Transcript: Thom Hartmann asks Howard Bloom, is global capitalism on its last legs? 3 Dec '09

Thom Hartmann: Well, you know, sometimes you know what you know and sometimes you know what you don’t know and sometimes well, sometimes even as the Firesign Theater is fond of noting, everything you know is wrong. “You know that you’re wrong, but you fear you’re right! You suspect you’re out of sync. You think that you’re out of your mind. Everything you know is wrong.” Is everything you know about pretty much everything in the world wrong? Howard Bloom is with us, he’s the author of a new book "Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism". Howard welcome to the show.

Howard Bloom: Thanks Thom, how are you?

Thom Hartmann: I am great but I’ll get better. How about you?

Howard Bloom: Well I’m stunned by the fact that you’ve written 19 books. And that you’ve founded 7 corporations, I am absolutely stunned.

Thom Hartmann: Well it’s, uh, it’s what happens when hyperactive kids grow up. Um, I’ve spent a fair amount of time with your book, Howard. It is all over the place. I don’t mean that as a slam. You cover so many different topics and some of them rather brilliantly some of them in surface. I just found it a fascinating read. But let’s stick to capitalism, which actually is a fairly small piece of the book, unless you want to argue the largest frame possible. How, first of all, would you define capitalism?

Howard Bloom: Well, capitalism is a system based on desire. It’s a system based on hankering, of hungers, cravings and lusts. And it’s a transmission system for desire. In other words, if I want to buy something from you I have to give you something that you want. If I can’t give you something directly that you want I have to find somebody else who needs something that I can offer, give it to them and get from them the key to the transmission system, money, in order to come back to you and buy what I want from you.

Thom Hartmann: Isn’t that actually a description of free enterprise? Isn’t a description of capitalism that I have extra wealth and I use, and I take some of that wealth and I give it to you to do something productive, I don’t do anything productive at all, I sit on my butt around the pool. You do something productive, and you pay me back that wealth with interest, or even better than interest, with some of the profit from your productive activity and I am now using capital to make capital, I’m a capitalist.

Howard Bloom: Well, if you go back to Adam Smith who came up with the word capital, what Adam Smith was trying to explain is that when you, if you’re a farmer and you’ve managed to harvest a thousand pounds of corn during the course of the summer and your family uses 800, you’re left with 200 in savings. He equated the savings with capital.

Thom Hartmann: Right, but that’s my point is that a, is that when most Americans talk about capitalism and capital, I would submit to you that there are probably fewer than, there's 14,700 families in the United States that have an annual income over 2 million dollars a year.

Howard Bloom: Right.

Thom Hartmann: I would submit to you that there’s probably fewer than ¼ million or a ½ million capitalists in the United States, people who actually live off capital. The rest of us are workers...

Howard Bloom: Right.

Thom Hartmann: the classic socialist or communist or for that matter in the classic Adam Smith sense, and the sense that Abraham Lincoln said, you know, labor is superior to capital because labor precedes capital.

Howard Bloom: Right.

Thom Hartmann: Adam Smith’s example in Wealth of Nations in 1776 was a stick on the ground has no value. If you carve it into an axe handle it suddenly has value because you added labor to it.

Howard Bloom: Right.

Thom Hartmann: And as you correctly point out, if there’s surplus from that labor that becomes capital, it can be used in other ways. But I would submit that capitalism isn’t what is in need of help or support or anything like that. If anything, it's what’s in need of restraint, and I’m not an anti capitalist, I’ve made a lot of money as a capitalist. But, uh, it is, well actually I guess in some ways I am an anti capitalist. It seems to me that these monopolistic, here, this merger of Comcast and GE that’s going on right now as we speak.

Howard Bloom: Right.

Thom Hartmann: This is not going to benefit anybody except the capitalists. It’s not going to benefit any of the workers, it’s not going to benefit the consumers.

Howard Bloom: Well, this book is really a civilization book. It’s not so much a capitalism book, per se. Capitalism is the metabolism of the western system. The western system to me is something we absolutely must save at any cost. It’s the only system that has allowed for tolerance, pluralism, and freedom of speech since the days of the Roman Empire, an empire I wouldn’t want to emulate because it was bloody as all heck. But, the fact is that capitalism is what, capitalism is what brought us the equivalent of new eyes and ears when we developed the telegraph system around 1818. It gave us the equivalent of new legs when we invented the railroad system.

Thom Hartmann: But wait a minute, Alexander Graham Bell was not funded by a capitalist.

Howard Bloom: He didn’t have to be… Again, let’s go back.

Thom Hartmann: So it wasn’t capitalism that brought about the telegraph. In fact when he tried to sell that to capitalists they turned him down initially.

Howard Bloom: But Thom, we have a system in which we have produced the railroad train, the aircraft, commercial transportation, cell phones, lap tops.

Thom Hartmann: Sure. I’m not saying capitalism is bad and should be thrown out. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t deify it. I’m suggesting that if you look back at, for example, the Iroquois confederacy that, you know, the founders invited 34 members of to the constitutional convention. Ben Franklin in his opening said if five nations of ignorant savages have succeeded in living together for a thousand years in peace than certainly 13 colonies of educated Englishmen can do the same.

Howard Bloom: Right.

Thom Hartmann: That the Iroquois confederacy which was the antithesis of capitalist because the idea of accumulating wealth in hospitality-based societies, which was most native American societies, and frankly is much of the Middle East, you know. This is what we don’t get about the Pashtun society for example.

Howard Bloom: Right.

Thom Hartmann: You acquire status by what you give away, not by what you have. That’s why they have patlatches. That those kind of anti-capitalist societies actually were the truly egalitarian societies, highly functional societies, although maybe they didn’t have the technological edge. And I’m wondering, and let me just toss this out to you. Is the technology worth the potential destruction of the world?

Howard Bloom: I don’t agree with you about the potential destruction of the world by any stretch of the imagination. There are 1.0976 trillion cubic meters of raw material beneath our feet for every ounce of living matter on the globe and of formerly living matter, that is, of biostuff. There are 200 million ounces of inanimate material that hasn’t been translated or is not part of the bioprocess. You could easily say, 'boom, we’ve already raped this planet. Are you talking about raping it some more?' Well let’s take a look at what nature does with this raw material. Two miles beneath your feet and mine there are chemolithoautotrophs, they’re a bacteria that are eating raw granite and turning it into biomass. Once upon a time 3.85 billion years ago, there was less than teaspoon of life on this planet. Today there is a trillion tons of it. And yet it’s the tiniest fraction of the entire body of the earth. In other words we’re part of a very imperialistic and colonialistic program called life.

Thom Hartmann: No, I would disagree. I would say we’re part of a very cooperative and collaborative, competitive certainly, but not genocidally competitive.

Howard Bloom: Oh no, not genocidally competitive. Wait a minute Thom, hang on a second here..

Thom Hartmann: That’s called cancer when it’s genocidally competitive.

Howard Bloom: We’re a part of a life process that uses both competition and cooperation. And uses them in balance.

Thom Hartmann: Yes.

Howard Bloom: Unfortunately, nature is not very nice. And nature has been genocidal, many many times. It’s up to us…

Thom Hartmann: Oh sure, 99% of, 99.8% of all species are extinct. But here’s you know, you’re talking about the wonders of all these resources, and we just have a minute left here Howard, we’re talking with Howard Bloom, “The Genius of the Beast” is his book. And his website. 70 to 80% of the total caloric content of all food consumed in the developed world can be traced right back to oil.

Howard Bloom: Right.

Thom Hartmann: We have 6 billion people on the planet right now. Before the age of oil, before 1800 we never had more than 1 billion. You can build a very strong argument that if oil were to go away tomorrow, you’d have 5 billion starving people, plus.

Howard Bloom: Right. And the result is that you and I both agree that we’ve got to take what we’ve got left of this oil and use it to make new energy generating sources. And those energy generating sources, you know that I run a group called The Space Development Steering Committee and that group is in favor of putting huge photovoltaic arrays in space and beaming that energy back down to earth so we don’t have to pay for over entire ecosystems.

Thom Hartmann: Hm, interesting. No I didn’t know that. But I must have missed that part of the book. Howard Bloom, "Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism" among many, many, many, many, many other things, the website. Howard thanks for dropping by.

Howard Bloom: Thanks Thom.

Thom Hartmann: Good talking with ya.

Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.

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