I mean, I agree -- "making money for a company" can overlap with "making the world a better place" -- but that overlap is entirely coincidental.Zamfir wrote:Hippo, I think you are overstating your case here. "Making money for a company" is not the same thing as "making the world a better place", but there is some overlap between the areas. And quite some genuinely valuable innovation came and comes out of that overlap.
Maybe I'm overstating my case by I'm implying that capitalism is incapable of technological innovation, but what I mean is that capitalism is incapable of innovating in any direction outside of profitability. Our only hope with capitalism is to forcibly map profitability to progressive innovation. We try to do this through regulation, but capitalism innovates ways to work around regulation, and ultimately even take control of the very institutions we created to regulate it. The last two heads of the EPA (Scott Pruitt and Anthony Wheeler) both worked for the fossil fuel industry (and are both "climate change skeptics"). Because capitalism wants to transform the EPA into a marketing firm for the fossil-fuel industry -- and it looks like they've succeeded!
I think "capitalism doesn't drive technological innovation, it drives the capitalization of innovation" is, at least, a fair summary of this sentiment -- in so much that it is far more accurate. Capitalism drives innovation only by trying to make a profit from innovation, and thus is only interested in the types of innovation that are profitable (with no regard to how destructive they might be).
When I said 'innovation', I unintentionally ignored the low-key day-to-day definition (improving a small bit of code, figuring out a more optimal scheme for cars in parking lots, building a toaster that uses less electricity). I was thinking more dramatic, transformative sort of stuff (say, the idea of natural selection, or the theory of modern computing). So, yeah, this is a fair point. That being said, while capitalism can quickly decide "what is and what is not worth adopting", it only can do so because it selects based on nothing but profitability. It will adopt horrible, confusing, and ultimately regressive practices whenever those practices are more profitable than simple, sane, progressive ones (see: mortgage systems, protection of proprietary technology, the complexities and insanities of America's health provision system, taxation...).Zamfir wrote:I think you you are mostly wrong. Some people innovate out of passion, but even those passionate people mostly want a comfortable paycheck as well. Plus a lot of innovation isn't overly passionate at all, not more than other work. And a lot of innovation is not really invention either. A main part of innovation is adoption, scaling (and deciding what is and what is not worth adopting). That is arguably the core strength of capitalism, one that other institutions can't match.
Aside: It's also really, really good at misinforming people. Marketing is a product of capitalism (or, at least, has been thoroughly refined and "weaponized" by it). One of the things that capitalism has learned to market is capitalism itself -- selling itself as the source for technology, progress, and positive change -- rather than merely a system by which technology is made profitable. Look at the recent spat of "progressive" commercials. I mean, it was cool when Gillette included transgender people in its ad campaign! But everyone seems to forget that the reason Gillette did this isn't because it wanted to be progressive; it's because it knew outraged blowhards would respond by giving it free advertising. Meanwhile, Gillette's parent company (Proctor and Gamble) continue to profit directly from the exploitation of workers.
I feel increasingly like people keep forgetting that capitalism is not on our side. We keep thinking it's something we can control. It's not; not in its current form. Climate change demonstrates just how little control we actually have. People have been talking about this problem for decades, and even now we're still having debates over whether or not it "exists". Why?
Because capitalism has spent an inordinate amount of time shutting down the discourse. Because actually addressing a looming global catastrophe is far less profitable than ignoring its existence.
Until, of course, it actually happens -- then it won't be profitable at all! But if one thing capitalism has taught us, it's that it's incredibly good at pretending something isn't poisonous -- up until the very instant you ask them to drink it.
Right, but why do they have to do that? Because, in the context of capitalism, the only actual importance of a discovery is how profitable it might be. This is a problem when you come up with a great idea that capitalism can't monetize -- or, even worse, a terrible idea that it can.Zamfir wrote:Take universities as comparison - these are a prime example of non-capitalist institutions in our world, and they are pretty good at invention (among other things). Arguably, they are overall better at invention than capitalist firms, or passionate amateurs, or government labs, etc. But they do have a notorious adoption problem. They generate lots of seemingly useful ideas, but they have trouble deciding which ones to push (and when to stop), how to organize the resources for large scale rollouts, how to connect to the wider world. Their organizational structure, the whole mindset they encourage, all of it starts to work against them at some point. It's not uncommon to find academic researchers begging the outer world to make use of their findings.
I don't know enough about capitalism (or alternative systems) to say whether or not we could junk it in its entirety -- I certainly don't support state monopolies that end up just being capitalism in practice (except now the state is your corporation). But given how immensely powerful and caustic capitalism's influence is, I do think we need to stop thinking about it as a positive influence.