The Relationship between Capitalism and Government

I want to get into a topic that came up a few weeks ago, the difference between Markets and Capitalism. Boy, has this turned out to be hard to find simple, clear discussions of this idea online. So, the below excerpts are seriously, super long, and I apologize for that, but they tell a necessary story in three parts. The last excerpt is just there as a reference. As always we'll go through the readings on the day of the discussions!


The Safe Distribution of Private Power
—[In the US,] what we want to do, to the best of our ability, is use our public government mainly to ensure the safe distribution of private power. The basic idea was that if you distribute private corporate power widely enough, then people will compete among themselves in ways that are good for both our democracy and our economy.
—Did Wilson proceed to do this?
—One of the first things his administration did was fix the many flaws of the original Sherman Antitrust Act by passing the Clayton Act. The second thing they did was put the public fully in control of the money supply. A lot of people have problems with the Federal Reserve, and there’s a lot of reasons to have problems with the Federal Reserve. But the Federal Reserve we have today is better than having JP Morgan run the money supply, or Jamie Dimon.

Economic Models...的討論逐字稿

This is a partial transcript of our discusssion of Economic Models are the Foundation of Social Relations

—The second passage is about how we produce the culture we live in everyday through the way we live.
—The culture creates our way of living, and by living it we create the culture.
—So the culture is perpetuated.
—To survive, we have to eat food, so we do work. So what does that have to do with culture? If a poor person, they don't care about culture. If they can live, if they can survive, how he does so has nothing to do with culture.
—I think the culture here doesn't mean, for example, music, or painting. That's not the culture that we're talking about. Culture is the abstract, or the physical thing.
—Okay, i'll say it a different way. In Taiwan, not a lot of people can understand what you mean, when you talk about culture like music...
—'Culture', what the article is saying, is like an overall picture. In the past, we are in a culture that we eat what we produce, or we wear clothes that we made ourselves. It's more like 'lifestyle'.
—But I think culture as a word is very okay for this kind of issue.
—It’s like this, the chopsticks they use in Japan are not the same as the Chinese chopsticks we use in Taiwan, and Koreans have their own style of chopsticks. In the west we use forks and knives, but they use forks and spoons in Indonesia and Thailand, and they use them differently than us. This is what culture is. It’s not just the big stuff, it’s all the details of our lives.

—Okay, so since some more people have come in, let’s recap what we’ve talked about so far. There are like three steps in the points under discussion today, the first step is, libraries and bookstores. If an alien came down to Taiwan and stepped into Eslite, and then was taken to visit Taida’s library, they might not see the difference. They’re both a big building filled with books on shelves, and with people all around, and some people take books to the counter, make some sort of exchange, and walk out with books. But what is the big difference between the two, besides the fact that Eslite is such a beautiful place that everyone loves going to, and Taida’s library is perhaps less comfortable inside? The difference is that the basic principle of access to books in the library is “to each according to need” or interest, while the principle in the bookstore is “to each according to ability to pay.” Meaning, if you want a book in the library, you just go get it, or maybe you have to wait a bit and then you can read it. At Eslite, you have to think about if the book is worth 600NT or 1500NT to you or not, and maybe you can’t afford it. And if you’re poor, that’s all the difference in the world.

Economic Models are the Foundation of Social Relations

I want to get into a topic that came up a few weeks ago, the difference between Markets and Capitalism. Of the article excerpts we're going to discuss today, the first one is kind of ordinary, and the second one is from a very famous and very difficult text which has generated a lot of controversy in its existence. As always we'll go through the readings on the day of the discussions!

Libraries or Bookstores?
A nice illustration of the difference between capitalist and noncapitalist ways of organizing economic activity is the contrast between two ways in which people get access to books: bookstores and libraries. The United States turns out to have one of the best developed public library systems in the world. Ironically, perhaps, this system was largely founded through the philanthropy of one of the wealthiest and most powerful capitalists of the late 19th century, Andrew Carnegie.

What are the key differences between bookstores and libraries? When you enter a bookstore in search of a book you go to the part of the store in which the book is shelved, take it off the shelf, look at its price, and then decide whether or not it is worth it to you to spend that amount of money to have the book. Your access to the book is governed by your willingness (and ability) to pay for it. In a library you go to the shelf, see if the book is there. If it is, you take it and check it out. If it is not, you put your name on a waiting list and get notified when the book is available. The access to the book is rationed by time: your willingness to wait for it. The librarian then notes how long the waiting list is and, depending upon the resources of library, the level of community support for its activities, and its policies concerning waiting lists, decides whether or not to order more copies of the book.

The underlying principles of a library and a bookstore are thus quite different. The basic principle of access to books in the library is “to each according to need” or interest, while the principle in the bookstore is “to each according to ability to pay.” These two mechanisms have very different consequences in the world. Libraries are clearly more egalitarian in the sense that they embody an ideal of equal opportunity for all. No one is at a disadvantage because of personal resources. If bookstores were the only way of getting books, then poor people would have much less access to books. One can easily imagine libraries being used for all sorts of things besides books – movies, recordings, artwork, tools, video cameras, etc. And indeed, some public libraries in the United States do provide some of these. Imagine how the American economy would be different if libraries were ever to become a general, pervasive model for access to such a wide range of things?