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    Here’s my offering on how capitalism works (i.e. ‘reproduces’ itself).

    Before I get started it’s worth noting that what ‘capitalism’ is can be understood in different terms. Sometime people think of market economy, some emphasise wage-labour and elsewhere capitalism is understood as a system dominated by ‘big’ capital in the form of corporatism. These ways of seeing capitalism are all valuable, but from a Marxist perspective they tend to represent only a partial view. Marx had a more exacting way of looking at capitalism. For him, capitalism is a relationship in which working people are separate from the control over the means of production. Instead, this means of production is owned by another group (capitalists) whose activities organise the economy to their own ends. Especially important in this is the way the capitalist economy, having removed the means of production from workers, requires that in order to survive workers must sell their work to the owners. As well as this relationship taking control of production out of the hands of the workers, capitalism also directs work to one specific end; profit. The goal of capitalists is to make profit for themselves. You might come across someone telling you that the purpose of capitalists is productivity, but this is only a means to an end. Indeed it’s possible for capitalists to pursue their profits on the basis of scarcity; it is profit and the accumulation of capital that is the actual goal of capitalist behaviour.

    Within the capitalist system the capitalist purchases the right to exploit the work potential of those who have been alienated from the means of production and who must labour for capitalists in order to receive wages. The capitalist, generally, pays wages which meet customary needs though sometimes competition with other forces in capitalism require him to offer higher wages. Nevertheless, the incentive of the capitalist is always to pay as little as is possible taking all other factors into account – profit is for the capitalist remember, not the wage-labourer. In some circumstances the capitalist is able to keep (or even push) wages down, or require harder work and longer hours; if profit would benefit from these things, as can be the case, and there are no legal obstacles, this is what the capitalist is driven to do. Pay and conditions for wage-labourers are only the capitalist’s concern if they affect profit and the capitalist will use carrot or stick to suit this end. In other words, the capitalist’s interest in the wage-labourer is as a tool for profit, all other considerations are motivated by this end. Ideally, from the capitalist’s perspective, the wage-labourer works and produces as much capital as possible for that capitalist. This accumulated capital can then contribute to the investment in further means of production, through the purchase of more machinery, property, wage-labourers and so on.

    When we look at what capital is today we are seeing what a long history of wage-labour exploitation has accumulated. None of the wealth (or poverty) you see around you has come out of thin air, it has come from a widespread (and admittedly complex) action in which workers, alienated from their means of production, have been forced to work for wages so that the greater benefit of that relationship can enrich the capitalist.

    This, as I understand it, leads to the central critique of capitalism by Marx; Capital is the result of exploitation in which the workers’ own productive potentials are alienated from them for someone else’s benefit, the capitalist. The workers’ own energies and skills are turned into a tool for others in a relationship they have no choice but to participate in.

    What techniques might benefit the capitalist in the accumulation of capital? I’ve already mentioned how capitalists seek to keep wages as low as is beneficial for profit, or make their wage-labourers work harder or do more hours. Capitalism’s longstanding hostility to attempted collective bargaining by workers (no matter how weak) is evidence of its priorities. More subtlety there is capital's extension into political and social life so as to benefit profit-making and normativise the relationship of exploitation. The almost complete commercialisation of leisure and modern ‘fashion’ culture are good examples of how capitalism promotes and reproduces internalised values conducive to profit making - in the process making capitalist values our values. But we shouldn’t lose sight of what the underlying purpose of Formula One Racing or Big Brother is, it is (in the last instance) to encourage us to help make profits for capitalists and, more insidiously, see society and culture as naturalistically capitalist.

    The logic of capitalism is not to make the world a better place (even if you believe that it is doing this). The logic of capitalism is about exploitation for profit, as already identified. The processes of capitalism involve paying as little as can be got away with (especially in the third-world where regulations are lax) and the general avoidance of any costs which interfere with profit. Widespread pollution of, and damage to, the environment has taken place through capitalist processes simply because capitalism is not motivated by anything other than profit making. Where, for example, capitalism has shown interest in environmentalism we should note that this is only because it is deemed strategically useful for image and profits.

    How is capitalism so effective in maintaining its power in the face of so much exploitation? Firstly, the idea that wage-labourers are exploited doesn’t always seem clear. We, the wage-labourers, tend to see the society we live in normatively, that is we tend not to think about the structures of our societies and economies as having a history in these terms, being the product of forces both before us and outside of our control. That some have capital and that others don’t, that some can make others work and others must wage-labour for sustenance seems ‘normal’ to many people, as if this is how it’s always been, or how it should be. Another element in obscuring the exploitative nature of capitalism is the way wage-labourers are encouraged to see their benefits (wages) as representing the ‘real’ value of their time and skill even though they have no choice but to wage-labour. For most of us our choices as to what wage-labour we can do are very limited (I’m speaking globally here – capitalism is a global system remember). It depends on where we live, what class we are part of, what our gender or ethnicity is, what kind of education we’ve had, and so on. While capitalism encourages us to believe that our ‘value’ as a wage-labourer is naturalistic and in some vague sense represents our ‘real’ value, it is in fact the value created by the system of capitalism itself for its own ends. There’s also the sense in which the origins of things like technology, skyscrapers, production systems, medicine and science generally are not often understood as a product of wage-labour exploitation, but as the fruits of capitalism. Finally, and possible most pernicious of all, is that the system of capitalism is so pervasive that the wage-labourer really does need the capitalist in order to meet their needs. The system has made those alienated from the means of production utterly dependent upon those who have capital. As it is only the capitalist hand that feeds the wage-labourer it is often difficult to see that hand as exploitative let alone see that there might be another way to live.

    These elements, and possibly others, contribute to what Marx has called the ‘mystification’ of capital; rendering its authority and legitimacy normal in the collective mind and making it appear that an unsullied ‘capitalism’ (not of course capitalism as exploitation), has made great things. As mentioned, workers are of course dependent upon capitalism, but only because capitalism has structured human societies so as to make this so, there’s nothing ‘natural’ about capitalism, it is merely one of several economic systems which can organise society.

    In closing I’ll admit that this is a simplified Marxist account of a simplified account of capitalism and I’d be the first to agree that there are nuances and even contradictions in some details which could be added, but thus far I’m of the view that this Marxist perspective on what capitalism is ‘in the round’ is at least a thought provoking way to see the society we live in.
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    Quick question; without the price and wage mechanism of a market based economy... what defines prices and wages efficiently and enables distribution of resources without huge amounts of mis-allocation?

    Essentially... every "communist" and state-planned economy that has ever existed has suffered from huge amounts of inefficiency and corruption. How does this change?
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    (Original post by Oswy)


    Especially important in this is the way the capitalist economy, having removed the means of production from workers, requires that in order to survive workers must sell their work to the owners.
    You start going wrong here. Firstly, for the capitalist economy to have "removed" the means of production from the workers, it implies that they at some point "had" the means of production. Secondly, it is not the "capitalist economy" which makes people work to survive - it is in the very nature of being a human. You, me, and everyone else reading this need resources to survive. Some of these resources are plentiful, like air, and some are scarce, like food. It is inherently in the nature of human beings to need to work in order to produce the scarce goods, in order to survive.

    As well as this relationship taking control of production out of the hands of the workers, capitalism also directs work to one specific end; profit. The goal of capitalists is to make profit for themselves.
    Again, when was production ever in the hands of the workers? More importantly, you already start demonising the "capitalists" by saying that their goal is to make profit for themselves. Well, the question is, who isn't out to make profit for themselves. Do you think the workers aren't somehow? In capitalism, as in life, everyone has an incentive to get more resources for themselves. The evil "capitalists" are no different to everyone else in this respect.

    You might come across someone telling you that the purpose of capitalists is productivity, but this is only a means to an end. Indeed it’s possible for capitalists to pursue their profits on the basis of scarcity; it is profit and the accumulation of capital that is the actual goal of capitalist behaviour.
    We are agreed, capitalists want profit and to accumulate more capital. So what? How is this inherently a bad thing?

    Within the capitalist system the capitalist purchases the right to exploit the work potential of those who have been alienated from the means of production and who must labour for capitalists in order to receive wages.
    There's so much wrong with this sentence I don't know where to begin. Your entire notion of exploitation is, in a word, wrong. Marx based his theory of exploitation on the labour theory of value (LTV), i.e. that the value of a good is proportional to the amount of labour which goes into its production. Unfortunately, it's wrong, as pretty much any economist after 1900 will tell you. Labour has no inherent value in itself, just like goods have no inherent value. The only value we can associate with something is a subjective value - how much it is worth to someone. And this is where Marxism is totally off the mark - it assumes that there is some sort of real, inherent value of labour which is not being given to the workers, and hence they are being exploited. But when you realise that the only value of labour is the value people put on it, we see that the whole Marxist notion of exploitation is meaningless.

    The capitalist, generally, pays wages which meet customary needs though sometimes competition with other forces in capitalism require him to offer higher wages. Nevertheless, the incentive of the capitalist is always to pay as little as is possible taking all other factors into account – profit is for the capitalist remember, not the wage-labourer.
    Yes, the capitalist has an incentive to pay as little as possible, just like the worker has an incentive to get as much as he can for his work... but again, you think only capitalists are out for themselves. If a worker was paid more than his labour was "worth" (see above, I disagree it has any inherent worth) would you say he was profiting, or exploiting his employer?

    In some circumstances the capitalist is able to keep (or even push) wages down, or require harder work and longer hours; if profit would benefit from these things, as can be the case, and there are no legal obstacles, this is what the capitalist is driven to do.
    Yes, the capitalist is driven to reduce costs and improve productivity. So what? Why is this a bad thing? It means that scarce resources are used more efficiently.

    Pay and conditions for wage-labourers are only the capitalist’s concern if they affect profit and the capitalist will use carrot or stick to suit this end.
    Again, so what? The beauty of a free market is that no one is forced to work for anyone else, and the competition among companies for labour drives wages and conditions always upward. Imagine (if it were possible) a company which suddenly declared that all its workers would get 50p an hour, work 20 hour days, and be whipped regularly. How well would they do in attracting workers?

    In other words, the capitalist’s interest in the wage-labourer is as a tool for profit, all other considerations are motivated by this end. Ideally, from the capitalist’s perspective, the wage-labourer works and produces as much capital as possible for that capitalist. This accumulated capital can then contribute to the investment in further means of production, through the purchase of more machinery, property, wage-labourers and so on.
    Again, you're drawing too big a distinction between workers and capitalists, and making capitalists out to be more evil and greedy than the rest of us. They aren't.

    When we look at what capital is today we are seeing what a long history of wage-labour exploitation has accumulated. None of the wealth (or poverty) you see around you has come out of thin air, it has come from a widespread (and admittedly complex) action in which workers, alienated from their means of production, have been forced to work for wages so that the greater benefit of that relationship can enrich the capitalist.
    I'd love to hear a coherent account of what you actually mean by exploitation, you seem to like the word.

    This, as I understand it, leads to the central critique of capitalism by Marx; Capital is the result of exploitation in which the workers’ own productive potentials are alienated from them for someone else’s benefit, the capitalist. The workers’ own energies and skills are turned into a tool for others in a relationship they have no choice but to participate in.
    Like I said earlier, this critique is effectively meaningless. The very concept of "exploitation" Marx was using is just rubbish. Can you clarify what you mean?

    What techniques might benefit the capitalist in the accumulation of capital? I’ve already mentioned how capitalists seek to keep wages as low as is beneficial for profit, or make their wage-labourers work harder or do more hours. Capitalism’s longstanding hostility to attempted collective bargaining by workers (no matter how weak) is evidence of its priorities.
    You do have a point here about the hostility of capitalism to collective bargaining. The problem here is not capitalism itself, but the mercantilism and of governments which restrict the freedom of workers to organise.

    More subtlety there is capital's extension into political and social life so as to benefit profit-making and normativise the relationship of exploitation. The almost complete commercialisation of leisure and modern ‘fashion’ culture are good examples of how capitalism promotes and reproduces internalised values conducive to profit making - in the process making capitalist values our values. But we shouldn’t lose sight of what the underlying purpose of Formula One Racing or Big Brother is, it is (in the last instance) to encourage us to help make profits for capitalists and, more insidiously, see society and culture as naturalistically capitalist.
    Now this, I'm afraid, is just bull****. People are naturally capitalistic, as history has shown time and time again. How did the violent abolition of the market work out in the Soviet Union?

    The logic of capitalism is not to make the world a better place (even if you believe that it is doing this). The logic of capitalism is about exploitation for profit, as already identified. The processes of capitalism involve paying as little as can be got away with (especially in the third-world where regulations are lax) and the general avoidance of any costs which interfere with profit. Widespread pollution of, and damage to, the environment has taken place through capitalist processes simply because capitalism is not motivated by anything other than profit making. Where, for example, capitalism has shown interest in environmentalism we should note that this is only because it is deemed strategically useful for image and profits.
    Agreed, there are problems with externalities, like pollution. But this is basically just caused by governments systematically shielding players in the market from liability. The problem is that the market is too small, not too big. See my posts in the "is taxation wrong" thread if you want to know more.

    How is capitalism so effective in maintaining its power in the face of so much exploitation?
    You can keep saying it, but that doesn't make it mean anything.

    Firstly, the idea that wage-labourers are exploited doesn’t always seem clear. We, the wage-labourers, tend to see the society we live in normatively, that is we tend not to think about the structures of our societies and economies as having a history in these terms, being the product of forces both before us and outside of our control. That some have capital and that others don’t, that some can make others work and others must wage-labour for sustenance seems ‘normal’ to many people, as if this is how it’s always been, or how it should be. Another element in obscuring the exploitative nature of capitalism is the way wage-labourers are encouraged to see their benefits (wages) as representing the ‘real’ value of their time and skill even though they have no choice but to wage-labour. For most of us our choices as to what wage-labour we can do are very limited (I’m speaking globally here – capitalism is a global system remember). It depends on where we live, what class we are part of, what our gender or ethnicity is, what kind of education we’ve had, and so on. While capitalism encourages us to believe that our ‘value’ as a wage-labourer is naturalistic and in some vague sense represents our ‘real’ value, it is in fact the value created by the system of capitalism itself for its own ends. There’s also the sense in which the origins of things like technology, skyscrapers, production systems, medicine and science generally are not often understood as a product of wage-labour exploitation, but as the fruits of capitalism. Finally, and possible most pernicious of all, is that the system of capitalism is so pervasive that the wage-labourer really does need the capitalist in order to meet their needs. The system has made those alienated from the means of production utterly dependent upon those who have capital. As it is only the capitalist hand that feeds the wage-labourer it is often difficult to see that hand as exploitative let alone see that there might be another way to live.
    Capitalism is here because it is the best way of distributing scarce resources, and because its basic principles (namely respect for private property and freedom of exchange) are basically human nature.

    These elements, and possibly others, contribute to what Marx has called the ‘mystification’ of capital; rendering its authority and legitimacy normal in the collective mind and making it appear that an unsullied ‘capitalism’ (not of course capitalism as exploitation), has made great things. As mentioned, workers are of course dependent upon capitalism, but only because capitalism has structured human societies so as to make this so, there’s nothing ‘natural’ about capitalism, it is merely one of several economic systems which can organise society.
    There are several other economic systems, true. How many of them have worked?

    In closing I’ll admit that this is a simplified Marxist account of a simplified account of capitalism and I’d be the first to agree that there are nuances and even contradictions in some details which could be added, but thus far I’m of the view that this Marxist perspective on what capitalism is ‘in the round’ is at least a thought provoking way to see the society we live in.
    It is thought provoking, but in more of a "wouldn't it be interesting to go through and point out the fallacies" way than anything else. I think a quote from Nozick sums it up best: "Marxist exploitation is mainly the exploitation of people's ignorance of economics"

    Now I know this post has been mainly negative, I'll put some thoughts about the positive nature of capitalism up in a bit.
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    I was expecting this:

    "Capitalism - A Marxist Perspective"

    Not good.

    End.
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    What would be the incentive for labour in a Marxist world?
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    (Original post by _jackofdiamonds)
    What would be the incentive for labour in a Marxist world?
    Knowing it was for the good of the community, obviously. Because that's a better incentive than cold, hard cash... right?
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    (Original post by _jackofdiamonds)
    What would be the incentive for labour in a Marxist world?
    The fear of being shot or being labelled as a counter-revolutionary and sent to the gulag?
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    I've yet to meet a Marxist who understood the concepts of risk, productivity, incentives, or comparative advantage. And without those concepts, it's quite easy to assume that Marxism can work or that capitalism is evil. It's like looking at a doctor cutting a person open, and calling the doctor evil for doing so, while being totally ignorant about the reason he's doing the cutting.
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    It comes down to Marx's labour theory of value being discredited by modern economics.
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    I won't go through every paragraph/sentence and analyse it (DrunkHamster did a better job of that than I ever could), but I don't see why you assume a desire for profit it undesirable. Your argument against capitalism seems to rest on an implicit (and imo unjustified) assumption that a want of profit is disagreeable and that only the "capitalist" has this want, when in fact the very idea that the capitalist denies the labourer part of his income (beyond the basic minimum required income) implies that the labourer also has a desire for profit, suggesting that everyone has one. If so, then surely “capitalism” is merely the most logical and effective system to satisfy the desire?
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    It's also ironic to say that the worker only has enough money to survive, when the average worker has his own home, a car, a TV, a computer with internet access, a mobile phone, weeks of vacation time, etc. He also works 7-8 hours a day, with very little chance of getting injured on the jop, with free healthcare, and a pension. A worker today lives far better than a noble during Marx's time.
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    bump for lefty reply ^^
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    A Marxist perspective = Marx said so, therefore we should believe it.

    Marx was not even an economist, and his ideas came from nowhere with very little analysis and understanding of basic economic mechanisms. It gets me very annoyed when people quote him and let his veiws become some sort of religion. After all, if he said so it has to be true right?
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    I really want to mark this like an essay and hand it back but I haven't the time right now. Maybe later...
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    Another flaw that hasn't been mentioned yet is that supposed alternatives to capitalism screw up worker specialisation. Anyone with upper-band earnings gets that much because they are good at their trade and their trade happens to be lucrative. Replacing them with know-nothing do-gooders is stupid. Why not replace all the programmers with janitors, that'll surely solve all our data security problems :rolleyes:. By all means try to get people to be more communal, but please don't try to **** the world up

    (Original post by Bismarck)
    It's also ironic to say that the worker only has enough money to survive, when the average worker has his own home, a car, a TV, a computer with internet access, a mobile phone, weeks of vacation time, etc. He also works 7-8 hours a day, with very little chance of getting injured on the jop, with free healthcare, and a pension. A worker today lives far better than a noble during Marx's time.
    Ack, and when we're talking about poverty in a western country we're often talking about having only two toilets, a five year old car and one TV instead of one in each room.
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    Thanks for the responses (well, the few which actually address the content of my OP that is). The statement is a starting point for a personal project of mine in which I aim, over the next six months or so, to amend and expand on this critique of capitalism in a Marxist framework. I'm very excited about it and hope to gain an insight into quite a bit of current Marxist criques of capitalism. In this respect I'm more than happy to see constructive criticism - obviously I'm going to ignore "comanizm suks" posts (not least because I'm not promoting communism, only seeking to define the nature of capitalism and how it organises social relationships).

    As for my use of "exploitation" I'd advise posters to look it up in a dictionary, it's an entirely reasonable word to use in this context. Comments by posters that have tried to address the issue of poverty need to always keep in mind that capitalism acts globally and so wealth and poverty need to be understood in global terms when considering the issue.

    Anyway, more later!
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    (Original post by Oswy)

    As for my use of "exploitation" I'd advise posters to look it up in a dictionary, it's an entirely reasonable word to use in this context.

    I really don't think this is good enough if you're trying to have a reasoned political discussion. Your analysis of capitalism relies crucially on your assertion that the workers are being "exploited" by capitalists, and you haven't made any attempt to establish what the word means.

    Do you use it in the same sense Marx did, something like 'x is being exploited by y if "surplus value" is being taken from the labour of x by y'? If so, then I'd love to see you actually tell me what "surplus value" is and defend the utterly discredited LTV. Do you use it in some other sense of the term, like the dictionary which defines it as 'The act of employing to the greatest possible advantage'? If so then I'd love to know what the problem is. Do you use it in the sense of 'Utilization of another person or group for selfish purposes'? If so, then can you tell me how a capitalist is guilty of exploitation while a worker is not? You see the question hinges around what exactly you mean by exploitation in the first place, and appealing to a dictionary is not going to save you from answering any of these questions.
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    (Original post by Oswy)
    Thanks for the responses (well, the few which actually address the content of my OP that is). The statement is a starting point for a personal project of mine in which I aim, over the next six months or so, to amend and expand on this critique of capitalism in a Marxist framework. I'm very excited about it and hope to gain an insight into quite a bit of current Marxist criques of capitalism. In this respect I'm more than happy to see constructive criticism - obviously I'm going to ignore "comanizm suks" posts (not least because I'm not promoting communism, only seeking to define the nature of capitalism and how it organises social relationships).

    As for my use of "exploitation" I'd advise posters to look it up in a dictionary, it's an entirely reasonable word to use in this context. Comments by posters that have tried to address the issue of poverty need to always keep in mind that capitalism acts globally and so wealth and poverty need to be understood in global terms when considering the issue.

    Anyway, more later!
    Good luck with that. Bur your project is akin to trying to redefine some complex surgical procedure without ever bothering to study biology; and even some knowledge of biology would let you know that the path you're trying to take has been discredited a century ago.
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    My dictionary offers 'exploit' thus:

    "Make use of and derive benefit from (a resource)."
    Which I think is a good enough starting point.

    For me the essential factor is that control over the means of production is removed from one group of people and placed exclusively in the hands of another group - this is quite a profound fact. In capitalism the mass of the people have only their wage-labour value (as deemed by the capitalist system) to 'offer'. The subsequent relationship can never, taken as a whole, be an equal one, and this is why 'exploitation' (by one part of another) is very much a viable term. I also highlighted in the OP how the kind of wage-labouring we can do is limited by the various structres which capitalism creates; we don't just get to chose what kind of labouring we do because we are constrained by the way the capitalists organise their needs. Indeed sometimes, often, the people who have had the means of production removed from them are even unneccessay to the capitalist as wage-labourers - they are unemployed through the absence of work. This scenario is doubly binding; not only has the individual lost any ability to provide for his own means but the capitalist can abandon him in the new wage-labour paradigm altogether.

    Anyway, I'm going to work on my OP for some time before I re-submit an improved version. What I think is interesting is that some of my points, rather than being refuted, are greeted with "so what?"; powerful evidence that I've hit the nail on the head in ways that the pro-capitalist struggled to deny!

    Keep up the critical analysis though!
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    (Original post by Bismarck)
    Good luck with that. Bur your project is akin to trying to redefine some complex surgical procedure without ever bothering to study biology; and even some knowledge of biology would let you know that the path you're trying to take has been discredited a century ago.
    I hope you're not making the mistake of thinking that I've been advocating communism in my OP - by all means read it again, I haven't done that at all.

    What you have to remember is that modern industrial capitalism is one of a number of socio-economic systems which have been around in human civilisation. Systems like hunter-gatherer, communal-agrarian and war-tribute have all existed and sometimes existed with high levels of internal stability. No economic system of humanity is 'natural' as such, human culture is much more complicated than a naive sociobiology might have you believing.
 
 
 
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