Thursday, February 04, 2010

Too Big to Succeed?

Man with 75 bottles of
shoplifted body lotion stuffed
in pants fails to elude police.

Common sense fails again. A nine year old New York boy brought a 2 inch plastic machine gun from a Lego figure to school, was pulled from lunch and berated by his school principal. This kind of idiocy is more common than you think (see Morialekafa 10-12-09).

It seems the Republicans are lining up on the side of the banks and corporations against the people. Why this should surprise anyone I do not know as they have always been on the side of business against the people. Besides, after the recent outrageous decision by the Supreme Court, essentially turning the country over to corporate rule, they know enough to cling to the winning side.

Thinking about the banks and corporations has made me begin to think about the phrase “to big to fail.” It occurs to me that is basically meaningless unless one defines what it is to “fail.” I guess in the case of banks it means to run out of money to conduct their business as it is supposed to be conducted. And it is assumed that their business is simply to loan money at interest to help people and businesses get started and prosper. But if the goal of the banking industry is, say, to make money for their employees and the huge corporations they finance, they succeeded spectacularly, as many of them could easily retire after one year of bonuses, the corporations flourished, and in the end the taxpayers bailed them out. Obviously failure is in the eyes of the beholder. This is not a very good example. Think about it from a different perspective, “too big to succeed.”

If there are things too big to fail, are there things too big to succeed? I would say yes, there are. For example, Hitler’s attempt to conquer Russia during WWII was too big to succeed. For anyone to try to invade and conquer China would be something too big to succeed. But what about more reasonable examples, say, corporate agriculture. Corporate farming is big, very big, and it purportedly produces food much cheaper than old-fashioned farming methods. In that sense it has succeeded. However, it succeeds only by more quickly destroying the land, and by the use of chemicals and genetic techniques that in the long run have adverse effects. It also contributes to unemployment in that one farmer can do the work of what a great many had to do in the past. In this sense it is too big to succeed, if the goal is to have a healthy, sustainable agriculture over time. This is true of all huge corporations because they make their profits importantly by reducing the amount of labor required and therefore result in surplus populations that become a great social problem. While there are benefits to be gained by large scale enterprises, an idea widespread in American affairs for a long time now, there are also deleterious effects of scale that have been ignored. If unemployment, health problems, surplus populations, adequate housing, health care, equitable rewards, the environment, and other such factors were taken into account, it would probably be the case that, depending upon the task at hand, there are probably ideal sizes for various industries and corporations. It should be at least theoretically possible to determine how any given enterprise should be conducted to maximize benefits for all concerned and minimize questionable by-products and unanticipated problems. Of course no capitalistic society, where profit is the primary motive, operates this way. Any suggestion that it should is immediately shouted down as some kind of horrible socialistic or communistic plot, and so capitalistic societies continue on in a kind of cannibalistic orgy in which the strong, or the wealthy, consume their weaker, poorer cousins until such time as the situation becomes so bad it is forced by its own excesses to change. This is what happened around the beginning of the 20th century and it appears it may happen again before much longer.

Capitalism, especially unregulated capitalism, is a perfect example of something too big to succeed. There was no capitalism in our former small scale “primitive” or “folk” societies, where human relations were more personal, face-to-face, based upon ties of kin and place, and not regulated by legal contracts between strangers. There were no surplus populations, little or no crime, few, if any orphans, and when one ate, everyone ate. Idyllic no, but societies survived like that for thousands of years, it is unlikely that capitalism will do the same.

Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone
John Maynard Keynes

Only New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand do not have native shrews.

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