Capitalism and Slavery

by Corey Robin on August 1, 2014

I’ve mentioned Greg Grandin’s book Empire of Necessity on this blog before. It’s basically the true story—and more!—behind Melville’s Benito Cereno, which if you haven’t read, you should read right away. And then read Greg’s book. In any event, Alex Gourevitch has a wonderful interview with Greg up today at Jacobin. It’s got all sorts of gems in it, but I thought readers here would be especially interested in this:

Scholars have long examined the ways in which slavery underwrites capitalism. I thought this story, though, allowed attention to slavery’s role in shaping not so much the social or financial dimensions of capitalism but its psychic and imaginative ones.


Capitalism is, among other things, a massive process of ego formation, the creation of modern selves, the illusion of individual autonomy, the cultivation of distinction and preference, the idea that individuals had their own moral conscience, based on individual reason and virtue. The wealth created by slavery generalized these ideals, allowing more and more people, mostly men, to imagine themselves as autonomous and integral beings, with inherent rights and self-interests not subject to the jurisdiction of others. Slavery was central to this process not just for the wealth the system created but because slaves were physical and emotional examples of what free men were not.


But there is more. That process of individuation creates a schism between inner and outer, in which self-interest, self-cultivation, and personal moral authority drive a wedge between seeming and being. Hence you have the emergence of metaphysicians like Melville, Emerson, and of course Marx, along with others, trying to figure out the relationship between depth and surface.


What I try to do in the book is demonstrate the centrality of slavery to this process, the way “free trade in blacks” takes slavery’s foundational deception, its original deceit as captured in the con the West Africans were able to play on Amasa Delano, and acts as a force multiplier. Capitalism disperses that deception into every aspect of modern life.


There’s many ways this happens. Deceit, through contraband, is absolutely key to the expansion of slavery in South America. When historians talk about the Atlantic market revolution, they are talking about capitalism. And when they are talking about capitalism, they are talking about slavery. And when they are talking about slavery, they are talking about corruption and crime. Not in a moral sense, in that the slave system was a crime against humanity. That it was. But it was also a crime in a technical sense: probably as many enslaved Africans came into South America as contraband, to avoid taxes and other lingering restrictions, as legally.


Sometimes slaves were the contraband. At other times, they were cover for the real contraband, luxury items being smuggled in from France or Great Britain, which helped cultivate the personal taste of South America’s expanding gentry class. And since one of the things capitalism is at its essence is an ongoing process to define the arbitrary line that separates “self-interest” from “corruption,” slavery was essential in creating the normative categories associated with modern society.

{ 514 comments }

1

mud man 08.01.14 at 3:58 pm

2

Plume 08.01.14 at 5:31 pm

Capitalism after slavery builds on the concept of unpaid labor. The capitalist makes his or her money through NOT paying for work during a portion of the work day. The more money the capitalist wants for themselves, the more hours of unpaid labor they have to create/manipulate, organize, etc.

Most people don’t even see this happening in their day to day swim through the capitalist soup. But it happens to all of us, if we work for wages.

Capitalism is theft, and evil.

3

Jodpur 08.01.14 at 5:40 pm

Plume uses Marx’s theory of surplus value but then uses a most unmarxian term of ‘theft’ to describe exploitation. The difficulty is that you are still working with Lockean-liberal conceptions of self-ownership. Not promising as a means of escaping capitalist logic.

An aside: this post strikes me as guilty of a lot of ‘lumping together’ of disparate phenomena.

4

kent 08.01.14 at 7:22 pm

“Capitalism is, among other things, … the idea that individuals had their own moral conscience, based on individual reason and virtue.” So Thomas Aquinas was a capitalist? Also (in different respects) Augustine, Aristotle, Socrates?

“That process of individuation creates a schism between inner and outer, in which self-interest, self-cultivation, and personal moral authority drive a wedge between seeming and being. Hence you have the emergence of metaphysicians like Melville, Emerson, and of course Marx, along with others, trying to figure out the relationship between depth and surface.” I can’t help but think about the allegory of the cave in Plato’s “Republic”: depth versus surface, seeming versus being. Plato, too, comes to these questions precisely as part of his discussion of the issues of “self-interest, self-cultivation and personal moral authority.”

So … is the point that the ancient Greeks also had slaves and so this applies to them as well?

If so, what would be an example of a non-capitalist society, in which nobody believed that they had a moral conscience, nor worried about self-cultivation, nor tried to figure out the difference between surface and depth?

Most likely I’m missing the point of all this?

On another note: The last paragraph of the linked discussion: “The fact that the US is the only nation in the world where organized social power mobilizes around the concept of freedom (and against slavery) to demand more austerity, more punishing “reforms,” can only be explained by the specific, central form slavery took in creating the nation.” I read Paul Krugman every day, and it seems to be a central theme of his that European leaders are every bit as in thrall to “austerity” and “punishing reforms” in support of their own capitalist system. So this just seems empirically false. What is the difference between Europe and the US on this question?

5

shah8 08.01.14 at 9:46 pm

One thing I had an issue with about the Palestinian brohaha, is that some fraction of Israeli policy is also about making sure that Palestinians are available for labor at whatever bad wages an Israeli has to offer. Of course, this is also unpopular among the Israeli masses. Then again, they don’t like the alternatives of importing East Africans, either.

The thoughts above about capitalism and illusions and self-image kinda dredged this up. This was interesting, Corey, thanks.

6

cassander 08.01.14 at 10:40 pm

>Capitalism is theft, and evil.

that people still say things like this, after seeing the mountains of corpses generated by anti-capitalist movements of both left and right in the 20th century, truly makes me despair for the future of humanity.

7

Brett 08.02.14 at 1:14 am

@Cassander

that people still say things like this, after seeing the mountains of corpses generated by anti-capitalist movements of both left and right in the 20th century, truly makes me despair for the future of humanity.

That’s because they’re comparing real Capitalism with Dream Socialism, not the considerably uglier real-life variety that we’ve seen in the past 100 years.

@Shah8

One thing I had an issue with about the Palestinian brohaha, is that some fraction of Israeli policy is also about making sure that Palestinians are available for labor at whatever bad wages an Israeli has to offer.

Seems logical. They’re trying to push the Palestinians into a couple of urban ghettoes (like Ramallah), with strict controls on movement between them, and the ability to completely cut off any supplies if they get restless. It also has the nice advantage of curbing any real growth or development that isn’t dependent on the Israeli economy, allowing them to pick and choose among Palestinian laborers. It kind of reminds me of how Tom Friedman* described the West Bank Palestinians before the First Intifada.

* Yeah, I know it’s Tom Friedman talking. But his description of how the pre-Intifada Israelis were happy to have the Palestinians as a cheap source of labor for construction, farms, and other work seemed right.

8

Tony Lynch 08.02.14 at 2:25 am

Cassander, Matthew 7:5.

9

roy belmont 08.02.14 at 4:07 am

A slave owner who doesn’t maintain his slaves is losing.
Capital if nothing less. Got to feed them, or they won’t get it done.
Whereas having twenty people lined up at your human resources dept. every morning begging for work…

10

Harold 08.02.14 at 4:51 am

Slavery more like feudalism.

11

Abbe Faria 08.02.14 at 4:57 am

I thought the material about continuities between various forms of free and unfree labour was fancinating, are then any other good sources on this?

Roy’s point about the threat of immiseration making wage labor forced is an old one. The reason 10k Irish died making the New Basin Canal is that you could get the Irish to risk their lives for $1 a day, while no-one wanted to risk the capital tied up in slaves for the same return.

I do think the claims about capitalism are stretching things. If you are old fashioned and think of capitalism as relationships with the mode of production, then it’s hard to see it as a ‘massive process of ego formation’ and whatnot.

I’m also not sure contraband/illegal slavery can even be capitalist. I think it’s in the same class as drug dealing or theft, if you don’t own the means of production and use that to extract a surplus, but just just take shit through force because you’re stronger and can evade the authorities, then how is that capitalism? Like piracy or raiding or pillaging it’s a pre-capitalist.

12

ZM 08.02.14 at 10:42 am

“I thought the material about continuities between various forms of free and unfree labour was fancinating, are then any other good sources on this?”

Jennie Jeppesen has done research on convicts as unfree labour in Virginia (like indentured servants who were unfree and often not let free after the set period and also slaves )
“Before the American Revolution there were three unfree labour groups working in Virginia. While slaves have been the focus of a number of studies, and indentured servants the focus of a few, convicts have been largely neglected. “
http://www.anzlhsejournal.auckland.ac.nz/pdfs_2013/Jeppesen.Colonial%20Virginia%20servant%20laws.pdf

She has also been looking at comparisons between treatment of convicts and their illegitimate children in Virginia America where they were held as chattel and in Victoria Australia where they often said they were treated like slaves but were not chattel. I can only find prezi versions of this comparative research, so she might not have published anything on it as yet…
http://prezi.com/pd4-v5gqjsuu/oah/
http://prezi.com/n-t2pd-5pyr9/utas/

13

LFC 08.02.14 at 1:29 pm

I didn’t read down through the rest of the interview, but how wd Grandin’s p.o.v. apply to the well-known debate in the U.S. before and during the Civil War about ‘free labor’ v slavery? Some Southerners claimed that Northern wage laborers were worse off than slaves; some Northerners replied that ‘free labor’ had an inherent dignity that slavery lacked (even if the free labor was sometimes badly paid or occurred in poor working conditions). If slavery was so essential, as Grandin suggests, to the construction of the moral categories of capitalism, how does he explain the war that the capitalist North and slave-holding South fought, in part over such moral categories?

14

Stephen 08.02.14 at 1:54 pm

Despite my admiration for Prof Robin’s recent actions, I have to say: the Jacobin article seems to me to make sense only from one rather restricted point of view.

Namely: capitalism is evil and I hate it, and want to see it overthrown. But not enough people agree with me.
Slavery was also evil and hateful, but it has been overthrown; and many people who do not hate capitalism as they ought, do hate slavery.
So if I can get people to agree that capitalism is in essence slavery, there will be more supporters for the glorious anti-capitalist revolution.

So far so good. Unfortunately, making the equation involves ignoring that (as Kent@4 points out) some supposedly defining mental aspects of capitalism well predate capitalism, and that slavery has been common in pre-capitalist societies (and indeed in post- and anti-capitalist societies), and that some capitalist societies have had no perceptible connections with slavery (modern Switzerland, Austria, Italy …).

That being so, additional supporters for the revolution recruited by this sort of article seem to me unlikely to be of high mental competence.

15

LFC 08.02.14 at 2:02 pm

Stephen @14
the merest glance at the Grandin interview suffices to indicate that its point is not to “recruit” people to “the revolution” but to articulate Grandin’s views in rather academic language. One can disagree w those views or aspects of them without indulging in snarky b.s. about people lacking “high mental competence.”

and btw, slavery is not yet *completely* eradicated (though no longer of course a central institution of whole economies as it once was).

16

Matt McKeon 08.02.14 at 3:18 pm

In excellent work on the social, emotional and psychological aspects of slaveowning is Charles Johnson’s “Soul by Soul” about New Orleans slave markets, and “River of Dark Dreams” about slavery in the Mississippi River valley.

17

LWA (Liberal With Attitude) 08.02.14 at 4:25 pm

What stands out for me is the idea of excessive individuation. Seeing our self-autonomy as a primary goal, rather than seeing it as a part of a larger self that is bound up in a network of family, kin, and community, strikes me as the essential motivating factor of slavery, and most injustice.

So whether it is enslaving people, or hiring them at starvation wages, the problem is in enshrining that indifference to the fate of others as “freedom”.

18

Rakesh 08.02.14 at 4:55 pm

If the ways in which people were implicated in slavery led to dissimulation, I would guess that so did their implication in widespread child labor. Slaves were considered to be at best children; children were slaves. Labor was by no means formally free. The question should not be what contribution these unfree forms of labor made to capitalism but the ways in which capital was valorized through unfree labor.

People could not see who they had become but rather only a shadow of themselves created by a favorable light? Often we do not think of shadows affecting the ways in which the real selves act; but shadowy representations enter into the core of who people are. The relationship between real self and shadow is not asymmetrical.

Superstructure determined by base: concept of freedom at least has to be compatible with the relations of production. Freedom could not be understood as a self-determination in laboring activity but rather primarily as an abstract freedom to alienate private possessions. Otherwise formally free wage laborers would be slaves or at least unfree. Freedom was abstract in the sense of abstraction of the social conditions faced by the respective parties before exchange; freedom was abstract in that it afforded but choice in the marketplace.
Marx’s critique of the superstructure is delivered in the famous last paragraphs of chapter 6, Capital I.
To the extent that freedom became concrete, it did so in contrast to chattel; but this required restrictions on the period of time for which one could sell one’s labor power. The longer the period of the contract, the more it resembled slavery. The struggle to reduce the period of “formally free” labor contracts was fought over the 19th century in the US. It did not require a Civil War; indeed the ability to win the right to exit from labor contracts, i.e. freedom from virtually selling oneself into slavery, may have been facilitated by the needs for the Courts to make meaningful the juridical distinction between wage labor and slavery. The making of the juridical distinction was also the making of whiteness.

19

Plume 08.02.14 at 5:06 pm

Cassander @6,

that people still say things like this, after seeing the mountains of corpses generated by anti-capitalist movements of both left and right in the 20th century, truly makes me despair for the future of humanity.

What a strange comment. It truly makes me despair for the future of humanity that anyone actually believes we should not talk about the evils of our current economic system because, uh, well, failed alternatives!

Of course, those failed alternatives had zero to do with socialist theory — or anticapitalist theory in general, for that matter. In Russia, for instance, Lenin used state capitalism to try to make up for its being roughly a century behind the west, economically, as was the case for Cuba, China and North Korea. They were state capitalist nations, not anti-capitalist — other than in rhetoric. Add to that, the west’s never-ending attempts to crush those nascent “alternatives,” including embargoes, the fomenting of civil wars and attempted coups, and it’s not hard to see why these nations never got beyond autocratic state capitalism. Think about the ways even the so-called “liberal democracies” act when they perceive existential threats. Democracy is all but thrown out the window; martial law is often implemented; civil liberties are crushed or at least curbed. And they don’t have the entire world against them, just a country or two or three. Imagine being a one or two or three in a sea of capitalist nations, all trying to crush you.

What you’re basically saying is “shut up and clap louder.” And, of course, you’re conveniently forgetting the mountains of corpses caused by capitalism through0ut its roughly two to three centuries of existence. The deaths due to its imperial wars to ram capitalist markets down the throats of the entire world, whether it liked it or not; the deaths due to its obscene working conditions; the deaths due to the catastrophic amounts of pollution it creates; the deaths due to its products, like cigarettes, pharma, etc. etc.

In short, saying we should never call capitalism what is truly is, because a few power-mad political opportunists hijacked and perverted socialist theory is flat out bizarre. There is zero linkage between the two, between the rationale for serious, honest, accurate critique and past failures at alternatives.

20

Harold 08.02.14 at 5:33 pm

The ancient Athenians considered all bankers to be slaves, unworthy of citizenship because they handled money.

21

philofra 08.02.14 at 5:38 pm

I like capitalism. And I’m one of the first to recognize its dark sides. But its haters only see one side, the evils of capitalism. They wont even admit to all the things it affords them, like an existence and the fodder to make a living.

22

Stephen 08.02.14 at 5:43 pm

LFC@15: I think you may have misunderstood me.

Granted, willingly, that the purpose of the Jacobin article was to “articulate Grandin’s views in rather academic language”. My point was that those views do actually make sense from the perspective of one dedicated to anti-capitalist revolution: an enterprise about which there is some empirical reason to be dubious, to put it mildly, but which those who share such dedication must support. From other points of view, they do not.

Whether Grandin is in fact himself such a dedicated revolutionary, I do not know. It seems entirely probable that he is merely an academic in search of peer esteem, and therefore speaking as if things which are actually so (existence of slavery before and after capitalism, existence of capitalism without slavery, supposedly defining mental aspects of capitalism occurring centuries before actually existing capitalism) may be deemed not to be so if that makes it easier for him to denounce the US.

I wouldn’t say he’s entirely wrong. When he says “The problem is that the US has had a world of its own” he is quite right: except that he exists in that US-centric universe when he speaks of “the idiocy of white supremacy, and its progeny, individual supremacy” – the two are, outside the US, unconnected – and “the paradox that our notions of freedom emerge from and depend on slavery” – not obviously true even for the US.

Probably I should have added Canada – a country of which even USAians may be expected to have heard – to the list of capitalist but non-slaving countries.

23

Plume 08.02.14 at 5:44 pm

A good article. Seven misconceptions about capitalism and communism.

An excerpt (links to sourcing on the website):

4. Capitalist governments don’t commit human rights atrocities.

Whatever one’s assessment of the crimes committed by Communist leaders, it is unwise for capitalism’s cheerleaders to play the body-count game, because if people like me have to account for the gulag and the Great Sparrow campaign, they’ll have to account for the slave trade, indigenous extermination, “Late Victorian Holocausts” and every war, genocide and massacre carried out by the US and its proxies in the effort to defeat communism. Since the pro-capitalist set cares so deeply for the suffering of the Russian and Chinese masses, perhaps they’ll even want to account for the millions of deaths resulting from those countries’ transitions to capitalism.

It should be intuitive that capitalism, which glorifies rapid growth amidst ruthless competition, would produce great acts of violence and deprivation, but somehow its defenders are convinced that it is always and everywhere a force for righteousness and liberation. Let them try to convince the tens of millions of people who die of malnutrition every year because the free market is incapable of engineering a situation in which less than half of the world’s food is thrown away.

The 100 million deaths that are perhaps most important to focus on right now are the ones that international human rights organization DARA projected will die climate-borne deaths between 2012 and 2030. 100 million more will follow those, and they will not take 18 years to die. Famine like the human species has never known is in the offing because the free market does not price carbon and oil-extracting capitalist firms have, since the collapse of the USSR, become sovereigns of their own. The most virulent anti-communists have a very handy, if morally disgraceful, way of treating this mass extinction event: they deny that it’s happening.

24

Plume 08.02.14 at 5:48 pm

philofra,

It’s not a failure to “admit” these things. It’s the realization that alternatives could provide all of those benefits, for everyone, at far less cost to consumers, workers and the planet. It’s really that simple.

There is no benefit due to capitalism that could not be reproduced by alternative economic systems with social justice baked right in. And all of those “positive” benefits you see in capitalism are limited to just those who can afford them — and they all come with great costs. Alternative systems could easily universalize those benefits, sustain them, bring them into harmony with the earth, etc.

Capitalism can’t and still be capitalism.

25

Brett Bellmore 08.02.14 at 5:59 pm

“t’s not a failure to “admit” these things. It’s the realization that alternatives could provide all of those benefits, for everyone, at far less cost to consumers, workers and the planet. It’s really that simple.”

It’s just that nobody has invented such an alternative, that doesn’t seem to have mass murder and poverty for the masses baked right in.

26

L.M. Dorsey 08.02.14 at 6:26 pm

Douglas Blackmon discussing the “reinvention of slavery” between 1865 and 1941 in the book “Slavery By Another Name” with Bill Moyers in 2008:
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/06202008/watch2.html

27

Plume 08.02.14 at 6:29 pm

Brett,

Sure we have. It’s called real socialism. Which means the people own the means of production (not political parties or dictators) and we have actual democracy in place, including the economy. This has never been tried, anywhere, in the modern world.

Capitalism is collectivism on behalf of a tiny fraction of the population. Real socialism is collectivism on behalf on the entire population. It’s basically the difference between right and left collectivism. The former wants the collective to sweat and bleed to make a few owners rich. The latter wants the collective to work for the collective. And because profit is no longer an issue, that collective can work less, much less, and spend far more of its time with family and friends — you know, actually living.

The major problem with previous “alternatives” is that they were playing in the capitalist sandbox, trying to compete with them to be better capitalists, achieve even higher rates of productivity and consumption . . . living to work, IOW, instead of working to live. They forgot the real purpose of socialism and democracy:

Emancipation from slavery to the economy. Emancipation from wage slavery and the economy being the be all and end all of existence. Emancipation from the idea that we are what we own, can buy, can consume, waste, pollute, etc. etc.

28

Douglas 08.02.14 at 6:31 pm

Following up on Kent #4 and Stephen #14, and given the ubiquity of slavery throughout human history, I would think one could observe the impact of that institution on the “psychic dimensions” of any form of modern society, not just capitalism. So Grandin’s approach seems like capitalism-bashing.

Which, since I’m on the subject, might give me opportunity to inquire of readers of this blog, are there really practicable alternatives to capitalism? It seems like much of what gets called socialism is really capitalism with the harsh edges (which are many, don’t get me wrong) smoothed away: capitalism with a strong safety net, less egregious income inequality, with worker protections, more equal opportunity, and so on. Do people really still want, not to fix capitalism, but to replace it? With what? If the answer is “socialism,” what exactlly does that mean, if not what I’ve suggested?

29

Plume 08.02.14 at 6:33 pm

The best possible alternative is the one that puts the economy in its rightful place:

In the distant background. There when we need it. Easily ignored when we don’t.

Currently, it’s everywhere, in every nook and cranny of our lives. We are suffocated by the economy. That’s no way to live.

First step on the way to leaving that monstrous state? Get rid of capitalism and replace it with background music. Make the economy our tool, instead of us being its tool, its slave.

30

LFC 08.02.14 at 6:40 pm

Stephen @22:
I might (or might not) end up agreeing w some of your criticisms of Grandin’s views (after reading the whole interview, which I haven’t done). It was more the tone (as opposed to strictly the substance) of your earlier comment that bothered me. I’m not acquainted w Grandin’s work at first hand, and my only second-hand acquaintance w it is having read Corey’s favorable review of Grandin’s ‘The Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America in the Cold War’ [orig. published in London Rev. of Bks, the review is reprinted as ch.7 of 'The Reactionary Mind'].

31

CK MacLeod 08.02.14 at 6:54 pm

“the illusion of individual autonomy, the cultivation of distinction and preference, the idea that individuals had their own moral conscience, based on individual reason and virtue”

The phrase “illusion of individual autonomy” is an interesting one. Is the presumption that the idea of individual autonomy a false or meaningless or effectively valueless construct – or is that anyway how the blogger or the commenters generally receive the words? Is this falsification, if that’s what it is, to be taken to extend to “individual reason and virtue” and to “inherent rights”?

32

Stephen 08.02.14 at 7:07 pm

LFC@29
As you will have noticed from my quoting Grandini’s interview, I had in fact read it before criticising it; please do likewise. If the tone of my comments offended you, no offence intended. I’ve not yet read the LRB review, but I can think of other candidates for the last colonial massacre (Chechens, for one).

As for the substance of my criticisms, I would be very happy to attend to your reply.

33

Luke 08.02.14 at 7:28 pm

re: the old ‘we can’t have a revolution because Stalin’ chestnut: there have in fact been many attempts at alternative, redistributive and/or radically democratic societies in which the revolution did not degenerate into dictatorship and gulags or what have you. Consider the Paris Commune and Germany in the aftermath of the Great War for a start. Now think about what happened to those revolutionaries, and why this might have served as a negative example for others.

34

Plume 08.02.14 at 7:43 pm

Luke,

Very true. Also throw in the brief time Spain was a Republic in the 30s before the fascists destroyed them. Or, today, in parts of Spain, with Mondragon, which is like an alternative, far-reaching community, rather than just a co-op.

The ideas of Gar Alperovitz are also very promising, as are Richard D. Wolff’s.

http://www.garalperovitz.com/

http://www.rdwolff.com/

35

Stephen 08.02.14 at 7:53 pm

Plume@19 and later: You say “those failed alternatives had zero to do with socialist theory — or anticapitalist theory in general, for that matter.”

Please look at http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/No_True_Scotsman.
You will perceive that you are advocating the No_True_Socialism fallacy, which is like the Scotsman without a kilt, and amplified by a factor of several hundred million.

As for your belief that Soviet Russia, Maoist China, North Korea (how about Pol Pot’s Cambodia?) were “state capitalist nations”; well, you are a citizen of a free country, pending the revolution, and you are free to use “capitalism”in whatever sense you like. A sense acceptable to Karl himself, I think, would be “an economic system in which trade, industry, and the means of production are largely or entirely privately owned and operated for profit”. The qualification is relevant: Engels said that, by the standards of some people, the first socialist was the regimental tailor.

But in Soviet Russia etc …

Now, if you want to say that Soviet Russia, etc, were state capitalist nations, well, you can do that, just as much as you can say they were “state whisky distillery nations” in the sense that no whisky was ever distilled, or intended to be distilled.

I looked at your link about misconceptions concerning Communism. It mentioned “what Americans think they know about capitalism and communism”. I am not an American: neither, actually, are most people.

36

Plume 08.02.14 at 8:20 pm

Stephen,

It’s not a “Scottish” matter. Cuba, the Soviet Union, China, etc. etc. never implemented the two most important aspects of socialist theory:

Full democracy, including the economy
The people own the means of production

No democracy was allowed in any of those examples, and dictators or one political party owned the means of production. The most fundamental, essential components of socialism were completely absent.

As in, it’s not just a matter of “purity.” It’s a matter of not being anything at all like the theory in question. Chomsky does a good job in discussing the abuse of the word here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4Tq4VE8eHQ

And, yes, they did state capitalism. Lenin actually said Russia would need to do this in order to modernize itself, and he, ironically, used many of the same aspects of primitive accumulation used in Britain to jump start the new economic system. Van der Linden talks about State capitalism here:

37

bob mcmanus 08.02.14 at 8:21 pm

30: Yes, for this commenter it (etc) is an illusion or reification, although not necessarily a ” false or meaningless or effectively valueless construct,” especially to those trying to sell products or services.

Or just scrolling thru my notes without spending much time

“Individualization, the obverse of
Beck’s globalization, far from being, as according to Simmel,
the development and enlargement of a subjective sphere free
from the influence of ‘objective culture’, is precisely the new
mode of the disciplinary practices of power.” …Timothy Bewes

“Where the political state has attained its true devel­opment, man-not only in thought, in consciousness, but in reality, in life-leads a twofold life … life in the political community, in which he considers himself a communal being, and life in civil society in which he acts as a private individual, regards other men as means, degrades himself into a means, and becomes the plaything of alien powers, … Here, where he regards himself as a real individual, and is so regarded by others, he
is a fictitious phenomenon. In the state, on the other hand, where man is
regarded as a species being, he is the imaginary member of an illusionary
sovereignty, is deprived of his real individual life and endowed with an
unreal universality.” Marx, The Jewish Question

That’s about 5% through that file of notes, and skipped the Karatani…oh hell

“A dialogue carried on within a common set of rules cannot be identified as a dialogue with the “other.” Such a dialogue, or internal dialectic, can be converted into or
considered a monologue…Wittgenstein’s critique of formalism, then, was
focused on its tendency to exclude the otherness of the other, that is, the contingency of the relation to the other…Thus the notion that a rule can be explicitly
presented – no matter how it is used – results only in a monologue, which is to say in a dialogue with the interiorized other…The “social” depends on a certain, inevitable impossibility of knowledge (an unconsciousness of the social relation). Marx almost always used the term “social” in this very sense.” …Kojin Karatani

That’s enough for a start.

38

bob mcmanus 08.02.14 at 8:35 pm

OTOH I can’t say that “slavery was central to that process,” and might for instance put colonialism as historically prior.

The “central cause” when it isn’t capitalism, has long been a function of volatile bourgeois fashion and opportunism.

39

Bruce Wilder 08.02.14 at 8:48 pm

In Melville’s story, the ship’s motto was, “Follow Your Leader”

Melville’s version of the slave leader, Babo, was a supremely clever and subtle intellect, whose head ends on a pike. The slaves could put on a clever drama, sufficient to fool Delano for a few hours. Why they need to fool Delano at all has packed into it all the unexamined political cruelty of slavery. The Captain, too, is clever, in keeping the ship for weeks in coastal waters; the slaves have sufficient violence to seize political control of the vessel, but have failed to attend to the necessity of knowing how to navigate or sail or even to choose an achievable objective. They have effected a revolution, but are as helpless after as before.

40

mattski 08.02.14 at 9:44 pm

One needs to understand that Plume gives equal weight to both empirical facts and the contents of his imagination.

41

Plume 08.02.14 at 10:24 pm

One needs to understand that mattski would rather swoop in with a quick, snarky comment, now and then, than actually contribute anything of substance.

If he wanted to do the latter, he would try to prove his assertion, make an argument, discuss things like an adult. Which is ironic, of course, given his mention of empirical facts.

42

Andrew F. 08.02.14 at 10:29 pm

Capitalism is, among other things, a massive process of ego formation, the creation of modern selves, the illusion of individual autonomy, the cultivation of distinction and preference, the idea that individuals had their own moral conscience, based on individual reason and virtue

And since one of the things capitalism is at its essence is an ongoing process to define the arbitrary line that separates “self-interest” from “corruption,”

It seems dubious that this is a language game worth playing at any length. Is there a 60 second version of “how many things can you associate with the term capitalism”?

Also, though it can no doubt be explained away, there is quite the contrast between some of the implications of these statements and the reality of the OP’s recent act of conscience (glad to read that you were unharmed, incidentally).

43

J Thomas 08.02.14 at 11:05 pm

People have theories about how socialism is supposed to work.

People occasionally have violent revolutions in which they claim they will do socialism. It seems to not work out that way.

What is the problem? Possibly it’s partly that when you need a lot of violence to take the resources that a few rich people have sequestered, then it seems only natural to threaten more people and maybe do more violence.

Another possibility is that it’s hard to change things. Maybe making big changes in an economy is like repairing an automobile engine while the automobile is traveling down the road. Like doing heart surgery on a heart while you depend on that heart to pump blood.

So, like, you start with a sugar cane plantation. In the old days they ran it with slaves until they had to start paying money to the slaves. Now you’re supposed to make it socialist. You could divide up the land into little plots and give it to people to manage, and ask them to help each other. Or you could do something else. After a long hard day chopping cane or whatever, the employees mostly don’t want to spend their evening democratically running the plantation. They don’t have any training at that, they only know how to be wage slaves. That’s your job.

The more you settle into running the place like everybody expects, the more it will come out state capitalism or state feudalism or state slavery. But if you change anything important and the harvest fails, when the new nation needs those exports….

I think if you want a better way to run businesses, you need to get a bunch of businesses running that way before the revolution.

I know some details about one example, ACIPCO.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Cast_Iron_Pipe_Company

I first heard about them when they gave one of their vice presidents a cheap option on a lot of land on the edge of an important reservoir. If he could get a development plan approved before the option came due, he could buy the land and have tens of millions left over. ACIPCO had several things like that.

Later I heard that they were employee-owned and operated. It sounded kind of exciting.

I talked to somebody who had worked there. I asked him about that, and he said he hadn’t paid any attention, he just went home every day instead of attending meetings, it was just a job.

It sounded like for awhile employees had worked hard to run the business, but later they decided to pay a competitive wage to proven professional managers, and the professional managers ran it exactly like a normal company with stockholders. Just the stockholders were the employees.

It’s hard to do things some new different way when everybody around you expects you do do what they’re used to.

44

Plume 08.02.14 at 11:35 pm

J Thomas,

Lots of good points.

I think America is a perfect place for a socialist transformation in many ways. Chiefly because it’s the most powerful nation on earth, and no other nation is going to be able to stop us from that transformation, as we once stopped other nations from making those attempts. And recently, of course. We have never stopped trying to prevent leftist populist movements and governments from taking root in this hemisphere, for example.

So, anyway. One of the best ways to transition, IMO, would be for the government to just start providing as many goods and services as possible, all non-profit, all 100% available to everyone, to compete with the private sector. No mandates. All voluntary. And little by little, if it were allowed to do this without the boot of the private sector on its neck, people would begin to see that the government can provide much more for much less. Right off the bat, its overhead will always, always be lower than any private sector corporation. It doesn’t need to make a profit, pay shareholders, pay outrageously large executive compensation, or for ads, marketing, tax avoidance schemes, etc. etc.

So, little by little, we’d go from virtually all private, with a tiny bit of public goods and services, to a bigger percentage of public, and then a majority, and then the vast majority, etc.

The transition could be without violence that way, all democratic, and all voluntary. Simply through “competition,” where the public sector out competes the private and we shift over to the public.

45

J Thomas 08.03.14 at 12:04 am

Plume, that might work.

However, if the government is going to compete in actual markets, it might need ads and marketing because consumers have been trained not to buy without that.

And the government would need some way to reward managers etc who make successful innovations or it will fall behind. It would need to reward innovations that actually pay off over time, or else its managers might come up with innovations that look like good ideas but that fail after the rewards have been paid out.

A lot of Americans believe that if they get a job they can’t be fired from, they are almost morally obligated to steal everything they can and not actually do any work. Unless you can avoid hiring those people, you need a way to measure the work they do and to measure their theft and you must be able to fire them.

When you have a lot of government employees who deeply believe that government is always inevitably inefficient and it ought to be inefficient and ought to fail, it’s very hard to make it more efficient than private businesses — even when the private businesses have executives who suck out as much profit as they can get away with, as appeared to me to happen at ACIPCO.

46

cassander 08.03.14 at 12:39 am

@plume

>we should not talk about the evils of our current economic system because, uh, well, failed alternatives!

discussing the evils is not the same thing as proclaiming the current system evil, and you know that. don’t dissemble.

>Of course, those failed alternatives had zero to do with socialist theory — or anticapitalist theory in general, for that matter.

So your operational theory is that all the problem with socialisms were the result of bad implementation, but that all the evils of capitalism are the result of it being bad in theory? do you realize how absurd that is?

>conveniently forgetting the mountains of corpses caused by capitalism through0ut its roughly two to three centuries of existence.

No, i’m not. as capitalism has spread the world has gotten massively less violent, not more violent. It was the capitalist UK, for example, that first ended the slave trade, not the pre-capitalist regimes that preceded capitalism for millennia.

> because a few power-mad political opportunists hijacked and perverted socialist theory is flat out bizarre.

funny how socialist states seem to produce power mad political opporunists at much greater rates than capitalist systems. talk about an awful run of bad luck!

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J Thomas 08.03.14 at 1:24 am

Cassander, you make good points generally. However,

“conveniently forgetting the mountains of corpses caused by capitalism through0ut its roughly two to three centuries of existence.”

No, i’m not. as capitalism has spread the world has gotten massively less violent, not more violent.

It looks to me like the violence has increased partly due to better technology. I don’t know whether to attribute the technology to capitalism or not.

WWII involved a lot of violence. They say 60 to 85 million, but it’s plausible the China estimate of 10-20 million is low, and the USSR estimate of 22-28 million was plausible underestimated by the russians who did not want to look weak afterward, etc.

By comparison, the Third Crusade involved hardly more than 100,000 soldiers with swords and spears and such. They caused havoc wherever they went, but they just couldn’t do as much as soldiers now.

Part of the reason we can have so much violence is that we have so many people. This comes from improved sanitation etc, which might come from capitalism or maybe not.

It’s really hard to tell what caused what. If we had a few thousand other earths that we could make a few changes in and see what happens, it would help a whole lot. But we don’t. We only have one example and it’s hard enough to even tell what happened, much less what made it happen.

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Eric L 08.03.14 at 1:37 am

I’m more interested in the role capitalism plays in slavery today:

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/jun/10/supermarket-prawns-thailand-produced-slave-labour

I get stuck trying to think about what it would mean to be pro-free-trade while meaningfully against this sort of thing. Should the WTO or some other global body be in charge of enforcing anti-slavery laws, and given that the Thai government isn’t able to effectively enforce the rules just how large would the international police force have to be to make that happen? That seems unrealistic and I’m not aware of any free trade proponents proposing anything of the sort. Another possibility, and the seemingly implied assumption of the authors of the above article, is that it is the responsibility of first world companies to make sure that every company they do business with and every company the companies they do business with all the way down their supply chain are following some subset of the labor rules we follow in the first world. This is in practice quite difficult to achieve, and free trade proponents don’t seem to favor this sort of thing to end any exploitative practices if they are at all more voluntary than outright slavery.

The other thing I wonder about is if an article like this would have or could have been written in the early 19th century in the north or in Europe? Certainly clothing buyers outside the south would have been the bulk of the market for cotton; slave owning would not have been that lucrative if the only people slave owners could sell to were each other. Yet slavery had to be ended by northern soldiers playing the role of the international police in my thought experiment above. Consumers asking retailers for fair trade clothing didn’t do the trick.

I don’t know that this has much to do with capitalism versus its alternatives as this is a question of the organization of the intersocietal economy rather than the organization of the economy within any particular society, and it’s not clear to me how socialism versus capitalism has anything to do with that, though maybe someone else can explain to me what it would mean for international trade to be socialist.

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philofra 08.03.14 at 1:47 am

Plume,
You have nice thoughts. But to keep things economically vital and on going you need a system that has an ‘edge’ like capitalism does. That edge is needed so as to be able to renew and revitalize economies. The alternative you suggest is more like ‘sleepy-time-tea’.

However, I am not saying that capitalism doesn’t need or deserver the criticism. It’s necessary and essential in order to make it more just and humane.

50

ZM 08.03.14 at 1:53 am

“That seems unrealistic and I’m not aware of any free trade proponents proposing anything of the sort. “

We have an anti-slavery billionaire – ‘Twiggy’ Forrest . He is problematic in other areas – John Quiggin’s blog has a recent post on a more problematic area.

“The terrified screams of a traumatised sex-trafficked teenager, witnessed by an Australian billionaire, have led to a history-making alliance between three of the world’s major religions to end slavery.
At the Vatican on Monday, West Australian iron-ore magnate Andrew Forrest launched the Global Freedom Network – an organisation led by the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar in Egypt.
The network aims to free the world’s estimated 30 million slaves, and has set itself specific, ambitious targets to achieve this.”

http://www.smh.com.au/national/billionaire-andrew-twiggy-forrest-fights-to-end-global-slavery-20140317-34y6d.html#ixzz39I1tLdHN

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Collin Street 08.03.14 at 2:14 am

So your operational theory is that all the problem with socialisms were the result of bad implementation, but that all the evils of capitalism are the result of it being bad in theory? do you realize how absurd that is?

There’s nothing a-priori absurd about it, note. “Not a-priori absurd” is a weaker claim than “true”, of course, but we do know that there are inherent structural problems with all possible capitalisms, mostly in and around inequality and dynamic stability]. This is absolutely 100% certain, backed both by experience and theory. We don’t have the same experiences with socialisms: it’s possible that there’s some similar unavoidable unified problem, but we certainly don’t know this.

AIUI, socialisms have failed in a number of different ways [although tbh fairly similar ways], but capitalisms have pretty much all failed the same way. A reasonable person might think that there’s a socialist structure that has the failure mode “not failing at all”, but holding that thought for capitalism is… well, foolish, to be blunt, at this point.

[An even more reasonable person might think that composite structures, stiff socialist fibres held in a tough yet yielding capitalist matrix, might outperform both: certainly that's the best-performing structure we've actually tested in live use...]

52

John Quiggin 08.03.14 at 3:35 am

@6&7 Even allowing for my knowledge of Brett Bellmore, I’m kind of stunned that remarks like this can be posted on the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War.

53

Eric L 08.03.14 at 4:31 am

ZM,

From the article it seems that his approach is the second approach, with first world companies responsible for making sure every company they deal with directly or indirectly does not use slavery. Basically the conscientious consumer approach, only trying to get major corporations to be conscientious consumers instead of just delivering shareholder value. It will be interesting to see if it works; he’ll need a large awareness/name&shame campaign to get lots of companies working on this at once, and then he’ll need to make sure the problem doesn’t come right back when the world isn’t watching anymore.

This part of the article struck me as quite an indictment of globalized-capitalism-see-no-evilism:

He is also pushing corporations to clean their supply chains.

“You’re up against defensive chief executive and chairmanship behaviour,” he said.

At a lunch of executives of major corporations chaired by Bill Clinton last year, Mr Forrest forced most of them to admit they had slavery in their supply chains.

“Then we had a really constructive conversation,” Mr Forrest said, after they realised their culpability and the risk to their public image.

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Plume 08.03.14 at 6:42 am

Cassander @46,

I’m not dissembling. I said our current system is evil, and it is. We should be able to discuss that, as adults, without it giving certain people the vapors.

And, yes, socialist theory has never been tried. It’s not a failure of implementation of X when X has never been tried, and Y was done instead. And, no, it’s not absurd to say that socialist theory, the real deal, is a great thing, while capitalism, in theory AND practice, is horrific. That is simply stating the truth.

Again, given that socialist theory has never been attempted, one can not reasonably say that socialist states produce more power mad politicians than capitalist states. We do know, however that Fascism and Nazism produced plenty of power-mad dictators and they used capitalism as engines for their far right ideological agendas.

Finally, as J Thomas mentioned, violence in the world has increased dramatically as capitalism has become more dominant. We have wars in which tens of millions of civilians are killed, along with millions of soldiers now. And America itself has gone to war on behalf of capitalist markets — protection and expansion — all too many times. In just Korea and Vietnam alone, our wars on behalf of capitalism caused the deaths of roughly 6 million civilians.

And back to the OP: slavery in America was given its second life because of the rise of capitalism. That rise, especially with the invention of the Cotton Gin, increased profits amongst capitalists here and in Europe exponentially, and drove policy across the south.

Capitalism is theft. Capitalism is evil. Capitalism is a cancer.

55

Plume 08.03.14 at 6:56 am

philofra,

We have no need for that edge. That edge generally leads from one crisis to the next, one depression or recession to the next, and each one in recent times seems to be followed by weaker and weaker “recoveries.” We also know that capitalism’s edginess is killing the planet, destroying ecosystems, causing massive pollution, waste an species extinction. No other system before it was so interdependent/dependent on growth — Grow or Die — and no other system before it was as thoroughly globalized or susceptible to that. That globalization creates the mother of all domino games, and we saw that point blank in 2007/2008.

Capitalism sets money free to cross all boundaries, no longer tied to local economies, the land or tradition. Ironically, as Christopher Lasch once pointed out, it’s strange that conservatives are such big defenders of it, as no previous economic system was ever so destructive of the family or traditional mores.

The earth is going to make our decision for us down the road if we don’t dump capitalism and replace it with truly sustainable development. And as long as profit is the driver of the system, and private ownership is the mode, there is no incentive to stop polluting, wasting resources, making useless things for mass consumption, etc. etc. There is no structure for smart decision making for the collective we as long as capitalism exists and the collective we work solely for the benefit of a fraction of the population.

Their interests are not ours. We need an economic system that matches the interests of the vast majority with the actual decision making and ownership of that system.

56

Ze Kraggash 08.03.14 at 9:20 am

I was taught in school that once upon a time the cooperative communist society of hunter-gatherers gave way to a more progressive agricultural socioeconomic system with slavery. And that cooperative communism is certain to make a comeback big time, and stay with us forever. I remember thinking that this twist to the story perhaps betrays a lack of imagination.

57

Brett Bellmore 08.03.14 at 12:32 pm

“And, yes, socialist theory has never been tried. It’s not a failure of implementation”

And, we know this, because every attempt at implementation has failed, and since socialist theory can’t fail, it must never have been tried. Despite all those people claiming they’re trying it, and failing. And, typically, hurting a lot of people in the process.

58

Monte Davis 08.03.14 at 1:13 pm

From 1600 to 1820, two-thirds of all those westbound across the Atlantic were African slaves. If you were am “Atlanticist” watching from Mars, you wouldn’t see a saga of bold European settlement (plus a sad, shamefaced appendix about slavery). You might well see it as colonists driving twice their number of expendable “shock troops,” rather like the strafbattalione and shtrafbat of the Eastern Front in WWII.

How many more New World colonies would have failed, or taken far longer to succeed and attract more colonists, without slave-based enterprises like Caribbean sugar and rum, Brazilian forest products, and North American tobacco? Not to mention the Native Americans in Latin American silver mines and estancias

Obviously the mix of capitalism and other imperial/colonial drivers was different in different settings. But any reading of New World history that scants the crucial — perhaps indispensable — role of slavery in making a go of the enterprise as a whole is willfully blind. Perhaps that’s why we USAns prefer our Thanksgiving pageant of Pilgrims and Wampanoag feasting in fellowship, rather than an arguably more representative Tidewater Anglican planter leading his family in prayer: “Let us thank the Lord for an addictive crop and slaves to tend it.”

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Bernard Yomtov 08.03.14 at 1:38 pm

I said our current system is evil, and it is. We should be able to discuss that, as adults, without it giving certain people the vapors.

In other words,

“I’m obviously right, and we should be able to discuss all the ways I’m right, without any objections to my rightness.”

60

J Thomas 08.03.14 at 1:39 pm

And, no, it’s not absurd to say that socialist theory, the real deal, is a great thing, while capitalism, in theory AND practice, is horrific.

I’m getting a little concerned here. Capitalism is not just one thing. Capitalist theory is mostly useless — people don’t do what they say they are doing. Capitalist theory does not describe capitalism very well at all, we might as well mostly throw it out.

If socialism doesn’t work on a small scale but has to run the whole system before it works, and it’s never been tried for real, that looks pretty bad. Maybe it would be great if it was tried, but what if there’s something the theory has not thought out?

I’d hate to risk everything on the assumption that it will work as advertised. My computer programs don’t usually work right the first try, with no testing. Usually I make a lot of mistakes that have to be fixed. I do a lot better to write little pieces and test them before I put them together into something big.

So I’d much prefer theory that tells how to start small and build gradually. Much less risky that way. Create socialist structures that can survive and thrive in a capitalist framework, and you can eat the capitalists’ lunch.

Capitalism sets money free to cross all boundaries, no longer tied to local economies, the land or tradition.

That’s globalism. It takes special trust for people to send money around the world and expect it to come back to them with interest. Capitalism used to be tied to local economies, and governments worked out ways to untie it and to create trust. They didn’t have to do that.

The earth is going to make our decision for us down the road if we don’t dump capitalism and replace it with truly sustainable development. And as long as profit is the driver of the system, and private ownership is the mode, there is no incentive to stop polluting, wasting resources, making useless things for mass consumption, etc. etc. There is no structure for smart decision making for the collective we as long as capitalism exists and the collective we work solely for the benefit of a fraction of the population.

There’s a lot of truth to that. But there isn’t just one possible solution. “Capitalism” in practice could be modified to palliate the problem. Like, consider the problems of the passenger pigeon and the buffalo. Passenger pigeons didn’t belong to anybody and they ate farmers’ crops. Since they didn’t belong to anybody, people shot them until they were all gone. The buffalo didn’t belong to anybody and they wandered the plains, knocking down fences and trampling people’s crops. Since they didn’t belong to anybody, people shot them until they were all gone, even when the profit was low. Sometimes people on railroads shot buffalo they passed for target practice.

Now there are a few buffalo left and they all belong to somebody. Their owners try to take care of their property.

The capitalist approach to sustainable development is to give the resources that need to be sustained to somebody in particular, somebody who can afford to sustain them. Similarly, people who can’t take care of themselves could be given to capitalists who would then be responsible for taking care of their property. Depending on how the economy goes, you could be a lot better off as a serf to some capitalist than on your own.

It’s really hard to tell how things will go. We sort of know how to put wires in people’s brains to control them. We can sort of do that with rats. If that technology works out, it might happen that you can’t get a job unless you have wires in your head so your employer can control you — just during working hours, of course. Of course you will get the wires implanted, you don’t want to be unemployable, do you?

And it might turn out that working socialist economies will also want people to have wires in their heads. It will depend on what seems to work better.

Capitalist businesses mostly don’t want drug addicts for employees because they have found that addicts don’t do good work. Except for caffeine junkies. Businesses often have coffee pots available all the time because they like the effect of caffeine on employees. They might find other addictive drugs that have good effects.

If other drugs make for good employees, very likely workable socialist economies will also want to addict workers to them.

We have no need for that edge. That edge generally leads from one crisis to the next, one depression or recession to the next, and each one in recent times seems to be followed by weaker and weaker “recoveries.”

We might prefer a rate of “improvement” that we enjoy more. When there isn’t a lot of competition, people tend to replace old technology with newer technology when the old models wear out. Get your value from the old before you discard it. But when there’s plenty of capital looking for uses, some competitor may get the brand-new stuff and outcompete your stuff before it’s depreciated. You lose. You toss it out while it’s still usable and replace it with something better, or you go out of business. And the new stuff will be discarded early too.

I think one of the things that’s happened in the last 30 years or so is that we’ve evolved businesses that have managed to reduce their competition to the point they can increase profits, and that lets them use their machinery longer. We get capital piling up without good opportunities to invest. At the same time, some foreigners do invest in newer stuff and start to win the competition in the global market, so we’re hurting. And despite the global money transfers, Americans hesitate to invest in China. The place is run by communists after all, who might nationalize everything whenever they feel like they don’t need more US investment. And the regulatory climate in China is weak, when you invest it’s hard to tell whether it’s only a scam. Somehow China doesn’t look after foreign investors as well as the USA does.

I’d be interested in seeing ideas for socialist corporations. Of course, you need investment. If you take out loans you promise a fixed return and as your business grows it’s hard to reduce the loans when you also want to expand. And a banker who can choose not to renew your loan gets considerable control. When you sell stock you are giving away capitalist ownership.

I could sort of imagine a socialist Kickstarter program. People who put money into the new socialist business get a certificate and a lapel pin that says they are a socialist hero, and as long as the business lasts there will be a plaque that commemorates their contribution, etc. And someday if you have enough money you could repay the kickstarter contributions with interest. You might be able to get sufficient startup capital without losing control.

Come to think of it, with a website you could return contributions with an auction. You take whatever money the company can afford to repay, and whichever contributors want it can bid. If I need money now and I’ll accept getting 95% of my money back, while you will accept 90%, you get it. But if it looks like a successful company and none of us *need* our money back yet, I could get it if I settle for 110% return while you’d rather wait than settle for less than 120%.

If you use more-or-less-capitalist methods to start up a socialist business, that’s OK, right? You need some way to get started….

Sorry this got so long. You bring up interesting questions.

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Brett Bellmore 08.03.14 at 2:07 pm

Capitalist theory is mostly useless for a number of reasons.
1. No place in it for government, and government insists on existing.
2. Real capitalists don’t want to abide by it.
3. Human beings are more complex than any theory.

OTOH, Marxist theory is entirely useless, except maybe as an excuse to exercise totalitarian power, so that still leaves capitalist theory superior.

62

mattski 08.03.14 at 2:08 pm

Capitalism is, among other things, a massive process of ego formation, the creation of modern selves, the illusion of individual autonomy, the cultivation of distinction and preference, the idea that individuals had their own moral conscience, based on individual reason and virtue.

Echoing Andrew F @ 42, this is less analysis and more a game played with language. Let’s find a term, ‘capitalism’ will do, with which we can associate everything we find wanting with our world. There isn’t necessarily any insight produced by this hobby.

I would agree that ‘ego formation’ is a problem for human beings. But it precedes ‘capitalism’ by a few hundred thousand years. And the intellect, which is what we are employing when we engage with abstract concepts like ‘capitalism’ and ‘ego,’ is not the best way to address ‘ego formation.’ If you want to understand ego it is rather necessary to sit quietly and pay attention to what is happening in the present moment. My 2 cents anyway.

And, yes, socialist theory has never been tried. It’s not a failure of implementation of X when X has never been tried, and Y was done instead. And, no, it’s not absurd to say that socialist theory, the real deal, is a great thing, while capitalism, in theory AND practice, is horrific. That is simply stating the truth.

I refer to my remarks @ 40.

63

Ze Kraggash 08.03.14 at 2:17 pm

Criticism of capitalism on my new favorite website: http://www.ruthlesscriticism.com/capitalindex.htm . Criticism of The Left can be conveniently found ibidem.

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bob mcmanus 08.03.14 at 2:19 pm

58: But any reading of New World history that scants the crucial — perhaps indispensable — role of slavery in making a go of the enterprise as a whole is willfully blind.

But the original post and first three blockquoted paragraphs are not about New World history but the development of modernity and modern conciousness.

OP: not so much the social or financial dimensions of capitalism but its psychic and imaginative ones.

Obviously if you want to understand any general or universal dimensions or aspects of modern capitalism you can’t be so Eurocentric or frankly racist as to exclude modernities and political economies such as the ME, China, Japan, India in order to build a totality or narrative unique to the Atlantic slave trade. If you are going to assert that later (questionable) Eastern development was utterly dependent on its Western predecessors you should try to make that case very early in your argument. If you are going to say that slavery built a modernism unique to the West you have to show the ways in which it differs.

Simple exceptionalism. Colonialism provides a more global explanation.

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bob mcmanus 08.03.14 at 2:28 pm

And certainly Marx goes there with his “Asiatic mode of production” I’ll let you google the arguments on that.

If you make an effort to construct a development or stagist narrative based on imperialism, colonialism, a broader racism(s) than that based on the Atlantic slave trade, or even Orientalism, then you can start all the way back to the Crusades and the relations between Christendom and the Arab/Islamic (even Asian) world centuries before the discovery of the New World.

The African is by no means the first “other.”

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J Thomas 08.03.14 at 3:03 pm

#61 Brett Bellmore

Capitalist theory is mostly useless for a number of reasons. ….

OTOH, Marxist theory is entirely useless, except maybe as an excuse to exercise totalitarian power, so that still leaves capitalist theory superior.

Unfortunately, the major part of Marxist theory is criticism of capitalism. They think if they understand why capitalism has to eventually fail, then they can have faith that it must eventually be replaced by something else. They don’t go into a lot of detail about how a working socialism would work.

So we have capitalist theory which explains why capitalism has to work better than anything else, but the capitalism it describes is not what actually happens.

And we have marxist theory which explains why capitalism cannot work, but the capitalism it describes is also not what actually happens.

I don’t see that either of these is good for anything except to base some sort of weird materialist religion on.

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mattH 08.03.14 at 3:33 pm

LFC@ 13

Free Labor ideology was founded in the agrarian ideals of both the founding of the country and the facts on the ground in the 18th century and hadn’t yet caught up to the realities of the techno-economic revolution happening around them. The fact that the Industrial Revolution, one of the most world-changing events occurred at the same time as the US Civil War makes it difficult to ascribe cause and effect in the War itself. In some ways Free Soil is a harkening back to the promise of the past to change the present, not unlike many Revitialization movements; people pining for the “uncomplicated” past that might not have been so uncomplicated, and was probably never going to be attainable.

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Luke 08.03.14 at 3:47 pm

Again, if you want a socialist ‘mode of governmentality’, as Foucault would have it, they are out there. Marx and Engels were keen on the Paris Commune and Classical Athens. But never mind me.

30,000 or so communards were killed in the ‘bloody week of May’ after the army entered Paris. Working class women were supposedly rounded up, stripped, shot, and raped as they died. etc. etc. etc. Does not compute.

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Plume 08.03.14 at 3:56 pm

J Thomas,

Thanks for your thoughts on the topic . . .

When I insist that socialism has never been tried, I mean on a national scale. It has been tried in various forms on small scales. Like elective communities, artist colonies, Kibbutz, communes, etc. Just never on a national scale. It works very well on that small scale in many cases. Fails at other times. But it is always in opposition to the larger system to one degree or another, so any final assessment of even its small scale successes or failures must keep that in mind. The square peg in the round hole, etc. What happens when the square peg has the right environment?

But that “it will never work” criticism is far more understandable, IMO, than the one which defends capitalism outright. That baffles me. Its history is so filled with horrors, oppression, exploitation, greed, crash after crash, recession after recession, along with endless waste and pollution, I really find it appalling that any adult would actually defend it.

Again, I can understand the “Oh, you’re just a dreamer. No alternative will ever work.” This is what I grew up with. People saying that capitalism was terrible but it was the hand we were dealt, so let’s make the best of it, etc. But now, today, in 2014, more and more people defend it, even though it’s given us even more reasons not to, more proof that it’s an abject failure in the way it allocates resources, creates massive inequality, waste, pollution and disruption.

We’ve had forty years of stagnant middle class wages, outsourcing, well over 100 major international bailouts to keep it afloat — and the revelation of working conditions in places like Foxconn to set us straight. But people now are actually more likely to defend it than they were when I was young. They are less able to see its ugliness and evil and more defensive about criticism.

Baffling.

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Plume 08.03.14 at 4:03 pm

Also, is any of this surprising?

Capitalism is based on an autocratic, anti-democratic structure. Top down. Bosses. Sharp hierarchies. Do what you are told or get fired. Huge rewards handed out for work at the top, with dramatic decreases as one moves down the hierarchy. The few ruling the many.

Economic apartheid.

It’s baffling that anyone actually would think this would work in the best interest of society, on the individual business level or in the aggregate. And the incentives are to produce the cheapest crap possible, and pay the lowest wages possible, in order to produce the most profit for ownership. Not only is the system the rule of the few over the many, with the many having zero say in the matter, the system itself encourages poor quality over the good in order to maximize profits.

Again, it’s collectivism, but of the most perverse kind. The collective works on behalf of a tiny group or an individual, not itself. Socialism, OTOH, means the collective works for the collective. What could be more logical?

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Shatterface 08.03.14 at 4:03 pm

Marxist ‘theory’ is half Harry Seldon’s psychohistory and half bitching about any other proposed form of socialism that didn’t spring directly from the beard of the Great Prophet Marx himself.

Socialism was practiced quite successfully in Spain – in the form of anarchosyndiacalism. Part of its ultimate failure was the atrocities visited upon the anarchists by both the fascists and the followers of Marx.

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mattski 08.03.14 at 4:05 pm

@ 68

Ironic to cite Ancient Athens as a socialist modality in a thread about capitalism & slavery! Speaking of the cradle of democracy, are you familiar with the melian dialogue?

And a two and a half month track record for the Paris Commune doesn’t establish a whole lot, does it?

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bob mcmanus 08.03.14 at 4:15 pm

13,67: That’s closer to what I am thinking right now.

I just spent a while searching, so I know next to nothing, but I kept running across New Bedford. I mean you can talk about the Atlantic Slave Trade, sugar, tobacco, but that still remains formal subsumption until around 1800 in Britain, and a few decades later in America.

As far as the accumulation in the North (the South didn’t industrialize) the process seems to be whaling => shipbuilding => profits build textile mills and we are at around 1850. Then railroads/canals and arms chemicals and heavy industry. This is comparable to the capital accumulation pattern in Japan (ag => textiles =>ships) during Meiji, and I think considered close to prototypical. The slave trade leg of the triangle wasn’t in itself all that profitable for Northern Americans, and the early comparative advantage was in whaling factory ships and clippers (tea.) PS: Frederick Douglass Northern home was New Bedford and there were a lot of blacks on ships.

Melville not only had a more complicated nuanced idea of race than modern Americans, having spent his time in the South Seas, but he also had an understanding of early industrial capitalism, whaling factories.

As far as capitalism and freedom, modern Marxians also have their fashions and we are more “bottom-up” lately. Everybody has read Piketty, right? 50% have no capital, and 30% own a home. 50%+ of American capital is real estate, widely dispersed. If you ask them, whether they live in Texas or China or India or Japan, owning a little land in order to have flexibility to negotiate the terms of wage or contract labor looks like freedom. I suspect it was much the same through the 19th century.

Not being an African-American slave on a Virginian plantation didn’t define most settlers in Indiana or Wisconsin.

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Plume 08.03.14 at 4:26 pm

Shatterface,

But is that on Marx, who died in 1883? You’re talking 1937 or so, right?

It’s a bit like hanging Jesus for the Inquisition, the witch trials, the religious wars in Europe for centuries, the Crusades, etc..

And, of course, it was not a large group in the case of Spain, but a small percentage. The vast majority of Marxists are critics of capitalism, economists, etc. or they write about literature, psychology, sociology, linguistics, anthropology using Marxist theories.

As in, most Marxians do work in the Humanities. I think Walter Benjamin, for instance, is more representative than Lenin.

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bob mcmanus 08.03.14 at 4:36 pm

…they write about literature, psychology, sociology, linguistics, anthropology using Marxist theories.

“Bottoms up” means the questions are no longer “Why are they oppressing us? We must make them change.” but after the 60s (oh, E P Thompson) and 1968:

“Why do we let them? What do we get from the deal?” …which is more Marxian anyway.

However , there remains an academic industry based on the demand for narratives of oppression, writing books about Nixon, Reagan, slavery and conservatives.

I am reading about household craft production in 16th century Tuscany and post-Soviet Eastern Europe film production. Leftists engage in self-critique, petite bourgeois construct self-aggrandizing morality tales.

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cassander 08.03.14 at 4:37 pm

>Its history is so filled with horrors, oppression, exploitation, greed, crash after crash, recession after recession, along with endless waste and pollution, I really find it appalling that any adult would actually defend it.

Because the history of socialism is free of these things? We have a century of history of socialist experiments, and in virtually all of them, these things were worse in socialist world, not the capitalist world. how much empirical evidence do you need?

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J Thomas 08.03.14 at 4:42 pm

We’ve had forty years of stagnant middle class wages, outsourcing, well over 100 major international bailouts to keep it afloat — and the revelation of working conditions in places like Foxconn to set us straight. But people now are actually more likely to defend it than they were when I was young. They are less able to see its ugliness and evil and more defensive about criticism.

It’s a psychological thing. I don’t think it matters much, it’s on the level of arguing about which team will win the pennant. If there was some practical decision people could make that would have an effect of shifting a nation more toward or away from something that could be called socialism. people would probably not make that decision based on those stupid arguments.

Although some people do make a few decisions on that basis, decisions that tend to have nothing much to do with capitalism or socialism,because somebody framed it that way to fool them.

Here, I’ll repost something I wrote somewhere else that I think is relevant:

——————–
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shang_Yang

China was divided into multiple kingdoms, and Qin was among the least developed. Shang convinced the Qin king to follow his policies. Harsh punishment for anyone who broke the law, and equal punishment for anyone who knew of a crime and did not report it. He designed the laws to benefit Qin. No one could travel without a permit, which was recorded at every stop or checkpoint. No one could hide from the law.

Shang’s laws controlled everybody. But he could not control the King’s son, who could not be punished. Shang found a way. He found children for the prince to play with and be friends with, and when the prince did not study Shang whipped them.

Qin prospered. Shang encouraged farmers by making them slaves if they did not produce. He encouraged soldiers by giving them farms and slaves if they were brave. He encouraged administrators by rewarding them for doing as they said they would, but he punished failure and unexpected success. He killed or enslaved merchants who tried to buy low and sell high. Quickly Qin began to overtake the other kingdoms.

The king died and the prince became the new king. Lord Shang ran away. When he tried to exchange his tired horses for fresh ones, he could not. He did not have permission, and people were afraid to take his bribes. When he tried to stop for the night the inn would not accept him. Everywhere he went, people reported him. He was caught and was sentenced to be pulled apart by horses.

A lot of the chinese history I’ve seen was written this way. It’s stories that make sense, with a moral. I don’t know how true the stories are, because the history is mostly all there is. Like, there’s independent evidence that Qin got powerful and conquered all the other kingdoms and imposed harsh laws on everybody. Probably everybody in China knows about Lord Shang but I doubt there’s more evidence for him than Robin Hood.

The story is useful. It says strong government is unpleasant and maybe deadly for every individual person, but it brings prosperity. Individual people may be punished if they work to make the government stronger — that doesn’t give them an out. But if the government is strong they must obey.

—————-

A lot of people see it as a struggle between socialism — strong government — and capitalism — weak government.

People are quite reasonably scared of strong government. It is unpleasant. It can be deadly. It creates prosperity, but is that worth it?

Government is so scary that people pretend it can’t do anything right. They would rather be afraid of incompetent buffoons than actual scary bureaucrats. They would rather pretend they can defend themselves with personal firearms than notice what the scary police can actually do to them.

If you want something that Americans won’t be scared of, it needs to be something that does not particularly involve government.

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Plume 08.03.14 at 4:46 pm

Cassander,

Again, there has never been a socialist nation. Never. Not close.

The two foundational aspects of socialism are:

1. Real democracy, including the economy
2. The people own the means of production, literally. Not through a proxy, phony or otherwise. They literally own the means of production, directly.

The closest thing to the above would be the Scandinavian countries, and they are far from achieving either tenet.

I’ll repost Chomsky on the abuse of the word:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4Tq4VE8eHQ

Beyond that, even if one grants your premise — which I don’t — you’re talking about a handful of attempts, all in nations which were a century or so behind the developed countries, and were systematically attacked by those countries in order to prevent even the possibility of the two tenets from taking form. One can not draw logical conclusions for possible transitions in the developed world, in 2014, based upon “experiments” occurring in the developing world in the previous centuries.

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mattski 08.03.14 at 4:57 pm

Leftists engage in self-critique, petite bourgeois construct self-aggrandizing morality tales.

Leftists would n..e..v..e..r construct self-aggrandizing morality tales would they, bob?

(Isn’t it awful getting your teeth checked by some self-aggrandizing dentist?)

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Plume 08.03.14 at 5:01 pm

J Thomas,

Interesting.

I don’t want an all-powerful government, either, and that fear, I think, is one of the major reasons why many people reject even the discussion of socialism all too often. And if they’re right-wingers, they fold Fascism and Nazism in with socialism, seeing it all as “left-wing,” even though Fascism and Nazism are far right ideologies, and both used a capitalist economic engine.

For many, the knee-jerk reaction is that socialism must mean a tyrannical state. This is not so. Again, if real socialism is put in place, it’s far less likely to occur than under any other system, because the real deal means actual democracy, including the economy, and everyone, literally everyone, owns the means of production. In short, socialism means the dispersal of power into 315 million hands, if applied here. It means the end of the ruling class, and if it continues its trajectory, it means the end of the state apparatus itself.

Ironically, it goes much further than any right-libertarian dream of minarchy. Much further.

I favor the eventual end of the state apparatus, too. And I also believe, especially after reading The Making of Global Capitalism, by Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin . . . after having read The Invention of Capitalism, by Michael Perelman . . . that as long as we have capitalism in place, we will always need a massive state apparatus. Primarily to bail it out and support it, but also to externalize the costs of its destructiveness onto the taxpayer in the form of social safety nets, etc.

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Luke 08.03.14 at 5:03 pm

@72

I’m aware of Athens’ record. Athenian imperialism actually looks pretty damn good in comparison to its contempararies — the Spartans obliterated a city whose name eludes me simply for remaining neutral in the Pelopennesian war, for example — though Athens was still, as you point out, a slave-holding and imperialistic power. Moses Finley and A.H.M Jones wrote quite eloquently about the virtues of Athenian democracy back in the day, if you want a counter-Thucydidean view.

My point wasn’t that Athens was a socialist utopia, but that Athenian democracy is an example of a functioning, successful political philosophy and mode of governance (or lack therof) that is radically incompatible with standard liberalism and has often been an inspiration to people on the left.

The Paris Commune was indeed short-lived, which was part of my point. If you’re a radical and you manage to actually have an impact, there’s a good chance the powers-that-be will kill you, or at least interfere with what you are doing (think also of COINTELPRO etc.). So, the absence of any examples of socialism that weren’t founded on conspiratorial and authoritarian violence is to be expected.

Anyway, I think I’ve laboured this point enough.

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Stephen 08.03.14 at 5:09 pm

Plume@44: “One of the best ways to transition, IMO, would be for the government to just start providing as many goods and services as possible, all non-profit, all 100% available to everyone, to compete with the private sector … the government can provide much more for much less. Right off the bat, its overhead will always, always be lower than any private sector corporation. It doesn’t need to make a profit, pay shareholders, pay outrageously large executive compensation, or for ads, marketing, tax avoidance schemes, etc. etc.”

One approximation to this approach actually happened: nationalisation of a range of industries and services by Labour governments after 1945.

Didn’t quite work out as you would have hoped. The great nationalised industries did indeed not, on the whole, make a profit, but rather ran at a massive loss (that had to be paid for out of taxes on the more productive parts of the economy). And I doubt if anyone who remembers British Leyland, British Rail, British Telecom, or the more local Municipal Restaurants would agree that they “provided much more for much less”.

But I’m sure that, in an ideal and perfect socialist state, things would have been entirely different. In reality, however …

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Plume 08.03.14 at 5:11 pm

Luke,

Good points.

It should be telling that the powers that be consistently try to crush or at least suppress any hint of alternatives to capitalism. America does this internally, and has a long tradition of doing this internationally.

A good dichotomy on the above is the different reaction to the tea party protests, versus Occupy. The former were never confronted by SWAT teams, pepper-sprayed, heads bashed, etc. But the latter were. The tea party wasn’t considered a threat to the capitalist order, obviously. Its members were among its most vocal supporters. But Occupy? It had the colossal gall to suggest non-hierarchical forms of being in the world, and it did so peacefully, and that was worth a full scale, coordinated act of state suppression.

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J Thomas 08.03.14 at 5:21 pm

For many, the knee-jerk reaction is that socialism must mean a tyrannical state. This is not so. Again, if real socialism is put in place, it’s far less likely to occur than under any other system….

So, you have been hit by a concentrated PR attack that says socialism is government coercion.

I don’t think you can recover from this directly. The stories have been told too often for too long.

You might do better to call it by a new name and sneak it into the Libertarian approach.
“We want to have libertarian groups that work together for our businesses, have the companies owned by the employees.”
“Whyever would you want that instead of owners who supply the capital and take the profits? You know, the way God intended.”
“We just want it that way. You wouldn’t stop us, would you?”
“Well I guess not. If it’s voluntary on everybody’s part. As long as you don’t try to enforce it on anybody.”

It’s possible they might welcome you, since that would give them a leftist wing which would seem harmless to them and at the same time make them seem more balanced.

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Stephen 08.03.14 at 5:22 pm

PLume@54: “Capitalism is theft. Capitalism is evil. Capitalism is a cancer.”

Careful, now. You’re at the top of a slippery slope leading to hell.

Because, you see, if capitalism is theft, is an evil cancer, what should we not do to bring it to an end? It is possible to argue – perhaps you would – that though capitalism is an evil cancer, nevertheless nothing should be done to overthrow it that involves violence, untruths, repression of those who differ in opinion from the overthrowers, dictatorship, expropriations, executions of the class enemies … but if you take that line, can you really call it an evil cancer? An evil cancer about which nothing drastic should be done?

If on the other hand you think that drastic things should be done about the evil cancer – well, comrade, we’ve seen where that has led to, no?

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Plume 08.03.14 at 5:22 pm

Stephen,

I’d suggest a good, close read of Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land.

First, ask yourself is the government was allowed to offer fully non-profit, 100% public goods and services, without interference from British business interests.

Next, ask yourself if private sector attempts in those industries were successful. Tony Judt talks about “natural monopolies and public good, and uses the railroads as a big example. A private firm can not make a profit, either, if it focuses on the public good instead of the maximization of profits, because it has to make so many stops to service even small towns, etc. This is also the trouble with phone companies and ISPs.

Example: the government would run fiber even into isolated, rural neighborhoods, while no private firm would do that. They could not possibly make a profit, and would lose a great deal of money, in fact.

Same with phone systems. Same with anything that requires large amounts of capital investment. If you do what is right for everyone, you will lose money. If you do what is right for your bottom line, you won’t care about the public overall — just the part of that public that can afford your product and is of sufficiently large size, concentrated, etc.

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Plume 08.03.14 at 5:34 pm

Stephen @85,

I think you posit false choices.

Yes, I think capitalism is evil, and no, I don’t want to increase the suffering of millions through violently taking it down. I don’t even want conservative and propertarian policies to be implemented, unchecked, even though they would certainly result in the final destruction of capitalism (ironically), because of that inevitable suffering that would result.

I am still hoping against hope that through education and activism we can democratically transition toward a humane organization of society, one that has social justice already baked in, without a ruling class, without massive hierarchies.

Bottom line for me? We are all born into this world with equal value. Capitalism, as a system, creates the worst possible divisions of “value” due to its structure, its natural hierarchy, its natural apartheid, wherein a CEO makes 400 times the amount of his or her workers, and a hedge-fund manager makes 10,000 times as much as a nurse or a teacher or a fire fighter, etc. etc. And that massive divergence in compensation leads to further massive divergences in power, levels of autonomy, life spans, etc.

For we mortals, our most precious thing is time, and that time should not be “valued” arbitrarily via extreme hierarchies, by the few for the many. There is no justification for that, ethically, morally, even economically.

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Shatterface 08.03.14 at 5:36 pm

But is that on Marx, who died in 1883? You’re talking 1937 or so, right?

Marx himself began the expulsion of anarchists from the One True Religion so making comparisons with him and Christ and the Inquisition would only make sense if Jesus had begun persecuting heretics himself.

What the Spanish example proved was that bottom-up socialism worked and that top-down ‘socialism’ can crush it as effectively as fascism.

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Stephen 08.03.14 at 5:40 pm

Plume@80: “the real deal means actual democracy, including the economy, and everyone, literally everyone, owns the means of production.”

I’ll go, for the sake of argument, with the assumption that your real-but-never-having-existed-anywhere deal comes to pass.

So under your real-deal socialism, does democracy include the option of getting rid of the socialist governing classes? They will be there, you know.

How does democracy apply to the economy? Economic decisions are taken by popular vote? How often will votes be taken? Daily? After what sort of nationwide discussion?

How will I, in such a system, own the means of production? In the sense that, post 1945, people in Britian owned the National Coal Board? (Hint: that was not a very satisfactory system.) Or how?

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mattski 08.03.14 at 5:40 pm

My point wasn’t that Athens was a socialist utopia, but that Athenian democracy is an example of a functioning, successful political philosophy and mode of governance (or lack therof) that is radically incompatible with standard liberalism and has often been an inspiration to people on the left.

Thanks, Luke. I quite agree that Athenian democracy is an inspiration, although it doesn’t seem especially lefty by todays standards. Certainly, by the standards of its time it was a hugely inspiring shift to the left. But I don’t see how you can justify “radically incompatible with standard liberalism.” Where do you get that?

Note the Rorschach aspect here: two people sit admiringly in front of a bust of Pericles. One sees a hero of democracy and free enterprise, the other sees a pioneer of collective decision making.

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Glenn 08.03.14 at 5:45 pm

All wealth accumulated through exchange is accumulated through unequal exchange. In consensual equal exchange, no wealth is accumulated. You have to get more value than you give in exchange to accumulate wealth.

The deadliest conflicts are engendered as a response to unequal exchange. Capitalism in its empire stage decides that the price of a dominant military is less expensive than, for example, the price of oil. More wealth is to be had by stealing oil in a coerced unequal exchange than by buying oil in a consensual equal exchange. See the 1953 CIA coup in Iran for details.

Slavery is the epitome of unequal exchange.

The state and its monopoly of violence, by mandating and normalizing unequal exchange, is the necessary partner of capitalism.

Frederick Douglas observed that some of the most fervent Christians found justification for slavery in the Bible.

People will believe what they want to believe to avoid the pain of cognitive dissonance.

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Harold 08.03.14 at 5:56 pm

Plume @86, agreed. At the same time, when industries can supply goods that can make a profit and that consumers want, they tend to get taken over by capitalists (even in economies nominally socialist). This is demonstrated by Donald Sassoon (himself a socialist) in his “One Hundred Years of Socialism: The West European Left in the Twentieth Century” (New Press, 1998), a very illuminating book, BTW.

In addition, by concentrating exclusively on heavy industry, Soviet communism fell short in supplying consumers with things that would make their day to day lives more pleasant and healthful — washing machines and sanitary napkins (not to say tampons), for example, even conceding that capitalism arguably all too often produces “artificial” wants by manufacturing demand.

There is some truth in the old saw that Socialism and Christianity are two systems that have never been tried. Nevertheless, the Christian Socialism (or mixed economies) of the Scandinavian countries seems to point to a better, if not a perfect, way (I say this as a non-Christian — or at least as someone who rejects the supernatural aspects of religion).

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J Thomas 08.03.14 at 5:57 pm

Example: the government would run fiber even into isolated, rural neighborhoods, while no private firm would do that. They could not possibly make a profit, and would lose a great deal of money, in fact.

I think we need to consider costs and benefits. If you argue that everybody has the right to fiber no matter where they live, then you might find yourself spending way too many resources for too little result.

What makes cities cost-effective is that they provide cheap lines of communication etc. Urban people live in cities, giving up a whole lot to do so, because it works. They can create more wealth that way, and they can enjoy more of some kinds of wealth that way. If you make a moral judgement that everybody should be allowed to live anywhere they want and get the same services, there is not going to be as much wealth.

I would propose instead that you give people what you can easily give them, and then give them stuff that’s hard if there’s some special reason.

So for example, for housing we could do something like this:
http://asiasociety.org/lifestyle/travel/capsule-fit-gaijin

Take care of lots of people inexpensively. Since much of the system could be mass-produced cheaply in automated factories, we could build them wherever they are useful.

Say you are a naturalist who needs to live in a national forest. Should the government build a house for you? Maybe. Or maybe it’s more practical for you to live in a tent, with a shovel to dig latrines. It depends.

We would need a way to set priorities. Of the various things people want, which are more important to do first? If somebody lives in a rural isolated area, is fiber more important or something else? It might be possible to provide them with military-grade ruggedized fiber. Just trail it through forests and meadows, across roads, it will last awhile. When it fails you notice what did it and you do something different — maybe run it through storm sewers and drainage pipes under roads instead of just letting people drive over it. Maybe it will work.

Maybe there’s an important purpose in building a fiber network that runs everywhere, whether there are people there or not. If so, it might not be that hard to provide cable to everybody too.

I don’t think it works to just assume people have economic rights and then tell the government to give everybody everything they’re supposed to get.

It might help some to have something like Ebay, where people can barter whatever they have for whatever they want. You could analyze the results and see what to make more of, and what is in surplus. At least for things people can trade easily.

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Plume 08.03.14 at 6:05 pm

J Thomas,

I’m not saying the government actually should run fiber everywhere. Though — and I work in that field — it sure would radically increase data speeds if we went all fiber. Fiber having, at least in theory, no practical max on speed.

It was really more of an example of how costly it is to do what is right for the public, and how easy it is to say the government “fails” if costs are higher than expected, etc. As in, how easy it is to overlook the details.

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Luke 08.03.14 at 6:07 pm

@90
Well, the ancient (non-pejorative) term for democracy was isonomia — legal equality. This sounds rather liberal, but the Athenians took it very literally. Aristotle says somewhere that democrats were opposed to elections because they were oligarchic, since they tended to result only in wealthy/powerful/well-educated/eloquent people holding office. The Athenians abolished the power of the Areopagus (arist0cratic senate) and replaced the ‘professional’ judiciary with magistrates selected by lot. Likewise, any citizen could propose and vote on legislation in the assembly. Pericles was an elected general, but otherwise he had no actual authority — his political importance was simply his ability to persuade his fellow citizens.

So, liberal concepts like seperation of powers, elections etc. aren’t entirely compatible with isonomia. Equality before the law and equality as a maker of the law — as the law, really — are two different things. In one case, all people are equally governed (at least in theory); in another, citizens are the grammatical subjects as well as the objects of the law. I would perhaps go further and say that this object-position before the law has historically worked quite well in conjunction with capitalism, assisting the enclosure of the commons, the conversion of class-based economic or social disputes into legalistic questions of rights and contractual obligations, and so on.

In any case, you have to remember that almost the entirety of the European political tradition is vehemently opposed to democracy, and that Athens was usually its foil. I’m currently reading Jennifer Tolbert Roberts’ ‘Athens on Trial’, which makes this point in great detail. Notions like ‘mob rule’ and ‘tyranny of the majority’ have their roots in various (mis)readings of the classics.

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Plume 08.03.14 at 6:12 pm

Harold,

Lots of good points.

I think the Soviet experiment failed also to deal with work itself, with a worker’s autonomy, with his or her freedom. In this, it was no better than capitalism, and made most of the same mistakes.

One of the chief benefits of dumping capitalism and profit, and moving toward common ownership of the means of production, is the reduction of work hours. Capitalism requires far more hours worked than necessary in order to achieve profits and high compensation packages for ownership. If profit is gone, we can cut our workday by several hours, or cut the work week by several days. And for most people, we are never more “free” than when we are on our own time.

If the Soviets had really followed Marx, they would have shot for some variation of the following:

“In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.”

They had this once in a century chance to redefine the meaning of work, to push the economy back into the background, and bring living into the foreground instead. They chose, instead, to try to compete with the west on its own terms, despite roughly a century of ground to make up.

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LFC 08.03.14 at 6:23 pm

mattH @67
fair point

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LFC 08.03.14 at 6:29 pm

@bob mcmanus

However , there remains an academic industry based on the demand for narratives of oppression, writing books about Nixon, Reagan, slavery and conservatives.

The implication that all bks about these topics are “narratives of oppression” is nonsense. E.g., there’s a new bk out, based on the tapes, about how Nixon’s efforts to cover up his and Kissinger’s interference in the ’68 peace talks via A. Chennault helped lead to Watergate. I don’t see that esp as a “narrative of oppression.”

Your statement that everything good since EP Thompson is about “why do we let them oppress us?” is also wrong. But wd take too long to go into.

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LFC 08.03.14 at 6:33 pm

@mcmanus
Not too long back, if I recall, you were reading Benedict Anderson ‘Imagined Communities’ and quoting from it liberally, and w/ apparent approval, in some thread here. That’s not about “why do we let them oppress us?” (In fact, my impression is that Thompson himself is not centrally about that.)

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J Thomas 08.03.14 at 6:34 pm

#91 Glenn

All wealth accumulated through exchange is accumulated through unequal exchange. In consensual equal exchange, no wealth is accumulated.

You seem to be assuming that value is known.

Let me give an example. A local cartage company moves stuff — refrigerators, washing machines, boxes of printer paper, etc. It charges companies or individuals about half of what it would cost for them to do it themselves.

So when it has two items that go to roughly the same place, it just about breaks even. When it has three or more, it makes a profit on the trip. When there’s only one, it does better to pay some other cartage company to do it, at a loss.

How should this be made more equal? Each customer gets a good deal, they pay half what it would cost them otherwise. The cartage company gets a good deal, and the more business they have the better the deal they get. They make enough to pay for their warehouse space and keep their trucks running etc, plus however much more they happen to get.

I can imagine a system that might be fairer. You set up a website that tracks packages people want to send. They each say what price they’re willing to pay and where they want to send it. When you get enough packages to one general destination to justify the trip, you rent a U-Haul truck, pick up all the packages, collect your fee, and deliver all the packages to their destinations. If there are 15 packages each customer pays for 1/15 of the total price. You get enough to justify your time, driving and loading and unloading. Or maybe you just run the website and pay somebody with a truck to do the physical stuff, somebody you and your customers trust not to just collect the fees and then sell the packages to a receiver of stolen goods….

Anyway, it may not be necessary for everybody to benefit equally provided they all benefit enough that they want to do it and they have reasonable alternatives. It may not be easy to even tell who benefits more. You have to know how much wear-and-tear the truck gets before you know whether you’re paying the right amount for it. (Unless you believe in markets. If the trucker doesn’t charge enough maybe he will go out of business, and if he charges too much maybe he’ll go out of business. You charge the right amount so you’re safe, unless there are lots of newbies who think they can run the business more efficiently so they keep coming in and charging too little and going broke and getting replaced by new ones. It’s horrible to be in an industry where you have an unlimited number of competitors who try to see who can lose his shirt the fastest.)

OK, if all you do is look for chances to buy low and sell high, you probably are not contributing much. Maybe you are contributing information, you know how to find the guys who sell low and the guys who buy high, and they don’t know how to find each other. Sometimes information is worth a lot.

But in general, when two people agree on a deal, the best deal they are ready to find, who am I to decide who got the better deal? I don’t know as much about either of them as they know about themselves.

101

J Thomas 08.03.14 at 6:56 pm

All wealth accumulated through exchange is accumulated through unequal exchange. In consensual equal exchange, no wealth is accumulated.

I’ve heard the following story personally from two Marines, and seen it in print by two more.

The Marine has taken the bus back from town to his base in the Philippines. Outside the gate there is a Filipino man selling bananas. The sign says

1 bunch: 10 cents
3 bunches: 35 cents

The Marine tries to reason with the man, who speaks little english.
“You shouldn’t sell 3 bunches for 35 cents! It doesn’t make sense!”
“Yah, yah.”
“Look. Let me show you. Here, I buy one bunch. Ten cents.”
“Yah, yah.”
“I buy another bunch. Twenty cents.”
“Yah.”
“I buy a third bunch. Thirty cents.”
“Yah.”
“Thirty cents! By buying three bunches one at a time I saved a nickel! Your sign is wrong. Don’t do it that way.”
“Yah, yah.”

He goes into the base with his three bunches of bananas. He isn’t sure the man understood him. Later he realizes that in town he could buy bananas for 3 cents a bunch.

http://www.tensionnot.com/jokes/little_johnny_jokes/smarter_you_think

102

Stephen 08.03.14 at 7:07 pm

Plume@87

I don’t think I’m offering false choices at all. It seems to me there are four choices:
1 Declare, as you do, that capitalism is an evil cancer, but decline to do anything much in the real world about it.
2 Declare that capitalism is an evil cancer, and take drastic revolutionary steps against it: with predictably evil results.
3 Accept that capitalism, as it exists, is imperfect, but try to improve it as has been done in the past, and could be again, without revolution.
4. Declare that capitalism’s it exists needs no improvement.

Options 1 and 4 seem to me equally demented, and option 2 catastrophic.

103

Plume 08.03.14 at 7:13 pm

Stephen,

You leave out another option, as already mentioned:

Admit that capitalism is an evil, a cancer, and unsustainable, and work to transition away from it into real socialism, via direct competition with the private sector. Over time, offer more and more public, non-profit goods and services, and make citizens offers they can’t refuse. No mandates. All voluntary. But make the goods and services so attractive, on price, quality and “value,” people will willingly transition away from the private sector and into the public.

A non-violent, democratic revolution away from a ruling class and private ownership of the means of production, replaced by public ownership and the continued transition, over time, to a classless society.

104

Stephen 08.03.14 at 7:17 pm

Plume@36

I accept that there is a difference between the No_True_Scotsman fallacy, and your preferred No_True_Socialism argument.

In the first, the Scots chauvinist Hamish McDonald reads of a despicable action by an Englishman, and declares that no Scotsman could do such a thing. On being told of an even worse action by Ian McPherson, he qualifies it: no true Scotsman could do such a thing.

In your version, you describe despicable actions under capitalism, and declare that no socialist system could do such a thing. On being told of even worse actions under socialist systems, you qualify it: no true socialists could do such a thing.

The difference is, Hamish McDonald could no doubt point to large numbers of actual Scotsmen who, quite genuinely, are models of upright and moral behaviour, and would never do such things.

You can only point to imaginary and non-existent socialist systems that would, by unspecified means, achieve perfection.

I am saddened, though not surprised, that you cannot see the difference.

105

Stephen 08.03.14 at 7:20 pm

Plume@87
“Capitalism, as a system, creates the worst possible divisions of “value” due to its structure”.

Next thing, you’ll be telling me Pol Pot was a capitalist.

106

Plume 08.03.14 at 7:22 pm

Stephen,

I did no such thing. You’re distorting what I said:

In your version, you describe despicable actions under capitalism, and declare that no socialist system could do such a thing. On being told of even worse actions under socialist systems, you qualify it: no true socialists could do such a thing.

I made no qualifications. I said and still say that no socialist system has ever been implemented on a national level. It’s never been done. Far, far from it. So when you claim that horrible things have happened under socialism, too, I point out that this is impossible, given the absolute absence of socialist systems in the modern world.

107

Stephen 08.03.14 at 7:25 pm

Glenn@91: “All wealth accumulated through exchange is accumulated through unequal exchange.”

So if I have copper, and you have tin, an exchange that leaves me with both and you with both so that we can both make more valuable bronze, is either an unequal exchange or something that makes neither of us wealthier?

Come off it.

108

Plume 08.03.14 at 7:25 pm

Stephen @105,

Do you think it’s actually an effective argument to toss off the names of horrible dictators as some kind of defense of capitalism?

It’s bizarre.

109

Stephen 08.03.14 at 7:27 pm

No, I don’t think it’s a defence of capitalism. I do think it rather effectively deflates your nonsense about capitalism being the worst possible.

110

Plume 08.03.14 at 7:30 pm

Stephen @107,

Then you’re talking about barter, not capitalism.

Capitalism is M-C-M and exchange value. Capitalism is a system wherein the capitalist purchases labor value to produce commodities in exchange for more money. Labor is a commodity in that equation, too. The capitalist appropriates the surplus value created by his or her workforce and redistributes a portion back to those workers. He or she makes their money through the accumulation of unpaid labor value. The more money they seek for themselves, the more they have to accumulate new unpaid labor hours/value.

Capitalism is also M-M. Money making money.

It is never barter. It is never an equal exchange. If there is an equal exchange, there is no profit. And capitalism is based on profit.

111

Plume 08.03.14 at 7:33 pm

Stephen @109,

How does it deflate that? Pol Pot was a dictator. He didn’t institute socialism or any of the alternative economic forms I’ve suggested. He didn’t revolutionize the concept of “value,” equalizing it across the board, getting rid of most hierarchies, etc. etc. He was not an egalitarian. He was a dictator.

The example of Pol Pot does not, in any way, shape or form, make your case, which is apparently that capitalism is the best possible economic system.

112

Stephen 08.03.14 at 7:33 pm

Plume@106: you do realise you are making my point for me? There are, and have been, Scotsmen who live up to Hamish McDonald’s ideal standards; that does not excuse the No True Scotsman fallacy (do go and look it up, please). You are maintaining there never have been True Socialist states, but also that True non-existent Socialist states would meet your ideal standards.

The fallacy remains.

113

Plume 08.03.14 at 7:41 pm

Stephen @112,

No, I’m not making your case. You don’t have one.

An analogy:

A certain NFL football team has had a losing record for some time. It changes ownership and coaching. The coach has a reputation for running the Air Coryell system, which is, one might say, a “pass happy” offense, based on timing routes, rather than throwing to the open man. The QB throws to a space, not a receiver. The receiver’s job is to make sure he’s there for the ball.

Okay. So, this new coach takes a look at his roster, and doesn’t think they can run that system. So he implements a running attack and a West Coast offense instead. No Air Coryell. And instead of passing more than he runs, he runs waaay more than he passes, and when he does use the pass, he goes West Coast style, not those timing routes.

The team continues to lose. Critics talk about his love of Air Coryell and his pass-happy rep, and condemn both, even though he runs something totally different. They blame his losing on the Air Coryell system and say he needs to dump it and run the ball more, etc.

114

DaveW 08.03.14 at 7:41 pm

Luke@81:
“I’m aware of Athens’ record. Athenian imperialism actually looks pretty damn good in comparison to its contempararies — the Spartans obliterated a city whose name eludes me simply for remaining neutral in the Pelopennesian war, for example …”

I believe you’ve got this story exactly backwards. It was the Athenians, not the Spartans, who famously destroyed the population of Melos; as Wikipedia’s article on the “Melian dialogues” has it (as previously noted above by mattski@72):

“The Athenians demanded that the Melians surrender their city and pay them tribute or face the destruction of their city. The Melians claimed their right to remain neutral, appealing to the Athenians’ sense of decency and mercy toward a small, peaceful, and defenseless city. The Athenians sternly replied that questions of justice did not arise between unequal powers and proceeded to lay siege to Melos as they had threatened to do, and to starve the resisting inhabitants into surrender, slaughter the men of military age, and enslave the women and children.”

115

J Thomas 08.03.14 at 7:51 pm

“Capitalism, as a system, creates the worst possible divisions of “value” due to its structure”.

Next thing, you’ll be telling me Pol Pot was a capitalist.

That was certainly an anomaly, apart from the politics.

I have read several descriptions of it by survivors. It may not be possible to get a real sense of what was happening, maybe nobody knew.

Start out — before Pol Pot “won”, there was a famine approaching. Cambodia traditionally exported rice, but the US bombings were a problem and also the North Vietnamese army confiscated part of the crop. They had no love for Pol Pot’s people.

The USA offered to feed Cambodia provided they submitted to the Lon Nol government. But we kind of fell down on the job, for one reason or another we failed to provide enough food through Cambodia’s limited ports and airfields. Many of the Lon Nol soldiers we tried to train were getting between half a cup and one cup of rice per day. Reports of military losses persuaded the US Congress to cut off funding.

The Lon Nol government collapsed, and Pol Pot’s soldiers “won” by default. The USA cut off the food imports, of course. Instead we diverted them to neighboring nations where we sold the food for 10% of what we had paid for it.

Pol Pot was stuck trying to feed his people when the food was not available. He herded them into camps where they were supposed to grow rice, and he started rationing. But quickly he started running out of gasoline and electricity. His government communications could not go by radio or landline. He used bicycle couriers. Some of his commanders could not read.

There was not enough food. There were the troops who were in control, and the city people who had opposed them. Some of the “war slaves” still tried to oppose them, and as they were found and killed that created more resistance. But — not enough food. People who escaped the camps tended to starve in the jungle.

The first year a lot of people starved or were killed resisting. They may have done a good job minimizing the starvation, I don’t know how to tell. Pol Pot didn’t know how to tell either, his bicycle couriers weren’t up to giving him very complete information about what his lieutenants were doing.

The second year they started a plan to increase unmechanized rice production. They still had no gasoline to run their machinery. Various things went wrong and there was more starvation. I don’t know details about that, a lot of the communication had broken down. There was definitely a two-tier society, people with guns and people without.

The third year there was not as much starvation, the population was down to match the food they could grow by hand. People who had guns needed to conserve ammo because there was definitely a shortage.

The fourth year the Vietnamese army invaded, after some of Pol Pot’s men raided across the border for food and ammo.

I’m not clear what conclusions we can make about socialism from this. Probably not much. But if they had not called themselves communists maybe they could have arranged for the USA to continue food shipments until they could get their farming going again. Maybe.

116

mattski 08.03.14 at 8:29 pm

@ 95

In any case, you have to remember that almost the entirety of the European political tradition is vehemently opposed to democracy

Are ‘liberalism’ and ‘almost the entirety of the European political tradition’ interchangeable? Aristotle was dubious about democracy as well. And if you ask me, anyone who can’t see that there are problems with either too little OR too much democracy (see our friend Plume, eg) is lacking a balanced view.

And strictly as a matter of scale it is difficult to extrapolate too many lessons from Ancient Athens to modern nation states. Personally, I like the idea of filling some public positions by lot. But, clearly, there are limits and liabilities associated with such a practice.

And as far as I know there is little or nothing in the Ancient Athenian tradition that stands in opposition to private ownership of business and free enterprise.

117

Plume 08.03.14 at 9:00 pm

mattski,

See if you can post something without mentioning my name or referring to me. Give it a shot. It seems that you rarely post here, but when you do, you tend to include snark directed my way. What a sad little person you are.

I’m perfectly content to never mention your name, and ignore your existence entirely, if you refrain from repeatedly bringing me into your posts.

Give it a try, por favor.

118

Luke 08.03.14 at 9:03 pm

@115
Liberalism is an element (the major element, since, what, the 17th or 18th C.?) of the European tradition, and historically fairly hostile to Athenian democracy. Obviously it isn’t interchangable with the entire tradition.

The argument that there is such a thing as ‘too much’ democracy is exactly what I’m referring to. It’s about managing populations versus populations managing themselves. Regardless of their specific laws, the general trend in Classical Athenian politics was toward greater democracy, with isonomia or something like it acting as the generating principle. Society did not collapse into barbarism; quite the opposite.

In liberal regimes, it has always been a matter of directing the population, with political friction taking the form of who gets to decide, how often, and under what conditions the managers manage. The spectre of ‘too much democracy’, or ‘mob rule’, or ‘the madness of crowds’ is symptomatic of a fundamentally hostile attitude to democracy. Liberal democracy exists to restrain both the state and the people; and in doing so, it opens up a space for — capitalism. So, again: Athens versus capitalism.

By the way: Capitalism, in Marxist theory, is distinguished by the wage relation, not just private enterprise. The Athenian economy ran mainly on the labour of slaves, artisans, and small farmers, not employees.

119

Plume 08.03.14 at 9:13 pm

Luke,

Well said.

This article is very good on “the founders” reluctance to let people rule themselves.

http://www.iefd.org/articles/constitution_for_the_few.php

It’s more than ironic that right-wing gun fanatics actually believe that the god-like founders wanted to arm and enable mobs to overthrow them, when those founders didn’t even want most people to vote. The 2nd amendment was put in place to protect the state from those “mobs,” rebellions, insurrections, etc. And slave revolts especially.

Too much democracy? We’ve never come close to even a hint of a whiff of full democracy, and nothing I’ve suggested would take us into “too much” territory, whatever that means.

120

mattski 08.03.14 at 9:30 pm

Luke,

I’m not here to defend capitalism from criticism. I am here because I think many people are confused, a result of putting too much importance on concepts and not enough on the fears and desires that motivate them.

Society did not collapse into barbarism; quite the opposite.

Are you addressing this to me? Why?

Liberal democracy exists to restrain both the state and the people; and in doing so, it opens up a space for — capitalism. So, again: Athens versus capitalism.

I think your first statement is fair enough. But what is the evidence that Athenians had some problem with private accumulation of wealth? And would you concede that some people–think Cliven Bundy and his admirers–need to be restrained?

The Athenian economy ran mainly on the labour of slaves, artisans, and small farmers, not employees.

What does this demonstrate? Probably only that there wasn’t a sophisticated monetary system at the time.

***

Plume,

Why don’t you take your own advice? For myself, I’ll direct my comments wherever I please. It’s a free internet, so to speak.

121

Plume 08.03.14 at 9:41 pm

mattski,

I made a suggestion. Nothing more. I wanted to see if you could do it, given your little obsession with me.

I make it again. See if you can write a post without me in it, or any reference to me.

122

Harold 08.03.14 at 10:48 pm

@ 119,Mattsi, it is a historical fact that the Athenians disapproved of the private accumulation of wealth, though not to the extent that the Spartans, who enforced voluntary poverty, did. The Romans did also. Among Augustus’s first reforms was the enactment of sumptuary laws.

123

mattski 08.03.14 at 10:57 pm

Plume,

Will this help you feel better? 72, 79, 90.

Harold, please give us a cite would you?

124

Bernard Yomtov 08.03.14 at 11:12 pm

Plume,

Capitalism is M-C-M and exchange value.

Do you propose to do away with money?

125

mattski 08.03.14 at 11:28 pm

Couple of remarks for Harold. Sparta had a fairly strict social hierarchy. ‘Citizens’ of ancient Sparta were wealthy in comparison to the lower classes and they had political rights which the lower classes did not. The fact that their focus was martial rather than material hardly adds to their appeal.

126

Plume 08.04.14 at 3:23 am

Bernard @123,

Well, I would, but that’s a different story. I’d go to electronic currency, which we would all own in common. It would be distributed via hours worked and for community, regional and national needs. This would also eliminate the need for taxes, borrowing, debt. But, again, that’s a different issue . . .

The point is that a system (capitalism) wherein someone buys labor, as a commodity, gets labor to create commodities for money, appropriates the surplus labor value created by that workforce, and make its money via unpaid labor, is immoral and incredibly wasteful.

It does not produce to order, and it does not produce for needs or sustenance. It produces to make money for a few on the backs of the many. Period.

OTOH, a system that starts with C-M-C and goes for use-value rather than exchange-value . . . that has a far better chance to work for everyone, to be fair, to provide for societal needs and to not be wasteful.

The difference between the two is basically this:

I build a chair with my own two hands, my sweat and blood, and I sell that chair directly. I receive compensation for my hard work and only my hard work.

A capitalist hires workers to build a lot of chairs. He or she makes money on their labor, their sweat and blood, and they also sell the chairs for him or her. He or she receives compensation for their hard work via not paying them for a portion of their day.

In cases wherein a modern society needs things built beyond the capacities of a single craftsperson or artisan . . . if the workforce itself owns the means of production and shares the surplus value it creates amongst itself, then you can get fair wages, just compensation, create for need, not profit. etc

127

Glenn 08.04.14 at 3:26 am

Stephen @107

Making bronze is labor value added. If you make bronze yourself there is no exchange.

If you use slave labor to make bronze there is unequal exchange. If you farm the operation out to a colony that pays less than a living wage coerced under state threat of violence, there is unequal exchange. A profit is made only by unequal exchange.

The person with copper will not accept tin of a lesser value in exchange and still come out ahead.

You have mixed two exchanges together, and one exchange or the other must be unequal if either party is to come out ahead.

If you give me five dollars, or five dollars worth of copper, and I give five dollars, or five dollars of tin, to you explain how a profit can be made by equal exchange.

Your turn to come off it.

128

Plume 08.04.14 at 3:39 am

Glen,

That would be interesting. Capitalism would fall apart rather quickly if we were all just exchanging $5 for $5.

Profit can only be achieved by selling something for more than it cost to make. This requires ripping off someone, or many someones, always. In a business with a workforce, it means ripping off that workforce, and the capitalist can pad his or her profits by also ripping off supply chains and consumers. Supply chains, in turn, want to make a profit too, so they have to rip off their workers and so on down the line. If that means shipping jobs overseas to absorb being ripped off by the Walmarts of this world, they will do so.

David Harvey, a Marxist economist with a background in geography, is fantastic on the idea of shifting the pain/crisis elsewhere to sustain profits. Into the future, overseas, or onto the backs of taxpayers. Sometimes, all the above.

129

Lee A. Arnold 08.04.14 at 3:51 am

BOTH people profit. Because you BOTH can have MORE bronze, than if each person mined both the copper and the tin for themselves. This is because by specializing (in, say, copper), you can get more of it, by: 1. improved dexterity, 2. constant proximity, and 3. new technology. The same thing happens to the other person, mining only tin. Put together, they have more than if each one did both things separately, then we added it up. Money just makes the profit visible in the interim, because it is the medium of exchange.

It is because of what is called “comparative advantage”. Instead of copper and tin, here it is, with cocoanuts and fish (from Krugman and Wells):

130

Plume 08.04.14 at 4:13 am

Lee,

Who is doing the mining? Under what conditions? At what costs? And how much are they paid? How much are suppliers paid?

Commercial exchanges in the modern world are incredibly interdependent. There is never a case of just a buyer and seller involved, much less just two people making a trade. The interconnectedness of markets makes a fairy tale version.

Sorry, but a capitalist transaction can’t possibly be win/win. If someone wins, a whole lot of others lose. That’s just math and physics.

131

Plume 08.04.14 at 4:14 am

makes that a fairy tale version.

132

Glenn 08.04.14 at 4:15 am

The “comparative advantage” most sought after by capital is the means of suppressing labor negotiations with such tactics as killing negotiators acting on behalf of labor.

That is why anti-suicide nets are placed at Foxconn manufacturing facilities of Apple products.

http://www.dailytech.com/Foxconn+Installs+AntiSuicide+Nets+at+Its+Facilities/article18877.htm

And

Workers’ rights ‘flouted’ at Apple iPhone factory in China
New, cheaper device being produced illegally, non-profit organisation China Labor Watch claims.

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/sep/05/workers-rights-flouted-apple-iphone-plant

133

J Thomas 08.04.14 at 4:54 am

Profit can only be achieved by selling something for more than it cost to make. This requires ripping off someone, or many someones, always.

Let’s agree that often things are set up so people get ripped off.

I say it doesn’t have to be that way, that people can sometimes trade so that both are better off.

What about my example of the local cartage business? You have a refrigerator you need to get to Doaksville. I have a stove I need to get to Doaksville. If we take two trips, each with a ton or more of truck to carry the things, we’re less efficient than if we take just one trip. If we pay somebody who’s good at that sort of thing to carry them both for us, then we can both go back to doing the things we’re good at.He comes out ahead and so do we.

Sometimes people make deals where they both come out better off. If somehow they arrange it so they both come out better off by exactly the same amount, then definitely neither of them is being exploited. Do we know how to measure everything so we can tell exactly how much better off both of them are? Not very well. The accountants use GAAP — Generally Accepted Accounting Practices because people mostly accept that those practices mostly work adequately. Maybe it isn’t exactly equal, but if you’re enough better off, do you need it to be exactly equal?

Sometimes people benefit by cooperation. With a capitalist system sometimes people still benefit by cooperation. There could be lots of scams and extortion rackets and fraud etc that often leaves one side coming out ahead at somebody else’s expense, and still sometimes they can both benefit.

134

Lee A. Arnold 08.04.14 at 5:01 am

@ Plume #129 — I agree that capitalism is transforming itself into something else, and I think the world will be profoundly socialist (or whatever the next stage is to be called) within a hundred years. But I look at it the other way.

In fact I don’t think it’s a problem that arises in the single capitalist transaction, theoretically speaking. This is how economists get themselves off the hook, or avoid the issue, and insist that we don’t know what we’re talking about — because the “capitalist transaction” is theoretically win-win.

The real problems are quite beside the theory: 1. technology will slowly push labor out of jobs making necessities; 2. there aren’t enough other non-necessary goods and services in the world to make up for that; 3. further, your “wants” really are NOT infinite or even the size of 7 billion inputs, i.e. you wouldn’t have the time to transact with the 7 billion people on the planet anyhow, even though hundreds or thousands of people are combined into single-product supply chains, so they WILL NOT be able to find something else to do, to share in “the system”; and 4. there may be real natural resource constraints involved in bringing everyone up to a good standard of living (although this is less sure; it could be that there is enough for everyone to have a good standard of living).

So saying, “That’s just math and physics” has to be qualified, because the math and physics of capitalist transactions are theoretically win-win. It’s just that in the aggregate real world, other factors disqualify the capitalist theory.

135

Plume 08.04.14 at 5:15 am

Lee, again, I can’t see how it’s possible for it to be a win/win situation. And, of course, I’m not talking about just in single transactions. As mentioned, it’s also on the company wide format, which is autocratic and anti-democratic, and “the markets” in aggregate, which are just the accumulated total of those autocratic, anti-democratic entities . . . . with additional autocratic hierarchies formed out of large to small companies.

It’s actually impossible for that to be win/win. Impossible. Capitalism generates inequality and globalizes this like no previous system. And its based on a kind of interconnected, integrated grid of economic apartheid that will always counter moves toward egalitarian structures, much less outcomes. In order to be win/win, you’d have to undo all of that, get rid of the massive divergence in compensation, privilege, power and accumulated wealth. It’s fanciful to try to ignore all of that and say, even in theory, that capitalism can ever be win/win.

And the larger issues of climate change and overall pollution and waste? That’s really a lose/lose proposition, which capitalism speeds us toward. Grow or Die. Consume more, and then more, and still more. Or the system dies.

The richest 20% consume 85% of our resources, leaving just 15% for the bottom 80%. If anything tells us there is no win/win possible, it’s that. Or, that 85 people in the world own more wealth than the bottom 3.5 billion. Or, that the richest 400 Americans hold more than our bottom 60%. etc.

136

Lee A. Arnold 08.04.14 at 6:01 am

Plume, Well if you are not talking about single transactions, then I agree with you. But then, you are talking instead about capitalism + technological development + labor elimination + plutocracy + changes in biogeochemical cycles + ecological resource depletion.

Because we need a word for the theory of private firms making products in competitive markets, and that is what has been called capitalism, and even Karl Marx called it capitalism, and then it branched out from there to “monopoly capitalism”, “finance capitalism”, and so on.

So I’m not sure why you need to throw it all together, when that could sometimes vitiate your own argument.

How could it vitiate your argument? Well for example, if a non-polluting energy source is developed, then capitalism will speed us AWAY from climate change and overall pollution and waste. Indeed it looks like photovoltaic efficiencies are improving enough to do just that.

But again, that might save the climate system, but I don’t think that it will save capitalism in the end.

Psychology is going to kill it. I think Schumpeter was right, in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. He didn’t quite see computers and robotics coming, but they are the death knell. Because technological change, particularly robotics, has a basic pattern of putting people out of work, and capitalism depends on the psychology of being able to buy into the system. But: no work, no money, no buy-into-system. Thus capitalism is going to give way to a more egalitarian system, due to unavoidable mass psychology.

It is even happening on Wall Street. Huge in-house computing systems are already putting day-traders out of business. It looks like there is an increasing choke on the number of crooked numbskulls needed to run the banks.

137

Harold 08.04.14 at 6:09 am

Mattski, “citizens” in Sparta were of course wealthier than their exploited helots, but I thought we were talking about the “accumulation of wealth”. Spartans abroad were notoriously prone to being corrupted because of their excessively austere manner of living at home.

138

Plume 08.04.14 at 6:34 am

Lee,

Again, I’m talking about single transactions and the form, function and purpose of individual businesses, and the form, function and purpose of the aggregate of those businesses under capitalism. All of it. And, no, I don’t need to add in those other things you mentioned. Just the basic setup of the capitalist mode of production, its relations, its power formations, its rationale, mechanics and inherent contradictions do the trick.

Its basic setup, its raison d’etre, its mechanics, etc.

It is set up to make a few people very rich off the sweat and blood of the many. From their work. Not from the work of the capitalist. It is set up to derive profit and compensation for business owners from the workforce, from the unpaid labor of that workforce. That, and the rest of the things mentioned, are why it can never, ever, ever be win/win. The interests of ownership are simply in direct opposition to those of their workers. The more ownership wants to make for itself, the less they must pay their workers — or find other links along the chain to screw. Or both.

Fundamentally, and in every which way, it is a system designed to always be completely at odds with the vast majority and with nature. And the only reason we all aren’t working for 70 cents an hour, under Foxconn conditions or worse, is because of outside forces that put some checks on its power. Strip away those outside checks, and capitalism, naked capitalism, is nothing but unbridled economic apartheid. With them, it’s still that, but with minimal restrictions on its power and purpose.

Again, it can’t possibly be win/win and still be capitalism.

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Plume 08.04.14 at 6:39 am

Lee,

In addition. Even if we discover the most perfect energy alternative, one that emits no pollution, that doesn’t do away with pollution and waste from other sources. Our packaging inside packaging. Our dyes. Our detergents and cleaning products. Our pesticides. Our food loss, which is at 50% of production. Our appliances. Our clothes. Our media and media devices. Our computers, phones, tablets. Our office equipment, building supplies, cars, trucks, planes, weapons, ships, housing, etc. etc.

Finding renewable, sustainable energy alternatives is essential, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle.

140

Matt 08.04.14 at 12:13 pm

The most valuable takeaway from this would seem to be the point that LWA makes in post 17. Btw, do you mind if I quote you on that last sentence, LWA?

141

Bernard Yomtov 08.04.14 at 1:30 pm

I build a chair with my own two hands, my sweat and blood, and I sell that chair directly. I receive compensation for my hard work and only my hard work.

A capitalist hires workers to build a lot of chairs. He or she makes money on their labor, their sweat and blood, and they also sell the chairs for him or her. He or she receives compensation for their hard work via not paying them for a portion of their day.

Where and how do you acquire the wood and other materials needed to build the chair? What about the tools? How do you get the chair to market? What happens if the chair does not attract a buyer immediately?

Suppose I approach you and offer to provide raw materials and the use of tools for building the chair, to pay you a certain amount, and to bear the costs of marketing the chair, including the risk that it won’t be sold. I then sell the chair for more than I paid you for your labor.

That sounds a lot like capitalism to me, but I fail to see the great evil involved.

Sorry, but a capitalist transaction can’t possibly be win/win. If someone wins, a whole lot of others lose. That’s just math and physics.

Of course it can. Needs vary. Preferences vary. Skills vary. That’s just common sense.

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mattski 08.04.14 at 2:18 pm

Sorry, but a capitalist transaction can’t possibly be win/win. If someone wins, a whole lot of others lose. That’s just math and physics.

If a mutually agreed upon trade is shown to be beneficial to both parties then Plume will claim it wasn’t a capitalist transaction. For him it’s a matter of definition. This is broken record territory.

Harold, how about a cite for this:

it is a historical fact that the Athenians disapproved of the private accumulation of wealth

What are we discussing here? It is often unclear because so many people on the left end of the spectrum have such elaborate ideas about “capitalism.” Does it really need to be so complicated? There were economic strata in ancient Athens. Indeed, the struggle for democracy was a struggle against the rule of aristocracy. Athens had its rich, and also a pretty healthy middle class of artisans and merchants. And of course slaves. But the artisans and merchants were free to “get ahead” if they were inclined to do so. (And who wouldn’t be so inclined at a time when standards of living had so much room for improvement!)

Do you think it is controversial to say that ancient Greeks recognized that people of different degrees of industriousness rightfully earned different levels of wealth?

143

kent 08.04.14 at 2:49 pm

I do not know how to reconcile the following assertions:

(1) capitalism does not and by definition cannot create value;
(2) every transaction has a winner and a loser — and most of the time, it’s the corporation that’s the winner and the individual that’s the loser;
(3) capitalism has been the dominant system for hundreds of years.

with a simple fact:

(4) individuals on a worldwide scale are better off today — in a purely economic sense — than they have ever been.

How has this happened?

If you doubt 4, please read at least some of the linked chapter at:

http://www.deirdremccloskey.com/weblog/2009/07/07/the-tide-of-innovation-1700-present/2/

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J Thomas 08.04.14 at 3:06 pm

Athens had its rich, and also a pretty healthy middle class of artisans and merchants. And of course slaves. But the artisans and merchants were free to “get ahead” if they were inclined to do so. (And who wouldn’t be so inclined at a time when standards of living had so much room for improvement!)

I don’t have references handy for the following and any of it might possibly be wrong. See if you agree, or disagree, and decide whether it’s worth it to find out.

Athens was a relatively small place. something like population 30,000 to 50,000. So they didn’t have room for tremendous disparities of wealth. The aristocrats who were so rich tended to have something like 5 times the wealth of the average.

If you were an Athenian who owned a farm, you could expect to work maybe 4 hours a day on it. You might make 5 times as much wealth off a good farm as off a mediocre one, but you were not expected to work twice as hard on bad land to better yourself. It would probably have been possible to do that. Farmers could work on erosion control and spreading fertilizer etc, but they did not think that way.

On the other hand, if you were an artisan you tended to work when people paid you to. Of course used artifacts were not worth as much as new ones. But new ones are not worth as much as ones that someone needs to be made. Like today, the bigger the oversupply of finished goods, the less they were worth. Make too much stuff on spec and buyers will negotiate down the price.

If you were a shipowner you could make a lot depending on trade. You had to already own a ship or it didn’t work. If you were a sailor you made essentially nothing. Like, a census that talked about who inherited what listed children fathered by the oarsmen on the whores, without bothering to sort them out. The difference between what owners earned versus what sailors earned can be explained by risk. The owner was risking a big investment, his ship. And trade varied, there was risk there too, but he had to pay his sailors whether he made any money or not. He took risks. The sailors only risked pirates and shipwreck and things like that.

Anybody have important disagreements here? I consider a disagreement important if it affects the story about the economy.

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Plume 08.04.14 at 3:47 pm

Kent,

I never said capitalism can’t create value. I said a capitalist purchases labor power to create surplus value, appropriates that surplus for him or herself, and redistributes a portion of that surplus back to the workforce. The more the capitalist wants for him or herself, the less they send back to the workforce that created that value.

And, no, capitalism hasn’t been the dominant system for centuries. It’s really only been in the 20th century that it became dominant globally, and the 19th century that it became dominant in certain parts of the globe — Europe and America, primarily. Prior to that, it was in competition with feudal systems, which it eventually supplanted.

As far as people’s rising economic well-being. Obviously, that has only been a very small percentage of the globe. Again, just 85 people hold more wealth than the bottom 3.5 billion, and billions live on less than $2.00 a day. And the richest 20% consume 85% of all our resources, etc.

Oh, and along with those “innovations” you speak of due to capitalism, we must new technologies of warfare, which have enabled incredibly efficient mass slaughter in the capitalist era, to the tune of tens of millions, as opposed to hundreds of thousands. And what part of the benefits of capitalism comes from public sector attempts to offset its destructiveness? What part comes from the public sector’s attempt to offset for its rotten pay, benefits, working conditions, etc. etc.?

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Rakesh 08.04.14 at 3:50 pm

Interesting that Joseph Inikori’s work gets so little attention; perhaps an example of how slavery still casts a shadow on the present?

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Plume 08.04.14 at 3:57 pm

Mattski,

If a trade is not capitalist, then it makes sense to say so. Accurate language is important. It helps clear the fog for lazy minds. Like the people who confuse barter with capitalism, or democracy with capitalism, or those who seem to stop with the two people involved with that trade, instead of looking at the entire picture.

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Glenn 08.04.14 at 4:20 pm

J Thomas@100

“You seem to be assuming that value is known.”

Your assumption about my assumption is invalid.

The labor of moving material to a location for pay is an exchange.

If a person is employed by Amazon, for example, the owner of Amazon becomes extremely wealthy through the unequal exchange of labor value and the wage he is paid.

If one is dying of dehydration, the sale and purchase of water will entail the profit of unequal exchange, if in purchasing water you are also purchasing the extension of your life and a higher price is demanded (extortion). See Detroit.

If the free association (“guaranteed” by the First Amendment) of labor is suppressed by the threat of state violence, there is no mechanism to achieve equal exchange. Equal exchange cannot be negotiated without state backed coercion to the detriment of those who must negotiate under duress.

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Glenn 08.04.14 at 4:24 pm

Edit to 147

Equal exchange cannot be negotiated IN THE PRESENCE OF state backed coercion to the detriment of those who must negotiate under duress.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.04.14 at 4:26 pm

If a trade is not capitalist, then it makes sense to say so.

I have no idea what this means.

I do some work for you, for which you pay me. Presumably you benefitted, since why else would you have paid me to do it.

I take the money and buy something I want. Effectively I have traded my labor for this item. How is this not capitalist? How have you and I not both benefitted?

Or consider the table-making example I gave above. Is that not a capitalist transaction? What is wrong with it?

You are tying yourself in knots arguing for a self-contradictory, non-existent, and likely impossible social and economic arrangement. You say “True socialism has never been tried.” How do you know? We have never observed a socialist system of the type you describe, at least not one that lasted very long. Maybe that’s because it can’t work, and must either disappear or devolve into the sorts of tyrranies that have been mentioned above.

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J Thomas 08.04.14 at 4:34 pm

“You seem to be assuming that value is known.”

Your assumption about my assumption is invalid.

OK, how do you decide how much things are worth?

The labor of moving material to a location for pay is an exchange.

If a person is employed by Amazon, for example, the owner of Amazon becomes extremely wealthy through the unequal exchange of labor value and the wage he is paid.

How do you decide how much the labor is worth? It certainly depends on more than just the labor.

Like, say you carry a refrigerator to Doakton and then it turns out they didn’t want it. Your labor was less than useless.

So part of it is doing the labor at the right time and place. The dispatcher who gets the time and place right is spending some of his time, and that has value too. How do you split up the value between them?

If one is dying of dehydration, the sale and purchase of water will entail the profit of unequal exchange, if in purchasing water you are also purchasing the extension of your life and a higher price is demanded (extortion). See Detroit.

I agree with you that it’s wrong to extort money from people just because you have what they desperately need. However, this is an example where the water is very very valuable to one person and not nearly that valuable to another. Is there a way to measure this?

If you don’t have the right to sell things for what you think they’re worth or refuse to sell if you can’t get your price, and buy for what you think things are worth and refuse to buy if they’re too expensive…. Is there some way to decide what’s equal exchange?

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Plume 08.04.14 at 4:40 pm

Glen,

I think one way people fool themselves into thinking an exchange is “equal” or “voluntary” is by, at least subconsciously, assuming that the massive difference in compensation is irrelevant. That a nurse, for example, is fine with their pay, that she has a different conception of her value, the value of her time; that the CEO who runs her hospital has yet a different conception of their value, the value of their time, etc. Both supposedly match up with their respective sense of their own value, which means, “equal.”

Of course, that’s absurd.

In reality, we are come into the world with the same “value” for our time. It’s finite and equal. Assuming we aren’t hit by a bus, don’t suffer from a terminal illness, or benefit from greater wealth and less dangerous occupations, our lifespans are pretty much the same, give or take. What changes that is the economic system in place, and no system prior to capitalism has so accelerated the division of labor and the gaps between workers, the supposed value of their time, etc. etc. No system prior to capitalism has caused such an explosion in the range of arbitrarily derived value, or severed it from all rational explanations due to functional importance, use-value or community/societal needs.

In short, capitalism has produced grand fictions on unprecedented scales. The grand fiction that, say, the CEO of McDonald’s time is more precious and valuable than their workers, or more precious and valuable than a nurse’s, a teacher’s, a firefighter’s, a scientist’s, etc. etc.

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J Thomas 08.04.14 at 4:50 pm

#149

I do some work for you, for which you pay me. Presumably you benefitted, since why else would you have paid me to do it.

I take the money and buy something I want. Effectively I have traded my labor for this item. How is this not capitalist?

I think he’s using a restricted concept of capitalism.

I pay you to do something, you pay somebody else to do something, they pay somebody else to do something, that’s just people doing stuff.

But when I have the money, and I pay somebody to build some special tools, and then I pay you to use those tools to make stuff — stuff you could not make nearly so easily or quickly without my tools — and I sell lots of the product to lots of people. I get far more from it than I give to you. Some people would argue that you deserve all the money because you did all the work. I just sat around and supervised you, and took people’s money.

So who decides how much of the money you get? I do. I made the plan, I designed the tools, I paid for them, I set up the factory, I showed you how to do the work, and if something happened to you I could replace you easily. The whole thing would not exist if I hadn’t created it. So I will pay you as much as I think you deserve because I’m a nice guy. I could get somebody cheaper but I like you, and you’ve done a good job so far. Be on time every time, do your work tirelessly, and smile, and you can keep the job which is probably better than you could get otherwise. I am a capitalist. If somebody says I ought to give you all the income, I will laugh at them. Unless they try to force me to do that, and then I will not laugh at all.

People can make stuff and buy and sell without capitalists.
Maybe capitalists make it better.
Maybe there’s no way to make it better without capitalists.

I tend to doubt that last, but depending on how different you do things people might still call you a capitalist.

154

Plume 08.04.14 at 4:52 pm

Bernard @149,

The matter in question was not that the two sides in transaction X might both “benefit.” The matter was the equality of that benefit. If the benefits are distributed in unequal fashion, then it is not a win/win proposition. It is a win/lose proposition.

And I think you’ve misread me on what constitutes a capitalist transaction. The example given was a direct trade of copper for tin. That’s barter, not capitalism. Now, capitalism could be the system used to extract the copper and the tin in the first place. In 2014, it would be. But an actual trade of commodities is not capitalism. There is no “capital” involved in the transaction. Commodities, without capital, are being traded.

As for the chairs or the table-making. Again, the key differentiation for capitalism is the use of capital to purchase labor power, to make commodities, to be exchanged for more money. M-C-M and exchange value.

The capitalist doesn’t make the chairs or the table. He or she buys labor power to do that for him or her. The capitalist then appropriates the surplus value created by those workers, controls that, instead of the workers who actually made the chairs, the tables, etc. The capitalist then redistributes a portion of the earnings back to workers. The largest part of their “alienation” comes from the fact that they do not own what they produce in the capitalist system.

155

Bernard Yomtov 08.04.14 at 5:16 pm

If you don’t have the right to sell things for what you think they’re worth or refuse to sell if you can’t get your price, and buy for what you think things are worth and refuse to buy if they’re too expensive….

Exactly.

If this is not allowed then labor has to be allocated by other means. Those means often turn out to be quite unpleasant.

Allocating labor is a critical job that any economic system must do. If you can’t explain how your system will do it, your ideas make no sense. If you do explain, and it involves, as yours inevitably will, a degree of coercion, then you have to justify the coercion.

156

J Thomas 08.04.14 at 5:22 pm

The matter in question was not that the two sides in transaction X might both “benefit.” The matter was the equality of that benefit.

How do you decide equality?

Here is one suggestion. Get somebody who’s really good at running auctions and getting the highest price. Then start with both guys having the same amount of money. Auction off the copper to the one guy, and see how high he’ll go. Auction the tin to the other one and see how high *he* goes. Whichever one paid more, valued that amount of product more. So in a direct trade he would get the better deal.

Here is another suggestion. Assuming that everybody’s time is worth the same, look at how much time was spent mining and extracting and transporting etc the copper, versus how much time was spent doing all that for the tin. The one which took the more time is worth more. Except then you might notice, the copper miners took watermelon breaks every four hours that they counted as work time, but the tin miners only took off the same amount of time to urinate and drink plain water. Should those hours count the same? One of the copper miners died in an accident, so the copper took away all the rest of the hours of his life. One of the tin miners had a leg crushed so he will be a cripple the rest of his life, on the job and off. Which counts more?

The copper miners have an accountant who tracks lots of stuff, and the accountant spent 8 years in college and grad school learning that trade. The tin miners did without all that. How much should the accountant’s time count? How much of the necessary 8 years should count in the hours worked for the copper?

The tin miners have an executive and a sales manager. The sales manager travels around the world checking prices and making deals. The executive thinks about which land they should buy to dig new tin mines in as this one starts to run out, and buys options. How much of their time should count?

Several of the copper miners spend some of their time working for a volunteer fire department which helps their community. The mining headquarters building caught on fire and the firemen saved the accountants’ records. How much of their fire department time counts for the copper?

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Kurt H 08.04.14 at 5:28 pm

@ Plum (particularly post 103):

You seem to be advocating a “socialism” that involves the public sector evolving to produce all major consumables. So, you envision a world where large institutions provide all necessities through a single interlocking power structure (the state). Frequently in dystopian sci-fi we see a world in which the major corporations control the world and effectively (or in actuality) are the state. These “two” systems are the exact same system.

If you create a centralized system of power which everyone must transact with for their basic needs you have created a means of totalitarian control. This model of socialism is no alternative at all.

Also, not to put too fine a point on it, but if you have trouble understanding comparative advantage, I think it’s a bit presumptuous for you to try to redesign the entire ecosystem of exchange.

158

Bernard Yomtov 08.04.14 at 5:30 pm

To extend J Thomas’ example:

John lives near the copper mine and would prefer to work there rather than at the tin mine, which is less conveniently located for him. But there are not enough tin miners (according to some genius plan) so it would be helpful to get John to mine tin anyway. How should that be accomplished?

159

mattski 08.04.14 at 5:30 pm

J Thomas @ 152

I wish I could figure out what you are trying to say. Your comments are often interesting, except that so often it seems you are merely giving descriptions of scenarios without any editorial content. I hate to be the aggressive asshole who says this, but, why do you do that?

I have a particular bone here in part because I am a builder/craftsman and the example you discuss is quite close to home for me. To me it is pretty obvious that when I design the furniture, design the custom tools needed to build the furniture, put up the cash for the physical plant, then I would be complete idiot not to make some degree of profit over and above the wages I pay to produce my goods. How is this controversial, and how is this morally suspect?

160

Plume 08.04.14 at 5:34 pm

J Thomas,

If Apple sells you an Ipad, and that Ipad was made on the backs of workers making 70 cents an hour at Foxconn — and it most likely was — and Apple’s executives make tens of millions a year, there is no “win/win” there. They make their compensation and their profit by screwing over their workers, by paying them obscenely low wages in dangerous working conditions, while they sit on their duffs thousands of miles away and collect massive compensation.

You pay far more than that Ipad cost to make, and you pay for a host of things which added zero value to the Ipad itself. Such as those high compensation packages, perks, golden parachutes, etc. for executives; tax avoidance personnel; shareholder dividends; marketing/ad costs; insurance costs; unsold merchandise costs — to name a few. You pay for an enormous bureaucracy which adds nothing to the actual value of that Ipad, and because those executives demand and receive obscenely high compensation for overseeing workers, you pay more and tens of thousands of workers are screwed. Those executives can’t make their own fortunes if they pay fair wages. The math doesn’t work out.

And that, of course, ripples throughout the interconnected system. Those low wages drive down wages elsewhere, creating more hardship, shorter lifespans, more health issues, etc. etc. And then there’s the pollution costs, the waste, the climate change involved and so on.

The only way to see capitalist transactions as “win/win” is to ignore roughly 99% of the process involved in that transaction, its repercussions, etc.

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mattski 08.04.14 at 5:36 pm

J Thomas,

Sorry for that touch of irritability! Let me echo you at 155:

How is it possible to know if a transaction is equal? The most reliable method I know of is to ask the participants if they are satisfied. Does anyone know of a better method?

Value is a HIGHLY subjective thing.

162

Plume 08.04.14 at 5:43 pm

Mattski @158,

It’s not morally suspect at all for you to be compensated for your own work. It becomes immoral when you receive that compensation plus compensation for the production of your workforce.

Your input. Not theirs. That includes embedded costs, your capital expenses, etc. etc. It becomes immoral when you have been compensated for those costs, but you still charge a form of rent to your employees by withholding pay from them. As in, if your costs are X, and you make that back, but you still force additional unpaid labor hours on your workers in order to receive X+ or X++ or X+++.

163

mattski 08.04.14 at 5:46 pm

Those low wages drive down wages elsewhere

Wages at an iPhone plant in China might exert a depressing effect on wages in advanced countries, but they likely exert an expansionary effect on wages in China.

164

Bruce Wilder 08.04.14 at 5:54 pm

Plume: I said a capitalist purchases labor power to create surplus value, appropriates that surplus for him or herself, and redistributes a portion of that surplus back to the workforce. The more the capitalist wants for him or herself, the less they send back to the workforce that created that value.

The capitalist creates the surplus value or the workers create the surplus value. Make up your mind.

Plume: If the benefits are distributed in unequal fashion, then it is not a win/win proposition.

That argument requires a form of arithmetic with which I am unfamiliar. If social cooperation creates an incremental surplus of 5, and one party gets 3 and the other party gets 2, over and above the results of not-cooperating, then cooperation benefits both. Benefiting both does not require that both parties benefit equally. I feel there’s something seriously wrong, when this has to be explained.

All cooperation inherently entails conflict. You can’t wish it away, or abolish it with a semantic label.

Hierarchical organization of economic production can be enormously productive, but the vertical relationships — the domination — are problematic. It is no insight to wish the dilemmas away or to deny that they inherently exist.

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Plume 08.04.14 at 6:04 pm

Bruce,

The capitalist creates the surplus value or the workers create the surplus value. Make up your mind

I’ve consistently said that the workforce creates the surplus value. And did so in the above example.

That argument requires a form of arithmetic with which I am unfamiliar. If social cooperation creates an incremental surplus of 5, and one party gets 3 and the other party gets 2, over and above the results of not-cooperating, then cooperation benefits both. Benefiting both does not require that both parties benefit equally. I feel there’s something seriously wrong, when this has to be explained.

When one party receives far more — in its capacity as overseer — than the workforce which actually does the work itself, then this is immoral. As in, capitalism. And your example of 3 to 2 is absurd when the average ratio of executive to rank and file is closer to 400 to 1 today, and was 25 to 1 even at the height of our “Golden Age” of capitalism.

I feel there’s something seriously wrong when this has to be explained.

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mattski 08.04.14 at 6:13 pm

When one party receives far more

Oooh! I see a shade of gray!

Looks like we need a philosopher king to hash this out. Nominees??

167

Plume 08.04.14 at 6:14 pm

Bruce @163,

Hierarchical organization of economic production can be enormously productive, but the vertical relationships — the domination — are problematic. It is no insight to wish the dilemmas away or to deny that they inherently exist.

First off, productive for whom? Second, you’re repeating my point when you say the domination is problematic. Third, I’m not trying to wish the dilemmas away or denying that they “inherently exist.” My point is that they do “inherently exist” in the capitalist system, which makes it immoral, which is one of the reasons for repealing and replacing it.

Unless by “inherently exist” you mean that they do so in the state of nature, with or without capitalism in place. In that case, I suggest you take a look at human history before the advent of capitalism. We spent our first 250,000 years on this planet, for example, without markets, profit, M-C-M, exchange value, “property rights,” the widespread acceleration of the division of labor, etc. We lived communally, and even the concept of “ownership” was completely foreign to us, as was wage slavery. And hierarchies? They were pretty simple and “flat” in comparison with today.

To borrow your patronizing, condescending words again: I feel there’s something seriously wrong when this has to be explained.

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Bruce Wilder 08.04.14 at 6:40 pm

Plume: When one party receives far more — in its capacity as overseer — than the workforce which actually does the work itself, then this is immoral. As in, capitalism.

How much more? You said “equal”, but refuse to defend the claim, switching instead to a plea that 400 to 1 is immoral.

It seems to me, that if a capitalist brings together 20 workers, and, supervising their work, creates surplus value, over and above what the 20 would or could produce either individually or cooperating among themselves without the capitalist-executive-supervisor, there’s nothing inherently immoral about the capitalist claiming the largest share of that incremental surplus value.

Hierarchy, on abundant evidence, can be enormously productive. On technical grounds, I would reject the labor theory of value as unhelpful, and if I were analyzing the role of hierarchies, I’d have some things to say about control and residual returns, the sunk-cost nature of capital investments and economic rents, efficiency wages, principal-agent problems, the differences between allocative and technical efficiency, leverage and the separation of ownership and control, money and the use of financial capital in usury, credit and insurance, and a number of other topics. And, I would confirm that 400 to 1 is pernicious.

What I would not do is claim that “capitalism” is a specific thing, the evils of which stand entirely apart from human nature.

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J Thomas 08.04.14 at 6:49 pm

#160

Sorry for that touch of irritability! Let me echo you at 155:

How is it possible to know if a transaction is equal?

I don’t have a concept for that. To me it looks like a very hard problem. Accountants solve problems similar to that, and they could come up with something for that problem if it was their job to. Not to say they’d get a right answer, but they’d get something they could defend and then call it GAAP.

Plume wants things to be equal so I figure it’s up to him to tell us how we would know when things are equal.

I think the system should be somehow designed so things don’t get *too* unequal. If the economy turns into a monopoly game where one player has hotels on almost everything, then it’s time to start a new game.

Imagine that you made great furniture designs and great tools that let you produce designs cheap enough for a whole lot of people to afford. A great big market that you created.

And then somebody else sees what you’ve done, and they make designs and machines that are just enough different to break any copyrights or patents you might have, and they have some great big lines of credit that give them an advantage. You can’t get that much credit but they can. You find yourself in essentially a no-limit poker game. If you get just the right cards and play them well then you can win the whole thing and maybe nobody will attack you the same way again. But otherwise you lose everything and after you’re gone they raise their prices higher than you would have, because partly they’re fine with lower production at higher profits, and partly their real owners don’t want to compete with some other lines of profitable products….

And you do have one chance not to play that game. They’ll buy you out and let you have a comfortable retirement but you won’t have your company any more, just some money.

You were creating something good, and somehow the rules of the game let somebody else beat you out just because they started out with more money and they couldn’t think of anything better to do with it than mess with you. I tend to think the rules of the game should discourage that more than they do.

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Glenn 08.04.14 at 6:49 pm

Equality may never come to be measured with an accountant’s precision. But an accountant’s precision is never more than an approximation, and frequently less so, because he ignores externalized costs, and other things never measured, but born by the commons. See Walmart and McDonalds, among others, sending their employees to state offices to supplement their lack of wages with public aid.

Lack of precise equality is not an obstacle to the accounting profession, so why should this lack of precision in measuring equality of exchange be an obstacle to moving toward equality of exchange by eliminating gross variations first?

Should a great variations from equality of exchange be ignored because a tiny variation cannot be measured with any greater precision than modern capitalist accounting allows and finds acceptable?

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J Thomas 08.04.14 at 6:51 pm

(sigh I forgot and used a word I already knew would trigger the moderation filter.)
#160

Sorry for that touch of irritability! Let me echo you at 155:

How is it possible to know if a transaction is equal?

I don’t have a concept for that. To me it looks like a very hard problem. Accountants solve problems similar to that, and they could come up with something for that problem if it was their job to. Not to say they’d get a right answer, but they’d get something they could defend and then call it GAAP.

Plume wants things to be equal so I figure it’s up to him to tell us how we would know when things are equal.

I think the system should be somehow designed so things don’t get *too* unequal. If the economy turns into a monopoly game where one player has hotels on almost everything, then it’s time to start a new game.

Imagine that you made great furniture designs and great tools that let you produce designs cheap enough for a whole lot of people to afford. A great big market that you created.

And then somebody else sees what you’ve done, and they make designs and machines that are just enough different to break any copyrights or patents you might have, and they have some great big lines of credit that give them an advantage. You can’t get that much credit but they can. You find yourself in essentially a no-limit pcker game. If you get just the right cards and play them well then you can win the whole thing and maybe nobody will attack you the same way again. But otherwise you lose everything and after you’re gone they raise their prices higher than you would have, because partly they’re fine with lower production at higher profits, and partly their real owners don’t want to compete with some other lines of profitable products….

And you do have one chance not to play that game. They’ll buy you out and let you have a comfortable retirement but you won’t have your company any more, just some money.

You were creating something good, and somehow the rules of the game let somebody else beat you out just because they started out with more money and they couldn’t think of anything better to do with it than mess with you. I tend to think the rules of the game should discourage that more than they do.

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J Thomas 08.04.14 at 6:54 pm

Lack of precise equality is not an obstacle to the accounting profession, so why should this lack of precision in measuring equality of exchange be an obstacle to moving toward equality of exchange by eliminating gross variations first?

Glenn, I agree we should eliminate gross iniquities.

But if we’re aiming at equality, then we should define what we mean by equality. We don’t necessarily have to measure it precisely, but we should at least mostly know it when we see it.

Should we have a clear distinction between free time and working time, and an hour of one person’s time always counts the same as an hour of somebody else’s time? Or what?

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Trader Joe 08.04.14 at 6:56 pm

Many of the recent examples have focused only on the manufacturing and production aspect of capitalism – in most societies services are a significant component of capitalism as well.

If I as a service provider choose to accept $50 to mow someone’s grass or $100 to watch their kids for a day or $75 to clean their house – we can presume that’s a ‘win’ for me since otherwise I’d have not provided my labor at all. What the buyer of my labor will do with the time freed up by my service is immaterial to me – but we can assume its worth at least that same amount to them so a ‘Win-Win’ is possible without exploitation (assuming I’m willing to provide said service and am not otherwise a coerced worker).

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Plume 08.04.14 at 7:00 pm

Bruce,

The original claim was that capitalism produces win/win transactions. In order for that to be the case, compensation would have to be equal. The onus of defense of that claim isn’t on me. It’s on the persons who try to paint capitalism as this mutually beneficial and voluntary system where everyone wins.

It seems to me, that if a capitalist brings together 20 workers, and, supervising their work, creates surplus value, over and above what the 20 would or could produce either individually or cooperating among themselves without the capitalist-executive-supervisor, there’s nothing inherently immoral about the capitalist claiming the largest share of that incremental surplus value.

The part in bold is more than questionable. Again, see Mondragon, the writings of Gar Alperovitz, or Richard D. Wolff. A relevant video from Professor Wolff here.

Beyond that, this would seem to really boil down to differing opinions. I feel strongly that capitalism is inherently immoral, and have posted a ton of reasons why that is the case, from massively unequal compensation, to obscene destruction of the environment, to waste, to dislocation, to endless crises, etc. Your response is to basically counter with, “I don’t find it immoral.” But you haven’t really provided support for that claim.

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Plume 08.04.14 at 7:08 pm

Bruce,

I have a response to your comments waiting in moderation. I think I may have tripped the wires with too many links. I posted them for Mondragon, Gar Alperovitz, and two for Richard D. Wolff.

Will check back later to see if it’s gone through, and if not, may just rewrite it without the links.

Anyway, have to take off for a few hours. To you and the rest of the forum, enjoy your day.

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J Thomas 08.04.14 at 7:08 pm

It seems to me, that if a capitalist brings together 20 workers, and, supervising their work, creates surplus value, over and above what the 20 would or could produce either individually or cooperating among themselves without the capitalist-executive-supervisor, there’s nothing inherently immoral about the capitalist claiming the largest share of that incremental surplus value.

It’s complicated. If the “surplus value” wouldn’t have happened without him, then surely he deserves some of it. But imagine he had never been born, and then somebody else comes along and takes his place. If there are more entrepreneurs looking for opportunities than there are opportunities for them to exploit, maybe he wasn’t so special after all. Maybe him squatting on that position is preventing somebody else from doing something even better.

It looks to me like this sort of argument requires that we know what the alternatives are, when we can’t.

But that brings up a possibility. Say you have a big company with a well-paid CEO. He should have a couple of understudies. Each of them is given all the information he has, and they each make decisions for the company in parallel with his decisions. Every year or so the BOD (or somebody they appoint) carefully looks over what each of the three did, and guesses what would have happened. And if they decide that one of the understudies did better than the CEO, they appoint the understudy to be the new CEO.

That would be a complicated thing to do, and there would be some expense. But when you pay a whole lot for a CEO and you don’t do any comparative tests to judge how well he’s doing, how expensive is that?

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Glenn 08.04.14 at 7:17 pm

J Thomas@168

“You were creating something good, and somehow the rules of the game let somebody else beat you out just because they started out with more money and they couldn’t think of anything better to do with it than mess with you. I tend to think the rules of the game should discourage that more than they do.”

I agree with you here. Marx would agree with you too.

Money and unwanted idleness is a poor substitute for an active, socially involved, creative life.

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Ze Kraggash 08.04.14 at 7:28 pm

“Hierarchy, on abundant evidence, can be enormously productive.”

Too bad assholes tend to climb on top of it, and, in the off-chance they don’t, whoever has manged to climb to the top quickly becomes an asshole anyway. Damn.

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mattski 08.04.14 at 7:59 pm

J Thomas:

I think the system should be somehow designed so things don’t get *too* unequal. If the economy turns into a monopoly game where one player has hotels on almost everything, then it’s time to start a new game.

I agree 100%.

That’s why I’m a liberal and not a doctrinaire Leftist. Reality is made up of shades of gray, and opinions about shades of gray. Anyone who cannot see that every scenario has an upside and a downside is going to gravitate to absolutist positions which are ultimately dangerous.

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J Thomas 08.04.14 at 8:06 pm

Reality is made up of shades of gray, and opinions about shades of gray. Anyone who cannot see that every scenario has an upside and a downside is going to gravitate to absolutist positions which are ultimately dangerous.

In all fairness, maybe sometimes we do better with bang-bang control rather than something more proportional.

That is, if you push as hard as you can in the direction you think things should go, you may have an effect. And then when you realize it’s going too far, then you push as hard as you can in the other direction and you may have an effect slowing the over-reach.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes it might be the most effective approach.

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Glenn 08.04.14 at 8:07 pm

See Stephen Marglin for a Harvard man’s perspective I find credible.

What Do Bosses Do? The origins and functions of hierarchy in capitalist production, Part I. The Review of Radical Political Economics 6, no. 2: 60-112.

http://scholar.harvard.edu/marglin/publications/what-do-bosses-do

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philofra 08.04.14 at 8:18 pm

Plume: “Capitalism is theft. Capitalism is evil. Capitalism is a cancer”.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill (who would agree with the above) – In comparison to all the other systems, capitalism is the least of all the above.

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Seth Gordon 08.04.14 at 8:18 pm

The Mondragon cooperatives seem to be very popular as small-scale models of how democratic socialism could be practical. I want to believe, but I’m not entirely convinced.

Let me start by observing that even the most laissez-faire economy is not truly capitalistic “all the way down”: my wife and I don’t pay one another for the housework we do for one another’s benefit, and we don’t charge room and board to our children.

Can the Mondragon experience really be expanded “all the way up” to a fully socialist economy? Or, above a certain scale, will those cooperatives end up competing with and exploiting one another? Consider all the ways that Amazon.com squeezes its suppliers and contractors; if the company were converted into a worker-owned co-op, the workers might consider it in their interest as stockholders to continue the squeeze.

Of course, you could posit a state with an overall regulatory structure that prevents those cooperatives from abusing one another, but if such a state exists and is capable of regulating co-ops, why can’t it regulate capitalist enterprises to the same end?

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mattski 08.04.14 at 8:21 pm

It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes it might be the most effective approach.

I’m not sure I’d want to let you drive me down a winding mountain road.

;^)

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J Thomas 08.04.14 at 8:35 pm

#181

“It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes it might be the most effective approach.”

I’m not sure I’d want to let you drive me down a winding mountain road.

;^)

That’s one of the times it is not the most effective.

Some of the times it’s especially good are when you build up a lot of momentum and yet you don’t have a good way to tell when you’ve gone far enough until after you’ve gone too far. It’s a slow process to build up speed and then a slow process to slow down, so you do both as quick as you can.

If you’re driving something like that on a mountain road you want to go very slow.

It’s good when getting there fast is the only important thing. Like, you’re in a big hurry, and so you go over a speed bump and then you go as fast as you can until you get close to the next speed bump and then you brake as hard as you can so you won’t hit it hard. Then when you’re over it you go as fast as you can heading toward the next one…. It costs you gas and wear-and-tear but you can’t get there faster — unless of course you get ticketed.

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godoggo 08.04.14 at 9:00 pm

I guess it depends how far apart the speed bumps are.

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roy belmont 08.04.14 at 9:01 pm

Riffing off, not necessarily replying directly to
Trader Joe at 6:56 pm -

assuming I’m willing to provide said service and am not otherwise a coerced worker
Hunger’s pretty coercive, until it begins dismantling the brain.
Desire for things whose value is artificially inflated by advertising/cultural hysteria is a lot like hunger, only of the soul instead of the body.
“Gimme that!”
The global anthem.
The tacit acceptance of individual selfishness as baseline of the human condition – with nothing modulating it but external force and opportunity, and then something like elitist leisure-time philanthropy kicking in once the selfish hungers are satiated – erases completely self-sacrifice, communal inspiration, goal-directed behaviors and decisions whose beneficiaries are as yet not here amongst us.
And as Mr. Plume somewhat naively points out, many if not most of our ancestors lived within cultural moralities that were exactly that. Naive because there were some awful folks running around as well as savage nobility (not ironic) in the way back when.
It needs to be repeatedly confirmed that our primitive ancestors were successful on every important criterion. They got us here. What they did worked.

If all we can get to now is authoritarian regulation of the selfish impulse we’re in an evolutionary arms race with greed, in which we’re supplying the enemy with resources while we try to regulate his actions.
And greed is really just selfishness focused on bank.
Selfishness is, in all definitions, the root cause of human evil, or immorality if you don’t like metaphysical terms.
We are now living in a social climate that depends on selfishness to drive its economies.
Harnessed evil drives the train of our progress.
Beneficiaries of the way things are demand specific clear alternatives before they’ll even consider change. This is clearly the dynamic of present “controversies” and inertia about fossil fuels and the need for energy redirection.
And there we go.

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mattski 08.04.14 at 9:05 pm

@ 183

Well, I guess that answers that.

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J Thomas 08.04.14 at 9:10 pm

Selfishness is, in all definitions, the root cause of human evil, or immorality if you don’t like metaphysical terms.

I’m not sure that’s true. Selfishness is a cause of evil, but maybe these days we’re doing so *much* selfishness that it seems like the only one.

Fear can do it. Fear makes people stupid, and they can easily do evil things while they’re afraid.

And others.

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Brett Bellmore 08.05.14 at 12:15 am

“Let me start by observing that even the most laissez-faire economy is not truly capitalistic “all the way down”: my wife and I don’t pay one another for the housework we do for one another’s benefit, and we don’t charge room and board to our children.”

See, that’s the thing: Capitalists don’t think there ought to be Capitalism Police going around shutting down any voluntary socialist relationships. Capitalists don’t even object to voluntary socialist relationships. Capitalists, every one of us, grew up inside voluntary socialist relationships. But, families don’t scale. We can’t base all our interactions with everybody on love. We’re not that species. But we can base some of them on love.

Socialists seem to think that there ought to be Socialism Police going around shutting down voluntary capitalist relationships. Seem to think that socialism can’t prevail without forcing people to abandon capitalism. I think that’s why it all turns out so badly when you try to scale socialism up beyond small groups. The repression is unavoidable, because while Capitalism is large enough to encompass Socialism, Socialism isn’t large enough to encompass Capitalism.

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ZM 08.05.14 at 12:41 am

Brett Bellmore’
“We can’t base all our interactions with everybody on love. “

I thought you were a Christian? Did I misunderstand and you are an atheist or of another faith? or do you happen to be a Christian who thinks Saint Paul ‘the greatest of these is charity’ et al were wrongly included in the Bible?

The ‘capitalist’ police did in fact go around when the parliament and the lords kept enclosing common land in England. Also, I think you are an inhabitant of the USA, this means, like me, you live in a country where the police etc went around taking indigenous people’s land. The ‘capitalist’ police have already done all sorts of things, how have you not noticed this?

Seth Gordon,
“Of course, you could posit a state with an overall regulatory structure that prevents those cooperatives from abusing one another, but if such a state exists and is capable of regulating co-ops, why can’t it regulate capitalist enterprises to the same end?”

I think not much regulation (or regulation only of a specific nature) is supposed to be one of the character defining features of Capitalism. How much can we regulate the economy and in which ways and it the economy is still called ‘capitalism’? My understanding is that the economic regulations and practices got called ‘capitalism’ because they privileged the holders of capital? I don’t know how this meaning of ‘capital’ came to be called ‘capital’ though – Capitol(ine?) Hill was the hill of Jupiter in Roman days.

Hu Shih wrote something like ‘enough talk about -isms, more talk about problems’ (and solutions?) around the May 4th movement. There is a fair bit to dispute with Hu Shih – like wanting to do away with formal writing language in favour of modern vernacular language, and taking up of Hayek etc – nevertheless it might be a good idea to look at problem laws and practices and their possible solutions rather than get bogged down by disputing -isms.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.05.14 at 1:40 am

I think you are an inhabitant of the USA, this means, like me, you live in a country where the police etc went around taking indigenous people’s land.

Which of course has never happened in any socialist paradise.

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ZM 08.05.14 at 1:50 am

Which paradise?

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Plume 08.05.14 at 4:36 am

That’s why I’m a liberal and not a doctrinaire Leftist. Reality is made up of shades of gray, and opinions about shades of gray. Anyone who cannot see that every scenario has an upside and a downside is going to gravitate to absolutist positions which are ultimately dangerous.

Yes, reality is sometimes made up of shades of gray, and I’ve made a point of being open to them, seeing them when they exist. Philosophically, politically and aesthetically. But your next assertion, that every scenario has an upside and a downside — that is actually a very dangerous belief and obviously doesn’t match up with reality.

So, there is an “upside” to slavery? Rape? Murder of the innocents? 1800 plus Palestinians being slaughtered in Gaza in the last month? Three million Vietnamese civilians killed during the Vietnam war? 400 Americans holding as much wealth as the bottom 60% of the country combined? 85 humans holding as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion combined? Massive pollution, waste, species extinctions, global warming? Really? Where is the upside?

There is another kind of “absolutism.” And it is especially pernicious, because the practitioner thinks they are above that sort of thing, unable to see how brainwashed they really are: Adherence to conventional wisdom, to practicalities, to the endless search for nuance for the sake of nuance. That there is never a time to say wrong is wrong is wrong.

Btw, I used to be a liberal too. But I evolved. I moved left when it hit me that the liberal critique of the economy pointed toward the necessity of much stronger medicine than it was willing to endorse. That the logic of that critique meant that repeal and replacement of capitalism was a necessary first step, and that clinging to the dream of reforming it was like someone stuck in a codependent relationship, forever disappointed, forever punked.

(A good example of that critique, from the liberal economist, Robert Reich.)

All too many Liberals have this strange idea that leftists are limited to doctrinaire positions, while they are free from them. In reality, at least for this leftist, I’ve never been freer from the bondage of limited views since I cast off the A to B (liberal to conservative) narrative of American political, social and economic thinking. I’ve never been freer since I stepped out of the mainstream, able to look back objectively, and with a much broader toolkit available to me now.

You should try it sometime.

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Lee A. Arnold 08.05.14 at 6:06 am

Plume, I don’t understand something. What you seem to be saying is that if a group of workers banded together with an idea for a product, then made the product and distributed the profits among themselves equally, this would not be capitalism. It would be anarcho-syndicalism or some other word. But they would still have to purchase capital goods (tools, machines, furniture) to do it. So is that capitalist production? Or is it only capitalist production if they borrow the money from the financial subsystem to buy the capital goods for the production of the product? But once the loan to the bank is paid off, the anarcho-syndicalists are in the free and clear, so then there would be no further “use of capital [finance] to purchase labor power” (your definition of capitalism). So what once was capitalist, is now anarcho-syndicalist. Would the the anarcho-syndicalists be using the capitalist mode of production without exploiting themselves?

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Plume 08.05.14 at 7:23 am

Lee,

This article by Wolff may be helpful. He talks of WSDEs, or Worker Self-Directed Enterprises, and talks about the difference between capitalist production and socialist production.

http://www.rdwolff.com/content/enterprise-structure-key-shape-post-capitalist-future

An excerpt:

First, most of the “actually existing” socialist experiments to date unraveled in part because they never transformed the organization of their workplaces. They more or less replaced private shareholders and boards of directors with state officials and they more or less substituted planned distributions of inputs and outputs for market exchanges. What they did not do was to radically alter the internal organization of workplaces in a specifically socialist way. Second, by a “specifically socialist way” I mean pretty much what Marx specified in Capital. Marx stressed there that a central dimension of capitalism that he wished to see transformed was “exploitation.” By that he meant the capitalist organization of the workplace. In that organization workers add more value by their labor than the value paid to them (wages, salaries) for that labor. Capitalists appropriate that “more,” or what Marx called “surplus.” To squeeze as much surplus from the workers as possible, capitalists control and make all the key decisions: what, how and where to produce and what to do with the surpluses they appropriate from the workers.

A transition to socialism would thus require the transformation of capitalism’s exploitative internal organization of enterprises. In other words, the transition to socialism requires that workers not only produce surpluses, but also themselves appropriate and distribute them. Workplaces stop being conflict-ridden confrontations of two different groups of people – employers and employees – and become instead cooperatives in which the same people who produce the surpluses also – collectively and democratically – appropriate those surpluses. Workplaces are reorganized into workers self-directed enterprises (WSDEs). In WSDEs, workers (rather than capitalists) decide what, how and where to produce and what to do with the surpluses their labor generates.

Perhaps some of the confusion rests here: You seem to be talking about a non-capitalist business in a capitalist environment. Obviously, in that case, they would interact with capitalist businesses. They would purchase some of their tools, etc. etc. — those they didn’t make themselves, at least — from companies engaged in capitalist production. Their existence as a non-capitalist operation wouldn’t negate that.

What I’m suggesting, however, is the total absence of the capitalist system. Not one iota of it would exist. It would be as if it never existed at all. In that case, all connecting links would be to non-capitalist businesses. The system itself would be non-capitalist.

(I wouldn’t use the term anarcho-syndicalist. I would just keep it simple and call it socialism.)

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Brett Bellmore 08.05.14 at 10:03 am

I’d keep it simpler, and call it imaginary.

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James Wimberley 08.05.14 at 12:36 pm

Grandin’s syllogism:
The United States was founded on slavery.
The United States is the pre-emininent capitalist nation.
Thwefore, capitalism is founded on slavery.

What a load of cobblers. The United States was completely unimportant in the early development of capitalist institutions. Flanders and Northern Italy after 1200, the Netherlands in the 17th century, England in the 18th: none had significant slavery. They had class warfare (not shouting, swords) in Flanders in the Middle Ages: between proto-capitalist merchant oligarchs and poor free weavers. The profits from slave-grown sugar fed early British capitalism – but the moral point was that the Caribbean slaves were invisible to London and Liverpool merchants, not that they were visible reminders of their superiority. Dutch capitalism drew on (exploitative) trade with the East – inequality by castes, not slavery. There were slaves in Curacao etc. but the profits of its limited American possessions were hardly essential to the Dutch empire.

The other problem is that slavery is endemic to pre-modern urbanised societies, from Narmer and Hammurabi on. The transatlantic slave trade built on (and greatly expanded) pre-existing African slavery. The economies of ancient Greece and Rome were based on slaves. So suddenly, after 4,000 years, slavery gives rise to a new individualistic mentality?

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J Thomas 08.05.14 at 12:53 pm

What I’m suggesting, however, is the total absence of the capitalist system. Not one iota of it would exist.

Basicly, what you want is prosperity.

Say there are two companies you can choose to work for. One of them is run by the employees and everybody gets a share in the profits, if any. The other is run by capitalists and you get a small salary, period. Which do you choose?

As long as there are enough jobs in profitable noncapitalist companies, capitalism can’t get a start. You don’t even have to make it illegal, nobody in their right mind would work for one.

But what if there’s a job shortage? People will take what they can get.

That’s a lot of how slavery used to happen. In a famine, when there were no jobs and no food, people sold themselves into slavery rather than starve. Then they were slaves for the rest of their lives. That would be happening today if slavery was still legal.

And that’s what would happen with capitalism if times were bad. People would take jobs from capitalists if they had to, and it would take over.

If capitalism can create bad times, then capitalism can thrive.

So maybe you can make wage-slavery illegal, like slavery. Failing that, maybe you can set up a competing system that will create permanent prosperity that will last no matter what capitalists do to cause bad times.

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Harold 08.05.14 at 1:13 pm

“THE first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, “Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.” — J. J. Rousseau

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Seth Gordon 08.05.14 at 1:46 pm

Capitalists don’t think there ought to be Capitalism Police going around shutting down any voluntary socialist relationships

Heavens, no. Capitalism depends on these voluntary socialist relationships. Think of the position of women in the Gilded Age, which many libertarians seem to treat as the high-water mark of laissez-faire. Or the middle-class professional men who can work sixty-hour weeks because their wives are taking care of the house and children—and those men are motivated to work those hours because their wives and children depend on their income. Or Mitt Romney’s helpful advice that if you’re unemployed, you can borrow some money from your parents and start a business. And if you really want to live in an environment built around the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”, you can enlist in the army.

Socialists seem to think that there ought to be Socialism Police going around shutting down voluntary capitalist relationships.

Voluntary capitalist relationships often take the form of corporations, an entity created by the state; capitalists also depend on stock and commodity exchanges, the banking system, and insurance, all of which are backstopped by the state. Take away all those supports, and voluntary capitalist relationships above a certain scale will fall apart by themselves, without any help from the Socialism Police.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.05.14 at 1:49 pm

One of them is run by the employees and everybody gets a share in the profits, if any. The other is run by capitalists and you get a small salary, period. Which do you choose?

Not so simple. What happens when there are losses? What amounts are involved?

In the world as it actually exists people vary in their risk tolerance.

Not to mention that if I’m getting paid based on the company’s results I want to know who the decision-makers are, and how competent they are.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.05.14 at 1:53 pm

Seth Gordon,

Voluntary capitalist relationships often take the form of corporations, an entity created by the state; capitalists also depend on stock and commodity exchanges, the banking system, and insurance, all of which are backstopped by the state. Take away all those supports, and voluntary capitalist relationships above a certain scale will fall apart by themselves, without any help from the Socialism Police.

You confuse capitalist relationships with large-scale production. Even Plume’s socialist companies will require financing and insurance, for example.

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J Thomas 08.05.14 at 2:04 pm

“One of them is run by the employees and everybody gets a share in the profits, if any. The other is run by capitalists and you get a small salary, period. Which do you choose?”

Not so simple. What happens when there are losses? What amounts are involved?

When the losses are too big, the company goes bankrupt, or it gets sold cheap. Either way you lose your job.

Or if the losses are smaller, they downsize and you lose your job.

I don’t know what happens in the worker-owned company. For me it’s kind of hypothetical and we can talk about how it should work. But for the capitalist corporation we’ve seen what happens.

In the world as it actually exists people vary in their risk tolerance.

If you work for a living it doesn’t matter what your risk tolerance is, you get no choice in whether you get fired. You take that risk when you take the job.

Not to mention that if I’m getting paid based on the company’s results I want to know who the decision-makers are, and how competent they are.

Absolutely, yes! If you’re just an employee then you might as well just hope for the best. Whoever the decision-makers are, however competent they are, there’s nothing you can do about it except look for another job. If they’re good (and you’re good) then they’ll make tremendous profits and possibly they might choose to give you a 3% bonus.

If they’re bad then you get fired and you can look for another job. You might look like bad luck to employers, coming from a company that failed. Or if they downsized and fired you, it means you weren’t good enough to keep so you’re probably not good enough to hire. Better to start looking for a new job when you first see that things aren’t going well.

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Trader Joe 08.05.14 at 2:39 pm

@199
“One of them is run by the employees and everybody gets a share in the profits, if any. The other is run by capitalists and you get a small salary, period. Which do you choose?”

In your hypothetical it would only be a matter of time before someone at the employee run company would say “hey I added a good innovation – I should get a bigger slice of the profits” or some number would say “that guy takes too many smoke breaks and is a slacker, incompetent etc. – he should get docked.” Then someone would be selected as a mediator to manage these concerns and before too long there would be hierarchy, followed by greed and the implosion of this mini-socialist ideal.

Its human nature to want ones share and view ones share as better earned and more deserved then the next guy.

Socialism assumes trust amongst an inherently untrustworthy species so is eventually disappointed. Capitalism assumes malice and never fails to be proved correct.

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ZM 08.05.14 at 2:51 pm

” Capitalism assumes malice and never fails to be proved correct.”

Assuming malice means climate change negotiations will be further doomed. Also other sustainability and bio-diversity problems, as well as poverty, hunger, and slavery. It is grossly unfair to others who bear more costs than yourself to assume malice.

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J Thomas 08.05.14 at 3:22 pm

In your hypothetical it would only be a matter of time before someone at the employee run company would say “hey I added a good innovation – I should get a bigger slice of the profits” or some number would say “that guy takes too many smoke breaks and is a slacker, incompetent etc. – he should get docked.” Then someone would be selected as a mediator to manage these concerns and before too long there would be hierarchy, followed by greed and the implosion of this mini-socialist ideal.

I don’t know how that sort of thing could be handled. There might be various ways.

Innovations are easy when you know how. I’ve made thousands of them. You may have noticed some of my innovative solutions to the Israel/Palestine problem, etc.

It’s much harder to prove that an innovation will actually be an improvement, before it’s tried. And sometimes it’s a big deal to try things out. Sometimes a lot of people have to change their habits. If an innovation involves a lot of other people, you need to get their input on it, figure out why they think it won’t work, fix up the problems, etc. Lots of cooperation.

Should the person who came up with the original idea get most of the credit and most of the rewards? Maybe. If the person who founds the company gets most of the profits, then it sort of fits that the originator of the idea should get everything. After all, if he didn’t think of it then surely nobody else would. So without him it couldn’t have happened. So if any of my ideas to solve Israel/Palestine actually get tried out and work, I should get at least 10% of the money they save by not fighting, right?

And yet….

I dunno. It makes sense that in any cooperative system there will be unpleasant people who argue that they deserve the lion’s share of whatever good stuff results from the cooperation. I can’t say ahead of time how a cooperative system would handle them. Maybe they’d find some better way than setting up hierarchies to decide who gets the rewards, and then the hierarchies give themselves most of it.

I mean, that way sounds so utterly stupid when you say it out loud, why would anybody even think of it unless the big shots already had a police force to enforce it?

208

Bernard Yomtov 08.05.14 at 3:33 pm

If you work for a living it doesn’t matter what your risk tolerance is, you get no choice in whether you get fired. You take that risk when you take the job.

Risk is more complicated than simple “get fired or stay employed” choices. When you are paid based on the company’s results your compensation will necessarily vary, possibly quite a bit, even if the company never does so badly as to be forced out of business.

In addition, there will always be choices as to how to divide profits between investing in expansion and distributing to claimants – whether workers or shareholders. When you buy into a profit-based compensation system you assume the risk that those decisions will not be to your liking.

209

Ze Kraggash 08.05.14 at 3:44 pm

If someone controls your life as a manager, shareholder, or politician, then you should be able to control this guy’s (or lady’s) life in some other way; like, ordering what they should eat for dinner, or who they can or can’t marry or something.

“All government officials,” Melith explained, “wear the badge of office, which contains a traditional amount of tessium, an explosive you may have heard of. The charge is radio-controlled from the Citizens Booth. Any citizen has access to the Booth, for the purpose of expressing his disapproval of the government.” Melith sighed. “This will go down as a permanent black mark against poor Borg’s record.”
“You let the people express their disapproval by blowing up officials?” Goodman croaked, appalled.
“It’s the only way that means anything,” said Melith “Check and balance. Just as the people are in our hands, so we are in the people’s hands.”.

– Robert Sheckley, A Ticket to Tranai.

210

Plume 08.05.14 at 3:59 pm

Defenders of capitalism often read ownership talking points without realizing it. They parrot the thoughts of the ownership class, the ruling class, thinking they’re being wise even for themselves as middle class folks.

In reality, if you do the math, a business without an ownership or management elite, sucking up the vast majority of the wealth, would leave all workers making much, much more. If workers shared out their own surplus, there is much, much more for each one.

For example: Larry Ellison made a billion a few years ago. A billion. Yes, it was in various forms. But he still made a billion. You could spread that billion out to 10,000 workers and pay them each $100,000, or some combination there of. And there are many other Oracle execs and shareholders who made millions that year. Share it all out. The rank and file would make far, far more under a WSDE set up, and the product would almost certainly be better. After all, Larry Ellison was quite busy trying to crash smaller companies so he could buy them cheap and sell them off again, Gordon Gecko style. Perhaps a company run on democratic principles would worry more about making the best product possible in the shop itself.

Oh, and Apple? In 2012, it made 41 billion in profits, and added that to its war chest of cash which then totaled 161 billion. It’s even bigger now. A non-capitalist business would pay workers enough up front so that 41 billion profit could never materialize. It would pay workers up front enough so there could never be a war chest of 161 billion, sitting there, making stock brokers happy. It would, of course, put enough away for rainy days. But that rainy day fund would be owned by everyone, not just the old style fragment of ownership. Everyone would have a say in that rainy day fund.

Bottom line, contrary to Thatcher’s old quip, a socialist economy would actually share prosperity to the greatest degree the world has ever know. We’d no longer have just 85 people holding as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 BILLION people, or 400 people in America holding as much as the bottom 60% combined. We would no longer have one family, the Waltons, owning more wealth than the bottom 40% combined, etc.

And with everyone having buying power, the economy has far more “customers” than it ever had before.

In short, egalitarianism is good for business. Pyramids are terrible for business.

211

Plume 08.05.14 at 4:11 pm

Socialism assumes trust amongst an inherently untrustworthy species so is eventually disappointed. Capitalism assumes malice and never fails to be proved correct.

Actually, it’s almost the reverse. People who support capitalism assume that a few people, who go into business to make themselves very rich, will do what is best with our natural and human resources, and that we should just leave them to it. It assumes that the few making decisions for the many will turn out well for the many.

Socialism assumes that if the collective works on behalf of the collective, instead of for one or two or a small group of bosses, chances are far, far greater that that collective will do what’s best for the collective — as in, we, the vast majority.

Socialism is just common sense, writ large. Capitalism is arrested development and narcissism, turned into a virtue through layers of sophistry, with incredible loads of marketing and (especially religions) propaganda. It tells us that the tiny fraction of people who ever want to go into business will actually make better decisions on our behalf than we would, and that their greed, their desire to control, conquer and expand, their sociopathy is “natural” to all of us, when it isn’t. Yes, it’s natural to them. But not the vast majority of us.

Recent science proves that. As does history. Most of us want to get along, cooperate, share, not conquer and steal. Socialism takes the whip away from those who do want to conquer and rule.

212

J Thomas 08.05.14 at 4:47 pm

#208 Bernard Yomtov

Risk is more complicated than simple “get fired or stay employed” choices. When you are paid based on the company’s results your compensation will necessarily vary, possibly quite a bit, even if the company never does so badly as to be forced out of business.

Yes. While if you are a wage-slave you are pretty much guaranteed that your compensation will not go up. Instead of ups and downs it will have only down. But if the company does badly you will quite likely be fired in the resulting down-sizing, and you will have no income until you can find another job.

If there was a collection of employee-owned businesses, and you wanted guaranteed low pay with no share in the good times, you could probably find one that would let you do it that way.

213

mattski 08.05.14 at 4:52 pm

fracking moderation…

214

J Thomas 08.05.14 at 5:00 pm

People who support capitalism assume that a few people, who go into business to make themselves very rich, will do what is best with our natural and human resources, and that we should just leave them to it. It assumes that the few making decisions for the many will turn out well for the many.

Socialism assumes that if the collective works on behalf of the collective, instead of for one or two or a small group of bosses, chances are far, far greater that that collective will do what’s best for the collective — as in, we, the vast majority.

I don’t like either assumption.

Try things out, find ways to make them work.

In large groups there will usually be somebody who looks on purpose for ways to break the system. He would prefer to find ways to suck out the profits, but failing that he might easily settle for just breaking it. You need ways to buffer against that.

Don’t depend on assumptions about what will work. Go out and try things and find ways to make them work that still fit your ethics.

215

MPAVictoria 08.05.14 at 5:05 pm

Keep fighting the good fight Plume.

216

Lee A. Arnold 08.05.14 at 5:17 pm

The real question (which others asked above) is why there isn’t more anarcho-syndicalism, since there are a few workers’ coops which do stay in business. The question could be turned around to, Why do people who have great new ideas, such as Jobs and Wozniak, find that it is better to develop them in private capitalism than to explain everything to a worker’s commune?

I don’t think it is true that the specter of competition is the only reason, i.e. the danger that another private capitalist would adopt the same product idea and produce it faster, thus cornering your new market.

Something else is there, something which the possibility of being out-competed really points to: new ideas are individual things, and it may often be better to bring them to fruition as an individual who employs others. Thus, awarding oneself a larger part of the surplus is not out of order, nor must it necessarily destroy the world. Because everyone else would be taking part of some other surplus, or gaining in the general increase in the standard of living as workers, which is a form of taking part in the surplus. It is the fact that machines are displacing workers which will kill this system.

This brings us back to a version of “the knowledge problem”, not the part about how market exchange conducts information about supplies and demands, but about how to keep a product idea together in a commune, in the case when others don’t have that idea, or cannot be convinced of its worth prior to its realization, or might find some other form of effort more suitable to their needs. Even intentional living communities have trouble surviving due to personal politics.

The problem which technological advancement presents is distinct from the capitalist process, and that is the thing which is changing the terms of the battle, not capitalism per se. Because the need for employees grows less and less, so people have harder times finding good paying jobs, and therefore, at the same time, financial ownership of the remaining enterprises grows more concentrated.

Now that innovation itself is being robotized (in many ways; but just consider one prospect, that of running algorithms for every possible combination in the periodic chart of the elements to find possible compounds to be tested for new materials, etc. etc.) it seems unlikely that even people like Jobs and Wozniak will be able to break in.

In some ways, computer technology is the end point of what can produced mechanically by humans, because it can produce all other mechanical things beyond that point.* Indeed yesterday Tim Taylor put up some remarkable charts showing that entrepreneurship in the US has been slowing down since 1980 (via Mark Thoma):
http://conversableeconomist.blogspot.com/2014/08/the-decline-of-us-entrepreneurship.html

I think opponents of capitalism are right, but are not focusing on the most likely outcome: that the vector of the system becomes evident to almost everybody, that everybody just gets sick of it (Schumpeter’s analysis; a conclusion that was sad to him, because he was a market conservative), and after that, the whole thing flips on a dime. But flips to what?

* Which excludes non-algorithmic, contextual ideas (Gödel). But these may not have market value. On the other hand, they may be the only things of unusual value, and we may enter a market hierarchy of pure artists and trendy fascinators.

217

Trader Joe 08.05.14 at 7:59 pm

@216 lee
“Why do people who have great new ideas, such as Jobs and Wozniak, find that it is better to develop them in private capitalism than to explain everything to a worker’s commune? “

That’s actually a really easy answer – because people who provide investment capital aren’t interested in dealing with a leaderless rabble of workers, but rather want to invest in a leader/team they believe can lead a project/idea from inception to completion. They bet on the jockey(s) not the horses. In the venture capital world the belief is that there are many great horses, comparatively fewer great riders. Its why Facebook wins and MySpace folds.

Perhaps in Plume’s world this wouldn’t be so, in this one, its what’s required to get funded – full stop.

218

Lee A. Arnold 08.05.14 at 9:27 pm

@ Trader Joe #217 — What is your answer, if the financing were not an issue?

219

mattski 08.05.14 at 9:56 pm

Plume,

To put it charitably, your rhetorical method is distortionary. I talk about nuances in the ways civil society is organized and you slam the needle by pointing to the extremes. Did you think that when I wrote ‘every scenario has an upside as well as a downside’ that I was thinking of, oh, the Holocaust? Here’s a tip: I wasn’t.

I said this to you several years ago: the reason I engage your arguments is because I don’t think you are doing the left any favors. On the contrary, I think you make us look like loons.

You wrote in response to my furniture design/build scenario @ 159:

It’s not morally suspect at all for you to be compensated for your own work. It becomes immoral when you receive that compensation plus compensation for the production of your workforce. .. Your input. Not theirs. That includes embedded costs, your capital expenses, etc. etc. It becomes immoral when you have been compensated for those costs, but you still charge a form of rent to your employees by withholding pay from them.

You write as though fairness can be measured. Well, at the extremes, we can pretty much all agree about what is unfair. That is why you like to slam the needle. But in the accommodating space of civil society what is fair is a matter of opinion, not a matter of fact.

So, if workers are manufacturing goods that I designed there isn’t any way of knowing how much profit is just. If I didn’t initiate the business my employees would not have a job. To suggest that my employees have an equal claim on the income stream of the company is unjust in the eyes of most people, I do believe.

But beyond this you are infatuated with labels. You condemn capitalism and praise socialism. This is all hot air. If I slap a Mercedes logo on my Chevy have I improved my condition? You talk about the public owning the means of production. Such sentences are unintelligible, unworkable AND manifestly unjust. I design a chair, I build a factory to produce these chairs, and Plume says I’m just a one eight billionth share owner of this enterprise. That isn’t fair, and it isn’t remotely workable. Average people have a feel for this, but you don’t seem to.

And of course what you’re really a believer in is Plumism. Your particular, closely held and cherished notions of what is fair. In a democratic world–seems to me–you would be lucky to get a fraction of the votes needed to come close to your vision. Any slob can throw a sandwich board over their shoulders and write “Socialism” on it. The question is how do we get “there” from here and I don’t think you have much to offer on the questions that count. Although I do believe, as Lee Arnold and others have expressed, that what we would call socialist forms are an inevitable step in our evolution as a species. I just don’t think you are contributing much to that process.

220

mattski 08.05.14 at 11:11 pm

Lee @ 217,

I appreciate your thoughtful remarks. If I’m not mistaken Kevin Drum has written quite a bit about something similar, what he calls the “singularity.” In my vague understanding this is the idea that technology in the form of computers and robots renders our labor obsolete.

Even intentional living communities have trouble surviving due to personal politics.

Yep.

I have a longer comment in moderation which is bugging me… but what are ya gonna do?

221

Bernard Yomtov 08.05.14 at 11:31 pm

J. Thomas @212,

Yes….

IOW, no.

222

mattski 08.05.14 at 11:32 pm

This is my protest
against this moderation bs. It’s topical I think.

223

J Thomas 08.05.14 at 11:33 pm

I have a longer comment in moderation which is bugging me… but what are ya gonna do?

I can’t really recommend this, but if it’s bugging you you can look for keywords that it might screen out, and test which of them are getting moderated. When you figure out which word or words it is, you can then repost your message without them. That leaves garbage for everybody else to read, but the more you know about which words to avoid the less often it will happen.

I’ve never noticed it moderate due to links when there was only one link.
What kind of spam do people try to post? There’s online gaming of various sorts, online drug sales, online sex sales, etc? If you look for keywords that aren’t usually used in posts here, and that are used by spammers, that might do it.

I was surprised the other day to see S*malia, the nation with the pirates, on the list. I wasn’t at all surprised by P*ker, the card game with the chips.

224

Bernard Yomtov 08.05.14 at 11:43 pm

Lee Arnold,

Why do people who have great new ideas, such as Jobs and Wozniak, find that it is better to develop them in private capitalism than to explain everything to a worker’s commune?

What is your answer, if the financing were not an issue?

Of course, in reality, financing almost always will be an issue. But leaving that aside, you are asking the workers to bear the risk of the venture. The money to pay them has to come from somewhere. If not investors, then sales. And all those future profits they hope to share in will only appear if the venture succeeds.

225

Brett Bellmore 08.05.14 at 11:55 pm

“What is your answer, if the financing were not an issue?”

Financing is always an issue. At least, it will be so long as scarcity endures, and scarcity seems to be built into the foundational laws of physics. (See the laws of thermodynamics, for instance.)

I think the bigger problem for socialism lies in the need for division of labor, and specialization, and the nature of ownership.

In any large enterprise, the division of labor, and specialization, will extend to the job of deciding how the enterprises’ assets are to be utilized. These decisions can not, fundamentally, be made by a collective, for the same reason a collective can’t turn bolts or tighten screws: Jobs don’t get done efficiently if everybody is doing everything. And deciding how assets are utilized is a job, as much as turning bolts.

But, what is the nature of property ownership? Isn’t just getting to decide what is done with that property?

So, the job of deciding how assets are utilized looks a lot like ownership of those assets, and it’s a job which can’t be efficiently collective. Ownership, effective ownership, can’t be collective. Some group short of the entire is going to get the job of allocating assets, and that group, effectively, “owns” them. Whether or not we admit it owns them, whether or not it admits to it.

This is a serious problem in capitalism; You have to hire people to help manage assets efficiently once they get too large for one or a small number to manage them, and those people end up treating those assets as their own property. So you see the management of corporations drawing down insanely large salaries, to the detriment of the stockholders’ rate of return, you see fancy offices, and corporate charity.

You see management treating the assets of the corporation as their own property.

This is a problem for capitalism, but for socialism, it’s bigger problem, because capitalism doesn’t depend on who the owners of the capital are. But socialism does. Socialism demands that the ownership be common, and effective common ownership for large enterprises appears to be humanly impossible.

That’s your real problem with socialism, IMO. Not financing it. Keeping it from turning into capitalism even if it starts out socialistic.

226

Lee A. Arnold 08.05.14 at 11:56 pm

Bernard Yomtov #223: “leaving that aside, you are asking the workers to bear the risk of the venture.”

I was getting to the intra-firm version of the knowledge problem. I think the answer is because it would be next to impossible to expect everyone in the commune to come together to formulate the new idea of the “personal computer” so that they would themselves come up with, and coordinate, the activities necessary to produce one, if nobody had ever seen one before. I don’t see how that would happen. Much later in the development of the personal computer industry, certain segments of the industry might do better as syndicates, perhaps. (But even then, Apple went moribund until Jobs came back in and revived it in his second time at the helm.) Innovations usually originate as ideas in single minds, or perhaps in two or three minds, and the amount of Polanyian tacit knowledge involved means it isn’t all spelled out, except in the doing of it.

227

Lee A. Arnold 08.06.14 at 12:05 am

Brett Bellmore #224: “Financing is always an issue. At least, it will be so long as scarcity endures, and scarcity seems to be built into the foundational laws of physics.”

I think this is twice wrong. Scarcity is not built into the foundational laws of physics, not even into the entropy law. And neither financing nor money are truly scarce. Quite aside from the ontological issues, Financial Times Alphaville carries a story today that European corporations are returning more money to stockholders because they are running out of investment ideas.

228

Lee A. Arnold 08.06.14 at 12:05 am

Mattski #219 — “Singularity” means different things to different people. I think the original use of “singularity” was by Kurzweil and then other futurists, who hypothesized that at some point in the near future, computation will become complex enough that it will consistently outperform humans in creative intellectual discovery, even starting to perform automated scientific discovery, if only by sheer power of mass computation applied to combinatorial algorithms: just trying every possible combination.

From there, I think that the meaning of the “singularity” was extrapolated to the emergence of machine consciousness, like “Skynet” in the “Terminator” movies. I think this is unlikely, but it may get to some point where it is nearly impossible to tell if a machine is really conscious or not. (I tend to believe there will always remain test questions by which you will be able to tell the difference, related to jokes and other contextual jumps.)

Very recently, the meaning of “singularity” has widened to include the possible change in the economic system by far more rudimentary robots than either Kurzweil or the Terminator would require, due to the acceleration of simple labor displacement. Some of the videos of industrial prototypes of bipedal robots may suggest that this “economic singularity” is just around the corner, because it is really hard to imagine what sorts of physical labor these things will NOT be able to perform.

As I think Brad DeLong pointed out, we all know that the mechanization of agriculture pushed almost everyone into the cities to find, or invent, new kinds of work — but it is anybody’s guess where we all get pushed to, once that all kinds of work including intellectual work is mechanized.

Another reason that capitalism’s end may be just around the corner. Of course this has been a staple of science fiction stories for nearly a hundred years, so why be surprised that it is finally coming true?

229

Collin Street 08.06.14 at 12:17 am

> And neither financing nor money are truly scarce.

As scarce as you want them to be: the real economy is bound by the real limits.

[you can run an economy with nominal limits tighter than the real ones... but this is essentially an admission that your management skills can't control the full power the economy can deliver...]

230

mattski 08.06.14 at 12:32 am

J Thomas,

Thanks for the advice re moderation & keywords, although that might be a little over my pay grade. But from the looks of it “in moderation” seems to mean “no dice.”

231

bob mcmanus 08.06.14 at 12:46 am

227: DeLanda War in the Age of Intelligent Machines

According to catastrophe theory (a branch of differential topolgy) there is a total of seven different singularities and a particular morphogenetic operation associated with each one of them. One singularity, for instance, represents the formation of a boundary; another, the creation of a pleat or fault. Other singularities
are responsible for the formation of splits or furrows, mouths, pockets and pointed structures, such as spikes or hairs.

“…machinic phylum” — in its more general sense, it refers to any process in which order
emerges out of chaos as a result of its nonlinear dynamics” rivers and tsunamis, wind patterns and storm systems…

As you will remember, I defined the machinic phylum as the set of all the
singularities at the onset of processes of self-organization–the critical points
in the flow of matter and energy, points at which these flows spontaneously
acquire a new form or pattern. All these processes, involving elements as
different as molecules, cells, or termites, may be represented by a few
mathematical models. Thus, because one and the same singularity may be
said to trigger two very different self-organizing effects, the singularity is said
to be “mechanism independent.” In a sense, then, singularities are abstract
machines, which, when actualized, endow matter with self-organizing capabilities.

There are at least a thousand machines.

232

Plume 08.06.14 at 4:20 am

Mattski @219,

We don’t like each other. That’s clear. You think I make “the left” look like loons. I think you’re a run of the mill conservative shill who flatters himself that you’re something a bit more: A dime a dozen liberal. Judging from your posts, it’s clear that you lack any moral compass and have such a limited imagination you can’t think out of the box, any box, and your favorite box is bourgeois and very small.

233

Plume 08.06.14 at 4:31 am

Funding isn’t a problem in socialism. At all. Capitalist societies seem to come up with trillions when it’s needed to keep capitalism afloat. Like clockwork. More than 100 times just since 1970. See David Harvey’s The Enigma of Capital for a breakdown. The Fed printed and distributed 16 trillion to bankers and billionaires worldwide in 2009. If funding were really hard to come by, or had any actual meaning at all, that couldn’t happen.

Currency, in this case, dollars, is just a useful fiction. Useful for the 1% and higher, mostly. It’s nothing more than a representation of value, credit/bebt and an accounting method to keep track of all three. But that representation of value and credit/debt is only as good as the word of the American government, as per hundreds of agreements between capitalist big whigs around the globe, with us being the Alpha Dog in the matter.

There is nothing “real” backing up that currency. And, no, gold wouldn’t do it, either. It, too, is a representation of value, credit/debt and yet another kind of accounting tool. We have, roughly, just 200 billion in gold reserves, to “back” our 17 trillion dollar economy, etc. etc — if we wanted to go back to that.

We also have roughly 1000 trillion dollars in derivatives trading right now, with just billions in backing. And, again, those billions have nothing really backing them, except our word, our military if needbe, and the agreement between hundreds or thousands of finance ministers, etc. across the globe — and the vast majority of people accept this arrangement.

So, what is the answer?

Next post . . .

234

ZM 08.06.14 at 4:42 am

Plume,
You might have read The Village Against the World already? I just saw it in the local bookshop the other day.

“But few of us have heard of Marinaleda, a small town tucked away in Spain’s Andalusia region.

They are led by their charismatic mayor, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, who has held the position since 1979. “I have never belonged to the Communist Party of the hammer and sickle,” Gordillo notes, “but I am a communist.”

The core of Marinaleda’s communist ethic is a 1,200 hectare farm that was won through a decade of occupations and hunger strikes from the Duke of Infantado. The Duke’s property was just one of many instances in Spain of vast estates with arable land fenced off from the area’s surrounding, usually starving, population.”

http://www.critical-theory.com/story-marinaleda-communist-village-world/

235

godoggo 08.06.14 at 4:43 am

Next blog…

236

Plume 08.06.14 at 4:53 am

Think of Family unit X. Parents of that family unit award points to their children based on chores done. They have come to an agreement with their kids about this. Another family might have totally different awards. But this is Family X’s. Ten points for cleaning up their room, taking out the trash, mowing the lawn. Perhaps higher points for other kinds of work. Award totals are theoretically unlimited. Numbers are infinite. Time, finite time, however, puts its own cap on this.

The kids can keep collecting their points for as long as they want, and the kinds of awards are reflective of higher totals, at least as determined by family X. They can trade their points for any of the approved goods or services, etc. Can can elect to do whatever chores are designated as necessary for the family.

And this works great for Family X, but it would work even better if the entire neighborhood embraced it. So it does. All families in that neighborhood set up their own point systems, and merchants agree to take these points in exchange for goods and services. This works great, too, but would be even better if it were county-wide, then state-wide, nation-wide (a bigger range of goods and services, etc), and people got together, democratically, to agree to standardize the system, democratically. As long as everyone agrees to the point system — as they basically do with our current dollar system (if only by default) — it hums right along.

And if other nations are not on board yet, a router system would be used. A metaphorical router, with real-world application. A router as currency exchange.

America, in this case, would have a closed system of points, no money, no profit, no capitalism, not even a ghost of a ghost of an iota of profit, capitalism or money. Again, it would be as if it never existed within that closed system.

But if other nations wanted to trade with us, the router, and only the router, would be the exchange, conversion and translation point for inside and outside.

Hopefully, the entire world would one day join us so we could ditch the router entirely.

237

Plume 08.06.14 at 4:54 am

ZM,

Thanks for the link. Much appreciated.

238

Plume 08.06.14 at 5:06 am

Last comment for the night.

Some say a democratic workplace could never be effective. That you need bosses and others who hop to to the boss’s words, or nothing gets done. The USDE’s Wolff points to, and places like Mondragon prove this is incorrect. History has show a great many successful cooperatives, despite working within an adversarial environment. Imagine what they could do if the environment matched their internal democracy.

And, speaking of things never being black and white. A workplace democracy could be set up with rotating boards of directors, or whatever term one wants to use for day to day decision-makers. In a co-op workplace of, say, 1000, you could designate 10 or so to make the final call on day to day operations for a week, two weeks, a month — whatever period of time was agreed to by all 1000 workers. There would still be weekly and monthly meetings, like good old-fashioned town halls, where action items would be addressed, voted on. The big ticket items would all be up for a vote. But the daily routine would be overseen by a leadership group that was never the same after its time in the fish barrel.

An egalitarian structure, flexible enough to allow temporary, revolving blips on the egalitarian radar.

239

J Thomas 08.06.14 at 10:13 am

Some say a democratic workplace could never be effective. That you need bosses and others who hop to to the boss’s words, or nothing gets done.

This is a cultural question. Certainly there are some people who could never get things done in a democratic workplace. And there are some situations where democratic approaches tend to fail, or at least get pushed aside. Everybody who has tried to fight wars with armies that are run democratically has switched to having generals who give the orders.

Is running a business like an army fighting a war? It can be. It will be if the businesses make it that way. If your strategy is to crush the opposition, you will probably do better with a general at the top giving orders.

Other things equal, given two businesses, one run democraticly trying to do what’s best for the world, and the other trying to crush the first, which is likely to prevail?

Given a world where it is not considered acceptable to run businesses like military campaigns, democratic businesses might have a better chance.

People talk about Japan as a culture where businesses tend to get run by consensus. You run a plan by lots of people, everybody’s noncommittal, they discuss the problems and solutions, they think it over, and maybe all of a sudden they all agree. It’s hard to be sure what’s really going on there. And yet Japan is known for cutthroat competition and almost military business strategy. When the Japanese economy was doing well a lot of people talked like the Japanese approach was the best way to run businesses. But it’s cultural, what works for one sort of people won’t work for another.

If the whole economy was run by consensus we’d need to find some place for the people who can’t get along with that. They would be dissatisfied and upset, and they would cause trouble unless there was something that fit their needs and kept them busy.

240

Brett Bellmore 08.06.14 at 10:46 am

So, your answer is, you’re not going to do without bosses, you’ll just elect them.

I draw your attention to public choice theory, agency problems, and the double digit rate at which the assets of elected officials grow upon taking office. You give people the power to direct the use of assets, they, almost uniformly, treat them as their own property. Even if they’ve agreed in advance to direct their use to somebody else’s benefit.

In short, you’re not replacing capitalism. You’re just replacing capitalists. With politicians. I venture to doubt this will prove an improvement.

However, I also venture to note that, under capitalism, you’re permitted to try this out. As I said, capitalism is large enough to contain socialism. The reverse is not true.

241

mattski 08.06.14 at 11:02 am

A refinement–I hope–of something from my #219 which was hung up in moderation. I wrote:

So, if workers are manufacturing goods that I designed there isn’t any way of knowing how much profit is just.

I would prefer to say: If workers are manufacturing goods that someone else has designed/engineered there is no objective means of determining the workers rightful share of the income stream produced by sales of these goods. What is “rightful” comes down opinions about decency and fairness.

And as Bernard Yomtov points out, there is no guarantee of sales! But there is a guarantee of risk.

And, Plume, “we don’t like each other” is a pretty strange answer. If you ask me.

242

Plume 08.06.14 at 11:47 am

Just in case it’s necessary for #236:

The family example is a metaphor of sorts for how this could work and expand from the coop form on out. The socialist basis for the economy would still be the public owns the means of production, all of it. Family chores would obviously not be the basis for the economy.

In 238, should have written WSDE, not USDE.

243

Plume 08.06.14 at 11:59 am

Brett #240,

The bosses would not be elected. Not on in the workplace or for public service. They would take their turn at work, on the boards, as mentioned, and then go back to their regular jobs. As public service –local, regional, national — it would be almost exactly the same. No elections. No political parties. Everyone would do their duty, via lottery, for an extended term — perhaps two to four years — then go home. No politicians. No political parties.

Instead of replacing capitalists with politicians, as you suggest, we would be replacing capitalists with citizens, all with equal say and power, with all of that say and power dispersed throughout the nation, equally.

Full, direct, participatory democracy, including the economy.

As for being “big enough.” Capitalism” allowing small forms of socialism is to its credit, though history has shown that it mostly crushes it, here and overseas. Socialism being big enough to allow capitalism is an odd formulation, as what makes socialism “big” in a moral, ethical and social justice sense is the elimination of capitalism entirely, if it ever gets the chance. There is absolutely zero advantage for the vast majority in having even a hint of a relic of capitalism in place, and it would also fight against benefits created and sustained by socialism’s focus on equality, social justice and sustainable living. Allowing capitalism in its midst is basically just undercutting that, allowing theft, injustice, class privilege and pollution to rise once more. Thus defeating the point.

244

Trader Joe 08.06.14 at 12:00 pm

@218 lee
What is your answer, if the financing were not an issue?

Others have already taken a crack at this, but I’ll throw in this – the workability of different models whether socialist, capitalist, or any other ist in my view boils down to a matter of scaling. As Plume points out there are plenty of fine collectives that can scale nicely from a family unit to a small group to even a neighborhood size collective. The difficulty is making the leap from there to industrial size goods and services.

How do you design and build aircraft – what collective of 70,000 people agrees upon, procures and assembles a build list that runs into the millions of parts which in turn involves vendors with their own 1000s of employees. Its remarkable that it even works as well as it does with mass specialization and hirearchy, perhaps my imagination is limited, but I don’t see it happening is worker run/democratic for all context.

Equally, the financing is irrelevant at small scale, at some point depending on the project, it becomes relevant. Its fine to say a government would provide the funding, but then the collective is no longer really running their own shop with their own share in the risk rewards – they are using other peoples money (the governments) and their interest in optimization, economy and agency decline. As before, my imagination may be limited, but there are literally thousands of products I can’t imagine being created let alone produced in mass quantity without some organizing hirearchy to design, procure, quality control etc.

Not all people are cut out for all tasks – at some point roles need to be assigned. Once management starts, as someone up thread noted, it starts to become very hard to assign value. Its nice to suggest that everyone will come to agreement but human nature and experience tells me that as soon as someone is appointed a ‘decider’ there will be those who disagree and that’s where the first crack in the collective begins. Oftentimes very charismatic leaders can save these collectives, but then you’re just trading benevolent dictatorship for capitalist heirarchy.

245

J Thomas 08.06.14 at 12:29 pm

#243

They would take their turn at work, on the boards, as mentioned, and then go back to their regular jobs. As public service –local, regional, national — it would be almost exactly the same. No elections. No political parties. Everyone would do their duty, via lottery, for an extended term — perhaps two to four years — then go home.

When I was in college somebody told me this is how the LDS church does things. If it’s true, maybe we could ask a bunch of Mormons how well it works for them. I think it’s a very good thing to have real-life examples with decades or more of experience to check with.

Of course, Mormons aren’t exactly the same as other Americans and what works for them might possibly fail for others.

246

Plume 08.06.14 at 12:31 pm

Trader Joe 244,

It should be kept in mind that those capitalist industrial relations, supply chains, production numbers, etc. etc. all took a great deal of time to build. The infrastructure was built over the course of two centuries and, as this and other articles make clear, slavery had much to do with it.

Second, the public sphere made it possible in the first place. Take the public sphere out of the picture, and we never get to mass production of anything. There are too many factors to be listed without just going to a book, but a few key elements: roads and bridges, airports, the courts, public investment in R and D, treaties between states, treaties between nations, trade pacts; currency support, financial agreements, endless meetings and actions to prevent or contain debt defaults; well over 100 public sector rescues of international capitalism just since 1970; police, fire and rescue, disaster relief; and wars fought to defend or expand capitalist markets . . . .

Oh, and the Internet, computers, GPS, touch-screen tech, and 75% of all new pharma — for starters.

If America made the transition to real socialism, it would actually have more infrastructure already than it needs. One of the key aspects of a Green Socialism is to scale back to the sustainable, to localize as much as possible, to go back to use-value and dump exchange-value entirely. Both as a mission and a side-benefit, the economy itself would begin to recede in importance, while other life-spheres would reemerge: the cultural arts, the enjoyment of healthy, organic, sustainable food and clean water, love, family, friends, community, etc.

247

Plume 08.06.14 at 12:45 pm

J Thomas,

The rotations would make it impossible to reestablish class systems of dominance. They would have the advantage of temporary, but still shared authority to facilitate the people’s will. The capitalist system is based on (near) permanent authority by the few to obstruct the people’s will — and to market them to death into believing they really need those umpteen consumer products that all seem pretty much the same. That green Iphone rather than the red one. The hundreds of different sugary cereals with the same exact ingredients. That jasmine-scented detergent, disinfectant, deodorant or hair product which mask the carcinogens in place, etc.

Going bigger in scale, it’s the same thing. Capitalism manufactures phony “needs” and has to do more and more and more of this, endlessly, to make profits and/or make investors happy. Any walk down the aisle of the Target, a Walmart or any big grocery store tells us we could live without 99% of the products, and half of them are tossed, unsold, anyway. Landfill.

The whole thing is madness, really. The waste, the pollution, the direct and indirect costs to our health, to nature, to our ability to actually survive on this planet. Capitalism is literally killing us and the earth. That’s not hyperbole.

248

Trader Joe 08.06.14 at 1:03 pm

@247
A nice idea Plume, but as I’ve shared before, not something I imagine happening in the lives of my great-grandchildren.

I suppose the billions of people employed to make all of the products you find so useless would just paint pictures and compose operas to fill their days. The world barely finds productive use for much of humanity despite the waste and excess. You’re quite right there would be excess infrastructure, because related global GDP would be 1/2 the current level. I’m doubtful most would agree this would lead to higher quality of lives.

249

Niall McAuley 08.06.14 at 1:07 pm

Plume writes: Any walk down the aisle of the Target, a Walmart or any big grocery store tells us we could live without 99% of the products

The ordinary East German, back in the day, was told (and mostly believed) that the shops and supermarkets in West Berlin were specially constructed and stocked as a propaganda exercise to hide the real poverty in the West.

250

J Thomas 08.06.14 at 1:13 pm

How do you design and build aircraft – what collective of 70,000 people agrees upon, procures and assembles a build list that runs into the millions of parts which in turn involves vendors with their own 1000s of employees. Its remarkable that it even works as well as it does with mass specialization and hirearchy, perhaps my imagination is limited, but I don’t see it happening is worker run/democratic for all context.

As automation expands, things change.

Automated systems make things to much tighter tolerances. They do not perform different on Mondays and Fridays. They do not figure out which things they can slack off on that won’t be checked, figuring that if problems show up they won’t be traced back to them.

This is going to make a giant difference in manufacturing. You can take your CAD specs and in theory (maybe in practice) you can go to multiple manufacturers for quotes and get almost exactly the same CAM product from all of them. Some of them might use substandard raw materials….

So anybody could take standard parts — millions of designs — and put them together in new ways. Or design new parts and get bids on having them made. But if you want to sell a new product then the question is whether it really works and what is its failure rate etc. The “improved” product must compete with things that already have track records.

Imagine that each giant corporation was split into many smaller corporations that each bid on jobs. The people who do sweeping and cleaning on the factory floor might be one company, and if they do a bad job or somebody offers to do the work cheaper, they might be offered a price to do part of the work while the other guys get checked out. They can also bid on other jobs.

In an automobile factory, each drop forge might be run by one company that accepts bids for using it, and if that forge doesn’t get enough business the company that maintains the factory building and charges them rent might suggest they take their drop forge elsewhere to make room for a better one.

There would not have to be any top management any more than there is top management in a coral reef. Companies create automobile designs, other companies research what kind of cars customers want, somebody puts together models and tries to sell them and pays everybody else out of what he gets for them. Anybody who has enough capital (maybe not that much) could choose designs from the design companies and advertising from the advertising companies and so on, and try to build his own brand of cars. Any company that does part of the work might choose to work cheap plus a share of future earnings, if they don’t have enough cash work to keep them busy.

Human work tends to be idiosyncratic. When you’re experienced on the job you know what the boss wants without him having to tell you. The new guy can’t keep up. And this is a big part of whatever job security there is. But in an information-rich environment that will be less so. Make well-defined products, and compete easier. To some extent accounting firms will be interchangeable, and so will all the rest of it. All it takes to plug in a new top management is to get new contracts with the various companies that do the work to make the products.

What’s the difference? It’s communications. What makes it easier to get good communications inside a single company with 1000 employees versus ten companies with 100 employees each? Mostly, secrets. You want to believe that your own employees will keep your secrets, and you don’t depend on that from contractors. If the secrets become less important than we can break companies into manageable sizes.

And that’s independent of how capitalist or socialist they are.

The client:contractor or client:professional relationship is not at all the same as the boss:employee relationship.

251

ZM 08.06.14 at 1:13 pm

“not something I imagine happening in the lives of my great-grandchildren.”

What discount rate are you applying?

252

J Thomas 08.06.14 at 1:36 pm

The rotations would make it impossible to reestablish class systems of dominance.

I’m beginning to remember more about what they said the LDS system was. Something like, you have a circle of 8 or 10 people, and leadership goes around the circle so you not only know who’s at the top now, you know who’ll be there next. It might be predictable which guy will join the next higher circle too. If it was truly random then maybe you couldn’t have that kind of class system.

Any walk down the aisle of the Target, a Walmart or any big grocery store tells us we could live without 99% of the products, and half of them are tossed, unsold, anyway.

I am allergic to lauryl sulfate, probably from lab accidents. If I go to Walmart and look at their shampoos, it looks like they all have lauryl sulfate. They’re all pretty much the same. They change the ingredients a little, change the color, use different bottles, and one factory can make hundreds of “different” shampoos. It’s because it has gotten so cheap to inventory lots of different items. It doesn’t mean anything really.

If you set up a socialist economy and there are two different shampoos instead of 60, would it make much difference? No. But if you sold the various shampoo ingredients separately and let people mix their own if they felt like it, then you’d have almost infinite variety available. I’ve seen the first signs that we’re heading in that direction. Like for example the soft drink machines at some restaurants that let you choose any of a large number of flavors from various companies, and let you mix them at will.

Go to a grocery store, you can get Coke, Pepsi, store brand, and a few other choices like Dr. Pepper and clones, orange soda and clones, a few kinds of root beer, etc. The soda companies spend a whole lot to convince you their flavors are special. Most people can’t tell Coke and Pepsi apart in blind testing, but they’re convinced they like one or the other. When you can mix whatever you want it’s a different world.

If you buy a shirt and there are only two styles available would it matter? Not a whole lot. But if you can choose your design and display your measurements to the automated tailor’s scanner, and then it creates what you want on the spot, that’s better than 30 styles on the shelves.

253

Plume 08.06.14 at 1:56 pm

Again, the idea would be to push the economy into the background, where it used to be. For most of our existence on this planet, we had no markets (beyond the local), no profits, no money, no real sense of “property” and we managed to get to 2014 as a species. I don’t think we’ll get much further with an international market economy in place these last two hundred years, give or take. Especially when it’s based on making a very few people at the top of the heap quite rich, regardless of the consequences for everyone else or the earth . . . or when that very small percentage of the population calls all the shots in their best interest, not ours.

Pushing it back to the background would also mean training, crafts, artisanship, trades, etc. which make “self-providing” possible, affordable, convenient, sustainable, etc. Michael Perelman, in his must-read The Invention of Capitalism, talks about the rupture caused when capitalists (violently) kicked people off their lands and extended markets ended the ability of the masses to self-provide. They had to go into the factories and work for shit wages and under dangerous conditions. Their own “home-ec” creations were priced out as well. That’s when we shifted from C-M-C, local, needs-based economies to an international, M-C-M and exchange-based system.

Real socialism would push for co-ops at work, as communities, regions, nations and internationally. Cooperation rather than competition. Based on the local and beyond.

In short, both home-ec, self-providing, communities providing what is needed, in harmony and in conjunction with regions and the nation, etc.

254

Plume 08.06.14 at 2:08 pm

Niall @249,

I think that’s an inaccurate rationale. Though the real one might be worse. Our shelves are stocked with overwhelming plenty to make us feel wealthy (vicariously, perhaps) just looking at all of that stuff, and to give us the illusion of far more “choices” than we could possibly ever need or use. It’s an aesthetic, marketing rationale, serving no valid or positive function other than to keep shoppers coming in to those stores. But the waste is off the charts. Americans waste at least 50% of all food produced, primarily because we stock in anticipation of future sales and need, not to order. Some stores and restaurants do a pretty good job of saving some of that waste, moving it instead to homeless shelters and hunger pantries. But it’s still 50% lost, even with that. Other items, with seriously dangerous ecological repercussions, like our endless use of plastics, just get chucked.

In another sense, however, the East German’s weren’t that far off. The consumption porn on display would seem to hide the fact that Americans do starve to death, are homeless, do suffer true deprivation, die from the cold, the heat, from unsafe water, from lead in the environment, etc. etc. Our mass consumer/consumption society masks the underbelly of this nation, and distracts us from taking a real, tough look at ourselves and the mass inequality caused by our capitalist system with its natural base of economic apartheid.

255

Bernard Yomtov 08.06.14 at 5:45 pm

Plume,

And this works great for Family X, but it would work even better if the entire neighborhood embraced it. So it does. All families in that neighborhood set up their own point systems, and merchants agree to take these points in exchange for goods and services.

So you’re back to money, only you prefer to call it “points” instead of dollars or pesos or something.

And your monetary system is terrible. What keeps me from giving my kid 20 points for washing dishes while someone else pays only ten? No merchant or any outsider to the family is going to accept your currency – excuse me, points – if they can be created at will by anyone who wants some. And where does the merchant get the points needed to buy inventory? By borrowing? By creating them? By offering a share of profits to someone who will let him have some? Sounds capitalistic to me.

256

J Thomas 08.06.14 at 6:37 pm

And your monetary system is terrible. What keeps me from giving my kid 20 points for washing dishes while someone else pays only ten?

If everybody can make as many points as they want and everybody else is supposed to accept them on some fixed scale, that isn’t going to work. That’s so obviously not going to work that I’m pretty sure that isn’t what he’s saying.

There are lots of ways that could work. I think all of them have certain similarities to money, which after all is a point system similar to what he describes. But in the current system banks get to create money from nothing and lend it. Presumably in his system somebody more responsible would create the points.

257

Plume 08.06.14 at 7:06 pm

Bernard @255,

As mentioned, the part about the families was just to show scaling was possible. It was a metaphor of sorts.

As for the points. Why should the merchant accept them? Because they’re the only recognized currency in existence in this case. No others exist. They either take the points, or they don’t get to sell their wares. In our system, it’s dollars. You can’t even used Euros leftover from the trip abroad to buy things in American stores. My bank wouldn’t even cash them. And if you had a box of pebbles, and to you they hold X amount of value, and you wanted to exchange them for an Ipad in the capitalist system, you couldn’t. Money is a useful fiction, nothing more. The key is in the agreements put in place and their acceptance across the board.

So, in this particular form of socialism, the currency/debt/credit and accounting problem is solved via those points, and the points are awarded for work done, and they come from a central pool which we all own, in common, and numbers being infinite, we never run out, or need to borrow to increase that pool, or tax any citizen, ever.

We all have a debit card. Points are added per work done. Subtracted per extras bought. Certain things are free and don’t require the debit card, in accordance with our Constitution. In my version that would be

1. Lifetime education, training, trade schools, artisanship, arts and crafts classes, etc.
2. Health care from womb to tomb
3. Cultural venues . . . music concerts, art museums, lecture series, etc.
4. Parks, gyms, etc.
5. Public transportation

And, again, there is no capitalism. No profit. No M-C-M and exchange value commerce. It doesn’t exist. We have full democracy in the workplace and throughout society. The real thing, not via proxies, but direct.

258

Plume 08.06.14 at 7:17 pm

IOW,

There is no such thing as “capital.” There is no need for capital formation, either through tax collection or investor collection. Localities vote for what they need, and draw from their own pool of funding, which they all hold in common. Each locality draws its funding from their region. Each region from the entire society. Individuals have accounts. As do localities, regions and the country as a whole.

Labor is what backs the “currency” and gives it value. Not gold. Not real estate. Not the military. Labor. If we can build it, and we vote that we need it, we do, without regard for funding, because funding is, theoretically infinite . . . again, the only real limiting factors are time and labor capacity.

No one goes hungry, lacks education, transportation, health care, etc. All food is grown organically, safely, sustainably. All water is clean, safe. It’s Green Socialism, sometimes called ecosocialism, and sustainability is paramount.

All of this is via a Constitution, with prices and wages set in stone, voted upon by the entire populace. The entire populace works on its own behalf. The collective works for the collective in Green Socialism, unlike in capitalism, wherein the collective works for single owners, or small groups of owners.

Nothing could be more rational or logical or humane than for the collective to work for itself, and without the need to make a few people rich, all work is compensated. And without the need to work for profits, work hours can be radically reduced. No more unpaid labor. That is burned out of the system forever.

259

Plume 08.06.14 at 7:24 pm

J Thomas,

I did say it would need to be standardized. The point system would be set in stone and written down in the Constitution. This would also eliminate bubble and bust cycles. No more economic volatility. It would be a steady-state economy. And because so many things — all our necessities — wouldn’t even need the debit card, “growth” is completely unnecessary. And because there is no profit, no money, no private ownership of the means of production, we can simplify and reduce the scope of the economy and put it back into the background, where is should be, and just live.

All time is equally precious. Capitalism perverts that truth beyond redemption and bases its existence on all time is wildly unequal in value because a few rich people say so and it is in their interests.

F that. No mas.

260

Brett Bellmore 08.06.14 at 7:29 pm

So, in your hypothetical socialist society, every other possible way of life is completely illegal, “burned out of the system forever”?

261

Plume 08.06.14 at 7:38 pm

No. But capitalism is. As it’s the root of our current problems and one of the biggest reasons to change to socialism.

Capitalism has spent more than a century stomping out democracy worldwide, especially any hint that it might work its way into the workplace. Why would we want to let it do that again? Why would we give it another foothold to destroy democracy and create economic apartheid? Aside from that, it is leading us into ecological Armageddon. Our only hope is to end any remnant of the capitalist system, stamp it out, root, trunk and branch. Annihilate it, once and for all, and make sure we live in harmony with each other and the earth, not in eternal conflict and competition with one another.

262

Plume 08.06.14 at 7:41 pm

Rather, make sure we do our best to live in harmony, etc. And to make that more likely, we need a system that encourages it, instead of suppressing our natural extincts for cooperation and harmony.

Capitalism suppresses those extincts, and elevates and encourages selfishness, short-sightedness and conflict.

Again, no mas.

263

Brett Bellmore 08.06.14 at 7:46 pm

Well, you know…

264

Bernard Yomtov 08.06.14 at 11:29 pm

J Thomas,

in the current system banks get to create money from nothing and lend it

Well, not exactly.

Plume,

I honestly do not know where to begin.

No need for capital? I wonder if you know what capital is.

A “collective” that works for “itself,” whatever “itself” is? Go join one if you like. I’ll pass.

Purchasing and consumption decisions made by majority vote? I’d prefer to decide for myself what to eat and wear and so on.

No boom and bust? Why?

No money? What about your precious points?

No private ownership? You mean I’m not allowed to go into business for myself, no matter how much I may want to do so? Or will I require the approval of the collective, or what?

Fixed prices and wages, “set in stone?” Are you also going to set in stone what exactly any particular good is?

I think your ideas are ill-considered and uninformed nonsense. Their adoption, even if it could be managed, would be catastrophic – a nightmare.

If you want to address the many flaws of our current arrangements, I encourage you to do so. But you badly need to understand both its flaws and its strengths, not to mention its basic mechanics. I do not think you do.

265

Michael Gubb 08.06.14 at 11:42 pm

It’s nice to see that someone can simultaneously be an anarcho-syndicalist and a monetarist.

266

ZM 08.07.14 at 12:24 am

Brett Bellmore,
“Well, you know…”

…And what have you done?

267

philofra 08.07.14 at 2:03 am

Plume, in short, believes the world should be handed to them. There is also a resentment in his criticism, like he was overlooked when the Creator was dishing things out.

268

notsneaky 08.07.14 at 2:49 am

Has this book been translated from nonsense-speak into English? I thought only impressionable undergraduates wrote stuff like this. Agh, those first two paragraphs… they just hurt.

269

Plume 08.07.14 at 2:49 am

Michael Grubb 265,

No. Not either. A radical egalitarian democrat (not Democrat), yes. A Green Socialist, yes. Not a monetarist. Not an anarcho-syndicalist.

philofra @267,

Hmmm. Where have I heard that before? How about every time I get into a discussion with a conservative or propertarian when the subject turns to alternatives to their precious capitalism. They think the person pushing the impossible dream of a better world must want things handed to them, even though chances of any of this coming to fruition in my lifetime are nil. It’s not about me. It’s about future generations finally being emancipated from wage slavery, autocratic and anti-democratic forces. In short, plutocracy and oligarchy. I won’t be around to see it happen, if ever it does. I know that.

Btw, I’ve worked hard since I was 14. I never asked for handouts. Put myself through college three times, and worked full time while going to school in two of those iterations. Again, it’s not about me.

Oh, and there’s no such thing as a creator. It’s a useful fiction. Makes a lot of people feel better. But it’s still a fiction.

No gods, no masters.

270

Plume 08.07.14 at 2:52 am

Bernard @264,

This isn’t about democratic votes for your personal consumption and purchases. This is about democracy in the workplace, with the means of production being held in common. Your own home? That’s your castle. What you do inside your own home? Your business, as long as you don’t hurt others.

The commons are everywhere except for your home, and your personal space. You have personal autonomy wherever you go. You just don’t get to hurt others.

Correct. No boom and bust. Why do we need them? Again, this isn’t capitalism. It’s something totally different. You can’t analyze it using the rules of capitalism, because they don’t apply. That would be like using the rules of chess to analyze a game of Risk.

Think outside the box.

271

J Thomas 08.07.14 at 2:54 am

#264 Bernard Yomtov

“in the current system banks get to create money from nothing and lend it”

Well, not exactly.

No, not exactly. But near enough as makes no difference.

272

Plume 08.07.14 at 2:59 am

The ideas above mix my own with many other thinkers and traditions. A few of the key sources:

Richard D. Wolff. Read his work on WSDE.
http://www.rdwolff.com/

Gar Alperovitz:
http://www.garalperovitz.com/

Participatory Economics
http://vanparecon.resist.ca/

And Mondragon:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation

273

Plume 08.07.14 at 3:00 am

The ideas above mix my own with many other thinkers and traditions. A few of the key sources:

Richard D. Wolff. Read his work on WSDE.
http://www.rdwolff.com/

Gar Alperovitz:
http://www.garalperovitz.com/

Participatory Economics
http://vanparecon.resist.ca/

274

Plume 08.07.14 at 3:07 am

Bernard,

Also, if you work for a company right now, you’re in a collective. Every business with a workforce is a collective enterprise. But in capitalism, the collective works to make the boss rich, and does so through a goodly portion of its working day being unpaid.

In real socialism, the collective works for itself. It owns itself. It does not work for a few people. The collective is identical with ownership. The collective owns the collective. And that extends out to the even larger collective of the community, the region, the nation. The nation being the sum total of all collectives, and a collective itself, also identical with ownership. We all own the economy, together. In capitalism, we don’t. A tiny fraction of the society owns it, runs it, controls it, tells us how much our time is valued, sets prices, sets wages, to benefit that tiny fraction, not us.

Real socialism alters that. We the people set prices and wages, to benefit we the people. We the people own the economy, run it, control it, agree democratically regarding how much we value our time.

Nothing could be more rational or logical or humane than that.

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Martin Bento 08.07.14 at 7:00 am

What Wolff says about the actually-existing socialisms is not necessarily true, though. Were workers in the SU and Eastern Europe paid more or less than the value of their labor, accepting for the sake of argument the Marxist definitions? It’s hard to say in specific cases, but it couldn’t have been less on average. The state lost money on all kinds of enterprises, and at the end the USSR was basically bankrupt and living largely on Western food imports. So where was all the surplus value they were extracting? In the pockets of party bigwigs? To a small degree, but there were not that many wealthy officials, and they were not wealthy like American billionaires are wealthy. There was not nearly enough being siphoned off for the personal use of the elite to account for the bankruptcy of the country (and most of what they effectively owned was still officially state property, so it would not be a debit to the state anyway – those were still state assets). And what would the state do with surplus value anyway? The state already owned everything of significant value, so what was it going to buy? Well, imported food, as it turned out, but that ended up in the mouths of workers – the elite can only eat so much wheat and bread was subsidized to stay cheap.

Yes, the workplace was still hierarchical and not democratic, but the basic economic relation of a capitalist who is profiting by taking surplus value created by workers into his possession for his own benefit, this was eradicated. If this did not suffice to end the oppressive nature of work, than said oppressive nature is not, or not primarily, a result of “exploitation” in the Marxist sense. Though Wolff is exaggerating to imply the hierarchical situation in the SU was the same as in capitalism– your boss could not easily fire you, and that does change things. But the defining feature of capitalism is not supposed to be simple hierarchy, which is at least as old as urbanization, but extraction of surplus value, and this clearly was not happening on net or the state would not have ended bankrupt.

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Martin Bento 08.07.14 at 7:09 am

I lived in Eastern Europe in the Gorbachev era. When I arrived, I went to buy a winter coat. There was a full rack of them – all the same size, a rather small size. It was like a bad parody of communist claims of equality. Someone there told me that it was a mistake, of course, but the coats were there now, so no new ones would come until they were at least mostly gone. And they were moving very slowly. Nobody was going to get any benefit from sticking their neck out to fix the error, still less from trying to determine its source, and no one had any particular incentive to care whether the store sold coats or not. In fact, if it didn’t, less work. No one would be fired or laid off if sales went down.

The economy was indeed in the background, and this was a problem. An economy on autopilot gets overtaken by entropy pretty quickly. The coat thing was a minor annoyance, but shoddiness and indifference pervaded everything, and the people there were sick of it. The aggregate effect was economic stagnation and gradual decline. They voted for Thatcherism as soon as they had the chance. Big mistake, of course. In their situation, rapidly privatizing and deregulating just dealt them into a game wherein they had a losing hand. They didn’t understand how unemployment is different from people just not working (they had a lot of experience with the latter), and how the threat of unemployment changes the situation of employment in ways that, yes, make products and services more efficient and responsive to needs, but also compel people to deal with a lot of insecurity. But they also decided (with Western encouragement, to be sure, but it was a popular choice at the time) to leap fully into the sea of capitalism, trying to construct a boat before they hit the water. The entire region got chomped by sharks, many foreign, but some local, and after a few years, many people had regrets, but it was too late.

As for Lenin, what he meant by state capitalism was his NEP – a system that involved a lot of old-fashioned for-profit private enterprise, but with the state controlling key sectors and generally guiding the ship. Stalin abolished this, and it stayed abolished, so this description does not apply to the later SU.

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Martin Bento 08.07.14 at 7:45 am

Plume wrote echoing J. Thomas:

“Finally, as J Thomas mentioned, violence in the world has increased dramatically as capitalism has become more dominant. We have wars in which tens of millions of civilians are killed, along with millions of soldiers now. ”

Genghis Khan was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions, the bulk of them non-combatants. So was Tamarlane. This was with no modern technology and no capitalism. Slavery, imperialism, and genocide have existed for millennia and attempts to link them specifically to capitalism have to explain why they occurred so frequently in the absence of capitalism (genocide in the ancient world largely took the form of complete extermination of city-states, rather than racial groups, that being more how society was demarcated. But I think burning an entire city with all of its inhabitants to the ground should qualify under Lemkin’s criteria, and this practice is described approvingly in the Old Testament and clearly occurred).

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Martin Bento 08.07.14 at 8:04 am

In comment #43 J. Thomas wrote:

“I talked to somebody who had worked there. I asked him about that, and he said he hadn’t paid any attention, he just went home every day instead of attending meetings, it was just a job.

It sounded like for awhile employees had worked hard to run the business, but later they decided to pay a competitive wage to proven professional managers, and the professional managers ran it exactly like a normal company with stockholders. Just the stockholders were the employees.”

I think you’re onto something here, but are underinterpreting it – who the hell wants to run the company they work for? I thought it would be cool when I resented a-hole bosses, but when I thought about what it would actually entail – getting involved in all the decisions about changing the product, the marketing strategy, etc., I had no interest in all that stuff. I wanted to leave it at the office when I went home, and, from what I could tell, so did almost everyone else. Do you think everyone working at McDonald’s wants to go home thinking about how to make a better burger? Alienation of labor has its advantages. Decision-making is work, after all. It easily induces exhaustion in ways just now being studied. This socialist dream of getting people involved in every decision that might conceivably effect their lives – no thank you. Half the people don’t even vote for President; you want people to vote on everything?

And suppose they did. This is the problem for Jobs and Woz. It is not funding, per se. That is the symptom. The problem is that no innovation is going to be embraced or understood instantly by the majority of people, so to have innovation individuals and small groups must be able to command resources to act independently. A while back here, people were talking about how the generous British welfare state enabled people to be somewhat comfortably idle and do things like learn music – that’s how we got the Beatles. Maybe so, but the only reason we know about the Beatles is that Capital Records decided they were worth putting resources into recording.

Also, with majoritarian control of all resources, there is no recourse against majority prejudices. Under the current system, if I want to open a mid-eastern restaurant, I have to try to determine if there are enough people who would like it in my town to make it viable. The majority may hate the cuisine and have lots of biases against the culture associated with it, but unless this is taken outside the law to violence, it doesn’t matter. Would gay culture ever have gotten off the ground if every gay business or activity needed majority approval?

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Niall McAuley 08.07.14 at 8:16 am

Krugman’s famous baby-sitting column is really about Keynesian stimulus in a recession, but only by analogy with an real co-op working with a fixed amount of “currency”. It falls into a recession requiring its “central bank” to issue more “currency” and devalue. The article also shows how allowing the “central bank” to lend “currency” and charge interest gives another tool for managing the co-op’s little economy.

Plume’s notion of a fixed value currency with no money creation and no central bank would guarantee that the currency’s official value would be wrong, and that the co-op’s economy would break. In short order, no-one would accept “points” for anything, and folks would be creating a real currency based on cigarettes or something.

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Niall McAuley 08.07.14 at 8:35 am

In comment #277, Martin Bento writes: The problem is that no innovation is going to be embraced or understood instantly by the majority of people, so to have innovation individuals and small groups must be able to command resources to act independently.

It’s worse than that! Individuals and small groups must be able to act stupidly and champion ideas and innovations that are doomed to fail. Overconfidence, pride, competitiveness, braggadocio – many entrepeneurs and innovators are what the rest of us technically refer to as arseholes.

But once in a while they luck out and their ideas, which look unworkable to everyone else, turn out to be genuinely brilliant and we get real innovation. Most of the time, not, and they fail, wasting resources.

In Plume’s utopia, this would never happen, as no-one would back these crazy jerks. Of course, to Plume’s mind, that’s a feature: innovation isn’t wanted – it’s a steady-state economy, we don’t want any upsets as we trade our stone axes for animal skins.

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Ze Kraggash 08.07.14 at 9:05 am

“Individuals and small groups must be able to act stupidly and champion ideas and innovations that are doomed to fail.”

It’s far from obvious that this is the most efficient (let alone the only possible) way to innovate. If your idea is so genuinely brilliant, why does it look unworkable to everyone? If it’s definitely impossible to convince them, perhaps it isn’t that brilliant after all.

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ZM 08.07.14 at 9:09 am

Martin Bento,
“but when I thought about what it would actually entail – getting involved in all the decisions about changing the product, the marketing strategy, etc., I had no interest in all that stuff. I wanted to leave it at the office when I went home, and, from what I could tell, so did almost everyone else. “

I think this goes to John Holbo’s post about whether you can have a romance or even a pleasant comedy with incompetent and corrupt main characters that falsely imprison innocent people to keep their jobs (I do not of course mean to suggest you yourself are incompetent or corrupt or have ever falsely imprisoned an innocent person).

You can have a pleasant bucolic tale full of cowherds etc who do not participate in the great politics of the classical days. But these people live very simple lives whiling away all their days and being happy for gifts of quinces and such. when you come to our days in our technologically advanced etc societies it is a great tragic problem – because our day to day lives involve uses of and involvement with such things that cause poverty and hunger and displacement, great cruelty to animals, deforestation, extinctions of animals and birds and plants, too great a use of nature as resources, great amounts of pollution on land and in sea, and dangerous climate change etc.

If people do not involve themselves in making the needed reforms and in ensuring that these reforms are not evil mass murdering reforms – like happened in Russia after the ‘superfluous man’ genre depicted the 19th C Russian gentry generation in the pivotal time after the Crimean war – there is a very terrible avoidable evil tragedy just around the corner like all those 20th C terrible things that should not have ever been done :(

This is another real life solution to a trolley problem (my apologies if you have already seen it)

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Martin Bento 08.07.14 at 9:36 am

Ze, if a new idea were obvious to everyone, it would not be new. If it is not obvious, people will have to make an effort to understand it, but nobody can understand all the new ideas to evaluate them, and most people will not care that much anyway. And Niall is correct that the majority of ideas do fail, but that does not stop innovation. Innovation requires acceptance of failure.

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Brett Bellmore 08.07.14 at 9:40 am

“Brett Bellmore,
“Well, you know…”

…And what have you done?”

Aside from demonstrating the local shortage of Beatles fans, I’ve not advocated a theory which requires ruthlessly “burning out of society” every other possible social arrangement.

Which is more than can be said of Plume.

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Martin Bento 08.07.14 at 9:56 am

ZM, taking responsibility for political engagement with the issues of my day is one thing; having to be directly involved in the management of any company I happen to work for is something else. If I work for a company that makes shoes, I am not necessarily going to have any great ideas how to do this in a more environmentally sustainable way. Even if I do, if that hurts the bottom line of the company, and I am part owner of the company, I have an incentive not to do it. Larger-scale decisions beyond my own interests belong in the political and social realm.

I don’t know where you get these bucolic shepherds; think of what this means in the world of work as we have it. Most of managing the company is either marketing its products or mundane matters (which office goes where). Some of it is innovation in its products or procedures – great if you have the aptitude and interest. This idea of having a vote among many in your company as a way of saving the world: which company do I work for that is going to save the world, and how do I get them to listen to me with my one little vote?

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Martin Bento 08.07.14 at 10:32 am

Plume wrote:

” If the benefits [of a mutually-beneficial trade] are distributed in unequal fashion, then it is not a win/win proposition. It is a win/lose proposition. “

This is, of course, false and an abuse of language. Bruce Wilder pointed this out:

” If social cooperation creates an incremental surplus of 5, and one party gets 3 and the other party gets 2, over and above the results of not-cooperating, then cooperation benefits both. Benefiting both does not require that both parties benefit equally. I feel there’s something seriously wrong, when this has to be explained.”

So Plume doubled down, and demonstrated that it not only needed to be explained, but would not be grasped when it was:

“The original claim was that capitalism produces win/win transactions. In order for that to be the case, compensation would have to be equal. “

He then “argues” that he is right because capitalism is evil, evil, evil.

Get this straight, Plume. What you are arguing here is the definition of a win/win transaction, and the evilness or otherwise of capitalism has no bearing on that question. If both parties benefit, however unequally, it is win/win. That is what the phrase means.

That you would define a mutually, but unequally, beneficial situation as a win/lose situation is telling, though. If you gain something in a situation, but regard it as a loss if the other party gained more, then the reverse must also be true. If you lose something in a situation, you will regard it as a gain if the other party loses more. So if you have a small house and your neighbor has a larger house, you commit arson on both. You lost less than he did, so that is a “gain”. And, viola, you’re also more equal. Isn’t that nice?

This is the politics of envy that Romneyite Republicans accuse the left of. It is rare to actually encounter a specimen of it. Putting people who think like this is charge of a country, of course, can only lead to an egalitarian society foraging in the ruins.
“”

“The original claim was that capitalism produces win/win transactions. In order for that to be the case, compensation would have to be equal.”

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Martin Bento 08.07.14 at 10:48 am

Oops, slight pasting error.

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Limericky Dicky 08.07.14 at 1:34 pm

Before you pipe up, Mr Bento: ritardando! Un poco piu lento! Your theory has lost
opportunity cost! Take this as a timely memento.

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Limericky Dicky 08.07.14 at 1:51 pm

And further, please curb your invective: this tired ‘envy’ trope is defective. Don’t call people names, for the bargaining game’s zero sum even though it’s elective.*

*They agree that they should bake, not on how to cut the cake.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.07.14 at 1:54 pm

Plume,

Correct. No boom and bust. Why do we need them? Again, this isn’t capitalism. It’s something totally different.

Who said we needed them? But as Niall McCauley points out, your system would guarantee them. Similarly, your system of prices and wages set in stone would guarantee the prices would be wrong, leading to all sorts of problems of allocating goods, services, labor, etc. These of course will inevitably be “solved” by the collective, or rather its “managers.” Good luck with that.

As for working for a collective, well, I don’t. And if I did I would at last have some choice about switching employers, or going into business for myself. How would that work in your system. Does “no capital” mean no starting new businesses, because you know, that requires capital in one form or another. Am I allowed to switch jobs, or is that prohibited if the collective wants me to keep doing what I’m doing?

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J Thomas 08.07.14 at 3:26 pm

“I talked to somebody who had worked there. I asked him about that, and he said he hadn’t paid any attention, he just went home every day instead of attending meetings, it was just a job.”

I think you’re onto something here, but are underinterpreting it – who the hell wants to run the company they work for?

“If you want a job done right, do it yourself.”

When I first heard of the company, they had given a retiring vice president the right to buy a big plot of land the company owned, cheap. If he could subdivide it and turn it into a big real estate development, he would be rich without having to put up much capital first.

Why was the company selling its land cheap to make a vice president rich? (I found another deal like that for the President, when I looked.) Probably because the management thought of the company as their personal property, and they looked for ways to get rich off of it that wouldn’t get people too upset. If you don’t want somebody else to do that to your property, you need to pay some attention.

So people who put their investment money into managed accounts where an expert buys and sells stocks with it, tend to do worse than they would do by choosing stocks by throwing darts. Maybe their expert tends to manage the account for his own profit?I think you’re onto something here, but are underinterpreting it – who the hell wants to run the company they work for?

People who choose a king to run their nation for them, find their country is owned by a king.

People who choose elected representatives to replace the king tend to find their representatives act like they own the nation, and even sometimes draft them to fight the leaders’ wars.

The ultimate in this is selling yourself into slavery so you aren’t responsible for managing your own self.

Half the people don’t even vote for President; you want people to vote on everything?

People don’t pay attention, and then they complain about how they are controlled!

“The oppressed are allowed every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them in parliament.” — Lenin

Not that Lenin did things right when he had a chance to start an oppressing class himself….

The problem is that no innovation is going to be embraced or understood instantly by the majority of people, so to have innovation individuals and small groups must be able to command resources to act independently.

ACIPCO has survived at least partly because they own special technology for iron pipes. They keep doing it. I don’t know how they arrange that. They did it while they didn’t have professional MBA managers and they kept doing it after they did have them.

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J Thomas 08.07.14 at 3:57 pm

#280

Individuals and small groups must be able to act stupidly and champion ideas and innovations that are doomed to fail. Overconfidence, pride, competitiveness, braggadocio – many entrepeneurs and innovators are what the rest of us technically refer to as arseholes.

But once in a while they luck out and their ideas, which look unworkable to everyone else, turn out to be genuinely brilliant and we get real innovation. Most of the time, not, and they fail, wasting resources.

So, say you’re part of a business which is doing OK. They work together and they make a product, it sells, everybody gets enough and there’s resources to replace things that wear out etc.

You come along with a new idea which requires that they stop what they’re doing and do something different. If it works they might be more productive and get more rewards. If it fails, wasting resources, they get nothing.

Your new way may not fit their skillsets. They must learn new skillsets. It may not fit their abilities. People who were important before get demoted, people who meet your needs become important.

And it’s possible that they make a technically perfect product which does not fit the needs of the market. Like, you might make a word processor which is perfectly suited for the legal profession — except that the judges say that all documents must be WordPerfect.

Why should everybody follow your vision when they have an alternative that works fine?

Maybe the thing to do, is start a new company and hire a bunch of malcontents who didn’t do very well at their previous jobs. Start small. Figure out how to use your workers, test out the market, grow if it works. If it doesn’t work then stop before it costs you too much and try something else.

And you might be able to build that approach into various different sorts of economic systems.

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Brett Dunbar 08.07.14 at 4:32 pm

@291 As a general rule managed funds perform worse than index trackers. Under circumstances where the efficient market hypothesis holds that is more or less what you would expect. The EMH indicates that the market has already done a good job of incorporating available information into the current. So if the manager chooses a different set of investments then the manager is betting that they know better than the market, it turns out they’re usually wrong. The few superstar fund managers who consistently outperform the market can earn huge amounts of money.

The incentive structure is a biased to favour excessive risk taking, if you get a bonus for beating the index and nothing for matching it then the one strategy you know won’t get you a bonus is to index track. So you will go for a different balance and hope you get lucky.

A different bonus structure leads to some ostensibly managed funds being a disguised index tracker that is a managed fund where the lazy manager just follows the index but charges the fees of a managed fund.

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philofra 08.07.14 at 4:52 pm

Plume @269

Perhaps I was a bit cliché in describing you. But I am glad you are wanting a better world.

There are alternatives but they will come in the struggle to improve capitalism, not in doing away with it. Capitalism gives us something to work with and the tools to make those improvements.

Civilization is propelled and renewed by engines. Capitalism is one of those engines.

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J Thomas 08.07.14 at 5:10 pm

#293 Brett Dunbar

The EMH indicates that the market has already done a good job of incorporating available information into the current.

I see no particular reason to believe in EMH, and considerable evidence against it. It can be made to work if we are careful to define our terms just so, so that whatever the market does is defined to be the most efficient allocation of resources.

However, it takes more than not believing in EMH to get a reliable way to beat the market. (My father used to do that with some consistency, with value investing. I suspect that what he did was to decide a little earlier than other value investors which stocks were good value stocks, and then sell before they finished buying. But he said he did it by picking good value stocks and not selling until he found better value stocks to invest in. Now he’s old and forgetful, and by his traditional standards everything that’s worth having at all is overpriced.)

So if the manager chooses a different set of investments then the manager is betting that they know better than the market, it turns out they’re usually wrong. The few superstar fund managers who consistently outperform the market can earn huge amounts of money.

Kind of like a lottery. A few of them will outperform the market just by random chance, and those will “earn” their jackpots. A few of the few will do it repeatedly.

I’ve seen many claims that statisticly you do worse by buying into a fund that won last year. Maybe it was random and they will do randomly again the coming year.

Maybe they actually have a method that works, but they will get more money than they can handle. If you know how to beat the market with a few tens of millions, it’s a different problem to beat it with hundreds of millions. The Peter Principle at work.

I myself found I could generally make money by taking bets nobody wanted. Like, buy into a company with looming legal problems. Usually the problems aren’t as bad as they seem and in three years you can maybe triple your money. But you have to sit there for two+ years with a stock that nobody wants, that does badly all that time. You have to not care. Nobody wants to take those bets because they get driven crazy while they wait for the payoff. It just isn’t worth it.

A different bonus structure leads to some ostensibly managed funds being a disguised index tracker that is a managed fund where the lazy manager just follows the index but charges the fees of a managed fund.

Yes. And my point is, if you give somebody else control of your money, he’s likely to use it for his purposes more than for your purposes. If he has control, he might find other ways for him to profit, than by making your trades do particularly well. “Well, but who would want to pick their own stocks? It’s so much work and you mostly won’t beat the market. It’s easier just to put your savings into a fund and pay no attention.” Just like it’s easier to just do your job and pay no attention to how your company is managed, or to just vote for whoever has the better sound bites and pay no attention to government.

With the market you do have the choice to use a low-fee index fund, though. Just be careful about the fine print.

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J Thomas 08.07.14 at 5:33 pm

I once worked for a small hi-tech company that — before my time — had tried paying their employees partly in company stock. They figured that would help employee morale and make employees more responsible etc.

But they had a high employee turnover. They did simulations and worked out that the way they were going, in a few decades the company would be owned almost entirely by ex-employees. Worse, the ex-employees might sell the stock and the company could wind up being controlled by — anybody.

It isn’t really fair for the person who first starts a company to own the whole thing and get all the benefits (unless he chooses or is forced to sell some to investors etc). Is it fair for people to get ownership just from working at the company? Somebody spent an hour sweeping the floor 20 years ago, that gives him a share in ownership forever?

It makes a kind of sense that the workers should own it, but the devil is in the details of how they do that.

There are alternatives but they will come in the struggle to improve capitalism, not in doing away with it. Capitalism gives us something to work with and the tools to make those improvements.

Free markets can in theory provide an environment for a sort of evolution. Do things better and you in theory can prosper and gain a bigger share, the more efficient you are the more resources you get to control to improve the economy. If somebody else thinks they can do better, they get to try on a small scale and build up if they’re right.

Capitalism is not free markets. Capitalism is a system for people who gain control of businesses to take all the profit. Not the same thing at all.

To my way of thinking, the government ought to find ways to nurture free markets. When the government sees markets getting less free, it should find ways to make them more free. It should encourage competition based on efficiency etc, and discourage competition based on superior capitalization, advertising, price-fixing, closed markets, access to distribution channels, government corruption, etc. We should look for ways to design markets so they self-regulate and require less government intervention to avoid the problems that make them less free.

Whether capitalism is a good way to decide who gets the benefits, is an open question. If we could design the system so that capitalists could not use their capital to get anti-competitive advantages, if they could not use it to destroy free markets, then we would be in a better position to let various systems of ownership compete and then find out in the real world which is more efficient.

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Plume 08.07.14 at 5:52 pm

People swim in a capitalist soup, thinking that’s the only kind of soup anyone makes, or has ever made. Obviously, that’s not the case. Capitalism supplanted Feudalism, which supplanted the previous system, which supplanted the previous system, etc. etc. Capitalism did so with great violence, as people like Michael Perelman show in his must, must-read, The Invention of Capitalism. Primitive Accumulation, etc. etc.

Basically, the last couple of “revolutions” have been supplanting one kind of ruling class with another. Real socialism, the kind that I’ve studied, and think I may have added to in ever so slight a way, seeks to end that kind of revolution. Instead of “freeing” people from one ruling class, only to stick them with another, we seek to end the class system, period, which is the basis for that eternal struggle. And the best tool for that is real democracy, including the economy.

Our current form does not include the economy. We have businesses, which as individual entities, and in the aggregate, are autocratic and anti-democratic. I don’t say this with anger at the moment, though it does anger me. I say this with a clear, calm mind as I write. It’s just a fact. Businesses are top down, hierarchical organizations — and, yes, collectives — where there is no democracy. You do what the boss says, or you don’t have a job for long. The boss sets prices, determines the value of your time as a worker, and if you don’t like it, well, you can lump it, and go find another job within the same system that will be the same kind of thing all over again. Everywhere you turn, it will be autocratic, anti-democratic, top down, what the boss says, goes, or you can go.

Except for the rare case of WSDE or other co-op forms.

A lot of Americans are okay with this. I’m not. I don’t think it’s right that a tiny fraction of the population gets to make these calls, set prices, set the value of my time and everyone else’s time. I think we, the people, together, should be able to do that. All of us, via democratic processes.

And the suggestions I’ve made for funding are a part of all of that, as one way to get rid of the problem of scarcity in funding, and make everything about labor instead. If we can do the work, we can produce what we need, without worrying about funding, because numbers are infinite. As long as we all agree to the value of those points — the points being handed out for work done — then this system can work. It’s closed. It’s an “economy.” All it takes is agreement, like current system — which was built up over a great deal of time and has never worked without continual crises.

(more later . . .)

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Plume 08.07.14 at 6:03 pm

Also, quick addition.

Yes, there will be “innovation.” Even under capitalism, most innovation comes from the public sector, either directly or indirectly. The public sector brought us the Internet, computers, touch-screen tech, GPS, satellite tech, and roughly 75% of our pharma. There is no reason whatsoever that a truly socialist nation couldn’t innovate well beyond anything done via capitalism. Remember, even in the private sector, the vast majority of workers make zero profit. Profit is completely irrelevant to them. They make a paycheck and they bust their butts for their company all the same.

In fact, since we know that one of the biggest sources of anxiety and dissatisfaction with work is the knowledge that bosses or peers make much more, an egalitarian framework would actually reinvigorate the workplace. And, the knowledge that you are also an owner of that enterprise, a direct owner, adds more meaning to the job. There is no one owner. Everyone is an owner, etc. The collective is we the people. We the people are the collective, etc.

And, yes, you can switch jobs. In fact, that’s encouraged. And with all training, schooling, artisanship, craftsmanship being free for everyone, simply for being a citizen, no one is left behind. Money is no barrier to gaining new skills and knowledge. It’s there for the taking for 100% of the population.

The goal would be similar to this, from Marx:

For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.07.14 at 7:08 pm

Plume,

If the collective determines what is to be produced, how can I switch jobs, since that will affect production? How can I start a business, if there is no such thing as capital, or if I want to produce something the collective thinks is unneeded?

How can you control production and not control labor, and consumption? What is not produced cannot be consumed.

How will collectively agreed on production goals be met without telling workers what they have to produce. If more bicycles are needed then more people need to work at making them. It won’t do to have bicycle factory workers decide to become poets instead.

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Brett Dunbar 08.07.14 at 7:14 pm

The EMH should hold in any situation where the noise traders are distributed reasonably symmetrically, that is that the number of excessively pessimistic investors and the number of excessively optimistic investors is close enough to balance that the marginal investor is rational. This condition doesn’t hold during a crash or a bubble, it however appears to hold in more normal market conditions. The inability of most fund managers to match the performance of an index tracker investing on the basis of the collective wisdom of all investors tends to support the EMH holding much of the time.

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Stephen 08.07.14 at 7:34 pm

Plume@298: “Even under capitalism, most innovation comes from the public sector, either directly or indirectly.”

I despair of correcting your older irreconcilable self-contradictions, but here’s a new one. I’ll try, without any real hope, to explain to you.

You have previously argued that what people at the time thought was socialism, as in the USSR (hint: check what the second S stood for) was actually what you call “state capitalism”, and therefore evil and not socialism at all. Most people would think that capitalism = non-state economies, but let that pass.

Now read carefully. If the state-owned, state-controlled economies of the USSR, etc, were really a form of evil capitalism, then the state-owned, state-controlled elements of the public sector under capitalism are also a form of evil capitalism. Aren’t they?

You really cannot argue, with any attempt at intellectual consistency, that state-owned entities under nominal socialism are really a form of capitalism, but at the same time state-owned entities under capitalism are really a form of socialism.

At least, I couldn’t. Maybe I underestimate your intellectual, shall we say, flexibility.

As for empirical experience of non-capitalist innovation: did you ever come across a Trabant?

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Ze Kraggash 08.07.14 at 8:24 pm

Martin: “And Niall is correct that the majority of ideas do fail, but that does not stop innovation. Innovation requires acceptance of failure.”

Fine, acceptance of failure it is. Nevertheless, I get the impression that all (or almost all) major innovations come from the public sector anyway, they only get commercialized, brought to the consumer by the private sector. Instead of a bulky cell phone you get a slick one. Which is important, but it’s not really about innovations; this is something else.

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J Thomas 08.07.14 at 8:57 pm

#301

The EMH should hold in any situation where the noise traders are distributed reasonably symmetrically, that is that the number of excessively pessimistic investors and the number of excessively optimistic investors is close enough to balance that the marginal investor is rational.

You can make conclusions like that if you pick your assumptions carefully enough.

But to do that you mostly have to start with the conclusion you want, and then look for the assumptions which will give you that conclusion. It seems articial to me. If you want to beleve in EMH then I doubt my evidence against it would be convincing, particularly when you can often define failures as bubbles or crashes. I will accept that EMH can be a useful concept even if it is not literally true. I hope you can accept the possibility that it is is not literally true.

The inability of most fund managers to match the performance of an index tracker investing on the basis of the collective wisdom of all investors tends to support the EMH holding much of the time.

Maybe the information available to most fund managers and also to most investors is so bad that it is not much predictive?

Also there could be various scams involved. One almost-silly example — a fund manager takes an options position in a stock that his customers have bought heavily, or that they have not bought heavily. The option price goes wrong for him, he could lose a lot. So on the day the options are due he sells enough of his customers’ stock to save himself (or buys, if that’s what he needs). He can manipulate the price, but it costs him — or rather it costs his customers. Maybe things will work out in the future so they come out OK, though. And if not maybe his good trades for them will almost make up for it.

When you let somebody else make decisions about your assets, he might find ways to make decisions that benefit him instead of you.

There’s a bible story that Jacob worked as a herder for his uncle Laban. They had an agreement, Laban would get all the solid-color sheep and Jacob would get all the spotted ones. It isn’t easy to interpret just what the story says, but the best I can do is that Jacob arranged that the sheep bred in a place where the spotted males felt comfortable and the solid-color males felt scared and conspicuous to predators, and so there were way more than usual of spotted lambs. Jacob got rich and Laban was angry at him. Jacob argued that he had worked hard, he had kept predators away and there were very few miscarriages etc. And they had an agreement, he would get the spotted sheep so he insisted on keeping to what they agreed. Then when Laban was still angry Jacob sneaked away with the sheep and a couple of Laban’s daughters, stealing the household gods too.

Oh well. If the index represents average performance, and most funds can’t match that, doesn’t there have to be somebody who is doing better to balance them? Since each trade has two sides…. If there is some mysterious figure who does do consistently better than average, but he is not a fund manager, who is he?

http://www.capitaldynamics.com.sg/files/q_yacht.gif

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Plume 08.07.14 at 9:11 pm

Innovation. It’s interesting. Innovation within the already existing system of capitalism is a matter of faith. Building a better mouse-trap within the system of capitalism is expected. But building a better system itself, one that would completely replace capitalism? That meets with scorn and derision. That kind of innovation, apparently, is off limits.

Strange.

So, on the points. The reason it’s much, much better? Because it’s a separate, independent stream of never-ending funding, unlike in capitalism. And unlike in capitalism, it doesn’t take away from some one else’s ability to earn enough. There is no finite pool of funding for payroll. It’s a separate, independent stream of never-ending funding for individual workers, communities, regions and the nation.

In capitalism, the price for a good or service is the stream. It must contain enough to cover business costs, profits and high compensation for executives. Prices under capitalism are set by a tiny fraction of society and for its benefit. Prices in this new society, OTOH, are set for everyone’s benefit, by us, together.

With the innovation (riffing off traditional socialism) I’m suggesting, the price of an item is actually irrelevant, other than as a way of accounting, of making sure that wages are sufficiently matched up with prices to guarantee everyone gets what they need — at least. We all agree to and set prices low enough, and wages high enough, so we can all afford to be comfortable. Our cost of living will never exceed our ability to pay for it, as long as we work and gather those points. And we also agree that at a certain age, 60**, I’m thinking (subject to democratic processes, of course), we can retire. At which time we receive our pension, per year, and the pension is enough to remain comfortable without extra work on the side.

**The funding stream for that pension is another proof of the superiority of this system. Again, it comes from an unlimited pool of numbers. No taxes are necessary. It is not debt. It does not have to be paid back. All that matters is that we all agree that everyone receives said pension when they retire.

The work week would be something like 25 hours for each of us. Since we no longer are working to make profits for others, to make others rich, we can work less and produce what we need, what we decide together we need. If people want to work extra, they can. But we would standardize a certain top end to the work week so people don’t drive themselves into an early grave or create more than a minimal amount of inequality.

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Plume 08.07.14 at 9:13 pm

We would have a top to bottom ratio for wages of 4 to 1. They would be based on passing through levels of proficiency over time at whatever one does. Not on some totally arbitrary and conveniently invented difference like hedge-fund manager versus nurse.

Four levels could be named something like apprentice, teacher, master-teacher, sage. The names are unimportant.

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Plume 08.07.14 at 9:19 pm

Stephen,

Yes, I can argue this consistently. Why? Because in the Soviet, Chinese, Cuban and North Korean systems there was no democracy. The people never owned the means of production, even through a proxy. In the system I’m suggesting, there isn’t even a proxy. “The state” doesn’t own the means of production. We do. Literally. There is no middleman between us and the state. There are no political parties, elections, permanent jobs in the bureaucracy.

We all do a four year stint in public service. My suggestion is that the first year is at the community level, then we go to the regional congresses, then the federal level, than back to our communities for our final year. Then we go home. Public service is finished.

Within all the production outlets, there is no permanent leadership, either. We rotate leadership councils, and operate with full democracy in place. No one has a fixed position of leadership within a business, community, region or nationally. All citizens rotate in and out of those positions.

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Plume 08.07.14 at 9:26 pm

Bernard,

On the part of you starting your own business. As with every system, there are tradeoffs. Currently, under capitalism, the trade off for a tiny fraction of society being able to become filthy rich is that the vast majority of people won’t ever even break free from five-figure incomes. Roughly 85% of the population will never go beyond five figures, while 1% averages more than a million and 0.01% averages more than 30 million. And this is in the richest economy on the planet, and even here, capitalism works for a tiny portion of society. Hell, the median wage is roughly just 27K for an individual. A bit over 50K for a “household.”

So we’ve organized society in such a way that a tiny portion can get obscenely rich and live like pashas, in exchange for the vast majority doing no better than middling, and some 15% living in squalor.

To me, that’s far too high a price to pay to please a tiny group of people who want to start their own businesses and make their fortune. Instead of putting business owners first, as we’ve always done, we need to put the vast majority of the nation first.

Logical, wouldn’t you say? The needs of the many should come before the personal pursuit of wealth for the few.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.07.14 at 10:34 pm

Plume,

So your answer is, “No. People would not be able to start their own businesses.”

You might note that most small businesses do not become Google or Apple. The owners do not become filthy rich, though they often make a comfortable living from running a hardware store or restaurant.

Apparently that offends your sense of morality. For all the complaining about workers being wage slaves you are perfectly happy to enslave them to the whims of your collective. We know where that leads, and I’d prefer we not step in that direction.

You defend that on the grounds that your system will provide lots of whatever is needed for anyone, and we’ll all retire comfortably at 60. Bosh. There is zero reason to believe that, and no one with an ounce of common sense will do so.

The fact is that any economic system must allocate labor. It’s part of the definition of what an economic system does. If you propose to do it in a way that does not respect the wishes of the worker you are a tyrant. And make no mistake, that is exactly what your system implies. Can you really believe that collectively (which means politically) set production goals can be met without telling workers where they have to work, and what their assigned tasks are – even those who would prefer to be poets?

Hard to fathom.

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mattski 08.07.14 at 11:56 pm

I can imagine a utopian world, therefore
My imagined world is realistic
If you don’t agree
You are wrong, unimaginative and lacking a moral compass

Wa-lah!

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J Thomas 08.08.14 at 12:01 am

Bernard, you are arguing with Plume as if you think he has a coherent position.

I think his complaints about capitalism have some merit. But when he talks about what to do instead, it looks to me like he mostly strings some words around and believes he has solved the problems. You can’t expect to get very far arguing with him because he has no concept of what an argument in favor of a superficial description of an entirely hypothetical economic system would look like.

If he would write computer programs that would simulate pieces of his economic system, and show how they fit together, and maybe eventually fit them all together into one big system, then it would be easier to understand what he’s saying. Assuming that he in fact has a coherent model in mind.

As it is, he takes a problem with capitalism, asserts it would not happen with his system, writes a little word salad that describes his system working without the problem, and goes on from there. You can’t argue with it because there’s basicly nothing there to argue about.

When you think you have a gotcha that will keep his system from working, you are likely wrong. A system that fits his description could have things that get around whatever problem you describe. It could have something that fills the needs that money fills, better than the way we do it. He hasn’t described how that would work, but it could happen without his description. There could be a way for new businesses to be created, and if they don’t work out to be dissolved. There could be incentives for innovation that still allow an egalitarian economy.

When you describe something you think capitalism does well that you think socialism can not do, you are describing something that a socialist system might need a social innovation to handle. We can’t say that it’s impossible, unless we know about every social innovation that socialist systems are capable of. So it’s hard to prove that it can’t work. But Plume’s descriptions so far shouldn’t give much confidence that he knows how it would work. And that’s potentially OK too. If people try to fit into a socialist system and they make unconscious adaptations, without really noticing what they do and maybe with wrong explanations why it works, they could still have a working system. Lots of capitalist explanations why our system works as well as it does are completely bogus, but the system still mostly works.

If we had to understand the system before it could work, we’d be in a sorry mess! But luckily, all we have to do is fit in and play our parts, and it can work without anybody understanding it.

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mattski 08.08.14 at 2:09 am

J Thomas,

When you think you have a gotcha that will keep his system from working, you are likely wrong. A system that fits his description could have things that get around whatever problem you describe. It could have something that fills the needs that money fills, better than the way we do it. He hasn’t described how that would work, but it could happen without his description. There could be a way for new businesses to be created, and if they don’t work out to be dissolved. There could be incentives for innovation that still allow an egalitarian economy.

If by “egalitarian economy” you mean something like a Scandinavian welfare state then sure & fine. Otoh, there could be a pony somewhere nearby.

**When you pack 1 “likely” and 5 “coulds” into six sentences you’re no slouch at word salad yourself. (!)

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ZM 08.08.14 at 2:11 am

1″If I work for a company that makes shoes, I am not necessarily going to have any great ideas how to do this in a more environmentally sustainable way.
2 Even if I do, if that hurts the bottom line of the company, and I am part owner of the company, I have an incentive not to do it.
3Larger-scale decisions beyond my own interests belong in the political and social realm.”

1. I don’t work for a shoe company, but off the top of my head I can think of needing harder wearing soles, more professional or backyard cobblers to keep existing shoes in life longer (my grandfather worked for a bank but cobbled his family’s shoes out of work hours to keep them in use longer), recyclable components, and if the components come to the end of their usability and recyclability they should be biodegradable without emitting greenhouse gasses or taking too long to break down. Also people only need a very small number of shoes at any one time in their lives, not all sorts of ones in different colours etc to go with outfits etc – just a small reasonable number of long lasting hard wearing shoes.

2. These reforms are likely to affect the bottom line of your shoe making company – nevertheless because we do not wish and ought not to inflict great climate disasters and extinctions etc shoe making companies should be reformed (some one with expertise is likely to have better more complicated suggestions than my off the top of my head ones – I talked to someone about whether we could recycle metals indefinitely – they said one problem (apart from rust when metal is not cared for appropriately) is the metals do not list their elemental ingredients on the outside and if you mix all sorts of steel for instance you can end up with Pig Iron – that was the nickname of our Prime Minister Menzies – so you need their ingredients listed and to recycle the ones with the same ingredients together for the same type of use as their previous use)

3. The problems are economical as well as social and political – so they need to be addresses in all relevant realms.

4. “This idea of having a vote among many in your company as a way of saving the world: which company do I work for that is going to save the world, and how do I get them to listen to me with my one little vote?”

4. In your sustainable shoe making venture you could have deliberations and a consensus reaching process instead of a vote – then your voice should be heard ? if you do not know shoe engineering yourself as a recently commenced member of the venture you could ask the company’s existing shoe engineers your questions about sustainable shoe engineering. Also your company could go back to the days of guilds and mechanic’s libraries and schools – so you could enter the shoe making company at the very lowest level as a humble apprentice but through your studies at your venture’s mechanic’s library and school you would learn all about sustainable shoe engineering and eventually be a master of it yourself.

I think you would need an economy more community and people based than currently to become sustainable in a way people could be happy/ok with.

Our unsustainable economy means people can try to enter as competitors through using more resources with their own twist/lower cost – but this is allowed because we now allow and encourage a great overproduction of things that is not at all sustainable. If we limit production and consumption to being sustainable as we should – then people would have a much harder time trying to enter as competitors – therefore there would be very little mobility in a sustainable capitalist model and it would likely also be very unequal because the people who held the capital when we put the sustainability limits in place would retain capital and no-one could compete because that would be unsustainable.

It would be like trying to keep playing Monopoly after some one has obviously won and can no longer be beaten, but you gave to go round and round the board just the same ad infinito.

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J Thomas 08.08.14 at 2:38 am

#311 Mattski

When you pack 1 “likely” and 5 “coulds” into six sentences you’re no slouch at word salad yourself.

I don’t claim I know the one way things inevitably have to go. I do claim that nobody else knows either. We don’t have one single capitalist system and there isn’t one single hypothetical socialist system that could compete with it.

Usually it doesn’t work to argue from first principles because people are so good at finding workarounds.

People who think they know the one way that capitalism or socialism have to work are fooling themselves. They don’t know what they are talking about.

So when I talk about how something will work in the future I am limited to “coulds” and “maybe” and “likelys”. Because I don’t know any more than you do.

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Bruce Wilder 08.08.14 at 3:35 am

J Thomas:

If people try to fit into a socialist system and they make unconscious adaptations, without really noticing what they do and maybe with wrong explanations why it works, they could still have a working system. Lots of capitalist explanations why our system works as well as it does are completely bogus, but the system still mostly works. . . . If we had to understand the system before it could work, we’d be in a sorry mess! But luckily, all we have to do is fit in and play our parts, and it can work without anybody understanding it.

I don’t know that there’s really this definite “thing” called capitalism, or a definite thing called socialism. Like mattski, I feel it seems like a lot of word salad at times, and simply denial and wishful thinking at others.

Meanwhile, there’s the world at is, and the problems of humans and human political economy, imperfectly understood and imperfectly solved. Overthrowing “capitalism” is offered as a blanket solution, as if we could pull “socialism” off a shelf, and then it would be completely different. And, better.

It is kind of exasperating, though no less exasperating in its way than the complacency of those, who think that we can always just muddle through, somehow. And, I guess we do muddle through, until we don’t, and, then, what does it matter?

We don’t know everything. We don’t know enough to usher in utopian socialism. But, we do know enough to do better.

Some architectural mistakes, once made, can not be overcome. I think Plume is at his best, when he comes close to pointing at some of these fundamental problems in the architecture of political economy.

Incomes for the powerful, which have no limits, no ceiling, are clearly not workable. Not in theory and not in practice. Whether we enact ceilings tied to the base income of the lowest paid employee, or we enact high marginal tax rates for the most highly paid is detail. The important point is that an open-ended, money incentive drives people to do all kinds of socially-destructive, expedient, ruthless behavior. To create positions of power and responsibility, where an executive can make enough to live well for several lifetimes in the course of a couple of good years, is to invite the creation of tournaments for executive promotion that only a psychopath can win, and then to encourage incumbents to behave ruthlessly in getting while the getting is good — to lie, cheat and steal, to get that bonus. It’s crazy to design an economy to revolve around such a principle.

You can argue that that’s capitalism, and we have to overthrow “the whole thing”, or you can argue that we have to reform executive pay, to save capitalism from itself. Regardless, to have a decent society, we have to find ways to guard the guardians. As always. In every political economy, however labeled.

My point is that, though we don’t know everything, and we may depend, dynamically, on improvisation and inventiveness and innovation, and incremental adjustment, there are principles of architecture that ought to matter to us. The post is titled, Capitalism and Slavery. Slavery is an architectural principle, which a minimally aware enlightened self-interest ought to reject with an emphatic confidence, moral and pragmatic.

It really shouldn’t require genius to see that we can not allow people in the most powerful leadership positions incomes limited only by their own ruthless greed and expedience. If the president of some corporation can earn a multi-million dollar bonus by cooking the books or dumping toxic waste or breaking a union, she will do it. And, if we set up promotion tournaments for such positions, which only a psychopath can win, we will get psychopaths in the C-suite.

It is when he’s pointing out the absurdity of paying the Chief Executive whatever he can extract, up to and beyond 400x what an ordinary worker earns, that I think Plume is at his strongest. I don’t follow his call to overthrow capitalism, per se, because I don’t see that capitalism is a well-defined thing, distinct and wholly apart from human nature. But, every society has to find ways to constrain its elite, to guard the guardians. And, we ain’t doin’ it.

Some architectural principles just don’t wash. There’s no point in going forward, if you are going to concede them, because they just poison whatever follows. It cannot work. For-profit health insurance is absurd, for example. The Euro is seriously defective. A financial system, where no powerful crook ever goes to jail is not a financial system that will work well, no matter how clever the other, watered-down reforms that change nothing, may be.

mattski complains that the left frequently looks like loons. I don’t disagree. But, the greater weakness on the left is simply weakness. We have formless ideals, where we should have principles and some conviction that some of those principles actually matter.

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Plume 08.08.14 at 4:25 am

Bruce @314,

That’s well said. I think we see a lot of the same problems with the current system. We disagree regarding possible solutions, though I sense you are searching for answers, too, like me. It’s an ongoing journey for me, and I constantly learn knew things along the way. I keep studying, observing, thinking about how things would be better, hashing out different ideas, knowing I won’t be around to see that better day.

What truly puzzles me, however, is the anger the suggestion of alternatives seems to produce in some. Especially in a society where capitalism is totally dominant, in a world where it is the clear and overwhelming victor, with no likely challenger, anywhere. It sits on top of the mountain. What is there to fear from the idea of alternatives — especially on an Internet bulletin board?

Again, well said response from you.

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J Thomas 08.08.14 at 10:27 am

Bruce, thank you. That was coherent. I agree with you and with Plume about all of it.

I got an idea how to say something from it.

Even though nobody understands the details of how things work now, and probably nobody will understand the details of any future system that works well enough to maintain itself, we can have design principles that we agree should be followed, for moral reasons. First we have the principles, and then we find a system that can work with those principles.

We have agreed that slavery is bad and should not be allowed. There was a time when people thought that the system required slavery. The textile mills had to have a whole lot of cotton, slavery produced the cotton, and there was no way to produce that much cotton without slavery. You couldn’t make people do the kinds of things it took, unless they were slaves.

But when we got rid of slavery, it turned out that other ways worked even better. Sharecropping produced lots of cotton, and sharecroppers were not slaves. They worked themselves as hard as they needed to, with no overseers and no whips. Nobody was legally responsible for them except themselves, nobody told them when to get up in the morning, the mere threat of starvation was all it took.

By eliminating slavery we got a better system with more freedom, that actually worked people harder and with far less overhead.

It may turn out similarly with wage slavery. Wage slavery has gotten encrusted with regulations telling people how they have to treat their wage-slaves. I’ve read that in some cases you need one wage-slave just to track the federal paperwork to handle three others, though in the one example where I actually saw it working, it was one in eight and they took care of payroll and other internal matters too.

If we could get rid of wage-slavery the way we got rid of slavery, make everybody independent contractors, we would get rid of all that regulation, get rid of a whole lot of overhead, and the contractors could take care of a lot of the paperwork themselves. More freedom all round. Do we really need employees at all? If every single person was an independent business owner, we could eliminate one of the class distinctions.

I don’t know that we want to eliminate wage-slavery the way we eliminated slavery. But it’s a moral issue that we can handle on moral grounds, we don’t have to decide ahead of time all the details of an alternate system and prove that it would work. If wage slavery is wrong the way slavery is wrong, then we should get rid of it and shut down any industries that can’t work without it. Chances are, they will all work just fine.

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J Thomas 08.08.14 at 10:54 am

What truly puzzles me, however, is the anger the suggestion of alternatives seems to produce in some. Especially in a society where capitalism is totally dominant, in a world where it is the clear and overwhelming victor, with no likely challenger, anywhere. It sits on top of the mountain. What is there to fear from the idea of alternatives — especially on an Internet bulletin board?

I think I can say some of what bothers people.

First, you talk about important problems with the current system. That’s fine. (Though lots of people don’t want to hear it. Since they believe there’s no alternative they want to believe that the current problems aren’t important or they’ll fix themselves.)

Second, you say you have an alternative which will work. But you can’t answer their objections to your proposal (to their satisfaction). It sounds to them like you don’t understand why it won’t work.

And you want to eliminate everything except your alternative. That really freaks out a lot of people. No freedom at all, no alternative to your alternative. If it doesn’t work will you start killing the people you think are responsible for sabotaging it? That happened in the USSR in the early days. For various reasons things weren’t working well at first, and there was a big campaign to hunt down the “spies and wreckers” that they claimed were intentionally keeping it from working. A bunch of people got killed, including some of the socialists who got the system started in the first place. It eventually settled into “purges” where people got arrested if somebody who was already arrested implicated them, perhaps under torture.

I think it might be better to argue it from a moral position. What you object to, is morally wrong. We must get rid of it because it is wrong. Like, when we got rid of slavery we didn’t let people say “But we need alternatives to freedom, we have to have serfs or indentured servants or condemned criminals to replace slaves, you can’t just make everybody be free.” We said all the slaves would be freed, and we freed them all. It was at the same time a restriction on freedom — when you lose the right to own slaves your freedom has been restricted some — but it was worth it.

So you don’t have to say exactly how the new system will work. You can argue that some particular component of the economy is wrong and must be stopped. People say “But we need alternatives to your system” and you respond “There are lots of alternatives that follow this moral law. Alternatives that don’t follow it are immoral and will not be allowed.”

I’ll try a couple.

When you do the work and somebody else gets most of the profits. that’s a kind of theft and should be illegal and also scandalous. That’s pretty plain, but it can probably be improved on. Some people will disagree just like some people used to argue that it’s right and proper that some of us should wake up in the morning when a man with a whip decides to wake them up. This time maybe some of the complaints will be right, because I’m not sure this is said the right way.

Society must take care of everybody’s basic needs. That’s pretty plain too. What if society can’t do that? Then the system has broken down and people will suffer and probably die. Nobody ought to want that.

If you make the argument along these lines some people will say you are morally wrong. But then they already say that.

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mattski 08.08.14 at 3:42 pm

Bruce,

That was very well done. I think you kind of got us all on the same page!

My belief is in transparency & debate. Let’s push for more disclosure as a general principle throughout our economy & society. Let’s encourage debate based on increasingly open information as to who is making what $ and how are they making it. Human beings have strengths and weaknesses. We have selfishness, we have fears, but we also have consciences–an innate sense of fairness–which flourishes best when the facts are visible.

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Brett Bellmore 08.08.14 at 4:24 pm

“If there is some mysterious figure who does do consistently better than average, but he is not a fund manager, who is he?”

He’s probably a politician. The only group in society who consistently outperform the market to a signficant degree. Of course, some say that’s just a combinantion of insider trading and money laundering disguised as stock trading…

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Plume 08.08.14 at 5:12 pm

J Thomas @317,

No. I in no way want to “eliminate everything but my alternative.” I keep repeating how this would be full democracy, in reality, not via proxies, with no ruling class, on the way to no classes, period, as the goal. The workplace would be a democracy. Society would be a democracy. In truth, not just rhetorically. My suggestion is just to establish a foundation for that. If my ideas are voted out, so be it. They probably would be.

The thing is, I just don’t see that there is any way around the fact that capitalism is innately anti-democratic and autocratic, from the getgo, that is naturally concentrates wealth and power at the top. So how do you establish true democracy when the economic system in place is against democracy? Doesn’t it make more sense to use an economic engine that is itself “democratic”? Doesn’t it make more sense to use an economic engine that doesn’t require so many checks on its natural tendency toward the concentration of wealth and power in a few hands?

As a metaphor: Capitalism is like cigarettes. Conservatives and propertarians want to smoke those cigarettes straight up, without filters. Liberals want to put filters on those cigarettes to mitigate for some of the most harmful effects.

Those of us who are leftist, anticapitalists think it just makes a lot more sense to get rid of the cigarettes entirely.

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Plume 08.08.14 at 5:32 pm

A final word on some of the logistics, then I’m gonna drop the whole thing and take a break from CT for a goodly bit of time.

In the system I suggest, everyone would get those points, a “salary,” for work done. Merchants, too. They would be workers just like everyone else. So the prices for items they charge aren’t where they derive their compensation. Those prices don’t have to contain their business costs, their own compensation, and any additional profits. As salaried workers in this alternative, there is zero linkage between the prices for merchandise and their compensation. No “money” has to circulate throughout the economy, so pricing and wages aren’t subject to the same kinds of pressures and fluctuations. Funding for everything is a separate stream from those prices and wages and comes from those central pools we all own in common.

IOW, the flow of funding is from the pool to the worker, from the pool to the community, region and nation. It’s not circulatory — though it is accounted for. It’s independent, sectioned off and unlimited. Again, prices are just ways to achieve balance with wages. Prices and wages are meant to match up so everyone has what they need.

In the capitalist system, prices and wages are set by bosses/business owners/business interests in order to maximize compensation and profits for those bosses, etc. They aren’t set up to make sure everyone has what they need. They aren’t set up to make sure workers do fine. They’re set up to maximize wealth and profits for business owners.

My alternative — and others like it — changes the economy from “business-owner-centric” to “citizen-centric.” Everything is done to maximize quality of life for every citizen, as opposed to the previous focus on wealth and power concentration in a few hands at the top, etc. etc.

Take care, all.

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Niall McAuley 08.08.14 at 5:45 pm

Plume writes: Those of us who are leftist, anticapitalists think it just makes a lot more sense to get rid of the cigarettes entirely.

If your utopia ever comes about, we’ll need those cigarettes for currency.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.08.14 at 6:02 pm

J Thomas,

If we could get rid of wage-slavery the way we got rid of slavery, make everybody independent contractors, we would get rid of all that regulation, get rid of a whole lot of overhead, and the contractors could take care of a lot of the paperwork themselves. More freedom all round. Do we really need employees at all? If every single person was an independent business owner, we could eliminate one of the class distinctions.

I do not think the use of the term “wage-slavery” to describe normal employment is helpful or accurate, Marx notwithstanding.

First, what makes you think everyone wants to be an independent contractor and deal with the risk and yes, paperwork, that implies? There are those – plenty of them – who prefer a steady paycheck to all that uncertainty. They are not choosing slavery, simply less risk.

Second, how does an independent contractor differ from an employee in your notion? Why would such a contractor be able to command higher pay than the employee, and what would be the terms of the contract? If I run a factory and need 100 assembly line workers I am going to offer a standard, largely identical, contract to those willing to do the work. It would be ludicrous to do otherwise. Wherein lies the difference between that and having employees who work under standard terms?

Third, why does that get rid of the regulations? Why should it? Take, for example, worker safety rules. One good justification for such rules is that workers, or contractors, are often unable to determine for themselves whether the workplace is safe. Checked the wiring in your building lately? Are the emergency exits blocked right now? Another is anti-discrimination law. Does that go away in your independent contractor universe?

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J Thomas 08.08.14 at 6:32 pm

First, what makes you think everyone wants to be an independent contractor and deal with the risk and yes, paperwork, that implies? There are those – plenty of them – who prefer a steady paycheck to all that uncertainty. They are not choosing slavery, simply less risk.

Less perceived risk. If they get fired and find that they must now compete with younger workers for entry-level positions, they will find out about the risks they had conveniently ignored.

Most of the special advantages of employment are legislated. Social security, workplace safety, etc. Imagine that back in the old days we had legislated benefits for slavery. When your slave gets old you have to give him less work and still full housing and food and medical care etc. You can’t just sell him down the river for whatever you can get. Then it might easily turn out that a lot of people prefer slavery to the risks of freedom. But that doesn’t make it right.

Second, how does an independent contractor differ from an employee in your notion?

He would be free and not a wage slave. Duh. Wage slavery is immoral.

Why would such a contractor be able to command higher pay than the employee, and what would be the terms of the contract?

He might not get more pay. Why should he? Very often sharecroppers did not eat as well as slaves had. The details of each contract would depend on the contract. If you are an independent contractor and you see a contract you don’t like, then don’t sign it.

Third, why does that get rid of the regulations? Why should it?

When we got rid of slavery, a whole lot of laws etc just no longer applied. All the laws about what to do with an escaped slave etc, just stopped being enforced. Gone. If there are no more employees then all the laws and regulations that regulate employees will no longer be in force.

Take, for example, worker safety rules. One good justification for such rules is that workers, or contractors, are often unable to determine for themselves whether the workplace is safe.

We certainly don’t want unsafe workplaces. How do we keep that from happening?

It would be a cultural thing. There are various approaches to make sure that workplaces are usually relatively safe. Like, if you have insurance for that, the insurance company has an interest in making sure your building is safe etc. If contractors working in your workplace can sue for injuries, and their relatives can sue for death, that’s an incentive. To the extent that current laws only cover employees we could get new laws. Do whatever works, whatever fits the culture.

I don’t have to work out ahead of time everything about all the alternatives. If wage-slavery is wrong, then we should quit doing it and we will then do whatever else we can find that works.

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Ze Kraggash 08.08.14 at 7:30 pm

J Thomas, you’ve been writing good stuff lately. A lot of irony.

Anyhow: independent contractor. You’re thinking in liberal-individualistic terms again. How about this: there will be ‘artels’, coops, independent unions. They will be non-hierarchical, and they will be dispatching workers to whatever employers need them today, whatever skills they need, whatever hours. No sophisticated contracts necessary, COD. Sort of like undocumented Mexicans on the homedepot parking lot, same idea.

Suppose you want to work tomorrow, so you call your coop: — do you have anything for me for tomorrow? — eh, let me check… yeah, we need someone to fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, and criticize after dinner. Are you game? — oh, all right, sign me up.

This is how it’s gonna be.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.08.14 at 8:01 pm

Q: Second, how does an independent contractor differ from an employee in your notion?

A: He would be free and not a wage slave. Duh. Wage slavery is immoral.

Duh yourself. This is no answer at all. It’s as incoherent as Plume’s comments.

Employees are no less free to resign and seek other employment than a independent contractor is to terminate a contract. If you are utterly committed to the idea that an employee is a slave then I guess we have little to talk about.

I don’t have to work out ahead of time everything about all the alternatives. If wage-slavery is wrong, then we should quit doing it and we will then do whatever else we can find that works.

No. But you should have some practical suggestions.

The fact is that huge numbers of people work as employees of various enterprises large and small. A great many of them are quite content. Now, maybe they are all stupid and blind and need the likes of you and Plume to show them the Truth. But I don’t think so. In fact, some of them, dare I say it, are as bright as you are.

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J Thomas 08.08.14 at 8:41 pm

#326 Bernard Yomtov

The fact is that huge numbers of people work as employees of various enterprises large and small. A great many of them are quite content.

Where have I heard that before? Oh, I remember. There used to be huge numbers of slaves, and a great many of them were perfectly happy with their status. They were scared and uncertain to be freed, and rightly so as it turned out.

But that didn’t make it wrong to free them.

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mattski 08.08.14 at 9:25 pm

The fact is that huge numbers of people work as employees of various enterprises large and small. A great many of them are quite content.

Not only content. Oftentimes affluent, quite affluent, as well.

J Thomas, I agree with Bernard Yomtov you have a tendency sometimes to lapse into incoherence.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.08.14 at 9:45 pm

J Thomas,

So you do think all employees everywhere need you and Plume to educate them as to the misery of their condition, and the glories that await if they sign up with a collective operated on an insane economic system.

I note for the record that you still have not answered the question as to how your contractors would differ in any material way from employees, other than to shout, “slavery!!” a few more times.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.08.14 at 10:07 pm

And speaking of slavery, let’s go back to Plume’s wondrous system of paying everyone some amount determined by the collective.

That seems to suggest that if someone wants to pay me more for some task I am not allowed to accept the offer, or am required to work for what the majority party thinks is fair.

That sounds a lot more like slavery to me than the usual employment arrangements in modern societies.

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J Thomas 08.08.14 at 10:56 pm

#329, Bernard Yomtov

I note for the record that you still have not answered the question as to how your contractors would differ in any material way from employees, other than to shout, “slavery!!” a few more times.

You want to argue that employees are the same as contractors? I don’t know what to say to you.

Have you done both? Have you noticed any difference?

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The Temporary Name 08.08.14 at 11:40 pm

It would be a cultural thing. There are various approaches to make sure that workplaces are usually relatively safe. Like, if you have insurance for that, the insurance company has an interest in making sure your building is safe etc. If contractors working in your workplace can sue for injuries, and their relatives can sue for death, that’s an incentive. To the extent that current laws only cover employees we could get new laws. Do whatever works, whatever fits the culture.

This is extraordinarily dense. Being able to sue after you, for instance, die is not a real substitute for regulation.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.09.14 at 12:01 am

J Thomas,

Actually, I have done both.

Yes, there are some differences in procedures and whatnot, but for the issues you raise there was none. I received approximately equivalent compensation, all things considered, did the same sort of work, and was free to take my talents elsewhere.

So enlighten me. You still haven’t said what you see as the big differences. I’m beginning to think you have no response and prefer to just blow smoke about the whole thing.

That you don’t know what to say to me is unsurprising.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.09.14 at 12:15 am

Sorry to post twice in a row but soemthing else just occured to me.

As a an employee I was in fact freer than as a contractor.

When I was a contractor I agreed to carry certain projects to completion, and was presumably liable to lawsuits and the like, not to mention not being paid, if I failed to meet that obligation.

When I was an employee – wage slave or not – I was under no such obligation. If I chose to resign and go elsewhere, or pursue a career as a musician or painter, there was nothing to stop me (aside from lack of talent, of course).

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ZM 08.09.14 at 12:22 am

J Thomas, Bernard Yomtov,

“Q: Second, how does an independent contractor differ from an employee in your notion?

A: He would be free and not a wage slave. Duh. Wage slavery is immoral.

Duh yourself. This is no answer at all. It’s as incoherent as Plume’s comments.

Employees are no less free to resign and seek other employment than a independent contractor is to terminate a contract. If you are utterly committed to the idea that an employee is a slave then I guess we have little to talk about.”

This discussion sort of mirrors the enclosures and displacement of tenured peasants in England. Tenured peasants had lower status than kings, lordly types, guilds men and yeoman farmers. Various people for different sorts of reasons found the social arrangements wrong/not in their interests etc.

But what happened was tenured peasantry was done away with – but their land was taken away by the enclosures too, and they didn’t all become guilds men and yeomen farmers – so they had to work for the new/growing property owning class in their textile mills etc , move to cities etc – then they got called ‘the masses’ instead of peasants and still had lower status even though they were not tenured – the conditions were very bad and they had to work extra long hours etc so eventually they organised and joined associations/unions like the guilds men and agitated for the right to vote and so forth.

The Liberal Party in Australia always wants to make workers here ‘independent contractors’ – this is mostly so they can do away with the unions (who are their traditional enemies) (and also likely lower conditions and pay and so forth) rather than as some sort of alternative to capitalism.

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J Thomas 08.09.14 at 1:06 am

This is extraordinarily dense. Being able to sue after you, for instance, die is not a real substitute for regulation.

No, and MAD is not a substitute for getting nuked. But in theory it can help prevent you from getting nuked.

(In practice, nobody has gotten nuked for 70 years whether they had MAD or not. So it’s complicated.)

Nobody wants industrial accidents, not owners or managers or anybody. (Well, insurance scammers maybe.) If we get the word out about how accidents happen then everybody involved will try to avoid them, if they believe it. Problems come when managers simply don’t believe they need to do what the experts think they need to do, or when they don’t get the word. Both problems are palliated by inspection by professionals who know how to avoid accidents, and the first problem is palliated further by laws and arrest ability by inspectors, so that managers have no choice but to obey.

Managers who don’t believe particular sorts of accidents happen, are also swayed by the prospect of lawsuits. When they hear about it happening to somebody else, that affects them.

All part of getting the word out and getting people to pay attention to it.

Depending on the culture, other methods may be more effective.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.09.14 at 1:12 am

J Thomas,

For one who raves about the morality of employment arrangements you seem awfully willing to consign industrial accidents to economic logic.

The issue is not what managers want, but rather their incentives. If the expected costs of an accident are less than the costs of prevention then managers, in the absence of legal requirements, will not take preventive steps.

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J Thomas 08.09.14 at 1:47 am

The issue is not what managers want, but rather their incentives. If the expected costs of an accident are less than the costs of prevention then managers, in the absence of legal requirements, will not take preventive steps.

And also they pay for the accident only if the accident happens, while they pay for the prevention ahead of time, regardless.

So if courts tend to decide that the penalty for an accident is lower than the cost of prevention divided by the assumed reduced probability of the accident, then it is not even rational for managers to pay that expense.

It’s only natural that whenever there’s an accident we figure out something that should have prevented it and require everybody to do it that way. But some of our ideas are not cost-effective and some are even bad. Something that’s supposed to prevent one kind of accident might not work and also occasionally cause another kind.

So it would be better to require a random sample of businesses to try out a new method, and not allow the rest to try it, until we actually find out whether it’s an improvement.

But we don’t do it that way because safety is not actually a high priority.

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ZM 08.09.14 at 2:15 am

Well, people from Australua who work in mining and go to the US to work – upon return say that the US safety and environmental regulations for mining are much less extensive and permit more risk and damage than in Australia. I have also heard the same about x-ray related work (I gave forgotten the name for this).

I would think this is likely because we have more unions and a labour party – but there are probably other explanations as well? But it would not be because we sue more in Australia – because people sue more in the US – but you still have fewer safety regulations.

Singapore has a even greater number of regulations – but I don’t believe this has anything to do with Singaporeans suing an outlandish amount compared to Americans.

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J Thomas 08.09.14 at 2:25 am

Well, people from Australua who work in mining and go to the US to work – upon return say that the US safety and environmental regulations for mining are much less extensive and permit more risk and damage than in Australia.

Some years ago I talked with a coal mining safety officer. He was pretty demoralized about his job, because the miners resented him and were not afraid to show it. They refused to wear respirators and they tore down the dividers he was supposed to keep up. They didn’t want to have to put up with things that intefered with doing their work.

They felt like they were special. They did dirty dangerous work for high pay, and they did not mind the idea that they would get black lung and die in pain earlier than necessary.

The iron workers I went caving with had similar ideas. They did not want to use safety equipment. They wanted to walk across girders 50 feet in the air with no safeties, and a few of them died every year, and the danger made them special.

I don’t know that this is relevant, but if the Australian miners are less macho than the American ones, they might want more safety regulation.

That doesn’t explain the environmental stuff at all. There’s probably something about America that affects both of them.

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Harold 08.09.14 at 2:45 am

Well, they may be macho, but unionized mines have a far better safety record than non-union ones because of union insistance on safety features.

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J Thomas 08.09.14 at 2:58 am

Harold, that makes sense in this context. You can be macho and say you can take it. Or you can be even more macho and say that you’re going to force the mine owners to do things your way.

There might be some other way to look at it which fits even better, though.

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ZM 08.09.14 at 9:46 am

Pete Seeger did have a song about it being more manly to join a union – I am not sure if anyone ever studied if perceptions of unions as manly encourages membership amongst men? But I think this approach is maybe problematic in encouraging women and gender queer people to join unions as well. Maybe if it was manly in a village people way it could appeal to everyone (just about everyone likes the village people, right?).

J Thomas,

I am not very convinced of your personal communication with a safety officer. Two miners died in the Brody coal mine in Wharton in May this year, owned by Patriot Coal which apparently violates safety regulations quite regularly. Apparently some people blamed the miners in the mine, despite the company’s past violations:

“YOUNG: Well coal outburst, now the last mine accident before this one in West Virginia was at the Upper Big Branch Mine 2010. People remember, just a terrible story, 29 miners killed in an explosion there. And after that, the Obama administration ordered stepped-up enforcement, and that led to many of the violations we mentioned. At the Brody mine, 250 found just last year, after that stepped-up enforcement. So what kind of violations did they have?

VOORHEES: Well, it seems that there are many. Let me go through them for you. The non-fatal days lost, that is the measure of injuries that resulted in lost work time for 2013, was three times higher than the national average. MSHA shows that $3.2 million in unpaid penalties for this mine for 2013. Now these are not delinquent fines because the company is in bankruptcy, and many of the fines are not yet final due to challenges.

The company had challenged the status of violations, and they were challenging it to MSHA’s review commission, and oral arguments in that case are scheduled at the commission on May 22. So there was a pattern of violations.

YOUNG: Right, and that’s the answer to the question many may have. If they had these violations, why weren’t they immediately fixed? Well, it could be because they’re appealing some of them. And you also mention a bankruptcy. Are they still running the mine while in bankruptcy?

VOORHEES: Yes, yes, they are running the mine while in bankruptcy. But this mine has had eight roof falls with seven resulting injuries since January 2013. It had 192 significant and substantial safety violations in the last 12 months. It had 19 closure orders due to conditions that threatened the health and safety of miners in the last 12 months.

It’s safe to say that when investigations begin, they’re going to look at those closure orders and say why wasn’t this mine closed?

YOUNG: And who will be responsible? Is it a federal issue? Is it a state issue? Is the company alone, Patriot Coal, supposed to do that?

VOORHEES: That was an issue after the Upper Big Branch disaster: Who exactly has the authority to say this mine is unsafe and should not be operating? Is it the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration? Is it the state Mine Health and Safety Office? We – there are – well, there is even, you know, putting it on the miners themselves. Are they safe enough that they feel that they can be whistle-blowers to walk out of that mine and not walk back in until they say it’s safe?

It’s still a gray area here that I think we have to figure out.

YOUNG: Well, putting it on the miners who might rely on the work, that sounds tough. But on the other hand, their lives are on the line, as we see. You’re in Charleston. That’s about 50 miles north of Wharton. But do you have a sense of how people there are reacting, especially given all these violations?”
http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2014/05/13/coal-miners-wv

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J Thomas 08.09.14 at 12:54 pm

I am not very convinced of your personal communication with a safety officer.

ZM, that conversation did happen. It is anecdotal evidence. I got it second hand and when I tell you that makes it third hand.

I think it might point to something real that goes beyond that one person’s experience, but I can’t argue from it just how real that general tendency is.

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ZM 08.09.14 at 1:03 pm

Sorry , I didn’t mean I didn’t believe you had the conversation – but that maybe the safety officer wasn’t a very good judge of things. Also he may not have been good at talking to workers/management and maybe this impacted on his ability to work and negotiate with management and workers to improve their safety etc, and to enforce regulations successfully so companies are compliant and people don’t die in mines as above. Or he may have been new to a career in OH&S and uncertain in what to do. It is hard to know without knowing more about the circumstances.

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J Thomas 08.09.14 at 2:04 pm

Yes, his experience was that he was supposed to enforce safety rules and that miners resented him and complained bitterly. There could be various reasons for that. If miners were allowed to get more money by better results, they might object to safety precautions that slowed them down — which his did. I tend to believe that in some times and places the workers themselves object to some safety rules, and maybe one reason for that is that they have bought into the glamor of working a dangerous job. I don’t want to say that’s the only reason for them to do that, or that they are the only reason for reduced safety.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.09.14 at 3:23 pm

J Thomas,

But we don’t do it that way because safety is not actually a high priority.

And it will be even less of one if we do away with regulations as you seem to want.

The lawsuit approach has many problems. One is possibility of the firm taking bankruptcy in case of a particularly bad accident. Then even financial compensation is not available. another is the delays and costs involved. An injured worker can’t wait forever to get paid, with lawyers taking a chunk of the settlement, one way or another. So he is in a particularly poor bargaining position and will often be forced to accept an inadequate settlement.

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J Thomas 08.09.14 at 5:15 pm

And it will be even less of one if we do away with regulations as you seem to want.

“Seem to want” is the important phrase there.

If we no longer have employers and employees, then all the laws about how employers and employees treat each other are obsolete. But we can make whatever new laws we want about contractors, or communes, or syndicalists, or visitors, or innocent bystanders, or anybody we want to make laws for.

We can have lawsuits if we want to.

The court of public opinion can tell careless people that they are bad, bad, bad and that might have some kind of effect on something.

We can do anything we want, that’s compatible with the culture. But if we collectively decide that just like slavery is evil and must be illegal that wage-slavery is also evil and must be illegal, then that will be one option not available, because it will not be compatible with the culture.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.09.14 at 10:07 pm

J Thomas,

I still await your explanation. I take it at this point that you have none.

Further, if a lot of people are gathered someplace to work the various hazards do not disappear if you call them independent contractors, or employees or anything else.

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J Thomas 08.09.14 at 10:33 pm

I still await your explanation. I take it at this point that you have none.

Further, if a lot of people are gathered someplace to work the various hazards do not disappear if you call them independent contractors, or employees or anything else.

Bernard, you have not made it at all clear what you need explained.

Of course work hazards do not disappear if you change your business from capitalism to anarchist-syndicalist or socialist or, well anything. If you want to change the hazards you must change the details of the way you perform the work. And in general you don’t find out whether the new approach is less hazardous until you do statistics across a large enough sample.

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Martin Bento 08.10.14 at 12:40 am

Keep in mind, Plume said no proxies: direct democracy for everything. That’s not Mondragon actually. I think he is not really picturing what this would mean, and so his utopia, even if it were viable, is not actually desirable. If you have ever worked for a large corporation and thought about what being directly involved in its governance, especially if said governance consisted of large group decisions (because everyone was involved), what that would mean, it would create a ton of work for you without necessarily resulting in better corporate governance. What’s funny is that he considers this a way to put the economy in the background – by making everyone get involved in every aspect of it. I’m not objecting to union representation on the board of directors – good idea! Or a more equitable distribution of stock among employees at companies like Oracle. Fine. But actually voting on everything? Major pain in the ass. Create that utopia, and people will overthrow it in a year. Which has been a problem with socialism – usually, people, including the workers, do not want it, at least not to the extent the radicals do. That’s why we now have a whole Marxist tradition explaining how brainwashed people are to not want what the radicals wanted them to want. If people do not even want your utopia, you need to change the utopia, not the people.

This is the use of utopian thinking. I agree with you, Bruce, that we’re not going to be able to simply plan the future, but we need to know where we want to go – we need a destination to fix a direction. We need to be able to picture it. And when we picture it, we must evaluate the image honestly, in terms of what we really want and how we really are, not what fits some set of normative priors. I think one of the serious errors of Marxism was turning people away from utopian thinking. But designing the utopia is only a first step. Then you have to look at it very critically.

More when I get time.

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Martin Bento 08.10.14 at 12:43 am

Oops, accidentally didn’t paste the beginning of my last comment. Meant to start with this:

I wrote:

“who the hell wants to run the company they work for?”

and J. Thomas replied:

“People who choose a king to run their nation for them, find their country is owned by a king.

People who choose elected representatives to replace the king tend to find their representatives act like they own the nation, and even sometimes draft them to fight the leaders’ wars.

The ultimate in this is selling yourself into slavery so you aren’t responsible for managing your own self.”

Think how many decisions large and small Barack Obama or any other President has to make in a week. You want to do all those by direct national referendum? Forget it. People have to get informed. They have to debate and deliberate. All these decisions you are giving them are work, and they will react to it as such. Even if they want to avoid all that work, which they will, they have to make the meta-decision of whether to participate in each case, and if few participate, which few will in most decisions, what is the point of broad participation that doesn’t actually occur?

Yes, selling yourself into slavery to simplify your life is ridiculous. But what is described above is also ridiculous. Sensible human arrangements live between these extremes.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.10.14 at 12:47 am

J Thomas,

Bernard, you have not made it at all clear what you need explained.

Actually, I’ve made it quite clear, repeatedly.

How do your “independent contractors” differ from ordinary employees (the people you mysteriously designate “wage slaves”) in any material sense. I’ve asked you and asked you, but you provide no answers.

And still you don’t, and I bet you won’t.

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ZM 08.10.14 at 1:00 am

J Thomas,

I am confused.

“If we no longer have employers and employees, then all the laws about how employers and employees treat each other are obsolete.”

But you are suggesting independent contractors. Is your entire population made up of independent contractors – and if so then where do they go to to get the contracts they need?

If they are not all 100% independent contractors – then you still have the split between people who tender for contracts, and people who ask for tenders and award contracts. So there would be a power imbalance and I think you would need regulations – don’t you think?

I would also like to point out you have too simplified a view about kings being chosen all of a sudden and then owning all the land – kings have lots of advisors and councillors and judges and KCs and duties and obligations and people have various channels to go through to get a fair hearing etc. Also – the land is crown land – not the king’s personal property (the Queen might have some personal castles I think (owned by the family rather than the title) but I can’t remember which and maybe I’m wrong?…).

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J Thomas 08.10.14 at 11:28 am

#352 Martin Bento

Think how many decisions large and small Barack Obama or any other President has to make in a week.

They don’t actually do that much. Lots of stuff just gets delegated. And when the President has to make a decision, he does it based on carefully filtered information. I haven’t checked to see whether the following is still true, but it like is still: Every day the President was given a one-page summary of the current crises and the background he needed to understand them. Hundreds of people spent one full day arguing about what should go on that one page. Thousands of people contributed to it. Somebody tries to boil down all the vital info on some important question to a single paragraph. Later his boss and various others go back and forth about how to cut that paragraph down to a single sentence. Access to the President is a big deal, if you present him with his information you influence him.

GW Bush took lots of naps, he worked short days, and he took long vacations. I doubt that the quality of his decisions would have improved at all if he had put more time into it.

CN Parkinson claimed that back in the days when british kings actually ruled, they had a big variety of kings. Some were brilliant, some stolidly competent, some stupid, some insane. And the state of the nation during their various reigns seemed to be pretty much independent of that….

I say we have a problem that people who are supposed to make decisions for the common good very often are influenced by their own personal good. I usually see it when I get the chance to look.

Like, my caving club hosted a big regional meeting for whatever cavers wanted to come to it. We ran a banquet, and we grilled steaks. One of my good friends did a lot of the setup for that, his father-in-law was a professional butcher so they bought the meat and sliced it. I asked him how much of it they took for themselves. “We don’t do that sort of thing. Benzy spent ten hours cutting those steaks and he was practically laid up the next day from the muscle pain from all that bending over! We got nothing from it.” But after the meeting was all over, he invited me over for a steak dinner. And two weeks later the club chairman invited me over for a steak dinner, along with a whole table full of the lesser members of the group, the people who wouldn’t have been invited the first two weekends. But the grotto did make enough money to pay for the newsletter until it was time to do it again.

Myself, I was in charge of the coleslaw and when I had one cabbage left over it was only because I wanted to make sure I had enough. I don’t even like cabbage that much.

I don’t have any perfect plan for handling all that. I agree it doesn’t work to have everybody decide everything. Free competition sounds nice — let the people who do the best job do more of it, and the ones that do the least corruption will tend to be the best. There are various reasons that often fails, though.

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J Thomas 08.10.14 at 11:38 am

Keep in mind, Plume said no proxies: direct democracy for everything. [....] What’s funny is that he considers this a way to put the economy in the background – by making everyone get involved in every aspect of it.

Well, but he wants a system that changes slowly, that produces the same simple products year after year and only in the quantities people need. That makes the decisions much easier.

Currently that is a luxury which is denied to us. Our existing technology is not sustainable — we have no choice but to change it. We must bet our lives on new technology which may not meet our needs. We must change our institutions around to fit changing new circumstances, and do it before we can test. We must test and rebuild on the fly. We don’t know how to do that well but we have to do it anyway.

Capitalist theorists say that capitalism lets people make tremendously complex organizations where nobody understands the whole thing, and no other system can do that. Nobody understands all the steps to make a pencil. Systems organized by central planning can never work because the planners can’t handle the details, only free markets can do that.

But what makes our system work is that it has slowly evolved, so that when one businessman sees that what he is doing works for him, he can do the same thing a little more. It is bad at dealing with sudden or large changes. There are lots of ways to manage things that change slowly, and so far no good way to handle things that change fast.

When we geared up to produce a tremendous amount of military stuff in WWII, the government used Leontieff input-output matrices to plan the economy. Say they needed an extra thousand tons of steel to build tanks. That required extra coal to run the blast furnaces, it required extra railroad traffic to get both coal and steel to the right places, etc. The extra coal required more miner-hours and maybe more miners. The extra railroad traffic might require new railroad-cars and those would require more steel. They did their best to plan out what they would need and produce it, because if they waited for shortages to tell the economy what to produce more of with no planning, they would have to deal with the shortages and years of delay. Their planning was not at all perfect but it was faster than waiting.

I don’t say that planning is necessarily good, but the attitude that it is morally wrong will probably get in our way.

The faster our feedback loops, the faster they can respond to change. We need that.

Also, we need to reward extra capacity for important raw materials. It costs to be ready to make more of stuff than we expect to need. If you pay to be ready to make too much and that capacity goes unused, you have wasted your money. If you can’t make enough and there is a shortage you get extra money. But if you have excess capacity and so do your competitors, they are likely to bid down the price to get market share, unless you can arrange a deal with them not to.

Facing uncertain times, we would be better off if we could arrange to get extra capacity — just in case — without it being so disruptive. I’m not sure how to do that.

It’s hard to do good planning around complex feedback systems. Easier to just let the people who are already making decisions keep making them — even when the system (accidentally?) gives them perverse incentives. That’s easy, and it is dramatically inefficient and it sometimes gives us very bad results.

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J Thomas 08.10.14 at 1:31 pm

#354 ZM

I am confused.

This is a straight line I will not respond to.

“If we no longer have employers and employees, then all the laws about how employers and employees treat each other are obsolete.”

But you are suggesting independent contractors. Is your entire population made up of independent contractors – and if so then where do they go to to get the contracts they need?

Anybody can offer a contract, and anybody can accept one. Why is that confusing?

You can accept as many contracts as you think you can fulfill.

Why should there be a shortage of one side or the other? Well, right now we have a shortage of jobs. Big hierarchical corporations don’t need to hire as many Americans as they used to, productivity is up and they don’t need for production to go up to match.

Basicly, top management is in the catbird’s seat, they are powerful because there are so few of them and they are necessary. As long as they are powerful because they are the biggest bottleneck, the few that many depend on, we can expect them to get a disproportionate share of the rewards.

Maybe that’s inevitable, there might be no way around it at all. But I can imagine an economy where the equivalent of Ford motor company agrees to contracts with whoever runs the drop forges, and whoever runs the drill presses, and whoever supplies teams of workers, and so on. And if you want to start your own automobile company you can get contracts with those businesses too.

As it is, Walmart can squeeze their contractors because there are many contractors and only one Walmart. But if Walmart was many businesses that cooperated as much as they chose to, and anybody could be a competing Walmart top management if they had what it took to do the job, maybe things would start to even up.

I don’t know whether that’s possible, and I don’t known in detail how to do it. But it might be possible, and worth doing.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.10.14 at 6:49 pm

Anybody can offer a contract, and anybody can accept one. Why is that confusing?

You can accept as many contracts as you think you can fulfill.

Why should there be a shortage of one side or the other? Well, right now we have a shortage of jobs.

Anybody can offer a job, and anyone can accept one (subject to being able to do the work, of course).

If we have a shortage of jobs right now why on earth would that be solved by using your contractor system? The demand for labor would not change.

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J Thomas 08.10.14 at 10:52 pm

If we have a shortage of jobs right now why on earth would that be solved by using your contractor system? The demand for labor would not change.

It might. It might easily change. But that is beside the point.

Before the Civil War the South had high demand for labor — at slave labor rates. Not so much for better jobs. And so there was an underclass of poor white southerners. Most of them were lived poorer than some slaves, some of them lived worse than most slaves — but they were free.

The Tredegar iron works and railroad manufactures had trouble competing because their costs were higher than Yankee competitors. They successfully used slaves for hi-tech work and saved money.

The Yankees didn’t get rid of slavery because they thought the economy would work better and have more high-paying jobs. They did it because they thought slavery was wrong. After the war, with the South in ruins, the railroads desroyed, horses in short supply, 5% of the whilte population dead, things did not improve fast.

If wage-slavery is wrong, then I don’t need to argue why there will be more jobs after it’s gone. Any more than an abolitionist had to explain how the South was going to run its cotton plantations without slaves.

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ZM 08.11.14 at 12:19 am

J Thomas,
I thought saying I am confused sounds more polite. I am trying to improve the politeness of my writing in disagreements. This is quite hard because mostly people seem to think it is overall more polite if you agree with them, hopefully I will become more accomplished at this, but you will have to bear with me while I practice I’m afraid.

You say everyone can apply for contracts and everyone can award them in your society. In our society legally most all people can award contracts – but they must have a sum of money to pay independent contractors with. Also in a lot of cases they need to have facilities and maybe mechanical infrastructure and raw materials and so forth.

some people do not have such sums of money and facilities etc so they must tender for contracts and sadly cannot ask for tenders and award contracts as they see fit after all.

In your society how do you separate who can ask for tenders and award tenders from those who must settle for being independent contractors (if it is sums of money and facilities it is much the same as now)? And what regulations will you have governing relations between awarders of contracts and contractors? And how will you govern safety and environmental needs ?

As I said, in our society the liberal party likes to encourage independent contracting – but it is generally thought that this is because their traditional enemies are the unions and ‘red tape’ (they mean regulations but call it red tape metaphorically because people like regulations more than they like real red tape ).

In your Ford Motors equivalent example I think Ford Motors do use contracts – I have read about their bad labour practices in parts of the world (not to mention their green washing about their vehicles’ high level of GHG emissions) – I wager (a very small wager) that they do this by contracting. I notice lots of businesses in the West use contracts with Asian companies so they can aver the bad labour conditions are not their own fault but the fault of the Asian companies. Also I would need at great sum of money to compete with Ford Motors in automobile manufacturing (it is already the case that people can compete with Ford Motors if they have sufficient sums of money). Plus it would be very unsustainable – we already have too many cars – imagine if I had such sums of money that I would like to manufacture automobiles like Ford Motors – we would have an even greater too manyness of cars.

In your Walmart example – I have heard from visitors to America you have a greater preponderance of these sort of shopping centres – you could break the company up and build more nice old fashioned walkable human scale high streets with parks. But you will have to figure out how to contend with the Walton family (are they the current owners?).

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Bernard Yomtov 08.11.14 at 12:50 am

If wage-slavery is wrong, then I don’t need to argue why there will be more jobs after it’s gone.

True.

But you have yet to explain how ordinary employment – wage-slavery is your colorful but inaccurate term – differs from your indepndent contracting arrangements, or why it is wrong. I continue to ask and you continue not to answer.

I understand why. There is no answer. Not long ago an important employee at a company I’m familiar with decided to resign and go to work elsewhere. What happened? Was he chased down with bloodhounds, brought back in chains, punished for his attempt at escape?

Well, no. He was given a friendly farewell luncheon, was thanked for his efforts, and was wished well in his new job all around. Doesn’t sound much like slavery to me.

I can imagine an economy where the equivalent of Ford motor company agrees to contracts with whoever runs the drop forges, and whoever runs the drill presses, and whoever supplies teams of workers,

Teams of workers? Wait! Wouldn’t those workers be employees of the supplier? And if not, why the intermediary?

Oh. And you don’t seem to understand what demand is either.

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J Thomas 08.11.14 at 12:55 am

I thought saying I am confused sounds more polite. I am trying to improve the politeness of my writing in disagreements. This is quite hard because mostly people seem to think it is overall more polite if you agree with them, hopefully I will become more accomplished at this, but you will have to bear with me while I practice I’m afraid.

Thank you. ;-) Similarly I thought it was better not to joke from your straight line since it does not advance the conversation but only (perhaps) cause hard feelings.

In our society legally most all people can award contracts – but they must have a sum of money to pay independent contractors with. Also in a lot of cases they need to have facilities and maybe mechanical infrastructure and raw materials and so forth.

It depends partly on the size of the contract. If I get many small contracts instead of one big one, I have the advantage that it is less like having a boss. And if something goes wrong, I can lose some small contracts and that’s a warning, while a single big patron may just drop me with no warning.

In your society how do you separate who can ask for tenders and award tenders from those who must settle for being independent contractors (if it is sums of money and facilities it is much the same as now)? And what regulations will you have governing relations between awarders of contracts and contractors? And how will you govern safety and environmental needs ?

I repeat, it is not my job to work out all those details ahead of time. If wage slavery is wrong, then we have an obligation to get rid of wage slavery. We will find alternatives that work better. I suggested contracting as a possible alternative.

In your Ford Motors equivalent example I think Ford Motors do use contracts – I have read about their bad labour practices in parts of the world (not to mention their green washing about their vehicles’ high level of GHG emissions) – I wager (a very small wager) that they do this by contracting.

Yes, they do lots of contracting and have pretty much from the beginning. They also have a lot of employees.

Also I would need at great sum of money to compete with Ford Motors in automobile manufacturing

It depends. If you did it today, you would need to build a factory and hire employees and a lot of things like that.

But if Ford didn’t own their factory but only got to use it through contracts, maybe you could use a lot of existing stuff. You go to the same people Ford contracts with, and ask them to build your cars too. They *might* offer you a good deal, something above their variable cost. They are better off when they have more customers rather than fewer customers. If Ford is their only customer then it’s almost like having a boss. So they give you a good deal while you’re small and getting started, and if you get market share and actually become a competitor that’s good for them. Some things might be hard. If you hire Ford’s engineering people to design and test your new car, it costs about the same to do that well whether you make a thousand of them or ten million, and they probably can’t go down on price a lot. Maybe they can do everything mostly standard except the particular distinctive differences you want. It might not be that expensive.

Plus it would be very unsustainable – we already have too many cars – imagine if I had such sums of money that I would like to manufacture automobiles like Ford Motors – we would have an even greater too manyness of cars.

Cars cost too much. We pay a lot for advertising. Car companies say that customers demand lots of expensive extras — power windows, computerized door locks, etc. They say they could build a fuel-efficient cheap car, but nobody would buy it because that isn’t what customers want. Is it that they are good at telling customers what to want? There are so few competitors that customers don’t really get alternatives?

I think it would be good for people to get more real choices about cars, even if it’s a dying industry that will mostly get phased out.

And if we got a lot of cars that were all basicly the same but just looked different, and people wanted that, I woudn’t complain much unless it drove up prices.

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J Thomas 08.11.14 at 2:11 am

In your Walmart example – I have heard from visitors to America you have a greater preponderance of these sort of shopping centres – you could break the company up and build more nice old fashioned walkable human scale high streets with parks. But you will have to figure out how to contend with the Walton family (are they the current owners?).

It’s a NYSE public company, but the family owns about 51% of the stock. Institutions own another 30%. They are the largest private employer in the USA with about 2.2 million employees.

They are pushing into the internet business. Their prices are close to Amazon’s, and if you’re willing to pick up an internet-bought item at your local Walmart they give free shipping.

There’s a story that once upon a time, a princess had a pet dragon. She liked it. People told her it was dangerous and to get rid of it, but it didn’t hurt her and she loved it. Then it grew so big that it was a giant danger and nobody knew what to do about it. They advertised for somebody to come kill it, and Ragnar Lodbruk did kill the dragon and marry the princess.

The USA doesn’t have princesses any more but we do have dragons, and Walmart is a big one.

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ZM 08.11.14 at 4:52 am

“I repeat, it is not my job to work out all those details ahead of time. If wage slavery is wrong, then we have an obligation to get rid of wage slavery. We will find alternatives that work better. I suggested contracting as a possible alternative.”

I think maybe a refinement of what is wrong might be needed. I think inequity, and great poverty, and over consumption, and causing greenhouse gas emissions, and killing people or exiling them or unfairly imprisoning them are wrong among other things. I think what you call ‘wage slavery’ may be a symptom of the wrong of inequity, and also the economic laws and practices involved in ‘wage slavery’ are implicated in other wrongs eg. great poverty, at the same time as over consumption.

I do think when the abolitionists decided to go to war over slavery, afterwards was the period of reconstruction. But even after slavery was abolished and there was reconstruction African Americans still were not treated rightly – they had to sit at the back of the bus, there were lynchings, and other things. Even after the civil rights movement they still are not treated rightly – they are locked up more for drug crimes, they are underrepresented in professions and government and so forth.

Similarly, I went to a talk a month or so ago by Janet Cherry who was part of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. She spoke on the strategy, nationally and internationally. They agreed on core values to focus on – equal political rights. They also wanted a more fair economy – but this ended up being more secondary. They found bringing the struggle to places that had remained unaffected important – eg. In to high end white shopping strips instead of just poor black townships. Also , they found unexpected allies – a lot of young white men actually were not all that happy to be constricted into military service , so going AWOL on purpose against apartheid suited them fine.

So they did win equal political rights and Mandela was freed and other things. But economic reforms were not so forthcoming. So even now social and economic equity needs to be struggled for, and now we are in a period where unsustainability and climate change are worse even than they were in the Me decade. She didn’t talk at the forum on her views on equity and sustainability (lots of the talks were on how to engage elites, so it might have been too disagreeable, and I guess she’s learned to pick her battles), but I found this article afterwards

“There is a lot of truth in the ANC Discussion Document, The Second Transition. There is plenty of food for thought, and it is indeed positive in itself that the document has stimulated such debate. But I would argue that it does not go far enough: in confining itself to the language of race, neo-colonialism, super-exploitation, white monopoly capital, and so on, it restricts the really transformatory possibilities that are needed: a new kind of socialism based on decentralised, localised, participatory economic democracy. This argument can be taken further when related to the threat of climate change linked to the current model of industrial production based on fossil-fuels and a consumer society where economic success is measured by waste.”

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bob mcmanus 08.11.14 at 11:46 am

How many times do I have to tell ya, radicals don’t design utopias, and the oppressed don’t argue plans and policy

J F Lyotard

“Thanks to its gesture the pious discourse of the political paradise,
be it today or tomorrow, collapses into vanity. They
did not see that. That what is beginning is not a
crisis leading to another regime or system thanks to a
necessary process. That the desired other cannot be
capitalism’s other because the essence of capitalism
is that its other is inside it and can therefore be
recuperated That the other who was openly desired
is and will be desired is the other of the prehistory
in which we are in irons a scream demeaned to the
status of the written “

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ZM 08.11.14 at 12:33 pm

who do you think are the radicals that don’t design utopias ? some people have tried to design Utopias , but maybe you don’t count them as radicals? Or their designs as utopian? I think Tarfuri is the person to read on this, but I have only read a few chapters. Also I am not sure who you count as oppressed? If you are relating to the Janet Cherry quote I think a lot of people in the anti-apartheid struggle were oppressed – I am sure they would have talked about planning and laws/policy – but I think the struggle itself was immediate and took precedence. This is understandable I think.

I am sorry, but I can understand each word of the Lyotard – but I can’t comprehend it as it is more of a fragment than anything else and is without context. While this is very likely my own reading deficiency, it would be helpful if you could explain it more plainly?

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J Thomas 08.11.14 at 1:20 pm

I think maybe a refinement of what is wrong might be needed. I think inequity, and great poverty, and over consumption, and causing greenhouse gas emissions, and killing people or exiling them or unfairly imprisoning them are wrong among other things. I think what you call ‘wage slavery’ may be a symptom of the wrong of inequity, and also the economic laws and practices involved in ‘wage slavery’ are implicated in other wrongs eg. great poverty, at the same time as over consumption.

Yes, agreed. It’s a tangled web. We can’t necessarily prevent poverty since we are not gods, but we have some obligations about it. Greenhouse gases — we should try to maintain a livable environment for humans, and certainly for other species we might need someday, and possibly for some other species according to their own rights. (I would have no objection to exterminating about 20,000 species of mosquitoes, though.) Fossil fuels are almost an ultimate case of “tragedy of the commons”, where each little burning that directly helps somebody only hurts all of us a little tiny bit. “Overconsumption” is only a sin according to its bad side effects, if it doesn’t hurt anybody it’s OK.

Usually I don’t look at things from a moral point of view, since I am a moral relativist and pretty much everybody disagrees with me about what’s right anyway, and I don’t enjoy arguing about it. But when we argue from consequences we get all tied up in details that are hard to predict. And people argue in bad faith, too. So when I advocate any big change, people ask me, “How can you prove that your change will have only good effects and no bad effects? Unless you can prove ahead of time that your change is perfect and has no flaws, we won’t go along.” And then they refuse to believe my proofs completely independent of how good my arguments are.

So I want to try out this other approach, where we decide something is morally wrong and then we try to prevent it independent of consequences. If somebody says “We have to bring back black slavery or the whole economy will collapse — here’s the proof” I don’t care about their proofs, I don’t care if they’re right. If the economy will collapse without black slavery then let the economy collapse.

The argument for wage-slavery over slavery is not that wage slaves get to consume more. That was not always the case in slavery days, not at all. It is not that they get better working conditions, likewise. It is not that they get legal rights. Slaves could have been given legal rights, we could have regulated how hard and how often they could be whipped, how many hours they could be worked before being fed, minimum requirements for slave-feed, etc.

The argument is that people should have the right to choose, we should have the right to leave a bad job. There are regulations — secretaries don’t get whipped for being late to work except in porn — but those are incidental.

Well, but we could give slaves that right. We could make it so when a slave gives notice his boss has three days to sell him. If he has the legal right to leave a bad master, then he’s like a wage-slave, right?

No, there’s more to it. He’d still be somebody’s slave then. But a wage-slave who quits has the option to be unemployed until he can find a new master for himself. He has no choice but to be unemployed until he can persuade a new master to take him. So it’s different.

Your company has a new product. Your job is to develop the new advertising line. After months of effort, you present the plan in front of a lot of important people. The CEO listens to five minutes, says “This is the stupidest thing I ever heard of” and walks out. You are not fired but everybody avoids you because they know you have no future at this company. You have no future anywhere else doing the work you have specialized in. All your peers walk around looking scared — they want to make sure this doesn’t happen to them, but there is nothing they can do except guess what the boss will want. This is better than slavery because they have the legal right to quit.

You get a job in a hardware store. You memorize where to find everything. You do such a good job that the owner lets you run the tools section all by yourself. It’s a giant mess, but you start organizing it and set up so you be efficient. Ever couple of weeks the boss looks at what you’re doing and gives you a little nod like he’s well-satisfied. About the time you have it organized and efficient, the boss fires you and hires his nephew to run the tools section. But he gives you a good recommendation. Although you worked long hours for low pay, and you put your heart into something that was denied to you, and now you are on unemployment at 30% of your low pay while you desperately look for another job for which your deep knowledge of one hardware store will not help much, still you are free.

You work at a job you hate. You have a mortgage and if you sell your house for what you can get for it, you will still owe a lot of money. The closest job you can get for comparable income is 300 miles away. You must do whatever the boss wants, and he is not very good at revealing what he wants. You have the legal right to quit but your mind is chained to the idea that you can’t give up your material possessions and go deeply in debt. This is better than slavery, though, because you have the legal right to quit.

Wage-slavery is encrusted with regulations that are officially designed to protect workers. This is not fundamental, we could lose those regulations in a few years if Congress or the courts choose. We could have laws to protect slaves if we had slaves. Wage-slaves have the right to quit and find new masters. If we gave that right to slaves they would still be slaves, and a slave who trades hands too often can expect to be worked like a rented mule. Slaves have no choice but to be exploited, and they can hope for a kind master. Wage-slaves beg to be exploited, and they can look to their hearts’ content for a good employer before they take what they can get.

The problem that getting rid of slavery did not solve, is bosses. You have the legal right to dump your boss and look for a new better boss. But if you are somebody who works for a living, not a professional working for himself, you will have a boss. And there will be a collection of factors that make it hard for you to dump your boss, as well as a few factors that make him hesitate to dump you.

You are not actually free unless you have real alternatives. Not just the legal right to an alternative.

But then, freedom does not solve the tragedy of the commons. It does not solve poverty+overconsumption, or wrongful government encroachment, etc. But in general it’s wrong for people to be put into circumstances where they must do what a boss tells them, with no real choice. It’s just wrong, and it happens so much that most people simply take it for granted without a second thought.

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mattski 08.11.14 at 2:07 pm

But in general it’s wrong for people to be put into circumstances where they must do what a boss tells them, with no real choice.

What you are arguing is that organized behavior of any sort is wrong. Whether you submit to the will of your boss or submit to the will of a collective hardly matters. Organized behavior–civilization, if you will–requires your cooperation…

You are also constantly eliding the freedom to quit. The freedom to quit is a real choice.

I don’t see a whole lot of difference between arguing that it is wrong to have to do what a boss tells you to do and arguing that it is wrong that we have no choice but to eat food to survive. Seriously. If you think hard about the word ‘freedom’ you won’t make such an idol of it. One man’s freedom is another man’s humiliation, and worse.

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J Thomas 08.11.14 at 2:21 pm

What you are arguing is that organized behavior of any sort is wrong.

No, I’m not. But it’s completely understandable that you would see it that way.

Whether you submit to the will of your boss or submit to the will of a collective hardly matters.

Agreed. It could make a difference in detail, but it isn’t fundamentally different. Not like one of them is wrong and the other is right. Either one could have some palliatives to make it somewhat less bad in practice part of the time.

You are also constantly eliding the freedom to quit. The freedom to quit is a real choice.

Only when there is an acceptable alternative. Even for slaves, the ability to commit suicide is a real choice that is hard to prevent, and it is in fact the freedom to quit.

I don’t see a whole lot of difference between arguing that it is wrong to have to do what a boss tells you to do and arguing that it is wrong that we have no choice but to eat food to survive.

Perfectly understandable. I don’t blame you for not getting it.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.11.14 at 2:28 pm

“Your company has a new product. Your job is to develop the new advertising line. After months of effort, you present the plan in front of a lot of important people. The CEO listens to five minutes, says “This is the stupidest thing I ever heard of” and walks out. You are not fired but everybody avoids you because they know you have no future at this company. You have no future anywhere else doing the work you have specialized in.”

A company has a new product. It contracts with you to develop the new advertising line. After months of effort, you present the plan in front of a lot of important people. The CEO listens to five minutes, says “This is the stupidest thing I ever heard of” and walks out. Your contract ends and is not extended. You have no further opportunity to do the work you have specialized in for other companies.

“You get a job in a hardware store. You memorize where to find everything. You do such a good job that the owner lets you run the tools section all by yourself. It’s a giant mess, but you start organizing it and set up so you be efficient. Ever couple of weeks the boss looks at what you’re doing and gives you a little nod like he’s well-satisfied. About the time you have it organized and efficient, the boss fires you and hires his nephew to run the tools section. “

A hardware store owner contracts with you to organize his tools section. When you have finished your contract ends and the boss hires his nephew to run the tools section. Since there are apparently no other hardware stores that need help organizing you must cast about, without an income, looking for something else to do.

“You work at a job you hate. You have a mortgage and if you sell your house for what you can get for it, you will still owe a lot of money. The closest job you can get for comparable income is 300 miles away. You must do whatever the boss wants, and he is not very good at revealing what he wants.”

You have signed a contract with a compnay to do some work you have come to dislike, and the boss is unpleasant and unhelpful, etc.

” But in general it’s wrong for people to be put into circumstances where they must do what a boss tells them, “

Do you prefer a position where you must do what The Collective tells you? You have some choice about your boss, none when in the grasp of The Collective.

In any case what you are describing is normal problems in any organization. And if you imagine that things can get done when all decisions must be made my workers’ votes then you are wrong. Indeed, you are morally wrong, because that will lead to more of the impoverishment and coerced labor than we see today.

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mattski 08.11.14 at 4:01 pm

Me: “What you are arguing is that organized behavior of any sort is wrong.”

J Thomas: “No, I’m not. But it’s completely understandable that you would see it that way.”

Well, let me try this approach: Imagine a small group of people working together on some project, it doesn’t matter what the project is. The following are extremely likely. 1) One or two individuals will come to be seen as leaders of the project based upon their expertise, ability to communicate, and possibly their assertiveness. (Although in the latter case this often sows the seeds of an unsuccessful enterprise. Probably better to leave this scenario aside for these purposes.) 2) During the course of this project there will be moments when everyone works together seamlessly, there is harmonious cooperation. There will also be moments when disagreements arise and some members of the group will have to swallow their objections and go along for the sake of the project.

My first observation is, in the best case leaders emerge on the basis of talent and effectiveness. In lesser cases leaders are not necessarily the most talented or effective, but nevertheless leaders are generally necessary to getting things done. So, even when a leader is less than optimal it may be too disruptive to try and remove them. In other cases it may be necessary to remove them if the project is to be successful.

Second, it isn’t realistic to expect harmonious cooperation at all times. Having such an expectation is similar to expecting to play your best round of golf every time you go out to play. It isn’t the way the world works.

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Harold 08.11.14 at 4:47 pm

An uncle of mine used to maintain that the American ideal of a leader was someone like a benevolent bus driver (as opposed to a dictatorial drill sergeant, or minaret, I guess).

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J Thomas 08.11.14 at 4:53 pm

Mattski, we don’t need to prevent leadership. What I object to is something more like Hobson’s choice. Like, obey or get beaten with a whip. Or obey, or else be evicted from your house and go deep into debt and maybe wind up homeless on the street. Or maybe your best alternative to obedience is suicide.

We can’t prevent that from ever happening, just as we can’t always prevent slavery. But it’s wrong for us to have a society where it is the norm, where people don’t even see anything wrong with it.

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Brett Dunbar 08.11.14 at 9:42 pm

J Thomas, I’m not sure what the problem with paid employment is meant to be. I don’t really understand why that specific type of contract is undesirable. It seems to most people that a voluntary contract of employment is a perfectly satisfactory way to relate to the party paying you.

Due to the lower tax paid by the self employed there is a certain amount of disguised employment, people who claim to be contractors but are actually employees. This means there is a legal definition of employee for the purposes of taxation.

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Brett Dunbar 08.11.14 at 9:59 pm

(message accidentally truncated)

“There are three main tests of employment to determine whether a contractor is a disguised employee and not genuinely in business on their own account. These are:

Control: if a contractor is told by their client where, when and how to complete the tasks allocated on their contract, they have passed the control test

Substitution: if a contractor cannot send a replacement, or a substitute, to complete the tasks for the client on their behalf, they have passed the substitution test

Mutuality of obligation (MOO): if a contractor expects the client to give them work, and the client expects the contractor to complete it, they have passed the MOO test.

Although the above three are the main tests, there are numerous other factors that can point to whether a contractor is a disguised employee, and would be taken into consideration by HMRC and a tribunal or court when determining a contractor’s employment status.”

There doesn’t seem to be anything inherently objectionable about any of those tests, and indeed for some activities it is pretty much unavoidable to have people who would pass them in order for those activities to proceed. Other tests can include are you paid for time present or tasks completed.

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J Thomas 08.11.14 at 10:16 pm

Due to the lower tax paid by the self employed there is a certain amount of disguised employment, people who claim to be contractors but are actually employees.

Sure. People are good at blurring boundaries. Lots of slave-owners found that they did better to give their slaves incentives as well as punishments. Carrots AND sticks. Even though they had no legal obligation to pay slaves anything, it worked better. And various jobs that looked like paid jobs amounted to slavery. Like, at times sailors on commercial ships were not allowed shore leave and not paid. In theory they would get their back pay if they were ever allowed to quit, but if they died first it could be conveniently forgotten.

I am not interested in the kegal fictions so much as the realities.

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Brett Dunbar 08.11.14 at 11:28 pm

You still haven’t answered the question; what is it that you find objectionable about employment per se?

I was citing as a definition of the sort of contract that was in reality a contract of employment although ostensibly structured as a contract between a client and a freelance contractor. I am curious as to what part of a contract of employment you found objectionable.

Employment is not a form of disguised slavery, an employee is perfectly able to leave employment for any or no reason, what makes slavery slavery is that the slave cannot leave.

Contracts for sailors that two or three hundred years ago did tend to be on the lines of the pay was made as a lump sum at the end of the voyage, which was void if the sailor deserted. This would not be valid now.

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Matt 08.11.14 at 11:56 pm

Due to the lower tax paid by the self employed there is a certain amount of disguised employment, people who claim to be contractors but are actually employees. This means there is a legal definition of employee for the purposes of taxation.

No, more tax is paid by the self-employed, at least in the US. Less tax is paid by companies that buy services from contractors instead of hiring employees. In the US there are equal employee and employer shares of gross wages that go to funding Social Security and Medicare under FICA. If you are an independent contractor you have to pay both the employee and employer portions. And it’s regressive: the FICA tax rate is flat on gross wages up to $117,000, no FICA taxes apply on gross wages over $117,000.

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J Thomas 08.12.14 at 12:27 am

Contracts for sailors that two or three hundred years ago did tend to be on the lines of the pay was made as a lump sum at the end of the voyage, which was void if the sailor deserted. This would not be valid now.

Sometimes it was hard to get trained sailors, or even untrained sailors. Hard dangerous work with a relatively high mortality rate, in the old days scurvy, and rather low pay. So when it was hard to get them, some sailors could be kept locked up aboard ship at the end of their contract, and signed up for a new contract without necessarily getting their permission about it. This was essentially illegal slavery. But if the authorities didn’t come onboard and check, or if they could be bribed, it was do-able.

Employment is not a form of disguised slavery, an employee is perfectly able to leave employment for any or no reason, what makes slavery slavery is that the slave cannot leave.

One of my issues is that the abstract legal right is not enough. If things are set up so you can’t leave even though officially you have that legal right, then that legal right does you no good.

If you can leave but to get by you must put yourself into another situation that’s just as bad, what good is that?

Family legend says that one of my great-great-grandfathers was a coal miner in a company town. He couldn’t get out of debt to the company store no matter what he did. Finally he sneaked away with just his clothes, leaving his debts behind. If there had been two companies in that town with two company stores, both run by the same management, and he could quit from one and be hired by the other, would that have made much difference?

If a slave could demand to be sold, so he wouldn’t be stuck with just one bad master, would that mean he wasn’t really a slave?

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Harold 08.12.14 at 12:54 am

When there are labor shortages the bosses/landowners have a choice of either paying the workers more or enserfing them (as happened in Catherine the Great’s Russia) and of course the post-reconstruction South before the invention of mechanical cotton pickers in the 1940s. Sea captains could legally beat their sailors also, and, I think, even impose capital punishment (not sure about this). Masters could also beat their apprentices — who were usually teenagers. It was a rough life.

Wage labor is a fairly recent phenomenon, as I understand it.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.12.14 at 1:00 am

Brett Dunbar,

I’m not sure what the problem with paid employment is meant to be

My advice is to give up. I’ve been asking that question for several days, and all I’ve gotten is rants about “wage-slavery.”

Maybe you will do better, but I doubt it.

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Brett Dunbar 08.12.14 at 1:02 am

I’m in the UK where the national insurance paid by the self employed is rather less than the combined employers and employees part of national insurance. I had intended to mention that but obviously forgot. The mention of HMRC (Her Majesty ‘s Revenue and Customs) wasn’t enough. It comes up due to the different tax treatment meaning that there is a reason for a legal definition based on substance rather than form.

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Brett Dunbar 08.12.14 at 1:20 am

It’s not simply an abstract legal right that exists on paper but not in reality, you really can look for alternative employment. Specific abuses have progressively been outlawed or been overtaken by technology, the Truck Act for example banned payment in company scrip which could only be spent in the company store. Company towns essentially vanished as transport improved and it became practical to commute to work. An employer/employee relationship using the legal structures that have developed suits many, probably most, people.

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Bruce Wilder 08.12.14 at 1:51 am

The basic deal in employment is that the boss gets to tell the employee what to do.

It is reasonable to suppose that this deal, applied to the organization of production work, adds value or economizes, in some way compared to alternative ways to organize production.

And, it is reasonable to suppose that the incentives of the deal between employee and boss generally support the boss having the leverage necessary to tell them employee what to do and get compliance.

And, the general form of the deal is: the boss promises to pay a wage — generally relatively fixed or invariable as to rate — and the boss can fire the employee, and being fired will be costlier to the employee than to the boss.

If being fired was not costly to the employee, then the boss threatening to fire the employee would not be much of an incentive to do what the boss wanted.

If firing the employee was too costly to the boss, then the employee could get away with defying the boss, at least in matters that did not disproportionately affect the value of output.

For lots of jobs, the wage and other terms are set by employers as a take-or-leave-it deal, with collusion among employers, but without unions or other forms of organizing among potential employees. So, wages, generally, will be set too low, and other contract terms will be too onerous.

Can we set social norms, organize politically and enact laws that will offset this tendency for a power relation to result in economic relations that harm the welfare of lots of people?

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mattski 08.12.14 at 10:46 am

Can we set social norms, organize politically and enact laws that will offset this tendency for a power relation to result in economic relations that harm the welfare of lots of people?

I think we can. It might take time, but it’s doable.

I don’t think I’d blame the power relation for severe inequality. I’d blame social norms, and politics. The power relation is necessary for getting things done efficiently. Someone has to have the power to say, “Enough talk, let’s do it this way.”

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J Thomas 08.12.14 at 11:57 am

I don’t think I’d blame the power relation for severe inequality. I’d blame social norms, and politics. The power relation is necessary for getting things done efficiently. Someone has to have the power to say, “Enough talk, let’s do it this way.”

Yes.? And when the time comes to decide who gets the goodies, the one who has the power to say “Enough talk, we’ll do it this way” will definitely not get less than his share.

He gets to decide how much his share is.

And when the time comes to make other decisions, even decisions that he does not officially get to decide, he has some say because he can obstruct other people with the decisions he does get to make.

Doesn’t it make sense that people will be rewarded according to their clout? And people with no clout are not slaves because they have the right to quit. They have the right to be unemployed, or to look for another job where they will have no clout.

Social norms say that it’s normal for people with clout to get the rewards and people without it to get the punishments. Politics is mostly unadulterated clout.

You argue that if everybody had the same amount of power, we could not get things done efficiently. You might easily be right. Certainly it would be impossible to run a slave plantation efficiently without slaves and masters. If nobody forced the slaves to work hard, the slaves would not work hard. It’s almost axiomatic.

And prominent attempts to be fair to everybody have all looked incredibly inefficient. The 1848 Paris thing. Occupy Wall Street. People talk and talk and talk and nothing gets done until some authoritarian force with guns clears them out.

Obviously when one master decides what the goal is, and makes everybody else do whatever best furthers that goal, the result will be more efficient toward that goal than any other system could be. Obviously.

And it’s more efficient for one master to decide what the goal is than to have people yammer about it. All the time that gets wasted deciding what to do when there is no master to decide for you, could be used to efficiently work toward the master’s goal.

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ZM 08.12.14 at 12:26 pm

I don’t think Paris 1848 is a good example. And Occupy Wallstreet was more protest movement than a participatory enterprise trying to make shoes or cars etc, plus whenever they were organised with their libraries and so forth the police were told to go in and tear things down and confiscate things and maybe arrest people – how were they supposed to improve their organisation and productivity in a social enterprise start up if the police are ordered to trouble them so much during their deliberations?

I think participatory budgeting is supposed to be working a lot better in Porto Allegre than the previous way (unless you are in favour of cronyism). Also Toronto community housing had success with participation.

J Thomas , I don’t think it is consistent for a moral relativist to also think some things are right, so you probably need to decide one way or another if you decide to campaign against wage slavery. Also if you think the problem with wage slavery is inequity more than unfreedom, that would go better with sorting out great poverty, over consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions etc. it is also better traditionally because inequity is the same as iniquity and iniquity has been wrong since the start of the English language.

Even Bernard Yomtov who rails against The Collective is likely to live in a some sort of a collective I would wager – a town or a city most likely – I donot think it likely he is a hermit who happened to find a smart phone some tourists left near his hermit rockery recently. Bernard Yomtov seems to mean by freedom, since he is likely not a hermit, that he does not have to work in the same enterprise for his whole life if he doesn’t like to – another word for this (since it is not really freedom) is mobility. So to accommodate people like Bernard Yomtov you would have to ensure people have some degree of mobility in your society, but I shouldn’t imagine this is too hard.

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Brett Dunbar 08.12.14 at 1:03 pm

When negotiating with an employer, like with any contract, the compensation depends on how easy to replace you are. A shelf stacker at a supermarket isn’t in a strong position as lots of people are willing and able to do the job. People who work in sewers tend to be fairly well paid as not that many are willing to do that work under any circumstances. Other jobs are well paid as they require unusual skills.

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J Thomas 08.12.14 at 1:40 pm

I don’t think Paris 1848 is a good example….

There are surely examples that worked better, but all the most *prominent* examples, the ones that lots of people have heard about, look bad. That might not be an accident.

I don’t think it is consistent for a moral relativist to also think some things are right, so you probably need to decide one way or another if you decide to campaign against wage slavery.

It’s OK for me to decide that my own moral conclusions are as good as anybody else’s, and campaign for them. There’s nothing wrong with me trying to encourage people to choose morals that I like.

Also if you think the problem with wage slavery is inequity more than unfreedom, that would go better with sorting out great poverty, over consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions etc.

Freedom might be a bigger issue then inequity, but I’m not sure whether it contains it or not. When somebody else gets to decide a whole lot about where and how you live and what resources you will be allowed, that’s less freedom for you. Inequity does that. And lots of people agree that inequity is a bad thing, while fewer people agree that reduced freedom is bad. Libertarians have been giving freedom a bad name — a lot of people are getting the idea that if libertarians say they want it, it must be bad.

The argument I don’t like goes like this: When people are free, it’s hard to control them. And that means it’s hard for bosses to efficiently control them to get the result that the bosses want. Without bosses there isn’t even any way to decide what everybody needs to do so they can be forced to do it. Therefore freedom is bad.

I guess it can be described in ways that sound better. The claim might be true. It might be that there is no way to keep 7 billion people alive except to forcibly make them do what bosses want. It might be there is no way to keep ten thousand people alive without bosses forcing them to follow the bosses’ plan.

I dunno. If I find out it’s true then I’ll go along with it. I’d rather humanity survive as slave societies than go extinct.

But there might be better ways, and if there are then we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to find them.

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Harold 08.12.14 at 1:44 pm

I once spoke with a professor who had made a study of cooperative enterprises (the oldest are in Northern Italy, by the way, date from the Middle Ages, and are still going strong). He said that many many have been successful, but that when a profit could be made, invariably they get taken over by for-profits. An examples of a businesses that started out as a coops is (I think) was a well known camping supply company. I think it may have been Eastern Mountain Sports (?). But there are others. Donald Sassoon saw similar trends in industries in both self identified socialist economies and capitalist ones post WWII.

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mattski 08.12.14 at 3:25 pm

J Thomas

He gets to decide how much his share is.

Maybe, maybe not. Maybe compensation levels are subject to other constraints. But just because you have a boss doesn’t mean you have no influence on decisions. If your boss thinks highly of your judgement then he/she will listen to you. So, you have at least two channels for gaining influence. 1) Your boss’s perception of your judgement and 2) the relationship you have cultivated with your boss and your coworkers. It is in your interest to be easy to get along with. It is in your interest to be perceived a nice, interesting person. As a wise man once said, “life is short, don’t be a dick.”

Different companies have different cultures, different atmospheres. As an employee you have some influence on the atmosphere at work. Maybe not as much as you would like, but influence just the same. This shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Harold,

I’m all for cooperatively owned business. But there still needs to be someone with the power to shut off debate, well, in theory at least. If the chemistry at the coop is good maybe this isn’t necessary because everyone will have a sense for when debate is cutting into productivity. But in other cases a particularly loquacious worker needs to be told, “OK, we heard your pov, now let’s move on.”

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Brett Dunbar 08.12.14 at 3:36 pm

“The argument I don’t like goes like this: When people are free, it’s hard to control them. And that means it’s hard for bosses to efficiently control them to get the result that the bosses want. Without bosses there isn’t even any way to decide what everybody needs to do so they can be forced to do it. Therefore freedom is bad.”

I don’t think that’s an argument anyone is making. Employment essentially consists of
“I give you money so that during work hours you do what I tell you”. There isn’t any force involved there as if dissatisfied you are perfectly at liberty to seek other employment or go into business on your own account. It’s possible that you don’t have valuable skills and cannot find a better offer.

What we are saying is that when people have attempted to create a replacement to the market what they actually create turns out to be a command economy they actually do use force to make people do things. By arguing against the market you are arguing for a system that has ended up involving forced labour. Capitalism involves giving people enough money that someone voluntarily does the thing, while ruling out using coercion. Basically we know that a market economy can operate without force, we don’t know that of any alternatives.

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Harold 08.12.14 at 4:08 pm

@ 392 Cooperatives are not a “replacement to the market”. Cooperatives can work — all too well in some cases.

As for 391 Mattski “If your boss thinks highly of your judgement then he/she will listen to you.” This is the argument Castiglione makes in The Courtier, which tries to reconcile princely rule (despotism) with human dignity. Plus ça change. In practice it turns into a system of intrigue, back-stabbing, and deceit. A far better way to have worker input be part of an explicit system, as in Japan (so they say), and through unions.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.12.14 at 4:51 pm

ZM,

Even Bernard Yomtov who rails against The Collective is likely to live in a some sort of a collective I would wager – a town or a city most likely..

Yes. I do live in a city. But I hardly think it qualifies as the sort of collective Plume, for example, seems to want. (It’s not clear to me what J Thomas wants.)

The city does not control what I do for a living, who I work for, whether I can organize a business or hire others, the types of production I and other residents am to engage in(1), my income, the distribution of goods in the city, or prices or wages(2). It does not issue “points” in lieu of money and require that those points be used for alll transactions. In other words it is not remotely the sort of “economic democracy” that Plume fantasizes about.

So no, it’s not merely about mobility.

(1)Of course some activities are generally prohibited within the city, but this is not for economic reasons as much as for health or safety reasons, or to avoid nuisances. I can’t run a pig farm within the city, but the “collective” does not stop me from running one elsewhere and commuting.

(2)Aside from possibly setting a minimum wage.

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J Thomas 08.12.14 at 5:04 pm

But just because you have a boss doesn’t mean you have no influence on decisions. If your boss thinks highly of your judgement then he/she will listen to you. So, you have at least two channels for gaining influence. 1) Your boss’s perception of your judgement and 2) the relationship you have cultivated with your boss and your coworkers. It is in your interest to be easy to get along with. It is in your interest to be perceived a nice, interesting person. As a wise man once said, “life is short, don’t be a dick.”

This is true. And it is just as true with slavery as it is with wage-slavery. If you are a slave and your boss learns to respect your ability to figure out how to get what he wants, he will listen to you, and he may even give you the role of foreman and have you boss around other slaves. So the bos will respect you and the other slaves will also like and respect you, and you will have some power.

But while your advice is good it does not make slavery OK.

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Bruce Wilder 08.12.14 at 5:04 pm

J Thomas @ 386

Obviously when one master decides what the goal is, and makes everybody else do whatever best furthers that goal, the result will be more efficient toward that goal than any other system could be. Obviously.

And it’s more efficient for one master to decide what the goal is than to have people yammer about it. All the time that gets wasted deciding what to do when there is no master to decide for you, could be used to efficiently work toward the master’s goal.

It’s actually not obvious to me. Maybe, you were being sarcastic, in which case, my apologies for being literal.

I don’t think the economy associated with coordinating a division of labor with command is expedience. I don’t even think expedience, per se, is efficient.

There are definite problems associated with organizing work with a hierarchy and bosses, which you have described eloquently. One of them is deciding what to do. As painful and frustrating as a badly run committee meeting can be, assigning the task of deciding what to do, to a sole tyrant, is not usually a good idea. There are occasions and circumstances when expedience is called for — emergencies, say — but even in those cases, expedience, to be effective and efficient, must have been prepared by prior deliberation. That’s why armies have war plans, tactical plans and training; why corporations do disaster planning and strategic planning and operational planning, why the police and emergency services have elaborate procedures and train, train, train.

The supervisor-subordinate relationship works as an economic relationship for productive activities in relation to a different set of challenges and for a different set of reasons.

The supervisor-subordinate relationship, where the boss owns the output and makes a contingent promise to pay the employee a fixed wage — do as I say, and get paid or get fired — breaks the incentive bound.

The incentive bound is what makes self-discipline so difficult to achieve. If you are your own boss, you bear the costs of carrying out your own instructions and you cannot escape trading those off with the value of output. I really want to quit smoking, but it is so hard — maybe right now I’d rather smoke than quit smoking; I’ll quit tomorrow.

The problems of the incentive bound just multiply with an uncoordinated group cooperating in producing a joint output. At the margin, so to speak the language of economists, each person’s effort may be required to achieve the joint output, but each person only realizes a fraction from the output, and is conscious of their expected reward being at risk for the failure of any other member of the group, failures that might jeopardize the joint output being achieved at all.

Not disagreeing, though, at all about hierarchy being problematic for human welfare and satisfaction.

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J Thomas 08.12.14 at 5:18 pm

What we are saying is that when people have attempted to create a replacement to the market what they actually create turns out to be a command economy they actually do use force to make people do things.

That’s no good. People who say they are going to make people free and prosperous and who in fact force people to work in a clumsy command economy are not doing what they said.

By arguing against the market you are arguing for a system that has ended up involving forced labour.

No, I am not arguing for that. I agree with you that people should not be coerced. Where I tend to disagree is that you argue that our current system does not coerce people, and I argue that it coerces them a whole lot in ways that are more hidden than outright slavery. I don’t have big claims about what ought to be done instead. But if wage slavery is wrong, then we should stop doing it and if we stop doing that then we must also find workable alternatives.

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Brett Dunbar 08.12.14 at 5:48 pm

Wage slavery is a deliberately pejorative way of describing the relationship between an employer and employee. It is inaccurate to the point of being actually deceitful. The actual effect using it seriously has is it makes you look like a far left fanatic (as opposed to using it humorously). The problem with that ideology is that, at best, it produced economic failure and, at worst, pyramids of skulls.

You say that if “wage slavery” is wrong we should stop doing it. You haven’t however given any coherent reason to think that it is wrong. This implies that if “wage slavery” isn’t wrong we should carry on with it.

It doesn’t involve coercion As an employee is free to leave at any time. You might be worse off but that’s why you choose to take the job in the first place.

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Bruce Wilder 08.12.14 at 6:28 pm

Brett, you think the market economy involves no violence because we only shoot the thieves.

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Ze Kraggash 08.12.14 at 7:07 pm

“As an employee is free to leave at any time. You might be worse off but that’s why you choose to take the job in the first place.”

Guaranteed basic income (a decent amount) could make it true. Otherwise, the alternative is not “worse off”, but homelessness and possibly death of starvation.

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Plume 08.12.14 at 7:22 pm

Bernard,

You seem to willfully misunderstanding the idea of the collective, of WSDE, of democracy in the workplace. Again, if you work for a company right now, at this second, you work for a collective. It’s a collective enterprise that can not function without collective action. All I’m saying is that instead of having one set boss, or one small group of bosses, the collective actually manages itself, works for itself, shares out the fruits of what it has produced, instead of that being appropriated by one boss or a small group.

You’ve complained about the idea of “the collective” telling you where you can work, etc. In the kind of system I’m talking about, you would choose your own individual path, get free training for life, and you would pick for vocation. The only time there would be a democratic decision to move you out of the path you choose is if the community had a shortage and needed help here or there. And then it would be a temporary move for you until that shortage was fixed. And within the workplace? Within the job path you’ve chosen? In the capitalist system, the boss tells you what to do. I have no idea why you would prefer that over you hashing things out with your fellow workers, on an equal plane, reaching a consensus, and go from there. In that case you have far more say in how you do your job than if you just do what an autocrat tells you to do. With workplace democracy, there is no autocrat. He or she can’t exist. You all have equal say and your voice has equal weight.

Also: there wouldn’t be micromanagement and votes on everything in sight. Once people receive the training they need — as with a capitalist economy — a lot of the day to day operational work becomes routine. Once you set goals, a pathway, institute agreed upon methods, things generally run themselves. I’ve worked in the private sector for more than 40 years, and I can’t remember a single job I’ve ever had that needed much day to day overseeing from managers. We workers learned what to do and ran things, basically, ourselves with time. In my most recent job, we even trained new workers. There were no other trainers but us. Management had very little to do with new employees in that way.

Those democratic votes would be for big ticket items, general guidelines, pathways, goals. It would be to set the course for the ship. But once that’s done, the ship pretty much sails itself — at the individual commercial level, the community, the region, etc. etc.

Yes, there would be an absence of mommy and daddy parties, and no mommy and daddy proxies would be running things for us. But adults should be able to self-govern, self-manage and self-provide, work together, cooperate, share. Hell, kindergarten kids can do most of that. I see no reason why adults really need mommy and daddy bosses at work, or mommy and daddy political party for the civics end of things.

We should be able to do that ourselves, and should actually welcome the challenge.

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J Thomas 08.12.14 at 7:43 pm

“As an employee is free to leave at any time. You might be worse off but that’s why you choose to take the job in the first place.”

Guaranteed basic income (a decent amount) could make it true. Otherwise, the alternative is not “worse off”, but homelessness and possibly death of starvation.

To be fair, if you starve to death that is not your ex-boss’s responsibility. He gave you a job out of the kindness of his heart, and he told you what to do, and you didn’t want to put up with it so you quit. He had no obligation to let you work for him. If he had seen you starving on the street before he hired you, it had nothing to do with him and he didn’t owe you anything at all. Likewise, after you quit he owes you nothing.

The world does not owe you a living. If you apply for a thousand jobs and you don’t get any of them, it’s because you were not the best applicant for any of them. It is entirely your responsibility to be the best. Maybe you are applying for jobs that are too good for you. If you lower your sights — apply for jobs that pay less and have worse working conditions, you might be the best applicant then.

Maybe you aren’t working hard enough at getting a job. Anybody can get one if they work hard enough at it. If you don’t have one, that proves you aren’t working hard enough to get one.

Besides, economic theory says that the economy always creates more jobs. Supply creates its own demand. So if you don’t have a job it means there’s something wrong with you, not that there can be anything wrong with the economy. If you starve to death it’s because you deserve to starve.

If you have a job, and you think it isn’t good enough for you so you quit, and then you can’t find anything better — that was a stupid mistake! It was entirely your fault. You should have known better. Most people know better.

This is entirely different from being a slave and trying to escape and they track you with bloodhounds and bring you back and whip you. Entirely different. If you have one job and you can’t get a better one, and you don’t quit it, that’s entirely your own choice. Nothing like being a slave and not trying to escape. No similarity whatsoever.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.12.14 at 8:25 pm

Plume,

You seem to willfully misunderstanding the idea of the collective,

No. I have not willfully misunderstood the idea.

What you were discussing earlier was a situation which was not at all limited to the workplace. Youare now pretending that all you are after is giving workers in the workplace more decision-mking power. Nonsense.

For example, you said at 307 that under your system people would not be able to start their own businesses.

You want wages and prices set in stone – which virtually guarantees economic disaster.

You want your collective to be national in nature, not limited to the company.

You want to do away with currency and award points by democratic vote, except that you have no way of making the point supply line up with production.

You want the collective (not a group of workers in one company) to decide what is to be produced, because after all individuals can’t be trusted to decide that and will make consumption decisions you don’t approve of.

You claim capital will not be needed. No doubt. Carpenters will gouge out holes with their fingernails and drive nails with rocks, rathere than using tools.

It is you, not I, who misrepresent your ideas.

404

Brett Dunbar 08.12.14 at 8:31 pm

@400

Worse off might mean quite a lot worse off. That doesn’t have a lot to do with anything. You could look for a different job before quitting, or not. It doesn’t change that if you decide that you aren’t being paid enough for doing what the employer wants you can quit. What the alternatives are affects your choice, you still have a choice. And it tends to be easier to get a job offer if you are already employed….

@402

Your employer isn’t under any particular obligation to employ you in the first place, you aren’t under an obligation to continue working for your employer. If you want to quit they are not allowed to prevent you, that is what makes it not slavery.

405

Ze Kraggash 08.12.14 at 8:58 pm

“Worse off might mean quite a lot worse off. That doesn’t have a lot to do with anything.”

If it’s a quite a lot worse off, then they don’t really have any meaningful choice in your game: they have to let you exploit themselves or they die. That sucks for them. Sooner or later they will probably figure out that there is a better option: to cut your throat and take your stuff.

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J Thomas 08.12.14 at 10:12 pm

Your employer isn’t under any particular obligation to employ you in the first place, you aren’t under an obligation to continue working for your employer. If you want to quit they are not allowed to prevent you, that is what makes it not slavery.

Yes. But consider the extreme case. There is nothing to say that the system won’t evolve to its ultimate, where one person owns the world except for the wages he pays everybody who works for him — enough wages for them to pay their rent to him, and to buy food at his grocery stores and restaurants etc, not enough to buy a plot of land from him at his prices, or to buy a cash register or a commercial website if they wanted to go into business for themselves.

The owner can choose to employ you or not. And you can choose to work for him or not. If you choose not to work for him, it’s very unlikely anybody else will hire you at a living wage. And if he chooses not to hire you then you’re pretty much out of luck.

If you don’t like the job he chooses for you, maybe he’ll let you try out something else. There’s nothing that says he has to be a *bad* owner of the world. He might very well run things more productively than we do it now. He owns all the weapons so he probably won’t have rebellions as big as the wars we have. Some of the people he hires to put down rebellions might choose to rebel themselves, but he doesn’t have to keep large numbers of people for that. And if the rebels take over a whole city and the city doesn’t get rid of them, he can nuke it. If he’s reasonably careful the rebels won’t manage to steal any of his nukes.

Anyway, people don’t have the moral right to rebel against him. He owns the world. He won the capitalism game, I’m assuming without significant violence. Nobody has any right to interfere with his property unless he says they can. He does not have to rent you an apartment, he does not have to rent you a campsite, he does not have to rent you space under a bridge. He does not even have to let you sleep in his police station. But you are free because whatever work he offers to let you do, you have the legal right to say no.

It’s just like what we have now except with only one owner. Does it seem like there’s some sort of qualitative difference? There isn’t.

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mattski 08.12.14 at 10:30 pm

In practice it turns into a system of intrigue, back-stabbing, and deceit.

You don’t think there is intrigue, back-stabbing and deceit within unions? That stuff comes with human nature. You don’t eliminate it through institutional structures. You mitigate it by cultivating ethical norms, spiritual values I would say.

J Thomas @ 395

But while your advice is good it does not make slavery OK.

Well, echoing Brett Dunbar, when I discuss the employee/boss relationship I’m not discussing slavery. You bring up slavery. I don’t understand why, but I agree with Brett that it makes your judgement look suspect. And as has been mentioned, you don’t seem to know what it is that you want or advocate. You’re only saying what you don’t want. That calls into question much of what you say.

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mattski 08.12.14 at 10:32 pm

Yes. But consider the extreme case.

Actually, that is an excellent way to go astray. Better to consider the world as it is.

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Brett Dunbar 08.12.14 at 11:01 pm

@ 406 We don’t live in the extreme case of a total monopoly. That isn’t a functioning market a monopoly is a failure mode of capitalism.

Company towns became obsolete when transport got good enough that more or less everyone had multiple available employers.

In totalitarian societies you do get a situation where there really isn’t any choice but they tend not to be capitalist.

You can set up in business in a free market without any prior investment. For example cleaning people’s houses, freelance building work &c. You don’t need a till, a decent POS (Point Of Sale) system makes inventory easier and prevents employee theft, but you don’t actually need it (if you are operating as a sole trader you don’t have to worry about employee theft and can keep the cash in a drawer).

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J Thomas 08.12.14 at 11:18 pm

And as has been mentioned, you don’t seem to know what it is that you want or advocate. You’re only saying what you don’t want. That calls into question much of what you say.

I don’t see why. Abolitionists mostly did not advise slaveowners how to get rich running cotton slave plantations without slaves. They only said that slavery was wrong and they would not stand for it.

I have no obligation to explain exactly what we should do instead of wage slavery, any more than abolitionists did to say exactly how slave-owners could maintain and expand their wealth without slaves.

I do have some ideas along those lines, but if I presented them you guys would only say — without any actual evidence — that they could not work and therefore we must keep the status quo. But the status quo is morally wrong.

“But consider the extreme case.”

Actually, that is an excellent way to go astray. Better to consider the world as it is.

There is no particular reason to think that either of us understand the world as it is.

And when we consider moral questions, things that are dead wrong don’t get right just because somebody piles some palliatives on them to reduce the worst excesses.

Like, we mostly agree that slavery was wrong. But imagine that the South had passed some laws to make it better. For example, there could be a law that slaves could be beaten only with leather whips and not chains or 2x4s. And the whips must be between 0.25″ and 4″ in width, and never more than 50 lashes a day. Regulations to protect slaves in the workplace would make things better, but would not change the essential nature of the relationship.

Say there was a law that a slave could demand to be sold a the next slave market. Then slaves would have mobility. They could not be forced to serve one master, any time they wanted they could switch to the highest bidder. People talk like this is the essential difference that makes slavery wrong and wage slavery right, but I don’t think that would be enough to make slavery OK.

Palliatives are not enough to change wrong to right.

My single-world-owner is basicly the same as what we have now, apart from things like government palliatives. And further, there is nothintg about capitalism to keep us from getting from here to there. I think if it got too far in that direction some nations would put up trade barriers and maybe eventually fight a world war to prevent it, but that’s nationalism — people defending their nations — not capitalism. Capitalism says that if one owner outcompetes all the other owners then he deserves to own the world.

If there’s anything fundamentally wrong with single-owner capitalism, there’s nothing about capitalism that’s fundamentally different from that. Only that by accident we currently happen to have more than one owner.

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Brett Dunbar 08.12.14 at 11:44 pm

@ 410 Opponents of slavery could point out that no one chose to be a slave. It was obvious to all that forced labour was an evil and that it was inherent in slavery, that without it, it wouldn’t be slavery.

An employee can seek alternative employment, go into business on their own account. Join or even help found a cooperative &c. They’ve chosen to become an employee as the best available option. They retain the right to change that decision at any point.

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ZM 08.13.14 at 2:27 am

Bernard Yomtov,

“The city does not control what I do for a living, who I work for, whether I can organize a business or hire others, the types of production I and other residents am to engage in(1), my income, the distribution of goods in the city, or prices or wages(2). It does not issue “points” in lieu of money and require that those points be used for alll transactions. In other words it is not remotely the sort of “economic democracy” that Plume fantasizes about.”

The city does impact all of these greatly – and also the State and if you live in a Federation then the whole Federation, and assuming you do not live in an isolationist protectionist city/state/federation – then the whole globe impacts upon you as well. The city includes your local city council (you might call it something else where you live) but also includes other businesses, residents, connections with the regional hinterland and other cities in your state/federation, international connections via air and seaports. it is now fashionable to analyse “governance” rather than government, so you can take the wide range of influences into account.

I will imagine Bernard Yomtov that you might have an enormous inheritance and live in a great house and garden in the middle of the city all on your lonesome. Almost like a hermit in the city. You would do all your own gardening for your food and you would have some sheep which you would shear seasonally and spend your evenings whiling away the time spinning yarn and knitting yourself outfits. Even in this scenario of you not having to have much dependency on your city/state/federation/globe you would still be dependent on property and security officers, such as policemen who when the harvest has been bad stop the little orphan children from clambering over your fence to find something to eat in your large ripening orchard to fill their poor empty stomachs.

Except, having provided you with property law and police men to keep out the starving orphans, the city sends you a great bill for unpaid property taxes, and tells you your neighbour to the East has complained the wall between you is falling down and you have 60 days to comply with local laws on wall stability.

Oh dear, you say, I must open up my great safe full of gold bars and give a gold bar to the city. You leave your house for the first time in your life and walk through the busy city, you see some people with fashionable outfits and worry that your handspun outfit does not fit in in the city, you pass homeless beggars, but you keep your gold to yourself and do not tell them to come around to enjoy the spoils from your plentiful orchard.

You reach the city taxation offices and try to pay your bill with your bar of gold – but the officers do not take bars of gold in lieu of money . Money , you say, what is this money? And the officers tell you it is points of value (pictured on metal discs and rectangular paper) in lieu of goods. In the city transactions should use money, not goods such as bars of gold – and they direct you to the nearest bank to exchange your gold bar for money.

You are sourly displeased, so you walk home, vowing not to exchange your gold for money. On the way you pass shops and see they have fashionable outfits, but when you go inside you are told they only accept cash or card – not gold bars. Upon reaching your great wrought iron front gate you see you have a new letter – this is for unpaid taxes for road works and path ways, and maintenance of roads and path ways – and you have also been delivered a shopping catalogue. Hearing a great noise, you turn around to see police officers chasing off starving orphans who had been caught trying to clamber over your fence once again. You hear more noises, the sounds of reformers “improve local laws for the benefit of all orphans”….

As you can tell, even if you had such a great inheritance and grand property, you would still be dependent on the city you live in. If you had a sufficient sum of money and decided to start a business (because unless you begin to generate an income you would lose your property because of the costs of increased taxation to assist orphans and maintenance of your crumbling facilities), you would be dependent on the business laws, property laws, security, suppliers, and buyers etc. If you did not have a sufficient sum of money you would be dependent on finding employment etc., since you wouldn’t have a great property to feed and clothe yourself by in this case, you would be dependent on people supplying you with food and clothes and also a roof and a bed. If you were young you would be dependent on the city’s education institutions and frameworks and teaching and administrative staff.

All in all, you are dependent on such a great number of things in your city it would take me too long to name just a fraction more of all of them.

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mattski 08.13.14 at 2:53 am

Me: “Better to consider the world as it is.”

J Thomas: “There is no particular reason to think that either of us understand the world as it is.”

Doesn’t it depend on what questions we’re trying to answer?

I don’t claim to understand the world in its entirety. I don’t claim fundamental knowledge of the nature of reality. But we aren’t discussing such questions. We’re discussing fairness in economic arrangements. I think, actually, that my powers of observation are more or less sufficient for these purposes. Certainly, I have opinions about what is fair, AND I think opinions about fairness are better based on real-life scenarios than imaginary worst case/best case scenarios. There is a place for imagining extremes, but let’s not lean too heavily on that sort of thing.

When we scare ourselves with worst case scenarios we end up like Dick Cheney and his pals. Paranoid and bereft of compassion.

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Harold 08.13.14 at 3:28 am

Mattski: “You don’t think there is intrigue, back-stabbing and deceit within unions? That stuff comes with human nature. You don’t eliminate it through institutional structures. You mitigate it by cultivating ethical norms, spiritual values I would say.

I agree with this and I admire Castiglione and his emphasis on self-cultivation — up to a point. Also, I agree that power struggles are endemic to human relations. Nevertheless I thought we were talking about whether the boss can be made listen to input from underlings or the prince from the governed. This is not guaranteed no matter how smart or nice a person you are because of these very human limitations. Bosses and princes want to be told what they want to hear. But it has been shown that worker input really can have positive results — in the form of better cars (Toyota) and fewer mine accidents and plane crashes.

415

Plume 08.13.14 at 5:48 am

Bernard @403,

I never changed from saying the means of production would be owned by everyone, and that we’d have real democracy, including the economy. And I never even remotely suggested that that meant “the collective” would decide for you where you would work. The main reason for having universal free education, training, etc. etc. womb to tomb is to make sure everyone can choose for themselves their own pathway. Our current system doesn’t allow for that. But the system I’m suggesting would.

No one would be left behind or left out due to lack of funds. They wouldn’t be an issue. They could pursue their dreams without financial obstacles. 100% of the population, rather than 20%, or 10% or 1% could work toward their individual dreams.

Where the community, region and national democracy would kick in would be in setting goals, guidelines, allocating needed resources in the best interest of the community, region and nation, as per democratic process and vote. Human rights, civil rights and social justice would be paramount. Not profit.

You also said:

You want the collective (not a group of workers in one company) to decide what is to be produced, because after all individuals can’t be trusted to decide that and will make consumption decisions you don’t approve of.

Actually, the system I suggest is far more trusting of individual actions and decisions than our current system, the one you support, because it includes every individual in the decision-making process. It trusts that people, 315 million individuals, can work together to do what is in the best interest of the community, region, nation, etc, and that we don’t need autocrats forcing us to do what they tell us to do. The system you support is dictatorial in nature, with autocrats at the heads of businesses telling their employees what to do, and those employees work to make those autocrats rich, and not toward their own best interests. Capitalists decide what goes on our shelves, what we can consume, how much those items cost, and the value of our time at work. I’m saying that a true democracy, one that includes the economy, would radically change that, and take those decisions out of the hands of just the few and give it to everyone instead. All of us would decide.

As for the point system. You have yet to show why it wouldn’t work. I showed how it would, with the scaling up from the family. Production? Communities would get together and decide what they need — what they actually need. The point system would provide accounting for that. The democratic process would make sure it worked. This would differ from our current system wherein a tiny fraction of society — business owners — decide for all of us. The few rule the many. And the key difference there, aside from the obvious benefits of the many deciding for the many, rather than the few making that decision? A business owner has no incentive to do what is right for workers, community, nation or the earth. Their interests will always be in direct conflict with society overall, with workers especially, and with sustaining life on this planet. Their interests are personal wealth accumulation — for themselves.

Now, if you don’t see that leaving things up to that tiny portion of society is crazy, then I really can’t help you. Because not only is it obviously not working in practice, it’s insane in theory as well.

416

Martin Bento 08.13.14 at 12:01 pm

J. Thomas wrote:

“Every day the President was given a one-page summary of the current crises and the background he needed to understand them. Hundreds of people spent one full day arguing about what should go on that one page. Thousands of people contributed to it. Somebody tries to boil down all the vital info on some important question to a single paragraph. Later his boss and various others go back and forth about how to cut that paragraph down to a single sentence. ”

That’s right. The President gets distilled information containing more intelligence than any single one of his advisors, even the most intelligent of them, could have provided. What makes this work? The President is at the head of a hierarchy.

I wrote a comment here that explored advantages and disadvantages of democracy, hierarchy, and markets as cognitive structures. People here seem to be viewing hierarchies solely in terms of domination and simplified decision-making, but there is more to it than that, and you sometimes have to be willing to view something from more than one angle. Here’s is an excerpt of what I said about hierarchy.

“Hierarchy of hierarchies of hierarchies is the ordinary form of large organizations worldwide. Information flows up and down, though more efficiently down. It flows through nodes, [in this whole analysis, people are nodes and relationships among them connections] each of which processes it. It is filtered and summarized as it moves up the tree, and expounded as it moves down. Every node in the hierarchy has to react to information from above, and should also to information from below, as “below” is the source of your power and a likely source of threats to that power (at a minimum, you must decide whether to ignore a particular piece of information from subordinates). Hence, each item of information is touched by many minds. “

In other words, an advantage of hierarchy is that it forces people to evaluate and respond to information from up or down the hierarchy. Democracy does not do this. Those who disbelieve in global warming can ignore those who believe; so can those who disbelieve in Biblical end-times prophecy. Democracy is better for ensuring that all information gets propagated, because the way to get ideas to prevail is to get broad acceptance. But it does not force people to respond to or incorporate the ideas of others, and therefore has trouble generating intelligence beyond that of its constituent parts; it needs the culture to encourage this, because the structure itself does not. This is why Presidential elections are embarassingly stupid; not because people in general are stupid, but because democracy requires the compression of information without enabling the distillation of intelligence. It requires the compression because to reach the greatest number, it has to orient towards those paying the least attention (yet still willing to vote). It does not distill intelligence because no one need respond to anyone else.

In hierarchy, you cannot ignore what your boss thinks, you can ignore what your subordinates think only selectively, and a lot of your function is to distill information from your subordinates for propagation upwards. OTOH, it is frequently advantageous to individual nodes to sequester information or information sources, so there is an advantage for democracy.

Can one bring some of the processing capacities of hierarchy to democracy? Well, I would say the “spokes council” model common in protest movements – which I believe has roots in Spanish anarchism – is a start. It derives hierarchy democratically. I don’t think that is sufficient to bring the advantages of hierarchy to democracy, but it is probably necessary.

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Brett Dunbar 08.13.14 at 12:14 pm

@ 415 To the extent points appear to be money they can work, we do of course know that cash economies work. It isn’t clear to anyone how points differ from money.

In a market getting someone to do a necessary but unpleasant, difficult and dangerous job (say clearing fatbergs out of a sewer) consists of offering enough money that sufficient people are willing and able to do the job. If you can get the same income for doing nothing, as you apparently suggest, very few people would be willing to climb into a sewer and hack away at a lump of congealed fat and faeces.

Capitalism does democratise the market, I can choose what I purchase, if I find the price satisfactory, I can choose what I sell and at what price. I don’t need the approval of a collective to buy or sell something. It sounds from your description that if I want buy something for myself that the collective do not see as valuable then the collective wouldn’t let me buy it. Under a capitalist system if there is a willing seller and a willing buyer no one else has any reason to be involved.

Command economies involve a relatively small group making decisions on behalf of everyone. A market involves individuals making decisions for themselves.

418

J Thomas 08.13.14 at 12:19 pm

We’re discussing fairness in economic arrangements. I think, actually, that my powers of observation are more or less sufficient for these purposes. Certainly, I have opinions about what is fair, AND I think opinions about fairness are better based on real-life scenarios than imaginary worst case/best case scenarios.

I dunno. If we’re discussing morality, maybe it’s moral principles we should look at. And then maybe imaginary circumstances might illustrate those principles better than our current messy world.

Southerners used to argue that many slaves were materially better off than poor whites — they ate better, were clothed better, etc. (And this was probably true of the large majority of slaves that casual observers saw, house slaves as opposed to field slaves.) They claimed that most slaves were happy as they were and did not want to be free. (I doubt this, but it’s quite possible that most slaves would say so if asked when their masters could hear. And in any even nobody much asked them, certainly nobody asked them before fighting a war about them.) It could be (and was) argued that a slave who had a good master was much better off than a poor free man.

But I’m not at all sure that these claims about the real world should matter in the question whether slavery is OK or not.

So, in the real world there is not one single owner who owns everything. Let’s say that instead it’s a hundred thousand owners worldwide who own almost everything, and there are various crumbs left over for the rest of the world. And you have the right to start a small business, and own your own business. Does that change the fundamentals that decide whether the system is evil or not?

The difference between one owner and a hundred thousand owners is that the multiple owners can compete among themselves, and they will disagree among themselves and fail to achieve a common purpose. When they argue among themselves that leaves some room for freedom — lesser people can hide in the cracks and the boundaries, and do what they want while the big shots fight among themselves instead of stopping it.

Is that competition what we should depend on for our freedom? (If so, as a practical matter how do we make sure there are enough owners and that they compete enough?) But apart from the competition, a hundred thousand different owners is morally no different than one. Unless you can think of another important difference.

Your own small business. There’s a factoid floating around that most small businesses fail within 5 years. But that is probably not accurate. For one thing, a lot of small businesses are basicly tax dodges and not really businesses, and the IRS demands that they show a profit (I think it’s) 3 years out of five or lose their tax advantage. So of course those will fold the 5th year. Also a small business owner told me that when the federal government collects small-business statistics, if a small business changes its address then it is counted as gone. Small businesses aren’t important enough in the world for the government to bother to collect careful statistics about….

I’ve seen the argument that people have the legal right to own their own businesses, therefore wage slavery is not so bad. Since most people choose to be wage slaves instead of business owners, that proves they prefer to be wage slaves. But if the system is set up so that it is very difficult to make a go of a small business even when it has more capital than most individuals can get, way past the point that they will have to declare bankruptcy when their business fails, why would that make wage slavery OK? Most people don’t try to start their own businesses just like most slaves did not try to escape — because the odds of success are long and the penalties for failure are severe.

Is this morally different from a world with one owner, an owner who allows you to start your own business but who will never allow your small business to succeed? Does a slim chance at escape make it OK, while no chance at all makes it wrong?

419

ZM 08.13.14 at 12:38 pm

Brett Dunbar,
“If you can get the same income for doing nothing, as you apparently suggest, very few people would be willing to climb into a sewer and hack away at a lump of congealed fat and faeces.”

Except if no one in the community agrees to do public service jobs then rubbish might pile up, or sewers have problems etc. it is likely the community would not like this so they will work something out. Mombasa in Kenya has been having similar trouble – the council has not been able to collect enough revenue for proper waste management because such a high number of people work in the informal sector and live in informal housing. Also the council privatised the waste management, and now they just go to richer places and their sewerage plant has broken down. So rubbish has been building up- but people are beginning to protest and to do community clean ups. A great problem is the poisoning of ground water by digging sewerage holes too deeply.

Also, current waste practices are not good at all. Reed beds and composting toilets etc are much better for human waste, black and grey water ought be separated and treated/reused properly, green waste should be composted and used in agriculture, and people should reuse and recycle things indefinitely so there is not landfill always expanding etc with plastics and so on. The decomposition of plastics over time is very poorly studied, so this should be studied so we know if we make plastics we are not going to have an even greater greenhouse gas problem down the track as all of our plastics begin to degrade more. I’m sure there are lots of other improvements needed.

420

J Thomas 08.13.14 at 12:39 pm

In a market getting someone to do a necessary but unpleasant, difficult and dangerous job (say clearing fatbergs out of a sewer) consists of offering enough money that sufficient people are willing and able to do the job. If you can get the same income for doing nothing, as you apparently suggest, very few people would be willing to climb into a sewer and hack away at a lump of congealed fat and faeces.

In a market that includes unemployed people desperate for a job, any job, it doesn’t take that much money.

If it did cost a lot to get this job done, it would be a prime candidate for automation. Find ways to build sewers so it doesn’t happen much. Get equipment that can do it without much hands-on human intervention.

But we don’t do that, because human beings are cheap enough.

That’s the beauty of the job market we have. If somebody’s qualified for a job that doesn’t involve walking around in sewers, and he prefers it, then he takes that. but the guy who doesn’t mind spending his day in sewers will take the job cheaper than one who hates the idea, and so we all get sorted out to do the work that’s best suited for us. We can tell which jobs need to be automated by which jobs are hardest to find qualified people — we would automate away MDs and lawyers almost instantly if we knew how. It’s hard to find people who are willing to do that sort of work so the pay has to be very high. But so many people enjoy working in sewers that the cost is low; those jobs can stay.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.13.14 at 2:28 pm

ZM,

All in all, you are dependent on such a great number of things in your city it would take me too long to name just a fraction more of all of them.

I do not disagree with this.

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Harold 08.13.14 at 3:07 pm

I visited the sewers of Paris, which has a museum and tourist visits, thank to Victor Hugo, and saw a film about the heroic sewer workers. They do think of themselves as heroes and rightly so.

423

Brett Dunbar 08.13.14 at 3:16 pm

@ 419

A market provides a solution, if you offer enough money then you will find someone willing to do the job, they find the cash is worth more than the value of the work. I was asking what plume’s solution was.

@ 420 Joseph Bazalgette designed the sewers so that they required a minimum of maintenance however changes since the 1860s such as the invention of wet wipes and sanitary towels and people flushing them down the toilet have caused them to block.

Lawyers for example are paid well as the supply is quite limited due to the prolonged and expensive training required. The marginal price is rather high.

424

Brett Dunbar 08.13.14 at 3:30 pm

@ 418 You still haven’t answered the question: What is it that makes employment not OK?

What we disagree is the unjustified assertion that employment is in some way morally equivalent to slavery. The things that made slavery an evil are precisely those characteristics that distinguish it from employment.

The fact is that it isn’t that difficult or expensive to start a business. The amount of capital required to open a chippy or a tea shop is not great.

425

Bruce Wilder 08.13.14 at 3:36 pm

Dangerous, disgusting sewer work in India continues despite ban

http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-india-sewers-20140704-story.html

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Bruce Wilder 08.13.14 at 4:22 pm

I suppose it is a pet peeve of mine, but I really hate it when people insist on referring to employment as a market relationship. It may, or may not be the moral equivalent of slavery — that, it seems to me, depends upon the political terms of employment. But, it ceases to be equivalent or analogous to a market relationship, as soon as you take the job. And, the job is not like other market exchange — it is not discrete and impersonal.

A market relationship is selling a product or definite service: a shoemaker sells shoes, a bookseller sells books, a plumber comes to your house and fixes the leak.

Employment is distinctively different from an exchange of goods for money. The employee is paid a wage, which is generally unrelated to product output, and agrees to follow directions. The relations of employees inside the enterprise firm are not market relationships; they are coordinated by supervision and direction — exactly the kind of command-and-control and planning, which is otherwise contrasted with market-coordination in price.

Necessarily, the distinctive “job market” bargain, which takes employment out of a market relation and puts it into a command-and-control relation, is a regular wage combined with “do as the boss says, or you’re fired”. “Do as the boss says, or you’re fired” may be a step up from “do as the boss says, or you will be whipped, or imprisoned, or shot”, but its not difficult to see, historically, that political battles on many fronts had to be fought to take those steps up. They were political battles, not market bargaining. And, the other side of the political battle was fought and continues to be fought, to prevent the employee from taking any action, but quitting and seeking other employment. (One may note that employers may take measures to prevent the employee from fully exercising the option to seek other employment — not an irrelevant detail.) Quitting is certainly not the only “natural” option open to the employee in the strategic contest with the employer over wages, benefits and other terms of employment.

I certainly do not think we are likely to abandon employment or hierarchy in organizing economic production. There are enormous benefits in increasing productivity associated with hierarchy as an economic organizing paradigm. We could recognize, given the pervasiveness of employment and hierarchy, that we don’t live in a “market” economy, and people, who speak as if we do, are fools or liars. Hierarchy and the employment relation are problematic, and the problems are not problems of “the market”, solved by an unthinking dismissal — “you can quit”.

The problems of hierarchy and employment are political problems. In “market’ terms, they are that the employers are fewer in number and able to conspire among themselves, already organized (by the fact of heading hierarchies if nothing else), and having many advantages in influencing the institutions of the state. This was recognized by Adam Smith, but, today, I doubt you would find much in Greg Mankiw, to confirm that the minimum wage could be too low, let alone that wages, generally, might be too low. Economists are famously hostile to labor unions, and some regularly seek to explain unemployment caused by financial malfeasance as a consequence of paltry unemployment compensation benefits. The central bank openly pursues policies that take rising wages as a negative signal, requiring a renewal of recession. Employment in bureaucracy is, as Weber identified it, simply a new species of domination. As such, it shares a political genus with slavery, and we ought to recognize that, even if we are realistic enough to recognize that the world is not soon to arrive at a millennium without domination.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.13.14 at 5:58 pm

Plume,

I never changed from saying the means of production would be owned by everyone, and that we’d have real democracy, including the economy. And I never even remotely suggested that that meant “the collective” would decide for you where you would work. The main reason for having universal free education, training, etc. etc. womb to tomb is to make sure everyone can choose for themselves their own pathway. Our current system doesn’t allow for that. But the system I’m suggesting would.
No one would be left behind or left out due to lack of funds. They wouldn’t be an issue. They could pursue their dreams without financial obstacles. 100% of the population, rather than 20%, or 10% or 1% could work toward their individual dreams.

Not true. You have explicitly said people would not be allowed to start their own businesses, for example.

Where the community, region and national democracy would kick in would be in setting goals, guidelines, allocating needed resources in the best interest of the community, region and nation, as per democratic process and vote. Human rights, civil rights and social justice would be paramount. Not profit.

But “allocating needed resources” necessarily involves allocating labor. You cannot tell people they can pursue their own pathway and at the same time exercise the power to “allocate” them as per the community’s decisions. If you want to build houses you need carpenters, electricians, plumbers, painters, and so on. You can either assume that they will magically appear in the numbers needed, or you can provide incentives in the form of pay, or you can coerce people into those jobs. Since magical assumptions are not likely to hold, and you refuse to provide incentives, (wages are set in stone, recall) you are left with coercion. All your talk of human rights is meaningless.

You also said:
You want the collective (not a group of workers in one company) to decide what is to be produced, because after all individuals can’t be trusted to decide that and will make consumption decisions you don’t approve of.
Actually, the system I suggest is far more trusting of individual actions and decisions than our current system, the one you support, because it includes every individual in the decision-making process. It trusts that people, 315 million individuals, can work together to do what is in the best interest of the community, region, nation, etc, and that we don’t need autocrats forcing us to do what they tell us to do. The system you support is dictatorial in nature, with autocrats at the heads of businesses telling their employees what to do, and those employees work to make those autocrats rich, and not toward their own best interests. Capitalists decide what goes on our shelves, what we can consume, how much those items cost, and the value of our time at work. I’m saying that a true democracy, one that includes the economy, would radically change that, and take those decisions out of the hands of just the few and give it to everyone instead. All of us would decide.

But capitalists, or rather managers, are driven in those decisions by what people want, and what work they want to do in exchange for what pay. Contrary to your imagining design and production decisions very much take popular demand into account. Does Apple force people to buy iPhones?
Besides, there are many decisions, even at the level of the individual organization, that are not best made by majority vote. If I am producing electronic devices, for example, I don’t want the janitor and the bookkeeper outvoting the electrical engineer on how the circuits should be designed. Call me an autocrat.
As for the point system. You have yet to show why it wouldn’t work. I showed how it would, with the scaling up from the family.

Nonsense. You showed nothing. You propose to pay people out of an infinite supply of points. No taxes, as I understand it, or government borrowing. So you will pay, let’s say, government workers with points that you simply create. Very well, but you have increased the amount of money – let’s call points what they are – with no offsetting transaction. Normally, stated prices will rise, as these workers go to buy food and other goods. But in your system prices can’t change. So we will see waiting lines, empty shelves, perhaps rationing, no doubt involving cronyism, as the number of buyers at the fixed price exceeds the quantity of goods available. Or perhaps you will send city dwellers out to grow more food, whether they want to go or not.
And this is a general problem with your fixed price system. When there is a bumper crop of apples and a bad year for oranges apples will rot unsold, because there will not be enough buyers at your pre-determined price, and oranges will be fought over. Similar problems will afflict the labor markets.
Nor will workers seek to improve their skills, no matter that training is free. Why bother to improve, or even work harder, if my wage is fixed for all time?

Production? Communities would get together and decide what they need — what they actually need. The point system would provide accounting for that. The democratic process would make sure it worked.

As I have said before, that which is not produced cannot be consumed. So the collective would make consumption decisions based on “what we really need,” as if that can be known. Is there room for luxuries in your system, or even individual choice? Or do we all walk around wearing padded jackets in the same color, because after all, that’s all we “need?” I prefer not to have my choices made by the collective, thank you.

This would differ from our current system wherein a tiny fraction of society — business owners — decide for all of us. The few rule the many. And the key difference there, aside from the obvious benefits of the many deciding for the many, rather than the few making that decision? A business owner has no incentive to do what is right for workers, community, nation or the earth. Their interests will always be in direct conflict with society overall, with workers especially, and with sustaining life on this planet. Their interests are personal wealth accumulation — for themselves.
Now, if you don’t see that leaving things up to that tiny portion of society is crazy, then I really can’t help you. Because not only is it obviously not working in practice, it’s insane in theory as well.

The insane system is yours.

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Plume 08.13.14 at 6:12 pm

Capitalism does democratise the market, I can choose what I purchase, if I find the price satisfactory, I can choose what I sell and at what price. I don’t need the approval of a collective to buy or sell something.

Capitalism doesn’t democratize the market. How could it? It’s based on the ability to afford a limited set of products, chosen by a tiny fraction of society, who decides for all of us what goes on our shelves, how much those things cost, and what our wages are. The few decide for the many. That’s not democracy.

Yes, if you’re wealthy enough, you can purchase what you like from the array of products offered by that tiny fraction. But you don’t get to choose what isn’t there. You don’t set prices. And if you can’t afford the item, you’re locked out of that “market.”

And, given the fact that the median income in America is roughly 27K (for individuals), most people are locked out of most purchases. Is that “freedom” or “democracy” in your view? And worldwide? Three billion people live off $2.00 or less a day. The richest 20% consumes 85% of our resources. Just 85 people hold as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion combined. In America, the richest 400 Americans hold more wealth than the bottom 60% of the country?

How can you possibly conclude from the above that capitalism “democratizes” the markets?

In reality, with its massive waste, horrifically bad allocation of goods, services and compensation, the horrendous inequality baked into the very mechanics of that system, the words “capitalism” and “democracy” have no linkage whatsoever, other than in opposition to one another.

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Plume 08.13.14 at 6:21 pm

It sounds from your description that if I want buy something for myself that the collective do not see as valuable then the collective wouldn’t let me buy it. Under a capitalist system if there is a willing seller and a willing buyer no one else has any reason to be involved.

Also, it’s not a matter of the dreaded collective not allowing you to buy something. Democratic processes would replace autocratic business owners in deciding what goes on the shelf, and then you would be completely free to buy whatever is there. Instead of a tiny fraction of society — business owners — making that decision, deciding for all of us what products and services are available, we all would. In both cases, people decide what goes on those shelves, pricing, wages, distribution, etc. etc. It’s a choice and it has limits, regardless. You’re not going to escape the decision process, even though you believe capitalism offers you this cornucopia of unlimited choice. That’s an illusion created primarily via capitalist marketing and the overstocking of goods to give the appearance of that cornucopia. And at what cost? Massive waste and pollution — along with higher prices for unsold goods built right in.

In the capitalist system, you get to choose from what the few say you can choose from. In a fully democratized economy, you would have an equal say as to what goes on those shelves, pricing, wages, allocation, etc. I can’t fathom why anyone would rather a tiny portion of society make those decisions, when we could all do that instead.

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Plume 08.13.14 at 6:47 pm

Bernard,

Not sure why you’re not getting this. In this alternative system, capitalism doesn’t exist. There is no profit. We do not, for once, organize society to benefit the few at the cost of the many. People who own businesses in the capitalist system are the few. A tiny portion of society. This system, for the first time in history, is organized to benefit everyone, rather than the 1% or higher.

While it is true that you could not just start your own business, you could bring up your ideas for the community to hash out. That would be welcomed. If they liked your ideas, the community could start a coop with those ideas in mind. Outside of that, you would receive free college, training, artisanship courses, craftspersons courses, etc. etc. And this society would have thousands of different trades, vocations, etc., etc, to choose from. The dreaded collective wouldn’t make that choice for you. You would make that on your own. And unlike in our current system, you wouldn’t be limited to pursuing only those trades or vocations you were able to afford to learn. There is no entrance fee for that learning. Everyone gets their shot. Everyone.

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Plume 08.13.14 at 6:58 pm

Nor will workers seek to improve their skills, no matter that training is free. Why bother to improve, or even work harder, if my wage is fixed for all time?

I suggested four wage tiers to take care of this problem. I posted that above, and in a previous thread some time ago.

To remain as egalitarian as possible, compensation would be 4 to 1, top to bottom. Everyone could pursue higher grades via skills testing, additional schooling and experience. Something along the lines of apprentice, teacher, master-teacher, artisan organizer. The names don’t matter. They could be anything.

This would accomplish two things: Keep compensation very close to “equal,” while providing incentive for advancement.

Oh, and your critique of fixed prices might make sense if this system operated on capitalist logic. But it doesn’t. There is no profit. Prices don’t have to contain costs for business, compensation for ownership or additional profits anymore. Prices are just accounting tools to match up with wages, to make sure the math works. To make sure every citizen can afford to be comfortable, at least. Again, all the revenue streams are totally independent of those prices. Store X doesn’t take the points it receives from “sales” in order to compensate a non-existent owner. The people running Store X receive points, too, like everyone else, and they don’t come from “sales.” They come from a central pool.

Again, all previous “market relations” have been replaced. They no longer exist. They’re absolutely 100% gone. This means you can’t critique this alternative based upon capitalist rules of the road.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.13.14 at 7:32 pm

Plume,

It is not a question of my “not getting it.”

I think I understand your proposals well enough. It is that I think they are disastrously flawed and would lead to economic catastrophe, for many reasons, some of which I cite. They would, I think lead topolitical catastrophe as well. Perhaps the most important is that you cannot divorce production from the allocation of labor. You can go on and on about trades, vocations, professions, and whatnot, but production requires labor. The capitalist who wants to build cars needs workers. The collective that wants to build cars will also require workers. You may not like current employment arrangements. I agree there is room for improvement. But conscription is worse.

Further, I think some of your ideas about how capitalism functions today are wrong. Most business owners are not one-percenters. They operate the restaurants, dry-cleaners, other retail establishments you see everywhere. Some prosper. Some fail. The community, by the way, makes that decision, by patronizing the establishment or not.

As for buying things, I again don’t see why you don’t get it. If it’s not there I can’t buy it. Yes, someone ultimately will deccide what to produce and sell, but I would rather have that be someone who is thinking about what I want, rather than a collective deciding what I need.

As for your money and pricing system, all I can do, since you don’t get it, is repeat that it must lead to catastrophe.

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Plume 08.13.14 at 8:07 pm

Bernard,

Why would you think “conscription” would be necessary? Every community would have plenty of places to work, jobs to be done, trades to practice, etc. etc. The variety would be pretty much the same as it is under capitalism. And, again, unlike in our current system, every single kid would be able to choose their own course without worrying about fees — from womb to tomb. They could go to the college, trade school, tech school, artisan school, crafts school of their choice and then pursue their career path from there. Their choice. No worries about entrance fees, ever. And the dreaded “collective” doesn’t make that decision for them.

I have no idea what you mean about production being divorced from the allocation of labor in this alternative. Labor actually takes center stage. All labor is valued and esteemed. It’s not just a means to an end for capitalists. It’s the foundation for society.

It’s also far more rational to coordinate it and match it to actual societal need than to leave it up to disconnected, private actors (ad hoc) whose sole purpose is to make money for themselves. It would be tied to community and societal need, not the whims of business owners who have incentives to ship job overseas to find cheaper and cheaper labor. Unlike in our capitalist system, there would be no need to shut down companies or fire large numbers of workers if profits started to fall. Again, there are no profits to worry about, or shareholders screaming for higher dividends. The allocation of labor would still be linked with production, obviously. Production requires labor, and this alternative puts labor first. How could it be “divorced”?

And do you really think a business owner produces something with you in mind? Really? He or she would sell you shit on the stick if they could, and we know this from countless examples of highly dangerous, toxic things being sold in markets all over the world; and we know that this happens to a greater degree the more governments “free” businesses from oversight and regulations.

Also, I know that most business owners aren’t in the top 1%, financially. But they are a very small portion of society. If you include sole proprietors, you’re looking at roughly 15 – 18%. If you remove sole proprietors, and go with business owners with employees, you’re talking roughly 3-4%. Sole proprietors, technically, aren’t capitalists. That’s the main reason I haven’t discussed them all that much, except with my chair example.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.13.14 at 9:19 pm

Sole proprietors, technically, aren’t capitalists. That’s the main reason I haven’t discussed them all that much, except with my chair example.

Sole proprietors may have employees. Most do.

Sole proprietors are most definitely capitalists. A part of their income derives from the use of their capital.

If I own a restaurant as a sole proprietor I will have employees. I will also have capital – kitchen equipment, tables and chairs, etc. Clearly a part of my income will come as a return on the money invested in this equipment. I am a capitalist.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.13.14 at 9:27 pm

And do you really think a business owner produces something with you in mind?

Actually, yes. If they hope to sell their product.

And you really need to read your first and third paragraph together. First, everyone does whatever work pleases them. Then, labor is “coordinated” according to “community need.” And the “allocation of labor would still be linked with production, obviously.”

This is laughable.

Unlike in our capitalist system, there would be no need to shut down companies or fire large numbers of workers if profits started to fall.

So you would continue to operate factories making things no one wants to buy? Great idea.

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Plume 08.13.14 at 10:26 pm

Bernard,

Laughable? How so? Society would have a vast array of occupations to choose from. Education, health care, fire and rescue, infrastructure, construction, farming, parks and recreation, cultural arts, technology, transportation, maritime, environmental protection, etc. etc. There would always be plenty to do and no shortage of work that needed to be done, or labor beneficial to the entire society.

You seem to be under the impression that no society can function without capitalism in place, even though they did for thousands of years before its advent. To read you is to wonder how on earth humans even survived their first 250,000 years without it, or how large parts of the globe operated just fine without it well into the 19th century. In America, Native peoples managed for thousands of years without any conception of capitalist arrangements, and avoided them altogether into the early 20th century.

So you would continue to operate factories making things no one wants to buy? Great idea.

And right here is where you miss the beauty of the whole thing, because you can’t break free of the capitalist mindset.

Production would be based on orders for goods and services, not on potential future sales. We make to order. We make what the community wants, what it already asked for, needs, orders for itself. We don’t have to close down factories. Those factories aren’t even built unless the community wants, demands that they’re built in order to supply the wants and needs of that community.

As mentioned already, that would radically reduce waste and pollution. There is no need to produce an overabundance of goods to create the illusion of the cornucopia. There is no need to overstock shelves with goods no one will buy, because the orders for those goods are already placed. We make just what has been ordered, what we know is already booked for “sale,” and no more, except when it comes to things like food and core necessities. In that case, we still produce to order, but we also produce enough for rainy days. We create emergency stock piles for key community needs.

You’re far to wedded to the current system. Think outside the box.

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Plume 08.13.14 at 10:42 pm

So, again, briefly:

In the capitalist system, a business person decides to set up shop. No one asked them to. The community didn’t get together and ask that person to come into town and set up the 20th fast food joint, etc. He or she just decided, all on their own, to do so. And they hope that they can convince enough people to buy enough product in the future so they can accrue personal wealth. And they’ll sell pretty much whatever it takes.

In the system I’m talking about, the community decides ahead of time what it needs through democratic processes. Directly. All voices have equal weight. They choose. The people of that community choose the kinds of production they want in their community. They plan for their own present and future. They plan. It’s not on an individual actor looking to make his or her fortune. It’s done with the entire community’s interests in mind.

Honestly, I can’t see how anyone would prefer the ad hoc, hodge podge, patchwork quilt capitalist method of extreme waste, pollution and duplication, wrapped up in a wish and a prayer.

Under capitalism, most businesses fail and go under pretty quickly. In their wake, you have waste, pollution and dislocation. People lose their jobs. Buildings go empty. Products and services lose their support. And none of this is coordinated in any way with community or societal needs. It’s solely a matter of a tiny fraction of society deciding they want to making money selling X or Y or Z for themselves.

It’s just a really, really stupid way of organizing society, and that doesn’t even bring in the question of the massive inequities of pay we’ve already discussed above. It’s just an incredibly dumb and inefficient usage of resources — human and natural.

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Bruce Wilder 08.13.14 at 11:00 pm

Plume: Honestly, I can’t see how anyone would prefer the ad hoc, hodge podge, patchwork quilt capitalist method . . .

Yes, I think we get that pretty clearly. You’ve repeated yourself enough to make that beyond clear. You can’t see. OK. You’re blind. We get it.

I cannot show anything to the blind. It’s pointless.

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PGD 08.13.14 at 11:36 pm

Employment in bureaucracy is, as Weber identified it, simply a new species of domination. As such, it shares a political genus with slavery, and we ought to recognize that, even if we are realistic enough to recognize that the world is not soon to arrive at a millennium without domination.

this is true and well put, as always. But capitalist employment shares a genus with *all* forms of hierarchical exercise of power, of which slavery is just one. The problem I have with some of the stuff in the OP is that they seem to posit some unique relationship between capitalism and slavery, as though capitalism (as compared to other forms of hierarchical domination that have existed from time immemorial) has had a special dependency on slavery. This is just historically not true. One need not argue that capitalist employment relations are fully free and voluntary to claim that they may in certain ways represent an improvement over previous forms of domination.

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Bernard Yomtov 08.13.14 at 11:45 pm

Honestly, I can’t see how anyone would prefer the ad hoc, hodge podge, patchwork quilt capitalist method of extreme waste, pollution and duplication, wrapped up in a wish and a prayer.

If you can’t see it you are, as Bruce Wilder says, blind.

I have made as many arguments as I care to, more really. You have found your religion and tolerate no questions or criticism. You merely praise your god, without addressing any objections.

Enjoy yourself.

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Brett Dunbar 08.13.14 at 11:48 pm

@ 437

That is precisely what makes the capitalist system democratic, the businessperson speculatively offers a product and if there are enough people want what they offer then they continue to offer that product, if not enough want the product then they cease making it. The resources freed up can then be used to make something different. The market punishes waste.

Maybe there are already twenty fast food places in town, but none of them offer Vietnamese food like you do or there is more demand than twenty fast food shops can supply or maybe your food is better so some existing shops close and you stay in business, or maybe you don’t and convert it to a bookshop. Either way it depends on the choices of members of society.

You are advocating a centrally planned economy, which is far more wasteful and inefficient, we know this as we have seen numerous real world examples and they simply do not work all that well. They tend to end up producing large quantities of what the central planning agency thinks the consumer ought to want rather than what the consumer actually wants.

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J Thomas 08.13.14 at 11:59 pm

The problem I have with some of the stuff in the OP is that they seem to posit some unique relationship between capitalism and slavery, as though capitalism (as compared to other forms of hierarchical domination that have existed from time immemorial) has had a special dependency on slavery. This is just historically not true.

It may be that capitalism was uniquely able to exploit slavery, as it was uniquely able to exploit so much else. Not that capitalist required slavery, but that it used it more effectively.

One need not argue that capitalist employment relations are fully free and voluntary to claim that they may in certain ways represent an improvement over previous forms of domination.

Agreed. But just as serfdom was in some ways better than slavery but still not at all OK, couldn’t it be that wage slavery is also better than previous forms of domination but still not OK?

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J Thomas 08.14.14 at 12:36 am

Honestly, I can’t see how anyone would prefer the ad hoc, hodge podge, patchwork quilt capitalist method of extreme waste, pollution and duplication, wrapped up in a wish and a prayer.

It does have one advantage that you sort of point out. If somebody makes a serious mistake, usually there’s somebody else who’s serving as a sort of backup, who can accomplish what the first guy fails to do. Since people make lots of mistakes and create lots of failures, it’s good to have multiple backups. A lot of waste, duplication, and patchwork quality to the system is a good thing that way. It costs us, but those costs can be worth it.

You haven’t talked about it but I’m sure your system would have some similar backups. If somebody gets a stupid idea, the people around him are likely to talk him out of it. If a whole region gets captured by a stupid idea, a lot of people either in that region or elsewhere won’t switch to the stupidity right away, they’ll have time to watch it fail and then not switch at all, and when it’s a matter of making necessities like food they can make enough to tide people over until production goes back up.

Unfortunately there are problems where backups don’t help. If we had ten competing US presidents and any one of them could nuke Russia, having ten of them doesn’t mean we have nine to recover from mistakes, it only means that the chance of a catastrophic mistake is bigger.

Anyway, when people make lots of mistakes it’s good to have backups, and capitalist systems used to be good at arranging that. Unfortunately these days capitalists find that they make more money when they can eliminate the backups. Enron would not have made so much if customers could easily avoid them. Similarly the 2008 banking crisis where for awhile nobody knew which banks were in trouble because the fraud had gotten traded so widely. You couldn’t avoid the consequences by choosing a good bank. They make the most money when the product is way overpriced and you still have to buy it from them whether you want to or not.

It kind of bothers me when you talk like you’re planning a system where there is no alternative. Because what if you make a mistake setting it up, and so because of a problem that could have been easily fixed if you’d seen it early enough, we are all stuck with something that can’t work and there’s no alternative.

Can we create an economic system along the general lines you lay out that solves all the problems you want to solve? Maybe. Probably. Can we do it right the first time with no mistakes? I wouldn’t bet on it. I sure wouldn’t bet my life on it.

I’d like it better if you proposed a system that can start small and grow as you work the bugs out. And I’d like it better if people could try out variations on the system and see how well they work over time. That doesn’t solve all our problems, but it solves some of them.

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Harold 08.14.14 at 12:39 am

J. Thomas: This is exactly right.

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mattski 08.14.14 at 2:09 am

J Thomas,

It could be (and was) argued that a slave who had a good master was much better off than a poor free man. It could be (and was) argued that a slave who had a good master was much better off than a poor free man.

OK. Here is a hypothetical for you. There is a society resembling the antebellum South in which there is a class of people who are slaves. The rest of society is “free” but divided into distinct economic classes. There is a “wealthy” class, perhaps 5% of the entire population, there is a “middle” class comprising about 25% of the population and there is a “poor” class comprising about 40% of the population. Slaves make up the remaining 30%. Let’s say that while slaves have no social mobility they also have roughly (x) times the living standard of the free poor. And in practice they work (y) fewer hours than the free poor. We have to assign some value (z) to the social mobility of the free poor. We can tweak x, y & z to whatever values we please… See where this is going?

We can agree that slavery is not OK, but that there is a broad range of circumstances under which being a slave is still preferable to being a member of some lower class of free people. So, it is sometimes irrelevant that such-and-such a human condition is “not OK.” Because what matters are the alternatives.

Relatedly, “freedom” is not an absolute quality. Our freedom is constrained by the existence of other people among other things, not the least of which are our bodily needs & desires. That is another reason not to get hung up the inconvenience of having a boss.

But apart from the competition, a hundred thousand different owners is morally no different than one.

If you drink 50 gallons of water in 2 hours you will likely die. So there must be something wrong with water. Proof by extremity.

Is this morally different from a world with one owner

Is a monarchy morally different than aristocracy? And is aristocracy morally different than representative democracy?

I don’t disagree at all that the current US economy AND political system are in a disastrous state. For all practical purposes we live in a plutocracy despite having the machinery of representative democracy. But I wouldn’t blame “representative democracy” for our current state of affairs.

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mattski 08.14.14 at 2:23 am

Harold,

But it has been shown that worker input really can have positive results — in the form of better cars (Toyota) and fewer mine accidents and plane crashes.

Yes, I agree.

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mattski 08.14.14 at 2:39 am

You merely praise your god, without addressing any objections.

Plume’s system might work great if everyone in his imaginary world were just like him. Except it probably wouldn’t.

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Plume 08.14.14 at 5:36 am

I’d like it better if you proposed a system that can start small and grow as you work the bugs out. And I’d like it better if people could try out variations on the system and see how well they work over time. That doesn’t solve all our problems, but it solves some of them.

This objection surprises me, as does the one that says I brook no alternatives. In every attempt to explain, I talk about the essential democratic nature of the entire thing, which means I acknowledge that it will grow, evolve, change, change directions, as per the decisions of all people. It will no doubt veer away from the things I’ve suggested. All I’m talking about is setting up a foundation — just as this country had its initial foundation, which has been altered through time as well. A foundation for an egalitarian and democratic system, the first one ever attempted in the modern world.

The talk about praising gods and failing to answer objections is nonsense. The core of the entire thing is Parecon. Participatory Economics, democracy, democracy without proxies. One can not possibly get further from autocratic rule or rule by fiat than that . . . . yet the main objection by Bernard and others seems to be that I, alone, want to call the shots. Sheeesh. The entire point of this thing is to make sure NO one person ever, ever calls the shots. Everyone does this, together.

And, as I’ve mentioned, I know full well I won’t live to see this happen. I won’t live to gain anything from this exercise in alternative theory. I won’t be around if it happens. But it’s about me?

449

J Thomas 08.14.14 at 5:39 am

Is a monarchy morally different than aristocracy?

I don’t see that it is, no. I’ve seen an argument for monarchy which goes: The aristocrats naturally wind up trampling on the common people. But the King has a sort of implicit alliance with the common people. When he tramples on the aristocrats he makes it harder for them to trample on the people under them. Having a king changes everything, it makes everything better for the common people.

To me it looks like an unstable balance. If the aristocrats get too strong then the king can’t protect you. If the king gets too strong then he can trample on everybody, not just aristocrats. You can’t expect them to stay balanced just right to help you. You are better off if you can arrange to live in a society where people don’t habitually trample on each other.

If the king treats aristocrats like an aristocrat treats you, it’s still the same thing going on. If banking is wrong, setting up a central bank that provides banking services to banks will probably not make it right. Etc.

And is aristocracy morally different than representative democracy?

Hereditary aristocrats are not responsible to their people. It used to be, if the peasants revolted against their lord then all the neighboring lords would bring in their armies to stop it, and so would the king if he was strong enough or close enough. That looks different from a representative democracy in theory. If you can toss out the bums when you don’t like your representatives, that’s in theory very different. But if that doesn’t work then maybe not so much different after all.

I don’t disagree at all that the current US economy AND political system are in a disastrous state. For all practical purposes we live in a plutocracy despite having the machinery of representative democracy.

If you think the problem is that a plutocracy has taken over, what do you want to do about it?

You can’t take away their money by outcompeting them in the free market, because they have replaced free markets with something kind of looks like a free market but you can’t compete with them.

And you can’t easily beat them in politics because they have so much money, and their bought politicians have already changed the rules of the game to something it’s hard to beat them at. And if you elect a politician who promises to oppose them, there’s a good chance they’ve bought him too and he’s just another scarecrow.

I think that beating them at politics looks like the best chance anyway, because it looks more chaotic. You might be able to get some sort of surprise victory. You can’t possibly win at economics while they have the government that can change the rules to keep you from winning no matter what you do.

But I wouldn’t blame “representative democracy” for our current state of affairs.

Here’s a quick story. I listened to some people explain about BDSM. They said they really had safe, sane, consensual agreements in which they pretended to be masters and slaves. They enjoyed pretending.

Then I listened to a woman describe her experience. She voluntarily joined a 24/7 roleplaying experience where she pretended to be a slave. Every day when she got home from work she had to be naked until she left for work the next day. They took her paycheck. She was at the bottom of the pecking order, she had to lay on the floor and beg everybody not to beat her, and sometimes they did beat her when they were angry at somebody else. She couldn’t leave because she had no money for the deposit on a new place and if she left CPA would take her children away from her. Finally she contacted a real BDSM group on her lunch hour and they rescued her.

The group she had been with kept her as a real slave, and everybody pretended it was consensual pretending to be real. She had to pretend it was consensual or they would beat her for telling the truth. But that did not make it really consensual.

Similarly, if you live in a plutocracy that pretends to be a representative democracy, it would be silly to blame representative democracy for your problems. If you can create a real representative democracy and it has a democracy’s problems, THEN you blame representative democracy for those.

And if you live in a rigged economy that pretends to be free markets, don’t blame its problems on free markets.

And if you live in a system of wage slavery that pretends to be entirely consensual deal-making, consensual deal-making is not your problem.

Maybe you could set up a capitalist system that would work as advertised. But when we don’t have that, why should I assume it would work? Plame’s fantasy or your fantasy, which is the better fantasy?

450

Plume 08.14.14 at 5:44 am

A thought experiment:

Would you trade the ability to start and run and own your own business if this meant that everyone, every single citizen, regardless of their ability to pay, would have free education, womb to tomb, and free health care, womb to tomb?

We can keep it simple in that way. Throw away all the rest of my suggestions. Every single one. No points to deal with. None of the other alternatives I’ve suggested.

Let’s just say you had the choice and the power to implement this:

1. We go to WSDE business relations (Worker self-directed enterprises)

2. People are guaranteed schooling for life in the field of their choice, and free healthcare for life.

There is a 100% metaphysical certainty that the tradeoff of private business ownership would yield #2. And a 100% metaphysical certainty that none of your fears regarding “the collective” would take place beyond this tradeoff.

It’s a simple one to one trade. The ability to own your own businesses in exchange for those two benefits for everyone.

Would you make that sacrifice for society?

451

Harold 08.14.14 at 5:54 am

All forms of civilization are and have always been hierarchical, since they first began six thousand years ago One would wish that it were not so; and it is not written in stone that they need be so in the future, since humanity has been around for far longer than six thousand years. It is not an unmitigated blessing, as has often been pointed out. Money (in the form of minted coins) has been around a lot fewer years that than that — since about 700 to 500 BC (?) — though people traded in commodities, including gold and silver bars, before that.

452

Bruce Wilder 08.14.14 at 6:16 am

J Thomas @ 449

It’s always an unstable balance. It doesn’t matter what the system is, it’s changing.

453

Plume 08.14.14 at 7:02 am

Harold,

Yes, all civilizations have had forms of hierarchy. But it’s only with capitalist relations that economic hierarchies have taken front and center stage without escape. For thousands of years, people could live and die without experiencing pretty much any “markets” beyond the local, and their lives were not so thoroughly integrated into any kind of economic system beyond local affairs. Now we are dependent entirely on those markets for our sustenance, and the providers are most often people we never see, never will see, and are typically hundreds or thousands of miles away from us.

We are divorced from the land, from nature, from our communities, and dependent on centralized economics in the form of globalized corporate power. And that distance between producer and consumer is large enough to make it very easy for producers to remain oblivious of both the needs of citizens and the consequences of their business practices. Add to that the lust for making a buck, and you have the perfect storm of alienation from work, from community, from consumers and the earth. To me, no previous economic system has driven this divorce like capitalism, and its own contradictions, which are legion, will cause its eventual collapse. It would have collapsed long ago if not for the endless bailouts by taxpayers over the decades. It couldn’t sustain itself without countless government intrusions to prop it up, go to war on its behalf, redirect capital to keep it alive, etc. etc.

Marx was obviously wrong about the proles fighting back to topple it in the near term (in the 19th century). But he was right about its contradictions. Those contradictions will be the death of it, as governments will eventually run out of the money needed to bail it out one more time. Ironically, it’s the billionaires who have set the table for its eventual end, both by getting governments to cut their own taxes and slashing wages for the rank and file. This kills both the backstop and the consumer base.

I’d rather we choose for ourselves a sustainable system with social justice baked right in, and do so before the final depression hits — the one we don’t rise from.

454

J Thomas 08.14.14 at 8:35 am

It’s always an unstable balance. It doesn’t matter what the system is, it’s changing.

That’s true. But if we design a system that has an unstable balance between free employees and slaves, that’s easy to tip over into all masters/slaves and no free employees — I don’t like that.

We tried to get rid of the unstable balance between kings and their subjects by getting rid of kings.

And we tried to get rid of the unstable balance between slaves and wage-slaves by getting rid of slaves.

Maybe some efforts along those lines are worth doing.

455

mattski 08.14.14 at 10:52 am

I think that beating them at politics looks like the best chance anyway, because it looks more chaotic.

I think so. And there are other channels, like culture.

But when we don’t have that, why should I assume it would work? Plame’s fantasy or your fantasy, which is the better fantasy?

A) You shouldn’t assume anything. B) I’m not sure what my fantasy is. Are you?!

***BTW, maybe they should have taken that woman’s children away. (!)

456

J Thomas 08.14.14 at 12:51 pm

OK. Here is a hypothetical for you. There is a society resembling the antebellum South in which there is a class of people who are slaves. The rest of society is “free” but divided into distinct economic classes. There is a “wealthy” class, perhaps 5% of the entire population, there is a “middle” class comprising about 25% of the population and there is a “poor” class comprising about 40% of the population. Slaves make up the remaining 30%. Let’s say that while slaves have no social mobility they also have roughly (x) times the living standard of the free poor. And in practice they work (y) fewer hours than the free poor. We have to assign some value (z) to the social mobility of the free poor. We can tweak x, y & z to whatever values we please… See where this is going?

Yes.

We can agree that slavery is not OK, but that there is a broad range of circumstances under which being a slave is still preferable to being a member of some lower class of free people. So, it is sometimes irrelevant that such-and-such a human condition is “not OK.” Because what matters are the alternatives.

You have assumed a society where some people have no choice but to be slaves, but they can be given arbitrary benefits to offset that. And you suppose that there is some set of benefits that make it worth being a slave, and some set of punishments that make it especially not being worth being free poor, and so on.

And I say, if you get to choose all that, why the hell would you want to have slaves and free poor people who are even worse off materially? If you get to choose the percentages on all this, what possible advantage can there be to having slavery which is evil, and strongly-disadvantaged free people with a defined probability to escape their punishment?

I mean, what the hell?

You want to create a society where some people are treated worse than slaves, and that’s supposed to justify slavery? Or a society where it’s OK to treat a big fraction of the population worse than slaves because they have some chance to get out of it, while the slaves have no chance?

You figure sometimes slavery is OK because you have created a worse alternative? I mean, what the hell?

457

Val 08.14.14 at 1:35 pm

@451
I don’t think it’s actually correct that all civilizations have been hierarchical. Unless by ‘civilization’ you mean ‘hierarchical society’, which is a mistake you could well be making.

458

Val 08.14.14 at 1:41 pm

@451
Ah ha, that’s howWikipedia defines civilization! http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilization

So – if you define civilization as characterised by hierarchy, what you are saying is tautological.

What I’m saying is that there may have been human societies that were not hierarchical, and that may have survived much longer than hierarchical ones have done so far, or look likely to do.

459

Val 08.14.14 at 1:48 pm

Although I guess you could say that having ‘Elders’ is a form of hierarchy, which might undercut my argument a bit.

Don’t worry about me, I’ll just argue amongst myself for a while.

460

Bernard Yomtov 08.14.14 at 3:34 pm

mattski,

Plume’s system might work great if everyone in his imaginary world were just like him. Except it probably wouldn’t.

Well, I don’t know what Plume is like, but no matter. The system is so unworkable, so inefficient, and yes, so ultimately tyrannical, that it can’t possibly work, at least not in the absence of a totalitarian government and vast amounts of misery.

461

Bernard Yomtov 08.14.14 at 3:45 pm

Plume @450

I decline to answer. The question is pointless. You might as well ask me if I would give up the right to start a business in exchange for the ability to fly, or for a pet unicorn.

Your “metaphysical certainty” just is something you are going to tout as an obvious benefit of your system.

462

mattski 08.14.14 at 3:53 pm

You figure sometimes slavery is OK because you have created a worse alternative? I mean, what the hell?

My point was more that freedom/slavery is a grayer question than I think you are allowing. If you don’t think my hypothetical is credible–I think it is reasonably credible–then try this concrete thought experiment:

You say having a boss is “wage slavery.” So, most workers in the US are some sort of slave in your view. Now, would you like to be a citizen of Afghanistan instead of the US (sorry to assume!)? Would you like to be a citizen of Iraq? Syria? Saudi Arabia? Russia? China? Are you going to tell me that all things considered being a wage slave in the US in 2014 is NOT OK?

But to repeat myself, there is very little pure slavery in the world today. There is very little pure “freedom” in the world either. We live somewhere in between these ideas. So, yes, we’ll need to tolerate infringements on our freedom to do whatever we damn please. There is no way around that in this world. If pure freedom is your measuring stick you’ll find things difficult indeed.

463

mattski 08.14.14 at 3:58 pm

Bernard @ 460

You’ll get no argument from me. :)

464

Limericky Dicky 08.14.14 at 4:19 pm

Free Enterprise

A modest, creative inventor
petitioning the Financial Centre
was left in the lurch,
for her market research
depended on funds they’d not lent her.

Adrenaline, testosterone
and coke fuel the business-school clone.
(They also haves riches
and think we’re their bitches.)
Why should they give her a loan?

Perhaps she was too risk-averse
to pay start-up costs from her purse?
{Outside chance: make a mint;
Probable: end up skint}
or {do nothing} – which prospect’s worse?

The free market makes its own gentry
and everywhere barriers to entry.
The soft Wall Street Wall
is too big to fall,
and banks are its affable sentry.

465

J Thomas 08.14.14 at 5:28 pm

My point was more that freedom/slavery is a grayer question than I think you are allowing.

OK! So you’ve gone from arguing that wage slavery is just fine because people have the legal right to quit, to arguing that it’s a gray area and there are other things that are worse. This is progress.

You say having a boss is “wage slavery.” So, most workers in the US are some sort of slave in your view. Now, would you like to be a citizen of Afghanistan instead of the US (sorry to assume!)?

And this exactly parallels the argument for slavery. Africans tended to become slaves after armed men raided their villages, killed many of the people, and dragged off the rest. Get sent back to africa and if you’re the wrong tribe in the wrong port the absolute best you can hope for is to be shipped back to the USA again. The argument went that since darkies were far better off as slaves in the USA than they were in africa, we were doing them a *favor* by enslaving them.

Similarly for serfdom. People sometimes voluntarily pledged the oaths to become serfs. They were faced with worse choices being free — they were free to be looted and killed by brigands. Being a serf was kind of like being a citizen of a micro-nation. Your lord would protect you if he could, and allow you a furrow to plant on his land, and in return you would stay inside his borders and do whatever he said. And your children would be his serfs too. It didn’t seem like a bad deal until serfs started seeing better opportunities elsewhere. It was basicly a protection racket. Other things equal people are better off to pay protection rackets than to fight them. If you try to fight them they will do their best to make an example of you….

Are you going to tell me that all things considered being a wage slave in the US in 2014 is NOT OK?

Yes, that is what I have repeatedly told you. Being a wage slave in the US is not OK. There are plenty of people who have it worse. But that does not make it OK, any more than having other people around who are worse off than slaves makes slavery OK.

Consider a slave whose master has an incentive to feed him well enough he can stay strong, and warm enough in winter to stay healthy, etc. If he does a good job his owner is likely to give him a wife or at least children.

Consider a poor white southerner doing subsistence farming on a plot he can’t quite subsist on. He has hookworms and vitamin deficiencies. Inevitably he will lose his land to taxes, and be forced to scrounge for a position in wage slavery which will be even worse.

Does that make slavery OK? No.

And yet, hundreds of thousands of those poor whites fought and died to preserve slavery, when they had no reasonable chance to own a slave and not even any legal right to better themselves by becoming slaves…. It’s a funny ole world, innit?

Further, wage slavery is becoming increasingly impractical. In general, any job where you can explicitly tell people what to do and if they follow directions the job will be done adequately, can be automated. Can I say that better?

If you can do what the boss tells you, without a lot of judgement, and get the job done, then you can be replaced by a machine. Still not right. There needs to be a way to say that in 60 characters or so, that people will instantly understand.

Automation is getting cheaper. Every job a wage-slave can do, can be automated.

If your job is to follow your boss’s orders, there are basicly two reasons the job exists.
1. Your boss is better at giving orders in english than at programming.
2. Your boss’s status as a manager depends on how many warm bodies he bosses.

It may be that wage-slavery is on its way out anyway. It fundamentally does not work, and the flaws will become increasingly obvious. And yet, if it were to turn into a shooting war between abolitionists and hierarchy-mongers, I would not be at all surprised if millions of people are ready to fight and die for wage-slavery, even as employment rates continue to fall — people who themselves have no hope to become bosses or capitalists or even wage-slaves themselves.

Its a funny ole world.

466

Plume 08.14.14 at 6:21 pm

Well, I don’t know what Plume is like, but no matter. The system is so unworkable, so inefficient, and yes, so ultimately tyrannical, that it can’t possibly work, at least not in the absence of a totalitarian government and vast amounts of misery.

Actually, as I keep demonstrating, it’s far, far more efficient than our current system. Producing to order, producing for need, communities planning this together, in advance, in conjunction with regional and national congresses, is far, far more efficient than a tiny number of private business owners, not working together, often working against each other, working for their own personal wealth accumulation instead. And the proof is in the pudding. You keep ignoring that. You keep avoiding the facts on the ground:

Is it “efficient” that the richest 20% consumes 85% of our resources?

Is it “efficient” that just 85 people hold more wealth than the bottom 3.5 billion combined?

Is it “efficient” that we needed more than 100 major bailouts of the capitalist system, just since 1970, to keep it afloat, and that in the most recent crash, the Fed had to pump 16 trillion dollars into the world economy?

Is it “efficient” that we throw away half the food we produce?

Is it “efficient” that the richest 400 people in America hold more wealth than the bottom 60%, or that just one family, the Waltons, holds more than the bottom 40%.

The above also point to the “tyrannical” nature of this system. The one I propose is its antidote. Democracy, the real thing, is the antidote to “tyranny.” Unless by “tyranny” you, like so many of your right-wing peers, mean anything that puts checks on the power and privilege of the richest Americans or business interests in general.

The latter is one of those Orwellian tropes, similar to the “religious liberty” nonsense trotted out so often today. It’s supposedly going against one’s “religious liberty” to prevent the powerful from imposing their beliefs on others, their bigotries, their racism, etc. etc. To you, if you couldn’t start a business and order people around and make money from their sweat and blood, you would call that “tyrannical.”

In reality, capitalism is tyrannical at its core, and theft, and a refinement of slavery, which the OP points to.

467

Plume 08.14.14 at 6:27 pm

Oh, and Bernard,

I know what you ran from the question I posed. It’s as clear as day from your posts. It’s all about you. Your desires. Your wants. You couldn’t give a hang about society overall, which fits the capitalist mentality to a T, which is why it must be replaced.

Even if you knew that millions would benefit tremendously from just a tiny “sacrifice” by you, you wouldn’t do it. Your own selfish desires trump radically improving the quality of life for millions.

And that’s the capitalist worldview in a nutshell.

468

mattski 08.14.14 at 8:29 pm

OK! So you’ve gone from arguing that wage slavery is just fine because people have the legal right to quit, to arguing that it’s a gray area and there are other things that are worse. This is progress.

You omitted a teeny-weeny detail. I never conceded that wage slavery is a legitimate term. It’s your term. What I believe is that having a boss is not wrong per se. Working for a private company, or a public institution, and answering to someone in a superior position is not “slavery” in my view. Not even close.

And frankly, you didn’t articulate a significant difference between working as a contractor and working as an employee.

And the fact that a vast majority of people in underdeveloped nations would JUMP at the chance to earn a middle class living working for a private business as an employee cuts pretty hard against your argument.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. [end canned wisdom]

469

Plume 08.14.14 at 9:27 pm

Mattski,

Do you have a problem with the following:

Apple, in 2012, made roughly 41 billion in profits. They also have 161 billion in cash reserves. Most Apple hardware is made overseas, in places like Foxconn in China, where the workers are paid 70 cents an hour under conditions that drive many to suicide.

Apple executives make millions per year, off the backs of those people making 70 cents an hour. They can’t possibly make their millions without those workers, and their obscenely high compensation packages are a direct result of grotesquely low salaries, especially overseas. Their high salaries are a direct result of unpaid labor here and overseas.

Apple executives make roughly 10,000 times their overseas rank and file. If anything can be called “wage slavery,” it’s that.

470

Bruce Wilder 08.14.14 at 9:41 pm

But, Plume you’re arguing an extreme case!

471

Harold 08.14.14 at 10:05 pm

Val, 457 448 I am not saying that all human societies are hierarchical. Not at all. I am saying that the societies that grew up in the Near East, Indus Valley, South and Meso-America, China, and some parts of Africa, and were characterized by cities, and irrigation, specialized labor, and elaborate record keeping were hierarchical from the get go. Yes, by definition they are hierarchical, that’s a definition not a tautology.

We may have societies in future that have cities, specialized labor, mixed agriculture (animal husbandry and farming), and accurate record keeping, and so on, that is less hierarchical or not at all hierarchical — personally, I hope so, since I don’t like its negative aspects any more than Plume does. That is what I am saying.

472

Bruce Wilder 08.14.14 at 10:22 pm

mattski @ 462 My point was more that freedom/slavery is a grayer question than I think you are allowing. If you don’t think my hypothetical is credible . . .

Mostly, I tend to lean in your direction in the back and forth, but you completely lost me with the hypothetical world, similar to the antebellum South, where slaves are better off than free persons. I tend to be suspicious of counterfactuals in the best arguments — counterfactuals are not evidence, they just restate theory. And, in the case of your hypothetical, the theory didn’t make consistent sense on its own terms. A slave has a capital value — the master can buy or sell the slave. That’s kind of basic to the definition of slavery. If free labor and slave labor are competing, and we impute a wage to the slave that’s more or less equal to the wage of free labor, then it follows that the slave’s maintenance — his standard of living — will be less, because part of the slave’s imputed wage is being drawn off to fund the slave’s capital value.

One can make a variety of other arguments about how slavery can logically work in an economy, where there’s also free labor, and it always comes back to the same basic proposition: in the main, the slaves will be worse off for being slaves. There will certainly be exceptions in any large population: the trusted, faithful retainer well-rewarded versus the free drunkard wasted and alone, etc. But, slaves, on the whole will be significantly disadvantaged by the severe political and legal handicaps placed on their lives and wills.

There’s an great breadth of circumstances affecting wage labor and hierarchy in economic organization. Let’s leave it at that, and not go fishing in fantasy. Let Plume do that, as he’s determined; maybe, with practice he’ll get better.

473

Val 08.14.14 at 10:34 pm

@471
You said: “All forms of civilization are and always have been hierarchical …”. (Fair enough, you then went on to wish that they weren’t, and suggest they might not be in future.) Now you are apparently saying that those societies that you define as civilized were hierarchical, which is pretty similar.

Hopefully you can see that if you define “civilization” as a hierarchical form of society, and then say “all forms of civilization are … hierarchical”, you are not proving anything. I can see that your position isn’t necessarily all that different from mine in the context of the argument, but I do think it’s important to think about what you are saying, because “civilization” is a value laden, rather than merely descriptive, word.

Civilized/uncivilized are two aspects of a dualism in which one is (perceived/valued as) positive, one negative. Another definition I saw of “civilization” was “the most advanced form of society” – ie clearly value term.

Interestingly, what my reading suggests is that those societies you discuss were characterised by the rise of patriarchy, rather than “civilization”. Haven’t got my references on this at home but can send some info later.

474

Val 08.14.14 at 10:46 pm

@471
Sorry realised I wasn’t going to be able to send those references till Monday (I use Endnote for my literature searches and don’t have that at home), so the key source I’m thinking of is Gerda Lerner. You can google her if you haven’t come across her yet.

475

J Thomas 08.14.14 at 10:47 pm

What I believe is that having a boss is not wrong per se.

Sure, and many people used to believe that having a master was not wrong per se. Nowadays we have a consensus about that, and given time we will get a consensus about the other too.

And the fact that a vast majority of people in underdeveloped nations would JUMP at the chance to earn a middle class living working for a private business as an employee cuts pretty hard against your argument.

Not at all. There was a time when people jumped at the chance to be a serf. The nobles had all the good land, so if you wanted to farm you were likely to starve on the land you could get. And without a noble’s protection it was up to you and your lonesome to drive off bandits and also the lords’ knights. And the noble’s soldiers were if anything *more* likely to rape your wife and daughters if you weren’t under his protection.

The simple fact that the system we have has been wildly uneven in spreading the benefits, so there are people with hardly any bennies who are happy to compete for your miserable status because theirs is so much worse, is not in any way an argument that the system is adequate.

You seem to me to be suffering from what John Gall called “Hireling’s Hypnosis”. You want to argue that the system is not broken, even though you agree that it is.

I don’t disagree at all that the current US economy AND political system are in a disastrous state.

And the fact that a vast majority of people in underdeveloped nations would JUMP at the chance to earn a middle class living working for a private business as an employee cuts pretty hard against your argument.

The US economy is in a disastrous state, but other parts of the interconnected global economy are even worse off, to the point that their citizens want to jump right into our disaster. And this is supposed to be an argument that somehow the system is working adequately? And that wage slavery is morally OK?

Back in the days when we had the illusion that the system was working OK, the way this argument went was more like:

“Hey, the economy is doing very well for ME. Yes, I’m doing just fine.”
“But what about the poor people?”
“They’re incompetent fools or else terminally lazy. This is a land of unlimited opportunity for anybody who’s willing to go out and work hard.”
“Well, but it isn’t working that well for me. Or a lot of other people who work hard.”
“Then you are an incompetent fool or else terminally lazy and I have nothing more to say to you. I have produced all of my own wealth entirely by my own effort with no help from anybody, and if you want to drag me down to your level by taking away my stuff for yourself, because you don’t have what it takes to create anything yourself, then to hell with you!”

See, it was not really an argument that the system worked so much as it was an argument that people who pointed out that the system did not work were sniveling failures that nobody of worth should pay any attention to. It was a reasonably effective approach as far as it went.

Nowadays it still seems superficially reasonable to say that our current system should be judged by its tremendous success, and no other system could succeed at all but must inevitably fail. And anyway there are only two possible choices. There’s what we have now, and there’s soviet central control. Our way is total success and their only-possible-alternative is total fail.

And yet that line is not nearly as convincing today as it was in 1986.

476

The Temporary Name 08.14.14 at 11:04 pm

Sure, and many people used to believe that having a master was not wrong per se. Nowadays we have a consensus about that, and given time we will get a consensus about the other too.

That’s nice, but independent contracts don’t erase that and authoritarians love them.

It’s going to be interesting seeing a team perform open-heart surgery without conceding that anybody is in control.

477

mattski 08.14.14 at 11:26 pm

Plume,

Do you have a problem with the following:

In a word, YES, I have a problem with it. As I said at 445:

I don’t disagree at all that the current US economy AND political system are in a disastrous state. For all practical purposes we live in a plutocracy despite having the machinery of representative democracy. But I wouldn’t blame “representative democracy” for our current state of affairs.

It’s just that in my opinion the solution is primarily a matter of education and information flow as opposed to some fantasy of throwing out “the system.”

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Val 08.14.14 at 11:27 pm

@471
Sorry for repeated posts, but do you mean “all societies that have had cities have been hierarchical”? Because that’s a somewhat different claim.

Also by hierarchical, do you refer to hierarchies of power, authority and status, or are you also talking about economic inequalities? Because that’s a key question.

I’ve spent quite a few years studying history, but overwhelmingly modern history, so this is all fairly new and fascinating to me.

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J Thomas 08.14.14 at 11:33 pm

#472 Bruce Wilder

you completely lost me with the hypothetical world, similar to the antebellum South, where slaves are better off than free persons. I tend to be suspicious of counterfactuals in the best arguments — counterfactuals are not evidence, they just restate theory.

A quick google search turned up various claims that some slaves in ancient egypt were better off than poor freemen, and some slaves in ancient greece and rome were better off than poor freemen. I don’t feel competent to judge how accurate these claims were, but it isn’t completely counterfactual. In the US south, when a lot of slaves handled indigo and then cotton, field slaves were generally thought to have hard lives. But I easily find the same claims made about the US south too, although I’m more suspicious about those.

It isn’t necessarily counterfactual.

If free labor and slave labor are competing, and we impute a wage to the slave that’s more or less equal to the wage of free labor, then it follows that the slave’s maintenance — his standard of living — will be less, because part of the slave’s imputed wage is being drawn off to fund the slave’s capital value.

Take it a step further. If free labor and slave labor are competing — say you own some slaves and you can hire some free labor. If your slave labor isn’t 100% occupied, why would you hire free labor at all? The owner will try to get his use out of his capital, but if free labor is unemployed that is their own lookout. So when there was a labor surplus (which there was during much of roman empire times, and may have periodically happened in the US soutn) it’s free labor that would be more unemployed. So sometimes owners could afford to maintain their slaves better than free labor could maintain itself. Sometimes slaves would work hard and get bennies from it, while free labor looked for work and got nothing.

I don’t know how much the free frontier land and the indian territories affected this. Maybe when there was a labor surplus people might tend to move west and alleviate it.

480

Plume 08.15.14 at 2:11 am

It’s just that in my opinion the solution is primarily a matter of education and information flow as opposed to some fantasy of throwing out “the system.”

Primarily a matter of education and information flow, as opposed to the internal contradictions and conflicts of capitalism itself?

There is no escape from this basic fact. An employer, in order to maximize his or her income, must minimize his or her costs. And the biggest portion of those costs, and the portion most easily manipulated, is labor costs. There is always already a direct conflict between what the owner/employer wants and what the employee wants, as far as income and compensation at the very least. He or she derives their compensation and profits from the difference between the value generated by the workforce and what it is paid by the employer. The more the owner wants, the less employees get.

And speaking of “fantasy”:

Education and information flow can separate the lower and middle tiers from one another to a certain degree, but they have zero to do with the essential mechanics and dynamics of capitalist relations. And because the system creates such obvious inequalities, most people can’t afford to pursue higher ed or extended training to improve skills. Most people will never go beyond high school, and a great many will go to very poor K-12 systems in the first place. It’s no more a fantasy to seek to replace the current system than it is to believe that “education” will save us all, especially given the costs and the contexts for millions of families.

In short, your “solution” can only ever work on the margins, and will only ever affect a small portion of society. You either knowingly or unknowingly accept the status quo ante, which is extreme inequality, while believing your ideas would mitigate for some of its ill effects. In reality, as history has shown, it doesn’t even do that. Things are getting worse, not better. And the capitalist system only produced one period where incomes rose steadily for the middle class (1947-1973). Before and since that time, the rank and file was consistently crushed under the weight of the system.

I wish it were as simply as better education and information flow. But it’s not. And it never will be. It’s a fantasy to believe in that messiah.

481

Plume 08.15.14 at 2:27 am

Quick addendum:

Improving our education system and expanding it is enormously important. It’s one of the main reasons I thought it needs to be truly “free” in the alternative. My family is loaded with teachers, professors, educators, counselors, etc, and I grew up believing in the power of a great education. I have two university degrees (and a bit to spare) meself, putting myself through school thrice.

I’m just saying that pinning our hopes on education, especially in this time of deep budget cuts (due to deep tax cuts for the rich), is a pipe dream. To me, dream big or foggedabowdit. And dreaming big has the decided advantage of pushing the narrative much further toward the horizon. Small dreams bore people, and they don’t create space for winning ground in negotiations. Big dreams excite people, and create much more space for eventual compromises in line with your original goals. Incrementalism doesn’t work, as the last forty odd years proves.

It’s something I wish the Dems and Obama would learn.

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mattski 08.15.14 at 3:28 am

There is no escape from this basic fact.

You are very confused about the difference between facts and fantasy. And we’ve been over this sufficiently many times that I’m not sure why you’re trying to persuade me.

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Bruce Wilder 08.15.14 at 3:45 am

J Thomas @ 479

You stopped making sense quite a ways back.

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mattski 08.15.14 at 3:51 am

You seem to me to be suffering from what John Gall called “Hireling’s Hypnosis”. You want to argue that the system is not broken, even though you agree that it is.

I don’t think that’s right. Rather, I’m not thinking in terms of “the system” as though–Bruce Wilder made a similar point–systems can be “swapped out.”

“This system sucks, we need a new system.” OK, how do we get a “new system?” Not by sitting on our keisters and dreaming up utopias. You know what the problem with that approach is? It doesn’t involve other people. That’s the first problem. And it doesn’t even involve the person who is dreaming it up! Because unless it is actually being practiced it has no meaning whatsoever.

I don’t think in terms of the system. I think in terms of how do I behave. Because that is something I have control over. I also think in terms of “why do some people have such opposing views?” For instance, what motivates a typical Republican voter. Or better yet, what motivates a particular Republican voter, i.e., the one who is currently standing in front of me. I want to understand that person a little better so I can speak a language that they will understand. Because it probably wouldn’t do much good to express my visceral response to their views.

Nowadays it still seems superficially reasonable to say that our current system should be judged by its tremendous success, and no other system could succeed at all but must inevitably fail.

I don’t think I ever made this kind of argument. “The system” is going to evolve regardless. In 50 years “the system” will be different, and NOT because people were saying “we need to replace our system.” It will be different because people will behave differently. Norms will change, laws will change, culture will change. Part of the reason we are in such a crappy condition today is that such a large percentage of the population takes so little interest in politics through a combination, I think, of learned helplessness and despair. That is difficult to turn around, but I believe it can be done.

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mattski 08.15.14 at 4:10 am

This is too juicy to pass up:

Incrementalism doesn’t work, as the last forty odd years proves.

You should take that up with the Koch bros.

486

Bruce Wilder 08.15.14 at 4:51 am

mattski: The system” is going to evolve regardless. In 50 years “the system” will be different, and NOT because people were saying “we need to replace our system.” It will be different because people will behave differently. Norms will change, laws will change, culture will change. Part of the reason we are in such a crappy condition today is that such a large percentage of the population takes so little interest in politics through a combination, I think, of learned helplessness and despair.

Well said.

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Plume 08.15.14 at 5:57 am

Mattski,

The Koch brothers have been successful in reversing many of the gains of liberalism because they don’t go for “incrementalism.” They go for the jugular. The right over all goes for the jugular. And they’re relentless. They believe this is a war. Many on the right go even further than just that. They see this as apocalyptic. Meanwhile, liberals play right into their hands by always seeking the “reasonable” position between the center and the hard right, willing to sell out even their own legacy in order to prevent the really extreme stuff from happening, as they see it. This, of course, acts as nothing more than a speed bump in the face of the rightward onslaught, and the Overton Window moves yet again further rightward. The so-called “liberal” position now is to defend a conservative health care bill, taken from Romneycare and the Heritage Foundation, based on a for-profit, market model.

Seriously. You don’t even stand up for your own principles, much less fight for the majority. And your own principles are barely better than conservative principles, and often just support the status quo ante. If we listened to you, the best we could hope for would be the top 20% doing marginally better than it does right now, but the bottom 80% would still be left in the dust, and you couldn’t care less. Your ass would be covered, right? Being “reasonable” and “practical” is far more important to you than the welfare of human beings or the health of the planet.

And this? Look in the mirror, bud.

You are very confused about the difference between facts and fantasy. And we’ve been over this sufficiently many times that I’m not sure why you’re trying to persuade me.

And, no, we haven’t been over this at all. You just take your lame, empty pot shots and then scoot, failing to ever stick your neck out and show the courage of your convictions. You seem to think bad snark is a substitute for actual thought.

It isn’t, Mattski. You have never, not once, not even remotely, offered up a valid critique of anything I’ve said. Nor has your right-wing buddy, Bernard.

Liberals are useless.

488

Plume 08.15.14 at 6:09 am

Bruce @486,

Do you really believe that about systems? Most humans conform to existing systems. They adapt. In many ways, they are made to conform and adapt, or perish. At least struggle mightily. Mattski seems to be arguing that the problem is that people don’t participate in the political system, because they feel despair. But if that system is not changed, then how do they get rid of that despair? They feel despair based upon their observation of the system in place, that it’s rigged, basically. If the system remains in place, what incentive do they have to alter their behavior, views, etc. etc.? Mattski suggests that things will just magically change, all by themselves. No worries.

You seem to agree with him. Where is the cause of that change? Where is cause and effect? If the system remains as it is, why would people change? What would be the impetus? The stars? A messiah? The appearance of a unicorn?

You have accused me of delving into fantasy. The real fantasy is to expect this kind of revolutionary change to cause itself, within the existing system, especially when the owners of that system are becoming more and more aggressive, and more and more emboldened in their defense and expansion of that system.

Fantasy? It’s the belief that nibbling around the edges will ever do anything more than just keep the status quo as is — at best. In reality, given the far more aggressive actions of plutocrats, oligarchs and their shills, it’s far more likely that liberal nibbling along the edges will result in one step forward, and three steps back.

489

J Thomas 08.15.14 at 12:56 pm

“This system sucks, we need a new system.”

OK, how do we get a “new system?”

It isn’t an either/or dichotomy, but I’ll express it that way for dramatic effect:

We can wait and see what happens, or we can try to design a new system and put it into place.

Consciously designing anything is hard. People make lots of mistakes and have to fix them. The easy approach is to just go through your day without thinking about what to do, and to get by that way you probably need a boss.

John Gall provides some vague guidelines.

A simple system, designed from scratch, sometimes works.
Some complex systems actually work.
A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works.
A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.

Any alternative must start with a collection of attempts at small, simple systems that have the chance to grow. They must coexist with the giant coercive system that will try to destroy them, because it is already everywhere, coercing. Attempting to reform the existing system will fail — it is already complicated, it does not do what it claims to do and the people in it do not do what they claim to do, probably nobody understands how its feedback systems work, and it has not just inertia and hysteresis but it tends to actively push back against anything that attempts to change it.

I don’t think in terms of the system. I think in terms of how do I behave. Because that is something I have control over.

I agree, that’s a very good start. You don’t have nearly as much control over how you behave as you think you do, because you are part of a complex feedback system that attempts to regulate you. But most of that regulation is not being consciously maintained, and you can find ways to create new patterns.

I also think in terms of “why do some people have such opposing views?” For instance, what motivates a typical Republican voter. Or better yet, what motivates a particular Republican voter, i.e., the one who is currently standing in front of me.

That is a good practice.

I want to understand that person a little better so I can speak a language that they will understand. Because it probably wouldn’t do much good to express my visceral response to their views.

Yes, very good. If you learn to say things he will agree with, then you can have conversations that are more pleasant. If you yell at him you will at best reinforce his prejudices.

And it will help you to better understand the language that is used to manipulate him. On the other hand, you appear to be strongly manipulated by that same language, unless you are consciously using it to annoy Plume. How do you suppose that happened?

So why am I not doing that with you? Because it does not fit my ecological niche here. When people talk about making political or economic change, there are a few common roles. There’s the earnest reformer who thinks he knows what needs to be done. That’s Plume. There are the scoffers who think they know that he is utterly impractical and foolish, who usually argue not only that he is wrong about what should be done, but that nothing can be done. Currently that’s you and Wilder. Somebody will fill those roles. If nobody fills the role of the reformer, the conversation does not happen. And if nobody laughs at him, people get kind of uncomfortable and stop talking about it. It could happen that some other time it will be Bruce Wilder who has the idea what needs to be done, and it might be you and Plume who laugh at him, maybe for different reasons. That’s how it works.

There’s a reformer who thinks he knows what to do, who will argue his convictions despite unfair opposition. And there are conservatives who think they know that he is wrong, that the status quo is right, who think somebody has to set the damfool communist straight. And it can go on for hundreds of messages.

I have accepted the role of the laidback kibitzer, who proposes reasonable solutions that are so far from the mainstream that they cannot possibly get much consideration. I sigh in tolerant sorrow and try to present more, hoping to amuse myself and maybe others. My slightly superior attitude, my slight condescension is not toward you but toward the role you have chosen to play.

“Nowadays it still seems superficially reasonable to say that our current system should be judged by its tremendous success, and no other system could succeed at all but must inevitably fail.”

I don’t think I ever made this kind of argument. “The system” is going to evolve regardless.

Yes. The system has evolved a whole lot already. And yet when Plume made an argument that sounded vaguely communist, you responded like a conservative. Capitalism is great, it’s the only way that works. Everybody has their free choice what to do, nobody is oppressed. State control of everything is the only alternative and it sucks. Almost everybody is better off this way than they would be under any alternative system, it is the best of all possible worlds. Somebody has to be in control and the people who’re in control now are the best candidates for the job. And if we were to all live long enough to have this same conversation in another 50 years, after the system has evolved more, it would be the same conversation, just as it would have been 50 years ago. The system has evolved but it’s still the same wonderful system that’s the best, it will evolve more and will still be the same best system.

Part of the reason we are in such a crappy condition today is that such a large percentage of the population takes so little interest in politics through a combination, I think, of learned helplessness and despair.

Yes? And they should take more interest with no ideology that says they should? If the system is the best and it takes care of itself, why should they take any interest in it? Maybe they should throw the bums out and that will take care of things? There is an ideology that’s active now, that says everything will work out fine provided the government does nothing. They work hard to get people to vote for candidates who promise to get the government to do nothing. But in practice when elected those candidates work hard to bring in money to their districts, and shut off money to districts that voted for their enemies instead of their allies. They don’t do what they say they are doing.

In a nation where a big part of the public acts more like domesticated animals than slaves, what do you expect political action to do? What standard should voters get behind?

490

J Thomas 08.15.14 at 1:29 pm

#487 Plume

“You are very confused about the difference between facts and fantasy. And we’ve been over this sufficiently many times that I’m not sure why you’re trying to persuade me.”

And, no, we haven’t been over this at all. You just take your lame, empty pot shots and then scoot, failing to ever stick your neck out and show the courage of your convictions. You seem to think bad snark is a substitute for actual thought.

Plume what are you trying to accomplish? You said that you don’t expect results in your lifetime. Are you trying to convince people to go along with your ideas?

If so, this is a bad method. You got onto a public blog, and you said what you wanted. So far so good. Then inevitably people came along to say that you were completely wrong about everything, and you argued with them. What good does that do?

You can keep doing that forever, the dog is NEVER going to move.

Jack Sparrow

The people who argue with you will tend to take the most extreme opposition argument they can. And if you persuade one or more of them, then others will come along to replace them who will also take that position. It’s like being in a swamp and slapping mosquitoes. You might get some satisfaction from a good slap, but it doesn’t accomplish much.

If you actually want to accomplish something, you need to do it with people who agree with you. People who work together to do things. You might for example set up a website where people discuss what to do, and organize ways to do it. It might for example provide ways that people who agree can find others who agree who are local to them, that they can do practical things with. You could have a an argument clinic and when people argue you move their arguments there, or delete them. Trolls would be sent straight to the argument clinic or deleted. When people argued about methods — is it better to have direct democracy over the internet, or something else? Should we have a margin like 10,000 votes, and whenever a proposal gets more than 10,000 yes votes than no votes then it’s considered passed until more no votes show up? etc — you say that both approaches look promising and how can we test which works best. Concentrate on getting things done and not argue about which ways would work better to get things done.

You have no obligation to argue with trolls. They can set up their own websites and link to yours, for anybody who’s interested. You can even provide links to them, for anybody who’s interested. But you have no obligation to argue with people who disagree.

Did Henry Ford argue with people who said he should not build automobiles, or that he should not do mass production, or that he should not pay his workers so much, etc? No. He just went ahead and did everything he had the legal right to do.

What do you think you gain by spending your time arguing with the people who are most totally dead-set against you? What does it get you?

It’s possible that more people read it than otherwise would, if you can build up some controversy. But probably not after the 200th post. Do you get something else out of it?

Do you possibly enjoy the feeling of knowing that you are right despite being surrounded by fools who can’t see it? I enjoy that feeling too. But while it’s pleasant, that feeling doesn’t get me anything else useful.

491

Bernard Yomtov 08.15.14 at 2:32 pm

Plume,

I declined to answer your questionfor a simple reason. If I said I would refuse the trade you would attack me, as you did anyway, as a selfish lout, etc.

If I said I would accept th trade you would then go ito another round of how your system would accomplish just that if only people would see. I’m not interested.

You repeatedly claim to have “proved” this and that. You have proved absolutely nothing except your own inabolity to see the massive problems you would create. What you have done is repeatedly assert things you owud accomplish, assertions which you have neither logical nor empirical support for.

Tell me Plume, do you really think we ought to just vote on how many potatoes should be grown, and what their price should be? On the allocation of farmland among various possible crops? And if we do so vote, and it turns out that not enough people see potato farming as their ideal career, how do you propose to grow the potatoes you have voted into existence?

Don’t bother with an answer. The Collective will accomplish it somehow, I’m sure.

492

Bruce Wilder 08.15.14 at 3:12 pm

Plume @ 488

The system will change; that’s not a claim that the system will improve.

Check out my comment on a later thread; it takes a different tact to suggesting how “the system” is faulty.
http://crookedtimber.org/2014/08/09/whats-left-of-libertarianism/#comment-552928

493

Plume 08.15.14 at 3:46 pm

J Thomas,

There is some good advice in your comment. And I have thrown the ideas out there with people closer to my political neck of the woods. All in all, they like it. The only real knock against it is that it would be susceptible to invasion and overthrow, because there is little attention paid to the military and domestic police. But a lot of people get the beauty of the change. They understand that they can’t analyze Game X using Game Z’s rules. People here seem not to get that concept. Ironically, they’re overwhelmed in the system-think of a system they don’t even see as important.

Oh, well.

494

Plume 08.15.14 at 3:56 pm

Bernard #491,

No. I wasn’t going to escalate claims beyond the thought experiment. I honestly wanted to boil it down it down into as few moving parts as possible, and get rid of all the rest, and then leave it at that.

That’s that one for one trade. I was pretty sure you’d say no to it. Because your main objection has always been that you couldn’t start your own business. You. It’s about you, personally. And that mindset represents capitalism to the core. Which is yet one more reason why it’s as if people have been infected with a disease which blinds them. On the one hand, they say they prefer a few bosses telling everyone what to do, because it’s supposedly more “efficient.” On the other, they admit from time to time that the sole rationale for a business is to maximize profits for ownership. But they can’t quite make make the logical connection even from basic variables like these. They refuse to accept the reality that these individual business people, holding all the levers of economic power in the country, is horrible for consumers, the planet and society, if for no other reason than their interest is in their own wealth accumulation, not the betterment of society, the status of workers, consumers or the earth.

They will do what it takes to increase their own take, which means reduce pay, fire workers, ship them overseas, automate jobs out of existence, reduce quality of goods and services, skirt environmental laws, bribe officials to look the other way, etc. etc.

Fantasy indeed. The real fantasy here is the one that says capitalism can work for society beyond the richest percentiles. It’s simply not built that way.

495

J Thomas 08.15.14 at 4:15 pm

Plume @ 488

The system will change; that’s not a claim that the system will improve.

Isn’t that more a response to Mattski #484 than Plume #488?

Mattski said the system would evolve. But that gives no particular hope that the system will get better from any particular person’s point of view.

496

Plume 08.15.14 at 4:23 pm

Bruce,

Very good essay on the other thread. I like several sections, this especially:

In the discussion of what Reagan wrought, I couldn’t help but think about how stupid our politics became after 1980. It was not a huge increment of additional stupid; even during the peak smart years of the New Deal and WWII we were never all that smart, and in the Kennedy-Johnson years, we clearly overestimated both our cool and our smarts. But, the U.S. did make a decisive turn away from deliberate collective choice and toward being more of a slime mold.

To handle the challenges of climate change, peak oil, ecological collapse, overpopulation, etc. will require something more intelligent than the short-term seeking after sugar of the slime mold so evident in our fracking, oil sands and bomb-Iraq-perpetually obsessions. We’d have invest in a low-energy infrastructure, while we still had the energy to do so, instead of congratulating ourselves on electing the lesser evil on the way to becoming a third-world country.

So, if I understand you, you see it changing organically, in a sense, because it has to, and because systems do that. And, yes, I believe they do change, organically. So I’d agree. The trouble is, I don’t think capital has been this organized since the age of the Robber Barons, and the sophisticated and technologies at hand dwarf anything from that era, obviously. They also have cultural advantages today that they did not have then. The media have worked for decades now, in subtle ways, or with a hammer, pretty much destroying the left’s place as critic against the death of the individual produces by mass consumer culture — by capitalism itself. The man in the gray flannel suit, etc. etc. Today, young people are fed a steady dose of the individual against the state, and consumer culture is not really seen as something that robs people of their individuality, even though it obviously does.

The focus should be on both public and private sector modes of repression of individuality. We have the last two generations, at least, growing up on right-wing dystopia fiction, overt and covert, that tells them their “freedom and liberty” lie in Prometheus unbound. Prometheus being Capital.

That scares the hell out of me when it comes to likely “organic changes” to the current system.

497

Plume 08.15.14 at 4:37 pm

Quick note on those potatoes:

Community puts in their weekly order — which is merely the collection of all individual and family orders — for potatoes, tomatoes, various produce, etc. Local farms fill those orders. No “vote” is needed once the system is set up. The farmers, over time, get a sense of surplus needed to fill “off-order” requests to be stocked in local outlets — at the farms themselves or local stores.

Requests by the community for things not produced locally go to regional clearing houses, and then on to relevant local farmers elsewhere. They’re networked with farmers all over the country, and all of that is tabulated to build up local, regional and national data. The more data collected, the more easily wants and needs can be met without waste.

Produce to order. Keep counts. Map the distribution on stat sheets. Analyze for demographics, age, region, weather, temp, types of soil, storm patterns, etc. etc. Make it scientific to the degree possible. As in capitalist marketing, but on the national scale, and not kept secret from “competitors,” because there won’t be any . . . . Overtime, producers can anticipate wants and needs to a degree unknown before. From the local on up, information tech merges with organic farming and best practices to make sure the entire population — as in, everyone — gets the food and the nutrition they need.

Again, those democratic votes are on big ticket items. Once the ship is built and its course is set, it’s going to mostly run itself.

498

J Thomas 08.15.14 at 6:42 pm

So Plume, you argue that in your system people will choose how many potatoes to grow pretty much they way they do it now. Except it will be easier because people won’t want or need to keep their data secret.

That sounds perfectly plausible to me.

Something else to notice, is that the way we do it now we often do produce surpluses or shortages. And when we do, we figure out who to blame for it. Like, say there’s a shortage of potatoes and McDonalds has to pay more for french fries, and so customers have to pay more for french fries. It was MacDonalds’s fault for not getting long-term contracts ahead of time. Then they would have their fries no matter how the price of potatoes changed. And they will suffer for it when their customers go to Burger King whose fries aren’t so expensive.

Similarly, if a potato farmer is suffering because too many potatoes have been grown and the price for his crop is down, he should have gotten extra money by selling an option on his potatoes on the futures market. That would bring in some cash. And if he thought there was going to be a shortage after all, and he would lose money on his option? He can get an option to buy and make his profit that way. The money isn’t in producing a crop, it’s in trading. And as we get bigger agribusinesses producing the potatoes, when there’s a surplus they can just leave some of them to rot in the fields and keep the price up. Or maybe sell them overseas. The better you can control supply, the more profit you can expect. It’s businesses that have too much competition that turn unprofitable.

It isn’t so much that we’re good at producing the right amount. It’s that we say the people who produce the wrong amount are the ones who suffer for it, so it’s fair.

499

Bernard Yomtov 08.15.14 at 7:05 pm

Plume,

That’s that one for one trade. I was pretty sure you’d say no to it. Because your main objection has always been that you couldn’t start your own business. You. It’s about you, personally.

I didn’t say no to it. I refused to respond. And no, it’s not all about me. I happen to think people should be able to start their own businesses. I think that a sensible economic system permits that, and it is a healthy phenomenon.

And you still haven’t explained how the farmers will produce the orders – by the week no less – if they lack sufficient labor to harvest their potatoes, or what will happen when the orders for various commodities are incompatible, in that the total production ordered cannot be produced with the resources available, etc.

500

Plume 08.15.14 at 7:17 pm

J Thomas,

Some good points. But what drives production in the capitalist system? Fulfilling societal needs or making it possible for the capitalist to accrue personal wealth? The latter, of course. And it always comes back to that. The capitalist must make a profit, and that further destabilizes commercial transactions.

Rather than this scenario:

“Joe, my family is a bit short of wheat right now, but we have a surplus of corn. Can we work something out?”

we have:

“Sam, I can make more money selling your kale than your corn right now, so I can’t use the latter. Sorry.”

Just the mere removal of profit from the equation opens up a world of flexibility and takes us back to the original purpose of production: Filling needs. Filling societal needs. Shifting it as we have to “how much can I make for myself on this deal” radically alters and limits our ability to meet societal needs — not only because the incentive and purpose have been redirected, but the allocation now is based upon ability to pay.

Basically, we need to return to the idea of filling needs for everyone. The economy should literally work for everyone, not just a tiny few, and it shouldn’t have all of these additional bureaucratic layers added to sever the connection between production and need, between producer and citizen, between food and fundamentals and the land.

In short, the capitalist is mere overhead, added cost, without adding value. And that capitalist drives up all the costs for everyone, makes our cost of living skyrocket in order to support his or her pursuit of wealth and profit. Take away that individual pursuit for profits and hoarding of wealth, and we instantly make it far, far easier to meet societal needs, at much lower cost and with fewer labor hours needed. Keep wealth and power concentrated in a few hands, and we’ll never get there. There will always be radical inequality and scenarios like we have currently:

Just 15% of available resources left over for the bottom 80% of the world to use. The top 20% consumes/hoards/bottles up 85% of it.

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Plume 08.15.14 at 7:29 pm

Bernard,

Why would they have insufficient labor to meet production? Why do you assume that would be the case? Since we all would own the means of production, we all would have a stake in making sure it worked for all of us.

Right now, farmers (under capitalism) all over the world constantly deal with shortages of labor, primarily because they pay shit wages and work their laborers to death. In the developed world, food costs at the consumer end are artificially low because of those extremely low wages. Agricultural labor in the system I suggest would receive the same kind of pay that anyone else would get in any field, along the 4 to 1 tiers I suggested earlier. The pay would be far, far better than anything in the capitalist system, and it wouldn’t be close. Why wouldn’t people want to go into farming?

And, again, unlike in the capitalist system, the community works together. If there is a shortage in labor in one area, the community pitches in and helps out until that shortage is gone. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Witness,” picture the house building done by the entire community. It would work like that, but scaled up when needed. If it was necessary to scale it up to the region, so be it. Or nationally. Whatever was needed to meet the needs of all citizens.

Everyone would know they’re getting their salary points regardless of their vocation, and a temporary switch to help out their neighbors wouldn’t change that. When the job was finished, they could go back to their former job. And if they wanted to train for yet another field of work, again, all of that is free. Get the training and they could go from agro to health care to education to transportation to EMT to whatever. And they also don’t have to worry about losing their health care while they go back to school for training. It’s free and disassociated from the workplace. 100% of the citizenry have that guaranteed under the Constitution for simply being a citizen.

But, again, I have no idea why you’d think there would be an initial shortage of farm labor. No reason for it.

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Plume 08.15.14 at 7:49 pm

Bernard,

Capitalism requires profit in order to work. It also requires private ownership, or we would call it something else.

The system I’m proposing requires communal ownership and the absence of profit in order to work. It would basically unravel over time if we went to private ownership of the means of production and to profits, and it would defeat the purpose of the change. That purpose is to make sure that everyone has their needs met, that labor is rewarded fairly, that social justice and democracy are baked right into the economy and society, and that inequality is exceedingly mild — again, that 4 to 1 range.

It’s kind of like saying that we can allow beer in a half way house of alcoholics, because beer isn’t the same thing as liquor and won’t hurt anyone. Of course, a bottle of beer is the same as a glass of wine or a shot of whiskey, when it comes to effects, but that’s another story. The main thing is, the half-way house was set up help people fight their addictions, get healthy and stay away from temptation.

In short, it just doesn’t make any sense to have a kinda sorta capitalist society when it’s the root of the problem. And anything of value produced by a capitalist economy can be produced by a democratic one, one owned by the people. There is no kind of production unique to the capitalist system, no good or service that couldn’t be reproduced under WSDE or similar methods, etc. It’s simply not necessary to have capitalist production modes or private ownership in general, and the chances of relapse are too great if we let it worm its way in, etc.

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J Thomas 08.15.14 at 8:28 pm

Shifting it as we have to “how much can I make for myself on this deal” radically alters and limits our ability to meet societal needs — not only because the incentive and purpose have been redirected, but the allocation now is based upon ability to pay.

If everyone was given the ability to pay for what they need, then maybe you could keep most of the current system in place? You might want to cap the rewards for hard work. If you did that, some people might work as much as they are willing to for that reward, and then quit. That does not have to be a problem. If an executive is not willing to work extra hard if he can’t make extra millions or billions, maybe somebody else will step in for him.

Would this minor tweak be enough to turn what we have into something adequate, or would we have to make much bigger changes?

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J Thomas 08.15.14 at 9:05 pm

The system I’m proposing requires communal ownership and the absence of profit in order to work. It would basically unravel over time if we went to private ownership of the means of production and to profits

This objection surprises me, as does the one that says I brook no alternatives.

One traditional approach when setting up a new system is to allow the old system to continue, but in a way that it can’t really maintain itself. So it looks like it just can’t compete, because the game is rigged against it.

Like, when they got rid of feudalism, they started by reducing the strength of the private armies. Feudal lords couldn’t fight each other because the winner had to face the king afterward and explain why he fought instead of getting the king to decide who should win.

And then the weakened private armies couldn’t just steal and rape and murder free people who didn’t belong to a lord, or they’d answer to the king’s men. So there wasn’t really much point to having a private army, and then people didn’t have to be scared to live free. And eventually, after nobody really wanted to be a serf any more, they made it illegal. But it was pretty much dead already at that point.

So if your system gives everybody a minimum wage, they don’t have to work for masters unless they want to. If people aren’t scared of bosses they have to get paid enough to actually attract them. Capitalists who sell for gold are competing with businesses that sell for points. They had *better* make products that people value a whole lot more, or they will fail.

And if you don’t want to encourage capitalists, you don’t need to enforce a patent system. If an entrepreneur comes up with a truly superior product that people want, you can copy it and sell it for points. Maybe you will buy his business from him, or just let it fail. If he can repeatedly come up with new products that are worth copying, he is performing a valuable service and is it terrible to let him keep doing it? Each time he’ll know to shut down and try something else when he gets successful.

We didn’t have to make it illegal to be an aristocrat. They were no threat because the environment changed to something that would not support them.

If you can make capitalism unprofitable (and if your system could get established, it could surely do that) then you don’t have to tell people you won’t allow it. You can let people try and fail at capitalism all they want, and then sort-of-smugly point out that capitalism failed because it didn’t work.

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mattski 08.15.14 at 9:21 pm

Plume,

Why would they have insufficient labor to meet production? Why do you assume that would be the case? Since we all would own the means of production, we all would have a stake in making sure it worked for all of us.

Ummm…

Because you also said that in your system everyone would be free to pursue their dreams? But I digress. We made it over 500 comments. Woo-hoo!!

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Plume 08.15.14 at 10:34 pm

Ummm…

Because you also said that in your system everyone would be free to pursue their dreams? But I digress.

That’s not an answer. Do you think that no one dreams of working on a farm? No one chooses to study agronomy, biotech, agriculture, botany, etc. at the college level right now? Do you think that no one would choose to grow produce for the community, voluntarily, or seek better, healthier, more environmentally sound ways of doing so? That there would be zero interest in hydroponics, sustainable farming, ecology, permaculture, free range farming techniques, etc?

I live in farm country. A lot of young people around here choose to go into it. They willingly, voluntarily choose to go into it.

By implication, you’re suggesting that people are forced into it in the capitalist system, that if they were really “free to pursue their dreams” no one would choose to work on a farm.

Yes, hmmm, indeed.

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Plume 08.15.14 at 10:43 pm

J Thomas,

I see what you’re saying. As mentioned before, I think the way to get to a WSDE system of some kind, hopefully with as many of the features I’ve put out there as possible . . . . the way to do it with the least disruption is to build up the goods and services on offer via non-profit, direct, fully public modes. Make the offer too good to pass up. Too good a value, with the quality too high, to pass up. Make job security too good to pass up, cuz we’re not going anywhere and we don’t have to ship jobs overseas to pad our outrageous compensation packages — which don’t exist, etc.

So, yeah, it could work like that. Make it just too good to ignore at first, and then too good to compete against.

But once the deal is done, I see no reason to allow capitalism back in through the back door. It’s the cancer. It’s the disease. Once we stamp out polio, I don’t want it to come back.

Again, all of that is subject to democratic vote. If any of this ever happens, I won’t be alive to see it, and I won’t be able to stop the disease from creeping back in. The people will choose their own path, and that may well include your suggestions or Bernard’s, or the abandonment of the whole thing and a return to life as it was before real democracy. Who knows?

It would be a shame if that were to happen. But if that’s what the people want and agree to, so be it.

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mattski 08.15.14 at 11:44 pm

Plume,

You have two speeds. Your first speed is, “everything goes smoothly according to my plan.” Your second speed is, “nothing works according to plan, everything is a disaster, which is another name for ‘capitalism.'” As I already said, the way you debate is by slamming the needle to the extreme.

Maybe you forgot already what Bernard Yomtov’s question was. Maybe you can’t even process his question because it involves nuance.

By implication, you’re suggesting that people are forced into it in the capitalist system, that if they were really “free to pursue their dreams” no one would choose to work on a farm.

No, I didn’t come close to suggesting this. What an idiotic remark.

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J Thomas 08.16.14 at 12:18 am

“By implication, you’re suggesting that people are forced into it in the capitalist system, that if they were really “free to pursue their dreams” no one would choose to work on a farm.”

No, I didn’t come close to suggesting this.

Let’s review the bidding. I hope we agree that under the current system (which gets misrepresented as capitalism though it is hardly more like actual capitalism than the USSR was like communism) … under the current system, jobs are filled by a combination of bribes and threats. If a boss decides that we need people to hack away at sewage clogs with hand tools, he will find workers to do that. It will be some combination of setting wages high enough that somebody prefers to do that over all their other choices, and also finding people who can’t find any adequate alternative.

Plume says that in his system people decide for themselves what work to do. It’s a reasonable question how they make sure that all the necessary jobs get done. If there are more people than they have jobs for, that’s OK. They still take care of the people who don’t have jobs, and they can maybe spread out the work so nobody has to work so hard. No problem there. But what if there are jobs that nobody wants to do? Like, hacking away at clogged sewers with hand tools. If nobody does it, maybe the sewers back up or something.

Will people realize that somebody has to make sacrifices for the whole community, and do the dirty work for no reward except the admiration-from-a-distance of their neighbors?

Plume hasn’t really said about that. My immediate thought is that somebody should design and build better sewers. Except in emergencies, why should we ever have human beings doing work that machines do better?

Under capitalism, it makes sense to hire people cheap instead of build or buy machines. If there’s a recession, you can fire the people but the money you spent for the machines is sunk. So if your equipment fully depreciates in 5 years, and you think there’s a strong chance there will be a recession that will last 2 years during that time, and you can hire cheap labor for 3 years cheaper than the machines cost, then it makes perfect sense to hire the people and pay them peanuts and fire them when it’s time to.

But under Plume’s hypothetical system, you don’t need to have recessions at all. In his system recessions would be worthless and useless, so why bother to have them?

And you don’t need to put poor people to work at low-paying jobs that machines do better. If you think the product is worth having, go ahead and build the machines to make it. Then if it fails, try to do better next time.

And in his system, the jobs that look most worth automating are the ones that not enough people want to do.

I don’t speak for Plume so his ideas may be different. But it looks to me like what I said here is compatible with what he says.

510

Bruce Wilder 08.16.14 at 12:30 am

And, you are acquainted with “actual capitalism” how, exactly?

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john c. halasz 08.16.14 at 12:55 am

“Actual capitalism” is exemplified by the old work-place saying: “You pay peanuts; you get monkeys”.

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J Thomas 08.16.14 at 2:46 am

#510

And, you are acquainted with “actual capitalism” how, exactly?

When I was in high school I read a lot of Readers Digest articles that explained capitalism and why it was the best way.

The summer of my sophomore year in college I took an economics course from the chairman of the business management department. He lectured us for 4 hours a day, and much of it was about capitalism. I remember it vividly. Later I read a lot about capitalism on my own.

Real capitalism would follow capitalist theory, just as real communism would follow communist theory. The USSR had nothing like real communism, and the USA has nothing like real capitalism. Your own excellent comment #213 in the What’s Left of Libertarianism thread shows some of the discrepancies. You didn’t talk about capital, but you described the doctrine of free markets which capitalism depends on.
http://crookedtimber.org/2014/08/09/whats-left-of-libertarianism/#comments

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PJW 08.16.14 at 3:35 am

Working on a farm in the Midwest isn’t such a bad gig these days. Lots of independence if you are lucky enough to own the pricey ground you farm. They quit picking corn by hand a long time ago. I have relatives who were inspired to go to college in order to escape the hard work and drudgery that were the norm in the 1940s, when they couldn’t get all of the corn picked in the fall before winter set in. One of these folks has a medical degree and he told me in the early ’90s when he was making $5,000 a day that he would have stayed on the farm if they’d had the equipment used today. The giant combines and tractors of today are quite nice. Fun to drive, too.

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Plume 08.16.14 at 5:42 am

Mattski @508,

As mentioned, yes, I do nuance and grays and shades of this and that very, very well. Always have. Bernard isn’t dealing with nuance. He repeatedly sets up straw men, tries to knock them down, I correct him, and he sets up yet more straw men. And since he disagrees with what he thinks I’m saying, you parrot him, mindlessly. Rinse and repeat. I have yet to see you add one thing of substance, or even one original idea to this thread. You’d rather take silly pot shots at straw men instead. Nuance? You don’t know what the word means.

Communities would be able to plan in advance how much food to produce, match this with need, grow, manage, husband what is needed — for the good of the community instead of the good of Monsanto. It makes zero sense to think communal farms would have a harder time matching labor with production, production with labor than under capitalism, given the far greater compensation and benefits they’d receive for their work under the alternative system . . . and given the radical shift away from profit, private ownership of the means of production and our current “I’ve got mine, go F yourself!” ethos. And, as I’ve said more than twice now, if there are shortages, the community fills the gaps. People pitch in temporarily for the good of the community, then they go back to their chosen vocation. They do this for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is the concept of reciprocation. They know that if there is a shortage in their chosen field of endeavor, the community will pitch in to fill that shortfall in turn.

It’s called cooperation. It’s called helping one’s fellow citizen. It’s called doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s called mutually beneficial arrangements, real democracy, real community, living, breathing social justice or . . . just human evolution for short.

Oh, the horror!!

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