Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Capitalism

It’s easy to imagine the beginnings of capitalism as an encounter between two primitive men, both in search of food for starving children. One has a leaf-full of berries, the other some useful digging bones. One possibility is the second one using a digging tool as a weapon to steal the berries; another choice could become trading half the digging tools for half the berries and giving birth to the capitalist foundation of civilization. So a case could be made for capitalism as an evolutionary influence mitigating the aggressive, war instinct and as an aid in the evolution of peaceful progress. Unfortunately, history also vividly demonstrates capitalism’s corrupt dark side that created slavery, genocidal suppression of indigenous peoples, degrading and dangerous work conditions; that continues today creating wage slaves, corrupt governments, and extreme gaps between rich and poor. That dark side also bred consumerism, many levels of materialism, exploitation, and deception. The symbolism of Goethe’s archetypal novel Faust describe these almost universal corruptions. On the positive side, the success and wealth of merchants checked the absolute power of kings and emperors. It provided a channel of opportunity for society’s poor and disenfranchised. It undermined the legacies of oligarchs and nepotistic discrimination making a real balance of equality and freedom possible. It encouraged a more rapid recognition and response to external changes speeding up social, cultural, and political evolution.

Capitalism directly led to increasing life expectancy and standards of living, decreasing infant and maternal mortality. It also unfortunately led to the slave trade, the opium wars, child labor, pollution, mass extinctions, working class exploitation, and climate change.

As one of the quotes here expresses, socialism and communism tend to bring down the wealthy and successful into a a more equal poverty while capitalism naturally creates huge and unsustainable gaps between rich and poor. Because both systems comprise such deep, inherent flaws; any allegiance—between capitalism and socialism, conservatives and progressives, Republicans and Democrats—only leads to the creation of bigger problems. As in most others fields of life, the sane and wise path forward doesn't lie with extremes but in the Middle Way.

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Quotes (66)

“When everybody owns everything, nobody takes care of anything.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE

“Why must Your Majesty use the word ‘profit’? Surely, it is true goodness and righteousness alone that matter.”

Mencius 孟子 372 – 289 BCE via Daniel K. Gardner
(Mengzi)
from Book of Mencius 孟子

“Prisoners to the world of objects, they are pressed down and crushed by fashion, the market, events, public opinion… never do they recover their right mind.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE via Thomas Merton
(Zhuangzi)

from Zhuangzi

11. Appreciating Emptiness

“Man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite.”

Anonymous -800 to present
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history

“Corporations have neither bodies to be kicked, nor souls to be damned.”

Anonymous -800 to present via A. Schlesinger, Jr.
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history

“One beats the bush, another catches the bird.”

Anonymous -800 to present
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history
from German proverb

Themes: Capitalism

“He would sell even his share of the sun.”

Anonymous -800 to present
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history
from Italian proverb

“Every modern society seems to me to be nothing but a conspiracy of the rich, who while protesting their interest in the common good pursue their own interests and stop at no trick and deception to secure their ill-gotten possessions, to pay as little as possible for the labor that produces their wealth and so force its makers to accept the nearest thing to nothing. They contrive rules for securing and assuring these tidy profits for the rich in the name of the common good, including of course the poor, and call them laws!”

Thomas More 1478 – 1535 CE
from Utopia

“competitiveness and desire for power are the beginnings of beckoning disaster in business and social relations.”

Liu Yiming 刘一明 1734 – 1821 CE via Thomas Cleary
(Liu I-ming)
from Taoist I Ching, , Zhouyi chanzhen 周易闡真

9. Know When to Stop

“Labor does not have to ask the patronage of capital, but capital solicits the air of labor... If you divorce capital from labor, capital is hoarded, and labor starves.”

Daniel Webster 1782 – 1852 CE
America's greatest orator
from Speech, 1824

Themes: Money Capitalism

“Capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert to fleece the people.”

Abraham Lincoln 1809 – 1865 CE
from Illinois Legislature, 1837

Themes: Capitalism

“What recommends commerce to me is its enterprise and bravery. It does not clasp its hands and pray to Jupiter.”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi

Themes: Capitalism

“There is nothing—not even crime—more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself than this incessant business.”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi

Themes: Capitalism

“Capitalism will kill competition.”

Karl Marx 1818 – 1883 CE

“In a community regulated by laws of demand and supply... those who become rich are—generally speaking—industrious, resolute, proud, covetous, prompt, methodical, sensible, unimaginative, insensitive, and ignorant.”

John Ruskin 1819 – 1900 CE
from Ad Valorem

“There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man's lawful prey.”

John Ruskin 1819 – 1900 CE

“Here lies your iniquity: you have given the laborer nothing but his daily food—not even his lodgings… his wages—thanks to your competitive system—were beaten down to the minimum on which he could or would work, without the hope or the possibility of saving a farthing.”

Charles Kingsley 1819 – 1875 CE
Founder of Christian Socialism in England
from Alton Locke, 1848​

Themes: Capitalism Hope

“God laughs again when two brothers divide their land with a string, saying to each other, 'This side is mine and that side is yours.' He laughs and says to Himself, 'The whole universe belongs to Me, but they say they own this portion or that portion.'”

Ramakrishna 1836 – 1886 CE

“Everyone lives by selling something.”

Robert Louis Stevenson 1850 – 1894 CE

“Honest education is dangerous to tyranny and privilege: systems like the capitalist one use both ignorance and education as underpinnings for general faith in themselves as rulers.”

George Bernard Shaw 1856 – 1950 CE via Shan Dao
UK playwright second only to Shakespeare
from Everbody's Political What's What?

“Capitalism has destroyed our belief in any effective power but that of self interest backed by force.”

George Bernard Shaw 1856 – 1950 CE
UK playwright second only to Shakespeare
from Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism

Themes: Capitalism

“Rockefeller and his associates did not build the Standard Oil Co. in the board rooms of Wall Street banks. They fought their way to control by rebate and drawback, bribe and blackmail, espionage and price cutting, by ruthless efficiency of organization.”

Ida Tarbell 1857 – 1944 CE

Themes: Capitalism

“As long as politics is the shadow of big business, the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance.”

John Dewey 1859 – 1952 CE
The "Second Confucius"

“I could see that the Wasichus [white man] did not care for each other the way our people did before the nation's hoop was broken. They would take everything from each other if they could, and so there were some who had more of everything than they could use, while crowds of people had nothing at all and maybe were starving. This could not be better than the old ways of my people.”

Black Elk 1863 – 1950 CE
(Heȟáka Sápa)

75. Greed

“Because of poverty, we must adopt the capitalist means of production to develop our resources to get rich. However, if we ignore the issue of social justice at the beginning of China's industrialization, we will sow the seeds of class warfare in the future.”

Sun Yat-sen 孙逸仙 1866 – 1925 CE

“The world wept and still is weeping and blind with tears and blood. For there began to rise in America in 1876 a new capitalism and a new enslavement of labor.”

W. E. B. Du Bois 1868 – 1963 CE
from Black Reconstruction

“the most extraordinary characteristic of current America is the attempt to reduce life to buying and selling…All life is production for profit, and for what is profit but for buying and selling again?”

W. E. B. Du Bois 1868 – 1963 CE

“Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate.”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”

“Trade brings men into contact with tribal customs different from their own, and in so doing destroys the dogmatism of the untravelled.”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”
from Unpopular Essays

Themes: Capitalism Travel

“It is the preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else that prevents us from living freely and nobly.”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”

“Where modern Industrialism prevails... commerce settles on every tree and there must be felt continual anxiety about a bare subsistence; the victim of Industry must confine his thoughts to the subject of tomorrow's food for himself and his family”

Ananda Coomaraswamy குமாரசுவாமி 1877 – 1947 CE
Perennial philosophy's Citizen of the World
from The Dance of Shiva (1918)

“The real struggle is not between East and West, or capitalism and communism, but between education and propaganda.”

Martin Buber מרטין בובר‎‎ 1878 – 1965 CE

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“The crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational systems suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE
from Monthly Review, 1949

“Man at his best loves the pick of words that tell the truth, the fair profit of able dealings.”

Witter Bynner 1881 – 1968 CE
(Emanuel Morgan)

“Since the creation of heaven and earth, men have been eating each other. I have been living in a place where for 4000 years they have been eating human flesh… But if you will just change your ways immediately, then everyone will have peace.”

Lǔ Xùn 鲁迅 1881 – 1936 CE via Marxist Internet Archive
(Zhou Shuren; Lusin)
Insightful satirist representing the "Literature of Revolt"

from A Madman's Diary

“Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.”

John Maynard Keynes 1883 – 1946 CE
Revolutionary economist credited with saving capitalism

Themes: Capitalism

“The best way to destroy the capitalist system is to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens.”

John Maynard Keynes 1883 – 1946 CE
Revolutionary economist credited with saving capitalism

Themes: Capitalism

“Socialism inserted itself into capitalism without destroying it... The architects of the welfare state recognized the virtues of capitalism: they perceived the creative stimulus that had been given to invention, enterprise, production, and commerce by the freedom in the laissez-faire governments”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Fallen Leaves

“The fear of capitalism has compelled socialism to widen freedom, and the fear of socialism has compelled capitalism to increase equality. East is West and West is East, and soon the twain will meet.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Lessons of History

“But our exciting capitalism is showing dangerous defects. It is poisoning our air, our waters, perhaps even our food. It has been killing the fish in our streams and seas and the birds in the sky. It has been using at a reckless rate the mineral resources of our soil.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Fallen Leaves

Themes: Capitalism

“Above all, [capitalism] seems by its very nature to stimulate repeated concentrations of wealth, leading to contractions of purchasing power and to depressions... Repeatedly in history, this natural concentration of wealth has led to a pathological, almost cancerous condition.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Fallen Leaves

Themes: Capitalism Greed

“there is surely no reason to believe that capitalism, of all social systems, will last for ever. On the contrary, the material conditions of production, and with them, the ways of human life, have never changed so quickly as they have done under capitalism. By changing its own foundations in this way, capitalism is bound to transform itself and to produce a new period in the history of mankind.”

Karl Popper 1902 – 1994 CE
Major Philosopher of Science
from The Open Society and its Enemies

Themes: Capitalism

“The press is the most class-conscious segment of big business, since its stock in trade consists of the legends and folklore of capitalism.”

Max Lerner 1902 – 1992 CE
(Maxwell Alan)
from St. Louis Post, 1938​

Themes: Capitalism

“If you mean by capitalism the God-given right of a few big corporations to make all the decisions that will affect millions of workers and consumers and to exclude everyone else from discussing and examining those decisions, then the unions are threatening capitalism.”

Max Lerner 1902 – 1992 CE
(Maxwell Alan)
from Actions and Passions, 1945

“Whereas socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people, 'I offer you a good time,' Hitler has said to them ' I offer you struggle, danger and death,' and—as a result—a whole nation flings itself at his feet.”

George Orwell 1903 – 1950 CE
English, poet, humanist, apostle of doubt, and powerful political influence
from Politics and the English Language

“…the present consumer society is like a drug addict who, no matter how miserable he may feel, finds it extremely difficult to get off the hook.”

E. F. Schumacher 1911 – 1977 CE
The “People's Economist”
from Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered

80. A Golden Age

“When producers want to know what the public wants, they graph it as curves. When they want to tell the public what to get, they say it in curves.”

Marshall McLuhan 1911 – 1980 CE
from The Mechanical Bride, 1951

“The affluent societies of today make such exorbitant demands on the world’s resources, create ecological dangers of such intensity, and produce such a high level of neurosis among their populations, that they cannot possibly serve as a model”

E. F. Schumacher 1911 – 1977 CE
The “People's Economist”

“The myth of unlimited production brings war in its train as inevitably as clouds announce a storm.”

Albert Camus 1913 – 1960 CE

“Let's talk about socialism. I think it's very important to bring back the idea of socialism into the national discussion to where it was at the turn of the [last] century before the Soviet Union gave it a bad name. Socialism had a good name... It had several million people reading socialist newspapers. Socialism basically said, hey, let's have a kinder, gentler society. Let's share things. Let's have an economic system that produces things not because they're profitable for some corporation, but produces things that people need. People should not be retreating from the word socialism because you have to go beyond capitalism.”

Howard Zinn 1922 – 2010 CE
Historian of the oppressed and defeated

“in that growth of American capitalism—before and after the Civil War—whites as well as blacks were in some sense becoming slaves”

Howard Zinn 1922 – 2010 CE
Historian of the oppressed and defeated

from A People's History of the United States​

“Show me a capitalist, and I'll show you a bloodsucker.”

Malcolm X الحاجّ مالك الشباز‎‎ 1925 – 1965 CE

Themes: Capitalism

“What we would call capitalism he despised. People read snippets of Adam Smith, the few phrases they teach in school. Everybody reads the first paragraph of The Wealth of Nations where he talks about how wonderful the division of labor is. But not many people get to the point hundreds of pages later, where he says that division of labor will destroy human beings and turn people into creatures as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human being to be. And therefore in any civilized society the government is going to have to take some measures to prevent division of labor from proceeding to its limits.”

Noam Chomsky 1928 CE –
from Class Warfare (1995)

Themes: Capitalism

“So much for capitalism.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

Themes: Capitalism

53. Shameless Thieves

“The promoters of the global economy...see nothing odd or difficult about unlimited economic growth or unlimited consumption in a limited world.”

Wendell Berry 1934 CE –

Themes: Capitalism

58. Goals Without Means

“Of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability. Marxism is concerned with the distribution of wealth on an equal basis and the equitable utilization of the means of production. It is also concerned with the fate of the working classes—that is the majority—as well as with the fate of those who are underprivileged and in need, and Marxism cares about the victims of minority-imposed exploitation. For those reasons the system appeals to me, and it seems fair”

Dalai Lama XIV Tenzin Gyatso 1935 CE –

“Capitalism, gaudy and greedy, has been inherent in western aesthetics from ancient Egypt on. It is the mysticism and glamour of things, which take on a personality of their own. As an economic system, it is in the Darwinian line of Sade, not Rousseau.”

Camille Paglia 1947 CE –
Fearless and insightful status quo critic
from Sexual Personae (1990)

Themes: Capitalism

“Market capitalism has already become the most successful religion of all time, winning more converts more quickly than any previous belief or value system in human history.”

David Loy 1947 CE –
from A Buddhist History of the West

“Latter-day capitalism. Like it or not, it’s the society we live in with hybrid styles of morality. It’s the way of the world – philosophy starting to look more and more like business and administration.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE –
from Dance, Dance, Dance

Themes: Capitalism

“Communism was a great system for making people equally poor - in fact, there was no better system in the world for that than communism. Capitalism made people unequally rich.”

Thomas L. Friedman 1953 CE –

“It is a strange world that Industry has made. Kind of a seething toxic harbor, opening out on a blue unspoiled ocean. Most people are swimming in it... If people like me would just keep our mouths shut, people like him would never suspect why they got cancer. They’d chalk it up to God or probability. They wouldn't die with hearts full of venom.”

Neal Stephenson 1959 CE –
(Stephen Bury)
Speculative futurist and cultural social commentator

from Zodiac (1988)​​

Themes: Health Capitalism

“Over the last few years, Pope Francis has reinvigorated the Catholic Church’s core message with passionate criticism of unbridled capitalism and a new, more progressive worldview.”

Nina Lvovna Khrushcheva Нина Львовна Хрущёва 1964 CE –

“'Robber Barons' who presided over an era of economic freewheeling and corruption that historians have referred to as 'bandit capitalism'... were seize-the-day opportunists who were perfectly prepared to lie, bribe, steal, exploit and bend the rules in order to amass their personal fortunes.”

Roman Krznaric c. 1964
Practical, popular, modern philosopher

from Carpe Diem Regained (2017)

“Carpe diem was not extinguished by Christianity alone... industrial capitalism... engulfed millions of workers in a more controlled and regimented way of life”

Roman Krznaric c. 1964
Practical, popular, modern philosopher

from Carpe Diem Regained (2017)

Themes: Capitalism

“Capitalism did not defeat communism because capitalism was more ethical, because individual liberties are sacred or because God was angry with the heathen communists. Rather, capitalism won the Cold War because distributed data processing works better than centralized data processing, at least in periods of accelerating technological change. The central committee of the Communist Party just could not deal with the rapidly changing world of the late twentieth century. When all data is accumulated in one secret bunker, and all important decisions are taken by a group of elderly apparatchiks, they can produce nuclear bombs by the cartload, but not an Apple or a Wikipedia”

Yuval Harari יובל נח הררי‎ 1976 CE –
Israeli historian, professor, and philosopher

from Homo Deus: A History of Tomorrow

“[Capitalist–consumerism] is the first religion in history whose followers actually do what they are asked to do... most people today successfully live up to this ideal... the rich remain greedy and spend their time making more money and the masses give free reign to their cravings and passions and buy more and more.”

Yuval Harari יובל נח הררי‎ 1976 CE –
Israeli historian, professor, and philosopher

from Sapiens

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