Two statements Marx makes about capitalism can help to understand the type of capitalism that is prevalent in Portland. The first is part of what makes capitalism a socially specific type of social labour – the separation of production and circulation. The second – I’m thinking here of Marx’s famous quote on Bentham — has to do with how morality and ethics relate to this separation by which the very notions of morality and ethics are based on the sphere of circulation. Both of these statements grasp the type of capitalism that is prevalent in Portland because it a type of capitalism that tries to make capitalism ethical in the sphere of circulation.
This endeavour is visible all over Portland. It can be found in the myriad of boho capitalist enterprises that advertise how they try to ensure exchange is realised by ethical means. In this practice the abode of production remains hidden. Just one example from my recent trip will suffice – a sandwich shop proudly proclaimed that the coffee they served was delivered to them from the coffee roaster by bike. Although this process of circulation marked the end of the coffee commodities journey, since this notion of ethics is only considered from the point of view of the sphere of circulation, how the coffee got to the roaster is of no concern. The coffee commodity is therefore rendered ethical, by extension so is the sandwich shop that sells it, more importantly so is the person who buys it.
This relates to the strange entity of the ethical consumer which instantiates the lived reality of the sort of lifestylism where eudemonia is achieved at the check out counter. Since your ethical existence is established by what you buy, consumption becomes the telos of human flourishing. The market, which in Portland consists in endless boutiques, artisanal cafes, restaurants and food carts, is how these ethics are obtained. Naturally, this flourishing is competitive. Businesses must out do each other by selling the more ethical product to consumers who compete to make their purchases more ethical. Coffee delivered by bike will inevitably be outdone. It will be pointed out that bikes use such unsustainable materials as rubber, eventually coffee will be delivered barefoot and naked.
Further consideration of this sort of ethical capitalism will probably be able to contextualize it in a longer tradition of American liberal progressivism. It could also tie in with thoughts I have been having about how the geographical remoteness of the PNW instantiates a world view. Finally it would also flesh out how this social practice and the viewpoint related to it rests on the sphere of circulation. What is important to note is that all the ways that it attempts to remedy capitalism rest on this sphere and do not even consider the fundamental social form that underlies it.