Sunday, March 22, 2015

So what is capitalism?

People can toss a word around where the meaning can get a bit fuzzy and hearing lots of talk about "capitalism" I thought it worth it to post about what it is. And will start with what the Wikipedia claims it is:

Capitalism is an economic system in which trade, industries, and the means of production are largely or entirely privately owned and operated for profit.[1][2] Central characteristics of capitalism include private propertycapital accumulationwage labour and, in many models, competitive markets.[3] In a capitalist economy, the parties to a transaction typically determine the prices at which assets, goods, and services are exchanged.[4]

For instance, if you make money from a store you own in a neighborhood, you are a capitalist. Your store is your capital, as well as the products it sells, which you presumably buy on the free market. And the living you earn from selling goods to others from your store is your profit.

For a country, the alternative in general to private ownership is that the government owns, for instance the store, and provides goods to a population.

And that's it.

So what if the neighborhood owns the store? Then the owners in the neighborhood are capitalists, if they operate for a profit. If they don't then they aren't.

Is there any scenario where people other than the government own the store which does not make the owner's capitalists?

Yes. If they don't make a profit from the store. But no, if they do.

That is, if you follow the definition, then the neighborhood store is capital. And those who own it, if not the government, are capitalists, if they make any money from it.

If they don't, then no.

And you can build from there.

The alternative from private ownership is ALWAYS the government owns.

So how can people operate something without a profit? It depends on how you define "profit".

My own view is that what you call profit is a matter of community.

What's interesting to me is that if you go with a person owning a store in a neighborhood who does NOT make a profit, then I guess that person would need to be independently wealthy to run the store.

But a community might be able to run a store without profit, assuming members of the community have income from some other sources.

While the government can run a store without profit, as it can rely on taxation.

And we can see an example where primarily the government runs things, where also there is private enterprise with education.

Here in the US below college level, schools are primarily run by the government, though there are private schools. At the college level, there are government run colleges and universities, as well as a lot more private ones, but even those are still for the most part non-profit.

And government pays for running schools at all levels primarily through taxation, though students are also at the college level often asked to pay fees.

And it can show how a community can move something outside the realm of profit motive as American society sees a benefit in educating its children. Yet things shift a bit with young adults, who aren't guaranteed a free college education. Though some have suggested such a thing.

But at this point in time, it's not clear what the value is, as college isn't for everyone, while EVERY American child needs school. Where I'm sure there is no real debate in this country as to whether or not that is true as it's a cultural value of this country.

James Harris

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Hypothetical: What might a President Snowden do?

Let's use our imaginations. Imagine that the efforts of Edward Snowden are revealed to have also outed an unbelievable plot by a foreign power to infiltrate the US and nuke Washington D.C. using our own nuclear weapons which almost succeeded. It nearly succeeded because of unbelievable lapses in security, which Snowden helped reveal. That information is currently classified, but is revealed in the next couple of months. Mr. Snowden becomes a national hero, returns to the US in triumph, is enlisted into a presidential campaign and is elected president of the United States in 2016, and inaugurated in 2017.

In this fictional scenario, what might President Snowden do next?

I think he might direct his Justice Department to begin a series of high level investigations which could lead to federal prosecutions for violations of the US Constitution.

But do we even need to go to such an extreme? Couldn't the next president do that anyway? If so, how is it that we have people who seem to behave as if no one will ever check them on the constitutionality of behavior which Snowden revealed, where we know they violated the US Constitution as you can just read it, see what they did, and know.

Or, if that's too far-fetched for people who haven't actually read the US Constitution, what about those CIA people who were torturing prisoners? What if the next president prosecuted them?

Why are they not afraid?

Our system of government is robust in that in principle it has an indefinite mechanism for the continued life of the nation which involves elections. Last I heard no one has a crystal ball as to who will get elected, which is another barrier against wrongdoing.

Yes, one group of elected leaders might protect you now, but what about the new ones later? You should NOT have any guarantees there, right?

But we're seeing people behave as if they DO have guarantees. They're acting as if they already know who the next president of the United States of America will be!

Hadn't noticed? Then think again. If I noticed, then other people have as well.

We have people behaving today as if they know the political game is fixed, so they will never be prosecuted, which explains why they went so wild! They were not afraid.

But if so, on what basis do they have this certainty? And if they think it is fixed, by whom?

Wish I could get an answer from one of those people, as maybe they already know, to a simple question: who will be the next president of the United States of America?

James Harris

Thursday, March 5, 2015

American politics and learned helplessness

Was glad to hear about a Justice Department review of the police department in the city of Ferguson, Missouri. That review is part of what is often called a breaking news story at this point, as it just recently happened, and I'll link for reference to one article addressing it at The Atlantic from Conor Friedersdorf here.

And national attention has apparently revealed much that should have been known and addressed a long time ago, in a nation where racial issues have long been problematic.

So why wasn't it?

Another recent example involves allegations against a wealthy team owner which lead to his loss of his team, and for me it was strange listening to extremely wealthy and powerful athletes, who seemed certain that as Black men they could do nothing except accept.

Which has me thinking about learned helplessness.

In a country where Black people dominate at many levels from the presidency, to giants in the entertainment industry, and yes, in business though less visibly, why would it be taken for granted that there's just no way to address these kinds of situations as in Ferguson, Missouri until they explode?

How could the Justice Department have a Black Attorney General, who somehow can't handle a police force like in Ferguson, until intense national attention forces him?

Isn't it the job of his department to protect American citizens?

And why did those powerful Black athletes, tolerate what they did for as long as they did, until a dramatic story forced people around the globe to wonder?

As a Black man myself I am often amazed to listen to others tell me how hopeless the situation supposedly is, how supposedly impossible it is in this country, which they believe is just relentlessly hostile to Black people where they also believe it will never change.

When pressed they may calmly inform you that nothing has really changed in this country for Black people. And they are certain it never will.

Absorb that for a moment: the history challenging belief that NOTHING has really changed in this country for Black people and never will.

Psychology covers this area well. And it turns out there are basic reasons for why people can learn that there is no reason to try, when they have been oppressed for long periods of time.

If someone believes such a thing, why would they address injustice? What would be the point?

Too many supposed leaders of all races, as I don't think race is actually a real political issue any more in the US, get away with not addressing real concerns of citizens, based on a de facto belief that the system is too rotten to support justice.

So what makes them think they are then loyal Americans? If they no longer believe in their country?

Science has many of the answers we need. But it takes leadership to protect the people.

James Harris