Sunday, August 16, 2015

Why do "intellectuals" hate capitalism?

Note upfront that it is "intellectuals" in the title and not intellectuals.  Because of the presumption that there cannot be any intellectual on the right side of the political center.  To "intellectuals," a "leftist intellectual" is tautological because, ahem, intellectuals by definition are leftist!

I like to think of myself as an intellectual (haha, the joke is on me and I don't even know it!) but throughout my professional life I seem to be only pissing off the "intellectuals."  Ever since my graduate school days, when I started to systematically inquire about different ways in which we humans organize and govern ourselves, which is also when I started developing my own flavor of a libertarian-left approach, I have been puzzled at how much the "intellectuals" oppose, dislike, and hate capitalism, even as they benefit from it.


One of my earliest introductions into understanding this came from reading Robert Nozick's "Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?"  Nozick noted there:
By intellectuals, I do not mean all people of intelligence or of a certain level of education, but those who, in their vocation, deal with ideas as expressed in words, shaping the word flow others receive. These wordsmiths include poets, novelists, literary critics, newspaper and magazine journalists, and many professors. It does not include those who primarily produce and transmit quantitatively or mathematically formulated information (the numbersmiths) or those working in visual media, painters, sculptors, cameramen. Unlike the wordsmiths, people in these occupations do not disproportionately oppose capitalism. The wordsmiths are concentrated in certain occupational sites: academia, the media, government bureaucracy.
Do you feel yourself agreeing with that definition of "intellectuals" and nodding yes?  Read up that complete essay then and find out Nozick's explanation for why "intellectuals" oppose capitalism! ;)

Of course, I have done my share of complaining and protesting.  A favorite example is from way back when WalMart was aggressively expanding.  I hated it but not because of the profits the corporation made.  I couldn't care about its profits.  But, my distaste for WalMart has always been with respect to how it dramatically alters the urban layout.  The huge store is typically located far away from downtown and away from populated areas, and almost overnight shutters the downtown stores.  The town loses its charm.  The kind of charm that attracts me to towns when I travel.  I couldn't care who made the money, but worried that the urban space was becoming less attractive.  To me, the quality of the place matters--immensely.

Thus, as I keep marching to my own libertarian-left music, I continue to fine-tune my understanding of how we humans govern ourselves.  While never a rah-rah cheerleader for capitalism, I am impressed by how much the profit motive makes people do things that they might not otherwise do.  While people talk big about "do the right thing," they rarely seem to actually do the right thing.  But then provide them with the dollar incentive to do the right thing and they seem a lot more eager to do it.

Over the years, I have also been struck by the contradictions that "intellectuals" display--and have often blogged about it too.  My favorite example these days is Apple.  "Intellectuals" seem to love, love Apple and its products.  Their scathing essays that are highly critical of capitalism are almost always composed on expensive Apple products.  While protesting against capitalism, they tweet using their iPhones.  They seem oblivious to the fact that Apple generates humongous profits.  Profits that are larger than the oil companies that the "intellectuals" protest against.  Profits that make Walmart seem insignificant.  My "socialist" colleagues, who proudly chant their union solidarity songs use expensive Apple laptops while I, who have never been a member of any union, am stuck with a cheap PC!  

It is one crazy world out there.  Perhaps it is the craziness that also makes it all the more exciting for the dull and boring wannabe intellectuals like me!


Ramesh said...

Yes, many of the non "numbersmith" intellectuals seems to have a visceral dislike for capitalism. They hate companies, hate the profit motive , but enjoy all the fruits of it. I have little time for this lot.

I will take issue with you on your objections to Walmart. If preservation of "urban layout" was an important enough objective for the people, they can, of course, continue to patronise downtown stores and not shop at Walmart. Its a free world. If people, attracted by low prices, make a beeline for Walmart, it simply reflects the priorities for them. We can hardly complain, even if we may not agree with that choice. In a free world, we have to respect the wishes of everybody. As long as Walmart is not doing anything illegal ...........

Sriram Khé said...

Ahem, you apparently missed out on my reporting of WalMart in the past tense. I used to complain. But, gave up after that because it was clear that the urban space was being refashioned by the strong consumer preference. If that is what we consumers wanted, then that is what we got!
I have nothing against the corporation itself, as I have noted in many, many posts. Often, I have even applauded the company. (
Even yesterday, I swung by the store to check my blood-pressure and pulse-rate ;)

Anne in Salem said...

Clearly I am not an intellectual, and maybe not even an "intellectual." It took me three tries to get through this post. I clearly understood the final paragraphs, which cements my non-"intellectual"ism. I am all for capitalism and wish governments would get the heck out of business forever. Nothing but trouble.

Did you read the opinion piece in the SJ today (Monday) about the state-run retirement plans? I say Brady for Governor!

Sriram Khé said...

I wish that the businesses and the rich folk will also get the heck out of politics ;)

I don't fully agree with Brady's Bunch (hehehe) ... my hassle with such opting-in by default is that those are manipulations of individual minds. Even though the intention is good, I have serious concerns over programs that are designed to modify human behavior by seemingly preying on the prevalent human traits of ignorance and apathy.