Capitalism Is Ultimately A Collectivist Enterprise

The logic by which capitalism is deemed most consistent with individuality is deeply flawed.

What does it mean to value individualism? Independence? Does it mean, as my grandfather used to say, “To each their own, leave mine alone?” Does it mean we are existentially singular entities responsible to the cosmos (God/nature/etc.) only for our own ideas and actions? Does it mean that working together is unnatural, and instead we must compete with one another to be right with reality? Because if that is what it means, then capitalism is an abysmal failure.

Yet if the value of recognizing individualism lies in honoring the primacy of personal agency, as feminism and most postmodern ideologies would suggest, then capitalism is even a far greater failure. The only individuals for whom capitalism provides independence and personal agency are those robber barons who steal it from the rest of us. And when they have picked us clean of our own independence and personal agency they have the nerve to gaslight us by calling us losers, as if we deserve to be enslaved by their political and economic systems because we aren’t as piously unscrupulous as they are.

“One of the central tenets of late-20th century consumer capitalism is the sanctity of the individual. Margaret Thatcher declared that “There’s no such thing as society, there are individual men and women.” Ayn Rand’s philosophy glamorized anti-social übermenschen who stand against everyone else. Friedrich von Hayek thought mild social welfare policy could be compared to Nazi fascism because they are both “collectivist.” Libertarians promote “individual freedom” with a level of brand discipline that would make Apple proud.

It’s easy to swallow this idea at face value, agreeing that market fundamentalists really do value the inviolability of the individual, while the left believes instead in the collective and the community. After all, market zealots don’t merely try to dismantle policies that benefit the common good. They attack the idea that there can be a common good to begin with. Because leftists talk about social welfare, and supporters of markets put the Individual at the center of their framework, one can forgive those who are seduced by this rhetoric.

But it is only rhetoric. In fact, today’s economy is a collectivist enterprise, insofar as collectivism elevates the good of the aggregate and the organization over that of individual human beings. Get past the well-crafted agitprop, and we see that corporate capitalism is all about subsuming the particular will of an individual to that of the institution. The institutions vary: a monopolistic corporation, a nonprofit charity, an arm of government, the police. But in each, the individual is actually helpless and powerless, with the needs, wants, and will of the larger entity taking priority. Amazon workers work for Amazon: They don’t set the rules of their own workplace, that’s done from above. They don’t own the company, they don’t get to say what it does. And Amazon in particular is a pioneer in sacrificing the sanctity (and dignity) of the individual to the company. The employees serve the corporation, rather than the other way around.

This  suppression and subjugation of individuals is not new. It has been the norm for  much of settled agrarian history. Capitalism descends from a long lineage of economic systems that put individuals in the service of the collective. They have been called different things, but oligarchy by any other name is just as cruel, and the existence of a laboring underclass has been a constant.”

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