Monthly Archives: June 2008

In capitalism's defence.

There are plenty of anti-capitalism opinions reflected in print, the media and on the Internet. When I read such material, I feel the need to reply in the form of an article in this blog, but I can rarely find the time.

Recently, however, I came across another such article in the blog of a friend of mine (the English text is a Google translation from the Spanish original), which has motivated me to write back.

The above-linked article presents capitalism as the source of corruption, slavery, drug trafficking, real state speculation, and several more calamities and misfortunes. It also describes capitalism as a system consisting of robbery, oppression of people, exploitation of workers, all for the benefit of just a few people (the capitalists). It even defines it as a system created by humans to cause hatred of some humans against others.

On the contrary, capitalism is not the source of evil because evil does exist independent of capitalism and independent of any other social or economic system. I will argue here that both capitalism and evil are nothing but reflections of the human being, and neither is the consequence of the other.

Capitalism is defined as:

    an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, esp. as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.

Ownership

The essence of the human being does not differ one bit from the other living creatures: Humans need to feed to survive, and they need a space to live in. From prehistoric times human beings needed to obtain food for themselves, and their “family” (I’ll use this term to refer to those other human beings he or she had to feed). The very action of “obtaining” the food represented an amount of effort and work employed by an individual. The investment of time and effort in obtaining that food already grants that individual ownership over that food.

The concept of ownership is linked to the existence of other human beings, who may be very willing to simply take the food that their neighbour obtained after employing time and effort. In other words, it is necessary to create the concept of private property (ownership) to provide the hunter humans some guarantee that they are not wasting their time and effort in chasing animals down to get food. In the absence of other humans around, private property is meaningless. However, as soon as other humans are around, protection is needed from stealing. Private property becomes a necessary concept that must be acknowledged by a community of human beings in recognition of the effort, time or resources that one individual has employed to obtain something else. Everything has a value for an individual, and it has a value for others, who would find it far easier to steal what other humans obtained or produced rather than employing effort of their own. This is a key difference between humans and most other animals: humans can see the value of the work done by others, and can plan to take advantage of the effort of others, while other animals cannot. Other animals taking food from humans are moved by the availability of that food, or its being easier to grab than other food available in the environment. Moreover, humans recognize value in items other than food: tools, materials, and other goods can also be sought after by other humans (who did not produce them). Therefore, the concept of “property” is need by humans only in relation with other humans, not in relation with other living beings.

Because the human being is a social being, living in communities with other humans, “ownership” is an absolutely necessary concept to take into account to study or define human relationships.

Economy

Another natural trait of humans is their tendency towards simplifying tasks. If someone employed their time in producing rice crops and others in fishing, wouldn’t it be easier for both to exchange some of each other’s production rather than both becoming farmer and fisherman?. Barter emerged as a natural way of obtaining a variety of types of food, hard to obtain otherwise due to lack of time, resources or skill. Land, production tools and other items would be equally exchanged in the same manner. One problem of bartering was the perceived value of goods. With time, this system evolved to eliminate differences in value perception of different goods, and a common token of exchange would be adopted, to represent equal value to all users of the token system: one token might represent two packs of rice, or one fish. These tokens are nothing but money: a single coin that has a value agreed by all its users. Trading of rice for fish came to an end, and trade of coins for fish, or coins for rice became the norm. Thus the birth of money, as a natural evolution of bartering.

Money is a mere token of value, common to all people who produce and consume different types of goods. Money is a reflection of human nature, since it represents trade of goods among humans.

Whether we are considering rice-for-fish trading or monetary transactions, it is all an economic system. From the Greek roots of the word, “economy” means village (or household) management. That is: management of the community, of one’s house in terms of the resources needed to keep the village or household running. Such resources are the food needed to feed people, the tools need to produce or catch food, the materials to build shelters, etc..

I.e., an “economy” is also a concept inherent to human nature. By mixing the use of money (common token system instead of barter), the economic system based on money only makes the management of one’s household more convenient, as it greatly reduces complexity to obtain needed or wanted goods. Nature’s tendency towards simplification can also be seen in this evolution and creation of economy based on the common token system.

Capitalism

Therefore, from the very human nature emanate two basic facts that have since ruled human societies:

  1. On the one hand, the recognition of an individual’s work and its products is a must. Hence, private property and ownership.
  2. On the other hand, the economic system emerges as the natural way to cooperate in the production and exchange of goods among humans.

Capitalism derives from these two basic facts: Private property of goods and means of production of goods, and an economic system that permits the management of wealth for individuals and organizations. In a typical capitalist system nowadays the means of production and exchange of wealth are in private hands, in the exact same way as with humans in the stone age.

Current capitalist structures, far more complex than the structures required to cover the human’s initial basic feeding needs, are nothing but the natural evolution of a system made of human beings, due to the nature of those very human beings. The system experienced an increase in complexity by several orders of magnitude over thousands of years, due to several factors including population increases, improvements of tools and techniques, production increases, trade, communication with other peoples, etc…

So far I have established that capitalism derives from human nature. This fact is neither good nor bad in itself. It is a fact, and I believe that the fact that capitalism is in effect in most of the world goes to show that nature cannot be fought. Non-capitalist systems are anti-natural because they clash in one way or another with the nature of the individual elements that make up the system, the human beings. Sooner or later, any system that attempts to impose customs which conflict with its elements’ nature, will collapse.

Evil

The evil that some like to ascribe to capitalism effuses from humans, not from capitalist systems or structures.

Another trait of human nature is its capacity for goodness, greed, kindness, envy, self-improvement or advantage-taking. These forces drive human actions, and human societies are shaped by the supply of each of these forces which can be found in the group. These forces are always present, regardless or the system or organization that relates humans among each other.

Let us take for example communism, which imposes an artificial rule stating that all people must have equal wealth, with the goal of ensuring that all people can see their needs satisfied: food, shelter, education, etc… In such a system no one is allowed to do work or produce as much as they please, but rather must conform with the established “quota” of work and goods allocated for all people. This is unnatural because on the one hand restricts and negates people’s desires for improvement (self or group), while on the other hand forces upon people the load of supporting the living of crooks taking advantage of society. Other anti-natural systems have ceased to exist as well, like feudalism, for it also restricted people’s freedoms.

Capitalism vs. others

These economic systems have truly used slavery (feudalism), have blatantly experienced corruption and robbery (communism), and above all have oppressed people, restricting their ability to pursue their own well-being, while failing spectacularly in defending the well-being of the general public.

Capitalism, on the other hand, is the natural expression of human interactions. It does suffer from the bad qualities of humans, like any other system, but its lack of anti-natural laws makes it the system with the least flaws and the best suited to play well with its components: humans.

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The Truth About CO2

Rarely can one find mainstream media publishing data and information about the so called climate change when such data downplays the role of CO2, or contradicts the official discourse about its origins and its effects on climate.

My theory is that there are enough vested interests which need governments to promote the belief that human activity produces changes on Earth’s global climate.

However, there are other sources of information more robust and reliable, which often dismantle many of the catastrophic news broadcast by newspapers, television, cinema and radio, and throws much light on the stale topic. One example is the excellent spanish-language blog “co2” by Anton Uriarte (it is also linked from this page’s ‘blogroll’). For non-spanish speakers, another great resource for global climate information is Roy W. Spencer’s webpage.

One of his recent articles highlighting some data from the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that minimize the effect of CO2 on global climate.

Please continue reading Lo que calienta el CO2.

Oil prices, carriers and the Spanish government

The recent increase in oil prices affects all transport. Air, ground and sea transportation, passenger and cargo alike, have seen their costs rising in the last few months.

Analysts have provided several theories on the causes behind the oil price hike. Some put the blame on the credit crisis in the USA, others blame oil producers, others point at the US Federal Reserve, and others remind us of the significant increase in energy demand. I am not going to analyze the reasons here.

This week Spain saw a strike by some truck drivers (apparently about 20% of them), demanding Government intervention to help their activity, after fuel price increases are rendering their business a loss-making operation. Their strike blocked major communication roads around the main cities in Spain, causing long traffic jams, and making it impossible for loads of other people to carry on with their own jobs.

These few truck drivers seem to think they are the only ones affected by oil prices. Many other people actually need gas fuel as well to drive to work, and are equally paying for gas at the same price. Costs are increasing for everyone.

Private businesses, such as the truck drivers’ own job, must not receive help from the Government. When faced with adversity, these striker drivers resort to demanding help from the Government while showing complete disregard to other workers and people through their road-blocking actions, and through their boycotting other truck drivers who chose not to adhere to the protest. The striker’s lazy and cowardly attitude towards their own problems is unacceptable. Clearly the transportation business was profitable when they decided to enter the business. Now that conditions have changed for the worse, they expect external help instead of adapting themselves to the new circumstances.

I know ex-truck drivers who left the business because they could not make a living with it, and moved to another type of job. People in other sectors, including house service, agriculture, engineering, and financial services, to name a few, have the personal drive to move forward through trouble, to adapt and adjust by changing jobs if needed. The few who are unwilling to adjust are usually (also on this occasion) the noisiest, but this is no reason to listen to them.

The natural solution to the carriers’ problems is simply to increase their transportation fees as a result of their increased cost. If their fees are fixed by collective agreements, then they must renegotiate if they wish, but Government intervention is not be to asked for, and public funds must not be used to help this or any other private sector.

If prices of goods must increase as a consequence of higher transportation costs, so be it. It’s only natural. To intervene on pricing, on the other hand, would be wrong. The Government must attack the problem at its root: supply and demand of energy. If they cannot affect demand, then they must act on supply, building new energy-producing plants. Spain’s proud and capricious socialist Government, of course, has no plans for this.

Language, communication and freedom

Language is often considered to be an aspect of culture. I dissent. First and foremost, language is a means of communication, but the diversity of languages certainly makes humans associate a particular language with a particular group of people. Humans feel identified with other human beings who speak the same language, while feeling more distant from those speaking a different tongue.

Culture or not, language is essentially what allows humans to communicate with other humans and it is therefore a catalyst for growth of the human spirit as language permits access to knowledge and to interaction and relation with other people. The use of language should therefore not be limited nor restricted in any way. This apparently elemental assertion has rarely been true throughout the history of mankind. The fact that different peoples speak different languages has been used as a perfect weapon to divide and hurt people as opposed to the enriching potential of multilingualism.

In “The Prince“, Machiavelli describes how the different tongue spoken in another state can be a hurdle to conquer that territory. Time and again we have seen how leaders have imposed the use of a particular language on people, in order to gain control over them and their lands, usually accompanied by oppression of another language that may represent a threat to achieving control of the people. This practice might have been thought to be proper of war time, dictators and other freedom-lacking situations and regimes.

Nothing further from the truth: Spain, despite being a Democratic state, is a prime example of language oppression and curbing of freedoms. I’ve been meaning to write yet another public condemnation of the practices of several regional governments in Spain, which have been implementing policies and practices to put down the use of the Spanish language (despite it being an official language on those regions) while also imposing the use of their local language (despite it being equally official).

Common practices nowadays in Spain include: favoring knowledge of the local language over medical skills to access doctor positions in the public health care system, fines on businesses which do not label their stores and products in the local language, forcing students to speak the local language during school recess, indicating parents and teachers they are not to use Spanish when speaking in front of children in school, teaching Spanish in school as a foreign language, conducting publicity campaigns depicting Spanish-speaking locals as inferior to local-language-speaking locals, among other preposterous praxes.

Many of those policies are targeted on the education system. What best way to indoctrinate on local and regional identity and differentiation from other people (i.e., the rest of Spain) than to stress the differences by imposing the use of the local language while putting down the use of Spanish?

With their obsession on collective regionalism, those local governments are infusing hatred among people, but most importantly, they are depriving people from the ability to communicate and access more and more knowledge, produced in languages other than their regional tongue.

The use of one or another language ought to be purely a matter of choice of the individual. At school age, when children are still uncontaminated by political maneuvers, parents should have a choice as to whether their children ought to be be taught in one or more language, or whether they should be taught in Spanish as well as the local language, or even in foreign languages.

By undermining the capability of people to choose the language they use for communication, and for schooling of their children, these regional governments are dumbing down the population. The general public is subject to the manipulatory wishes of these regional leaders who are depriving and isolating people of opportunities for their future, in the name of localism and glorification of their local identity.

A foreign (non-Spanish) friend of mine in Catalonia (one of the regions in Spain most active in promoting collective localism) finally opted to migrate to another European country, because the school system in Barcelona offered no possibility to study in Spanish. Only Catalan (the local co-official language) was an option. Spanish would be taught to his children as a foreign language, like English or French.

Limiting exposure to other languages is a crime against people, for it limits their capability to acquire knowledge, liberty and self-growth, and to help in the growth of the individual’s community. People and businesses should claim their right to use and think in whichever language they please, free of limitations from governments.

The latest episode in this battle was staged recently by the Balearic region of Spain and the German airline Air Berlin, which operates flights between several German cities and several Spanish cities (among other countries). The Balearic local regional government’s “Language Policy” director sent a letter to Air Berlin, asking them to use Catalan in their communications with their customers in the Balearic islands. Here’s an example of meddling by a public institution (local government) in private affairs of an airline. Who do they think they are to tell an Airline what language they should speak? I support the Airline if they choose to communicate to their customers in whichever language they decide to, Catalan included, but this should be purely their own decision. If they have not chosen to use Catalan so far, they probably have their own reasons, more than likely related to balancing the need to communicate with non German speaking customers and the need to streamline the Airline’s business. It is no business of anyone else to tell them which language to use.

The reaction of Air Berlin’s director, Mr. Joachim Hunold, was perfectly correct. He wrote in the airline’s own magazine a note denouncing the inference from the Balearic government, saying that “Spanish is no longer an official language. The partition of Spain into regional nationalisms is returning Spain to medieval mini-states. I used to think that we lived in a Europe without borders”.

Mr. is absolutely correct. Of course, regional leaders in Spain have tried to accuse Air Berlin of attacking Catalan. The president of Catalonia, Montilla, has even dared to tell the Airline how they should conduct their business, hinting that the Airline should not adopt an ideology. Apparently, for Montilla it is fine that a Government can impose an ideology on people, but individuals cannot comment on it. This is certainly not a surprise, since Montilla and similar local leaders are known for persecuting freedom of speech.

Certainly the airline incident is far less serious than other practices; it was just the latest in a chain of nonsense coming from these regional leaders.

It is outrageous that the Catalonian government fines producers for not using Catalan in their product labels, or when they’ve fined shop owners for using only Spanish on their shop banners. People should be free to label using whichever language they want. Most certainly businesses will choose a language that helps them sell their product. If they want to use Catalan, they will, but this should not be forced upon them.

It is also outrageous that children are manipulated through television advertisements that teach them to put Spanish-speaking people down.

People’s own opportunities for prosperity and liberty are being killed by these leaders obsessed with regional and local identity, and with differentiation from the rest of humans. Language is their best vehicle to control people. Let us not allow them to succeed.