Monday, 1 September 2008

A Psychological Critique of Capitalist Economy

Capitalist economy is, in essence, a confluence of two separate but reciprocally interactive psychological disorders. The first, manifested amongst capitalists themselves, is a form of chronic anxiety disorder, while the second, exhibited by large portions of the working class, is technically known as an impulse control disorder.

In the first case, we have the capitalist. Under normal conditions, a rational human being will work to provide the things which they and their family require, and thereby be satisfied. Once a roof is over their head, food is on the table, and a little bit tucked away for entertainment and rainy days, the job is done. The capitalist, however, is not satisfied here. His reaction, when he has secured enough money to satisfy all of his needs, is to use any surplus money that remains to make more money. If someone eats their fill, and then continues to eat without cessation, we say they have an eating disorder. If someone has all the money they need, and then works to make more money, we call them an entrepeneur.

As regards the working class, the derangement is subtler, but equally destructive. Let us start with a familiar example. We have all had experiences with teenagers who think bad things will never happen to them. They can try a drug without becoming addicted; they can drive fast on wet roads without getting into an accident. Fortunately, as they grow, they eventually learn to better assess these kinds of graphic immediate risks. Adulthood does not, sadly, improve the assessment of longer-term or more abstract risks. This was the case in East Germany. Lured by the temptations of the lifestyles of the rich and famous, millions of otherwise rational adult human beings told themselves that when the market economy was implemented that single mother working three jobs to support her family 'won't be me', that factory worker who loses his job and doesn't know where his family's next meal is coming from 'won't be me'. They threw away a system which guaranteed each person a job, a living wage, and a college education for their children (if they passed the exams) in pursuit of 'opportunity'. If a man stakes his house and his children's college fund on a 1 in 100 chance (and those are much better odds than you would ever actually receive) of winning a million dollars, we would say he has a gambling addiction. If a man stakes all that and more on a 1 in a 1000 chance (and those are much better odds than anyone actually received) that the new market economy will make him a wealthy man, he's striking a blow for freedom. The government of East Germany wasn't overthrown, it was lost by 16 million people with a gambling problem.

The behaviours of all participants in a capitalist economy are easily classifiable along the spectrum of recognized (and treatable) behavioural disorders. Yet these individuals receive no help, and are often enabled by those closest to them. It is time that not only OCD sufferers and compulsive gamblers received attention and treatment, but those on the economic right as well. After all, they are people too.

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