AOC's logical stumbles criticizing capitalism
Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (AOC) sees injustices everywhere in the United States. Our capitalist economic system is “irredeemable” with its “absolute pursuit of profit at all human, environmental, and social cost”. She also sees the US as “systematically racist”. Further, our “systematic racism” is intertwined with our “extractive” capitalist economy. In fact, a whole raft of evils, “the injustice of slavery”, Jim Crow (laws that made blacks second class citizens), redlining, the War on Drugs, mass incarceration, the climate “& beyond” are all tied together. Everything is an emergency.
Systemic racism is a root ideology that propped up an extractive economic system that prioritizes profit over human & environmental considerations.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) September 13, 2019
The injustices of slavery evolved into Jim Crow, redlining, the War on Drugs, mass incarceration, & beyond:https://t.co/ox9co5QkeB
Of course, this kind of massive amorphous clot, in which it is hard to say where racism ends and capitalism, redlining, Jim Crow “& beyond” (whatever the “beyond” is) makes it difficult to discuss her charges rationally. Perhaps that is the strategy.
There was a time when our universities would have taught students to separate ideas and theses carefully, a time when students would have been taught that if they make a causal linkage they must provide evidence for it (notoriously hard to do for social and historical matters). It was a time when they would have been taught to avoid exaggerated “absolutist” language because it makes for a very strong thesis that is very hard to prove. They would have been taught to avoid vague language, like “human considerations,” because it is not even clear what is not a human consideration. They would have been taught that they must specify empirical criteria for the application of grandiose terms like “systematic racism” because it is not clear what it means.
However, those days are clearly long past. AOC, who somehow managed to obtain a diploma from Boston University with her name on it, does not take the time to define key concepts carefully or formulate precise theses. AOC’s emotive words are designed for the megaphone (and the next election), not for serious rational discussion.
One must not, however, be deterred. For one problem with that kind of shotgun approach, so useful to demagogues and carnival barkers, in which everything from racism to the climate is mixed together, is that there may be inconsistencies between various parts of the knot. Indeed, AOC appears not to have noticed that her claim that the US capitalist system is the “absolute pursuit of profit” at the expense of human life is, prima facia, inconsistent with her claim that this same system is systematically racist. The point is not difficult to grasp. If a capitalist system is the “absolute” pursuit of profit, then a company that encounters a Black person who, being gifted with higher intelligence, speaking ability or empathy can sell more cars than the White people in that company will naturally employ and promote that person. Skin color does not matter if the pursuit of profit is “absolute”. That is what “absolute” means.
Forty years ago this kind of point might have been taught in a reputable university, but apparently, no more.
AOC has also not, apparently, noticed that there is an anti-racist principle built into capitalism itself. Since, as she points out in such a hyperbolic manner, a capitalist system is oriented towards the “absolute” pursuit of profit, the genuine US capitalist will see only one color, namely green, the color of the currency. That is, since the essence of capitalism is to pursue profit, it is in a capitalist’s intrinsic interest to develop human wealth-creating potential no matter what the skin color in order to increase profitability. Has AOC not noticed the NBA?
The same point applies to AOC’s unthinking claims about pollution. For there is also an inherent anti-pollution principle built into capitalism itself. As difficult as it may be for AOC to believe, the profit motive she despises so much is actually an excellent incentive to keep one’s customers alive and happy so that they can purchase one’s products. Show a capitalist how to make money cleaning up the planet and they will do it. Has AOC never heard of Bill Gates?
Similarly, although anti-capitalists like to point out that capitalism inevitably seeks to find new markets to exploit, they generally fail to point out that in doing so, they liberate vast populations and races to a better life. This point is made by none other than Karl Marx himself in the Communist Manifesto (Part I),
The bourgeoise [capitalist] has ... given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. ... In place of the old seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have … universal interdependence of nations ... [in both] material [and] intellectual production. … National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness becomes more and more impossible ... and [so] there arises a world literature. ... The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of the instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian nations into civilization. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarian’s intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. ... It compels all nations ... to become bourgeoisie themselves. ... [thereby] rescuing a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life.
It’s just terrible, isn’t it? Capitalism (and this is Marx, not Adam Smith or Milton Friedman speaking) undermines the hatred among races and peoples and raises whole populations to productive wealthier civilized material and intellectual life. One can only assume that comrade AOC missed these parts of the Communist Manifesto in her studies.
Anti-capitalists will reply that if capitalism is so good at combating racism and pollution, why has the United States suffered from both? The answer is that these evils are widespread human failings in capitalist and socialist systems alike and a rational capitalist system will, over time, tend to find it in its own inherent interest to eliminate these evils. For racism and pollution, over the long run, hurt the bottom line of business. One must only educate the capitalist to these facts and since, as AOC lectures us, capitalists are “absolutely” focussed only on profit, rational capitalists will change of their own accord.
The aim of those fighting racism and pollution, therefore, should not be to eliminate capitalism but to make it more self-aware, which means subjecting it to serious rational criticism of the sort we used to see in our intellectual elites before they became monotonous “woke” cheerleaders for the left – a left that generally resolutely ignores its own racial problems.
The fact is that capitalism has one major advantage over socialism in this respect, namely, that capitalists are forced by the free market to face reality in a way that socialists are not. If racism, pollution, etc., hurts profits, the capitalist is ultimately forced by the buyers to abandon them. A centrally controlled economy faces no such corrective, which may be why it was the old Soviet Union, not the United States, that destroyed the entire Aral Sea.