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Making Capitalism Care

Thinking about how to make capitalism sensitive to the problems it creates or compounds.

People often lament the capitalist view of economics (which itself is a corruption of the underlying mechanics, but still a better explanation than any other yet writ), claiming it imposes certain dire outcomes upon the world. These harms include social parasitism by the dominant cohort, wage slavery, ecocide, and advertising.

Indeed, Upton Sinclair, the famous socialist muckraker, said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” To expect a coal company or a Koch-head to understand the risks of pollutive terraforming (also called climate change) is like expecting a mailman to understand the Internet. Once we establish the problem, willful blindness caused by an insensitive incentive scheme, the solution seems to present itself: change the incentive scheme.

How do we make capitalism care? Or first, can we or should we? Many liberal people believe it is a lost cause. Indeed, some of their own paychecks depend on them believing that abolishing capitalism is the ticket. But for the majority, we can see both the good and bad in capitalism. We can see it in the relatively cheap foodstuffs and relatively short lines to buy them. We can travel coast to coast mostly unmolested by the state or privateers (depending on our mode of transport).

And the downside is equally apparent. Many services are encumbered with adroit legalese that burdens us with high prices for anything from mere entertainment to life-sustaining medical care. To quote the Tao Te Ching, “The more legal affairs are given prominence, the more numerous bandits and thieves.” And yet we are a legalistic society, where the capitalist aesthetic has invaded even the criminal justice system; the rich are free to go, the poor charged to stay.

(It is entirely common to see Internet discussions devolve to the bare legal issues and seem settled from these alone. The legality is never the whole story, though. Legal discussions are an appropriate subdiscussion, but such threads should acknowledge there is a bigger picture.)

So, it seems, we should make capitalism care about the pain it exacts from us. There is every reason to think the system can be improved in this way. After all, the care of capitalism, the sensitivity that makes it effective at all, is already fictive. Adding more lies upon the existing successful lies can improve it, if they are the right lies.

Lies is not the precise word. We already care, truthfully. But to make capitalism budge, it requires formally telling capitalism that some value now exists where capitalism did not see it before. And we have been very successful in this maneuver in the past. We, at one time, cared not for clean rivers or streams. Not even to drink from. And then we told capitalism we did.

Capitalism may develop something akin to antibiotic resistance over time, as the sensitivities we try to impose on it erode. Our waterways became somewhat less adulterated, at least for a time. Some are worse now than ever before. But only because capitalism became insensitive again, or because it was never sensitive to the particular pollution form.

The question arises, can we make capitalism care without resorting to the sorts of artificial constraints it may desensitize itself to?

Harm Reduction: a List

Harm reduction is an important concept with many instances available in the world we know. More may be added as we recognize this concept’s value.

This is a rather short list of instances of harm reduction in the world around you (there are probably enough instances that no one human could ever list them all).

Roadway Safety

  • Seatbelts
  • Airbags
  • Licensing of Drivers
  • Bicycle Helmets
  • Crash Tests
  • Guard Rails
  • Speed Limits
  • Medians and Divided Roadways
  • Signage
  • Reflectors
  • Middle Brakelight
  • Anti-lock Brakes

The safety of roadways has mainly focused on technological improvements, which are plenty, to both the vehicles and the roadways. This has undoubtedly influenced the direction of attempting to reduce pollution from road-based transport (at least in the USA) via technology (i.e., reducing mileage, rather than limiting driving).

Other technological progress has lagged, though. Making self-servicing easier has not been a priority, for example. Changing signal bulbs or the oil or brakes often requires special knowledge, tools, and equipment. This actually can increase harm, as the cost of vehicle maintenance (in both time and money) may deter some amount of otherwise-necessary work.

Building and Home Safety

The refrigerator door provides a nice counterpoint to roadways. Car companies have largely embraced technology-based solutions, where the refrigerator companies, at least initially, were opposed.

Some systems such as HVAC were initially designed for comfort, but nonetheless can be essential to maintain life under extreme temperatures.

Food and Drugs Safety

  • Child-resistant Containers
  • Lollipops with a Soft, Loop Handle
    See: Saf-T-Pops.
  • Cooking Attire
    • Hairnets
    • Gloves
    • Aprons
    • Mitts
  • Restaurant inspections
  • Drug Labeling
  • Dosage Utensils (e.g., specialized measuring spoons)

Many (most?) professions have some required or suggested garb. The older the profession, the more likely that the particulars were originally developed through experience rather than through particular association rules or governmental regulation.

It is noteworthy that child-resistant caps are not required to avoid 100% of opening attempts by children, but only some majority of attempts. Like many other things, the best harm reduction for children is keeping things away from them, rather than trying to lock them up enough that children can, e.g., play with dynamite safely.

Disease and Contaminant Prevention

  • Hand-washing
  • Attire
    • Surgical Masks
    • Face Shields
    • Scrubs
    • Gloves
  • Protocols and Procedures (e.g., counting implements before and after surgery)
  • Single-use Needles

There are often specialized procedures or protocols developed to avoid mistakes and prevent malfeasance. Imagine how different roadway safety would be with a two-driver minimum per vehicle.

On the other hand, how would outcomes change for medicine if a double-blind second-opinion system were instituted for at least some subset of ailments.

Occupational Safety

  • Attire
    • Work Boots
    • Eye and Face Protection
  • Protocols and Procedures
    • Chain of Custody
    • Two-man Rule

Some harm reduction techniques, such as chain of custody, are equally effective at avoiding malfeasance as protecting other properties (e.g., ensuring medicine maintains its conditions in transport).