Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Capitalism vs. Industrialism

I am going to respond to Earl's comment from a couple days ago. I had my little rant on global warming and how it was merely a symptom of capitalism. Earl commented that he felt that capitalism isn't the problem, but rather industrialization. Capitalism is an economic system that is simply controlled by supply and demand. It is the industrialization that is causing the problems (Correct me if I got that wrong Earl).

I am going to preface this with my credentials. I'm an exercise physiologist. I am studying to receive a PhD in Exercise Science with an emphasis in Health Promotion. I have never in my life taken an economics class. So this is my attempt to express my views in an area where I don't have a complete understanding. The reason I'm doing this is because I want to learn. If you disagree, let me know. If I'm wrong, let me know and explain it to me. If you think I'm ugly, keep it to yourself, I don't want my wife to find out.

The way I see it is that capitalism and industrialization are difficult to separate. OK, I'm going to be real honest, I just had to wikipedia "industrialisation" to see what I was talking about. I agree with Earl, industrialisation is the problem. It is the idea that we need to make more, to become industrialized. Earl made some good points about economies not based on capitalism that also destroy resources. I can't counter that argument. Probably because he's right.

I want to draw an analogy here. I'm going to compare capitalism and industrialization with the driver of a car and the car itself. People who drive cars are not bad. In fact, much good can be done by people in cars. They can give me a ride when I get a flat tire... they just don't do that around here. They can transport injured persons to medical attention. They can get needed goods from one place to another. Drivers are good, as is capitalism.

Industrialization can also be good. It's like the car. Without it we end up in an agrarian society with little room for 'advancement'. (I really don't think that more industry or a move from an agrarian society is a move 'up' or an 'improvement', but that's a topic for another day.) The problem is that we have lines of 3,000 pound cars carrying one person each in order to get a large mass of people to nearly the same place. It's wasteful. Is it the person (capitalism) that is doing a bad thing? Or is it the car (industrialization)?

I'm going to say neither... or both. I just argued that both the driver and the car can be good things. The problem is that industrialization is moving at a rate that is deteriorating natural resources faster then the planet can handle. That is the fault of industrialization and the desire of countries to produce more. But why do they want to produce more? In order to get more money into the hands of the people so they can spend it and further drive industrialization. So capitalism isn't necessarily the problem, but the fact that capitalism (the driver) has the throttle wide open at all times is pushing industrialization (the car) at speeds that are just to fast for the vehicle. Consumerism is driving it's 72 VW bus at speeds that should be reserved for Ferrari's.

I hope I didn't just embarrass myself with that analogy. I think it sounded really good, but that is certainly not my area of expertise.

There is one place that I would like to disagree with Earl. He said that capitalism to encourage good business and put environmentally unfriendly enterprises out of business. That simply doesn't happen. Wal-Mart is still in business even though they push for lower and lower prices relying on poor working conditions and environmentally unhealthy practices. If capitalism worked as a moral agent (i.e. consumers chose based on businesses making good, humane choices), Wal-Mart would have been out of business long ago. The fact is that capitalism is amoral and the system within the US separates consumers from the circumstances under which products were produced. It's all about price and that drives industrialization to destroy the environment to keep prices low.

I'm going to stop now before I really embarrass myself. I do have more to say about advertising and subsidies as they play in the game, but I'm not going to.


Heather said...

I'm not very well educated on this subject, but I thought it was a good analogy. You raised some good points! I'm sure Earl will have some things to think about. :)

The Future is NOW! said...

I'm writing a paper for publication in an academic journal on this subject. Actually, my work focuses on industrialization and movement away from agrarian society as not being 'advancement/a step up', which I argue is the legacy of colonial mentality. Europe's industrial revolution is really what enabled them to violently conquer much of the world and enabled/required them to find new sources of resources for machines, and consumer markets to buy industrialized goods, while convincing themselves and others that industrialized society was more civilized, advanced and developed than backward indigenous/tribal/rural (aka agrarian) societies. This mentality still exists today, and is what I think needs to be changed en masse.

Anyway, I think your analogy was not far from the truth, but I also think this issue is a very hazy one that can be variously interpreted. It also depends on what school of capitalism you are looking at. But I do think that 'capitalism' and 'industry' can be 'good' depending on how they are managed by humans.

Also, industrialization actually stands in some ways in opposition to free trade/openness of markets because nations need to foster certain industries (for ex. subsidize through government loans, protect through tariffs on imported goods of the same product, etc) both to foster industrialization at home, and to have an industry with which to have a competitive edge. This is especially true of 'developing' economies, though you can still see it to be true in the US, such as of our subsidizing of the agriculture industry (which is as far from 'agrarian life' as you could possibly get).