Capitalism, casinos and free choice

One summer job was working at the Levi’s store. I saw the wholesale price of the jeans as we unpacked. Basically, even at clearance prices they always make a profit. I think a pair of Levi’s cost $6 wholesale. Of course, they have rent and employees to pay, too.

There’s nothing more wrong about it than how a medieval feudal lord graciously allows peasants to farm his land for him. Yes, it is providing a living for the peasants, but why do only certain people get to be the lord/CEO/owner while the rest are peasants/employees? That’s the issue. Typically was argued that the leaders were just naturally “better” due to their noble lineage or their intelligence or their hard work, but more accurately, it has to do with luck.


You’re saying that if I get hired by a fella who opens an ice cream shop, that’s the same as me being a peasant working for a feudal lord? If I get hired by google, same thing?

I’m just going to repeat my standard quote on the subject: “Usually, the reason the Invisible Hand is invisible is that it isn’t there.”

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Eeeh, I use it interchangeably…

So, people who start businesses and the people they hire to work for them don’t have free choice and/or aren’t acting on it? How many people involved would have to tell you that they have free choice in order for you to believe them?

[quote=“Kimmo, post:12, topic:19515”]The assumption that sticks in my craw, is that anyone can be ‘worth’ millions of times the ‘worth’ of another. You can scoff at the choice of words and scare quotes, but at the end of the day, somebody’s net worth is a proxy for the value society places on them.

And when society appears to place millions of times more worth on one person than another, the ‘valuable’ person is somewhat apt to climb up their own arsehole. The entire basis of capitalism runs counter to egalitarianism, and doesn’t stand a snowflake’s chance in hell of ever resembling a meritocracy. This is why, in the far-right wingnut home of capitalism, you have people walking around claiming the poor don’t deserve universal health care.

‘…only as bad as the people in charge’ - is why I’m an anarchist. Nobody deserves to be in charge - it’s not something I’d wish on my worst enemy or best friend.

Can’t argue with the anarchy bit (I have an anti-authoritarian streak, myself), but there are many shops and small businesses with self-aware, hard working people who respect the person who hired them and feel lucky to have the opportunity to perform the job they get paid to do. There are lots of businesses where this isn’t the case, obviously, but I think it defies the complexity of reality to say that while a person can have free choice, people can’t.

Presumably scooping ice-cream or writing code would be a less unpleasant job than pre-mechanized farming, but the power distinction is basically the same, yes.


We agree on the first half of that sentence!

But considering that peasants relied on their feudal lord for a hovel to live, worked from dawn until dusk, and would be impoverished no matter how well they performed their job, I think the power distinction is completely different.

I think the people who make most of the clothes and gadgets we own are still pretty much stuck in the peasant scenario. And even we are not really free to advance to the levels of people like Brin or Gates – no matter how hard we work, the breaks they got were highly luck based. We don’t live in a meritocracy.

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You are right that the relationship between boss and worker is inescapable, which contradicts your claim that such relationships are voluntary. As opting out of the system isn’t possible, almost all people have to work for a wage to survive. This gives the boss much more leverage than the worker in determining the conditions of the exchange. This inequality is why unions and employment law exist, in order to regulate the exchange so that actually approaches a balanced, free exchange. This is a fundamental critique of capitalism because the reality of economic exchange doesn’t match the theory. It’s not really voluntary because the exchange is unequal.

Just because you’re cool with being utterly disposable in you’re employer’s quest for profit, doesn’t mean the rest of us are. Most people desire stable employment that gives them enough to live on with comfort and dignity. The economy exists to serve people, not to sacrifice their standard of living so that a few will benefit.


There essentially is no market for health care in the US. For those who don’t get health insurance as a condition of employment there is a market in health care insurance. There is only a very small market for health care in the UK used by only the wealthy who don’t want to use the NHS.

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Flatly untrue. The peasants didn’t rely on their lords for anything. Feudal lords were basically social parasites, using armed force to extract the economic surplus the peasants produced, providing nothing useful in return. Every peasant rebellion has involved eagerly exterminating any nobles they got their hands on, and when the common person finally got in the driver’s seat post 1789, the nobility went functionally extinct.

I’ll agree that there is a qualitative difference between capitalism and feudalism, but @jhbadger is right, the power imbalance between those who control the wealth and those who produce it is much the same. For the vast majority of people, capitalism doesn’t reward their hard work, and the rise in ordinary living standards was accomplished with incredible struggle by workers through unions and political parties. Ultimately, employers are compelled to pay as little as possible to get as much work as possible out of their employees. It’s not in their self interest to pay more than they can get away with.


Sorry for the confusion, when I said “relied upon,” I didn’t mean it in a positive way. I only meant that the feudal lord could kick them off the land at any time, and that they were incredibly more desperate than today’s workers (some of whom, are, indeed, desperate, but not as they used to be).

Also, are unions and political parties somehow antithetical to capitalism? Aren’t the union workers who are working for private companies also working in a capitalist system, for capitalist companies?

This is untrue, at least with the social programs available today. Also, there are many, many cases of people who saved their money, and/or took loans to stop being employees and open their own businesses. Opting out of the employer/employee relationship is very, and obviously possible.

I don’t feel “utterly disposable” when I’m paid a fair wage for my work. Why would I? I find the relationship between a person who wants to pay me for my services and myself, who wants to earn money, to be reasonable and natural and productive and not at all objectionable.

How is that different than what I described for myself? How many examples of this happening in an employer/employee relationship do you need before you don’t automatically assume that all employers treat employees as if they were disposable?

I agree that they are in that scenario, but there’s no evidence that they are “stuck” in that scenario, as we’ve seen such huge decreases in global poverty and movement up into the middle class over the last 20 years. Economic situations change, and in most of the world, though there is much improvement to be made, things are getting better.

Didn’t claim that they were, just that they have been historically responsible for the more equitable distribution of the enormous wealth capitalism can generate. However, opponents of unions and left political parties sure think they are antithetical to capitalism, and have done their best to break unions and roll back the welfare state.


This actually happens to be something I know about.

  1. There is a flourishing health care market in the US and the insurance companies just happen to be one of those making a profit from it. The issue of price variation has been in the press and as far as I understand prices and the variation there of is a sign of a healthy market, supply and demand and all that.

  2. The UK government’s stated aim is to encourage competition and choice and the market. They have created all kinds of havoc in the pursuit there of. I wouldn’t even know where to start with press cutting as there is little else on health in the press. As a patient you are expected to shop around now. You think it is difficult to find a good bargain on a mobile contract try finding one for hip surgery!

So no, health care is a market in the Western World and one of the fastest growing ones. Why would the likes of Richard Branson invest in it otherwise, charity?

I only meant that unions can and have existed within capitalism. I’m not for unregulated capitalism because I’m not an anarchist. I agree that unions have done and can still do a great job of improving the quality of life for some employees, especially in the developing world. But, like anything else, unions are only as good as the people running them. Supporting unions simply because they’re unions is as counterproductive as supporting Democrats because they’re Democrats.

It’s also important to remember that the huge decrease in poverty and movement into the middle class in countries like China represent an almost unprecedentedly fast redistribution of wealth generated by capitalism, and that had nothing to do with unions, but rather with liberalizing markets and allowing industry where it wasn’t allowed before. I think unions will ultimately have to arise in those places for the quality of life improvements to continue.

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The guy who runs Costco would disagree with you.


Funny how the house has to resort to so many slimy and deceptive tactics to keep up that peachy “voluntary trade” relationship…