The evils of capitalism are often portrayed through huge, transnational corporations, exploiting resources and enslaving workers. Apple, Gap, Samsung and various other brands that have become commonplace in western society are all examples; when people think of the problems capitalism causes, these seem to be the ones that get the blame.
There’s good reason for this, as it is these companies that perpetuate injustices so profound that they disgust many across the political spectrum. Largely based in developing countries, they employ labourers to work in appalling conditions for very low salaries, driving the economies of developed nations. Yet, if we’re trying to undermine these companies and the economic monopolies they create, is it sensible to turn to small, local businesses instead?
Businessmen of this kind actually occupy a class of their own; the petite bourgeois. It comprises people like shopkeepers and local entrepreneurs, and lie sandwiched between the bourgeois and proletariat. At first, it might seem sensible to turn to them for the essentials, even if it only means going to an independent cinema, or buying your eggs from local sources now and then. But what if I told you that, by avoiding the corporate giants, by trying to starve them of their consumers, you’re only resisting the inevitable.
It is a theory rooted in Marxism that the petite bourgeois will eventually vanish, swept up by the bourgeois and the proletariat respectively as monopoly capitalism dawns, meaning small businesses will eventually give way to larger ones. We’re already seeing this trend occur today, as increasing globalisation allows companies to expand across the globe, and we can sensibly conclude that it shall continue to occur until the death of small-scale capitalism. I’m not saying that it’s pointless to buy from local sources – it’s definitely the morally better option – yet if you’re doing it to undermine larger corporations, you’re trying to dam a torrent with stones.
I really like this piece in that you tackle a subject and a bugbear that opponents of capitalism always pouce on, namely the Multi-national corporations. I think myself that one reason for buying from local independent traders would be the more personal relationship that they provide in relation to the local community is worth supporting for as long as possible. I agree that I think there is an unstoppable momentum towards full spectrum dominance of corporate power. There is a strange unexpected outworking of this movement however which I think has not occurred to a lot of people and that is the final structure of a fully dominant corporate capitalist system is strangely similar to the structure of a communist system, the only difference being the purpose and priorities to which the system is directed. The communist system ideally is providing food, shelter and work for the party members as it’s main goal whereby the priority of the corporate capitalist system is profit and the members of this system gain access, or not, to food, shelter and work as a side benefit of taking part in this system rather than as a direct result.
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Hello Max, Sarah here, a colleague of your father, I found this piece personally very apt as I have just been reading Owen Jones’ “The Establishment” (If you don’t have this book, I will send you a copy) He argues (and I agree) that the wealthy capitalist elites in the UK could and should contribute far more by way of taxes to society and fund the services we need properly. He outlines how such corporations take from the government constantly (education of workers, their healthcare, housing benefit going to private landlords worth millions, privatisation of nhs etc). At the same time they fund and support a party that demonises and vilifies those who access state benefits. Then you get the likes of Amazon and others exploiting the system to pay no tax while millions of us bear the burden of paying income tax and VAT on our goods. The problem with ending up with a block of corporate elites is that they are in so many ways undermining the very society that makes their trade possible – and we allow them to do this. Late capitalism won’t yield a society where people can live well and treat each other well. It makes me want to crowd fund a similar retailer to Amazon and call it “wepaytax.com”
Maybe one day…
Hi Max, but but but…everyone I know buys from Amazon though I don’t. What about a list of the companies who do not exploit the workers in developing countries, who pay their full whack of taxes and from whom one can buy with a clear conscience..
P S not buying from amazon is not virtue on my part: I make no financial transactions on the computer! Nana
My favourite capitalist of the Austrian school is Joseph Schumpeter (plus he gets quoted by Martin Sheen on West Wing which is my favourite American TV series ever so that is a double cool) who takes the view that it is the creative gale of destruction that allows societies and economies to advance. On this basis we need to allow these efficiencies from big companies to play out as they will be superseded anyway in time. See http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/CreativeDestruction.html
I wonder if the best option lies somewhere between the extremes of state control and raw free market which allows for the market to remove inefficient producers while providing a solid safety net?
P.s. The book look great