Capitalist-free zones

Capitalism may be a lot of good things, but one thing it isn’t is creative. It almost never originates new or great things; only develops them, at best, or exploits them, for the profit of others, and often arguably to the detriment of the creations themselves. Football (soccer) is an example. Capitalists didn’t create it; ordinary folk, entirely independently of the capitalist system and ethos, did. But then, when it became popular, and capitalists saw the possibility of a quick buck in it, it was wrested away from its creators, and turned into something very different. That’s what all the fuss about West Ham’s move to Stratford – see my last post but three – is about.

That particular cause is now lost. But it’s worth considering some of the more general implications of it. One is that, even in order for capitalism to thrive, certain aspects of life must be kept clear of it. Material necessity isn’t (always) the ‘mother of invention’. Too often it’s its enemy. How many great scientists, artists, writers, composers, writers, even footballers, have been motivated originally by the profit motive? It follows that if capitalism can’t create, and indeed is inimical to creation, we still need to have, even in as capitalistic a society as we have now, areas entirely free from it, in order for the seeds of creativity, invention, art and (I would say) scholarship to flourish in, before they are snatched away. The goose must be protected from the factory farmer in order to be enabled to lay its golden eggs. Otherwise capitalism will find itself with nothing worthwhile to exploit.

That’s the simple capitalist case for not subjecting universities, public service broadcasting, and every other area of genuine creativity, to the ‘laws of the market’. There are of course other and perhaps better reasons. But capitalists work on the principle of selfish material advantage, so maybe this argument might get through to them where the others wouldn’t.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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4 Responses to Capitalist-free zones

  1. What about Ford and his innovations? He did not invent mass production; however he harnessed it and improvised in highly creative ways, driven no doubt by greed. Mass production has deskilled swathes of the workforce, but it has also helped to raise the standard of living across most of the globe. It wasn’t until well into the twentieth century that pure science drove innovation; before then it was the businessmen-inventors like Edison, whose creativity was in part driven by the wish for riches that were available in a market economy. In the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx links technological development and capitalism and is full of praise for both – up to a point. And isn’t the ability to develop inventions a kind of creativity? Gates and Zuckerberg, to take just two recent examples, appear to be highly creative inventor-capitalists.


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