Class, Psychology, and Capitalism

A young veteran was just arrested for murdering homeless people in Los Angeles.  Regardless whether he is actually guilty, a large number of terrible acts have been committed by returning veterans traumatized from the war.  None of the studies of which I’m aware accounts for such costs (including the cost of imprisoning them) in the costs of war.

This weekend, the Wall Street Journal mentioned two recent studies in psychology, suggesting how people can become conditioned to function better in our increasingly inhuman capitalist society.  The first indicates that soldiers who played violent video games apparently were able to numb themselves to the horrors that they witnessed.

The second article found that religious people were more inclined not to discount the future as much as secular people; in effect, they were more future-oriented or, as Joe Hill used to say, more concerned with pie in the sky.  For two and a half centuries, economists, such as Adam Smith, tended to attribute people who attained status as capitalists to their capacity to be more future-oriented.  Max Weber, and to some tiny extent, Marx himself, tended to attribute the development of capitalism to Protestantism.

Apparently, to the extent we can train cannon fodder with violent video games and inculcate the rest of us with religion, we can succeed in maintaining an empire with a patient civilian population, who will be content to sit by until neoliberal policies can ultimately deliver the pie-in-the-sky.

Michael Perelman is professor of economics at California State University at Chico, and the author of numerous books, including The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers (Monthly Review Press, 2011).  Read Perelman’s blog Unsettling Economics at <>.

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