never equitable, but enough to satisfy everyone)
Do you agree with either of these arguments, and why?
Chapter 17: The Wheels of Industry - The Industrial Revolution
1. 341 ‘Life on the Conveyor Belt’
“The Industrial Revolution was above all else, the Second Agricultural Revolution.”
What does he mean?
2. “Farm animals stopped being viewed as living creatures that could feel pain and distress, and instead came to be treated as machines.” “The industry has no intrinsic interest in the animals’ social and psychological needs (except when these have a direct impact on production).”
“Just as the Atlantic slave trade did not stem from hatred towards Africans, so the modern animal industry is not motivated by animosity. Again, it is fuelled by indifference.”
What are the similarities or differences in these two instances?
3. 347 “The Age of Shopping”
A new ethic: Consumerism
For most of history - scarcity, frugality, austere ethics
Today - we buy countless products we don’t really need, and that until yesterday we didn’t know existed.
What are the outcomes of this for us as individuals, as society, as a world?
Previous ethical systems - paradise, but only if you overcome all your vices. Here, it’s the opposite - this ethic allows you to give in to all of them.
Chapter 18: A Permanent Revolution
1.352 - Time, clocks
Subject only to the movements of the sun and the growth cycles of plants.
No uniform working day. Modern industry care little about the sun or the season. It sanctifies precision and uniformity.
Do you think this has been a good/helpful change for most of humanity?
How has being on the clock affected you, for good or for ill?
How has being on the clock affected you, for good or for ill?
2. He points out (355) that we are surrounded by things showing us the time, all the time.
How does that affect your psyche? Is this similar to always having your phone in hand, always ‘being connected’? Do you experience more joy or relaxation when you don’t know the time, or does that make you anxious?
3.Collapse of the Family and Community
Before - the nuclear, extended or community family took care of all our needs
Now - the state does. Health, construction, education, law and order, etc.
That has had good and bad outcomes - where would you say the balance lies? Are we better off with more from the state and market, and less dependence on family?
4. The mantra was, “Become individuals”, “be more independent.”
Do you think we have become either of those things?
5. 365 He argues that it’s almost impossible to identify a defining attribute of our time, except for constant change - like defining the colour of a chameleon.
What would YOU say is a defining attribute of our time?
“Real peace is not the mere absence of war. Real peace is the implausibility of war.”
The law of the jungle - plausible scenario of war within one year. Today, for most polities, there is no plausible scenario leading to full-scale conflict within one year.
How does that make you feel? Relieved? Surprised? Doubtful/skeptical?
“Never before has peace been so prevalent that people could not even imagine war.”
The following were some of the reasons he cites as to why we live in a time where people can hardly imagine a war. Do you believe these reasons are enough to prevent another world war?
1. The price of war has gone up dramatically
2. Wealth today cannot be plundered and taken - it’s human capital and technical know-how
3. Peace is more lucrative than ever - foreign trade and investments have become all-important
4. Global political culture has shifted - the elites see war as bad and avoidable.
5. The ‘tightening web of international connections erodes the independence of most countries,’ lessening the chance of one of them starting a conflict.