Chapter 5. Materialism
To walk in money through the night crowd, protected by money, lulled by money, dulled by money, the crowd itself a money, the breath money, no least single object anywhere that is not money, money, money everywhere and still not enough, and then no money, or a little money or less money or more money, but money, always money, and if you have money or you don’t have money it is the money that counts and money makes money, but what makes money make money? – Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn
We would like to understand the behavior of the universe and the behavior of man in terms of unified principles. In physics, the quest for a Grand Unified Theory that explains the fundamental forces in terms of a more or less simple, but unified, underlying geometry is an example of this search for unity. In metaphysics, generations of thinkers have tried to identify a single metaforce that accounts for all of man’s proclivities. (If in physics we refer to forces and powers, which are, after all, technical terms, in metaphysics we should, by analogy, refer to metaforces and metapowers.) In this paper, I would like to construct a model of society that is as unified and as simple as it can be but, in keeping with Einstein’s stricture, not simpler.
In the previous chapter we postulated that the history of man in society can be constructed by taking the (vector) sum of two prevailing tendencies, namely, (i) the seemingly endless cycles of reform and corruption, associated, in this theory, with man’s insistence upon being led by powerful charismatic heroes as leaders and (ii) the overthrow of one conservative doctrine after another, not always with felicitous outcomes, e.g., the overthrow of the doctrine that earth is the center of the universe is at least partly responsible for the immoral, ill-advised, and patently absurd agenda to send human beings into space and to colonize extraterrestrial territories. This is discussed in an essay “On Space Travel and Research”. As diagrammed in Chapter 4, the (abstract) vector sum of these two tendencies is a spiral – like the spiral in a spiral notebook with time running from the bottom to the top of the spiral notebook parallel to the edge. See Figure 4.2. We now seek a model of society as it is presently constituted.
In keeping with our love of unity, we would like to find a single principle upon which a model of society can be based. It does not seem to make much difference whether that principle be negative or positive. It is often said, on the one hand, that money makes the world go ’round, while, on the other hand, money is the root of all evil. (“They” say “the love of money”, but “they” might just as well say “money itself”.) Thus money is the motivation for both the good and the evil in the world according to this reasoning. If the prime mover be sex, the same observation holds. Sex causes a great deal of mischief, but we would not want to live in a world without it. In the following paragraphs, I shall touch upon a number of theories that are supposed to account for the behavior of humanity, but I shall end up assigning all of the evil to a single source of all human immorality, where immorality is taken to be that which we cannot tolerate aesthetically or pragmatically. I claim that, unless this “cause” of social disorder be removed, society will not achieve the goals advocated by my theory, namely, freedom, equality, justice, happiness, and permanence. (I place the word cause in quotation marks to signify that causality itself is in doubt, but the coincidence of systemic social defects and undesirable social consequences is not.)
We might begin by noting that a number of models of society are based on psychoanalytic theories due to, for example, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Wilhelm Reich. These theories usually suggest that something has happened to us at a very young age that has shaped our lives ever since. Presumably, the catastrophic events occurred before we were able to make reasoned judgments about the information we were absorbing. Many readers are better qualified to comment on these theories than am I, since I have abandoned them years ago after some first-hand experience with the proponents of the more prominent ones. Behind each theory is the idea that, if some inner disturbance within the individual were removed, all conflicts (or most important conflicts) in living would vanish. This may indeed be true if the inner disturbance could be removed simultaneously from every participant in social action. The defect in any theory that concentrates on the improvement of the individual is that the improved individual will be living in an unimproved social system. In effect I shall be asking that at some time in the future essentially every member of society be disabused of certain irrational and untenable notions, but I fail to see why this is a medical problem and, even if it is viewed simply as a psychological problem, how the relief of only those who can afford the treatment will allow everyone to live in a satisfactory world. Nor do I see the practitioners of these methods advocating that those who enjoy power abandon it. On the contrary, most psychiatrists and clinical psychologists are working as hard as they can to become members of the powerful and privileged class.
It might be argued that human beings are essentially machines that are driven by their own DNA to do whatever is necessary to replicate that DNA to the greatest extent possible. Thus the DNA forces us to be competitive and the competition causes all of our difficulties as well as our survival. This is an attractive theory in that it does not invoke magic. However, it neglects completely the spiritual nature of man, which clearly exists, but, in this theory, is supposed to be a simple extension of a mechanism. According to this theory, we would not be able to save the world, because our DNA is incapable of absorbing the necessary conditions for survival. DNA is, after all, only a molecule – not a mind. I think that the “desire” of the DNA to replicate itself can be a useful model to explain some aspects of human behavior; but, since it leaves us without hope, I am forced to abandon the theory before I examine its ramifications in depth. I must suppose that human beings possess minds that are capable of analyzing the tendencies of the DNA and either accepting or rejecting them.
The (improper) religious models of society will be discussed in some detail later on, but they can be rejected here because they do not provide a rational basis for society upon which all rational persons can agree. In fact, the most distinctive characteristic of (improper) religious views in general has been the wide disparity of belief, which, from time to time, results in copious bloodshed and the most disorderly and undesirable human behavior described by historians. If this behavior were necessitated by a divine intelligence, we would be in no better shape than if society were governed by unthinking molecules. [A critic might object that all of the DNA molecules working together engender thought, but that remains to be shown.] Models based on our failure to obey religious taboos must be rejected as irrational, and organized religions rarely preach seriously against the violation of rational morals. This essay, preaches rational morality.
Most particularly, in this essay, we must reject the notion of original sin, which requires man to earn his living “by the sweat of his brow” as a punishment for the misbehavior of some original ancestor whose misdeed has been carried along by our DNA. (The notion that habitual misbehavior is learned by children from their parents should probably be dismissed because no religious prophet of whom we know advocates the separation of children from their parents at birth as an expedient to breaking the chain of our supposed sinful nature. Of course, it must be admitted that, if children were separated from their parents, it is not easy to see how they would learn to speak without associating with some adult or other who, presumably, is not without sin. Nevertheless, I am sure the reader can imagine a number of methods for accomplishing this, perhaps by the use of computers, and, who knows, someday such methods might be tried.) Even if the notion that bad behavior is learned from our parents be allowed, we must reject the work ethic, which is derived from the concept of original sin, because of its many drawbacks (other than having no scientific basis), namely, its responsibility for human suffering and its high impact on our environment. This is discussed in detail in my essay “On the Work Ethic”.
Models of society based on sex fit into the above models, but a paragraph devoted to sex alone is in order. Perhaps man is dominated by the desire to have sex with desirable women. Perhaps he attempts to acquire power (or wealth, power, and fame) for this purpose alone. I believe I have heard of powerful corporate executives excusing marital infidelity on the basis that without it all of the power they have accumulated would have been wasted. After all, even ordinary men can have sex with their wives! On the other hand, people who are deprived of sex often exhibit deplorable behavior. Perhaps the sublimation of sex can result in a great artist or an insane tyrant. The effects seem to be unpredictable. In at least one psychoanalytic theory, cf., Reich, they are almost always bad. Perhaps, the evil in the world can be explained by the obsession of religions with sexual prudery.
Almost no one (in our culture) is capable of observing the sexual restrictions imposed upon him by the religion into which he was born. This can result in terrible guilt and moral confusion. Perhaps, sexual prudery perverts our normal sexual function so that it transforms itself into a horrid “will to power”, like Dr. Jekyll transformed himself into Mr. Hyde, which, in turn, leads to social disorder and human misery. Alternatively, we could take the desire of men to dominate each other as the fundamental flaw, which leads to political and religious systems that repress human sexuality to retain power. In either case, the animal aspect of our nature atavistically overpowers our humanity; but, in the first instance, it harms us because we attempt to repress it; and, in the second, because we do not. In this essay, we assume that we can overcome our so-called will to power.
It is possible to analyze society in terms of race. The white race dominates the world. Perhaps not all of humanity is so deeply flawed as is the white race. If only the world were dominated by Africans or Asians, so the theory might go, the world would be well-ordered and society would be harmonious. I am certain, if one looks hard enough, one can find an advocate of the policy of eliminating the white race. My experience of race, though, is to note the similarities under similar circumstances, although I do recognize differences in the races. Indeed, I believe society is too much oriented toward the psyche of the white man and is dominated too much by European culture. Nevertheless, what creates the humor in the movie Putney Swope is the reasonableness of the notion that, if African-Americans were placed in positions of power held by the richest members of the white race, they would behave nearly as badly.
In the above discussion I emphasized man and the white man at that. Many people, who, I suppose, must be classified as feminists, believe that it is the domination of society by the male gender that is the heart of our problem. Men are aggressive, start wars, lust for power, especially power over women (as many women as possible, it could be argued), and, in general, do all the nasty things of which I have been critical. I agree. But, it is not at all clear to me that women are exempt from bad behavior and for the same reasons. Women seem to be all too willing to indulge in the fight for wealth and power, nor is it clear that they do it all for love. It may or may not be possible to reject the desire for love as the fundamental driving force in society simply because women do not do the same things for love as do men.
On the other hand, this difference does tend to give some credibility to feminist theories. In general, I am suspicious, though, of a theory that is based on asymmetry rather than symmetry, but that is by no means sufficient grounds to reject feminist theories. As I understand the situation, feminist theories do not reject the domination of one person by another, only the domination of women by men. Some feminist theories apparently go so far as to advocate the domination of men by women. I find it difficult to believe that the world would be very much improved by reflecting it across the line between genders, but I shall keep an open mind.
Clearly, it is possible to develop a theory similar to feminism based on an attack of heterosexuality. The charge that without heterosexuality there can be no posterity would be easily answered by such theorists. I am certain that I would find difficulties with such a theory if I should ever hear one propounded; but, again, I would be forced to keep an open mind.
I have heard it explained that, rather than all of Western civilization, it is the drug of choice of Western civilization, namely, alcohol, that is the problem. Perhaps, if we all smoked marijuana or ate hashish, society would be based upon cooperation rather than competition. Theories based on duty, or the neglect of duty, have been propounded too. I hesitate to mention theories based on primitive myths or the positions of heavenly bodies. The theory propounded here does not absolutely exclude all of these other models, but concentrates, instead, on artificial economic contingency, which leads to competition for S* (defined in Chapter 3), and the moral bankruptcy of the institutions of money and – what is eulogistically termed – leadership. Thus, we should consider economic models of society.
The Adam Smith economic model asserts, essentially, that every member of society is engaged in making economic or market decisions that favor his or her own welfare and that the combined effect of this is to encourage those activities to be carried out that most favor the common good. This theory suffers from two major defects. The first is that it does not assign any value to the work done by nature in providing the economy with natural resources, particularly sources of high-grade energy such as petroleum. The result of this defect is that natural resources including energy reserves are exhausted as quickly as they can be. The second defect is comprehensive, namely, that this theory permits the perpetuation of every evil enumerated in this essay.
Marxist theory  recognizes the existence of class warfare and has predicted correctly the mass migration from the countryside to overcrowded cities where armies of employed and unemployed workers accumulate, often under deplorable conditions of poverty. The remedy it proposes suffers from the necessity of the creation of a massive bureaucracy that tends to be self-perpetuating rather than self-abdicating. Also, Marxism requires the ascendancy of the working class to a position of power; but, in reality, only privileged members of the working class may hold power; and, as soon as they do, they no longer belong to the working class. It is not at all clear what is meant by “the dictatorship of the proletariat” or why it should be any more helpful than other modern institutions.
The emergy theory of H. T. Odum  was propounded in Chapter 2 “Emergy, and Economics”. Professor Odum has used his theory primarily to study ecological systems and he does not reject the marketplace utterly. I have employed his theory to show that we need an economic system that encourages as little consumption as possible rather than the reverse.
Whatever the cause of our moral retardation, we are unable to overcome it because we are mired in superstition, which prevents us from extricating ourselves from our moral predicament by the force of our minds, i.e., by reasoning. Whether it be a faith in the supernatural, in religion with its taboos on sex, and, by extension, on drugs (because we see drugs as essentially sexual), or a faith in free-enterprise or Marxism or psychology, we somehow find a way to repress our imaginations and prevent ourselves from thinking unfettered thoughts and, perhaps, catching a glimpse of ourselves as we really are. We continue in error because we think that the fundamental philosophical questions have been answered for all time. We cut off our opportunities to save ourselves because we think that we have already been saved, by religion, by science, or by politics.
We imagine that we need only make a slight adjustment in our social systems and everything will be all right. Some think science is the answer; others religion; still other imagine that The State can solve our problems. All of our institutions have come up short, but we would rather wallow in our ignorance than admit that everything we believe about ourselves is wrong. Without giving up what we have learned about nature, we must recognize our self-ignorance and open the door to a new round of inquiry. The door is locked tight with the key guarded jealously by everyone who has the power to do so. If this state of affairs persists, the human race is doomed.
In Chapter 1, materialism (M) was defined to be the belief, or any system based on the belief, that people should compete for material wealth or power or fame and that material wealth or power or fame may be used as a reward for achievement or good behavior or as a measure of success. Any system or belief that permits people to influence the amount of material wealth they themselves may consume or possess privately or power that they may wield because of who they are or what they do or because of any aspect of their beings – any social, political, or other circumstance that can result in a relation between (i) what people think, say, or do; or who they are, or who their parents are and (ii) their wealth or power – is classified as materialism even if competition is not involved.
Ultimately, competition is involved – at least indirectly, because people who are deprived of the necessities of life must compete for them and those who equate wealth with success must compete in the money game. In fact, as long as materialism exists everyone will have to compete in the money game – at least from time to time. If those who inherit wealth wish to keep it, they must contend with the predators who wish to make certain that they don’t. For many years, I used the term competitionism in preference to materialism. Indeed, competition for wealth and power is at the center of materialism.
Fame is a little different. Anyone can become famous by going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, eating all of his children, or discovering a Unified Field Theorem. But, if that fame is converted to wealth or power over others, we have materialism; otherwise not.
The term artificial economic contingency (AEC) is used to express the dependence of people’s economic well-being on factors other than the weather or so-called acts of God. We agreed that, since AEC and M and C are synonymous terms, we may use whichever term we please. Elsewhere, we have used the initial M to stand for all three. (Occasionally, I have used the initial C to stand for competitionism, materialism, or artificial economic contingency.) In this essay, I shall attempt to show that materialism is a necessary and sufficient condition for nearly all of the evils in the world today, certainly the principal evils.
When materialism is absent, wealth is approximately equal except for minor differences that no one cares about and power is precisely equal; viz., everyone has power over himself or herself and his or her dependent children and absolutely no power over anyone else. (Power over dependent children is a special case that was considered in detail in Chapter 3.) People share wealth and power without regard to who creates wealth and no one has anything material to gain or fear from circumstances within or beyond his control. Differences in wealth and power simply are not in the picture and nobody expects otherwise. To put it scientifically, wealth, power, and – perhaps after a long time – fame, taken together as S*, are absolutely uncorrelated with human behavior and circumstances. People cooperate, share, and value one another equally. This is an extremely natural state of affairs and, quite possibly, despite the findings of evolutionary biology, it is only an absurd accident that has disturbed it. It is only because of indoctrination and our lack of imagination that we think our material well-being must (or should) be related to our activities. I coined the term artificial economic contingency to emphasize the noble inclination to share wealth that I hoped to find in the “Natural Man”.
To attain a permanent, sustainable, essentially steady-state social environment, we must discard the institutions that foster competition for wealth and the use of wealth in the ways mentioned above. (We must discourage ambition in the sense of “earnest desire” for S*.) In addition, we must reject the ancillary institutions upon which the failure of society depends. This suggestion may appear shocking, but rigorous logic leads to it ineluctably. If we reject the dictates of reason because they do not appeal to our intuitions, we must suffer the consequences, which might very well include the extinction of the human race.
It appears, then, that, among all human institutions, the institution that has played the single most important role in perpetuating evil is the institution of competition for material wealth, which led to the use of wealth, represented primarily as money, as a reward for good behavior or achievement and, in turn, as a means of keeping score in a game – an improper game, the rules of which are unwritten (and unknown to the majority of contestants), in which the contestants do not enjoy the same opportunities to score points, do not start at the same time, and for which different rules apply to different contestants.
One can assign the blame for society’s ills to sexual repression if one chooses to do so; one can claim that, if the drug of choice in the Western world were marijuana rather than alcohol, Western society would not be so barbaric; but, I hope to show that it is simpler to regard sexual and pharmacological repression as results of competition for wealth and power rather than as causes. One can identify other prime candidates for the most harmful of all the institutions of society, such as absolutist religion, government, rites of passage, irrational sexual customs, the family itself; but, it is easy to derive the major defects in society from competition for wealth. Additional models of society were discussed above.
In the remaining chapters, I shall attempt to link the problems of society to materialism (or artificial economic contingency). I must convince the reader that every (serious) social problem can be assigned to the violation of one or more of the three rational moral axioms stated formally in Chapter 3; moreover, if materialism were abandoned, these moral principles would not be violated except in trivial ways that we may safely ignore. Thus, if materialism were abandoned, our serious social problems would disappear.
During the latter part of 1987, I began to wonder why so many Americans believed in the ultimate goodness of capitalism despite the many social problems that could be traced to it easily. I composed for my own purposes a list of twenty-nine difficulties with capitalism that seemed to disqualify it for the position of Economic System of Choice. Early in 1989 I purchased a copy of The Communist Manifesto  and read it for the first time in many years. I wondered why Marx and Engels had not discussed the difficulties with capitalism that I had noted, and for over a year I entertained the mistaken idea that my list was more complete than theirs. Lately, I re-read Chapter 1 of the Manifesto, but this time I made a list of the defects of capitalism that they had pointed out specifically. To my great amazement, Marx and Engels had discussed forty-one separate defects of capitalism, beginning with the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, which I listed last as the culmination of all of the other defects of capitalism, but Marx and Engels had discussed capitalism in such a unified historical context that the number of defects appears to be much smaller than it actually is. In a sense every defect seems to stem from one single defect, namely, the capitalist mode of appropriating wealth, as discussed by Engels .
As of this writing it is fashionable to discredit Marxism because of the economic difficulties of Eastern European Marxist regimes and the profound economic changes going on in Eastern Europe. Certainly the implementation of Marxist ideas has been badly flawed nor is it likely that the pure Marxist philosophy is without difficulties, but none of this invalidates in any way the criticisms of capitalism discussed in Chapter 1 of the Manifesto. Regrettably most of the dissatisfaction with Marxism comes from people who imagine that they will become wealthy under capitalism. Some of them will, but always at the expense of those who don’t. It is not at all clear that “all boats will rise”.
If we disregard what we learned in Chapter 2 and pretend, for a moment, that the consumption of material wealth is desirable and that money is a useful measure of its value, we can do a little thought experiment in which we estimate the material benefits to average people of rejecting experiments in Marxism (whether sincere or not) in favor of American-style market economies. If each Polish citizen, say, could sell the probabilistic expected value of the wealth that he might be able to appropriate due to the labor of others, he would be wise to part with it for about $2000 per year of income over and above the probabilistic expected salary he might obtain as a wage slave, i.e., a normal worker in a normal American-style, profit-seeking company in which he had no stock.
Approximately 50 million people will be competing for the chance to be one of about 100,000 millionaires, people whose lifetime earnings of capital created by others might amount to $30,000,000, say, or $1,000,000 per year. If we wish to convince Eastern Europeans to adopt the economic system with which we wish to replace capitalism, it would be helpful to show that dispensing with the capitalistic mode of appropriation has an expected value of at least $2000 per year per person in addition to all the other benefits that will accrue due to eliminating the defects of capitalism.
We are not trying to increase the material wealth of human beings but rather the quality of their lives, which cannot be measured in monetary terms. Nevertheless, it is likely that alternative systems can do better than capitalism even in terms of material wealth, mainly because of the inefficiencies incurred by business in dividing up the pie, which is, after all, a zero-sum game. (A zero-sum game is a collection of transactions wherein the gain by one participant is exactly offset by the losses of one or more other participants.)
I claim that materialism (M) can be disqualified on the basis of its defects just as Marx and Engels disqualified capitalism. The term materialism subsumes the term capitalism, which is only one of many forms that materialism could take. However, American-style capitalism is the only form of materialism that we know. What is amazing is that capitalism is accepted by anyone, since it has been discredited completely for nearly 150 years! In my opinion, the acceptance of capitalism has been made possible by the abuse of psychology. A rather complete list of typical social problems and their relations to materialism (M) is given in Appendix II.
The following is the list that I compiled toward the end of 1987 with some commentary added in 1990 and more commentary added in 1991. I find it interesting to compare this list with the list compiled from the Communist Manifesto, but the reader may not. Probably, Marx and Engels had not had the importance of environmental conditions thrust upon them as have we. The urgency of reform is greater now than it had been during their time. Let us consider carefully each of Marx and Engels’ observations and look for inconsistencies and other defects.
The original of this list – handwritten quickly on foolscap perhaps in less than fifteen minutes back in 1987 – was the birth of this theory. The list hasn’t changed much over the years. Originally the list was conceived as a list of the drawbacks of capitalism. My contribution has been to recognize that capitalism is merely an example of a more fundamental evil, namely, artificial economic contingency or materialism, depending on how you want to think of it. I have generalized this aspect of the theory of Marx. I believe I have discovered precisely the boundary between a happy society and a miserable society. I have found necessary and sufficient conditions for sustainable happiness – in the technical sense, of course.
1) Materialism (M) causes endless cycles of boom and bust against which no one can make dependable plans. M is the cause of the wasted talent of people who begin studying a discipline when its practitioners are in short supply and who find the market glutted when they graduate. Like Items 20, 21, and 33 in the list from The Communist Manifesto (TCM).
2) People work too hard and neglect family and aspects of life other than their careers. The world has become a work camp. Many forms of work impact on the environment undesirably. Business isn’t even good for businessmen. Witness the incidence of cancer, heart disease, ulcers, and divorce among them.
3) Many people live under unreasonable expectations. Anyone can become rich, but not everyone can become rich.
4) Too much work is wasted dividing up the pie, i.e., trying to get a bigger share for oneself or one’s employer. The work of many other people is wasted as well, namely, the people who carry such people to work, fly them from place to place, build and maintain their communication systems, write their decision-making software, educate them, serve them their lunches, make their hotel beds, etc., etc.
5) The waste of many talented people whose lives are consumed in schemes for avoiding taxes, cutting a slicker deal, getting around the law, etc. is caused by M.
6) Commerce is destroying the best in our culture, for example, through TV, most of which is designed to serve commerce. An essay on how TV is destroying our values and has diminished the ability of children to learn is nearly superfluous.
7) In the rush to accumulate wealth, which our system has changed from a choice to a necessity, people must neglect many important aspects of our culture. Allan Bloom states that no university in America is capable of imparting an acceptable liberal education. In fact, there is no one left to teach it.
8) Materialism influences people’s behavior, what they study, read, what they do for a living, how they treat other people, their choices of spouses, and other things that should be influenced only by the heart and one’s natural inclinations. People try to buy love.
9) Not all forms of endeavor result in the same gain in material wealth. There are dramatic inequities. Investment bankers earn much more than mathematicians, which is ridiculous. This is better than Item 24 of TCM.
10) Materialism causes crime. Middle-class and rich people cannot go into certain parts of the city. Even the downtown business districts are unsafe at night and on weekends. Does that sound like a social system that is working! Religion, as we know it, won’t help.
11) Materialism causes poverty. People are forced to accept charity. Poverty impacts negatively even on the wealthy who must breathe fumes from poorly maintained cars, turn their homes into fortresses, etc. Eventually, if the poor become sufficiently dissatisfied, they may riot, this time destroying the homes and property of the rich, or they may achieve a revolution during which many of the wealthy may be killed and after which some may be brought to trial. This subsumes TCM Item 35.
12) Gradients in wealth subvert democracy as some can buy influence in the legislatures and the courts. It is possible that the president of the U.S. could be influenced by the wealthy. Actually I think it’s much worse than that.
13) People cheat to get ahead. Farmers and processors of food tamper with the food supply and treat animals inhumanely to increase their profits. Industrialists pollute. The corporate ladder is an institution that disgusts nearly everyone who knows anything about it. It is the subject of obscene jokes.
14) Lesser men (and women) gain ascendancy over greater. The unenlightened rule the enlightened. This covers TCM Item 40.
15) Materialism teaches people to follow their base animal instincts. People survive not by intelligence but by low animal cunning.
16) Materialism leads to conflict with other political and economic systems. It must end in war or revolution because it creates natural enemies. This is like TCM Item 41.
17) Nearly everyone worries about money. The majority of marital disputes are about money.
18) People who are rich are accorded status and prestige they do not deserve. They harbor illusions about themselves. M is really as bad for the rich as it is for the poor. The unhappy rich kid is a proverb.
19) It is difficult to relieve incompetent people of responsibility as their families, who may be innocent, will suffer. People are even kicked upstairs.
20) The distribution of wealth is never fair. No reasonable system is in place. It is impossible to devise an absolutely fair system other than equal division with an adjustment for special needs.
21) Ultimately we will have to abandon our quasi-laissez-faire approach to regulating the economy. One of the drawbacks of M is that we will not have acquired any experience in genuine economic planning.
22) People are forced to move about from place to place because of job changes, to get work, because rents are allowed to rise, because neighborhoods are destroyed. Frequent relocations have many undesirable effects.
23) Consumerism flourishes. Because of the need for markets, people are encouraged to purchase useless or marginally useful gismos that complicate their lives; stockpiles of available energy and material are depleted; the junk heap grows.
24) Nations seeking new markets adopt imperialistic foreign policies that lead to terrorism and war. Actually, foreign trade has become war.
25) Capitalism requires economic growth, which impacts undesirably on the environment and the quality of life. This is like the important Item 9 in TCM.
26) Materialism leads to problems with taking care of the elderly and people who cannot cope, problems with the apportionment of costly medical procedures.
[Note in proof (1-2-98). Recently, Prof. Lester Thurow commented that, when it comes to health care, everyone is a communist. No parent wants to hear that his child will receive inferior medical care because he is insufficiently rich.]
27) People inducing other people to make purchases should worry that their subjects cannot afford to pay for the purchases.
28) Entrepreneurs are forced to take serious risks that sometimes imperil their families. Gambling is supposed to be a vice. Why should gambling on business ventures be encouraged or even tolerated?
29) Materialism leads to a complicated system of laws both civil and criminal and endless legislation and litigation. Ignorance of the law is not only an excuse, it is the unavoidable condition of every single person.
30) Materialism compromises the trustworthiness of nuclear power plants, which, when operating normally, produce no pollution, provided we can solve the problem of disposing of nuclear waste. (The problem of nuclear waste does not arise in fusion plants, but not all of the technical problems associated with such plants have been solved.) Unfortunately, even people who support capitalism do not trust the operators of nuclear power plants under the profit motive. Nuclear power will not be safe until the only motivations for producing it, above and beyond public service, are scientific and technological prestige, which, of course, would be severely compromised by accidents. [Note (2-5-92). Nuclear power is probably hopeless anyway.]
31) Materialism leads to socialized industry, which, in turn, leads to managers who are not practitioners. This leads to uninformed decisions and inferior product quality.
32) It is difficult to get rid of useless or harmful jobs because jobs are equivalent to livelihoods. We find it difficult to close an army base that is no longer needed. We would like to provide free medical care for everyone, but that would displace workers in the health-insurance sector. The concept of The Job leads to many absurd contradictions.
33) Artists, scientists, and scholars must have freedom to create. We all suffer when their sponsors exercise control over what they do. Truth suffers. And yet, under any materialistic system, capitalism or socialism (in America we have both), artists, scientists, and scholars must live by handouts from someone. We have no guarantee that that someone will not abuse his influence, in fact, unless we are very naive, we expect him (or her) to abuse that sort of relationship. The current crisis at the National Endowment for the Arts represents precisely the type of tampering that we find unacceptable.
Science is one of the most important activities of man, actually one the most successful as well. It is transcendent in that, like art, the ordinary activities of man are justified by it. We don’t paint pictures so that we can grow corn; we grow corn so that we can paint pictures. The same is true of true science. Thus, any political or social system that is harmful to science (or art) cannot be accepted as a permanent solution to mankind’s needs. Both socialism and capitalism and systems like the American system that are a mixture of both are harmful to science. In fact, any materialistic system whatever is harmful to science. Socialism, because bureaucrats have power over what science is done; capitalism, because the rich and powerful do. No one should have that power save the scientist himself. Thus, M is rejected. [Please don’t claim that we have made remarkable strides in art and science since materialism became the world religion. That is easily refuted.]
35) We don’t believe that accidents of birth such as race or gender justify greater material wealth. Why should we accept accidents of birth like higher intelligence or even good character as justification for greater material wealth. On the contrary, intelligent people of good character should renounce wealth.
January 6, 1990
“The history of all hitherto existing societies [not including prehistory] is the history of class struggles.” So wrote Marx and Engels  in 1848. Human society is a complicated hierarchy of classes and subclasses each one oppressing those beneath it. But, in Marx’s day, class antagonisms were simple enough that Marx could identify a single oppressor class made up of capitalists and their top managers and a single oppressed class made of workers, both employed and unemployed.
Nowadays, class struggle has become more complicated because of the rise of a powerful elite composed of top-level bureaucrats, religious leaders, powerful lobbyists, self-serving academicians, entertainment and media superstars, top sports figures, white-collar criminals (including the bosses of the most powerful drug cartels), and others. But, most of these identify themselves, or can be identified, with what Marx called the bourgeoisie and what I call, in plain English, the money and power seeking class, as discussed in “On a New Theory of Classes”. Also, Marx’s model must be modified to account for new members of the oppressed classes who would be surprised to find themselves considered part of something called “the proletariat”, in particular, reasonably well-educated (yet incredibly naive) engineers, scientists, and other so-called professionals. After college and graduate school, which are part of their oppression, they join Marx’s traditional proletariat, which was valued primarily for its physical strength, which is rarely of much use in this day of powerful machines, and which accounts for the marginalization of “manual” laborers.
Let us list Marx and Engels’ criticisms of capitalism one-by-one and see if we can find any fault with them. It appears that Marx is more concerned about honor and nobility than I am! I seem to be more utilitarian than Marx!
1) Although the workers, including technical workers, produce the wealth, their share of it remains disproportionately low. Moreover, they are under the power of a handful of capitalists and the highest paid managers who produce nothing.
Thus, we begin by observing the incontrovertible fact that the workers produce the real wealth and get poorer and poorer, with occasional reversals in their general decline, whereas the capitalists and their chief henchmen produce nothing but get richer and richer. The world is in danger of falling into the absolute power of a handful of billionaires who head the largest multi-national corporations.
Capitalists and managers work hard normally, but their efforts succeed only to divide up the pie in their own favor or to increase the surplus value of labor if they are successful. They produce no food, clothing, nor shelter. It cannot be argued that they create jobs; it is easy to imagine the production of wealth without jobs, as we normally think of jobs. It is my intention to develop this idea as far as I can.
2) The modern state is but a committee to manage the affairs of all of business.
This is true both in ways of which business approves and in ways of which it does not approve. Businessmen have the wherewithal to make massive contributions to political campaign funds leaving office holders beholden unto them. Also, they pay lobbyists huge sums to look after their interests. On the other side of the coin, businessmen have been discovered to be so corrupt and unethical, disregarding the most obvious requirements of human decency, that the people, including a few rational members of the business community, have found it necessary to impose a gigantic governmental regulatory apparatus upon business to oversee its every move and to control business – sometimes for its own good. This represents an enormous burden to both the taxpayer and business, which of course passes its expenses on to the public. Thus, everyone must pay the overhead for the baby-sitting without which no sane person would leave business unattended in our national home.
3) The only bond between man and man is naked self-interest and cash payment.
Earlier on, people were constrained by principles exogenous to economics, such as religious principles, principles of chivalry, loyalty to kings, etc. Nowadays, the worker is for sale to the highest bidder and as we all know, when it comes to conflicts between profit and other values, business is business. Let’s face it folks: We’re all whores.
4) The only freedom preserved is free trade or, as it is termed when restricted to domestic affairs, free enterprise. As Chomsky  points out, the big companies can suspend the laws of the market whenever it favors their interests to do so. [Chomsky observed as well that, in “politically correct” speech, any term that incorporates the modifier free is a eulogistic term for tyranny in one of its manifold forms.]
How many times a day are we told that America is a free country. What does that mean? Does it mean that society is so corrupt that we are free to break the law with impunity? If so, the statement would at least make sense. But, no, we are free in actuality to behave as everyone else behaves. If our neighbor exceeds the speed limit by 10 miles per hour, we may do so too, generally. If we are in a context where snorting cocaine is done generally, we may do so too; but, if the context should change suddenly, due to the appearance of authoritarian police, we might suffer dearly for exercising freedom. What freedom really means to an American, and, for that matter, to a resident of another country who is trying to become an American, is the freedom to go into business and exploit one’s fellow man by living off the surplus value of his labor.
Certainly, anyone can become rich. But, can everyone become rich? Certainly not. It is true, however, that a gifted person, perhaps even a moron, who devotes all of his efforts to making money might very likely succeed eventually to become rich. But, what sort of person would dedicate his life in this manner? Would he be a highly evolved human being possessed of the attributes that most distinguish us from the beasts? Undoubtedly, low animal cunning will stand one in better stead in the pursuit of wealth than will finely honed human sensibilities. Is this the sort of character that society should reward?
5) Instead of exploitation veiled by religious or political illusions, capitalism has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
Kings ruled by divine right, which was transferred to the rest of the nobility according to their hereditary rights. The serf’s duty to his feudal lord was based on traditions carefully nurtured by those who had the most to gain from them. One might argue that the great virtue of capitalism was that it stripped away all that nonsense and replaced it with something we can understand. The rich have the money and power and control the goods we need to live. The situation is plain. To eat one has to serve the rich in one way or another.
Certainly, workers may band together to force capitalists to grant certain concessions on pain of lost production and the threat of violence, but management has devoted a lot of creative energy to the process of subverting these tactics. Union busting is as old as unions. Furthermore, unions have not always acted in the best interests of their members. Unions have leaders; leaders have power; power corrupts; and so it goes. But, no one can violate certain minimum standards of human decency that have been established over the centuries, mostly by the efforts of artists, intellectuals, and ordinary heretics, many of whom have been martyred. This complicated and fragile web of acceptable social practice is the only hope for the little person, but powerful forces are doing everything they can to tear it asunder. [In former times, workers did their duty to feudal lords and kings who ruled by divine right. Capitalism has done us the service of dispelling the myth that the common man has a duty to anyone. Nowadays, he understands that the rich man controls the money and the goods one needs to live. If he doesn’t sell the time of his life to the capitalist employer at whatever wages the market allows, normally his life will not be worth living.]
6) Capitalism has dishonored every occupation.
Under capitalism, money is king. Let us consider, first, the professions. Traditionally, professional people have been dedicated to their work, which they do for love and the benefit of society. Nowadays the rise of money as the only thing of value has changed all of that. The professions have dealt with this situation in various ways, and, depending on how successful they have been in dealing with it, they have gravitated toward the money and power seeking class or toward the working class. In a very real sense, the criminals are the only members of the working class who retain any honor.
7) Capitalism has reduced the family to a mere money relation. “As long as you live under my roof at my expense, you will do as I say!” Sound familiar? It is fashionable nowadays to speak of dysfunctional families. According to Bertrand Russell, the family has been dysfunctional since men began to leave the homestead and work elsewhere for wages. How can a social institution that is expected to engender love and trust function on a cash basis!
8) Capitalism requires the constant revolution of the means of production with its attendant personal hardship and social disorder.
9) Capitalism requires constantly expanding markets, therefore it has spread itself like a cancer over the entire globe. This is like my Item 25.
10) It has destroyed the national basis of industry, destroying self-sufficiency and necessitating heavy transport. This is globalization concerning which I have said a great deal.
11) It has created desires and needs where previously none existed. I have denounced marketing and consumerism at length, cf., Item 23.
12) It forces Western civilization and the capitalist mode of production on every nation and society.
13) Capitalism has subjected rural life to rule by the cities. To a great extent rural life has simply disappeared. In fact, it has nearly replaced rural life with urbanization with all of its attendant evils. If you don’t believe in the evils of urbanization, I suggest you read the newspaper or watch television. Even the disorder in small towns is a result of urbanization elsewhere, the institutions of which, such as teen-age gangs are replicated by people in small towns who wish to emulate big cities.
14) It has made the so-called less developed nations dependent upon the more developed, i.e., industrialized or mercantile, nations, which are still imagined to be better off; and, inasmuch as their citizens are not starving because even their poorest citizens benefit somewhat from the predatory trade practices of imperialists, really are better off. My detractors are quick to point out that many more people wish to move from countries that are victimized by imperialism, i.e., neo-colonial nations, to predatory nations such as the United States. Why is this surprising? Does the immigrant who wishes to gather the crumbs from the capitalist table deserve respect or consideration from anyone regardless of the dangers and inconveniences he faced to achieve his selfish ends? In what way does this circumstance speak to the superiority of the imperialist power? Why do we continue our greedy lifestyles in the face of so much suffering for which we are responsible? Most of this expansion of my Item 24 was added by me on January 5, 1998.
15) Capitalism has concentrated wealth into the hands of a few.
16) It necessitates political centralization. (So does socialism apparently.) [Note in proof (12-4-96). Chomsky  has disabused me of the notion that socialism had been tried in the Soviet Union. How did I fall for that? The centralization in the Former Soviet Union, then, is an example of this feature of capitalism – state capitalism.]
17) It attempts to subjugate nature to man without regard to the consequences. This is touched upon in my Item 2, but it is covered in depth in at least two chapters.
18) Capitalism has released forces it cannot control.
19) It creates the necessity of revolution. I suggest this as a possibility in Items 11 and 16.
20) It creates commercial crises of increasing severity, e.g., the epidemic of overproduction that leads to depressions. See my Item 1.
21) It deals with economic crises by paving the way for even deeper crises in the future. See my Item 1.
22) It treats human beings like commodities, cf., the labor market, also the phrase – human resources (instead of personnel), analogous to natural resources.
23) Work has lost its individual character and, hence, its charm.
24) The more repulsive the work, the lower the wages. I think I said this better in Item 9.
25) As the use of machinery and division of labor becomes more widespread, the burden of toil increases either by the lengthening of working hours or by the increase in work per unit time due to the increased speed of the machines. Man is enslaved by the machine.
26) Masses of laborers crowded into factories are organized like soldiers, with sergeants, lieutenants, etc.
27) Profit is in conflict with every decent human tendency, in particular the natural priorities of an honest enterprise.
According to my standards, as discussed elsewhere, the priorities of an honest enterprise should be (i) to do no harm, (ii) if the first priority be satisfied, to ensure the happiness and spiritual growth of the stakeholders, (iii) if the first two priorities be satisfied, to produce a quality product (or service). In a materialistic society, if the first three priorities be met, an enterprise might glean a reasonable profit. If, at any point, one of the first three priorities be not met, the enterprise should terminate itself.
28) Differences in age and sex have no longer any distinctive social validity for the working class. All are instruments of labor, more or less expensive to use according to their age and sex.
29) The worker is set upon by other predatory businessmen as soon as he is paid.
30) The lower strata of the middle class are sinking into the working class partly because of inequities of scale.
31) The workers direct their frustrations against the wrong targets, against imported goods or the instruments of production themselves rather than against the capitalists.
I am not convinced that imported goods can be justified under any circumstances, particularly if the energy costs of moving goods are non-negligible, but my chief objection is to distance rather than the crossing of international borders; i.e., I might prefer to import an item from Ontario to Michigan rather than from Texas to Michigan, if the item cannot be produced in the county where it is to be used.
32) The workers fight the enemies of their enemies, in particular, the remnants of the aristocracy, small landlords, and small businessmen. Also, members of the working class fight those who have slightly more than themselves because the rich are isolated and unavailable for battle. The unemployed prey upon the employed.
33) Wages are unstable due to competition among capitalists and economic cycles. See my Item 1.
34) Development of new machinery makes the livelihood of the worker ever more precarious.
35) Instability leads to social disorder including riots, which are not usually aimed at the sources of the trouble. My Item 11 subsumes this.
36) Capitalists from different country fight trade wars and shooting wars. Touched upon in my Item 24.
37) The conditions of life of the disenfranchised class caused by capitalism make it susceptible to bribery by reactionaries.
38) The worker is deprived of every standard of human society, national character, family, culture.
This was true mainly in Europe, Americans having no culture to be deprived of. But, the imposition of popular culture, applied to what used to be called pure and applied art, on the lower classes and, to a certain, extent, on all classes is a prophetic reminder of Marx’s judgment. [This has been more the case in Europe than in America, which had no national culture to speak of until movies and jazz music arrived. But, capitalism has debased culture wherever it has found any by commercializing the arts and corrupting the artists. Popular culture in America, that is, culture for profit, e.g., popular music, has assaulted the sensibilities of the lower classes and, to a great extent, the upper classes too, which shows that the weapons of capitalism are often turned upon itself.]
39) The worker becomes poorer and poorer even faster than the rich become richer, faster even than the growth of population. [With the exception of a few periods during which unions were able to reverse the trend, workers have been unable to hold more of their wages than what is required to keep them alive and to keep their minds off the real reason for their troubles.]
40) Capitalism produces a ruling class that is unfit to rule.
41) Capitalism results in a class struggle that threatens to destroy the world, a struggle more vicious than any conflict the world has ever seen. As someone once said, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
July 21, 1990
1. Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Washington Square Press, New York (1964).
2. Odum, Howard T., and Elizabeth C. Odum, Energy Basis for Man and Nature, McGraw-Hill, New York (1976).
3. Engels, Frederick, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Pathfinder, New York (1989).
4. Chomsky, Noam, World Orders Old and New, Columbia University Press, New York (1995).