04 May 2007

The 'C' Word, Part 2

Following up on my response to Curtis White’s Two-part Article Series The Idols of Environmentalism and The Ecology of Work

Capitalism, at face value as I understand it, is simply a system of allowing individuals to solicit the capital they need to start and operate a business from anyone they choose with a minimum of interference by the government. Global corporate interests love to use the term “capitalism” as a catch all phrase for everything good about how they got to be rich and powerful. For those who abhor the behavior of global corporate interests to demonize “capitalism” as a description of those behaviors is to fail to recognize what is really going on and give global corporate interests the advantage in talking about the issue.

I asked about the definition of capitalism earlier because I suspect that the term is pretty useless if it is merely a code-word for all the bad things done by the companies that make up just less than half of our economic system.

“Fully 99 percent of all independent enterprises in the country employ fewer than 500 people. These small enterprises account for 52 percent of all U.S. workers, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Some 19.6 million Americans work for companies employing fewer than 20 workers, 18.4 million work for firms employing between 20 and 99 workers, and 14.6 million work for firms with 100 to 499 workers. By contrast, 47.7 million Americans work for firms with 500 or more employees.
“Small businesses are a continuing source of dynamism for the American economy. They produced three-fourths of the economy’s new jobs between 1990 and 1995, an even larger contribution to employment growth than they made in the 1980s. They also represent an entry point into the economy for new groups. Women, for instance, participate heavily in small businesses. The number of female-owned businesses climbed by 89 percent, to an estimated 8.1 million, between 1987 and 1997, and women-owned sole proprietorships were expected to reach 35 percent of all such ventures by the year 2000. Small firms also tend to hire a greater number of older workers and people who prefer to work part-time.”


Are anti-capitalists opposed to the following benefits of our current system?

“In terms of social cohesion:
• small businesses serve as an entry point into the economy for new or previously slighted workers: women-owned small businesses, for instance, generate nearly a trillion dollars in revenues annually and employ more than 7 million workers;
• small businesses increasingly generate entrepreneurial opportunities for minorities, which census data show as owning 4.1 million firms that generate $695 billion annually and employ 4.8 million workers;
• small businesses bring economic activity to distressed areas: about 800,000 companies (90 percent of them microenterprises) are located in the poorest areas of the 100 largest U.S. cities;
• small businesses offer job satisfaction and autonomy: studies show that most businesses are started to improve one’s condition, rather than for lack of an alternative, with some half a million new businesses started each month.”


I would be surprised if you are opposed to these kinds of opportunities for people. The real question is not what to call the system of economics that we live with, it is figuring out if it really expresses our values.

I value respect, responsibility, and resourcefulness. Therefore, I want every single person to have the opportunity to put a company together because they have the gumption and enterprise to provide goods and services to others. In a system of free enterprise, where this is true because the barriers to entry are very low, anyone can start a company by appealing to their friends, neighbors, and their entire network for the support they need, financial and otherwise. When the system respects the initiative of individuals, the individuals are supported with a clear set of legal requirements for being responsible about doing their business, and the individuals can be creative and resourceful about how they accomplish their business objectives, then I support that system no matter what you call it.

On the other hand my values are not expressed by a system that supports the cheap labor trap of slave wages that disrespect workers. My values are not expressed when multinational interests act irresponsibly by devastating ecologies and cultures. My values are not expressed by a system that uses violence and threats of violence to secure the interests of the global rich and powerful over the interests of the local and sustainable.

White’s article seems to me an exploration of a certain set of values. I found that his emphasis on “capitalism” exemplified by Weyerhauser, Monsanto, and “corporate evildoers” did not expose any useful guidance for expressing the set of values he was exploring. I get that he values work that does no harm, deepens the worker, encourages creativity, takes the collective risk for success as life, and makes good & beautiful things, but how do we recognize the forms of organization or a set of regulations on organizations that help or hinder those values?

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