2.8 Responding to the consequences of capitalist behavior: Cooperation versus competition and other opposing trends

In their arguments against socialism, capitalism's defenders argue that the consequences of capitalist competition are beneficial to all, including greater diversity and quality of goods and services, a "balance" between job creation and the conservation of nature, greater freedom for individual initiative, and greater fairness than would be true in a less competitive society. Let's consider each of these claims in turn.

Cooperation and competition

Evidently, cooperation and competition are each characteristics of human individual and social behavior, which is not to say that these characteristics are necessarily immutable, only that they appear to have always been present. While the social behavior of isolated tribes can be cited as evidence that cooperation is fundamental, such arguments sometimes ignore the competition between tribes and with other species for limited resources. In the face of limited resources - and, as we previously noted, Earth's resources are now recognized to be limited even when taking the entire earth into account - competition is inevitable in human individual and social behavior. We are, after all, part of the biological world.

Motive enough for getting social policy right is that lack of success in reconciling cooperation and competition can lead to strife within and between nations, up to and including the destruction of human life, society and the natural environment. We argue therefore that:

Thesis 6. Cooperation and competition are essential but conflicting characteristics of human individual and social behavior.

As applied to the development of a green social democratic society, competition would be between cooperative groups within a society that is itself the embodiment of cooperation. In relation to the aim of a green social democratic world, global competition would be subordinated to global cooperation for non-violent resolution of conflicts and in sharing and conserving Earth's resources. This aim includes limiting global competition to that which may be required for an efficient, conservative use of these resources.

On the other hand, capitalist competition evidently leads to centralization of economic and political power with consequences that ultimately include undermining the Earth's capacity to support human life and the marginalization of the majority of the world's population from levels of economic and political power essential to their personal security and well-being and, in the final analysis, their survival. These consequences are reason enough for the current search of humanity for an alternate mode of human existence to the capitalist one.

Homogenization and diversity

Another pair of opposing trends in human society are homogenization and diversity. Cultural homogenization and cultural diversity are examples.

Homogenization and diversity can both be among the results of a single process, such as either migration or trade. For example, trade can introduce similar products and technology around the world. The consequence within each region can be greater diversity, for example, a greater variety and choice of food. For the world, a consequence of trade is greater homogenization. In as much as such trends as migration and trade are essential, at least in the sense of incontrovertible, both homogenization and diversity are inevitable trends in human social existence. Adaptation to climate change will further enhance both of these trends.

Examples of social policy consequences include legislated common language of communication in some nation states, legislated multiculturalism in others, trade agreements in which homogenization of governmental practice and regulation is specified in relation to some matters and allowance for different practices and regulations is specified in relation to some others.

Opposing examples include policies to preserve languages and expand opportunities for new economic, political and cultural initiatives as sources and stimuli for further development. Indeed, the need to maintain and expand diversity as a generative source of ideas for new development and solutions to existing problems is the source of the most important cultural and economic struggles in the face of capitalism's monopolistic and increasingly oligarchic tendencies. In combination these struggles are evidence of resistance to the homogenizing reduction by capitalism of all economic, political and cultural activity to profit sources for capitalism's most powerful monopolistic private-for-profit corporations.

It is evident that:

Thesis 7. Homogenization and diversity are essential but conflicting outcomes of development in human society.

But capitalism, if allowed to continue, leads only to the death of human society and natural diversity, again reason enough for humanity's increasing efforts to create an alternative form of relationship between human economic activity and nature.

Appropriation and conservation of nature

Another pair of opposing trends is the appropriation and conservation of nature.

Appropriation and conservation of nature have acquired increasing importance with mushrooming human population and recognition that natural resources are finite, some non-renewable, some non-replaceable. Appropriation of nature, a characteristic of all living things, is particularly true of humans, who have succeeded in appropriating Earth's biosphere to such an extent that there is now no part of it unaltered by human activity. At the same time, it goes without saying, nature is essential to human life. Consequently, the conservation of nature is an essential human activity.

A consequence for social policy, as has been forcefully illustrated in the example of climate change, is the need for an increasing role for environmental law, in particular, international environmental law, to protect the resources that people of Earth share in common. Such law must allow for both human appropriation of nature and human conservation of nature.

Evidently, then:

Thesis 8. Appropriation and conservation of nature are conflicting but essential aims of human activity.

However, capitalism by its nature is an economic system which prioritizes the destruction of nature for as long as nature remains a source of continuing private profit accumulation. Employment in the destruction of nature is the alternative it prefers to less profitable employment in the conservation of nature and in improving the education, health and welfare of working people and their families. This evident consequence of capitalism is a decisive reason for the global re-emergence of the labor movement as a leading force for an alternative to capitalism. It is reason enough for working people and their labor, environmental and community organizations to join the world's indigenous peoples in the environmental movement for conserving nature and building an alternative form of economic and social system, one that prioritizes human and natural health over the profits of transnational capital.

Centralization and decentralization

Centralization and decentralization constitute another pair of opposing trends, each of which is arguably essential in relation to particular needs. For example central coordination is frequently essential to the efficient functioning of an otherwise highly decentralized system, for example, in the case of distributed sources of energy input and use within a power grid. As an historical trend, the collapse of centralized systems of economic and political authority (slave, feudal and capitalist) has frequently given rise to more decentralized ones, and vice-versa.

Capitalism originated historically in the form of decentralized economic activity within the womb of centralized feudal states. But once capitalism became established as the dominant form of economic activity, it created its own centralized revolutionary political governments, replacing the formerly feudal states. As these capitalist states proved themselves successful rivals of their feudal neighbors, increasing numbers of the latter elected to hasten the internal development of capitalism from the top-down. Indeed, all imaginable combinations of centralization and decentralization between political governance and economic activity can be found in the historical record of capitalism, with trends in both directions.

But the long term trend in economic activity within capitalism has favored centralization, represented in the 20th Century by the emergent domination of monopolistic corporations and by the 21st Century in the emergence of transnational corporations as the dominant force economically and politically, even to the point of their increasing capacity to act outside of the control of the very nation-states capitalism created as historical entities.

In effect, transnational private-for-profit corporations are becoming a law unto themselves, cooperating within the transnational institutions they have created for the purpose of carrying out the plunder of what remains of the universal commons and for increasing the intensification of the exploitation of labor. This combination of the plunder of nature and the intensification of labor exploitation is evidently producing an increasingly destroyed nature and a redundant, expendable human population, one with no role in relation to the needs and possibilities for further private capital accumulation. It should be no surprise, then, that capitalism is being questioned and increasing numbers of people are looking towards alternatives.

One consequence is the emergence and growth of green social democratic popular movements with characteristics that in relation to centralization and decentralization include emphasis on:

  • Decentralization of political and economic decision-making;
  • Science-based public knowledge and engagement in all of the most vital decisions;
  • Transfer of those decisions that can best be made locally to the local levels of government and economic enterprises; and
  • Centralized coordination between levels to ensure efficient, conservative use of natural and human resources.

Decentralization of economic and political power with centralized coordination corresponds to the needs of the people for more sustainable and just management of natural and human resources. Decentralization has long ago ceased in practice to be an operative aim of contemporary capitalism, which needs secrecy and autocracy to survive in the face of the people's need for science-based knowledge and democracy.

In summary:

Thesis 9. Centralization and decentralization of economic, social and political power are essential although opposing trends of development.

The corresponding practices under capitalism serve to undermine nature and people, necessitating the new practices associated with the emergent green social democratic movements towards a socialist alternative.

Validity versus reliability in measuring outcomes

Associated with economic and political activity are measures of reliability and validity. Reliability means the degree to which the same activity produces the same result. An example would be the degree to which a hammer blow of the same force produces the same effect on a nail. A multiple choice test that produced the same score when answered in the same way would be judged to be completely reliable.

Valid measures are those that correspond to the degree to which their outcomes match the intention of the activity. When the intention of hammering a nail into a board is to secure it to another board, a measure that corresponds to the degree of success is better than one that doesn't do this as well. When the intention of a test is to guide a student to read with understanding then a test of their ability after reading the passage to explain its meaning in their own words would be a more valid measure than a multiple choice test which measures this indirectly, if at all, by asking them to fill in the bubbles beside the best of the written answers provided.

Unfortunately the measure of validity used may not be an equally good measure of reliability and vice-versa. For example, a multiple choice test intended to determine whether a student can read a given passage with understanding may produce the same result when any two students answer the same test in the same way (that is, constitute a fair method of comparison of any two different students), but may not be as good an indicator of whether the two students can read with understanding as a question which asks these students after reading the same passage to explain its meaning in their own words. As another example, two people working with the same intent may produce different results in the course of two hours of work. If each is paid at the same rate, their pay may be a reliable measure of the time they have committed to the task, but not a valid measure of the extent to which they have accomplished it.

With a pretense of scarcity by its defenders, capitalism by its nature restricts access to opportunities by using measures which it can claim to be fair (meaning only that these measures are reliable). Illustrative is the practice of enclosing natural resources and placing a monetary value on them. A recent example is the effort being made by for-profit corporations to block access to potable water by purchasing its sources in nature and then selling the now more scarce water. Another example is the effort of corporate funded foundations to encourage the use of multiple-choice testing as a restriction on continuing access to public education. Prices attached to formerly free goods (for example, on commercially sold bottled water) and student and teacher selection based on multiple-choice tests are defended by capitalism's supporters as fair means of rationing scarce resources. In this way, public assets are turned into profit centers to meet capitalism's unquenchable thirst for profit accumulation. All the while, the defenders of capitalism blindside the public by extolling such practices as examples of the fairness and efficiency of the capitalist system.

But let's examine the issue of fairness more closely.

As we have seen, validity is a measure of the correspondence between the aim of an activity and its actual consequences. Reliability is a measure of the sameness of results of the activity when it is repeated. The need to achieve social aims is supported by valid measures. The demand for fairness, on the other hand, requires reliable measures. Unfortunately, the best measures of validity inevitably sacrifice fairness. The best measures of reliability sacrifice validity.

The example of education has been used to illustrate these claims. The best measures of validity are those that examine the products of using the knowledge or skill that is to be measured. However, these measures are difficult to replicate and therefore sacrifice reliability (fairness). Two products may be valid but not the same.

If fairness is wanted, then the best measure is the sameness of the products. Numerical scoring of multiple choice testing is often favored by teachers and students for its fairness. This form of testing, however, is a valid method of teaching the ability to answer multiple choice questions. It is less valid than other measures of the abilities to communicate through writing, drawing or speaking, to analyze data or to solve problems, that is, abilities for which there is an actual social need. Moreover, it conveys to students and teachers that the aim of education is to learn the ability to answer multiple choice questions. Other than quiz shows, this aim has little corresponding relevance outside of school!

It is probably not coincidental that multiple choice tests favor the confident members of the ruling class. Indeed, that was the historical justification used for the introduction of so-called intelligence tests. To this very day, such tests are validated by comparison with similar tests, meaning that all versions of them function to limit opportunities for upward mobility within the hierarchical capitalist class system. But no one should waste time in envy of the capitalist class and its defenders for the educational results their system favors. It appears, instead, that the most resolute defenders of the capitalist system include a disproportionate percentage of climate change deniers, as clear a validation as there could be that the biblical prediction of the last becoming first cannot occur any too soon!

It remains true, nonetheless that:

Thesis 10. Validity and reliability are essential, but conflicting measures of efficiency and fairness in meeting the challenges to development.

Both forms of accountability will be needed when properly applied to achieving the purposes of a green social democracy. But how might a green social democracy be established and what do we expect it would look like? These questions will be addressed in greater detail in the chapters that follow. But the following additional sections might suffice to complete the task of making our theoretical perspective explicit.

Welcome!

This website was launched September 1, 2010 in support of a green social democratic alternative to neoliberal capitalist policy and practice. The primary result is a work by Charles and Karen McFadden of seven chapters, grouped under the title, Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism available here in pdf and html formats.

Below under the heading What’s New can be found the most recent materials posted on this website, including opinion pieces, book reviews, articles and selections from the 2017 edition of the main work.  For the interest of new and returning visitors, new materials will be included quarterly.

What's New

NEW & REVISED

Authors' Preface

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

6.0 The socialism we need against the "socialism" of the 20th century

6.8 Additional concerns about 20th century variants of "socialism"

6.9 The people united!

7.1 Policy alternatives and political movements to advance them

OPINION

Charles and Karen McFadden, Is revolutionary transformation on the agenda

Charles and Karen McFaddenHumanity on the Brink

Charles and Karen McFaddenMovements of Resistance to Movements for System Change

Charles McFaddenTranslating Green Principles into Education Policy and Practice

Charles and Karen McFadden, The Role of Revolutionaries in the Labor Movement

REVIEWS

Charles McFadden, The People United for a More Just Sustainable Future

Karen and Charles McFaddenCan emergent early 21st century neo-fascism be defeated without coming to grips with late 20th century restructuring of capitalism into a global system

Karen and Charles McFaddenA Dominant Capitalism or a Sustainable Environment? Why we can't have both.

US CORNER

William I. RobinsonThe Crisis of Global Capitalism and Trump's March to War

William I. RobinsonTrumpism, 21st Century Fascism, and the Dictatorship of the Transnational Capitalist Class

CANADA CORNER

George HewisonWINNIPEG 1919 & THE COLD WAR

George HewisonArt Manuel - "Unsettling Canada

George HewisonThe NDP and LEAP

RECOMMENDED

Albert Einstein, David Swanson, Jill Stein, Chris Hedges, William I. Robinson, and others Selected articles for Winter 2018

FEATURED WORK

ECONOMICS

1.7 The dynamics of capitalism as a system and the limits of single issue reforms

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

3.1 The challenge of a moribund economic system

3.7 Public banking: A cornerstone of a green social democracy

4.7 Economics and culture

6.5 Using the non-market economy as an opportunity to begin moving beyond capitalism

HISTORY

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

2.0 Theoretical Perspective: Defining Green Social Democracy

2.5. Socialism and green social democracy in historical materialist theory

4.3 Culture in historical perspective

5.1 Contrasting a green social democratic world with the currently prevailing, but challenged neo-liberal one

6.2 Socialism and capitalism as coexisting social systems

LABOR

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

5.7 Defeating neo-liberal capitalism: The role of social movements

7.3 Justice: Creating a just society, based on the right of all to a dignified, secure existence

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) applies to all work posted on this website except that which appears with authors whose last name is other than McFadden, in which case standard copyright should be assumed to apply.