Tag Archive: Socialism / Anticapitalism


Toward a New Marxism

I’ve reentered school in the fall–a task which has kept me busy, however much I like it, and so I’ve let blogging fall by the wayside.  I really, truly, want to change that, to get back on the horse, so to speak.

The best way for me to start is to go where my heart has been in all this time since I’ve posted more regularly.

First of all, Egypt has inspired me.  From an internet based movement, sparked by the revolution and bravery of Tunisia, Egypt toppled a 30-year-old regime, despite opposition from the dominant party, precisely because regardless of difficulty, the Egyptian people never backed down, never resorted to violence, rape, looting (excepting the violence in defense from pro-Mubarak ‘supporters’), never strayed from message–they consistently would be placated with nothing less than ‘Mubarak, step down!’.  And step down he did.  That settled, and the military verbally guaranteeing reforms for a real democracy (whether they remain committed to such a vision remains to be seen), they proceed to clean up the mess that the protest has created.  This is how a protest should be–clear, revolutionary demands, without resorting to anarchy or being placated by red-herring false promises and impotent, minuscule changes.  And it was a neither a U.S. trained coup nor a militant, Islamist revolt against ‘secularization,’ but a multiparty coalition for democracy which has changed the face of the Middle East.  We should all learn from Egyptians. . . this is what hope and change look like.
In the West, we’ve gone so long without hope and change.  We’ve long felt impotent, and rationalized our inactivity.  “This is the way it’s always been. . . ” or “Americans aren’t willing to move with us for anything better. . . ,” or perhaps “It’s a Right Wing nation” or “Look at the obstacles to change!”  The leftmost phrase one can use to describe oneself is “progressive,” and that rather meaningless phrase is still labelled “Communist” in some crowds, depending on who you ask.  What does one do?
I am a committed Marxist, but not the “Old Left” or “New Left” kind.  The “Old Left” kind prioritized structures over agency, over the need to move in what Marxists called the “superstructure” to help people see the world they live in for what it is, and to pave a path to change it.  The “Old Left” prioritized class over gender, race, sexuality, environment.  The “New Left” hated the same systems of oppression, but saw gender, sexuality, race, and environment sometimes simultaneous to class, and sometimes instead of class.  They rejected authority, either Right or Left, and they fought for a world of TOTAL freedom.  But their overcorrection for the sins of the Old Left, their anti-authoritarianism, allowed them to descend into a rag-tag and decentralized band of competing struggles, each decidedly committed to their own ends and de facto competing against the ends of other New Left groups.  I consider the New Left generation of the 60’s to be the ‘Greatest Generation,’ whose war was not against fascism abroad but totalitarian unfreedom at home–fighting against alienation, homophobia, sexism, racism, capitalism, and for the oppressed, the exploited, the nonhuman animals.  But in their fight against all sources of oppression, the New Left so commonly devolved into a quasi-postmodern, infighting-prone, drug-dependent, and unprincipled band of uncoordinated movements, whose rejection of a capital-O Order resulted in the structural inability to meet their potential, their destiny.
It is our time to learn from their mistakes.  Inequality.  Environmental degradation.  Impotence in one’s workplace, country, city. . . life!  One drinks and lives vicariously through television and video games, playing Madden 2010 instead of football, watching James Bond instead of having martinis with beautiful women (or men, for that manner).  What went wrong?
I believe the New Left of the 1960’s had a lot right.  You cannot build a new society without abolishing racism, sexism, homophobia, traditional family structures, abandoning capitalism, reengaging the environment, seeking new spiritualities, rejecting war.  But the New Left maintained a definition of Freedom that was no more than an extension of the ‘bourgeois’ notion of freedom into wider realms.  The ‘bourgeois’ notion of freedom defines freedom loosely as the freedom to choose within a constrained choice set.  Let me be clearer.  ‘Bourgeois’ freedom argued that if a person’s society and nature keep them able only to choose between ‘A’ and ‘B,’ and prevents them from choosing ‘C,’ ‘D,’ etc. up to ‘Z’, when under other social rules one could have choices from A to Z, ‘Bourgeois’ or capitalist notions of freedom considers you free—because, hell, you have a choice, right?

The “New Left” extended this notion–they argued that no one has a right to make you choose only A or B, between Green Apple Antibacterial dish soap or Orange anti-grease dish soap, when you could have not only antibacterial AND anti-grease dish soap, but way more meaningful choices than soap at the end of the day.  They wanted you to be able to choose between A and Z. But they rarely connected the different systems of oppression, and they never looked at the effects of the systems of oppression and exploitation as a whole, ignoring that alongside the need to have self determination for your nation, your relationship(s), and your workplace, is the need to have self determination over your full self.  And this is not the Christian notion of feeling bad for every time you enjoy a piece of cake or a good lay, but the humanization of one’s desires, making them truly yours rather than enculturated or contradictory pursuits.  So they wouldn’t listen to each other (who are you to tell me what to do?) and they tuned out, and blew their minds.  What do we do?

Like I said, I am neither an Old Left nor a New Left Marxist, but there is value to each.  Perhaps you could call me a Now Left Marxist. Here is a part of where I stand (and if you happen to want the theoretical backing, quotes and such, leave a comment).
Meaningful freedom is more than what you can do with a limited choice set–freedom is both external (your liberty to do what you want without external barriers) and internal (your liberty to do what you want without mental or habitual limitations).  One creates oneself through habituation (among other things), and so either external or internal limitations cripple the self–you are limited in your own self-creating potential.  And there are two types of barriers, natural and social, which can affect either internal or external freedom (I’m sorry if this is too heady, I just have faith in you–if you need clarification, please comment).  I’ll probably expand upon this later, but for now suffice to say that the ultimate freedom is both democratic influence over all the external factors that constrain your choices (social or natural, and for all external structures) and over all internal factors (ideologies, command over one’s own inclinations, habits, desires, etc).  This latter part, I believe, is a fundamental component of Marx’s ultimate project, as well as my own, extending into one’s relationships, consumer activity, etc., and most particularly NOT resulting in a denial of one’s desires, i.e. towards sex, drink, etc., but merely the use of all things as informed by ones fully free choices.

The point is making oneself fully the person one wants to be.  That is freedom.  And advocates of a limited freedom–libertarians, Republicans, capitalist apologists–they don’t advocate full freedom.  They advocate a conception of the lowest level of external freedom–choice within social and natural constraints–but even then an inconsistent version, where one’s external freedom can limit the external (and internal freedom) of another, but for no good reason.  For example, a speculator can buy the property of a family facing hard economic times, and use that power to raise the family’s rent until they can no longer pay.  The speculator has external freedom–no government or external force prevents them from buying the house–but their freedom to do so violates the freedom of the family to stay in their house, and that limitation is first social (social rules backed by force allow the speculator to take the family’s house) and natural (that force, personified by police, can remove the family at a very real physical danger to their lives). People who equate capitalism to freedom don’t get freedom–and I don’t think they want to.  But my Marxism, and I believe it stems from Marx himself, is founded in a fully, consistent, internal and external freedom.

You should be free in your work, government, relationships, beliefs, and over yourself.  You should be connected with your true goals, loved ones, community, environment.  You should manifest your creative power and develop yourself in all aspects of life, be it work or sex, eating or playing, or anything else under the sun, so long as at the end of the day it helps others do the same, rather than hinders them.  Now Left Marxism is feminist, queer, antiracist, environmentalist, and Buddhist (in its emphasis, with Buddhism, on control over the self), and founded in a demand for full democratization and full liberation.  It is this philosophy that I hope to develop here, and I invite comments.  Let Egypt show us that true change is possible, and lesson learned, lets change the world ourselves.

What happened to dreams?

I miss democracy.  Sure, America was never as democratic as our high-school textbooks would have us believe.  We were founded on land secured by genocide, build off the labor of slaves in the South and poor, mistreated white laborers in the North.  “All men were created equal” actually meant men, and property owning white men at that.  But over time the people who had been shoved aside and stepped on picked each other up.  Over time, slavery ended, women fought for the vote, property qualifications on voting were abandoned, workers could form unions, and currently our Queer brothers, sisters, and transters are fighting for equality.  The revolutionary ire of the 60’s became mired in the liberal conception of freedom–doing whatever one wants without thinking too much about what one wants–and despite the beauty of the ideals of peaceful, happy, free societies, rampant drug use immobilized portions of the hippie movement from creating structural changes.  The gains of the 60s were followed with the consolidation of global capitalist power, leaving us a neoliberal train wreck of an economy–one that pits workers against each other, destroys the environment, replaces living wages with debt, and responds to its lack of profitability with layers of financial tricks stacked precariously on the edge of a very large cliff, and we all may be faced with looking into that abyss. . . or we may not.

We could make it–but we need to dream.  Mainstream economists will tell you that prices have to rise if everyone has a job.  Politicians will tell you the government can’t make jobs (let somehow the government gave them a job–I guess they just mean jobs for us).  And both of those statements are false.  If everyone gets a job, no one’s desperate for a job, so they have to be good–and wages rise.  So they raise prices to maintain a profit.  And profits are nothing other than money we earn and they keep.  Profits are bull–the purpose of job availability and pricing should be to meet needs.  And the government can invest to create jobs same as private companies–but doesn’t because it would compete with a company’s ability to make money off our needs and inadequate government.

We can do better.  What is stopping us from creating communities build around our happiness and needs? In tune with the environment and each other?  Why can’t we co-manage our own workplaces?

The Chamber of Commerce wants to wage war against whatever democracy we’ve fought for over time, hoping that corporate financing of our candidates skews our system in their favor, just as such groups hope corporate financing of NGOS skews our attempts to change the world.

If the moneyed interests want so bad to control our society, I suggest a version of what the Paris Commune tried, and so many intentional communities have tried or are trying ever since. . . I suggest we pull out of their labor markets, their consumption patterns, their apartment complexes.  We form our own worker and consumer co-ops and coordinate production and consumption with each other, and outside of the market.  Different models have been suggested, Parecon and the model developed in Towards a New Socialism–and I’m not suggesting I’m committed to either of those visions in total.  But we can take inspiration, and we can create a new world, a Post-Capitalist world from a process of creating Exo-Capitalist modes of production, consumption, LIVING.

Apparently, in supporting Wall Street over Main Street, the capitalists over the working class and citizenry, in health care, job policy, economic regulation (or lack thereof), consumer protections, and unpopular overseas conflicts, the Obama Administration apparently decided that it had not yet chosen enough plays from the Bush Administration playbook.

Democracy Now! reports:

Clinton: US “Deeply Concerned” about Venezuela

Clinton’s visit to Brazil came as part of her first visit to Latin America as Secretary of State. It comes one week after Latin American and Caribbean nations agreed to form a new regional body excluding the United States and Canada as an alternative to the Organization of American States. At a news conference, Clinton criticized the Venezuelan government.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We are deeply concerned about the behavior of the Venezuelan government, which we think is unproductive with respect to its relations with certain neighbors, which we believe is limiting slowly, but surely, the freedoms within Venezuela, therefore adversely impacting the Venezuelan people. And we would hope that there could be a new start on the part of the Venezuelan leadership to restore full democracy, to restore freedom of the press, to restore private property, and return to a free market economy. We wish Venezuela were looking more to its south and looking at Brazil and looking at Chile.”

So, I guess if you have to  defend the American Empire, you. . . uh, pick a fight with Venezuela?  Really?  Now, regarding issues such as the closure of oppositional press and attempts to delimit terms, I won’t say much. . . however, given that the majority of closed press have been closed due to expired licenses (a policy that we would uphold ourselves), and a number of oppositional press supported the 2002 coup attempt (which, if there was an attempted coup in America, there is no doubt we would shut down presses that supported it), and that the limitation of terms is, at least in one sense, arguably undemocratic, given that it restricts the population’s ability to vote for a popular president past a certain point, I don’t think her critique is totally valid (not so say that I would not change some things in Venezuelan policy).

However, let me make a few further points.  First, democracy and capitalism are polar opposites.  First of all, economic democracy, a key socialist principle, would render all corporations employee self managed, in a democratic a nonhierarchical manner.  To the extend that this is not the case in Venezuela, I disagree with Venezuelan policy on the matter. . .but is it the opposite of the case under capitalism, because private ownership of the tools and resources that go into production, exploitation, and the inequality and power that come from them can only be protected if the workers who actually produce the goods that form our world have no democratic say over them.  True economic democracy would allow each worker to see their true importance in the workplace, gain greater knowledge over their work processes, and render them powerful enough to get their fair share of the revenue they’ve produced.  Economic democracy would be better for all workers, and have a number of economic benefits, but would be less profitable for the ruling class.  But none of that under capitalism.

Political democracy is hindered by capitalism, too.  Certainly, the USSR was not a political democracy, and neither was China.  These were mistakes–just as it is a mistake to give economic power to any bureaucratic and hierarchical body, be it corporations or an undemocratic ‘state’ over and above the people.  In fact, convincing arguments have been made to see the USSR and the like as ‘state capitalist’ rather than ‘socialist’ because the people owned no means of production, but a hierarchical body owned and determined it.  That being said, ‘democracy’ in capitalist countries is capitalism in name only.  Because the state is organized in a hierarchical manner as all capitalist institutions, our ‘democratic’ government is actually very unresponsive to the will of the people.  Furthermore, there are ‘checks and balances’ against the popular will by design, such as (1) a president who is not directly elected, (2) a supreme court, seated effectively ‘for life’, and not elected by the people, and (3) the senate, giving states power over the country in disproportion to their populations.  Finally, in that the capitalist class, collectively, holds the means of production hostage from the public will, it commands the majority of social means, and whoever holds the social means controls the ends as well.  Consequentially, the American government must appease capitalists as constraints on any action they take.

An illustration: say Doctors Without Borders builds a hospital next to a village on a hill, and builds a bridge to connect the hill to the village.  The hospital is free for all, so it seems as though everyone has equal access, but Ronald Reagan builds a locked gate on the end of the bridge.  Consequentially, Reagan, who has the only key, controls access to the bridge, and thus to the hospital.  While the policy of the hospital looks officially as though everyone has equal access, Reagan in fact has complete control over whether or not someone can get to said hospital.  What looks like freedom is, in fact, nothing like it.  What is the difference, then, if instead of a locked gate blocking access to the hospital, the hospital charges fees?  And if not everyone can pay?  Whoever has ownership of any corporation or institution has the ability to restrict access to its products and services, and thus, has leverage over anyone who needs them.  Since America is a ‘free market’ country, corporations own the majority of the means of production, and so is the provider of jobs for citizens and some direct income for the state.  Since the state needs income through taxation and these corporations, because it owns no means of production itself, it has to hinge its policies not on what is best for citizens and workers, but what keeps corporations happy.  In addition to funding campaigns, they control jobs and, through which, the means for government to operate.  Capitalism controls political democracy, and keeps means from the people.

In other words, capitalism is an enemy to political AND economic democracy, and here Clinton shows her bias, the same bias present in her husband’s role in NAFTA and the WTO.  Clinton should do her homework. . . you cannot support but a ‘free market economy’ AND democracy at the same time.

Looking Behind the Curtain

We are supposed to believe that ‘economic growth,’ measured by a rise in GDP or success in the stock market, is the appropriate measure of how well our economy is doing. More strongly, we are told that helping corporations be profitable is the way to create jobs, meet needs, put food on the table. We should be grateful, we are told, because while everyone has equal opportunity, some of us are too lazy to work and to short-sighted to save—while working and saving of course are the source of wealth and riches. Not everyone has that ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ for innovation that improves our daily lives, and so, we are told, we should be so thankful for the time these selfless, angelic entrepreneurs spend working so hard to solve our problems, saving and not spending any of the money their hard work so deservedly earns. If we are poor, it is because we are too hedonistic and lazy to work, or too stupid to have a good idea, and the riches are, then, their own justification, being the result of a decent, moral human being. If we rearrange society to benefit these good human beings, they will earn enough money to expand, and they will so generously create more jobs in the process (for us lazy, stupid, selfish folk). Or so we are told. This capitalist ideology, embedded in Republican logic as well as many Democrats since Clinton, is as widespread as it is taught to the trusting . . . but is it true?

It has been reported by Bloomberg News that most of the S&P 500 have gained a combined $1.18 trillion in the last year—$518 billion more than the year before, and have spent 43% less on job-building capital expenditures. In other words, profits have skyrocketed, but companies have simply sat on it, rather than creating jobs, and around 8.4 million jobs have been lost since December 2007. It seems that the best thing we can say about capitalism is that there is no correlation between profits and job creation. Further evidence pending, such statistics seem to show something much stronger: maybe Marx was right, and capitalism specifically thrives off unemployment.

But what about the claim about hard work being the source of wealth? As of 2003, the wealthiest 1% owned 33.5% of all corporate stock, and the next 9% owned 43.4%—in other words, the richest 10% in the country owned 76.9% of corporate stock, meaning that the higher the income of an American citizen, the lower the percentage of their income comes from work, rather than their property ownership. Certainly some of those with high incomes do work—but most of those jobs involve constant efforts to make their company more money, rather than some socially valuable goal. Profit under capitalism is the money a company receives from the labor its workers perform over what it has paid for their labor and the tools and resources they used. In short (so far), the wealthiest in America own the majority of stock in companies, and the percentage of their income derived from actual work decreases as they go up in income. Beyond this, what work they do is ultimately designed only to increase profit, and successful increases in profit are truthfully derived from increasing the amount of money that employees work for but don’t receive. One becomes rich under capitalism by not working, and by getting others to work for you, without being paid the full value of what they’ve earned. On the other hand, a recent report by the Working Poor Families Project has shown that adults in low-income working families worked on average 49 hours per week in 2006, roughly the equivalent of one and a quarter full time jobs.

I think its time we set the record straight—capitalism does not create jobs, nor does it reward ‘hard work,’ selflessness, or goodness. Capitalism requires people to spend their days trying to increase the money they or the company they work for receives, through increasing the amount of money they contractually steal from their employees, betting on the stock market, or charging interest on loans, and the like. Moral activity, selflessness, altruism, the ability to do what work you want, or choose how much work to do—all these suffer under the endless demand to spend human activity making some capitalist money. Capitalist apologists try to justify prioritizing profits over people by acting as though profits are earned from morally praiseworthy hard work—but we are the source of social wealth. Let us tell the truth—our bosses are obsolete. Let us create our own jobs, field our own candidates for every office from President to dog catcher, create our own entertainment expressing our real values and dreams, rather than being told our dreams lie on the corporate ladder and in the shopping mall. We’ve been creating our world in their image for millennia—it’s about time we start creating it in ours.

Capitalism: A Love Story

Michael Moore’s newest documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story, is scheduled for wide release in early October.  From the reviews that I’ve read, it is an excellent movie, and Moore goes straight to the point of our modern social ills: capitalism.  That being said, I urge everyone to see it, and to convince everyone they know to do so as well.  The fact that a good, thoughtful, and sound piece of media is getting such wide release and positive publicity, from someone in the popular consciousness, is something I never expected to see.  That said, after I see it I will have much to say.

To make this short, his conclusion is that we need to replace capitalism with a democratic economic system, and shows examples of worker-owned factories.

In the mean time, for those looking for proposals for what democratic economic system we should have, here’s a short bibliography for you.

Here is a list of some models of decentralized, participatory planned socialisms.

The three biggest models right now are:
(1)   The Parecon model, whose primary theoreticians are Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel (and which is associated with Z Communications, including Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn).  Z Communications has a space on their site specifically for it at http://www.zmag.org/znet/topics/parecon, where different theorists working to develop its implications in economics and in the wider society.  Their whole model is founded upon their argument that resources should be distributed according to effort, tempered by need.
As for books:
Michael Albert has a book called Parecon from 2004 which is a great summary of the position; it’s available at http://www.zcommunications.org/zparecon/pareconlac.htm.
Robin Hahnel has another book from 2005 called Economic Justice and Democracy: From Competition to Cooperation, and I personally like it better than the Albert book. . . it has some really important discussions of egalitarian intentional communities as well as a good presentation of their overall critiques of capitalism.
More of their books are available online here:  http://www.zcommunications.org/zmi/readparecon.htm
(2) The Cottrell/Cockshott model:
The original model is presented in Cottrell and Cockshott’s book Towards a New Socialism, published in 1993, and is fully available at their website: http://ricardo.ecn.wfu.edu/~cottrell/socialism_book/.  In addition, many of their subsequent essays expanding on the book are available there, too.  You might especially enjoy their advocacy of direct democracy, and rejection of representative government as a hidden extension of class rule masquerading as democracy.  They propose how direct democracy can be feasible given our current technology (even as of 16 years ago).

(3) The Adaman/Devine model:
Of the three primary models of participatory planned socialisms, I know least about the proposal of Adaman and Devine.  I only know that it’s grouped with the Parecon and Cottrell/Cockshott models as a fellow model of democratic, participatory planned socialism.  It’s initial book is Pat Devine’s Democracy and Economic Planning: The Political Economy of a Self Governing Society (1988), and expanded in the articles “Socialist Renewal: lessons from the calculation debate” in Studies in Political Economy 43 (spring): 63-77 (1994); “A response to Professor Foss” in Studies in Political Economy 49 (spring) 163-8 (1996); “The economic calculation debate: lessons for socialists” in the Cambridge Journal of Economics 20(5): 523-37 (1996); and “On the economic theory of socialism” in New Left Review 221 (Jan-Feb): 54-80.

Finally, (4) Science and Society Vol. 66:1 has a series of articles by all the major proponents of democratic, participatory planned socialisms, expanding their theories in certain ways and/or addressing critiques.  Additionally, each article is followed by comments from some of the other theorists, and then replies.  Albert, Hahnel, Cottrell, Cockshott, Adaman, and Devine are all here, as well as some other advocates of such an economic system.

This is a lot of reading, but as Moore’s movie was meant to critique the system and propose guidelines for solutions, not the solutions themselves, I wanted to fill that in a little, for all of us.  Again, go see the movie when it’s widely released, and comment on my blog with what you think.

In Solidarity,

The Practical Utopian

This is a continuation of my August 12th book review of Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, which can be found below.  We last discovered that the foundation of his argument for a connection between capitalism and freedom depends upon whether or not individuals have a right to private ownership of the means of production.

Morality exists in general because people’s actions have physical effects in the world, and as such we need to consider our actions in light of these effects. The relevant standard is the impact of our actions on the things we affect, and how important this impact is on those thing, i.e. according to its impact on their well being. Rights cover those elements of well being that are so important that they must be protected. Minimally, we can be said to have, then, a first right to life; life is the background condition for any other rights or moral categories, and in the absence of basing an argument on a strong metaphysics, life is the essential element to well being. Life is not, however, its own purpose; it is just the precondition for the realization of other purposes. Our ability to act with relative freedom, i.e. our actions do not intrude first upon the right to life of others, and secondly upon their own freedom, is a necessary component of our well being as well. Consequentially, we further have a right to freedom. It has been argued by many that rights to private property are justified as, for example, a necessary precondition for the rights to life and freedom. These conceptions, however, justify only property use, not ownership, because so long as one has the necessary goods when they are needed, one’s rights to freedom and life are perfectly met. There are other attempts to justify private property ownership rights, but I will not cover them at this time. At any rate, ownership of the means of production (raw materials and tools) are direct limitations on the freedom of action and welfare of others, as they take away the means to achieve ends. They take away property use rights from others, and as such they limit the ability of others to meet their own needs, while overextending one’s own rights (in that property use is the only prerequisite of rights being met). We thus do not have a right to private property ownership in the means of production, but do have a right to free use of the means of production. Capitalism, in its absolute private ownership of the means of production, in fact violates the legitimate right to property. Consequentially, capitalism in fact violates rights rather than than guarantees them, this violation of rights is protected by coercive force. In short, Friedman’s entire argument that capitalism protects political freedom is false.

What about economic freedom? Economic freedom, the freedom of exchange, is essentially meaningless with Friedman’s conception of rights. The freedom to exchange goods it not necessarily contested under socialism (for example, socialists would not likely object to, say, a barter fair, and they most certainly would not object to an exchange of services). It is the specific sub-component of ‘economic freedom’ that involves production for exchange that is contested, and primarily because it involves the exploitation of labor, tendency for the accumulation of capital to override social values, and inability to meet human needs except by accident. Were no exploitation present and production geared towards meeting human needs it would be less objectionable. In fact, these conditions are impossible under capitalism, as capitalism presupposes and is founded upon exploitation and producing for profit, not needs. This aside, socialists object not to exchange per se, but capitalist production for exchange; thus, capitalism only differs necessarily from socialism in terms of economic freedom in that socialism rejects the components of economic freedom that violates rights, whereas capitalist apologists such as Friedman defend it.

His argument that freedom of exchange protects political freedom in that it restricts the means at the disposal of the state, thus preventing centralization and consolidation of power, has at least once central problem; it artificially separates the government from its citizens, which cannot be done in a democracy. Now, American democracy is not truly democracy but representative democracy, which is not democracy at all. In theory and practice, representative democracy replaces popular rule with quasi-popular choice of rule by an elite. In a real democracy, however, the government is the people, and thus removing the means from the ends of the populace through capitalism is an imposition on democracy. Friedman’s argument, then, is no more than an explicit argument showing how capitalism thwarts democratic self-determination through empowering a property-owning elite.

To summarize the preceding points, (1) Friedman’s case for capitalism being a necessary condition for democracy as well as economic and political freedom rests upon a notion of private property ownership rights—specifically private property ownership rights over the means of production, tools and raw materials. (2) Property rights are legitimate insofar as they contribute towards freedom and well being, but this supports private property use rights, not ownership rights, and specifically discounts ownership of the means of production, as it impedes freedom and well being. Since private property use rights mean no more than an individual has a right to use the property he or she needs (and here I will accept that private goods which aren’t the means of production have value attached to them that may be more for one particular individual than others, a picture of one’s own children for example, and so I will prima facie hold no qualms over ownership of private property that is not the means of production, at least insofar as my case against Friedman doesn’t require it, so I don’t need to go that far), private ownership of the means of production violates the use rights of others, as well as their freedom and well being. Consequentially, (3) capitalism in fact violates the legitimate range of economic freedom, and as it involves the coercive and illegitimate state defense of private property in the means of production, capitalism rests on coercion, and thus violates political freedom as well. It further (4) undermines democracy through its separation of political means from political ends, in essence holding democracy hostage. If government is to satisfy the purposes that Friedman sees in it, namely “”the maintenance of law and order to prevent coercion of one individual by another, the enforcement of contracts voluntarily entered into, the definition of the meaning of property rights, the interpretation and enforcement of such rights, and the provision of a monetary framework” (27), the government ought to be socialist, devoid of illegitimate coercion because of its recognition of the proper definition of property rights.

Now, Friedman’s support of the connections between capitalism/freedom and capitalism/democracy have been undermined. He makes arguments on more specific sociopolitical issues later, and while many if not all of his points are rendered illegitimate and the questions themselves meaningless after the collapse of his notion of rights, I will proceed to advance additional arguments against them, each on their own terms. I may refer to something pointed out before, such as problems with private ownership of the means of production, but not simply make statements such as “Friedman says x, but since his conception of property rights has been rejected, x is wrong/meaningless”. In other words, I won’t reject his additional arguments by fiat.

In his chapter on Monopoly and Social Responsibility, Friedman argues against what he calls a “monopoly in labor,” referring to workers increasing their class power through unionization. Friedman argues that “if unions raise wage rates in a particular occupation or industry, they necessarily make the amount of employment available in that occupation or industry less than it otherwise would be. . . [and] the effect is an increased number of persons seeking other jobs, which forces down wages in other occupations . . . [making] high-paid workers higher paid at the expense of lower-paid workers.” (124) He thus argues that “unions have therefore not only harmed the public at large and workers as a whole by distorting the use of labor; they have also made the incomes of the working class more unequal by reducing the opportunities available to the most disadvantaged workers” (ibid). While it’s nice hearing Milton Friedman be so concerned here with inequality and disadvantaged workers, his argument presupposes that it is legitimate for capitalists to fire workers in order to preserve profits. His argument is saying this: when unionized workers work to raise wages, their boss has to pay more to employ them, and consequentially the only way the boss can maintain his profit margin is to employ fewer of the workers. It is a sad but true fact that the average American union is relatively conservative, and limits its demands to higher wages, reaching out too little to non-union workers, and rarely if ever fights for the workers outside its own union. However, Friedman’s argument neglects that, while the negative effects of unionization he shows seem believable, they are so only because of the capitalist’s decision to fire workers to maintain the rate of profit. In short, it is the choices of capitalists that might produce greater inequality between workers and harm the public at large. True, without maintaining the profit margin capitalists will be pushed out of the market, but this only shows that capitalists, too, are alienated, and capitalism, not individual capitalists, is the problem. A bit more work remains to be done in the process of reviewing Capitalism and Freedom, and so I will return to this post in short order.

My last review:https://practicalutopian.wordpress.com/2009/08/12/book-review-milton-friedmans-capitalism-and-freedom-part-i/

After reading two quite good posts on the Left Solutions blog against Ayn Rand, I decided that my next book reviews will be about some classics of libertarianism.  I expect to review Friedman, Rand, some Hayek, Nozick, maybe even some Rothbard.

Today’s book review is a classic of Libertarian thought, and a very influential defense of capitalism, Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom.  It’s major theme is, in the words of Friedman, “the role of competitive capitalism . . . as a system of economic freedom and a necessary condition for political freedom” (4) and its minor theme “is the role that government should play in a society dedicated to freedom and relying primarily on the market to organize economic activity” (ibid).  As the first two chapters lay out his theoretical position most explicitly, and contain the bulk of his arguments, I will concern myself most explicitly with these chapters, and draw from the last four chapters, The Distribution of Income, Social Welfare Measures, and Alleviation of Poverty, as well as the Conclusion, where appropriate.

Friedman begins through asserting that “only certain combinations of political and economic arrangements are possible” (8), and that “a society which is socialist cannot also be democratic, in the sense of guaranteeing individual freedom” (ibid).  He specifies that capitalist economic systems are not necessarily democratic, but that capitalism is a necessary prerequisite for democracy.  Friedman continues by arguing that (1) “freedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood” (8) and thus an end in itself, and (2) “economic freedom is also an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom” (ibid).

Economic freedom, to Friedman, essentially means freedom of exchange, i.e. the ability to buy or sell without legal restriction.  He considers it a necessary component of freedom because a restriction of it is a restriction of a range of choices and actions.  Political freedom means “the absence of coercion of a man by his fellow men” (15).  Friedman considers economic freedom as a means to political freedom because “it separates economic power from political power and in this way enables the one to offset the other” (9).  Markets more specifically secure political freedom because they remove “the organization of economic activity from the control of political authority, [and thus] the market eliminates this source of coercive power. . . [enabling] economic strength to be a check to political power rather than a reinforcement” (ibid).  Concentration of power, he argues, is most dangerous to freedom, and there is no zero sum law of economic power or fixed quantity of total economic power, whereas he sees the quantity of political power being essentially finite and thus more prone to concentration. He notes a general correspondence with the emergence of democracy and the emergence of capitalism, and a short time later argues that “collectivist economic planning has indeed interfered with individual freedom” (11).

After that partial digression, Friedman elaborates on the connection between economic and political freedom.  He argues that “the basic problem of social organization is how to co-ordinate the economic activities of large numbers of people” (12) and that there are two ways of doing so, either (1) “central direction involving the use of coercion” or (2) “voluntary co-operation of individuals” (13).  The latter, he claims, is based on the premise that “both parties to an economic transaction benefit from it, provided the transaction is bi-laterally voluntary and informed” (ibid).  Consequently, he deduces, competitive capitalism brings co-ordination without coercion.  It is worthy to note here that his elaboration that “co-operation is strictly individual and voluntary provided: (a) that enterprises are private, so that the ultimate contracting parties are individuals and (b) that individuals are effectively free to enter or not to enter into any particular exchange, so that every transaction is strictly voluntary” (14).  In his model, viewing all ‘economic freedom’ in terms of exchanges, the buying and selling of goods and labor power are always mutually beneficial, never the product of coercion, and necessary components of freedom.  In fact, he claims that “the central feature of the market organization of economic activity is that it prevents one person from interfering with another in respect of most of his activities” (ibid).  The selling of labor power is uncoerced in that “the employee is protected from coercion by the employer because of other employers for whom he can work” (14-15).

This voluntary model of organization by markets is contrasted against “action through political channels,” which “tends to require or enforce substantial conformity” (15). Here he claims that the market is “a system of proportional representation” where “each man can vote [for his consumption choices]” (ibid).

Finally, Friedman argues that competitive capitalist societies have an easier time accommodating the avocation of socialism than socialist societies have allowed the avocation of capitalism. First, he argues that “in order for men to advocate anything, they must be in the first place able to earn a living” (16), which is problematic under socialism, he claims, because of governmental control of the job market.  Whereas in socialist societies, the state would have to subsidize subversive literature, Friedman argues that in competitive capitalism all one has to do is find a rich benefactor, or prove that one’s literature will make the publisher (or other media source) money.  The ability in competitive capitalism to find rich benefactors, Friedman argues, shows “a role of inequality of wealth in preserving political freedom that is seldom noted–the role of the patron” (17).  He further defends the costs borne in capitalist society to advocate radical change, arguing that “no society could be stable if advocacy of radical change were costless . . . [and that] it is important to preserve freedom only for people who are willing to practice self-denial” (18).  His only caveat is that “what is essential is that the cost of advocating unpopular causes be tolerable and not prohibitive” (ibid).

The role of government, then, is to provide “for the maintenance of law and order to prevent coercion of one individual by another, the enforcement of contracts voluntarily entered into, the definition of the meaning of property rights, the interpretation and enforcement of such rights, and the provision of a monetary framework” (27).  These questions are large, and Friedman places a notable caveat on what he believes to be the extent of democratic determination.  He writes that “the use of political channels, while inevitable, tends to strain the social cohesion essential for a stable society.  The strain is least if agreement for joint action need be reached only on a limited range of issues on which people in any event have common views” (23).  In other words, the more important the issue, the more Friedman sees it being destructive of democratic unity, and thus “fundamental differences in basic values can seldom if ever be resolved at the ballot box” (24) and inevitably result in conflict.  Here, again, he embraces the market for not requiring conformity on these base issues.

Now that we have laid out Friedman’s basic stance on the relationship between economic and political freedom, let us back up and consider his arguments as a whole. To recap, Friedman considers (1) ‘economic freedom’ as the freedom to engages in exchange independent of political authority or coercion, and (2) ‘political freedom’ as, more generally, freedom from coercion. Viewing freedom, generally speaking, as the overriding moral and political value, Friedman argues that the freedom to exchange, i.e. buy and sell in a competitive market, is a necessary component of freedom in that it is a subset of choices and actions that one ought to be able to engage in without experiencing coercion. Economic freedom is thus and end in itself. He also argues that economic freedom is central to political freedom because of (a) its controlling the means to politically determined ends, limiting governmental power, and (b) the ability for unpopular and radical perspectives to find voice in the market.

 

Friedman’s case rests on a number of assumptions, any of which would undermine his argument, but taken as a whole entirely demolish his case. Friedman’s conception of freedom is the absence of physical coercion. Friedman is right in his overarching perspective that governmental action involves or implies the use of coercion by necessity; the background of governmental laws is their ability to enforce them, and the concept of legitimate government implies its legitimate monopoly on the use of force within its boundaries. He simply sees the range of legitimate coercion extending only to protect the rules and preconditions of free market capitalism—contract enforcement and the definition and enforcement of property rights. He claims that the scope and definition of property rights is a question taken for granted, and properly subject to democratic debate, while simultaneously arguing for the inability for democracy to work in substantial value discussion (like debate over property rights) and presupposes the legitimacy of private property rights throughout his argument. Without the presupposed legitimacy of private property (or at least private property in the means of production) no individual would have the right to produce independent of social agreement, or for that matter restrict distribution of goods; his conception of economic freedom, which he claims to be a necessary component of freedom, is contingent upon the legitimacy of private property in the means of production. He further continually emphasizes that the ability to exchange, economic freedom, is an individual freedom, and thus placing constraints on individual exchange opportunities seems as though it would inherently violate his account of freedom. Thus, while he overtly recognizes that definitions of appropriate property rights are subject to democratic determination, his argument for economic freedom, and thus his argument that competitive capitalism supports freedom and is thus desirable, depends upon private property in the means of production being legitimate. If private property is not legitimate, then the coercion with which the government protects it is illegitimate, and economic freedom in the sense that Friedman intents violates political freedom. So the question becomes “Do we, as individuals, have a right to private property in the means of production?”

 

 

This review is continued at: https://practicalutopian.wordpress.com/2009/08/19/book-review-milton-friedmans-capitalism-and-freedom-part-ii/

Left Solutions: Ayn Rand, sociopathic politics – http://leftsolutions.wordpress.com/ayn-rand-sociopathic-politics/

On Single-Payer Health Care

The House of Representatives is now going to vote on a single-payer health care proposal, thanks to the advocacy of Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from New York.  Is it going to pass in America?  Let’s focus on saying that it should pass.  Here’s why.

Time Magazine reported in its August 10th special issue on health care that it is projected that health care expenditures will exceed 20% of the GDP of the US by 2018.  Currently we spend about 17% or so of our GDP on Health Care, yet we rank behind 18 other industrialized nations in deaths that could have been medically prevented.  According to the group Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), “Single-payer national health insurance is a system in which a single public or quasi-public agency organizes health financing, but delivery of care remains largely private.”  The PNHP points out that Americans spend over twice what other industrialized countries spend on health care, yet over 45 million are uninsured and many more are inadequately covered.

The PNHP points out the primary reason why for-profit health insurance systems necessarily cost more than single-payer public options:

Private insurers necessarily waste health dollars on things that have nothing to do with care: overhead, underwriting, billing, sales and marketing departments as well as huge profits and exorbitant executive pay.

This is one of the main reasons why the arguments for the efficiency of capitalism and the “free market” in lowering costs are false in every industry:  as corporations become larger and their industries tend towards monopoly or oligopoly (one or a few dominant firms controlling the majority of a market), they have more power to set prices independent of “supply and demand,” choosing high profit margins over controlling cost for the consumer, and beyond that their costs become inflated with hidden charges for services, increasing levels of unproductive employees (such as advertisers and management), and even costs incurred through their lobbying efforts to thwart the public interest.  Health insurers make higher profits when they charge as much as they can get from desperate consumers, and pay out as little as possible.  Our nation is expected to spend 1/5 of our GDP on inadequate health care because, as a very privatized health care society, we allow these companies free reign, and accept arguments that serve to deflect attention from our real problems and their real solutions.

The PNHP site has a variety of links supporting and explaining single-payer health care, and I would direct anyone wanting a greater understanding of the option to that site.  Single-payer health care is more rational and efficient than our current system and would help our nation in a variety of ways.  It should pass.

The single-payer health care proposal would provide comprehensive health care to all individuals while leaving them choice among doctors, and give the public democratic control over health priorities and policies (subject to the limitations of the American system of government, of course) while leaving the individual seeking health care and their doctor absolute autonomy.  In fact, the PNHP states the following as two further key features of single-payer health care.

  • Ban on For-Profit Health Care Providers
    Profit seeking inevitably distorts care and diverts resources from patients to investors
  • Protection of the rights of health care and insurance workers
    A single-payer national health program would eliminate the jobs of hundreds of thousands of people who currently perform billing, advertising, eligibility determination, and other superfluous tasks. These workers must be guaranteed retraining and placement in meaningful jobs.

The PNHP points out that the profit motive is harmful in health care, and the same logic shows by extension that the profit motive is harmful to any consumer in any area, specifically those that directly affect human welfare.  Single-payer health care is the answer to our health problem in America, and it is our only answer.

As a radical, however, it would be irresponsible for me to stop my analysis or advocacy there.  Single-payer health care, as proposed, is the system of health care that would exist in a socialist society (save for certain steps like democratic worker control), but truly socialized industries cannot peacefully exist with an otherwise callous capitalist society.  Private industry will continue to have political influence, continue monopolization, and thus have ever increasing power over our society.  The whole capitalist class will have an interest in secretly undermining the single-payer health care system because health care is so absolutely profitable.  Years later, in societies like America where the working class sees the ruling class interests as its own, and becomes easily persuaded and easier pacified, aspects of privitization may start to creep in (such as the gradual privitization of the Swedish ‘welfare capitalism’ model, including its single-payer health care).  The move to single-payer health care does not replace the need for socialism; quite the contrary.  We need single-payer health care to pass, and from then on we have a reference point to show the superiority of a socialist-style industry.  This will only work if we remain diligent in refusing to allow any privitization to creep in.  Let us be active in our advocacy of single-payer health care, and loud in our voice, so that the Obama administration and congress cannot help but know the true will of the American people: We Want Single-Payer Health Care.

PNHP: http://www.pnhp.org/facts/single_payer_resources.php

On the bailout . . .

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted.  Sorry for the absence.  I’m sure you’ve all been informed of the debate about a proposed $700 billion dollar bailout, and so I’ll go right into a quick comment.

I am absolutely opposed to this bailout.  The controversy has been expressed as “main street versus wall street,” when in a different country they would be allowed to refer to ‘class struggle’.  Essentially, this is a clear case of class conflict, where immoral actions were taken by capitalists to make money in unsustainable ways, and citizens are called upon to bail them out.  The argument goes that the allowance of these institutions to fail would collapse our economy.  I argue that ‘socialism for the rich’ is wrong, and a ‘socialism for the poor’ is superior.  Here is what I would do:

(1) Recognize that the collapse of these institutions would tend to cause economic damage, and correspondingly create jobs, insurance policies, state subsidized housing, and welfare benefits for individuals through the state, to prevent losses in the private sector from spilling onto innocent people.

(2) Allow these banks and insurance companies to collapse, and purchase them in their entirety, restaffing them and using them as engines of the state to gain democratic control of the economy.

These solutions would prevent us from needing to increase our international debt, and would more importantly protect citizens from being punished for the crimes of the capitalists.  Any comments?

Creative Capitalism and Human Welfare

In the August 11th edition of Time Magazine, Bill Gates wrote an article on the concept of ‘creative capitalism,’ or finding ‘imaginative’ ways to use the capitalist system to ‘do good’.  He argues that “capitalism has improved the lives of billions of people” (40) and that, in terms of meeting human needs, “governments and nonprofit groups have an irreplacable role in helping them [e.g. those whose needs aren’t met by the market], but it will take to long if they try to do it alone.  It is mainly corporations that have the skills to make technological innovations work for the poor” (40).  Essentially, ‘creative capitalism’ involves a corporation finding a profitable way to distribute goods and services according to need, or, in Gates’ words, “the companies make a difference while adding to their bottom line” (42).  How are corporations going to accomplish this within the mandates of the system?  According to Gates:  “it’s not just about doing more corporate philanthropy or asking companies to be more virtuous.  It’s about giving them a real incentive to apply their expertise in new ways, making it possible to earn a return while serving thh people who have been left out.  This can happen in two ways:  companies can find these opportunities on their own, or governments and nonprofits can help create such opportunities where they presently don’t exist” (43).

Gates’ heart is in the right place, I’m sure.  But let us refocus.  The market distributes goods according to “effective demand,” i.e. according to those who can pay.  The ability to pay is obviously contingent upon your income, coming from either property income (interest, etc, which comes from the ownership of capital goods) or labor income (wages, salaries, etc., that come from the selling of labor power).  Some own capital, and others don’t, and are forced to choose between the sale of their labor power, or death by starvation.  This set of conditions is legally solidified through the codification of private property rights (considered here as legal rights, not necessarily moral rights), and the enforcement of said rights through the coercive apparatus of the state.
Consequently, if you are not lucky enough to be a capitalist, you have two choices.  First, you can choose one from among many corporate taskmasters to work for under the condition that you won’t receive all the value you produce, and once in their firm, they have all the power over you and your life activity and the laws of the U.S. Constitution no longer apply. Alternately, you can choose to starve and die.   You have the freedom to choose between wage-slavery and death. That is the precise definition of ‘economic freedom’ for those who aren’t capitalists.  Even ‘creative capitalism’ would run on this formula.  The theory is that either (1) corporations should find ways to profit off ‘socially beneficial’ behavior themselves, or (2) NGO’s and governments should make ‘socially beneficial’ behavior profitable.  It reveals the true natures of the firm and the economic system when you consider that the argument is not that a firm is a social institution that impacts daily the lives of potentially billions of people, and thus should choose to make that impact a positive one on human welfare regardless of profit.  Instead, the argument for which Bill Gates is getting many pats-on-the-back for is that firms should find a way to profit from activity that doesn’t necessarily kill people, destroy the environment, and subvert democracy.  It is still distributing wages and goods based on neither contribution nor need, and is consequently still illegitimate.  I think it is highly more logical to argue that, as corporations are enabled to accumulate capital through social conditions, and they impact human welfare, they ought to ensure a positive impact on their actions and inactions whether or not it is profitable.  It might be replied, then, that a profit-independent ‘firm’ would be pushed out of the market, for that is not a very ‘capitalist’ trait. . . but that only goes to show how conflicted are the values of capitalism with the value of human welfare.  ‘Creative capitalism’ is little more than the advocacy of getting paid to throw scraps from the table at a banquet to the starving masses below.