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Why It is an Oxymoron to Say "Progressive Capitalism"

There Is No Progressive Capitalism

By Dennis Loo (4/21/19)

It is inevitable that nearing a crossroads and the widespread recognition that the existing system (and the planet) are facing extinction now due to global warming that many people are nonetheless adhering to the notion that you can merely modify what it is and go on, rather than dispose of what is in, in favor of what is not – there in no certainty one way of the other after all that it will work! Thus, we see the New Green Deal, the rise of people like AOC and the Democratic field of presidential hopefuls (and the phenomenon of backlash against Trump’s positioning) and the Trump surprise minority presidential win (where Trump voters were hoping for a solution outside the existing system without going outside it). And today’s New York Times has as its lead opinion piece something by Joseph Stiglitz entitled “Progressive Capitalism Is Not an Oyxmoron.” I’m sorry to say this: “Progressive Capitalism is an Oxymoron.” All this and a rise in talking about reforming capitalism, saving capitalism from its basic nature.

Let’s begin with what its reformers – like Elizabeth Warren – will now readily admit: left alone, what will capitalism do? It must be regulated or it will do unacceptable things. This we know or have seen. We can see its wreckage everywhere.

I should ask now the obvious question: why even keep it, then, if it will always do something wrong and work against you? If some major aspect of it grows out of our fundamental nature, then we can do little about that. And some will argue strenuously that capitalism is human in its nature and that its material incentive structure – the promise of leisure and riches and resting on our past hard work – corresponds to human nature.

This belief is as common as water around you, but mistaken. As this experiment showed, the main motivator for humans, is not, as widely believed, material wealth, but immaterial incentives such as cooperation, mastery, and autonomy. Whose interests does the notion and dominance of homo economicus (the belief that we are basically greedy and driven to maximize our financial gains) serve? We should ask that question because it is relevant and helps to explain the ideas’ persistence in the face of the data.

The fact that the idea is popular does not alter the fact that it is not true. The fact that you can readily get a lot of people around you excited about it in the present does not make it necessarily true. And truth is very important. It is more important than anything else.

Another reason why reform is more popular than what’s true is that the truth can be hard, and something more palatable seems more possible. It seems better and more “realistic.” Note where we are now compared to where we were just few years ago. “Social democracy” was verbotem in the US, now it is fashionable. Global warming was never raised by Hillary or Donald, as if it didn't exist, and now a Democratic presidential contender makes it his key. Being capitalist was taken for granted and never uttered; now it’s unpopular and at least named and identified.

Is it somehow more realistic to be for reforms rather than revolution? I can see its appeal. Reform does seem more achievable. Sweden and Denmark are more attainable and social democracy more “realistic” – at first. One then might ask: do those who see social democracy – giving capitalism a more humane face – know what capitalism which governs our system, even what a system is, and what it means to call it a system?

Let’s begin with how a system works and what makes it a system. Its logic governs the system. That means that that logic dominates throughout the process. Social Democracy is an attempt to mitigate capitalism without actually getting rid of it as wrong. As the capitalist heartland, the triumph of some version of social democracy here is a pipe dream. Just as untrue as those who mistake Trump as a juggernaut do. You fail to see that capitalism in its essence is exploitation, not a misdistribution. This is going to be the case going forward. So it's going to be true that a reform stance is going to be more popular for a long time to come.

In other words, while Social Democracy's ascendance is a sign of progress overall, it is but a sign of progress, and not what we want or need because it isn't dealing with what we need, and as such, should be discarded.

Here is but more evidence of what I have been saying all along: Trump's blatant embrace of all things capitalist in nature has provoked a backlash against the very things he embraces. He gives capitalism a bad name and few want to associate with him and what he stands for.

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Elaine Brower 2

Elaine Brower of World Can't Wait speaking at the NYC Stop the War on Iran rally 2/4/12