McCarten on capitalism

Written By: - Date published: 11:25 am, November 8th, 2009 - 32 comments
Categories: capitalism, workers' rights - Tags: , ,

Matt McCarten’s Herald column this week is a call for every working New Zealander to go and see Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story.

I haven’t managed to catch it yet, but judging by McCarten’s review Moore’s latest will be a must-see:

Some of the points he raises – such as workers having representation on boards of directors, and even workers owning these businesses as co-operatives – might seem a bit out there.

But it makes you think about how the economic system could be challenged and reformed. Why can’t workers, who produce the wealth of any business entity, have a say in management? After all, when bad business decisions are made, the workers have to carry the consequences. Shareholders may lose some of their money, but at least they are able to elect or sack the management team.

Why can’t workers? Corporates are top-down in terms of decision-making and profoundly undemocratic.

It is assumed this is a normal state of affairs and that there is no alternative. Moore offers real alternatives, and capitalists should be very afraid if his ideas catch on. I negotiate contract agreements for workers and am astounded by how afraid some employers are of their workers.

This week, a large employer refused to allow its workers to put up a notice board for union material. When governments try to stifle communication, we call it totalitarianism.

Corporate management, in many ways, is still in the feudal era where shareholders are kings, managers are lords and workers are peasants to be kept down and ignorant.

It’s good to see some public discussion about how profoundly undemocratic and authoritarian the capitalist workplace is, and what we can do to start democratising it.

32 comments on “McCarten on capitalism”

  1. DeeDub 1

    A nice piece by Matt.

    Before the 80s it was generally considered ‘out there’ for shareholders to be actively involved in corporate decision-making. Today it is more or less considered the norm. I hope in 20 years we can say the same about workers representation in corporate structures.

    But I’m not holding my breath.

  2. sean14 2

    If a group of like-minded people wanted to go out today and set up a business with a less-orthodox structure, what’s to stop them?

    • TightyRighty 2.1

      I don’t know sean. it doesn’t really matter here though, it’s the thought that someone else is doing something (taking risk, earning profit as the reward for that) in a manner they don’t like (being the boss), then it’s undemocratic and authoritarian. not that it matters though, the workplace is not a electorate.

      • Daveo 2.1.1

        “the workplace is not a electorate”

        Oh, that’s all cleared up then. Sorry, I’ll just get back to doing what I’m told, massa’.

      • RedLogix 2.1.2


        A 20% profit share is a pretty effective means to help align the interests of the workers and the business owners.

        I participated in such a scheme for almost seven years (a small US based corporate employing about 2000 people worldwide) and my experience of it was very positive. It meant that as I worked I knew that every dollar I put on the bottom line, 20c of it was mine.

        It was worth good ding. One year I got a cheque that in todays values would have been well over $20k.

    • Daveo 2.2

      Lack of capital, the ‘race to the bottom’ of the capitalist market, the economies of scale of larger, market-dominant corporates. Your question fails to understand the nature of the capitalist system.

      It also reveals a lot about your mindset. It’s akin to defending an authoritarian political system by saying “well, you can always just leave, can’t you?”

      • TightyRighty 2.2.1

        garbage. one of the beautiful things about capitalism is the ease of mobility of two of it’s three inputs. not so any other system.

        • Roger Anderson

          not garbage, the mobility of factors you mention will much more readily mobilise towards the larger established market dominant corporatists or into speculation that is not related to production. Daveo could easily find empirical evidence to back up his assertions. If your rebuttal carried any strength, the inputs you have mentioned would remove the issues Daveo raised. But ease of capital flows ensures that the barriers that exist in markets and prevent upward mobility are intensified to the point that even governments do not have the means to effectively address the issue.

          • TightyRighty

            and? that may all be somewhat true, but what you failed to tell everyone is what other economic system allows the mobility of inputs that capitalism does?

            • felix

              The one discussed in the post. Duh.

            • Roger Anderson

              sorry, I didn’t believe I was required to. I was showing that the ease of mobility you mentioned as a rebuttal does not minimise the issues presented by Daveo. I would agree with you that no other system presented so far other than capitalism has what you have mentioned. I would go so far as to say that no other system would prevent unequal power or economic relations, lack of democracy, exploitation, or any other negative that is presented by the capitalist system because people have been unfairly subjugated and exploited throughout history, even without the existance of capitalism. Marx failed to see this with his communist ideas and that is why it failed. The issue as Matt McCarten has raised is not whether capitalism is good or bad but what needs to be done to make sure that the positives of capitalism you mention can be of benefit to society and the majority of people who operate honestly within it.
              Businesses can use just about any means at their disposal and are completely free to maximise their wealth. By free access and communication with unions, workers are merely doing the same thing, denying them this right that business leaders enjoy is truly undemocratic.

            • TightyRighty

              right, so assuming perfect operating conditions, if you don’t like your boss or how undemocratic your workplace is, get mobile.

    • Bill 2.3

      Overwhelming propaganda slamming a ‘this is not possible’ message down everyone’s throat = diminished and diminishing probability of finding like minded people.

  3. RedLogix 3

    Thanks Eddie, you more or less beat me to a post. This is two weeks running Matt has written a very readable and challenging column, and credit is due to the Herald for publishing them.

  4. BLiP 4

    As I’ve said before, anyone silly enough to consider investing in the New Zealand stock market shouldn’t go past researching Brian Gaynor’s articles. This week, he highlights some of the points Moore makes but from a New Zealand perspective.

    Its been interesting watch the roll out of the Kathmandu offer – Feltex anyone?

  5. Do you really think a movie from Michael Moore will bring down Capitalism?

    Despite the recession, Capitalism will never die? The world isn’t going to turn to socialist or communist.

    So I’m sorry Bradford, Minto, and Locke you guys will never win.

    BTW, I love all of Michael Moore’s movies and wished their were more Journos like him.

    • illuminatedtiger 5.1

      Michael Moore isn’t advocating Communism, Socialism or any other ‘ism’ for that matter – he’s advocating for Democracy!

    • Anthony Karinski 5.2

      MM is not about bringing down capitalism and replacing it with socialism. He would be called a social democrat in Europe. His vision of capitalism is one that will serve society as a whole, not just a tiny elite. Besides his movies shouldn’t be labelled docos but rather opinion pieces as they do represent his view point.

    • RedLogix 5.3

      Do you really think a movie from Michael Moore will bring down Capitalism?

      Do you really think your blog comment will stop people going and enjoying MM’s entertaining and thought provoking movie? None of us have a monopoly on the truth Brett, not you, not me… nor even Mr Moore.

      But the events of the last year have punctured the smug assumption that so called ‘de-regulated free market capitalism’ is the best of all possible systems, that all economic and social progress has culminated in this final, perfect form.

      That assumption was always fairly unlikely, given that by every observable measure it is a system which concentrates wealth and power into fewer and fewer hands, the resulting inequality making worse almost every indicator of social health. Even the most cursory examination of the principles of capitalism reveal no inner moral compass, no purpose other than to provide self-justification for the greedy and rapacious to extend and consolidate their privilege at great cost and misery to all others.

    • felix 5.4

      Do you really think a movie from Michael Moore will bring down Capitalism?

      Nah. So fuck it then. That’s that.

    • Bill 5.5

      Wonder how permanent the Incas thought their shit was, or the Aztecs… the Egyptians… the Celts…. Romans…Abyssinians….Mongols….or….what was the name of all those completely forgotten empires with their completely vanished languages and vanished economic systems?

  6. prism 6

    Thought – Auckland bus drivers were partly influenced by the fact that they had become busier and wanted recompense. Why couldn’t bus company pay a bonus for increased business. Would have managed the grievance quite well.
    As for boss at work – someone in charge who knows what they and everyone else should be doing. When everyone is then no-one is. Who has heard of Mondragon lately – Northern Spain co-operative going for decades? I heard that some entity in NZ was ordering some machinery from them.

  7. Marty G 7

    few people seem to realise the largest company in new zealand is a co-operative

  8. Gerald 8

    I’d treat anything produced by Michael Moore with a grain of salt. The man is a genius at manipulating his audience so they receive whatever message the man wants. Sadly in doing so I believe truth and fact often are sacrificed for his message and also for entertainment.

    But give credit where credits due – his films are always damn good entertainment.

  9. redlogic:

    I love the movies of Michael Moore, I own all his doco’s on DVD,a nd will be going to this one also.

    Im a fan of is.

  10. jen 10

    Re employee’s owning shares in the company they work for I am thinking of Enron and the disaster that shareholding was for its employees. Its really only a good idea if the shareholding provides some actual control of the company.

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