Capitalist Harms

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Capitalism doesn't shy from harming people if it is profitable. Capitalism creates slavery, pollution, disease, fraud, inequality, exploitation, black markets, organized crime and other harms. Even worse, it subverts efforts to regulate these harms by government. The overall theme is privatization of profits and socialization of costs. Capitalism largely operates through corporations, which need to be reined in.


Famines (2 links)
Libertarians blame governments for famines, but Amartya Sen attributes famines to declines in ability to obtain food, which can be due to governments or to natural causes or to market peculiarities. Democratic governments have always been able to respond to these declines and prevent or alleviate famines. Capitalism and globalization has been behind famines in many nations.
Organized Crime (3 links)
Organized crime is a capitalist endeavor. Remove government constraint, and corporations and organized crime will merge. Claims that government is organized crime miss the critical difference: government is where we place coercive power so that it may be publicly managed for public purposes, while organized crime is private management of coercive power for selfish purposes. While prohibitions create black markets and organized crime, even libertarians want prohibitions against force and fraud and thus would create problems.
Slavery (25 links)
Slavery is a free-market, capitalist phenomenon. Slavery has almost always been abolished by acts of government that regulate the market, making it illegal. 19th century slaveowners defended their property rights in slaves in "economic freedom"-like terms that are unmistakably libertarian, differing only slightly in terms of who had natural rights. Some modern libertarians continue to make cases for slavery, such as Robert Nozick, Walter Block, Murray Rothbard and David Friedman. The private prisons that libertarians endorse (and traditional "hard labor") are really an opportunity to revive slavery. The only way to eliminate prison slavery is for government to regulate against it.
The Asbestos Industry (1 link)
The asbestos industry suppressed information about the hazards of asbestos for decades, and has subsequently been facing enormous lawsuits over many thousands of deaths. All the while fighting regulation worldwide.
The Chemical Industry (6 links)
The chemical industry is one of the greatest evaders of responsibility and greatest concealers of important information. Their products are extremely dangerous and require strict regulation. The horror stories are all too frequent and real.
The Drug Industry (10 links)
Legal and illegal, medical and alternative, the drug industry is responsible for enormous numbers of deaths and addictions, extortionate prices, not to mention enormous amounts of fraud in alternative medicines. Its harms far exceed those of wars. The drug industry absolutely requires regulation, but it is also one of the worst practitioners of regulatory capture.
The Financial Industry (6 links)
If there is any industry that has repeatedly proven itself to need regulation to prevent massive harms, it is the financial industry. It causes macroeconomic disruption, facilitates tax evasion, loansharks, defrauds customers in numerous ways, etc.
The Lead Industry (7 links)
The lead industry obstructed government regulation of lead in paint, water pipes and gasoline for more than 50 years after it was discovered to cause retardation. This resulted in millions of children poisoned by lead, a process that is still continuing because of ubiquitous lead paint in older houses. Major government efforts worldwide have greatly reduced the problem.
The Mining, Fossil Fuels, and Petrochemical Industries (4 links)
Mighty industries whose bought legislators have showered them with enormously profitable tax favors and sheltered them from environmental regulations. Much of the Koch wealth comes from these industries, which is why libertarian propaganda promotes fossil fuels and denigrates global warming, regulation, environmentalism, and renewables.
The Sugar Industry (3 links)
The sugar industry has engaged in a decades-long public relations effort to stack the scientific deck to prevent government regulation of sugar (including corn sweeteners, honey and syrups.) In addition, it has obtained enormous subsidies and restrictions of trade.
The Tobacco Industry (8 links)
The tobacco industry is notorious for its enormous public relations battle to preserve its ability to addict new generations of children. Science denialism, suppressed and secret research, legislative blockages, avoiding FDA oversight, and other tactics result in an industry that is still responsible for 300,000 US deaths per year and 5 million worldwide (growing rapidly.)
Unregulated Market (5 links)
Includes black markets. In an unregulated market, you have the freedom to buy and sell whatever you want, no matter how noxious, no matter how fraudulently. Drugs, fake drugs, poisons, child prostitutes, slaves, beatings, torture, executions, military force, mass murder: all these are sold in unregulated markets. Libertarians generally oppose market regulation, and thus would produce these ills.
Algorithmic Prison (21 links)
The algorithmic prison idea is that big data allows business and government to deny us loans, jobs, right to travel, etc. without our knowing why or being able to contest and change the data. This also makes us very vulnerable to dirty tricks.
Crony Capitalism (8 links)
Capitalist corruption of government for private gain. Sometimes mislabelled Corporatism. Libertarians use this term to describe any government/capitalist relationship they do not like and to excuse bad behavior by capitalists. But all capitalism is fundamentally crony capitalism because government favors owners with systems of property. Corporations, with their special privileges, are an especially clear example. Crony Capitalism is one type of Privatization of Power, and is practiced by the major funders of libertarianism.
Private Prisons (9 links)
There is a reason why prisons were changed from private to publicly operated as a reform long ago. Private imprisonment has corrupt incentives from the top on down, anywhere a profit can be made from an enslaved prisoner.
The Tax Prep Industry (2 links)
While libertarians complain about the complexity of filing taxes, they ignore that this feature is promoted by the tax preparation industry. Another example of privatizing profits by socializing costs.
25 Horrifying Images of the "Free" Market at Work [More...]
"We simply need to recognize that markets have no implicit moral authority."
A Brief Anti-Economist History [More...]
"The conclusion is clear, and something I have said before: western capitalism is neither harmonious nor natural. It is a product of specific historical circumstances, some of which were incredibly brutal. "
Big Tech: The New Predatory Capitalism [More...]
"The five largest global corporations by market value are the five tech firms named above... We already know these firms have crippled entrepreneurship... We already know they’ve concentrated economic gains in a few small enclaves... The question is no longer whether we have a problem with Big Tech; it’s what we’ll do about it."
Brazil’s Largest Food Companies Raided in Tainted Meat Scandal [More...]
Libertarians routinely deny that the scandals of "The Jungle" (100 years ago) had anything to do with reality. But here is a real-life, current example of how capitalist meat companies will sell adulterated and tainted meat if they can. That's why we have the FDA.
Capitalism And Freedom (Robert Nielsen review) [More...]
"Before I read the book, I knew I would not agree with it. Even still, I was shocked at how poor an argument Friedman makes and his complete aversion to using evidence to support his claims. His defence of discrimination is disgraceful and unbelievable."
Capitalism Is Coercive (7 links)
Libertarians pretend that there is no coercion in capitalism, but its foundation in private property is coercive and allows further coercion through economic power and Private Government.
Capitalism is coercive and creates patterns of deprivation, as explained by libertarian blockquotes [More...]
"[...] even a gang of libertarian and libertarian-approved thinkers -- when properly arranged -- can be marshaled to make all the usual anti-capitalist points about coercion and poverty. This is not surprising as these points are exactly correct and even libertarians sometimes tell the truth."
Capitalist Corruption Of Government (9 links)
Government corruption by capitalists has long been pervasive. Capitalists do it because it is profitable for them to engage in wars, control regulation, and give themselves more power. Campaign funding and advertising, a revolving door between the public and private sectors of the influential and other sorts of payoffs for politicians, their staffs and other government employees are a worldwide problem. Government exists to serve the populace, not primarily capitalists.
Capitalist Crime (3 links)
Criminality by capitalists is obviously the easiest way for them to increase their capital when they can get away with it. Mortgage fraud alone has stolen billions of dollars. Capitalist criminal behavior steals at all levels, from individual thefts to defrauding the government of billions. Corporations and too-big-to-fail make evasion of responsibility easy.
Child Labor (5 links)
Many libertarians defend child labor because the alternative is for popular, labor, and government action to end the cycle of poverty, low education, and child labor.
Class War (34 links)
Libertarianism is an astroturf pawn created by the first-class citizens (large corporations and the ultra-wealthy) in the class war against ordinary people (the 99%.) The first-class citizens have subverted representative government with propaganda, lobbying, campaign finance and revolving-door politics. The result is greater inequality due to state support of the wealthy.
Commercial Trolling: Social Media and the Corporate Deformation of Democracy [More...]
"As the phenomenon of online astroturfing demonstrates, online discourse is under constant assault from concentrated capital that deliberately hides both its identity and its strategies and tactics. The notion that the “internet democratizes,” especially with regard to the most important aspects of political communication, cannot and must not be taken on faith."
Confronting the Parasite Economy [More...]
Why low-wage work is bad for business -- and all of us. Corporations that pay low wages impose welfare costs on the rest of society. Minimum wage is one way to prevent this problem.
Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole (book)
Contract (3 links)
Private contracts decrease liberty by creating duties. Sometimes the results are noxious, such as contracts for slavery, non-compete clauses, unconscionable clauses and other surrenders of basic rights. Law regulates contracts by standardizing some, prohibiting others or by making them unenforceable.
DDT (4 links)
The pesticide industry is attempting to blame Rachel Carson and her green followers for millions of malarial deaths because of "DDT bans". But in reality, that industry is responsible for the deaths because they have fostered pesticide resistance in mosquitos through indiscriminant sales of their pesticides. DDT has NOT been banned for public health use, only agricultural use.
Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science That Makes Life Dismal (book)
Shows how today’s dominant economic theories of economic efficiency and wages evolved, how they explicitly favor the rich over the poor, and why they’re not the only -- or best -- options.
Fraud (3 links)
Capitalism is about increasing one's own wealth, and one of the easiest ways is fraud. Libertarians generally oppose government investigation into fraud and regulation against fraud, despite government's proven track record and the lack of libertarian alternatives. Regulation of commercial speech is one of the main methods of preventing commercial fraud.
How Crowdworkers Became the Ghosts in the Digital Machine [More...]
"Since 2005, Amazon has helped create one of the most exploited workforces no one has ever seen." "According to critics, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk may have created the most unregulated labor marketplace that has ever existed."
How Your Employer Uses Perks Like Wellness Programs, Phones And Free Food To Control Your Life [More...]
Don't assume those benefits are just for you. Employers have their own reasons for offering them, too.
If Science Was Bought and Sold Would It Be a Bad Thing for Science? [More...]
"So is science bought and sold? --- I sure hope so!" This from an Austrian economist whose department is funded by the same plutocrats (Charles and David Koch) who fund Global Warming denialism. Making science into another market is corrupt.
Inequality (46 links)
Libertarians have no answers for the many problems of inequality, which markets do not solve. Problems such as: class war, disability, discrimination, minorities, poverty, privilege, real world power, women's issues and much more. Nor do libertarians have an answer for when inequality is caused by unfairness.
Monopoly, Oligopoly, Market Power and AntiTrust (36 links)
Capitalists unendingly seek monopoly, oligopoly, monopsony and oligopsony as routes to the highest possible profits. All are inefficient according to ordinary microeconomics. This is a huge, measurable cost. Capitalists cannot self-regulate this problem away: government must.
Non-compete Clauses In Contracts (3 links)
Non-compete clauses in contracts are a restraint on trade that reduces the liberty of employees by requiring them to give away their rights to get a job. Recent research has also shown that these clauses are economically harmful. Liberals think such clauses should be unenforceable, just as slavery contracts should be unenforceable. Libertarians (a) often think you should be able to sell your rights or (b) don't care about workers.
Obstructing Regulation And Regulatory Capture (29 links)
Libertarians side with capitalist obstruction of harm-reducing regulations, including deregulation. Addictive drugs (such as tobacco), clean air, workplace safety, pollution reduction, prohibition of lead and mercury contamination, food safety, global warming, etc. They seem unaware that reducing some harmful freedoms can result in huge benefits (including freedoms) for others.
Private ownership on the scale of a state. (1 link)
Private ownership of large areas is not much different than a state, except that the profit motive can incentivize harming the people. Atrocities result, as we see with the Congo Free State and the British East India Company.
Private Sector Waste (5 links)
It is widely assumed that government is wasteful but the private sector is not. Every kind of market failure presents opportunities for private sector waste. Everybody who has worked in the private sector can tell stories of waste in their business. Competition may not be strong enough to eliminate very much waste.
Profits and pandemics: prevention of harmful effects of tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-processed food and drink industries (The Lancet) [More...]
"Despite the common reliance on industry self-regulation and public–private partnerships, there is no evidence of their effectiveness or safety. Public regulation and market intervention are the only evidence-based mechanisms to prevent harm caused by the unhealthy commodity industries."
Republicans Sink Bill to Prevent Abuse in Teen Behavior Schools [More...]
This is an unregulated, private, capitalist industry that grossly violates human rights. But libertarians want to identify government as the problem, not the free market.
Responsibility (11 links)
Libertarians regard government policies of responsibility as tyrannical burdens.
Rigged. Forced into debt. Worked past exhaustion. Left with nothing. [More...]
Libertarians routinely deny that the scandals of "The Jungle" (100 years ago) had anything to do with reality. But here is a real-life, current example of how capitalist trucking companies load the odds against successful truck ownership by employees, in ways similar to the housing contacts in the novel.
Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer (book, online)
The enormous upward redistribution of income in the United States in the last four decades was not the result of globalization and the natural workings of the market. Rather it was the result of conscious policies that were designed to put downward pressure on the wages of ordinary workers while protecting and enhancing the incomes of those at the top.
Robert J. Shiller on Competition, Deception and Rent-Seeking [More...]
An interview with an author of "Phishing for Phools". "[Competitive markets] also create an economic equilibrium that is highly suitable for economic enterprises that manipulate or distort our judgment, using business practices that are analogous to biological cancers that make their home in the normal equilibrium of the human body."
Ross Ulbricht aka Dread Pirate Roberts and Silk Road (1 link)
Eagle Scout become libertarian become bitcoin drug dealer become buyer of murder. An example of how Bitcoin can not guarantee anonymity. As "Dread Pirate Roberts", he created the Silk Road unregulated market for drugs and other black market deals.
Silicon Valley billionaires believe in the free market, as long as they benefit [More...]
"Google, Apple and other tech firms likely colluded to keep their workers' wages down. So much for that libertarian worldview."
Standard Oil, Monopoly and Predatory Pricing (3 links)
For decades libertarians have relied on the egregious revisionist history of Standard Oil by John McGee of the Chicago School to declare predatory pricing and monopoly rare and impractical. This claim has been thoroughly refuted by legal and economic research, both empirical and theoretical. Now it is up to the courts to catch up with academia.
The Alcohol Industry (3 links)
The alcohol industry is responsible for roughly 6 times more deaths than are due to violence. In addition, there are high secondhand harms. Taxation to raise the price and bans on advertising are very effective at reducing sales and demand. Worldwide, public health measures are reducing consumption.
The Davos Lie (4 links)
A term coined by Larry Summers. The old idea that since free trade increases overall benefits, the winners could compensate the losers with some of the gains to create a Pareto improvement where everybody wins. But the real world fact is that this compensation does not occur, increasing poverty and inequality dramatically.
The Deaths That Come When an Industry's Left to Regulate Itself [More...]
"The Consumer Product Safety Commission tried for 16 years to make portable electric generators less dangerous. Then a Trump-selected official took charge of the agency."
The Dystopian Future of Price Discrimination [More...]
It's easy to imagine how personally tailored pricing could go terribly wrong.
The Elasticity of Demand With Respect to Product Failures; or Why the Market for Quack Medicines Flourished for More Than 150 Years [More...]
Markets did not punish the quack medicine industry due to unusually low elasticity of demand with respect to product failure and bounded rationality. The conclusion mentions that recent resaerch shows the FDA increased consumer welfare.
The Free-Market Al-Qaeda: Neoliberal Think Tanks and the Harm They Do [More...]
How a a small group of “free-market” ideologues consciously set out 40 years ago to marketize everything public. Includes a list of 12 right-wing philanthropic foundations that set out in the 1960’s to overturn a century’s accumulation of progressive public policy.
The God That Sucked [More...]
The results of roughly 30 years of market worship are a destruction of the American dream.
The Risks of Unfettered Capitalism [More...]
"Capitalism [...] provides financial incentives to harm and even kill people. Just ask those people who say they have been victimized by cigarettes, predatory lenders, Volkswagen diesel emissions, Takata airbags, General Motors ignition switches, Trump University, Vioxx, asbestos or other products."
The Secret History of Lead [More...]
"There is at least one simple lesson to be drawn from the tetraethyl lead story. Industry cannot be trusted to regulate itself, as Clair Patterson -- the man who dated the earth and single-handedly deflated ethylized science -- once remarked."
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (book) (2 links)
The Shock Doctrine advances a truly unnerving argument: historically, while people were reeling from natural disasters, wars and economic upheavals, savvy politicians and industry leaders nefariously implemented policies that would never have passed during less muddled times.
The Techtopus: How Silicon Valley’s most celebrated CEOs conspired to drive down 100,000 tech engineers’ wages [More...]
A conspiracy to fix wages by chief executives of Apple, Google, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Adobe, Intuit and Intel has been certified as a class-action lawsuit. "For all of the high-minded talk of post-industrial technotopia and Silicon Valley as worker’s paradise, what we see here in stark ugly detail is how the same old world scams and rules are still operative."
The White Ignorance of Milton Friedman [More...]
Milton Friedman's flawed, ahistorical excuses for libertarian revisionist history about slavery, discrimination, racism and other sins of capitalism. Still repeated endlessly by libertarians today.
Under Neoliberalism, You Can Be Your Own Tyrannical Boss [More...]
Perfectionism makes us scornful of each other, afraid of each other, and unsure of ourselves at best. It prohibits the types of solidaristic bonds and collective action necessary to take on neoliberal capitalism, the very thing that generates it. The only possible antidote to atomizing, alienating perfectionism to reject absolute individualism and reintroduce collective values back into our society.
United States v. Philip Morris [More...]
Tobacco companies had engaged in a decades-long conspiracy to (1) mislead the public about the risks of smoking, (2) mislead the public about the danger of secondhand smoke; (3) misrepresent the addictiveness of nicotine, (4) manipulate the nicotine delivery of cigarettes, (5) deceptively market cigarettes characterized as “light” or “low tar,” while knowing that those cigarettes were at least as hazardous as full flavored cigarettes, (6) target the youth market; and (7) not produce safer cigarettes.
Wage Theft (6 links)
The simplest way for a capitalist to make more money is to not pay employees what he has promised and what he is legally obliged to pay. That's wage theft, and it is epidemic. Donald Trump exemplifies this problem, and is notorious for non-payment.
Worse Than Lead? [More...]
An extensive history corporate malfeasance with lead additives in gasoline and the history of the marketing of flame retardants despite knowledge that they were not safe nor effective.
Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers [More...]
"Amazon’s system of employee monitoring is the most oppressive I have ever come across and combines state-of-the-art surveillance technology with the system of “functional foreman,” introduced by Taylor in the workshops of the Pennsylvania machine-tool industry in the 1890s."


The invisible hand of the market makes a very good pickpocket.
Mike Huben
People smoke in large part because they have been persuaded to. Persuaded by a tobacco culture carefully nurtured by the tobacco industry. Persuaded by an industry that suppressed hazards of smoking for decades after they were known. Persuaded by an industry that knew its product was addictive, and knew it had to addict juveniles to maintain the smoking population. This history is well known from internal tobacco company documents. You can pretend that the word "choose" absolves those corporations from all responsibility: but even libertarians shouldn't accept that. Otherwise, there would be no prohibition against fraud. People must make choices to be defrauded. The folks who invested with Bernard Madoff chose their investments, but that does not absolve Madoff. Nor are tobacco companies absolved because people chose to smoke. Those people were persuaded by an industry that spent enormous amounts on advertising, promotion, and disinformation. The amount they spent shows how critical they felt that persuasion was: that shows their responsibility.
Mike Huben, email July 26, 2009
To use one of Ayn Rand’s favorite words, this country is infested with looters: only they’re not the poor, they’re not the mythical “welfare queens”, they’re bankers and obscenely overpaid executives and corporations that demand the right to buy elections. And there stand the libertarians, the useful idiots who cheer them on.
PZ Myers, "So I invented a new law the other day"
The pride of man makes him love to domineer, and nothing mortifies him so much as to be obliged to condescend to persuade his inferiors. Wherever the law allows it, and the nature of the work can afford it, therefore, he will generally prefer the service of slaves to that of freemen.
Adam Smith, "The Wealth of Nations" III.2.10