The Inherent Absurdity of Late-Stage Capitalism

in hive-174578 •  7 months ago 

Here's a ridiculous picture showing the stark contrast that COVID-19 has brought to our economy and society as a whole. Noted CNBC finance hypeman Jim Cramer stands in front of a Bullish Headline, announcing the best week in the stock markets in 72 years, while unbeknownst to him, the most bearish headline we have ever seen in the past 80 years flashes on the ticker below him.

You know what this is? It’s absurd. The more people get sick, the more people die, the higher the US stock market goes up.

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Do u know what that means? It means we are firmly in the grip of late-stage capitalism.

It's been a good run. We’ve seen unprecedented wealth creation at scale across a wide swathe of society. But let's be honest when we observe that trend and realize that it has not been the case in 21st Century hashtag#America. After the dot-com collapse, we've pretty much only seen policies that reward the rich and punish the workaday class. The Gini coefficient in America has gotten embarrassingly high. The CARES Act is only going to exacerbate that trend.

The US has become a nation where people buy nice, expensive cars with money they don't have (credit cards, auto loans) to drive to places they can't afford (restaurants, hotels, cruises) to impress people they don't know (social media) and, even though the government is aware of this absurdity (surveillance state), it will still prioritize giving money to rich people & corporations to satisfy an economic idea that has already been debunked countless times (trickle-down economics).

So here we are: Late stage capitalism.

As with coronavirus, we knew it was coming. And we did nothing.

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The anthropologist David Graeber has pointed out that there is something amiss with the notion that runaway consumerism is the explanation for why we continue to work so hard despite past economists confidently predictiing we’d have much more comfort and leisure by now.

Graeber shows that the jobs labelled as ‘services’ do not all consist of people serving coffee, cutting hedges things like that. In the world of financialisation a lot of what is labelled as ‘services’ actually entails colluding with government to create and manipulate debt. It is a vast system not really of wealth creation but wealth appropriation. In order to pull off this wealth appropriation, a vast public-private bureaucracy has been established. Thus, it’s really in the clerical, administrative and managerial sectors that has seen the greatest increases.

So, for example, in the medical sector from 1970 to 2003 the number of physicians grew by some 300 percent. But Administration grew by 3000%. That would be OK if it made the real work doctors and nurses do more efficient but all the evidence shows it just lead to the increasing bullshitisation of their work, forcing them to spend more and more time filling out pointless paperwork. The same thing is true academia. Graeber got into this whole ‘BS jobs’ thing by noticing he was spending less and less time actually teaching his students and more and more time doing paperwork of questionable value. By his estimates (not just guesses but backed up by polls asking people ‘is your job valuable to society’) some 30 to fifty percent of jobs could disappear and the rest of society would either not notice because they are just useless or would improve because they are actually doing more harm than good.

Oh wow, this is great insight. Do you have any reccos as to which Graeber I should read? I just came off a job where I feel like my bosses prioritized my useless paperwork generation more than any value-added tasks that I did. Of course, that company is now pretty much near bankruptcy. If you asked me, I'd say it was because they valued the bureaucratic over anything innovative.

I've been reading Schumpeter again lately, and I think he would say something similar. Just a couple of quotes I just highlighted from his concept of the "death of the entrepreneur":

  • The leading man no longer has the opportunity to fling himself into the fray. He is becoming just another office worker—and one who is not always difficult to replace.
  • The perfectly bureaucratized giant industrial unit not only ousts the small or medium-sized firm and “expropriates” its owners, but in the end it also ousts the entrepreneur and expropriates the bourgeoisie as a class which in the process stands to lose not only its income but also what is infinitely more important, its function. The true pacemakers of socialism were not the intellectuals or agitators who preached it but the Vanderbilts, Carnegies and Rockefellers.

That last one is kind of nuts if you think about it. By emphasizing capitalism so much that we've become Kafkaesque, we actually are sowing the seeds of its destruction. This, in reality, might be exactly where we're at.

I would recommend the books ‘Bullshit Jobs: A Theory’ and ‘The Utopia Of Rules’, both by David Graeber.

Ah, he's the Debt: The First 5,000 Years guy. That, my friend, is a great book!

Yeah I read that book too. It was the first book of his I read, actually.