How Capitalism Is Shit Part 34,723


I love video podcasts. I’m watching one now, Robert Scoble chatting with Cali Lewis. Just finished watching Cranky Geeks. I think it would be accurate to say that I’ve replaced a lot of TV I used to watch with podcasts.

However, there’s one annoying thing. Most of these vidcasts are American. And, inevitably, they reflect the fact that most of the people making them are far more right-wing than their equivalents would be over here.

Over and over again, I’ve heard the same old capitalist religious tenets being promoted: trickle-down, unions are baad, private business = public good. To have this level of dogma wired into you is quite crazy. Note: I would be just as disturbed if these were Stalinists proclaiming the absolute superiority of the Soviet model. What irks me is the blind adherence to economic ideology, left or right.

Now, I’ve just had my tea and I’m a bit burpy so I don’t have time to restate Das Kapital in blog-sized chunks. So let me take only one popular capitalist myth: the free market is the most efficient economic system.

I won’t use some obscure example, I’ll use a real-life event that happened to me, a fortnight ago.

We were having some new windows fitted. The fitters spotted a wasps’ nest, complete with furious inhabitants, right next to where they had to work.

So, we called the council. They quoted us £35 and said they could come in three days. We thought, “Surely the inefficient, publically-run council will be trounced by the dynamic, private-enterprise entrepeneur!” and rang a private insect exterminator.

Blokey came round the next morning. That’s efficient! Sucked his breath in. Mmm. Ahhh… He then informed us that this was a “special” case and he’d have to smoke them out. This essential service would cost us £110 plus VAT.

We said no thanks, we’d get the council to do it.

Miraculously, he changed his mind and then dropped his charge to the council price. He sprayed some powder and the job was done.

You have there, in a nutshell, the whole problem with the wonderful free market. This bloke thought he had us over a barrel. So, he tried to charge whatever he could get away with. If we had paid, he would have carried out unnecessary work, using up precious resources and even more precious time that didn’t need to be used, and then charged us for his larceny.

Why? Because profit is all that matters. Not efficiency, not doing a good job. You can stay in business for years, gouging customers if they have no other alternative / you have a monopoly (hello, Microsoft!). Indeed, if we hadn’t phoned the council first, we might have been stupid enough to pay him his fraudulent fee.

Now take this bug bloke and apply that throughout the “free” market. Think of every mechanic fitting parts that don’t need to be fitted, every salesman fleecing an elderly couple into buying replacement windows they don’t need, every consumer good you buy being built to fall apart so you have to buy a new one.

Look around you at the world of landfills and scrapheaps, discarded mobile phones and instantly-obsoleted computers. All the glistering wonders of the free market system, poisoning our rivers and choking our air.

Does that sound efficient to you?