Home / General / Pyramid of Capitalist System

Pyramid of Capitalist System


Suffering through the Republican clown show somehow makes me really want to post this 1911 image titled “Pyramid of Capitalist System.”

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  • bobbyp

    The poster is still available here.

  • Murc

    This was in all of my history and social studies texts when I was in school.

    It made sense to me then too.

    • LeeEsq

      Well kind of. Regardless of whether the atheists are correct or not, I never really brought the religion is the opiate of the masses idea. Generally, I think that atheists faction of the left tends to dismiss the idea of religious people believing sincerely in their faiths to easily. The “we fool you” never makes sense because I don’t think that most clergy are secret atheists working at the hands of capitalists. Most clergy really believe in their religions.

      • LeeEsq

        But at least the “we fool you” panel doesn’t include any Rabbis. At least the IWW knew that Rabbis aren’t in service of the ruling classes.

      • I think there’s an important difference between disallowing rule and decision-making by religion, and trying to convert people to atheism, or telling people of faith that they’re stupid or brainwashed.

        By not jumping to conclusions, and by asking people questions about their “faith” or spiritual beliefs, a lot of atheists and believers in other religions not their own might find that secular humanism and many brands of faith actually have a lot in common, and that there is no problem working with a person who has a professed religious or spiritual (or both) philosophy on common cause, at all.

        I just applied to join the IWW, because I have been aligned with their core principles most of my adult life. I see no conflict at all between those principles and my spiritual life, in fact, they are nearly inseparable.

        • I also love it that they include UNPAID laborers. There is a class of people who really need advocates.

        • Lee

          If I’m remembering correctly, one of the founders of IWW was a Catholic priest. He wasn’t in the best standing of the church but he did consider himself to be doing priestly work.

          I’m a pretty secular person but don’t really see religion as being a problem in itself. Historically or presently, I can’t think of any time or place where religion effectively kept the social order in place. That is when it really acted as an opiate When a class of people felt disgusted with the social order, they either rejected religion and rebelled or turned to a radicalized form of religion like Catholic liberation theogolgy, Political Islam, or Religious Zionism and fought for their own interests. As they perceived them at least.

          Nor do I see much evidence that mass atheism would have any sort of positive effect on society. Many libertarians and radical capitalists are just as militant in their atheism as many people on the left are. Mass atheism does not necessarily lead to a more left-leaning society.

      • witless chum

        I think it still works so long as you understand that opiates make suffering people feel better.

        • jafd

          One should remember that when Marx wrote “opium of the people”, opium had a significantly more positive connotation – it was one of the few drugs available that actually did what the doctors thought it did, and that had a positive (relieving pain, inducing sleep) effect on patients.

          • Right; there’s a big difference between the opium of the masses and the black tar heroin of the masses.

      • You don’t have to be aware that you’re fooling people to accomplish the feat.

      • Murc

        I’ve always interpreted the ‘We Fool You’ layer in the context of the centuries-long incestuous couplings between religions of various stripes and states of various stripes, as well as religious endorsements of social stratification. “These people rule you because God has anointed them do so. You labor in squalor because God has found you unworthy of worldly riches, which are a sign of his favor. Pray harder and tithe more.”

        It isn’t the worship itself that’s the con. It’s religious faith being leverages as an extension of the existing anti-worker status quo. THAT’S the con, the ‘fool you’ part.

        • It’s got to be more complex than that, because religion has been a voice for the poor, and religious institutions have been the place to turn when the rich man would see you destitute or dead. It’s not the maintenance of the brutal existing social order that’s the con, but the distraction provided by the alternative social order religion provides (which is not always approved by the authorities).

  • wengler

    This is pretty awesome.

    There should be an updated version.

    • Do we need to update it? Put 21st century clothing on the figures I guess.

      • bph

        Add in the odd smartphone and fewer Orthodox priests.

        That poster is just fantastic.

        • Got to give the I.W.W. credit. They could produce some great propaganda art.

          • DrDick

            I am printing out a small version and posting it on my office door.

        • LeeEsq

          Also get rid of the Kings because royalty is pretty much dead. Maybe the figures of royally should be replaced by a Hollywood star type. Actually, the Hollywood star type should probably go in the “we fool you” panel because the function of the entertainment industry is to glamorize people and get them not to think about the deeper issues.

          • The spawn of any billionaire who inherits his/her fortune and then dedicates his/her whole life to using the power that fortune confers and expanding the spoils and privileges of that wealth can easily be far more powerful than most of the royalty of human history could ever aspire to be with far less personal risk.

      • R Johnston

        Well, “We Eat For You” should be re-entitled “We Own You” and placed above the government “We Rule You” tier, but that was true in 1911 as well.

        • mark f

          I suppose “We Buy Your Company, Close Your Plant, Cancel Your Pension, Then Run For President As ‘Job Creators'” would be too cumbersome.

          • I dunno. Hum a few bars…

      • ploeg

        The ratios are all wrong.

      • wengler

        More bankers, televangelists, talk radio hosts.

        Change the soldiers to riot police. Dress the masses in the cheap rags from Wal-Mart.

    • HMS Glowworm did 9/11

      The only updated version I’ve seen has to do with My Little Pony. No, really:

      • Murc

        Everyone knows that earth ponies are the oppressed proletariat under the rule of the unicorn aristocrats and the pegasus bourgeoisie, while the god-queen alicorns legitimize the system through their divine imprimatur.

        I mean, duh.

        • Walt

          This is basically an accurate summary of the new My Little Pony cartoon.

          • LeeEsq

            One of the most disturbing things that I ever found out existed was that there is a fan club of adult male My Little Pony fans in NYC. Its one of the reasons I started to distance myself from fandom.

            • Little Pony hentai?

              • Lee

                It probably exists unfortunately. (Yes, I’m casting a values judgment on people’s sexual fantasies here). Thankfully, the group seemed just to be a bunch of grown men that liked My Little Pony. I still suffered a freak out when I learned of their existence.

                • Murc

                  First of all, we’re called bronies. Singuler brony.

                  Second of all, it’s in considerably more places than NYC.

                  Third, I’m not sure I care for your tone, or your judgy-ness. There are people who are big fans of a cartoon about ponies. Big fuckin’ deal. Disney characters are straight-up anthropomorphic adaptations of waterfowl and rodents and they’re beloved cultural icons.

          • Really? That’s better than the Alvin and the Chipmunks cartoons I heard around 2000-2001(if I remember correctly). In every episode, the little rodents had a “problem” and the solution seemed invariably to be “make money”. If Alvin had started pimping the others out to raise money for his drug “problem” it would have been consonant with the rest of the episodes.

            • Njorl

              You mean you didn’t see that episode? There was a a great Chipmunk version of “Love for Sale”.

  • Philip Eagle

    Steve Bell did a memorable UK update as the Guardian’s single-panel comments page cartoon the day after the Tories won the 1992 general election, which unfortunately doesn’t seem to be online.

    • waverby

      The Steve Bell version went something like


  • Jeremy
    • c u n d gulag


      The only things missing from the Americans on their couches watching TV were bucket’s of fried chicken, nacho’s, popcorn, and big gulps.

      • Lee

        I think this was implied by the people on coaches watching TVs with ballot boxes inbetween them below the line of police officers and cops in riot gere. The entertainment industry is a much more effective opiate than religion because the desire for luxury, pleasure, and vicarious adventure does more to keep people from questioning the established order than fear of damnation.

        Seriously, I think this is one of the most important discoveries that rightists made during the 20th century. As mentioned to Wiley above, you are going to be really hard pressed to find a situation where religion effectively acted as an opiate. On the other hand, movies with its dazzling and spectacular images does a very good job of getting people to accept capitalism. People see the lifestyles of the wealthy and ultra-wealthy and want the beauty and glamour of it for themselves. There were always many working and middle class peoples who accepted the established order because they had the dim fantasy of becoming gentry or a captain of industry. Since entertainment can propagandize that “its good to be the king” well, more working and middle class people hold these beliefs.

        What I don’t like about both pictures is that they are way too fatalist about electroral politics, especially the more recent one. However, the most effective leftist movements, the European Social Democratic movements, engaged in electoral politics.

  • HonorableBob

    This is pretty awesome.

    Ummmmm…yeah…if you’re a socialist, I’m sure it positively speaks to you.

    Seems to speak to a lot of the commenters.

    • Malaclypse

      We plan on strangling the last troll with the entrails of the last capitalist, Comrade.

      • Commands assimilated, comrade.

        I load coordinates now.

        You no hear me— dinner with Che. Arugula. Spicy mustard.

      • Lee

        And the last capitalist will gladly sell you his or her entails to strangle the last troll.

        Yet, (Dis)HonorableBob does have point. We find the picture at least partly convincing because most of at least partly already believe in the message of the poster. Others, sincerely do not. We might find their beliefs bothersome at best and vilely evil at worst but many people sincerely believe in capitalism or whatever and won’t find this poster moving or convincing at all.

      • witless chum

        What are we going to do with the entrails of Mitt Romney? Augury, then the do the opposite?

        • Malaclypse

          You are forgetting that the Romneybot is gutless.

        • Lee

          I’m going to feel very sorry for the perrson who has to handle the entrails of Mitt Romney during augury.

      • comrade wengler

        You’ve stumbled upon our plot HonorableBob. You could report back to your TrollHive but it is already too late.

    • Murc

      I’m not sure how many people here are straight-up socialist. DrDick is a syndicalist, which is some species of socialist I guess although not what you’d call classically state-oriented socialism.

      And if you don’t want people being sympathetic to non-capitalist economic systems, maybe capitalism should do a better fuckin’ job than its been doing.

      • I would not say that I’m “socialist”, just like I would not say that I’m “Christian”— it’s not because I don’t agree with the ideals, but because I don’t agree with many who have called themselves these things and I don’t want to be associated with them.

        If you’re talking “socialist” like Sweden or Norway, then HELL YEAH I’M SOCIALIST!. That the right-wing carries on as if the Soviet Union and (I can hardly keep a straight face as I type this) the Third Reich were “socialist” while the are fighting tooth and nail to prevent us from learning anything of value from contemporary Europe—

        Stupid? Evil? Who gives a shit? I’m sick of listening to the froth of their fevered little minds. They have got to be some of the most moronic and mean-spirited minions of the rich and powerful to EVER walk this planet.

        If a god like the one they all claim to worship so much were really up there, I think he would stick a sock in their collective mouth and tell them to just shut the fuck up already! What god would have time for this shit?

        • Murc

          If you’re talking “socialist” like Sweden or Norway, then HELL YEAH I’M SOCIALIST!.

          I believe that’s called being a social democrat, which, like Lee, is how I self-identify.

          • LeeEsq

            To be fair, the terminology tends to differ based on the country your in. In the Scandinavian countries and Germany, the parties with these beliefs are Social Democratic. Elsewhere, social democratic parties call themselves simply Socialist or refer to themselves as Labour parties.

      • Lee

        I consider myself to be a Social Democrat. I believe that key services like education, healthcare, transportation, housing, and parks should be provided by the state or at least regulated/subsidized by the state. Other industries should be regulated enough to avoid exploitaiton and protect the environment and other harm but otherwise in private hands since government provided consumer goods and services tend to suck. There should be absolutely no privatization of the justice and police powers of the state. Charter schools are a bad idea. Cultural institutions like parks

  • BradP

    That pyramid has been built up in almost all sedentary agriculturally based society since human beings made that leap.

    Haven’t solved it yet, and forays away from capitalism haven’t exactly shifted the weight for the better.

    • Malaclypse

      That pyramid has been built up in almost all sedentary agriculturally based society since human beings made that leap.

      This is certainly true.

      Haven’t solved it yet, and forays away from capitalism haven’t exactly shifted the weight for the better.

      Except other countries do have weight distributed in ways that are flatter. “Better” is a value judgment left to the reader, but “flatter” can be measured.

      • BKP

        Agreed completely, but I have to note that my political philosophy is an example of even the most liberal not always believing flatter is better.

        • Holden Pattern

          Because (again) most of us don’t believe that your philosophy will RESULT in flatter. Because humans aren’t hobbits, and in order to maintain the flatness you think you want, you will have to have a very aggressive set of laws to prevent humans from exploiting other humans and creating massive disparities in power and wealth. Because, y’know, that’s basically what’s happened in every agrarian society in actual history.

          • DrDick

            This! And it has the backing of over a century of anthropological research.

            • BKP

              What has over a century of anthropological research say about the role and ability of states to reverse that trend?

              Really good?

              • Malaclypse
                • BKP

                  I don’t get what that is supposed to be showing me.

                • Malaclypse

                  That other capitalist systems, with different regulatory/tax/distribution systems, can, in fact, change the pyramid.

              • DrDick

                The Scandinavian experience would suggest that the ability of the state to change that is in fact very good indeed. They generally have some of the lowest GINI Coefficients, highest rates of intergenerational mobility, and highest standards of living (as well as highest happiness ratings). That works for me.

                • Malaclypse

                  Brad has already dismissed GINI coefficients a bit upthread. Given a choice between data and theory, in the end, Brad can choose only one…

                • DrDick

                  As we all know, data (like all of reality) is a libertarian’s worst nightmare.

          • BKP

            Perhaps, but it is also because I oppose those state laws that have the mutual effects of overcoming the transaction costs that limits a societies economic growth and giving individuals and small groups of individuals easy access to huge chunks of capital.

            • Malaclypse

              I defy you to write a sentence that makes any less sense than this. Seriously, try and diagram that out and see where it gets you. What on earth are

              the mutual effects of [1]overcoming the transaction costs that limits a societies [sic?]economic growth and [2]giving individuals and small groups of individuals easy access to huge chunks of capital

              If any laws did have those effects (presuming I understand that part of the sentence), then I would think those laws would be encouraged, not opposed. That said, I can’t think of any law that does these two things.

          • BKP

            and in order to maintain the flatness you think you want, you will have to have a very aggressive set of laws to prevent humans from exploiting other humans and creating massive disparities in power and wealth.

            You say that as if laws weren’t the handywork of the same people who seek to exploit other humans.

            • DrDick

              No, the efforts to abolish those laws are the handywork of the same people who seek to exploit other humans. See the Kochs, Scaifes, Coors, Waltons, etc. and their handiwork, like CATO, AEI, and the rest of the conservative/libertarian propaganda mills.

              • Malaclypse

                See, you are thinking rationally. But Brad will come back with an example of the regulation being gamed (and yes, I am willing to concede in advance that all regulations will get gamed to some extent), and decide that that PROVES to any reasonable person that the best solution is to remove all rules.

                • DrDick

                  And the rules get gamed by the same people trying to eliminate them when they do not succeed in their primary objective. In Brad’s defense, it must be difficult to admit that you are just a useful idiot who is doing the work of the forces you think you oppose.

                • Malaclypse

                  Well, “BP gamed the safety rules, and that went badly, so if we simply eliminate all safety rules, everybody gets a pony” only makes sense if you forget that nobody wants a pony dying of petroleum poisoning.

  • cafl

    I have that poster on the wall in my house. Still true.

  • I love this poster. It’s one of my favorites.

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  • mehdi

    this picture implies the substance of capitalism method of production.

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