Capitalism & Corruption

Capitalism overfloweth with marketing. It’s fair enough to point out the system never does deliver the goods.

“First and last, it’s a question of money,” Clarence Darrow said. “Those men who own the earth make the laws to protect what they have. They fix up a sort of fence or pen around what they have, and they fix the law so the fellow on the outside cannot get in. The laws are really organized for the protection of the men who rule the world. They were never organized or enforced to do justice. We have no system for doing justice, not the slightest in the world.” 

Not all condemnations of corruption are equal. Certainly, one can and should warn against getting stuck upon ‘corruption’ as a problem of individual moral failing, against assuming that such an individual moral failing can cause our age’s contradictions and crises. Zizek thunders against clerics’ efforts to blind us to the causes of our problems with their anti-historical, idealist framing:

“The first two things one should prohibit are therefore the critique of corruption and the critique of financial capitalism. First, let us not blame people and their attitudes: the problem is not corruption or greed, the problem is the system that pushes you to be corrupt. The solution is neither Main Street nor Wall Street, but to change the system where Main Street cannot function without Wall Street. Public figures from the pope downward bombard us with injunctions to fight the culture of excessive greed and consummation – this disgusting spectacle of cheap moralization is an ideological operation, if there ever was one: the compulsion (to expand) inscribed into the system itself is translated into personal sin, into a private psychological propensity, or, as one of the theologians close to the pope put it: ‘The present crisis is not crisis [sic] of capitalism but the crisis of morality.’”

But you need not simply use the charge of “corruption” as an emotional tool with which to blind, distract, manipulate, and control nearly-powerless subjects, as the conservative Papacy, flexing its enduring utility to feudal power, does to the unsuspecting, the faithful, and the libertarian. Rather, you can, as does Marx, comprehend corruption as an inevitable product of a social order that demands concentrated economic surplus/power accumulation.

“In every stockjobbing swindle every one knows that some time or other the crash must come, but every one hopes that it may fall on the head of his neighbour, after he himself has caught the shower of gold and placed it in safety. ‘Après moi le déluge!’ is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation. Hence Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society” Marx, Capital, Volume I, Chapter 10 (1867).

It is not that emotion or condemnation is wrong. Emotion is human, and often must be addressed strategically. Leftists would be autistic dupes to let conservatives monopolize emotions, and ridiculous to flatter themselves that to leave emotion to conservatives makes Leftists pristine, ethical…otherwordly, in imitation of imaginary deities, and similarly ineffable, ineffectual. That’s a trap that’s been laid before, and we should recognize it.

The problem is the socially-irrational concentration of the massive accumulation of wealth–capitalism. That is fundamentally corrupt. The problem is, as Zizek recognizes, “Main Street’s” rigid inability to function without Wall Street, to the point of compounding, brakeless social and environmental irrationality. Socialism is needed to break this free-fall, to put a brake on the capitalist corruption of human sociability.

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