Capitalism, casinos and free choice

They’re perfect examples of how the liberal marketplace works: Use your power and wealth to gain unfair advantage over competitors. Neoliberalism and markets innit? The monopolies were of course even worse when the market was more “free” back in the Gilded Age…


You realize that China’s manufacturing boom and the infrastructure for it was state planned/funded right?

Mentioning the Costco guy undermines your argument too. Costco is the exception to the rule, a rarity in a “race to the bottom” marketplace.

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First off, living on welfare is not outside of capitalism. Second, welfare is almost never better than actually working, because it’s designed to discourage people from choosing not to work. This has the effect of punishing those who are legitimately in need because of the fear of nearly non existent welfare fraud. Furthermore, the provision of welfare is fairly recent, and required a serious fight against business who claimed it would destroy the economy. They still claim that and still fight it.

This isn’t opting out of the relationship so much as switching parties. However this doesn’t invalidate my point that the vast majority of people have to sell their labour to survive. Only a small minority of people can ever be business owners (who would they hire if most people owned businesses), and for a lot of wage earners, they are not paid enough to save up for the seed capital to become one of those few.

I’m glad that you earn a fair wage for your work, but the relationship between you and your boss is one more of conflict than cooperation. Your aim is to earn the highest wage possible, and your boss’s is to earn the largest profit possible. These are contradictory goals.

Maybe your boss is a really great person who honestly cares about you (I’ve worked for these kind of people too), but if employing you is no longer profitable, guess which choice he will ultimately make? This is what I mean about being disposable. It’s has nothing to do with personality, but that the relationship between boss and worker is fundamentally an economic one, and its beginning and end is ultimately determined by economic factors. That there are good bosses doesn’t change that in aggregate businesses must respond to market conditions. What I’m getting at here is that people want comfortable stability, but our world is ordered at odds with that. It doesn’t have to be this way.


Sure, but the exception doesn’t disprove my point here. I don’t deny there are exceptions, just they aren’t the rule. Plus, this ignores the fact that in a competitive market, companies that pay less will have an advantage over Costco. And hoping your bosses will share a slightly larger bit of the pie with you is extraordinarily naïve.

Except nobody does this. People support or oppose unions because of their basic goals. Even insane partisans support their political party because they share the same basic goals, not completely out of brand loyalty.

That ignores the fact that unions are illegal in China, and the inability for low wage workers to band together has been a huge draw to relocate foreign manufacturing too China. Part of how unions in the developed world have been beaten down is through “liberalizing markets”. Trade barriers between nations are removed, and we have to compete against workers in countries who have much less freedom to negotiate their working conditions. I would tend to agree that unions are inevitable in those places, but business will fight it every step of the way. As for redistributing wealth, China has rapidly growing inequality where the product of the boom is being captured by a tiny number of people.


I wasn’t saying it was necessarily, I was just making a distinction. There is a strain of thought that all forms of economic exchange is capitalism, but it’s just not so. I think the capitalism good/capitalism bad debate is completely different. I’m just pointing out that capitalism has an historically specific meaning.

As for the good/bad debate, I think we need to think hard about our economic system, and be honest about it. It has historically been a relatively brutal system, and remains so in many places, especially where neo-liberalism is the main form of capitalism. It’s hard to deny the impact of deregulation on the US, for example, beginning with the “run away plant” and continuing today with the environmental destruction, such as with water contaimination this week in West Virginia. Continued racism and sexism is tied to capitalist division of labor, as is the tangled web of online spying (by the state and corporations) and loss of privacy. So, I’m still highly skeptical of modern consumer capitalism in many cases.


I am not arguing against the government. I only pointed out that when China liberalized its markets, people moved out of poverty.

Costco is an exception for big box stores, it’s true. But there are many examples of companies who don’t pay as little as possible, because they want to keep employees.

I agree with this, I just don’t see the problem with it. Maybe it’s because I don’t see a viable alternative.

Nope. My aim is to earn enough to live comfortably. My boss’s aim is to earn enough to grow his business. Again, there are lots of examples of employers who care enough about their employees that they pay them more than they would make elsewhere.

That doesn’t make me any more disposable than his business is. Businesses get thrown out all the time. That makes sense. If I find another boss who’s willing to pay me more for my work (and I like the business), then guess what choice I’ll make? The choice my boss would expect me to make. We’re not in conflict with each other. We’re partners until circumstances dictate that we’re not anymore. This is morally neutral.

People have always wanted comfortable stability. There are lots of ways to get comfortable stability. Capitalism is one of those ways. Rejecting it as one way towards improving the lives of people is no different than rejecting the role of the state in improving the lives of people. It requires a devotion to ideology over evidence.

There are plenty of people who support Democratic candidates mostly because Republicans hate them, convinced that what the party says are its goals are more important than the party’s behavior. There are plenty of people who either hate a union or love it without being aware of what the union has endorsed. This really happens.

While I think its wrong that unions are illegal in China, I think it’s great that so many have been pulled out of poverty. Not as far or with as much freedom as they should have, but it’s a step in the right direction.

I’m solidly on the fence as to whether or not this is truly detrimental to American workers. There are economists who interpret the data differently. More importantly, though, American workers don’t matter more to me than Chinese workers.

Hundreds of millions of people rising out of poverty into the middle class isn’t exactly “a tiny number of people.”

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I think being skeptical of modern anything is a good idea. That said, I think the racism and sexism (homophobia, etc.) have declined precisely because of people doing business with each other. Actually, I think mass entertainment is most responsible for these improvements and that’s a very capitalist industry.

I’m not a “Capitalism! Yay!” kind of fella. But I tend to defend it as one tool of many that people use to improve their lives, the way I defend the government to people who feel that it does no good or is inherently evil. Distrust of power is what’s important. I think bad players in capitalism require bad players in the government to attain all they desire.

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Of course there’s free choice - you’re going to the casino for entertainment, whether that entertainment comes from watching the blinky lights or unhealthy addiction to the rush of losing your money. It’s not like food where you have to be a consumer.

Las Vegas airport’s slots machine operators have lost my business, though. Usually when I have a layover there I used to drop a few quarters in the slot machines and watch the blinky lights. But now if you want to play you need to get a card, put money on it, put it in the machine, and have all your winnings show up as bits on the card instead of getting a pile of quarters, and then take the card to an attendant to get your winnings or leftover money back. Maybe that works for serious gamblers in a casino, but not only does it not have the cheerful cascade of falling metal disks when you win, it’s a lot more trouble for an incidental player like a typical airport traveller. And the first time I encountered it, there wasn’t even an attendant to give me my hypothetical winnings after I played. Sorry, airport, you’re doing it wrong.

I don’t think there is a “rule.” That’s my point. Also, the article I linked to showed exactly the opposite of what you’re claiming. Costco is doing better than its competitors despite its decent treatment of employees. Google does pretty well, too, I hear, and they treat their employees very well.

There are, actually and truly, companies that “share a slightly larger bit of the pie” with employees when the company is doing well. This doesn’t mean that powerful assholes don’t utilize capitalism to screw their employees over. Just as government doing some good things doesn’t mean it doesn’t utilize its power to screw people over. It’s not about capitalism or socialism, the state or the bank. It’s about the individual people who run these things. Just because Republicans and Democrats do terrible things, doesn’t mean that government is a bad idea. Just because Walmart and Freedom Industries do terrible things, doesn’t mean that capitalism is a bad idea.

Well, that’s partly Lisbeth Cohen’s argument about the creation of a more unified working class, but mass entertainment also reinforces stereotypes about minority groups and women. so there is that, too. There is generally major labor issues historically with the culture industries, and it has a tendency to displace local industries internationally.

Blacks and whites did business with each other all during segregation. Plenty of white entrepeneurs in the north sent money to black schools, yet were still racist. Plenty of racist white people love all kinds of black culture and even can often think of one or two “good ones” that they know. And men who work with women still treat them in a misogynistic manner all the time. So, no familiarity doesn’t always breed positive images of people not like yourself. There is just no historical basis for that claim. Look at how many racists have come out of the woodwork since the president was elected…

I think there’s nothing but a clear historical basis for the claim that a diverse population regularly interacting across gender and racial and cultural lines decreases bigotry. The history of the U.S. since WW2 is one long trend of increasing rights and opportunities for women and minorities. That is not to say, in any way, shape or form, that the trend has come to a satisfying end. There is still an unacceptable amount of bigotry being the cause of decreased opportunities. But every year is better than the last in terms of people coming to terms with the diversity of our country.

Of course some racists have come out of the woodwork since we elected an African American to be President. But that misses the forest for the trees, I think.

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What does this imply about lotteries?

I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not, but I can assure you that the price variability is not a sign of a healthy market. It’s due to the fact that hospitals don’t know what other hospitals charge, and because consumers never know how much they’re going to be charged until after all the services have been rendered. It’s not like there are signboards outside hospitals with daily deals, or their price for a kidney transplant. And even if you ask for prices, you’ll encounter a lot of resistance to disclosure.

Markets require bidirectional information transfer, which we simply don’t have in the US.

If hospitals don’t make pricing available to the general public, in what sense is there a market?

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I never said a person has free choice but people don’t - I said a person isn’t predictable but people are, demonstrating that despite all the unpredictable complexity, populations at large quite obviously don’t have anything resembling free will; if you know what buttons to press and have the means, you own the mob. Or to put it another way, if I ask enough people how many jelly beans in this jar, I’ll arrive at a very good average answer despite all the stupid guesses. Because people, like everything else macroscopic, obey cause and effect. Who cares about quantum randomness when all there is to see is clockwork when you zoom out?

People imagine they have free will because they don’t know what they’re going to think next, but certain studies have shown that properly-equipped researchers can tell them; ie there’s evidence of an identifiable thought before the thinker is conscious of it. How does your precious free will fit in there? Or into physical reality as we know it, for that matter?

You know how people tend to rationalise their impulses? Yeah, well - just extend that idea a bit.

The nature of time is another angle on this question; if as some folks say, the eternal now is unchanging and it’s just our perspective that’s moving along the fourth dimension, then everything would seem to be following the script of cause and effect from our perspective. Pretty hard to test without an IRL savegame though… but there is the fact we haven’t seen much in the way of acausality. Newtonian nondeterminism seems a bit too restricted to be anything but a party trick.

While I see your point about the differences between individual behavior and behavior of the masses (I still don’t agree with it, however, as there are regular examples of masses of people behaving in unpredictable ways), I am very skeptical of this claim.

These kinds of “certain studies” (“certain” studies, btw, are the kind that show you anything you want to be shown) are notoriously non-repeatable, especially in the field of behavioral psychology. But, please, provide links to these “certain studies” showing that some researchers can tell what some people are thinking next. I’m genuinely curious.

Whether or not free will exists is something, I suppose, for philosophers and research psychologists to argue about until the end of time. But if anyone tells me I don’t have free will, I’ll treat that claim with the same polite respect I’d give to someone who tells me that Satan causes me to make bad choices.

Either way, it doesn’t really change my point that capitalism, like government, has been shown to produce good results when good people are involved.

Of course humans aren’t rational actors - and thank goodness we aren’t. We make all kinds of decisions based on things that aren’t logical, or monetarily beneficial, or sensible. It’s what makes us human, and it is what makes us great.

But that changes nothing. It is still the responsibility of each person to manage their own life and make their own decisions, and to deal with the consequences of those actions. And it is the height of arrogance to assume that you can read someone else’s mind, understand their biases and how they value things, and make those decisions for them. In fact, that’s the behavior of a bully.

It has nothing to do with luck. Peasants worked for lords because if they didn’t, they would be killed by the authorities. You have people’s belief in government and their belief in societally-acceptable aggression - the so-called “social contract” - to thank for that situation, not luck.