The Triviality of Capital Ownership

boddhisatva kbevans at
Sat Dec 19 07:18:28 PST 1998

C. Bill,

The problem is that the ability to take the kind of risk you describe is a "privilege", granted by the rich, under capitalism. Most working people do not have access to even the possibility of taking that kind of risk and providing *themselves* with that opportunity. Next, every step along the way from start-up to major corporation is an opportunity for people with money to put themselves in line to profit from the work of those who are not in a position to invest. From the venture capitalist to the investment bank to the stock buyer, people with money will be horning in on the show, each one rewarding the previous one on the basis of his ownership, each one relying on the fact that workers will be contributing to the value of the equity without diluting it.

Your personal control is immaterial and that is the key to understanding the system. We don't live in the age of the private mill owner, despot over his industrial domain. We live in the age of the corporation. The corporation is based on the passive investor. Yet, a passive investor, an absentee landlord, is a landlord all the same. That a rent collector is the one to actually put the screws to tenants absolves him of nothing but the personal capacity for cruelty. The heroic industrialist of Ayn Rand (archetype for Bill Gates, but with a better haircut) can be a hero exactly because someone else does his dirty work.

Is one who does not have the personal capacity to be a cruel a better person than the martinet? Yes. Does that reduce his responsibility for participating in a cruel system? Maybe even a little. Yet we need feel no personal animous nor assign blame in order to change a person's role in our society if that role is destructive. Even if the person is constructive the role, by its nature, may be destructive. The Buddhists exhort us not to hate the tiger for his bite. They also recommend doing everything necessary not to get eaten by tigers, even including taking an innocent, constructive, unhated tiger life to save a human life.

You may not be a tiger, but you are an economic despot, albeit in a small, passive way (or at least an economic oligarch). The question, then, is an old one: Can there be a benevolent despot or is despotry, by its nature, malevolent? If you are a figurehead, unopposed to re-ordering society in a fairer way, that's fine. That question will really be answered when it's time to turn in the crown, won't it?


More information about the lbo-talk mailing list