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Fri, Jan. 9th, 2009 01:36 am
Capitalism: doesn't it make you (mentally) sick?

92CommentReplyFlag

krskrft
krskrft
Fri, Jan. 9th, 2009 01:02 am (UTC)

I think what really makes people unhappy, in the capitalist world, is overextension. Of course, this is rampant in the U.S., largely because we have the space to overextend, but also because we have, for a long time, possessed the credit necessary to overextend as well. America's main problem, culturally, is that we are so optimistic about our individual and collective manpower that we always have this overwhelming feeling that we're "good for it." So we buy enormous houses at insane interest rates, and huge cars with inefficient gas mileage, and maybe even get timeshares on beach or country houses. We do all these things because our manpower--dramatically overestimated in value--makes us "good for it."

I think that, if the U.S. were, say, half the geographic size or less, we would see far fewer sprawling homes going on the market. The admirable thing about Korea is that, because the country is so geographically tiny, people have to live in relatively tiny domeciles. More than that, people actually like to live in apartments. It's a cool thing here. Having a house is old-fashioned and rustic. People love their small, spare, but very sharp, very clean, and very modern apartment units. And it doesn't matter if these units are small, because Koreans don't really entertain in their apartments anyway ... things get messy if you have parties at home. They go out and do things on the town (eat out, go drinking, go to norebang--their version of karaoke--and take the taxi home).

In short, I don't think it's "capitalism" that does it. I think it's attitudes about money and things that does it. In the case of America, the permissiveness of the credit and loan industry is merely a reflection of the average Joe's own desires, which are based firmly in the fundamental philosophy of American life, which is to overestimate your manpower, stretch out on the vast amounts of advance capital it can get you, and then worry about paying up later.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
krskrft
krskrft
Fri, Jan. 9th, 2009 01:26 am (UTC)

Kind of a vague bogeyman these days, which is why I put it in quotes.

I think the problem has much more to do, as is usually the case, with how people live their lives, not how they make their money. Of course, how one makes his money can and does condition his life to a certain extent, but people all over the world make cash by working. It's how they spend their cash and live their lives that makes the real difference.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Jan. 9th, 2009 08:56 am (UTC)

I disagree. The word "capitalism" is being used more than ever these days. Google News brings up 6,700 recent news stories using the word. The top hits are about Blair, Merkel and Sarkozy calling for a new capitalism, and the word is right there in the headline.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
krskrft
krskrft
Fri, Jan. 9th, 2009 10:56 pm (UTC)

Well, to be fair, Momus did refer to a particular strain of capitalism, but I'm still not sure it's really all that descriptive anyway.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Jan. 9th, 2009 01:29 am (UTC)

In short, I don't think it's "capitalism" that does it.

Yes, and I think James is at pains to see a sliding scale. The worst thing for mental health has been a specific sort of neo-liberal, Anglospheric short-termist credit-oriented capitalism which we can now confine quite specifically between the dates 1979 and 2008.

The meltdown of that sort of capitalism has hit the Anglosphere much harder than other places -- like Berlin, where Poor-but-sexy Berliners shrug as crisis hits rivals, according to one recent article (which I don't disagree with -- I think Berlin has been a laboratory for post-capitalism for some time now, and I think the rest of the world might now start listening to some of the discoveries we've made here over the last decade or so).


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krskrft
krskrft
Fri, Jan. 9th, 2009 01:33 am (UTC)

I've always found it to be the case that you're essentially recession/depression-proof if you, individually, don't overextend yourself, and you maintain a job that won't instantly lay you off when the recession/depression hits.

A lot of people here in Korea are apparently "feeling the crunch," but I'm in the recession-proof industry of government-funded education and I've never owned a stock or a home in my life, so I don't feel it at all, unless I send money back to the U.S.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Jan. 9th, 2009 09:06 am (UTC)

I don't think all the creative outlets are going to wither away. My income comes from projects in New York, Vienna, California, Oslo, Frankfurt, London, Tokyo, even Berlin itself. Some of these projects have been hit by the recession -- I'm quitting my New York Times column, for instance, because they've halved my fee. But even if my overall income is reduced, Berlin is still the best place for me to be, because basic commodities (and particularly rent) are cheapest here. And this current recession means that the city isn't going to get more expensive any time soon.


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ataxi
ataxi
Tom
Fri, Jan. 9th, 2009 03:48 am (UTC)

The possibility of living and functioning in those particularly satisfying places (e.g. the "sexy Berlin" you often go on about) isn't available to every consumer. Even if I lived there I doubt I'd find it easy to join the community in a meaningful sense. And living and functioning in that community presumably confers a feeling of relative status without necessarily costing a lot.

Anyway, there was also an Australian book called Affluenza published. It was authored by two economists with a history of involvement in somewhat left-wing think tanks, and is more or less a polemic attacking spiralling consumer debt and supporting a social movement it alleges to exist and refers to as "downshifting". In the same vein as James perhaps with less of an emphasis on individual psychology and more on Freakonomics-esques statistics and survey results.

Interestingly, one of the authors, Clive Hamilton, is now coming under fire from the generic left-progressive-green cohort in Australia for being a somewhat wowserish "communitarian", a chap who tends to attribute any social ill to the breakdown of traditional social networks, the nuclear family, extended family, labour movement, social clubs etc. He's also one of the prime movers behind the socially conservative Rudd Labor government's plan to censor the Internet at the ISP level, which you would probably find as disturbing as most net users do.

As a personal anecdote, after nine months of "colonial tourism" backpacking around the world, I am back in my old cultural context but still haven't reconnected the TV after nearly a month. It's feeling good.


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colinmarshall
colinmarshall
Colin Marshall
Fri, Jan. 9th, 2009 01:30 am (UTC)

I second this comment.

I'd also add blaming "capitalism" for societal malaise is misleadingly specific; ideology itself seems to be the issue. I can't think of a strictly-applied "ism" worth living under.


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girfan
girfan
GIRfan
Fri, Jan. 9th, 2009 09:57 am (UTC)

I'm an American who has lived in the UK for almost 13 years and agree with your comment. I know so many people in the US with massive houses though they have few or no children. They drive gas guzzling cars and were the first to moan when gas prices went up. They also look down on using public transport or cycling/walking as transport.


Living in the UK, I use public transport 95% of the time, our car is fuel efficient (as are most cars in the UK other than the ones inspired by US vehicles) and our home would be considered laughably small by many US people (it's a terraced house). There are those in the UK who are trying to ape the US way of building homes and it doesn't work here doing to land issues. The suburban sprawl of the US is something that can't be done here unless all the green belts and farming land are built over.


I do think it's capitalism that is driving all this-the UK tends to be more socialist, and this might be why the US has the worst of it.


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krskrft
krskrft
Fri, Jan. 9th, 2009 12:41 pm (UTC)

The thing I've noticed since moving to Korea is that it's hyper-capitalist here (look up "chaebol" on wikipedia), yet people seem to be content to live relatively modest lives compared to US citizens. So I don't think it's the underlying economic system that is the fundamental problem. I think that the prevailing notions of individualism have a lot to do with this. Americans like to build individual sanctuaries, where they can be away from others, away from the bustle of everyday living. They like big, spacious homes and big, spacious cars for this reason. And the geography of the US supports this, because the country itself is so enormous, and so much of the land is at least reasonably habitable. Koreans, on the other hand, have no real option other than to live austere, modest lives. It is a very tech-savvy, stylish culture, so you see a lot of gadgets (cell phones, mp3 players, flat-screen TVs, fancy clothes), but the biggest signs of opulence (enormous houses and gigantic cars) are all but absent.


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