Is capitalism inherently evil?

Interview with Ruth Hagengruber

On the occasion of the current issue on “CAPITALISM ON THE COUCH” we asked selected people three questions on this topic - including Prof. Dr. Ruth Hagengruber. She considers the common scolding of capitalism to be a harbinger of national authoritarian movements and advocates not demonizing capitalism, but rather democratizing it.

1. Ms. Hagengruber, which aspect of capitalism do you find most interesting and most likely to be considered?

The capitalism scolding that is widespread today can certainly be viewed more as a trend than as an insight. Anyone who even refers capitalism into the realm of evil is certain of the approval of the many and therefore also of the media. It is not that easy. No doubt, capital accumulations based on deceit, lack of transparency disturb the "ordinary citizen", who can only afford to realize their own ideas within the framework of his income. And who is convinced: the good in life cannot be bought with capital. In this span between disappointment and exaggerated hopes, the philosophical perspective enables us to take a fresh look at economic history and what is to be understood by capital in general. It is probably not by chance that its founder, Adam Smith, was a moral philosopher. Philosophy and economics have been closely linked since antiquity, i.e. since the beginning of philosophy. None other than Socrates left the following instruction thatAbility to increase: auxein ton oikon. This is what Xenophon reports. Clever how these ancient thinkers were - by the way, they were also thinkers, because in this very book Socrates describes Aspasia as his teacher - they know that theyIncrease in wealthit is the goal of economics, but also that it is not aboutquantitativebut aroundqualitative Values ​​goes.

From this philosophical perspective, asset growth means the subjective, very personal judgment and assessment of a thing. Socrates gives clear examples of this: It is of no use if someone has a horse that kicks him! Although it is quantitative property, it is not a property, but a loss! Even those who do not take direct damage, but also no advantage, are acting unwise. Anyone who owns a flute that he cannot play is damaging himself and his fortune.

What Xenophon is communicating here through the mouth of Socrates is the insight that our judgment is the expression of knowledge about the usefulness and use of a thing. It is a very personal judgment that depends on the person making the judgment. The judgment mirrors, so to speak, the judge. This added value, which the judge claims, reflects his knowledge of the matter and reciprocally. The increase in wealth, and with it capital, consequently comes from this knowledge, not from the thing. That was Xenophon's ideal conception.

Many interesting judgments can be drawn from this insight. E.g. also the one that capital cannot be limited to money or land or means of production. The real reason of capital is the qualitatively added surplus value which is reified in the thing. Benefit and use are invented, so to speak. Zuckerberg and Gates, Rubinstein, Google and Skype today present the transformation of ideas into capital in the capital they created.We create the added value. We create the capital. Practically everyone today knows that capital is not in money. Thetrue capital is knowledge. What we see as capital is changing. If we want, we can withdraw our encouragement from the really great capitalists - at least if we can exercise democratic control and learn to understand that capitalism, like everything and ourselves, is in need of correction.

The democratic correction of capitalism is therefore about the wide spread of access to capital, which ideally is active in many countries of the world and at the same time leads to the dissolution of authoritarian or patriarchal rule.

This actually democratic, but also global process inspires the fear of individuals in affluent countries that they would like to lose their "little capital" in the process. The global strategy of modern and particularly oriented capitalism is opposed by the new nationalist movements. They are movements that hate the dispersion and particularization of capital.

Capital freed the bourgeoisie from aristocracy and made China a global player. Capital can reject old orders. The others promise good if they hold capital in hand. It depends on who we choose, as long as we have the chance to decide who to entrust our capital to. Even the Greens promise, "Retirement is also green". You can save and increase capital in every version, depending on which "good" one you choose, as long as you are still free to choose. Who wants these representatives of the new movements as the central administrators of the German financial strength? The free citizen will then be less free to increase his little fortune according to his own ideas. You have to democratize capitalism, not centralize it.

2. Why were people able to get excited about capitalist thinking so quickly and unnoticed? Does capitalism correspond to our nature?

The freedom for a person grows with the possibility of realizing his own ideas. On the one hand, capital is exactly what we see in things thanks to our own wealth. Our view of the things of the world and how we can use them for our interests is an essential part of our activities. It is even more gratifying when the world can be shaped according to our judgment. Ultimately, this is what people want, an anthropological determinant, so to speak. Evaluating things according to your own ideas is part of self-actualization. We realize ourselves and in this way reify our ego in the things of the world. TheI reified in the not-mesay the philosophers. In this way, secular happiness is realized in the here and now and not in the hereafter. It seems to the individual as if he could perpetuate himself with it.

Now with Rawls, albeit not for the first time in philosophy, the debate arose as to whether the natural diversity of people should not be unfair and therefore the balancing of the natural advantages should be “centrally” controlled. Compensating for natural differences has now become the task of all those who specialize in quantitative compensation. But who can quantify it? All fish in the murky. Aristotle and Thomas Hobbes were of the opinion that the diversity of people is the prerequisite and fertile basis of all communities. Equality, on the other hand, makes it impossible, or, as with Hobbes, makes the idea of ​​natural equality even "murderous". According to Aristotle, there can be no community “with two farmers or two doctors”. It takes a doctor and a farmer for the balance to take place. The difference is itself the cause of the development of one's own abilities and the differentiation of activities.

The problem with current capitalism is its disturbances. The properties of capitalism are tared between “good” and “bad”, as if one were holding a god in their hands. Indeed, the opportunities that capitalization offers are vast. But we are only in the childhood years of development. The smartphones offer theoretically interesting possibilities of a democratic distribution, but here too the criminal intentions had their hands on the devices faster than the enlightened citizen. They and political violence disturb this market, as we hear every day. They spy, abuse, and want its failure, but only for the individual citizen, for their own benefit they want it to function, so that they have one thing again: control, authority, capital, power, to abuse others for their own purposes.

3. In our current issue, capitalism is on the couch. He's burned out, hardly anyone seriously believes in him anymore, more and more people ask “why”, a mood of crisis is spreading. Is the heyday of capitalism over?

The currently fashionable but often ideological scolding of capitalism consists of a series of accusations that do not affect capitalism per se, but rather its abuse and its actors. The widespread anti-capitalism of our society is a preliminary stage of the political movements we observe today that pursue authoritarian tendencies. For them, the globally dispersed power of capital is just as much a challenge as democracy.

Capital is dangerous when it is less in the hand and capitalism is actually no longer possible. Capitalism is the less developed, the more it excludes the individual from market access and the more only a few define what the (good) is that is to be generated with capital. Lack of transparency and accumulation prevent people from contributing their skills. These are the real glitches. But that has nothing to do with whether a football player or a CEO is allowed to earn 15 million a year or ten. These people make their living in the market, which is free at least insofar as we do not contribute to this processhave to. Anyone who can change insurance goes to the one that is most efficient for them. Maybe it's the one where the board makes 5 million, maybe the one where it makes 15. It gets bad when we no longer have a choice, when we are dependent on a product. Then democratic control failed.

Authoritarian exclusions also prevail in our society. This applies to women, but it also applies, for example, to all those people who wanted to come to this country and want to offer their work, as Immanuel Kant in his book ofEternal peacehas demanded. Increasing the fairness of the market also has to do with opening up the market and making it more transparent. The opposite is the case, however, and is demanded by many. Opel should stay in Bochum, Nokia should not produce in Romania and the refugees should not take their jobs away. The national and central and authoritarian administration of capital follows the wish of the hour.

We are under the sign of upheaval. If we manage to maintain a broad and creative capital economy, we will be politically - in a global context - more stable. However, the tendencies of national and patriarchal centralizations run counter to this goal. There is this connection between a democratic, capitalist and individualistic society on the one hand and an anti-capitalist, authoritarian society on the other. The demonization of capitalism was just a prelude to contemporary political movements.

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