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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 19. 2nd August 1973

McDougoll and Co

McDougoll and Co.

Dear Sir,

It was with great interest that I read a recent interview in Salient titled "Business and the University". At last, I thought, a capitalist lecturer was going to have a chance to justify his activities, and the activities of his colleagues. However the more I read of the interview the more I realised that various statements were being made that did not tie in with the facts of capitalism insofar as I know them.

Reference was made in the interview to the fact that the consumer determines what is sold in the market place in accordance with his needs. Galbraith and many others argue that needs are created by the capitalist system, and thus what is bought in the market place is also determined by the capitalists. The accuracy of Galbraith's analysis can be clearly seen if one looks at consumer goods now available in American stores; electric can openers, electric tooth-brushes, electric spaghetti forks.... who in hell needs that kind of crap? What consumer in his right mind would be prepared to work for four hours in a noisy, smelly factory in order to be able to afford to buy an electric can opener (which, because of a policy of planned obsolescence is likely to crap out within a couple of years).

Another argument raised in favour of capitalism is that it provides the consumer with a choice. The point however, I feel, is that the choice provided is very limited. If I, a poor student, wanted to buy soap at 50% above the manufactured cost price (say 3c a bar), I wouldn't have any choice of doing so. The reason being that the soap manufacturers of NZ have possibly collectively determined (either explicitly or implicitly) that the sale of super-cheap soap is not in their own economic interests — thus the "choice" offered by the capitalists to the consumer is very much limited by the prime consideration of capitalists everywhere, i.e. "how do we get the biggest profit possible?"

It also seems strange to hear a lecturer talking of the provision of choice within the capitalist system, when many of the courses taught within his department apparently devote much time to considerations such as product standardisation and simplification — these techniques as I understand them are designed to restrict the choices available to the consumer yet the lecturer said "anything that constrains the consumer in his choice I'm against." I don't know if I'm stupid or something, but it seems to me that that statement is a contradiction for capitalism as it is both commonly taught and applied acts to constrain the consumer's freedom of choice.

Another idea I found fascinating in this interview was the implication that the free enterprise system was working better than a more inefficient easy going system (presumably socialism),

If you use the economic criteria of the annual rate of growth in G.N.P., then China followed by Cuba appears well in front of the capitalist countries. How the hell does one arrive at the conclusion that socialism is a more inefficient economic system than capitalism?

What amazes me is the fact that such flimsy arguments were used to support the capitalist system, for I would have thought that if one is going to support an economic system which affects the lives of so many people that one's arguments would have had at least some form of credibility. I really wonder now if there are any real justifications for the capitalist system at all.

Yours sincerely, R.J. Andrews.