Don’t fall into the trap of asking or demanding capitalists to fulfill the role of the state. We want to strip them of their economic and political power, not expect them to save the day.
There was a tweet going around right after Kobe Bryant died about how Kobe Bryant should have spent his wealth building trains, and he wouldn’t have died in a helicopter crash.
A lot of people were upset about this tweet for being uncouth and insensitive. People criticized it for being “over-woke”, turning a source of public mourning to some people into a cheap ploy.
I don’t have personal feelings for Kobe Bryant, although it’s sad all of those people died. But I do still have a criticism of the sentiment of the tweet itself.
I wanted to wait until a couple months later to write this, because the specific tweet doesn’t matter, but rather the general argument of the tweet. Also, I didn’t want to write a blog post in the midst of a pile-on.
For one, the tweet was perceived as a far-left position, but it actually isn’t. The tweet basically said that if Kobe Bryant had funded a train system, he wouldn’t have needed a helicopter, and he wouldn’t have died.
The idea of off-loading political-material infrastructure onto one rich guy is actually anti-Marxist, and anti-Leftist.
If anything, it’s a libertarian capitalist position.
Capitalism effects all members of class society.
Capitalist is an economic system, and consequently, like any economic system, motivates people with incentives. One way you can look at class society is: a society requires different people to perform the labor, and what labor they perform. That means there are classes of people with different motivations. They relate to the economy, and consequently, society, based on the class of people they belong to.
The capitalist class is motivated by their class interest. Pretty common sense, right? And Kobe Bryant was a capitalist, he wasn’t just super-rich from sports. He was a partner of the venture capital company Bryant Stibel.
That means the capitalist class isn’t motivated to build private infrastructure. The methods the capitalist class uses to advance their class position are antithetical to privately building infrastructure.
A leftist, material worldview depends on this idea: in every class society, we belong to a class, and within those societies, people act according to their class interests, or at least try to.
Leftists sometimes wrongly think that the liberal position is the opposite of this. The opposite position would be: every class society, people act according to their class interests, and in a capitalist society this is a good thing.
That’s not what liberals believe. They believe that, sure, there might be classes to some extent, but they don’t really inform society that much. We’re all just human and we all have the same motivations. Some people are just unethical or corrupt, we just need to crack down on the corruption!
The difference between the leftist and liberal position is that the leftist position acknowledges the structural, systemic, historical, and material conditions that inform the failures of society. The liberal position doesn’t, or seldomly, acknowledges those things, and instead attribute class politics to personal greed.
Once class dynamics are attributed to individual choice, is when people can make arguments like “greed is human nature”, when in reality, greed is capital’s nature – it’s the characteristic of the dominant class imposed upon all people.
Personally, I think the US would be a much better country if they invested heavily into rail projects. Our country’s infrastructure is failing. Our country sucks in this regard, in many ways.
But there are different solutions to our shit infrastructure, depending on how you conceptualize the problems to begin with.
If you’re a leftist, you will see the problem as a structural problem, where the problems of society are a consequence of the social and economic structuring of class-based societies. Therefore, the solution would be have to be structural. Society needs to be restructured.
Conversely, if you aren’t a leftist, you will not see these as structural problems, you will see them as individual failing. Even if you have the position that all billionaires are personally, individually greedy, independent of structures, you would probably want to regulate billionaires, but you still aren’t opposed to the mechanisms that create billionaires.
If you expect hundred millionaires (like Kobe Bryant, he wasn’t a billionaire) to fund public infrastructure, you’re expecting them to do something outside of their class interest. And in order to do so, you have to consider individualized and personal choices to take more of a precedent than class interest.
Of course, every individual is different, and there are plenty of billionaires who ostensibly do “good”, which is antithetical to their class position. A billionaire may give away loads of their wealth. But we also have to consider, capital and capitalists have both long-term and short-term interests, and some concessions to charity and stuff like that is in capital’s long-term interest, even if it might damage their short-term interest slightly. Good capitalists know this.
Not only that, but the capitalist class are much more likely to give their money to charities that are ostensibly disconnected from the state. You hear about way more rich people supporting causes like hunger, domestic violence and sex trafficking than infrastructure. Although those things are connected to the state and socioeconomics, we can conceptualize them outside the state to a greater degree than our train system.
And just to be clear, that’s not to diminish or dismiss domestic violence and sex trafficking. I want rich people to support those causes through charity. I simply bring that up, because it reinforces the point that we can’t count on rich people to build our infrastructure.
We need to structurally change society, to make a system that incentivizes infrastructure, and the way to do that, is to eliminate the incentive for profit.