July 27 A Capital Idea part 21: Capitalism is Antidiversity

What do guitars and golf clubs, gas and brake pedals, and scissors have in common? By and large, they are all made for right-handed people's use. Even though music is a right hemisphere function and lefties tend to have better than average musical ability according to researchers, I seldom see any musician other than Paul McCartney play a left-handed guitar. It's probably too expensive and troublesome for the guitar manufacturers to make 10% or perhaps more of their guitars left-handed. The same applies to golf clubs. How many left-handed professional golf players are there, aside from Phil Mickelson? Fishing reels are another example. All of them are built for righties, although most of them can be reversed by unscrewing the bolt that holds on the handle on the right side and putting it on the left side of the reel. As a lefty, I buy reversible reels and immediately turn them into lefty reels. However, some fishing reels cannot be reversed to become lefty reels. I accidentally bought one of those a few years ago, which now sits in our garage waiting to be given away to a right-handed person. I guess it's too troublesome for fishing reel manufacturers to make reels for lefties, although most of the manufacturers have the hang of making reversible ones. There are ambidextrous scissors, but they are not common and probably more expensive than the usual righty ones. The most glaring example in my opinion, of a manufacturing bias in terms of handedness, is the gas and brake pedals on cars. Well, they are really more about footedness than handedness, but left-handed people are usually left-footed also, as well as left eyed, as I am. The pedals must be operated with the right foot. I have to wonder whether that makes driving less safe for lefties. I know that there was research around the 1980s which indicated that lefties were more likely than righties to die in car accidents. Arguably, the placement of the various knobs to the right of the driver could also be a sign of handedness bias.

What does all of this have to do with capitalism, aside from being a lefty's idiosyncratic way of looking at manufacturing bias? The simple answer is that these are examples of how capitalism is antidiversity. Whomever can manufacture the most product for the least money is likely to win the real-life monopoly game that corporations play. How do corporations cut down costs while churning out as much product as possible? Aside from firing employees and replacing them with machines, corporations can standardize their equipment so that all of the product is made exactly the same way -- as in guitars, golf clubs, fishing reels, scissors and even car pedals, all built for right handers only. Beyond handedness, their are standardized clothing sizes, with relatively few options in terms of shirt sizes, for instance. Cars, furniture, appliances, toys, paper, pens, pencils, whatever, are all made in standardized ways to suit the greatest number of people. People who don't fit the mold have to buy special equipment, perhaps even going to specialized stores and buying more expensive products. Beyond the standardization of manufacturing products, capitalism is also antidiversity through its inevitable gravitation toward monopolies. Over time, there are fewer and fewer corporations who own more and more of the economy. Of course, each corporation does things a certain way, and has stores with a given brand name which are all designed the same way. Last Friday, on Eunice's birthday, she decided to go to that "Mexican sandwich restaurant near Costco" called Portillo's Hot Dogs or something like that. It is in a sort of large, rectangular building, but I figured, since I had never heard of such a chain before, and since there are so many people of Hispanic origin living in Moreno Valley, that some Mr. Portillo who lived in town had decided to open a restaurant. I even have a Ms. Portillo in my summer session class currently, so it could have been her family. Such was not the case, however. It turns out that Portillo's is a chain restaurant from Illinois, which has just recently begun to expand outside of Illinois. Since it was relatively inexpensive, with relatively good food, and surprisingly good business for Moreno Valley which is a lousy place to do business in general except for bottom of the line bargain places, I anticipate that this chain will enjoy continued success. In a few years, there will probably be Portillo's restaurants all over the U.S. Once they conquer the U.S. market, of course, they will expand internationally. The larger point is that there are hardly any mom and pop, one-of-a-kind businesses anymore around here. We have a major shopping area which has opened up not far from where we live, with many new stores, and some older ones, but virtually all of them are large, national chain stores, with no other options. I think the same is true all over the United States. It is antidiversity, pro-monopoly, too-big-to-fail business. This is not good for society. I think we should have a law in the United States as India does, preventing chain stores from occuring. In India, each store must be one-of-a-kind, which helps their middle class tremendously, creating diversity and opportunities for its citizens. I have not heard anything about India's economy being in a tailspin, probably because their economy is doing well throughout this period of economic crisis for the more monopolistic nations.

An argument could be made that democracy itself encourages a similar "tyranny of the majority" as does capitalism. This is true to an extent; however, there is one huge mitigating factor which helps to keep the majority from acting tyanically in democracies. That is, democracies make constitutions and laws which assert the rights of the minority. Since almost everyone has family members or good friends who are members of one sort of minority or another, even if its only having a lefty in the family (for example, mine has 3 brothers who are all lefties, 2 foreign born Asian wives, Eurasian, Chinese, mestizo and Black children, a teenage nephew of mine who seems to be gay, plus people of a variety of religious/spiritual beliefs and non beliefs), it is difficult for citizens to encode any sort of discrimination into law, except under the most extreme of circumstances. There was a time when slavery was legal, a time when Chinese were not allowed to migrate to the United States, and during WWII, a time when Japanese-Americans were imprisoned in concentration camps, but we wound up being so embarrassed by these immoral actions, that Americans (most of us, at least) have become determined to never do such things again, and have written more and more protections for minorities into the Constitution and into law. Also, American society itself has become more diverse in various ways. In contrast, capitalistic corporations have no compulsion to "do the right thing." They are governed by profit, which means that they are motivated to do things the easiest, cheapest way, resulting largely in a lack of accomodation to the diversity of the human species. They do not make laws preventing discrimination against minority shopping populations. Any such laws which exist were made through democratic legislative processes.

My final point for this post is that we should think of society in terms of an ecological analogy. Any ecologist will tell you that diversity is good for an ecosystem. That is why the current, human-caused extinction event in which we are losing a great many species is not only a tragedy on a spiritual level, but also, a dangerous thing for the immediate geological future of the world. Diversity in an ecosystem makes it stronger and well, more lively. Diverse ecosystems are better able to adapt to change, favoring certain traits as conditions change, and producing adaptive mutations which lead to new species. Ecosystems which lack diversity are vulnerable to ecological disaster. The same applies to human cultures. The "too-big-to-fail" phenomenon with large banks and corporations is emblematic of this problem. We have become a very vulnerable society -- vulnerable to financial and social collapse and chaos -- because as a society we have gone way too far down the road of capitalistic monopolization. Too many people either work for or depend upon too few businesses, despite the advent of new technologies over the years. We are paying for this poor choice now. This choice was not really made or widely backed by the public, in my opinion, but was a choice made largely by rich people and their politicians with relatively little consent by the public except for the natural tendency to buy the cheapest products, and the fact that many people have been fooled into voting for this ideology through exposure to their propaganda. The way to prevent it from happening again is to use democracy to create laws -- hopefully Constitutional ones -- which regulate and reduce the role of capitalism for the sake of the public good, so that corporatism cannot run amok ever again. In fact, the less capitalistic society becomes, the better it will allow for human needs and human diversity, in my opinion.


tmoney13's picture
tmoney13 9 years 12 weeks ago

The history of Portillos is actually a mom and pop story of success. Those stores which provide products that people want at a price that is better than their competitors will thrive, and expand. Others will die out. Basically dining preference will come down to individual free choice.

Capitalism isn't itself anti-diversity, mass production of products and economies of scale may promote sameness, but neither of those is a prerequisite of capitalism. Even in command and control ecomonies the classic example being Soviet Russia, mass production and economy of scale techniques were used. In fact there is an interesting, if not antecdotal story of Mikhail Gorbachev going to a grocery store in the US and marvelling at all the different foods that were available. So it could be said that capitalism promotes diversity.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 9 years 11 weeks ago

If that's so about good restaurants, then why are there so few mom and pop ones left, or businesses of any kind? I hardly see any independently owned, one of a kind stores around here, only the same big chain stores. Portillo's was started in something like 1977 or 1979 according to the blurb I read, so there is a long history there, and the chain only recently started expanding outside of Illinois. Only the rare store owned by the individual becomes a major chain, and as time goes on, with big business friendly regulations, even fewer can be so successful. If regulations are made to favor small businesses, then perhaps more diversity would florish, but lack of regulation clearly favors a few large businesses.

I do think that technology creates diversity. Thus, we have more and more gadgets over time, and even more and more potential careers available. I don't think that capitalism is particularly responsible for the development of new technology, though. Education and government sponsorship mostly drive technological innovation, along with some corporate sponsorship. Certainly, Soviet Russia's dictatorship system in the communist days didn't favor diversity and wasn't effective. Too small a group of comrades decided to make themselves de facto kings there, and in Maoist China, too. It seems to me that diversity is encouraged when people are responsive to each other's needs and are "doing there own thing" rather than having unresponsive big businesses in charge which are ruled by the profit motive, which seems to me is what we have now.

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