Capitalist Suppression of Innovation

Existential Comics: Fact: if you went back in time and killed Bill Gates to prevent Microsoft from ever existing; personal computers, software, the internet, and technology in general would have advanced at a much more rapid pace. He made his billions by impairing progress, not creating it.

David Graeber: [Thorstein] Veblen called this sabotage

Rooster: Veblen was pretty clear in emphasizing that the most useless and destructive members of society were accorded the most prestige, not in spite of being useless & destructive but because of it.

David Graeber: yes but a less known aspect of his work was his argument that profits for capitalist are not based on enhancing productivity but “subverting” it

Rooster: Patents and IP in general are unquestionably an example of that. I just finished reading the book “America by Design” by David F. Noble, and he recounts the rampant corporate exploitation of the patent system to strangle competitors and inventors.

Dunc: But he then stonewalled public access to the internet and made philanthropy seem like the cure to systemic change so, you know, yay billionaires

boris rorer: I still don’t understand why it’s so hard for Americans to read up on just how much or really how little people like Gates and Jobs actually contributed considering how often they’re held up as examples of why the entrepreneurial spirit must be unleashed

Edward Mróz: Yes and no. In the `80s it did become clear that what Bell Labs were forced to release into the public domain was for grabs for any petty bureaucrat if legally privatised. The Reaganism was the real culprit. If not Gates, some other mama boy with connections would have done that.

Sydney Falco: Absolutely true, and he engaged in anti-competitive business practices with a technology the government created. Eventually an anti-trust case was filed, but Bush Jr. dropped it.

We Were Warned of Corporatism

“Both Teddy Roosevelt and union leaders like the AFL-CIO’s Samuel Gompers decried the creation of the Rockefeller Foundation. Roosevelt’s presidential opponent, William Howard Taft, criticized legislation that would have enabled the foundation as “a bill to incorporate Mr. Rockefeller.””
~Alexis Madrigal

Neither Theodore Roosevelt nor William howard Taft were liberals, much less radical left-wingers. As right-wing imperialists born into wealth, they were part of a particular monied elite that sought to defend plutocracy with ideals of enlightened aristocracy and noblesse oblige, defend it against the New Money of those like the Robber Barons. It was a paternalism that idealized the past and sought to hold a vision of national greatness, a longing to form America as an empire in the mould of the Old World.

It was a bit of the old Tory conservatism that revered the monarchy and yet sometimes expressed a certain kind of populist disdain against propertied wealth gone out of control. Like the aristocracy of the past, they feared unregulated markets and powerful private organizations that would dominate society. This was an attitude that was common going back to the founding generation. The United States was literally founded on an intense fear of corporate power that was based on hard-won experience, what helped to incite the American Revolution.

Many of the American Founders were determined to not allow a repeat of the East India Company in the United States. So, they carefully circumscribed such potentially dangerous government-decreed corporate charters in limiting their role to a temporary service toward specific projects of public good (e.g., building a bridge). They would’ve thought it dangerous and foolish to conflate business with corporatism. But we have since then forgot this founding wisdom. So much for constitutional originalism.

It’s worse than that. We are now going a step further toward the cliff edge with taking that conflation and further conflating it with philanthropy, what some call philanthrocapitalism. Those like Bill Gates also are heavily involved in lobbying. And the crony connections are vast across the public and private sectors. They represent a powerful component of the growing deep state that overlaps with the intelligence agencies and military-industrial complex.

This is one of the ways in which capitalism will destroy itself. The success of these capitalists is leading to a corrupt power that will undermine the system that allowed some of them to work/finagle their way up into wealth. They are killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Some say this is an inevitable result of capitalism. Others disagree. In either case, it will be the result of our present capitalism, if there is not revolutionary-level reform of the system.

It won’t be an outside threat that destroys capitalism. Communism is a bogeyman. Capitalism doesn’t need enemies when it has capitalists like Gates. The rot comes from within. If you wish to put a positive spin on this, as Karl Marx did, this is simply a step in the formation of a new kind of society never before seen, a society that can’t be forced through violence but must emerge naturally in passing through this stage of capitalism like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. Well, it sounds nice.

Whether or not it’s a new beginning, we are most definitely coming to an ending. But it could take a while, a slow torturous demise that could transpire over centuries like the decline of the Roman Empire following the Republican Era, although it maybe more likely to happen quite rapidly with climate change catastrophe. After that, we can see if societal rebirth will help us avoid a new dark age.

“Corporations are many lesser commonwealths in the bowels of a greater, like worms in the entrails of a natural man.”
~Thomas Hobbes

“No amount of charities in spending such fortunes can compensate in any way for the misconduct in acquiring them.”
~Theodore Roosevelt

* * *

Against Big Philanthropy
by Alexis Madrigal

“Big Philanthropy is definitionally a plutocratic voice in our democracy,” Reich told me, “an exercise of power by the wealthy that is unaccountable, non-transparent, donor-directed, perpetual, and tax-subsidized.”

This was not previously a minority position. If you look back to the origins of these massive foundations in the Gilded Age fortunes of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, their creation was massively controversial, Reich said, and for good reason.

“A hundred years ago, there was enormous skepticism that creating a philanthropic entity was either a way to cleanse your hands of the dirty way you’d made your money or, more interestingly, that it was welcome from the standpoint of democracy,” Reich told me at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. “Because big philanthropy is an exercise of power, and in a democracy, any form of concentrated power deserves scrutiny, not gratitude.”

Both Teddy Roosevelt and union leaders like the AFL-CIO’s Samuel Gompers decried the creation of the Rockefeller Foundation. Roosevelt’s presidential opponent, William Howard Taft, criticized legislation that would have enabled the foundation as “a bill to incorporate Mr. Rockefeller.”

Our era has not seen similar skepticism, despite the wealth inequality that serves as the precondition for such massive foundations. Though perhaps it is returning.