Krakow Diary Day #8 (Sunday Sep. 24): Capitalism Revisited

Last night was vodka night: A bunch of European writers sitting around the kitchen table drinking, so of course the conversation turned to capitalism. This time, the conversation surprised me. When I claimed, just to get it out in the open, to be capitalist, they disagreed. Not because they think I am a good person, but because I don’t have the money. It turns out I had been misunderstanding the European/German definition of capitalists all this time:

"A capitalist isn't just someone who lives in and agrees with a capitalist system," claimed Erica the Post-Socialist-Feminist. "A capitalist is someone who controls the capital, like Bill Gates. Didn’t you ever read Marx?"

Per this definition, Bill Gates has only been a capitalist since becoming a success, which is when he was able to "control capital." When he was working in his garage, determined to someday control capital, he was not yet a capitalist. Neither was the guy working in the garage next store who failed, though he would have liked to control as much capital as Bill Gates does.

That means a capitalist is someone who is successful in business and a socialist is someone who fails in business. That goes a long way in explaining Germany, where capitalism (even though Germany is a capitalistic country where all socialists wish they had the capital that the capitalists control) is synonymous with evil. If capitalism is morally reprehensible, business success is morally reprehensible, which may be one reason why Germany lives comfortably with 5 million unemployed, an embarrassing economic slump and a long tradition of discouraging innovation.

All of which is, by the way, in my book Planet Germany! In fact, here's My Beautiful German Frolein's illustration for that chapter:


Anonymous said…
Hi, this is Erica!
I have never ever heard a more outlandish definition of capitalism than from our American friend, who admittedly was under the influence of Wódka Wybórowa and managed to engage us in a vociferous debate culminating in his thesis that anyone who earns money is a capitalist. Accordingly the only difference between me (or Eric) and Bill Gates is the amount of money the latter has managed to accumulate. Marx must really have misunderstood a great deal when he wrote about "Widerspruch zwischen Arbeit und Kapital", "Ausbeutung der Arbeitskraft" und "Schaffung von Mehrwert". Wozu der Kapital-Arbeitskreis aus 1973 anno 2006 alles gut ist!

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