An ‘advanced’ economic system

Fig. 1. Found on the Internet, fair use.
Fig. 1. Found on the Internet, fair use.

So somebody posted the meme (figure 1) shown at left. It’s a legitimate question, really, one explored at length by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.[1] The operative words in the text of the meme are crucial: We pay money “to live on a planet that didn’t cost a penny [emphasis added] to create.”

That isn’t a claim that the planet was created without cost. Of course it wasn’t. There are materials that make up the planet, but the universe isn’t charging us money to live here. Instead, we pay because of a human social construction called an economic system that understands costs and debts and sales.

Understand, I was still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes when I encountered this. And already some capitalist libertarian had replied with blah-blah about an “advanced economic system” and “division of labor.” I replied with appropriate rudeness and blocked the asshole. But because of the way blocking works on this particular network, I can see he’s still ranting away wildly.

I don’t need to see what he’s saying. I already know. And I’m already irritated even just seeing that the replies exist. His first error is assuming that a particular social construction—this economic system—is ‘natural’ or the only feasible way of coordinating social relations for the production necessary to improve our lives. Not merely the social construction of an economic system, not merely a market system of exchange, but capitalism is therefore, in his light, not just desirable but beyond challenge.

The second thing to understand about all this is that yes, on the whole, division of labor is a good idea. In theory, it allows each of us to specialize in what we’re good at and, because we become so efficient that we are able to produce a surplus that—hence the market systems of exchange—we may exchange for other things that others produce more efficiently.

Capitalist libertarians never pause here to consider that in our ‘advanced economy’, in fact, there are a whole bunch of lousy dead-end jobs where employers revel in and exploit the seemingly infinite replaceability of workers. Or rather, actually, they do. That’s why they oppose not merely raising the minimum wage but the existence of any minimum wage at all.

Now, unless you really believe 1) that some people really aspire to scrub toilets or pick lettuce in fields where they don’t even have access to toilets, and 2) that those folks really are worth several orders of magnitude less than corporate executives, indeed that they are not even valued at what it costs them to live, it should be apparent that something has gone wrong with ‘division of labor.’ That’s why it is important to recognize that as a quantitative reduction of human value, money—the money we pay “to live on a planet that didn’t cost a penny to create”—is not an advance but rather a means of exploitation.

Third, capitalist libertarians never answer the point that Max Weber raised something like a century ago that any economic system of exchange privileges whomever has the greater ability to say no, that is, to decline a deal, or to hold out for more advantageous terms; and a second point that such privilege is cumulative, generating greater and greater inequality.[2] Their refusal to answer these points is in fact really rather amazing. After all, social inequality is one of the major issues of the day. But capitalist libertarians would rather fantasize about the market as some sort of level playing field: There’s nothing level about it and the feedbacks increase rather than reduce inequality.

I refer to feedbacks for a reason. This is a reference to complexity theory and we call these positive feedbacks, which is to say that they are destabilizing feedbacks.[3] Which is, in turn, to say that capitalism cannot be sustained. Some new system will arise to replace it, some way, somehow.

And actually, as I have argued at length,[4] and as vegetarian ecofeminists explain at length,[5] the exploitation of a market system is one aspect of an exploitative attitude not only among humans but toward non-human animals and the environment. It is an attitude that threatens our survival.[6] Which is to say that this so-called ‘advanced economic system’ is advancing us straight to extinction.

So the new system that arises to replace this ‘advanced economic system’ will be one which excludes humans. Which is to say further that it will be nature that has the last word on this supposedly ‘advanced economic system,’ whether we admit the challenge or not.

But from what I can see, that idiot capitalist libertarian fanboy is still yammering away. After all, he really does understand economics better than the rest of us.


  1. [1]Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, What is Property? trans. and eds. Donald R. Kelley and Bonnie G. Smith (Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University, 2007).
  2. [2]Max Weber, “Class, Status, Party,” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, 4th. ed., ed. Charles Lemert (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010).
  3. [3]Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems (New York: Anchor, 1996); Joanna Macy, Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory (Delhi, India: Sri Satguru, 1995); Edgar Morin, On Complexity (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton, 2008).
  4. [4]David Benfell, “‘We have found the enemy, and he is us’ — and our system of social organization,” March 6, 2013,
  5. [5]Greta Gaard, “Vegetarian Ecofeminism: A Review Essay,” Frontiers 23, no. 3 (2002): 117-146.
  6. [6]David Benfell, “‘We have found the enemy, and he is us’ — and our system of social organization,” March 6, 2013,

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