Reading Discussion 2 – Maeve Morris

This week in our reading we’ve been learning about capitalism and the ebbs and flows of our current market economy state. In ‘Capitalism- a Brief Introduction’, it was defined as “essentially the investment of money in the expectation of making a profit”. Harmless, right? What else do we know but people entering the business world with some assets like time and skill, some capital, and investing what they have to build upon that? There’s much more to our economic state that has come from this structure, and as Forbes reported in 2016 in an article claiming ‘Unless it Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity by 2050’, the global population projected to grow to 10 Billion will not be supported by capitalism considering our current rate of poverty.

The primary motive of entering business in the market is to make a profit, and with the technology, transportation, and manufacturing changes that have happened since colonization, making money isn’t based on offering scarce goods any more but competing with other businesses in production costs. This moves companies to exploit wage laborers, employing those in developing countries instead of established countries where cost of living and therefore legal wages are much higher (Anti-Capitalism).

Not only is our economy entirely dependent on making a profit, therefore built around companies and employees that all act in their own interest instead of for the greater good of our society, but the influence of privately owned market participants lobby for the favor of our democratic influencers in our government, so the regulation that would have hope of being able to move and change the way our market functions and is run is unfortunately also bought out and influenced by the same companies that should be under the rules and regulations.

Capitalism in itself, especially alongside this state of democracy, is unsustainable. Anti-Capitalism discusses the alternatives in the future that would look more like “interdependence and transnationalism of capitalism, corporate consolidation, economic globalization, and financialization”. This means facing all the intricate problems we’ve created, which “How Will Capitalism End?” delves into, like our broken social contract that asks us for higher productivity without increasing the average household income, the problem with democracy lacking unanimity to effect change and the influence of the market with lobbying, and tariffs that are globally used to monopolize markets.

Personally, I had a pretty simple time understanding all the broken fractals of capitalism, especially in the United States. What I’m having more trouble with is casting a vision for how we currently can move and affect change, what the plan is for alternatives to capitalism, and how we can muster national influence when the globe largely functions in intense competition and private ownership of means of manufacturing. How much time can we afford to transition through changes, and what problems have we not foreseen? We can say that our system is sick, but how realistic is the expectation that we can make it healthy again?

Reading Response 2 / Amanda Delaney

Capitalism by Fulcher and Anti-Capitalism by Tormey serve as crash courses for understanding the fundamentals of capitalism and its history leading up to present day. Fulcher breaks it down for us into three main “eras” of capitalism: merchant capitalism, capitalist production and financial capitalism. As the unique traits of each era illustrate the timeline of capitalism’s growth, they also reveal the immorality that lies at its core. Early exploitation of wage laborers, the commercialization of leisure time and intertwining of the economy in legal and political framework are just a few among many corruptions that helped bring capitalism to the interconnected global economy it is today.

As Tormey digs deeper into our present economic state, it’s alarming to learn how recently capitalism has really started to spiral out of control towards decline. The introduction of/importance placed on interdependence, global trade, corporate consolidation and financialization in just the past almost 50 years alone has worked to completely change the economic landscape for our society, and not for the better. Especially considering the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, we’ve reached a turning point in capitalism where increased defiance and resistance is spreading amongst the mainstream. This recalls a conversation in an earlier class meeting where we discussed a Harvard University study that stated 51% of young adults between ages 18 and 29 do not support capitalism. Published in 2016, it seem the sentiments expressed in Tormey’s Anti-Capitalism (2004) prove to be growing, so I guess that leaves us with one question: where do we go from here?

Wolfgang Streeck’s How Will Capitalism End? gets to work breaking it down, presenting his own ideas on the matter, one of which I found particularly intriguing. Streeck states, “I suggest that we learn to think about capitalism coming to an end without assuming responsibility for answering the question of what one proposes to put in its place. “ This reminded me of a section of the reading from Speculative Everything where Dunne and Raby talk about how design cannot equal problem solving, as many challenges we face today are unfixable. Instead of searching for solutions to fix our surroundings, we should approach design from a place of introspection. How can we change our values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors to overcome? The collapse of capitalism is unfixable. Inevitable, even. As Streeck describes it as a process rather than an event, the only solution is to adapt as it unfolds.

Thinking about the future of design and sustainability, “The True Cost”, a documentary about fast fashion and its many detriments to society today, immediately came to mind throughout the readings. As issues of outsourcing, hyper consumption, pollution and sweatshop labor practices are revealed throughout the film as direct effects of globalization, the stark comparison between the third world countries in which are being absolutely terrorized, socially and environmentally, by fast-fashion companies, like Forever 21 and H&M, leaves your jaw on the floor. All for a pair of $10 jeans? It’s a reality that drains one of all hope. We’ve created a world where clothing is dangerously cheap, design has been reduced to “trends” and throwaway culture has been normalized, if not glamourized, through the mainstream. In a society where income/wealth inequality is rampant, we’re forced to ask when and if we’ll ever see the light at the end of this tunnel. Is this where design after capitalism begins?

Reading Response 2 | Andrew Chambers

Capitalism is an economical and political system in which goods and services are created and sold in order to generate a profit within a market. The main tenants of Capitalism are private ownership of production and paid employment, each supporting the ultimate goal: the creation of goods exchanged for a profit. It is a system that glorifies money and creates a society of wage laborers. The very wealthy and those who can come up with capital are able to easily double their profits, leaving those without the initial means with no other choice but to work and support those above them. The result is a bleeding out of our nations people ­–diminishing them to expendable workers who slave away to produce anything and everything that could produce even the slightest profit. This system has grown exponentially since its inception and has engulfed and exploited many in its wake.

 

It was fascinating to dive deep into the roots of Capitalism through James Fulcher’s “Capitalism: A Very Short Introduction,” and truly gain a solid grasp on how this system came into place, how it seemed to leech from such a simple and obvious chain of actions. The simple idea of taking a calculated risk such as sending ships across the world to purchase pepper just to ship it back, mark up the prices, and sell it to make lots of money seems like a no-brainer. However once further analyzed within the scope of today’s Capitalist society and through the readings, it seems like a much more sinister endeavor.

It seems as if Capitalism has and always will be so firmly rooted in our lives. I often fall victim to limiting my thinking to within its boundaries and have a hard time visualizing any possible alternatives. Though this system has been in place for so long and seems as if it will last forever, its end is near and it is approaching rapidly. Capitalism promises an upward trajectory of infinite growth, and this is something that can no longer be maintained. Wolfgang Steeck states that Capitalism is in a terminal state and it is due to 5 serious disorders that have become basic attributes of Capitalism. These 5 disorders are Stagnation, Oligarchic distribution, Plunder, Corruption, and finally global anarchy. Each of these is imminent and greatly threatens the hollow promise of limitless progress. Capitalism is on a course to overdose on its own success and die in a “long and painful period of cumulative decay.” (Streeck 64)

Streeck states that many people in today’s world hold “a pervasive sense that politics can no longer make a difference in their lives, as reflected in common per­ceptions of deadlock, incompetence, and corruption among what seems an increasingly self-contained and self-serving political class, united in their claim that ‘there is no alternative’ to them and their policies.” (Steeck 40). This statement truly resonated with me as I feel that I hold these same views toward the efficacy of both our political class and our capitalist structure. I often feel the hopeless weight of not knowing a viable alternative, and being a white male born in the United States to an upper-middle-class family, I can only imagine the unbearable weight and subjugation upon those of more marginalized groups.

I found it just as interesting as it was helpful to picture a world without Industrial Capitalism. Before the modern notion of the ‘work day’ that is so ingrained into our heads and often set as the one and only path to survival. This idea of not being tethered to the common workday and the ability to freely practice a craft or an art is something I have often daydreamt about. What could our world be if there was a way to reunite work and leisure, living not in an oppressive scheme but in a world centered on learning, innovation, and creation rather than capital and profit? Though I have not necessarily regarded these notions as anti-capitalist, after reading the 3 pieces I can now see that there is hope for a different system. This makes me think, it is in fact nearly impossible to survive without consistent and relatively high paying work, then have we effectively become, as Marx stated, wage slaves? Have our ‘freedoms’ as these wage laborers merely been illusory? I think this is unbelievably important to analyze and makes me consider what a society would be like where one did not have to do paid work in order to live and to thrive.

These texts reminded me a lot of the ideologies displayed in lyricist/artist Milos’s recent work. Milo has a very elevated view of the relationships between wages, labor, and art. His work is very apparently anti-capitalist and highly philosophical. Very few artists have ever resonated with me so well, especially in the realm of deep socio-political thinking.

In Carl Hauck’s piece ‘How to Rap with a Sword: milo, Rapitalism, and Feeding Hunger with Thingness’ he states that

‘Few of us devote much time to thinking about what a lifetime of labor is, especially creative labor. Milo is the kind of artist who invites us to think about it.’ This is certainly true and I believe that the ideals displayed in his work display a type of thinking is truly revolutionary and is combatting Capitalism in very unique yet subtle ways. In Milo’s ‘song about a raygunn’ off of 2015 album, so the flies don’t come, he states:

 

It’s about if you can work a simple hustle

Turning rap insights into economic muscle…

It’s never art for art’s sake

Despite whatever the corpse of a Marxist thinks

 

This line is what comes to my mind when I ponder duality of work and leisure, and how in a post Capitalist society one can, in fact, work a simple hustle, or be an artist. This is not for arts sake but for one’s own sake, and not for the benefit of a greedy profit-seeking missile but for oneself. An economy where something such as rap insights, which further innovate a field, are valued and respected over money.

 

https://miloraps.bandcamp.com

https://www.popmatters.com/milo-rory-ferreira2596136446.html?rebelltitem=17#rebelltitem17

 

 

Reading Response #2/ Luke Weaver

Luke Weaver

9/4/18

Speculative City

Reading Response #2

We are so fucked.

The readings define capitalism through time, each with their own set of contexts. The first reading very much sets the stage. The earliest iterations of capitalism quickly revealed their own flaws. The second reading delivers a slightly more fiery interpretation of modern capitalism, and attempts to isolate the theory of it. Finally, Streeck lets use know precisely how fucked we are, and offers vague ideas of potential future. Oddly enough, the most pragmatic of the three documents, and with the most resounding evidence, is the most speculative of future options. Maybe the irrefutable nature of these numbers prime our brain for a more realistic and less ideological interpretation of a world without capitalism.

I was struck in the first reading by how dystopian our own societies have already been. The truth really is stranger than fiction. An example such as high tariffs on watches and clocks, to control the common workers from being able to tell the time, is a truly horrid vision. The factories, or the elites, in a sense controlled time. The manufacturing of Leisure is an equally disturbed idea, binding capital and happiness together. An unspoken agreement, between worker and elite to trade labor for temporal freedom.

These visions of worker manipulation, in tandem with the inventing of “future capital” allows itself to be carried by any floating conspiratorial belief. It’s no wonder our nation is shaking from populist movements.

I became increasingly aware of the hegemonic Colossus of Capitalism wallowing through the American landscape today. Terrifying. I think the most apt comparison may be Fransisco Goya’s painting of “The Colossus”. One critical analysis describes this hulking being as “the giant, moves from resistance / defence, proud and erect, to slumped melancholy”, and while this was initially an overt reference to the collapse of the Spanish state, it can easily be applying to our unruly and expansive system of capitalism.

Oddly enough one of the most fitting ways, I find, to describe the impending horror of capitalism’s collapse is Lynchian. Coined by David Foster Wallace to describe the horrific nature of David Lynch’s films, it’s loosely defined as the nightmare state existing between the cracks of picture perfect American society. How bizarre that Capitalism is frequently revealing and guiding it’s own destruction. We the people watch, and eat popcorn ($5.99 for the small box), as the system dismantles itself. The only real certainty is that the end will be messy, and too nebulous to be fully predicted.

That being said, we can be hopeful or inventive with some things. Subsistence and community-based economies sound lovely. Maybe the grace of the fourth industrial revolution can pull us out of nosedive. Maybe the world will end before capitalism and we can all be hunter-gatherers. But most likely the answer lies in some murky place, still containing the massive specters of Marx AND Weber.

 

Reading Response 2 | Adriana Noritz

Is it accurate to say capitalism was born out of the exploitation of labor and survived by the exploitation of the working class? That, in its nature, capitalism is exploitative to everyone involved? It’s cyclical in the way it works, the power of capitalism feeding itself – more investments mean more returns mean more investments. It seems like a simple enough concept, we take “risk” and spread it thin so the capital is not completely at a loss when something falls through – we support security, growth, and profit. But there are so many more moving parts to consider! Capitalism is carried on the backs of the working class without even the slightest worry for how heavy the weight is, or how long they have to walk (because someone has to do it and their circumstances leave them no other choice).

It works really well for people at the top, they think bigger picture/bigger profit and accept sacrifices are made to secure that bigger profit. Power becomes a driving factor and often blinds people to the harm being done. It makes it easier to fire 100 employees in one day if you don’t see their face or the family that stands behind them.

Fulcher shares examples of the exploitation of labor happening in industrial factories: they would use “silent monitors” to rate an employees quality of work – using fear tactics to promote hard/long working days and to threaten unemployment (Capitalism,7). They also began controlling their employee’s ability to know the time throughout the day resulting in the government attempting to tax the ownership of clocks and watches, controlling an abstract thing such as “time” – this would eventually create a new market specifically to make profit off of time spent NOT working (Capitalism, 8).

For me, the scariest part of it all is how many aspects of life capitalism influences. We’ve gotten to the point where it’s hard to see any end to it. Industries have capitalized on nearly every moment of our lives, from work to home to vacation, to hygiene, education, and technology. It’s the same story for design – of course commercial design excels (and always has) in a capitalist market. People buy objects to fulfill needs in their life and as designers, we can give them those objects in 12 different color ways and 3 different sizes, it fits in your pocket and it does everything you need it to do.

I was reading an interview with Rem Koolhaas, one of the more influential architects of our time, where he was asked about the eventual additions to London’s skyline – whether or not he thought the architects would keep in mind the city’s overall aesthetic impression. To which he brilliantly responds “No. Almost the entire world willfully submitted to the dictatorship of the market economy. It is therefore illusionary to still assume city planners even capable of influencing the image of a city with rules and regulations the way they did back in the day. Capitalism robbed these ladies and gentlemen of their power and exiled them into irrelevance” (SSENSE). Because in capitalism it’s not about quality it’s about profit, and profit often ignores what is moral, human, and truly beautiful.

Reading Response 2/ Gabrielle Stichweh

The reading assesses capitalism’s history, function, and effects on the people living under it. Capitalism is basically an exchange of labor for money with a goal of profit for the participants. But this is never really the case.

Looking at the resources available in our society, we produce a net excess- we have more houses, food, and basic resources than we actually need for all the people living in our country. So why do we still have starving, homeless, sick people who are not getting what they need or even arguably their “fair share” of the resources available? James Fulcher talked about this through market manipulation– the withholding of goods to increase their value. It’s because of the reigning principle of capitalism that truly matters more than any others- profit. And profit is never shared equally in capitalistic societies. No matter how much we try to improve the way the system works, no matter how many changes we try to make, those changes will always benefit the change makers, and leave some in the dust. As Margaret Atwood says, “better never means better for everyone”.

 

Simon Tourney says “wage labor is only possible where people are free to the extent of being able to sell their own labor power to someone else.” What interests me about that is the way slavery can exist within a capitalistic society. Slavery is inherently not capitalistic because the slaves aren’t selling their own labor. They are in essence a product- a machine that completes tasks for their “owners”. America has a booming human trafficking industry. This industry functions on the buying and selling of humans- a capitalistic market in which human beings and their skills and labors are the products. Those buying and selling are participating in the market, but the majority of humans in the industry, those being trafficked, don’t receive compensation. They generate profit for their “owners”.

These owners are, in essence, exploiting our reigning system of capitalism. They cheat by not paying wages to their workers- a more extreme version of people who cheat and underpay workers every day in every country. This argument over wage has existed since pay-for-labor was invented, like in the cotton mills of the 19th century. The system encourages this cheating, giving the business owners profit and allowing them to expand their empires. The system leans towards those who bend its rules, cheating others and not playing fairly. Slavery and slave wages function profitably within a capitalistic market- as long as you don’t get caught.

 

As designers, we have to consider the effect of capitalism on what we make, how we make it, and who we make it for. This class gives us the opportunity to speculatively design in a society that is post-capitalistic. We get to analyze the discourse that may arise after this model has finished or failed, and the thoughts of the designers who have come before us such as Anthony Dunner, Fiona Raby, the Tharps, and many more can guide us and affect what we come up with. Would consumer-based design be so prolific if we didn’t have to depend on goods-for-money exchanges? Could everything we design be speculative? Discursive? Would irresponsible design be allowed to exist in this society? These are things I look forward to thinking about this semester.