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Punk rock = capitalism: The "anti-capitalists" have it all wrong

By Todd Anderson
web posted March 4, 2002

Capitalism: "a distinct form of social organization, based on generalized commodity production, in which there is private ownership and/or control of the means of production."

Socialism: a "system of social organization based on collective or state ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange…"

Statism: "the direction and control of economic and social affairs by the state."

(All definitions from The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics, Iain McLean, 1996)

Private ownership of capital allows free-trade, free-association and therefore, free markets. ("Free" in all cases meaning "without regulation.") With that in mind…

What the "Anti-Capitalists" are protesting is not Capitalism.

The G8, the WTO, the Free-Trade Area of the Americas, and the IMF are all objects of protest from young idealistic people all over the world and objects of scorn for the punk press. And rightly so. The problem is that none of these organizations are remotely capitalist. In fact, the system we live in today is not capitalist.

The G8, the WTO, FTAA and the IMF are all governmental agencies. They may work to expand trade, but they are not free trade advocates. If they were then why does the FTAA exclude Cuba? Why do they have to make agreements to trade freely? Free-trade is the agreement. Anything beyond that is politicking. Anytime governmental bodies get together to discuss trade, they are not advocating capitalism but statism (see above).

Free trade, free market capitalism is a system of individuals who freely associate and disassociate with whom they wish. A system in which a strong centralized government controls the economy is said to be "statist." But the label should be far worse than that. "Authoritarian." "Dictatorial." "Tyrannical." All of these globalization organizations are statist organs. They seek not to empower individual, free trade but to empower themselves and their states.

Rather than focus purely on the governments behind these globalization organs, "anti-capitalists" often go after huge corporations in their attacks. Corporations like Intel, AT&T, IBM. What do these corporations have in common? They all receive millions from the government. Our tax dollars subsidize these corporations and many others. Did we have any say in this? No. Is that a free-exchange of goods and services? No. Is that Capitalism? NO!

The muscle behind large corporations is almost always the government. Without it, many huge global corporations could never have grown so large. Instead of focusing their ire on the corporations, protestors would do better to focus on the system that allows their expansion and abuse.

Strangely, many "anti-capitalists" seek to change the system by voting for those who would expand government control. And I don't mean Gore or Bush.

Nader and the Greens

Ralph Nader and the Green Party have gained tremendous support from the punk rock/independent community. The most recent "anti-capitalist" material I read on the web was juxtaposed with a link to Nader's "Fair Trade" web page.

Ralph Nader has the most curious intellect. As soon as he hits the nail on the head when describing a problem, he comes up with the most idiotic solution. It's always more government. He'll decry the ridiculous controls and regulations on so-called "free trade" and then he'll propose "treaties with teeth." For example on his web site, he correctly states, "The WTO undermines our legitimate local, state and national sovereignties which enable America to lead the way in worker, consumer, environmental standards." He makes other great points:

"'Free trade' is a misnomer. Monopoly patents are not free trade; they’re trying to convert all sorts of natural knowledge into intellectual property, 20-year patents. That’s not free trade. And the rest of it is managed trade. True free trade would take only one page for a trade agreement. How come there are hundreds of pages, and thousands of regulations? It’s corporate-managed trade. "

"I think there should be trade all over the world. I think, however, we can't allow U.S. companies to go to dictatorships and allow dictatorship-repressed labor costs and abuses to be an asset for these U.S. companies in building products that they then send back to this country against workers and companies here that are playing by the rules."

But what does he propose? Very little on the Fair-trade page, but one can see he doesn't really support free-trade in his other positions:

"Health care should be provided by a national health insurance program providing comprehensive benefits to all Americans throughout their lives, and funded directly by the federal government "

"One proposal for discussion would be to raise the minimum wage to $7.30 as soon as possible, and then gradually increase its real value until it reaches at least $9 in inflation-adjusted 1999 dollars within a few years. "

"Expand and enforce the Community Reinvestment Act, which requires banks to help meet the credit needs of their communities, including low- and moderate-income areas, and use new legislation and enforcement of existing legislation to crack down on usurious lenders and other predatory financial-service firms." [emphasis mine]

Does that sound like Free Trade? Free association? Free enterprise?

Ralph has been at this for 40 years or so and he doesn't seem to understand economics. He hates capitalism though it's made him a multi-millionaire. Capitalism values the entrepreneur and protects individuals. Ralph's also an jerk. I'd like to hear his investment secrets and not his suggestions to raise the minimum wage.

Imagine this: you're 23, working in a grocery store for minimum wage and saving to start your own indie record shop. You finally get enough to open it and, though sales are slow, you have a dedicated customer base and loyal friends to work the store when you can't. One day, a Department of Labor Wage/Hour Investigator walks in and strikes up a conversation with one of your friends working the counter. The friend discloses that every week or two, you give him 20 bucks for working there. The Investigator waits ‘til you arrive and cites you for not paying minimum wage. You can't afford to pay your friend minimum wage so the court shuts down your business.

Sound like a free exchange of goods and services?

Thanks, Mr. Nader. Thanks, Mr. Gore. Thank you, Communist Party of America (it was their idea to have a minimum wage back in the 20's).

When you're a socialist who isn't trying to start a business, minimum wage sounds like a noble cause. Indeed, it sounds like a necessity. But look at it from the point of the entrepreneur. What the record-store-owner and his friend had worked out was a free exchange of services: the friend worked the store and was happy with the $20 and discounted records; the owner was happy to pay the $20 and discount the records because he needed the labor. Free-exchange of goods and services between individuals = capitalism.

Imagine this: you decide to start a magazine. You explore all the options of raising money to make the first issue: punk rock benefit shows, advertising for punk rock labels, etc. And finally decide that you got 20 friends who are all willing to chip in on the magazine just to get it started, just to give you enough money to make a go of one issue so that you can get advertisers with the second issue. You've got investors. All your friends pitch in and you launch the issue. You sell it in record shops and bookstores and start lining up advertisers for the second issue. Only you're violating State Securities regulations and now you can be guilty of securities fraud. You see only 15 people can invest in a company without elaborate, expensive disclosure statements.

Sound free?

Imagine this: you want to start a peanut farm. Sounds like fun, huh? Well, tough luck, you can't. There's a quota on peanut farms. The government controls them and through limiting the supply of peanuts, has artificially raised the price of peanuts in this country to almost twice the world price. Eighty percent of the peanut quota is owned by 20 percent of the growers.*

Sound free?

The problem with implementing statist, government regulations into a free-market economy is that you empower only the rich and mainstream and injure only the independent and entrepreneurial. The more controls, the more mainstream. Who can afford to pay higher minimum wages? Nike, Intel, IBM. Who can start a business with only 15 investors? Bill Gates. Warren Buffet.

The other problem is you give true capitalists a bad name.

So protesting organizations of governments such as the WTO, the G8, FTAA and the IMF by calling yourselves "anti-capitalists" is just damn wrong. If you're concerned about that concentration of power, you should label yourselves "anti-statists" and dismantle the state power structure. Voting for candidates who wish only to expand government is not simply hypocritical and antithetical but destructive and irresponsible. Call yourself a Capitalist and shake off the destructive regulations of the government-corporate complex.

Do It Yourself - Punk Rock is Independent and Entrepreneurial

How boldly do I have to make this point? Shouldn't this be obvious?

When I got into punk rock at 15 and 16, it was because I didn't fit into a clique. I wasn't a part of the mainstream. Punk rock, despite the peer pressure to wear black t-shirts and cut and dye my hair all funny, offered an escape for me to be an individual. Sound familiar?

Punk rock also offered a pretty hardcore code of ethics -- like community and equality and responsibility. One of the most enduring moments I've witnessed was when I saw Kurt Cobain stop a show because some meathead in the audience kept groping a girl in the pit. The mainstream meathead must have had no clue that kind of thing could happen. Only last year, I saw Sleater-Kinney eject a guy who was dancing rough in the crowd. The punks police themselves. Punks take initiative.

Entrepreneurial initiative is personified in the punk rock ethic of "DIY." Doing It Yourself is something that is only possible in a capitalist system. Without private and individual ownership of the means of production, independent punk rockers couldn't record songs on a four-track, duplicate them at home and sell them at shows. Imagine trying to get an entire community to agree to let you use the communal recording studio.

Self-regulating. Initiative-taking. Free-exchange and free-association -- the ability to associate and disassociate with whom you want.

What is it? Capitalism.

Why then do punk rockers generally advocate socialism or at least left-liberalism?

I have no idea. My gut feeling is that they've been presented this version of socialist statism in which we live and been told "this is capitalism." As punks, they react by doing the opposite of the mainstream (they think) by going socialist. The only problem is that they've been sold a lie by the mainstream. This isn't capitalism. The statists keep the socialist left happy by offering more and more outrageously wasteful and inefficient government social programs and keep the rich right happy by offering state-assisted advancement into the world of the super-rich. In short, they offer a pleasing, fat-and-happy mainstream.

Most punks try to buck this by agitating for more social welfare programs. The government is only too happy to oblige. Because it still controls everything.

The problems with Socialism.

Socialism is impossible for all sorts of economic reasons. If you really care, you can find a good one at www.Mises.org. The main problem that all punk rockers should have with socialism and statism is that in the end, no matter how you slice it, in order for those systems to work, they require forcing people to submit to the wishes of others. Individual desires and freedoms are non-existent. Individual rights are trampled.

Your work in socialism and statism is for the "common good" determined by the mainstream. And since when have punk rockers been mainstream? Why would we think our desires would be honored in this scheme?

In summation

Those who cry that capitalism fails to keep us free, safe and healthy aren't looking at capitalism. They're looking at socialist statism.

Take health care. Nader's (and the Democrat's and even the Republican's) national health care schemes would force doctors to work on everyone for set wages. Would this encourage people to become doctors? No more free-association. No more choice. No more independence.

Not that there are those freedoms now. Fifty percent of money spent in health care is spent by the government. Bureaucracy, red tape, regulations, and government programs have tangled health care and made it unmanageable. Health care has not been allowed to develop freely. Costs continually go up, benefits go down, and waiting rooms get more crowded as the government involves itself more and more. Is the solution to put the government completely in charge of health care? No way. We've seen how well they spend money when it comes to toilet seats. Why would anyone trust their health to the government?

If health care were allowed to flourish in a true free-market, we would see rapid advancements in care and, more importantly, rapid declines in patient costs.

Don't believe it? Ask your parents about the rapid and massive developments in telecommunications after the government finally ended the (government sanctioned) monopoly control the telephone industry held by AT&T. That was only in the 1980s. Did you know that everyone once had to rent a phone for about $5 a month? What kind of robbery is that? When AT&T was finally split, everyone was amazed that they could walk into a store and buy a phone for $20. And what does it cost now? It's even cheaper for a basic phone. Telephones have more features. They're smaller, lighter, smarter. All because a government sanctioned monopoly was destroyed and the free-market took over.

So why would we want health care to be a government sanctioned monopoly? We shouldn't. For the politicians who propose such a thing, it's not about health or efficiency, it's about control.

Ask someone older about wage and price controls. Can you imagine running your independent record label and suddenly having a government official telling you that you could not raise the prices on your releases to cover your costs? Wage and price controls were prevalent throughout the 1970s. Lawyers had to travel the country explaining to companies how to raise their own prices!!! And who could afford lawyers to fly around the country? Was it the small, independent, alternative entrepreneur?

I'll let you figure that out yourself.

Punks break laws all the time that we don't even know about. Stupid, regulatory laws regarding how we do business with others. But at the same time punks ignorantly advocate a government that would mainstream everything and endorse politicians who only seek to empower the government to offer no alternative to its monopolistic rule. I have news for you: the establishment isn't afraid of you at all. The suits are happy that you hate them because they've fooled you into giving them more power.

You want freedom? Freedom to associate with whomever you choose? Freedom to pursue your own means of living? Freedom to follow your own desires and initiatives? You want and you need free market capitalism.

True capitalism would smash the power structures more effectively, more fairly and more freely than any other alternative. It would empower effective, private solutions to community social problems.

And it would give you nothing to be punk about. So there is a trade-off -- angry and enslaved or happy and free. Me? I love punk rock and all but I'd like to be happy.

*If you want to find out more about how the government wastes your money, I recommend the book, The Government Racket 2000 and Beyond: Government Waste from A-Z, by Martin Gross. The peanut farm example above came directly from that book.

Todd Anderson is the force behind Popshot Magazine, an online magazine devoted to music, culture and politics. This is his first contribution to Enter Stage Right.

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