Betty and her Basket, Or: Capitalism and the Corporation
I begin with a definition for capitalism based on the structure of the word. “Capital” in economics means productive assets or tools. A gatherer of fallen fruit needs no capital to start her business…until she decides she needs a basket. That basket is, for her enterprise, “capital equipment”.
But Betty and her basket, gathering fruit and selling it in the marketplace is not a capitalist, she is what I will call an “individual enterprise.” Her business is defined and limited by her own skill and labor.
She decides that the market is better for fruit picked from the tree, than for that gathered after it has fallen to the ground. She takes some of her profits and invests in another piece of capital equipment, a ladder.
Unbruised fruit sells well. She profits. But the ladder is heavy, and so is the basket. She hires a helper to carry the ladder. She has reached the line. She is now an employer or even a company.
More profit. She wants to be able to buy her husband, at home in the hammock, a better grade of wine, so she buys another ladder, another basket, and HIRES two more people to operate them. Betty is now a capitalist, because her business is no longer defined by her own skill and labor, but by its equipment, or capital.
But Betty is not at this point, in my opinion, an EVIL capitalist. The three hirelings were not able to afford their own basket or ladder, and by the use of this equipment they are now able to earn money for their labor, more than they could earn if laboring with no equipment. Betty earns return on her investment, the wine maker profits, too, the standard of living in the whole society has risen.
A few years later, Betty employs a thousand people. (do not ask where all the fruit trees are coming from; maybe Betty bought land with her profits and planted them). She has built a big house. Bought her husband a gold-brocade hammock. The mayor asks her opinion. But if evil is done because of the nasty suggestion she makes to the mayor, is the evil a fruit of capitalism, or of official corruption?
And if you think, mistakenly IMHO, that it is the fruit of the capitalism, which of Betty’s actions would you license the society, that is, which would you license some fallible corruptible human being, to restrain by force?
Betty’s brains and ambition raised the standard of living of her community, and surely she is entitled to profit from her use of her brains as much as from her brawn.
I do not see a way consistent with justice, nor a need, to restrain this sort of pure capitalism.
But let us now say that her suggestion to the Mayor was to create a class of immortal beings, under the military protection of the State, responsible to noone but distant stockholders and responsible in no way but financially, beings that cannot drink themselves to death, cannot be moved by community disapproval, cannot be effectively punished for crimes, but with the natural powers of humans to act and contract.
Betty grows old and dies, her husband and children recycle the profits, a few of her former employees saved their wages and now operate baskets and ladders of their own.
But one of these former employees-turned-capitalist paid the mayor to create for him one of those new-fangled Immortal Corpowhatsits. It sells stock to raise money to buy baskets and ladders, and orchard ground. It decides that Betty’s neighbor the basketmaker charges too much and orders baskets made in Gyna, instead. Buys so much land for orchard that nobody can afford wheat, and all have the stomachache because it is more profitable to pick the fruit green.
The villagers complain to assorted functionaries in the Corporate Offices, and are all ultimately told that nothing can be done, everybody is just doing his job, all are responsible to the Stockholders, but you can’t sue them, they’re not responsible.
The problem is not capitalism, it is that superhuman unnatural child of Government, with all the powers but few of the natural or moral restraints that limit the actions of a real person, whose rights untrammelled by righteousness, Government will kill you defending…the Corporation.
Incidentally, Communism and Socialism are both forms of capitalism. In the one, the capital is owned by the State, in the other its use is controlled by the State. Both share all the evil propensities of Corporatism, because like the Corporation, the State is immortal , amoral and exercises its unlimited powers through fallen, fallible, corruptible human beings.
By John Leyzorek