The Battle for Hearts and Minds

Capitalism is a system which generates extreme inequalities in wealth, and repeated economic crises which cause misery for millions but leave the top echelon unaffected. One of the arguments of Polanyi — summarized in my previous post — suggests that capitalism cannot survive without a massive propaganda effort to make it appear good, and to hide its defects. This propaganda is amazingly powerful and effective. Even the unemployed and the ones hurt by capitalist medical industry have an unthinking allergy to the idea of socialized medicine and government provision of a living wage for everyone. It is a wonder how propaganda trumps even self-interest,

In this context, introducing alternative views with effective arguments is an essential part of the battle to win hearts and minds, in an effort to create a better world for humanity than the one currently created by capitalism — where a handful of rich people own more resources than the bottom billion. 

Because the message is aligned with the self-interest of the masses, reaching them with the news of good alternatives to capitalism should be easy. However, the dominant media sources have been purchased by the wealthy, so that dissenting voices cannot easily be heard. The top twenty journals do not publish articles critical of orthodoxy, and similarly a very small cluster of billionaires owns the leading newspapers.

Nontheless, especially in this electronic age, there is room for manoeuvre. For example, I recently wrote a newspaper article with the title “The Crisis in Economic Theory” This was published with the title changed to “Waiting for Keynes” in the News, one of the leading newspapers in Pakistan.  In writing for popular media, one has to assess how much the public can accept — this article of mine is merely meant to sow seeds of doubt into the minds of an audience which idealizes capitalism as a nearly perfect system. In the comments on the article, one of the readers referred me to “Why Capitalism?” a book defending capitalism by Meltzers. Accordingly, I also wrote a review of this book and posted it on Amazon. 

To sympathetic readers, I would suggest a few strategies that are essential in engaging in this battle for hearts and minds. Firstly, we should not be discouraged by the overwhelming odds against us — the billions of dollars being spent on glorifying capitalism. The Truth is a powerful weapon, and in any case, fighting an honorable battle for a good cause is worthwhile for itself,  whether or not we win or lose. Secondly, we should start with easy tasks. Use uncontested forums of low visibility — publish in the lower ranked journals instead of aiming for the top twenty. Focus on getting the message across to a sympathetic audience, rather then trying to convert Wall Street. In this connection we should make an effort to use the opportunities available, by publishing comments, as well as creating pointers to useful materials. This involves posting links to interesting articles on social media, up-voting useful articles debunking common myths, posting comments where useful, and otherwise doing our little bit in spreading the light to fight the darkness which surrounds us. The third element in a coherent strategy is to attempt to create unity within diversity. One important weakness of the heterodoxy is that each dissenter has his own different point of view, while the orthodoxy is united. So a rainbow coalition which focuses on commonalities and treats differences as a strength rather than a source of division is essential. We should take our inspiration and courage from the many examples where the few have prevailed against overwhelming odds. 

 

 

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4 comments
  1. Bruce E. Woych said:

    Legitimation and Crisis theory aside, I suspect that the perception of categorical culture (institutions, markets, government, “the establishment”, etc.) are being individuated as silos that coexist independently from the context of soical and cultural change. The dynamics of contradictory transitions between sub-groupings, and even transformations among their offspring in generations as well as the variety and diversity of survival (succession) modalities are something that must be reconsidered. Cognitively we might isolate these cultural institutions as framed entities, but the internal dynamics are like the Greek running stream…constant in appearance only. Ultimately we are attempting to track complexity in its lateral, circular and corrupted incoherent forms that bifucate from a foundation and “established” origin.

    The “Translation” (formal concept…eg: a duck sitting in water is in constant dynamic transition) of cultural “institutions” are involved in holding change constant (traditions to succession theory). The factors of ‘habituated’ conditioning that enculturate us (or deeply indoctrinate us) are to be scrutinized against the diversity of causal forces of change; and the reifiication of markets as unified coherent fields (along with the ‘formalist’ theories in so-called ‘neo-class’ Economics that ‘ratify’ them as reality) need to be equally scrutinized for what they serve in the illusions and delusions of wealth as progress as an unfettered profit driven growth value that is necessary and good. Crisis or contradiction, complexity or chaos are not to be located in these parallel theories that indoctrinate a false reality into a conscious capital-prone model of culture. Capital is a tool that has become the deified essential survival cloak of deceptive successions…holding constant wealth (financialization of resources) into not only succession but progression and competitive demographic expansion. These bubbles and crisis are self-generated and are not absolutely necessary. It is also not particularly proven that capital cannot be productively harnessed to a system that can “thermostatically” controlled or ‘hermenautically’ templated as an empirically dynamic field theory (after the fact). All that we might determine at this time is that excessive private concentration of wealth leads to ultimate unified failure under competitive pressures that are epi-centric to the substantive economies that are more localized and regionally adjustable if not adaptive.

    I think Polanyi was attempting to establish the ground rules (by example) of a substantive (empirically validated) assessment process that placed things into contextual reality as it exists among real people. The constant attempt to explain “bubble-gum” economics by blaming systemic cycles is a century old process of “legitimizing crisis” and lacks “substance” that has causal merit. The cause of “Bubbles” should be sought in the very real PEOPLE that produced them. The strangulation of an economy in order to produce wealth succession and its correlative competitive attempts for more individuals to not only to get their share of wealth (demographically expanding a very selective “demand” and supply for wealth itself), along with the generation (biologically, demographically and historically) of succession to sustain wealth is the point of entry not the consequences of bubble economics. What we see in this ‘ramification’ process is a Titanic on the Ocean with little room for survivors floating in history and the life boats are what is left among those that caused the economy to burst at the seams.

    Polanyi’s “substantivist” perspectives would include destructive forces into a coherent model of economic analysis. It would seek globalization in localized realities that are being “harmonized” (‘harmonization’ = another fallacy) into conformity to so-called global markets and/or inevitable extinction .
    The reality is that small groups of people are creating hegemonic dominions of power through financial control of global resources; and those resources are under the discretion of wealth. A disconnect that will inevitably mislead humanity into the greatest bubble on earth.

    What a three ring circus. Three card Monty on a global scale played as a cultural system we deify as wealth creation and accumulation as we ignore damages and concentrate on normative bubbles that are necessary in order to build Las Vegas and Dubai in the sky…and stand back in awe at how civilization is so historically rational & essential while ecological Nature is so culturally ‘aber-rational’ and a mere ‘historicist construct’ in the history of ideas.

  2. Pavlos said:

    It’s not so much that capitalism needs or has a propaganda apparatus to support it because of something intrinsic to capitalism. Rather, belief in the system is part of any economic system, and propaganda is a major ingredient in making any system successful.

    I agree that capitalism is successful largely though winning the battle of belief: Propaganda, dropping napalm on communists to demonstrate the weakness of their economics etc. But whichever system you observe as dominant would also come with propaganda.

    As you say, establishing credibility regarding the alternatives is the key battle, and one which the left has largely lost or abandoned. The left comes up with plenty of criticism, and has done since Marx. Showing the credibility of social-compassionate economic organization, and navigating past the maze of petty corruption, adverse selection, squeamishness, etc. is harder.

  3. Bruce E. Woych said:

    @Pavlov. Thanks for your reply and it gives me pause & cause to think. Propaganda, of course (as propagation) is a neutral presentation of a position in itself that has intentionally become associated with hyperbolic to exaggerated representation for a posture or platform (without resorting to its actual degenerative form in blatant market advertizement which is understood as one sided). It begins to decline in value in communication when it neglects the negative and accentuates the positive with a disregard for distortions. Obviously this is the foundation for deception.

    The ‘level’ of propaganda we are addressing has to do more with a political, social and even cultural saturation by propaganda to the point of dogma and/or institutionalization of (factional ideology as indoctrination depends upon this ‘narrative’ to politicize conformity &consensus). “Winning hearts and minds” must begin by a comprehensive approach to clarifying this methodological or instrumental process and follow up with a renewed approacn that re-evaluates ALL aspects of economic systems…but particularly ‘concepts that are bounded rationality’ that establish dependency paths upon the process of constructing an empirically measurable real-world economics (in my opinion, this is the juncture for a contemporary revival and renewed exploration of a Polanyi orientation to our economic base).

    It is clear to me that our presuppositions, precepts, concepts and constructs require complete scrutiny in historical perspective. Too much of it has been ‘captured’ by class driven interests and the politics of the cold war of the last half century. These tools need to be completely revised by neutral and evidence based analysis and objective measures that construct a full spectrum ‘society-based’ and ecologically informed process of maintaining human subsistence, survival in the context of its dynamic complexity (in space and time) that will inform and endure. It also must be adaptable to recognizing its own flaws and synthesize the artificial divisions of micro-macro and internal & external departmentalized thinking, as well as (for capitalism) come to terms with maximizing output for ALL society not just profit driven and zero sum exclusive small group rewards. It is my contention that capitalism is a process of interactive motivation that works. But small groups that have learned to identify themselves gratuitously as “elites” have capture the system and tailored its lexicon (through academic and theoretical economics & private incentives by monopolizing interests); …tailored its lexicon to frame a particular outcome. The history of ideas and concepts in economics is tainted by outright partisan thinking that gets its drive (decade by decade) by the political frictions and factions of power dynamics in the world. It is not precisely true that we need “alternative” economics that simply modify the presumptive positions of neo-colonial thinking in theories now labeled as neo-liberal or neo-conservative. The result would simply be more amendable to a larger segment of people that seek a better level of complacency in a self-approved competency of dazzling evaluations that segment ‘specialized’ professional authority away from the general (intelligent) cultural expectations. IT is all teleological and tautology in many cases. What we need is a 21st century recognition that ECONOMICS as it exists is more like religions in the past, with dogma and doctrines that do disservice to the many and exalt a selected few. In effect we need to re-invent Economics altogether and with it our understanding of how to devise the process and architecture…along with the actual engineering of a globally shared real economy that works. If this is Utopian, then you are looking backwards and defining the future.

    The future is what we make it. And that. my friend, is the foundation of a new Economics. Are we simply trying to sustain the imbalances of the past with its path dependent competitive exclusions as its core, or do we actually have a measure vision of viability in the real world with a practicing exploration of methodology to achieve it?

  4. @Pavlos: your comment is insightful and appreciated. While all systems require propaganda, capitalism/democracy is different in that it requires the support of the majority, while at the same time being extremely harmful to the interests of the 99%. Most economic systems do a better job of providing for the poor than current US Society — However the capitalism variant in Scandinavian countries does a much better job on providing social security. It seems that one can substitute propaganda (or entertainment and distraction) for service. For examply, Malthusian propaganda that the poor are responsible for their own poverty because they overbreed, allowed curtailment of social service programs in England. The Romans used to have the games to distract their starving populations. Today Scandinavia provides services to keep the poor contented with the unjust capitalist outcomes, while the US provides propaganda.

    I think the crucial element is a social norm regarding the degree of committment that the society as whole accepts for educating, housing, clothing, and providing for healthcare for ALL its members. The slogan of “from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs” represents one extreme, but all societies must choose a point on the spectrum between complete disregard of needs, to complete provision of all needs, while catering to the ability to earn by producing things of value, and/or providing service to society. An important note in this context is that capitalist society is the only type where ownership of wealth is by itself considered a service to society and entitles possessor to claim a (large) share of whatever is produced. This is the role played by the legitimization of interest – but the wealthy have discovered far more efficient devices for extracting enormous rents from the poor by their ownership of wealth. At the same type, economists manufacture theories which support these devices by justifying them as being necessary for economic efficiency.

    One element of the battle for winning hearts and minds is to promote better norms of social responsibility. A second element is to show the disparity between the existing situation and the currently prevailing norms. There are several recent research articles showing the difference between A: Social Norms regarding Income Inequality (what people consider a fair income distribution, B: Perception of Inequality, and C: Actual Inequality. Social norms are fairly good; everybody would like less income inequality, Perceptions of inequality are that it exists, BUT perceptions are not close to the ground reality which is the extreme inequality that currently exists.

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