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Sep-17-2012 19:50printcomments

Capitalism 2

This is the text of a talk I delivered to the Calgary group Poverty Talks on the first anniversary of the OWS movement.


(CALGARY, Alberta) - Why are so many people in our society poor? Because they’re animals. And because they’re animals, it’s difficult, if not impossible, for them to escape from their lives of deprivation and degradation. Political scientist and social activist Francis Fox Piven was born in Calgary but she grew up and made her career in New York. Her eye-popping book is called Regulating the Poor (2nd edition 1993). In one awful paragraph—53 words—she summarized the plight of the poor and working poor:

Some of the aged, the disabled, the insane, and others who are of no use as workers are left on the relief rolls, and their treatment is so degrading and punitive as to instill in the laboring masses a fear of the fate that awaits them should they relax into beggary and pauperism.”

Today’s capitalism began with Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution in the mid-19th century. Darwin saw that at all levels of animal existence there were predators and prey. But he also saw contradictions: horses forming protective rings to guard against predators, wolves cooperating in packs, birds helping each other at the nest, fallow deer marching in unison to cross a river and vampire bats who share blood, mouth to mouth, with less successful members of the colony after a night’s hunt so that at sunrise, no one hangs himself up hungry. Mutual aid and cooperation are everywhere in the animal kingdom…

except among humans in a capitalist society!

That mankind was part of the animal kingdom was not in dispute. But it was the rich and powerful men of the 19th century who co-opted Darwin’s theory to justify their greed and domination of society through a philosophy that came to be called Social Darwinism.

Using Darwin’s theory, Herbert Spencer, the Father of Sociology argued that unrestricted competition and the status quo (the rich as overlords in society) were in accord with biological principles. He opposed public aid to the poor:

If they are sufficiently complete to live, they do live, and it is well they should live. If they are not sufficiently complete to live, they die, and it is best they should die.”

The original John D. Rockefeller, in his guise as a Christian, once told a Sunday School class:

The growth of a large business is merely survival of the fittest. The American Beauty rose can be produced in the splendour and fragrance which cheer its beholder only by sacrificing the early buds which grow up around it. This is not an evil tendency in business. It is merely the working out of a law of nature and a law of God”.

The most influential of the social Darwinists was the Yale professor, William Graham Sumner who, at the end of the nineteenth century, defended great wealth:

Millionaires are a product of natural selection, acting on the whole body of men to pick out those who can meet the requirement of certain work to be done. It is because they are thus selected that wealth-—both their own and that entrusted to them-—aggregates under their hands….They may fairly be regarded as the naturally selected agents of society for certain work. They get high wages and live in luxury, but the bargain is a good one for society.”

By this standard, today’s billionaires must be a thousand times more a bargain for society. Hedge fund manager John Paulson made billions betting against the U. S. housing market. As journalist Linda McQuaig wrote in her 2010 book The Trouble With Billionaires, Paulson

…figured out how to make money betting that the millions of people signing up for mortgages they could only dream of actually affording would soon start defaulting. When they did, Paulson was there, watching money flood into his hedge fund….In 2007 he personally pocketed $3.7 billion, giving him the record—perhaps of all time—for financially profiting from the misery of others.”

If he had worked an 80 hour week, he was making $250/second and because the income was classified as capital gains, his tax rate was in the neighborhood of 15%.

Lester Ward, the first president of the American Sociological Society, was not fooled by Social Darwinism:

The fundamental principle of biology is natural selection, that of sociology is artificial selection. The survival of the fittest is simply survival of the strong, which implies and would be better called the destruction of the weak. If nature progresses through the destruction of the weak, man progresses through protection of the weak.”

In 1883 Sumner had published What Social Classes Owe Each Other, and Ward, in reviewing it, understood exactly how humanity’s mis-framing of the social world had occurred.

“The whole book is based on the fundamental error that the favours of this world are distributed entirely according to merit. Poverty is only a proof of indolence and vice. Wealth simply shows the industry and virtue of the possessors….and human activities are degraded to a complete level with those of animals.”

It was in this milieu that the ethics of business became the ethics of society at large, which launched the dog-eat-dog, every-man-for-himself society we live in today.

It is normal for human beings to be competitive in a social environment. The expected outcome is that, because of natural differences, some people will do better than others—whether it be academic or scientific standing, musical accomplishment, novel or poetry writing, mechanical or culinary arts, sports or entrepreneurial success. The outcomes of these efforts can be significant and valuable contributions to the enhancement of society.

But under Darwinian capitalism, which defines today’s society, which is what OWS is protesting; everyone is subjected to predatory competition resulting in our savage society.

Capitalists, to put this in perspective, are animals in the same way as the poor. As a class, however, they are just more successful as predatory animals than are poor people. We must rise above that thinking—rich or poor, human beings are more than animals.

The German philosopher Goethe argued that “Man is an animal, an animal with a difference, singled out for higher things”. This perspective has been short-circuited by the monetizing and commercializing of everyday living. We have lost the Spirit in mankind.

In competitive systems there are winners and losers. The winners are the so-called 1%; the losers those in the bottom fifth or so, who struggle just to survive, for sufficient food, adequate housing and so on. In the middle is that mass of people striving to move up and, at the same time, struggling to keep from sliding backward.

Socially malignant outcomes are driven by the forces of free-market capitalism that most people unthinkingly support.

Right-wing Nobel economist Milton Friedman, once wrote:

"There is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits…"

We have allowed business ideas and priorities to dominate our culture so that ordinary people have come to monetize life itself. This is the essence of what OWS is protesting.

What is a capitalist?

In the 19th century a capitalist was one who had access to capital. But today, in our system of predatory capitalism, a capitalist is one who believes in capitalism. Even if you have no capital, even if you’re poor, if you believe in the system, then you’re a capitalist.

There is no easy solution; perhaps there is no solution. The only way I see out is through democratic action. After all, there are tens of millions of ordinary voters and only a few thousand billionaires and plutocrats. As a mass, they must rise up and cast off their chains. They must learn that the world belongs to them, too.

In our system of predatory capitalism, except by accident, no one is going to help the poor. They must rise up and help themselves. That’s what democracy is all about.


Born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Daniel Johnson as a teenager aspired to be a writer. Always a voracious reader, he reads more books in a month than many people read in a lifetime. He also reads 100+ online articles per week. He knew early that in order to be a writer, you have to be a reader.

He has always been concerned about fairness in the world and the plight of the underprivileged/underdog.

As a professional writer he sold his first paid article in 1974 and, while employed at other jobs, started selling a few pieces in assorted places.

Over the next 15 years, Daniel eked out a living as a writer doing, among other things, national writing and both radio and TV broadcasting for the CBC, Maclean’s (the national newsmagazine) and a wide variety of smaller publications. Interweaved throughout this period was soul-killing corporate and public relations writing.

It was through the 1960s and 1970s that he got his university experience. In his first year at the University of Calgary, he majored in psychology/mathematics; in his second year he switched to physics/mathematics. He then learned of an independent study program at the University of Lethbridge where he attended the next two years, studying philosophy and economics. In the end he attended university over nine years (four full time) but never qualified for a degree because he didn't have the right number of courses in any particular field.

In 1990 he published his first (and so far, only) book: Practical History: A guide to Will and Ariel Durant’s “The Story of Civilization” (Polymath Press, Calgary)

Newly appointed as the Deputy Executive Editor in August 2011, he has been writing exclusively for Salem-News.com since March 2009 and, as of summer 2012, has published more than 210 stories.

View articles written by Daniel Johnson

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Ernesto September 19, 2012 6:17 pm (Pacific time)

Daniel I'm not surprised that you provided some quotes from people who dislike us, nothing new here. Our history, and those countries and people around the world who have benefited from our able help is legend. Most who dislike us, well, so what. Now I see that you are making some apples/oranges comparisons about economic up and down cycles. This is a matter you may simply not appreciate the complexity of. Regarding the global warming/climate change, that situation is another matter you also appear to have limited understanding. If you depend on left-oriented agenda organizations for your info, you are severely limiting yourself my Canadian friend. For example : "Antarctic Sea Ice Sets Another Record."

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamestaylor/2012/09/19/antarctic-sea-ice-sets-another-record/ Then for you Americans who want to pay more taxes, the conservative-controlled congress has provided help for you: "The House on Wednesday passed Republicans' own version of the Buffett Rule, which allows wealthy Americans to voluntarily pony up to reduce the deficit." http://www.washingtontimes.com/blog/inside-politics/2012/sep/19/house-passes-new-buffett-rule/ Daniel for those people that have a lack of direction, only have themselves to blame. I get up every morning, kiss my wife, and give my own life purpose. No one has to 'come together' to find a direction, just walk out and find it. Pick something, anything. Go work in a food bank if you are unemployed. Don't like your job? Try going to night classes and learn something new. Don't like your spouse/partner?? Grow a pair and either confront them and fix it, or get out. Lonely?? Go out and meet people, there are plenty of clubs and groups out there. Which reminds me, I'm late for my Mensa meeting. Taking responsibility is a good first step for many people out there, and those who have a legitimate need for help, conservatives have always been there first...just look and compare our charity donations and helpful organizations we creeate with the liberals. Facts.

Congratulations, Ernesto (if, in fact, that is your real name) you've just been promoted to be Poster Boy for the Ugly Capitalist, which is the theme of my next piece. 

Daniel Johnson September 19, 2012 4:28 pm (Pacific time)

To Ernesto et al: I quote Ferdinand Lundberg from The Rich and the Super-Rich (1968) who refutes so-called American exceptionalism:

“Whereas European royalty and nobility played profound integral roles in European history, the latter-day American rich were more like hitchhikers who opportunistically climbed aboard a good thing. They produced neither the technology, the climate, the land, the people nor the political system. Nor did they, like many European groups (as in England) take over the terrain as invading conquerors. Rather did they infiltrate the situation from below, insinuate themselves into opportunely presented economic gaps, subvert various rules and procedures, and, as it were ride a rocket to the moon and beyond, meanwhile through their propagandists presenting themselves, no less, as the creators of machine industrialization which was in fact copied from England and transplanted into a lush terrain.”

Ernesto September 19, 2012 3:36 pm (Pacific time)

Daniel, regarding my pointing out any inaccuracies in this article, I simply do not agree with your premises, and that is based on 1) personal business experience and 2) Graduate training/teaching experience that augments my business success. PROSPERITY HAPPENS THROUGH FREE ENTERPRISE. Unions push the myth that they created the middleclass...well Henry Ford and his non-dues paying employees, approx. 30 years before any car union existed, certainly would disagree.According to the Census Bureau, 49% (not 47%) of Americans in the second quarter of 2011 lived in a household where at least one member received a government benefit. (The total population at the time was 305 million). I do not see a big problem with these numbers at this time, but with the trend I do. We have many retired people and disabled, including veterans who need and will get the assistance they should receive. For the slothful and lazy, well that's another problem that must be addresed.The above numbers are up from 30% in the 1980s (Reagan) and 44.4% in the third quarter of 2008 (Bush), a recent growth in part attributable to the bad economy of President Obama’s first and only term. I firmly believe that President Romney and a conservative congress (both democrats and republicans) will elevate people out of poverty very quickly. Obama and his cabal have no idea what's going on, their "premise" is based on cluelessness. He is all about conflict, dividing us, and any other distraction to keep his base from paying attention to just what a hopelessly poor leader he is. Getting back on a free enterprise track will allow capitalism to engage and lift America back to where we belong, and allow the world to benefit from our innateexceptionalism. http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2012/09/18/the-data-behind-romneys-47-comments/

I was wondering when someone would bring up America's apparent exceptionalism. I quote Anne-Marie Hislop, Chicago: “The concept of American exceptionalism as it is currently understood makes me sick. It has come to mean that we are better than anyone else just because we are American; that everyone else on earth is jealous of us and wants to be us; that folks in "3rd World Countries" want what we have but are not willing to work hard like we did; and that God specially blesses this country more than any other. Arrogant. Nauseating.”

And of course Romney recently said: “God did not create this country to be a nation of followers” Of course, all the other countries just fell, willy nilly, off a turnip truck.

And, if you want to look at history the three defining depressions/recessions from 1901 - 2009 (The Panic of 1907, The Great Depression, The Great Recession) occurred during Republican administrations .

Finally:  Bloomberg News reports that:" Private Jobs Increase more with Democrats in White House" going back to JFK



Ernesto September 18, 2012 9:36 pm (Pacific time)

Daniel Johnson, in my case, USC stands for the University of Southern California. It is a private university in L A., in the state of California, on our west coast along the Pacific Ocean, right below the state of Oregon. I had a full academic scholarship as an udergraduate. My present employer put me through graduate school at Cal Poly/SLO where I learned really neat and cool things. Certainly we have different backgrounds and different viewpoints. I am not inclined to insult those I disagree with. I do have family members who deal in those matters. Please excuse my writing, on pain medication from a broken leg, was skiing in Australia recently. Have you been there? They are real good at capitalism. Many Yanks down there working, as they are also in Canada helping your businesses improve their profitability. Yankee know how.Here is some gifted insight, and a few facts. Comedy guy Jay Leno: "Obama's 'Encouraging More Americans to Give Up Looking for Work' to Bring Down Unemployment."
Pretty confident Obama amd many others have no concept of what "Capitalism" is. Oh sure, one can look it up and apply a definition that fits their schemata, but a practical successful working knowledge, unlikely for anyone from the far left. So, how many of those far left rich people in Hollywood want to give up their assets? Or the rich politicians from the democratic party? Heck many of them are pretty good at not paying taxes/fees as it is.Months above 8% unemployment: 1948-2009(approx. 61 years) - Total- 36months//2009-2012(approx. 4 years under Obama) - So far-43months//PLEASE NOTE: Unemployment was consistently at 5.5% throughout most of the Bush administration. It didn’t spike until 2007 when democrats took over congress. when Bush left office it was 7%. Most jobs were not created under high tax burdens. Amazing.

You're drifting off topic. Point out the details in my article that are wrong?

Anonymous September 18, 2012 3:22 pm (Pacific time)

Daniel those tax rates from the 50's are pretty misleading to those unfamiliar with them. May I suggest you review the "loopholes" that were omnipresent, and couple that with the percentage of GDP that government spending accounted for. It was just a fraction of what it is today. Thus funds for infrastructure and other projects had considerable funding. Our current miltary size is but a fraction of what it was then. Entitlement programs are bankrupting us, and fraud is huge. Reducing fraud, cutting spending and removing non-citizens will change everything for the better. Hopefully you would then realize that it is the far left mythmakers from the 80's that started using this time period (1950's) and those tax rates to return to. From a practical, and realistic approach to dealing with our huge debt, is to return government spending to 2007 levels, and have a tax rate that is set for at least 5 years. This will allow "certainty" for businesses of all sizes to plan, and make the investments needed to grow our economy, domestically and globally. This how you also lift people, at least those who want to train and work, out of poverty. We still have an excelent safety net for those unable to care for themselves. Me thinks, most of those on the left will never be satisfied, and their input is not really going to impact America's upward trajectory, which will come if Obama loses. If he wins, then a dark time will come, and may the force be with you.


Ernesto September 18, 2012 12:49 pm (Pacific time)

Daniel Johnson, below is a "youtube" starring Barack Obama, and it appears you are both on the same page. So did President Obama ever work in the private sector? Has he ever created "wealth" and jobs for the poor? I have an undergraduate degree in Climatology from USC, and not one of my professors or classmates that I have regular contact with buy into manmade global warming/climate change on a macro level. The science does not support it, it just does not. In addition, of all the problems going on in the world today, Governor Romney does not have anything to do with them, but for the last four plus years

Obama, Pelosi, Reid and Holder sure do. The upcoming election is about the last nearly four years, and we'll see how things work out in November. So, I see Obama is not running on his record, nor is he attacking "Capitalism", nor are the mega-rich democrats like Pelosi, Reid, Feinstein, etc. attacking capitalism. It is capitalists that lift people out of poverty, and their opposites that put people in poverty. I do repect your viewpoint, and am hopeful you have an "Eureka" moment. That is a Yank saying by the way."At an October 19, 1998 conference at Loyola University, Barack Obama spoke against "propaganda" that said government doesn't work and the need to "pool  resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ge3aGJfDSg4

I'm guessing you don't believe in evolution, either.

Capitalism lifts people out of poverty? If you've paid any attention at all, you know that it was capitalism that has put so many tens of millions in to poverty in the last few years.

"Eureka" is a Yank saying?  What kind of school is USC? If you studied climatology, you certainly would have studied Archimedes.

Anonymous September 18, 2012 12:26 pm (Pacific time)

So Daniel, what is your solution? Should we just get all the assets, put them all in one pile, and dole them out equally?

I don't have a solution, but perhaps going with what has worked would be a good start. One would be to implement the tax rates of the Eisenhouwer years. A look at the American economy since WW2 correlates higher tax rates with national prosperity and vice versa. 

Ernesto Santos September 18, 2012 8:41 am (Pacific time)

CAPITALISM allows people to thrive. Even the poor are provided upward mobility in contrast to non-democratic/capitalistic governments.
Unfortunately many of my ethnic group, Mexican Americans, are drinking the Kool Aid of Anti-Colonialism (and Capitalism), as are, it appears, at least a few
Canadians. President Obama’s political and economic views seem to be colored by this anti-colonial philosophy. This was shown clearly when he apologized to

Arabs about “American mistakes” early in his administration. According to anti-colonialist, western European Christian capitalists, with the U.S. as the leader, are to blame for the problems of the world. The OWS movement, if you want to call it a movement, has minimal leadership, and it's traction only appeals to anarchists, whose thirst for violence predates written history, I believe.

In Texas, we have liberal Hispanic politicians who support this anti-American colonial philosophy whether overtly or covertly. For example, we have the Mayor of San Antonio, Julian Castro, and his twin brother, Joaquin, who is running for U.S Congress, who are influenced by this view. Their mother, Rosa Castro, was a leader in the La Raza Unida/Chicano movement of the 1970s which preach anti-American colonialism. In fact, Joaquin is named after a “revolutionary” poem, called “I Am Joaquin”.

Chicano activists in the early 1970s embraced an anti-colonial version of American history, claiming that the U.S. had conquered and “stolen” Mexican territory. They viewed Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, or Chicanos as “colonized people” just as other 3rd world people were colonized, and “exploited” by western European Christian capitalists. This anti-colonial and anti-American view dominates liberal Mexican Americans and other liberal Hispanics today. It must be combated.

Mexican American liberals assert that, unlike most American immigrants, they didn’t come to this nation, but rather “America came to them”. They emphasize the conquest and victimization of Mexicans by an American “imperialist” nation. As a conquered people, the culture, language, and political/economic institutions of Mexicans in the southwest were subjugated to a “foreign” influence, i.e. America.

Liberal Mexican Americans today justify the idea that “special rights” for Mexican-Americans, like affirmative action, voting rights protections, and other “civil rights” by claiming historical victimization. Even immigration policy is affected. If a real or perceived wrong was committed 150 years ago or last week, it is reason for federal intervention and protection of the “colonized victims”. Civil rights has actually become “civil revenge”. Victimization and anti-American colonialism has been taught in American schools for over 30 years. An entire generation of Mexican Americans has been raised with this point of view.

While many Mexicans have wallowed in their “colonization” experience, another Hispanic group, Cuban Americans, have different view and results. With the exception of the Mariel Cubans who came to the U.S. in 1980, most Cubans have followed the traditional immigrant experience of creating their own destiny.  Instead of viewing themselves as victims, most Cubans have moved with ease through American society since 1960. Conservative Americans of Mexican descent must counter the arguments of their liberal brothers and sisters. The immigrant experience of melting into the America pot is possible and desirable for Mexicans. Social, political, and economic integration should be the goal of all immigrants, including Mexicans. However, it will be difficult while liberals emphasize a victim and revenge mentality to Mexicans.

The fact is that Mexicans, who don’t see themselves as victims, have integrated into American society easily. I am an American of Mexican descent and I thank God for Manifest Destiny which allowed me to born in the greatest nation on earth in history. Capitalism works.

Despite your beliefs, the evidence is clear: Capitalism does not work. Just look around your own country for the evidence.

1. The U.S. is the least upwardly mobile society of the OECD nations.

2. As Romney has reported, 47% of Americans pay no income tax. He did not acknowledge that this was because they are too poor to do so. So much for "thriving".

3.  Look at your capitalist supporters--mainly Republicans. They think global warming is a "hoax" and do whatever they can to thwart  environmental  protections because, as Friedman said,  the prime motive for capitalists is to increase profits--people and the world be damned. And that includes you.

Anonymous September 18, 2012 5:39 am (Pacific time)

so called "democracy" (a word used by the elite bankers and their puppet politicians frequently) is the foundation of the problems. Democracy = whoever has the most money rules the world. How? By buying up the media to brainwash. (see: who owns the networks)..By taking over governments with bribes. By taking over skool curriculum..(view video:dumbing down of America)etc. This is why the founding fathers (who already went thru the tyranny, and were well learned in history and past events of tyranny) birthed the Republic. Far from perfect, it at least gave basic rules to protect the minorities and the poor. It kept those who were rich and greedy in check. Follow the Republic, and the Constitution, the majority of our problems would go away.
Democracy does not work. The bankers love democracy, they use it to enslave the 99%. This is why politicians use the word democracy so often.
On a different note: I dont watch television, but I do watch a few movies now and then. Try viewing the HBO series "Deadwood". Very well put together and you can see democracy at work in an up and coming town in the 1800's. How they buy the media, the sheriff, and the education system so that they can "control" in their "democracy"....
One of the founding fathers said something like "here is your Republic, if you can keep it"...

I take your comment seriously. I agree that "democracy", rule by the people is largely unworkable. People, en mass are too fickle, too easily manipulated.

But your solution,  "Follow the Republic, and the Constitution, the majority of our problems would go away. " is equally feckless. Americans don't understand, as outsiders can clearly see, the deification of the Founding is equivalent to a secular religion. "Follow the Lord, Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Bible and the majority of our problems would go away." Until the U.S. moves into the 21st century...

Tim King September 17, 2012 8:35 pm (Pacific time)

Hey Daniel, sign me up will ya? I'm so distressed and sickened by what has become of my country that I don't even recognize it half the time. People are being programmed toward cruelty and I am with Ken O'Keefe, I believe if enough of us took to the streets with real committment that we could take it all back. Great read, thanks!

Thanks, Tim. I share your pessimism although I think if there weren't bones of hope and optimism in our bodies, we wouldn't be doing this.  Instead, I would have gone on to make billions on Bay Street (Canada) and you would have become the first military dictator and billionaire--teach those uppity democrats a lesson.

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