October 5, 2009

Capitalism: I Tried It, I'm Just Not Good At It

When still in high school I entered the dark world of capitalism. It was my first foray into using money to make more money, rather than using my labour or ideas. I was a lazy teenager, and I had great expectations for this road to riches. Extreme wealth was inevitable. Why not? The capitalist system had been making individuals wealthy since the Middle ages.

For my initial business investment of $750.00 I reaped exactly nothing in profit. Never mind profit, I could not even get my initial investment back. After waiting several long, disappointing days, I swung a new deal. In the end I settled for a car that I hoped was worth at least the money I was owed.

The car was a well-used 1969 Mustang coupe with faded paint and a motor that sounded like a tractor. Dreams of a lucrative business venture quashed, I began to make lemonade out of my lemon. I drove the Mustang for thirteen years, then sold it for $750. I had salvaged something from my first attempt at commerce, and learned that the world of business was strictly survival of the fittest. Wealth would have to wait.

My saddest exploration of the underbelly of greed and wealth accumulation occurred when I brushed up against a millionaire in my home town. He was known to my family and was a respected man about town and at church. Mr. Money had a huge house complete with indoor swimming pool. Surely he would take me under his wing and share his secret to wealth. At the time I was employed in a job I did not like, and looked forward to quitting once the riches began to roll in.

This was Mr. Money's business plan:
I was to steal from my employer, then deliver the goods to his house for his home renovation project. Since I would get the materials for free, he would be able to purchase them from me at a great discount. It was, he explained, a win-win situation.
Except of course, for my employer, the actual owner of the goods in question. And my conscience.

I was puzzled. Why would a man, already swimming in money, propose such a devious, unethical, and illegal plan? Then it dawned on me. This is how capitalism worked. You get things as cheaply as possible, then sell them for as much as possible. This millionaire did not steal because he was rich, he was rich because he was willing to steal. He would do anything to minimize his output and maximize his bottom line, even if it meant theft.

I filled the trunk of my Mustang and drove off to complete my second business venture. I finished with a pocket full of cash, but was unable to enjoy it. My guilt overwhelming, I started serving my sentence immediately. So much for business venture number two. "If this is how people get ahead", I thought to myself, "then I am willing to fall behind."

Today I am mildly repulsed by the world of business. There are good business practitioners out there, but throw money into a pit anywhere and you are going to see a fight. Capitalism will bring out the worst in all involved. Show me big money and I will show you criminal activity. Lottery frauds are one small example. The recent global economic meltdown is another.

The capitalist system is just as bereft of workable solutions as the Soviet system once was. The best system will be a balanced blend of the two. In that regard income redistribution would be the best case scenario for both those that do not have enough, and for those who have too much. Robert Anton Wilson recommended a guaranteed annual income, saying:
A system that is less expensive than welfare and also less debasing to the poor, it seems to me, should not be objectionable to anybody but hardcore sadists.
Where's the exit? I'm out. I would rather give things away than sell them. Commerce makes me feel dirty. I can hear the little suited guy on my shoulder whispering sweet schemings in my ear. It does not feel right. I don't want to buy, and I don't want to sell. I am a failed capitalist.

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