Welp… I’ve kicked over quite the hornets’ nest…
Last weekend, Medium featured my story, Capitalism Has Failed, and Jay-Z’s Streaming Scandal Proves it. I don’t like the clickbaity headline the editors’ chose — it misrepresents the premise of the article — but, boy did it do its job.
I usually try to keep up with my Medium notifications, but I was so inundated by thousands of them that I had to give up. Thanks to everyone who read the article and left some feedback.
Of particular note: the Norwegian newspaper that broke the TIDAL story reprinted my article online and in its print edition!
Also, welcome to all my new followers! I hope you’ll take a look through my previous articles and find something else you like.
This is my most commented on article by some margin, and there’s no way I can respond to every criticism. However, there was a common theme among many of them that I believe requires a rebuttal: the notion that capitalism is benevolent.
There were several comments based on the ahistorical argument that capitalism is the reason we have clean air, water and untainted food.
Have none of these people read Upton Sinclair’s, The Jungle — a scathing exposure of early 20th century American meatpacking?
Do none of them know that the reason smog isn’t choking the life out of people in Los Angeles is decades of dedicated work by environmentalists? Do people really think Ford and GM got together and just decided to accrue the cost to make their vehicles more fuel-efficient and less polluting? Look at the battle they’re still putting up against stricter fuel standards.
Haven’t any of these people read about how thriving textile and other industries in many cities used to pollute the rivers so badly, they would catch fire?
River water. Would. Catch. Fire.
Pollution of the waterways by industry was an environmental and public health catastrophe. New York City’s Hudson and East Rivers were so polluted that until the late 90s, if you fell in, you’d have to get a tetanus shot. The corporations making the mess didn’t put their heads together to come up with a solution. Environmental activists applied political pressure that resulted in clean-up efforts.
Exposure of the harmful environmental practices of corporations led to citizen organizing and political action. Government protections were the result. That’s why the rivers are clean now. That’s why people can breathe in downtown L.A. That’s why there are procedures for recalls when food is tainted.
Capitalists were the stumbling blocks to all these developments. They would have happily kept on poisoning everyone to maintain their profit margins.
It was quite interesting how little the people objecting to my arguments had to say about the Flint/Nestle dichotomy. If capitalists are so benevolent and want us all to have clean water, why don’t they fix the water delivery problems in Flint?
Flint happened because Michigan’s government started to behave like a corporation. It cut corners on water treatment to reduce costs and knowingly poisoned its residents. That’s the part that gets left out. They knew the pipes would corrode and leach lead into the water. They did it anyway. And they’re still sending the people they’ve poisoned water bills.
Something else none of the critics seemed too keen to discuss is climate change.
There’s an economic term to describe what climate change is: market failure. Market failure happens when goods and services are allocated inefficiently, and there is a net social welfare loss. Climate change is, specifically, an externality.
Externalities are costs (or benefits, but they’re nearly always costs) that befall people who didn’t agree to incur them: like treating asthma caused by air pollution produced during manufacturing or dealing with the aftereffects of the violence correlated with lead poisoning from lead paint, leaded fuel, contaminated Flint water, etc.
Capitalism is so ineffective that, in climate change, it has created an externality so massive that it is a threat to the well-being of every human being on the planet. And to most other species. With climate change on the table, saying capitalism has failed isn’t the radical statement it’s being made out to be by some. It’s actually quite a reasonable conclusion. But critiques of capitalism are verboten in some circles. It’s like a religion.
Someone on my Twitter actually commented: “An individual capitalist can fail, but capitalism can’t.” Imagine believing that. Imagine having a world view so limited that you think our choice of economic system is natural law.
Capitalism’s long-standing and undeniable inability to account for and manage catastrophic externalities (mostly environmental) has become untenable. Continuing to socialize these costs that none of us agreed to incur is unjust, especially when all the gains are being hoarded by so few.
Another critique was that I’m not offering any solutions. I noted that redistribution of wealth through reparations and universal basic income were necessary first steps to prepare us for whatever economic model comes next, but I was serious when I said I have no idea how to get myself or anyone else out of this mess. That’s what’s scary about this moment: none of us do. The solution will require a complete overhaul of how we think about the world. It will require global co-operation on a scale that has never happened before. While there is knowledge to be taken from past political theory, there’s no rule book, because trying to turn back climate change has to be the anchor point.
And that’s only climate change. I haven’t even mentioned all the plastic clogging up everything (including the insides of whales) and other pollution. Or the human suffering capitalism continues to mete out by imposing harsh work conditions and paying exploitative wages, etc.
The comments also included the “why make everything about race?” arguments. (Of course.)
We are living in dark times, and dangerous arguments are being posited quite casually. One such argument (related to the degradation of the environment) is that the world is overpopulated and that’s putting a strain on resources. Rich countries in the West consume and waste the lion’s share of these resources. With conscious consumption and reducing waste in rich countries, the world could easily support 10 billion people.
There is no impending population crisis. There is a crisis of wastefulness. If resources are managed intelligently and shared fairly, we’ll all be fine.
Nevertheless, whenever managing resources is discussed, the need to “control population growth” always crops up. It’s code. They’re talking about scandalously poor Black and Brown people in exploited countries, who don’t have access to family planning resources. These people are being set up to be scapegoated for the West’s wastefulness. When time comes to “fix” the problem, what do we think that’s going to look like? Will there be a repeat of forced sterilizations? Will countries be blockaded into famine? Will there be an outright genocide?
I bring up race (and class), because that is often what determines how blame and the accompanying draconian consequences are apportioned. I’m not going to pretend that’s not the case to avoid making anyone uncomfortable. Flint happened in Flint for a reason.
Next, I’ll address the people (mostly on Twitter), who were upset that I besmirched the honor of Jay-Z and Diddy.
These men produce entertainment. Stop turning it into manifestos. Stop investing so much of your self-image, so much of your self-esteem in strangers. Stop living vicariously through these people. Apart from being a part of your “vision board,” how does their success materially affect your life?
Why do you even want what they have? Who are you trying to impress?
We need to examine as a culture the way we’ve been socialized and conditioned to covet. It’s why so many people live above their means. Their identity and sense of worth is tied up in rapidly depreciating assets: cars, clothes, jewelry (no, diamonds do NOT hold their retail value or appreciate!). All this covetousness is something capitalism requires and expertly cultivates.
It’s fine to admire beautiful things and maybe even feel you deserve them, but constantly striving to acquire possessions so you can stunt on other people is unhealthy.
So many of the celebrities people are taking cues from are fronting even harder than their fans. They work very hard to project a certain image. Dig a little deeper and believe less of the hype.
To the people who think the article is part of some “grand conspiracy” against Jay-Z engineered by nameless White overlords whom I’m serving: that foolishness is the consequence of turning these men into demi-gods. Arguments against capitalism are as old as capitalism itself, and plenty of corporations and CEOs have been put under the microscope. If Shaun Carter and Sean Combs can take all the praise they do for being super-capitalists, then they can shoulder some of the criticism when that goes around too.
And finally, there were the people screeching, “This made the news, while THIS MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THING IS BEING IGNORED!!!!” (Again, mostly on Twitter.) The piece is a blog post that went viral, my dudes. It wasn’t A1 in The New York Times. It’s all right to relax…
When I’m not being a shrewish, anti-capitalist harpy, I do enjoy a good laugh. One of my favorite pieces of entertainment is The Joe Budden Podcast. I wrote a piece about it, and they actually read tiny bit of it out loud on the show! You can check it out here:
I hope you enjoy what’s coming next week.
Medium treats each comment as a separate story, which gets added to a writer’s list of articles. Comments also get queued up as a “Next story” and in other recommendations. This suppresses discoverability of the stories I spend time researching and thinking about. As a result, I made the decision that I wouldn’t respond directly to comments going forward. But I do want to engage with my readers and build a community. As a result, I created this weekly feature, where I respond to some of the comments I’ve received.