What am I going to do with all these baskets full of lizard heads?


Do you think there might be a market for ’em?

ContraPoints takes on capitalism. It’s really good.

Comments

  1. JP says

    I just watched this! It was a good 30th birthday present.

    I LOVE Contra even though I’m basically Tabby. I can stand a little ribbing.

    I share these videos with my liberal friends – it’s all part of my nefarious plan to pull everyone to the left (to the left, to the left!) MUAHAHAHAHAHA!

  2. Chuck Stanley says

    That was boring, intellectually shallow fluff.

    Worse than that, but PZ thinks it is “really good”. He needs to get out more.

    I wonder where she gets all that “stuff” she wears and that shows up in the background. Surely she isn’t supporting evil capitalists with her purchases. Maybe she should sell the piano and help the poor.

  3. JP says

    I wonder where she gets all that “stuff” she wears and that shows up in the background. Surely she isn’t supporting evil capitalists with her purchases.

    That’s a pretty shallow critique of anti-capitalism. Nobody can just “choose” not to take part in capitalism unless they want to starve to death; it’s the world system and there’s no escaping it at this point in time.

    Jesus, I’m a Communist, and I have no problem with people *owning possessions*. Musical instruments are important to happiness. Most people like to have a few nice things. (Oh, and I’m pretty sure the costume jewelry is, uh, costume jewelry.)

    You can *own* things, the problem is when you think you rightfully own the means of production and exploit workers by stealing the surplus value of their labor and horse massive amounts of wealth.

    I own a guitar and some clothes and books and so on. Oh no!

  4. says

    @Dave Grain

    Hey now, it was genuinely entertaining fluff! XD

    And touched on real issues people have, and stuff people can relate to, and even the difficulties coming up with solutions. And the difficulties of Marxist terminology that no one wants to be subjected to.

    As a Based SJW (patent pending), I also have to accuse your criticism of being unsubstantial fluff (which I’d classify as “name calling“). You too, Chuck Stanley. We should all strive to the model I outline here.

    And since the video ends on the note of problem solving, here’s my short section on that topic.

    We’re supercomputers, people. We have potential.

  5. hemidactylus says

    That was the first time lizard Overlords were invoked that didn’t sound batshit. But I am left really perplexed at what exactly happened at around 15:50. That was weird. Otherwise an interesting snarky take on social ills. Alienated labor equals shitty jobs was the icing.

  6. says

    At 15:50– That was the Golden One, a YouTube Nazi body-builder who flexes a lot while spouting off Randian gibberish with a heavy accent. He’s a real thing.

  7. vucodlak says

    @ Dave Grain, #1

    Aw. I’m sure they’re crushed.

    @ Chuck Stanley, #4

    Surely she isn’t supporting evil capitalists with her purchases.

    Boy that tired old ‘gotcha’ never dies, does it? “How can they criticize capitalism when they take part in it!?!”

    Taking part in any way in our society means taking part in capitalism. It’s unavoidable. Unless you walk naked into the woods and live entirely off the land, you can’t even survive in this world without taking part in capitalism. So while your point isn’t particularly useful or convincing, it works for what it is- an attempt to silence criticism.

    Of course, sticking your fingers in your ears screaming “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” would be an equally effective argument.

  8. unclefrogy says

    I want a simple quick solution to all of the inequities and downright evils of the system we are using right now too but
    I am reminded of The Lathe of Heaven and the desire for simple answers

  9. JP says

    @12:

    If you like The Lathe of Heaven, I recommend The Dispossessed. Honestly it’s pretty ludicrous to use Ursula K. Leguin to prop up the status quo, considering she is an anti-capitalist.

    Also, I don’t think anybody mentioned a simple solution? One of the main points of the video is that we should start coming up with plans. Nobody is saying it’s simple.

    Okay, the (admitted) strawman character of Tabby sort of does, but she’s a caricature. (One that a lot of us leftists are rather fond of, though.)

  10. Vivec says

    Oh boy, my favorite argument that is applied to literally anyone more left than a venture capitalist despite it being a tired tu quoque

    “Oh, you call youself a film critic? If you’re so critical of films, why are you supporting them by watching them! Gotcha!”

  11. JP says

    “Hey, peasant! You don’t like fuedalism? Well then why are you using tools MADE BY FEUDALISM, HUH?”

  12. Vivec says

    “Hey gilded age worker, you don’t like working for Pullman? How come you use the company scrip in the company store?

    If you were actually opposed to blatant economic exploitation you’d leave and let you and you family starve.”

  13. says

    That wasn’t so bad. One important point it made is that the problem is that the system has arranged itself so that the means to dislodge it are blunted. That is normal in all political systems, which is why, unfortunately, they tend to have to be overthrown from the top (e.g. feudalism turning into absolutism) – the people who would most be likely to recognize the problem and act on it: that’s what militarized police are for.

    The power elite like to arrange all-or-nothing situations because they know most people will keep their heads down a bit longer rather than burn everything (including their own lives) to the ground.

  14. John Morales says

    Synopsis: consumerism good, capitalism bad, socialism good, revolution impractical, system ain’t broken but needs right people elected so good policies are enacted.
    And something about lizard people, didn’t get that one.

    (And lots of cuts, either because its intended audience has poor attention span or because presenter needs them)

    PS I remember PZ spruiking Laci Green back in the day; hope this one turns out better.

  15. JP says

    Where does she say that consumerism is good? I actually see her critiquing consumerism, especially the fetishization of commodities (beyond their usefulness.) Yeah, she admits to wanting those shoes, but the whole point is that capitalism strives to create “needs” in us that then have to be filled by capitalism. (Fancy shoes, chocolate lava cakes.)

    The whole point is that the shoes shouldn’t be hideously expensive, they’re freaking shoes and probably cost pennies to actually make. Also that it’s gross to have a mall at the 9/11 monument. Which says something profound about “American values,” which is kind of… the point?

    Also, she isn’t necessarily saying revolution is impractical, just that she wants to hear what it is. And yeah, she (the real Natalie) tends towards electoral politics as a method of change. But she seems open to the idea of revolution if there’s a plan. And hey, maybe a 1917 style uprising is impractical when you’re faced with a monstrous military power like the US (although hey, we’re in the belly of the Empire, so maybe we owe it to the world to try.) But we gotta do something.

  16. unclefrogy says

    JP
    yes I liked The Dispossessed a lot and I remember where Shevek took his ansable
    I am not trying to support the status quo I just remember that one of the solutions to one of the problems was a plague that wiped out a large portion of the population of the people all over the earth, or in other words unexpected consequences always happen, side effects and such.
    The Russian revolution ended up with Stalin

  17. John Morales says

    JP, perhaps. I admit I watched it at 1.5x. Shame it was not merely text and images I could peruse and random-access review conveniently and far faster — the content did not require audio or video, but very much suffers from lack of text.

    I certainly got the impression that there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to *shiny*, with which I agree. I personally don’t do *shiny*, which means it’s not an universal desire.

    Also, I do think your system is… perhaps not ‘broken’ as such (it serves its purpose), but (as Marcus alludes above) the fix is in and it’s thus not truly democratic.

    Consider, for example, how the electoral college system and the nature of non-compulsory voting meant 74% of the electorate pool did not vote for the current administration — which didn’t even gain a voter plurality.
    I find that to be remarkable.

  18. asteraceae says

    Maybe an additional point is that things like marketing are powerful. Nobody is immune to its effects, even would-be revolutionaries. The purpose of marketing is to get you to buy things by changing how you see the world and yourself, and in a world where you’re constantly bombarded by it, there’s no way to be sure which of your preferences are original*, and which have been instilled deliberately by marketing.

    It’s a universal truth that you can only fight the system that oppresses you from within the system that oppresses you. If the system is responsible for a great deal of the essence of who you are, you must fight against yourself as well as the lizards.

    * That is to say, *not* having originated through marketing, but through needs, preferences and social influence, which of course include marketing influences. In other words, there’s no such thing.

  19. JP says

    The Russian revolution ended up with Stalin

    You don’t have to tell me that; I have an undergrad degree in Russian and Eurasian Studies and half a PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures.

    In any case, there were actually two “revolutions” in Russia, and the second was actually a coup (by the Bolsheviks, who called themselves “the majority guys” (Bolsheviks) even though they were actually the minority in the provisional government.)

    Personally I’m not a Marxist (although he has a lot to offer) because I think his idea of vanguardism helps to lead to the kinds of usurpation of political power by cliques that you saw in “communist” (actually state capitalist) Russia and China. I also don’t like Marx’s ideas about the “lumpenproletariat.”

    I’d yammer on some more, but I’ve had a few birthday drinks and I don’t want to get loopy or anything.

  20. John Morales says

    [PS I’ve noticed more sophisticated content creators on Youtube put text screens up for a second or two, so that one may pause and read them if one cares to — the audiovisual stream’s equivalent of footnotes. Nice!]

  21. JP says

    ContraPoints does videos, not text, by and large. And she’s good at it. This isn’t actually my favorite of her videos so far; I really like “Debating the Alt-Right” and “How to Spot a Fascist” (I think those are pretty close to the titles.) Her stuff on gender, TERFS, and race is also excellent.

    They’re meant to be entertaining for people who like videos, so if you’re not into watching videos, I don’t really see the point of criticizing videos for being videos.

  22. rorschach says

    I’m a bit worried they used “cultural marxist” as if it was a thing. It isn’t, it’s a neocon and religious fascist bogeyman.
    There is no revolution a la 17th and 18th century possible in our times, even if the militarised police would decide to remain passive and not commit mass murder on demonstrants.
    People have been sufficiently lobotomised by breakfast TV and dance, sing and cook shows, let alone facebook, that nobody could possibly be bothered, or informed enough, to rise up and attempt to topple the 1%.

  23. Vivec says

    @26
    Cultural Marxism very much is “a thing”. The modern application is a corruption of the original sense – applying Frankfurt School philosophy to culture.

    In modern parlance, we’re probably more likely to call that sort of thing “Critical Theory”, but it’s absolutely false and a-historical to think that neocons created that idea out of wholecloth, rather than turning a useful term into a pejorative.

  24. rorschach says

    @27,
    trust me, the reptiles who use “cultural marxist” to describe people who “promote queer sexuality” in schools in Australia have never heard of Horkheimer or Adorno. They probably don’t know where Frankfurt is.

  25. Vivec says

    @28
    I know, but that isn’t what you said, so it’s irrelevant to my response.

    Cultural marxism is a thing, regardless of whether or not the term has been used as a pejorative/dogwhistle by conservatives.

  26. Zeppelin says

    Also, the whole, uh, point of Contrapoint’s videos is that they’re ambivalent and self-critical — to look at progressive rhetoric and aspirations with a healthy level of self-irony. They’re intended as a contribution to leftist discourse (and specifically leftist discourse on Youtube), not propaganda or ideological edification.
    Not “revolution is impractical”, but “revolution is actually a huge pain and it usually ends badly even if it succeeds, so let’s be clear what we’re trying to do here”. The message is not that Tabby is wrong to want revolution.

  27. birgerjohansson says

    Global warming (a consequence of monied interest groups buying political power) will in itself lead to a messy, painful system collapse likely to claim more lives than Mao, Stalin or the Austrian guy.
    I am in favor of a major reptile- culling program.

  28. ragdish says

    I’ve seen better critiques of capitalism with more realistic solutions. Had Contra championed social democracies, I would have rubber stamped as “really good”. Socialism tends to survive in mixed economies. Being anti-capitalist implies conducting the same state socialist experiment that has repeatedly failed in history. It hasn’t worked.

    A trope on this thread is owning/purchasing items in a capitalist society is not an endorsement. You can still be anti-capitalist but have no choice but to present those views on a laptop which is a product of capitalism. Then leftists like Bill Maher have no choice but to receive a million dollar annual salary from HBO. And you, me and anyone else that watches Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, etc contribute to the exploiting capitalist machines such as HBO, Netflix, etc. We are all sucked into the bourgeoisie machine because there has yet been a viable economic alternative. What’s wrong with social democracies like a Sweden which reigns in capitalism without wholly replacing it?

  29. says

    ragdish@#32:
    What’s wrong with social democracies like a Sweden which reigns in capitalism without wholly replacing it?

    Nothing. It’s the rational way to rein in capitalism: figure out what are common services that the people ought to reasonably expect from their government, and provide them. Then give the capitalists and increasingly small battlefield where they can play their predatory games on eachother. The key is to allow people who don’t want to be embraced in that system a decent way to opt out and live cooperatively in an environment of mutual benefit, instead of zero-sum winner takes all.

  30. JP says

    Social Democracy is better than what we have now (now there’s a low bar) but it’s not good enough.

    From Jacobin:

    Of course, we urgently need the reforms that Judis and the movement around Bernie Sanders advocate for. No democratic socialist could oppose efforts to guarantee public provision of basic needs and take key aspects of economic and social life like education, health care, and housing out of the market. It would, as Judis writes, “bring immeasurable benefit to ordinary Americans.”

    But we have moral reasons to demand something more. After all, we can’t have real political democracy without economic democracy. Corporations are “private governments” that exercise tyrannical power over workers and society writ large. The corporate hierarchy decides how we produce, what we produce, and what we do with the profits that workers collectively make.

    To embrace radical democracy is to believe that any decision that has a binding effect on its members — say, the power to hire or fire or control over one’s work hours — should be made by all those affected by it. What touches all, should be determined by all.

  31. ragdish says

    JP,

    What is your solution if not social democracy? I doubt you would favor state socialism as previously attempted in Russia, China, etc.. Libertarian socialism or anarchic socialism ie. eliminate the state from the get go? Anarcho-syndicalism? And I could list an innumerable other socialist variants. But as history notes, political experiments seem to regress towards capitalism. Even the Marxist state of Kerala, India where I was born seems to only function under the broad umbrella of the ultra-right BJP party. Capitalism seems to never go away. And I have a really tough time being convinced by well intentioned socialists who say “this time we’ve got it right and this time it will work”. Why have societies stripped completely of capitalism eventually become capitalist? Social democracy or Berniocracy albeit flawed seems to be the best way forward.

  32. says

    @34, JP

    I agree with this:

    any decision that has a binding effect on its members — say, the power to hire or fire or control over one’s work hours — should be made by all those affected by it. What touches all, should be determined by all.

    And that can be accomplished in regular democracy and social democracy. We do regulate businesses, hiring, firings work hours, and so on, and even what can be commanded, produced, and sold.

    Because of regulation (never-mind self-employment, or job switching), as I’ve said to others, the following types of premises are false:

    Corporations are “private governments” that exercise tyrannical power over workers and society writ large. The corporate hierarchy decides how we produce, what we produce, and what we do with the profits that workers collectively make.

    Though yes, of course, we can do better at both regulating and deciding what the regulations can be, and so on.

  33. JP says

    I’m just going to link to another article for now, since I’m out for NYE (I’ll probably regret it, it’s amatuer’s night) but I’ll be around and I’ll try to write some more of my own words tomorrow or so.

  34. ragdish says

    Sorry, but the article goes to great length being critical of Sweden’s dependency on the third world and arms dealership. Then, Cuba is presented as an ideal economic “worker-controlled” system with a smattering of how lovely Che was. Cuba is a dictatorship en par with the benevolent slaveholders described in the opening paragraph. Also, the article does not directly criticize the welfare state social democratic model. Once again, a socialist that romanticizes past failed political experiments (ie. Cuba). State socialism does not work in the long run. I’ll wager that within the next 5 to 10 years Cuba will be transformed into a free market economy and workers will be no better off than those in China. As I’ve stated, as flawed as the nordic model is, I’ve seen no better system anywhere else.

  35. JP says

    I just got off the phone with a friend and we both decided we don’t really want to go out.

    I mainly intended the article as a criticism of Nordic Social Democracies, and yeah, Cuba isn’t great and Castro imprisoned queers and so on. No argument there.

    Personally I’m an anarcho-Communist in the vein of Kropotkin, since somebody asked. I also really dig Emma Goldman and Lucy Parsons and I just got the complete works of Rosa Luxemburg for myself for my birthday. (Verso Books has an end-of-year sale.)

    In terms of how to get to an actual communist society, I’m pretty down with syndicalism

  36. JP says

    Basically, another thing, is that “socialism in one country,” a term that Stalin invented, is impossible. A “socialist” (so far they have been state capitalist) state still has to trade with other countries, and in practice, wealthy social democracies still rely heavily on third world labor, even if labor practices within the social democracy are pretty good.

    If it ain’t international, it ain’t a socialist movement.

  37. JP says

    And in terms of actually democratically elected socialist experiments, say, like Chile, who knows what would have happened if the USA hadn’t, ahem, stepped in.

  38. JP says

    Ok: and even in Nordic countries, if capitalism exists, you’ll still have an upper class that will fight to dismantle social welfare systems, which is happening. Not to mention that capitalism, that is, the extraction of the surplus value of laborers and the hoarding of it, is inherently unjust.

    Capitalism is the problem. Social Democracy is a band-aid on a mortal wound.

  39. Vivec says

    I’d believe in some sort of non-oppressive beneficial capitalism if such a thing could be demonstrated to exist.

    I’ve yet to see capitaism that didnt resolve down to “using slaves over there so we can have nice cheap things over here”, and I’m not really sure how slapping a slightly lefist government over an economic system that relies on overseas slave labor is some lofty end goal.

  40. rorschach says

    “I’d believe in some sort of non-oppressive beneficial capitalism if such a thing could be demonstrated to exist.
    I’ve yet to see capitaism that didnt resolve down to “using slaves over there so we can have nice cheap things over here” ”

    Social democracies like Germany or the Scandinavian countries are capitalist, but an educated populace and functioning unions have created much better societies there, where for example renewable energies are not seen as threat to the coal barons but opportunity to create new wealth.
    Socialism is not the answer because there is no way that workers will ever again own the means of production at this stage or ever from here on in, but social democracies can still thrive, it will not be perfect but it will be much much better than the US or China or Australia.

  41. Vivec says

    @45

    Social democracies like Germany or the Scandinavian countries are capitalist, but an educated populace and functioning unions have created much better societies there, where for example renewable energies are not seen as threat to the coal barons but opportunity to create new wealth.

    Yeah cool but given that I can still buy blood diamonds, sweatshop clothes, and iphones made with chinese slave labor in germany or scandanavian countries, this does absolutely fuck-all to refute my point.

    Social Democracy doesn’t change the fact that, as it is, capitalism is heavily reliant on slave labor and inherently exploitative.

  42. Vivec says

    @45
    Also

    Socialism is not the answer because there is no way that workers will ever again own the means of production at this stage or ever from here on in

    [citation needed]
    Like, even if you think it’s not practical, the idea that it’s literally impossible for the workers to own the means of production at any point in the future ever is a ludicrous claim.

  43. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    So, one of the justifications given for consumer capitalism is the need to provide a reward to investors who buy expensive equipment that increases productivity but takes time to return the investment. The idea is that you have to have lots of folks buying what is produced to justify the investment. Arguably, we never would have had the electronics revolution without this.

    So, my question is how might additive manufacturing (e.g. 3D printing)–where the same hardware can produce a broad range of goods–affect the consumer capitalism model. Thoughts?

  44. Zeppelin says

    ragdish:

    But as history notes, political experiments seem to regress towards capitalism.

    “Regress” is about right :v

    There’s nothing inherent to “political experiments” (i.e. non-capitalist systems — note how you paint capitalism as the default and any alternative as a mere “experiment” here) that causes them to turn capitalist.
    This really isn’t complicated — in a world dominated by powerful capitalist nations that go out of their way to collaboratively undermine any alternatives and economically and militarily attack non-capitalist societies, non-capitalist systems tend to be destroyed and replaced with capitalist ones.
    They “regress towards capitalism” the same way a city “regresses towards rubble” if you drop bombs on it. It’s the same logic that says Africans are incapable of building stable modern societies because Africa is mostly a mess, without examining what caused that mess in the first place. One justifies (neo)colonialism, the other capitalist exploitation.

  45. Zeppelin says

    a_ray_in_dilbert_space: Draconic, intrusive enforcement of copyright laws, I’d wager. We’ve already seen all sorts of pushes for this since the rise of digital goods which can be multiplied for free. Look forward to being under constant (…even constanter?) surveillance to safeguard some corporation’s intellectual property rights.

  46. ragdish says

    Zeppelin,

    I’m no defender of a small clique of trillionaires that f’ed up the globe. But to wholly blame them after several decades of failed socialist trials?

    Look at China wherein Mao squelched even a dewdrop notion of a free market during his so called Great Leap Forward. He blamed any lack of agricultural progress on peasantry in cahoots with the bourgeois landlords. And look at his legacy today with a land filled with sweatshops and cheap labor building iPads for us. You hold the global capitalists responsible. I blame Mao! His ideals for a workers paradise simply did not work. I submit that if every dogmatic fanatic Marxist consumed by orthodoxy in eliminating all traces of capitalism (including Dith Pran’s vegetable garden in the Khmer Rouge work camp) had tried the Nordic model instead, worker’s of the world would have been a lot happier. This “Christian Fundamentalist” scapegoating of the capitalist “Satans” as being the cause of regressing to capitalism doesn’t fly.

  47. KG says

    I’ll wager that within the next 5 to 10 years Cuba will be transformed into a free market economy – ragdish@39

    Plenty of people said that in 1991. And of course there has never been, and never will be, such a thing as a “free market economy” – that’s just a propaganda slogan. Every market has rules (who can trade, what they can trade, what counts as a contract, what happens if one partyu reneges on or cannot meet their contract…), and enforcement mechanisms. And these rules are always set so as to advantage some parties over others.

  48. Zeppelin says

    ragdish: You’re attempting an especially stupid strawman there. I never said that socialist states can only fail due to capitalist interference. That would be a very silly thing for me to say.
    I’m not a Maoist. I also blame Mao for Maoism. (Nominally or actually) socialist states can fail for all sorts of reasons, like any state. Capitalist states fail all the time, and there were (and are) plenty of capitalist dictators. Of course if you treat capitalism as the default, you’re not likely to attribute these failures to capitalism…

    Mao and Stalin weren’t somehow inevitable products of socialism — in fact they pretty much continued the tradition of their respective nation’s style of pre-revolution despotism. Paranoid repression using the secret service, colonialist expansion and the exiling of dissidents in Russia, hyper-centralised, wildly see-sawing state control mandating gigantic, intrusive programmes in China.

    Whatever we think the “base” failure rate of a certain kind of state is, I think it’s indisputable that socialist states face more external obstacles in a world dominated by powers hostile to them. We would therefore expect them to fail more often even if they are as “inherently” stable as capitalist ones.

    if every dogmatic fanatic Marxist consumed by orthodoxy in eliminating all traces of capitalism (including Dith Pran’s vegetable garden in the Khmer Rouge work camp) had tried the Nordic model instead, worker’s of the world would have been a lot happier

    If murderous despotic assholes were less murderously despotic and instead set sensible priorities, the world would be nicer, no shit. Since I don’t see anyone here advocating for the violent abolition of private vegetable gardens, however, I have no idea what you think the relevance of this is.

    Like…if every orthodox capitalist fanatic in the British Empire had adopted the Nordic model instead of insisting on grain exports during unprecedented famines in China and India (themselves brought on by neglect of the “unprofitable” public grain stores, state food relief systems and irrigation those societies previously had), tens of millions of people wouldn’t have died in agony.
    We can keep swapping horror stories about real or imagined extremes of various systems all day, but what does this get us, seeing as neither of us is advocating those extremes?

    But, also: the workers in those “nordic-style” countries are happier, yes. Not so much the workers across the globe being exploited to prop up their capitalist sector. Western social democracies are still exploitative and inhumane, they just outsource a lot of that inhumanity to where their voters don’t have to experience it.

  49. ragdish says

    KG,

    I also mean free market in quotes. I’m under no illusion of a “free” market with a level playing field wherein even the serf living in the gutter can become the next Rockefeller. And news flash–private businesses exist in Cuba albeit on a small scale. Don’t tell me that they will never follow China’s lead. Why is that? Why should I at face value take it as gospel that those who are totally anti-capitalist truly have a blueprint for the good life for all? What guarantee is there that you won’t say in the future “well, come to think of it, a little bit of capitalism is OK”? Every society on this planet has some form of capitalism with varying degrees of government regulation. Even in the Marxist state of Kerala where I was born there is capitalism. So forgive me if I’m a little skeptical of someone’s sincerity climbing the moral high horse and shouting “I’m against capitalism!”.

  50. Vivec says

    @53

    But, also: the workers in those “nordic-style” countries are happier, yes. Not so much the workers across the globe being exploited to prop up their capitalist sector. Western social democracies are still exploitative and inhumane, they just outsource a lot of that inhumanity to where their voters don’t have to experience it.

    Fucking thank you, this was the same point I was trying to make, and you put it better.

    Even if every US worker was instantly granted idea working conditions and a wage commensurate to the value of their production, that wouldn’t at all affect the horrific millions of dollars the US extracts out of foreign slave labor and economic exploitation.

  51. Vivec says

    @54

    So forgive me if I’m a little skeptical of someone’s sincerity climbing the moral high horse and shouting “I’m against capitalism!”.

    Why should anyone forgive you for shoddy epistemology?

    Even if it was the case that every society ever has some degree of capitalism (which wouldn’t surprise me, given that the economic and political leaders are all capitalist countries and have a vested interest in propagating capitalism), that would have no effect on the sincerity of people opposing capitalism.

    Consider: Every major society on the planet is misogynist and homophobic to some degree – do you therefore doubt the sincerity of someone climbing the moral high horse and declaring “I oppose misogyny and homophobia!”?

  52. ragdish says

    Zeppelin,

    Make no mistake. I’m not letting capitalist dictators off the hook. I was born in a land raped by the British Empire. But claiming that social democracy cannot work because of the status quo of Nordic nations exploitation of third world nations is not a valid argument against social democracy. Swede’s can vote in a parliament that ends their corporate exploitation of sweat shops. Ideally in democratic socialist mixed economies, the government has a tight leash on businesses in order to prevent exploitation of workers, the environment, etc. If the Swedish populace wills it, Bernie laws to regulate corporate power could end exploitation of third world workers. Why not make social democratic societies better rather than pipe dream Marxist utopian fantasies.

  53. Zeppelin says

    ragdish: People selling their vegetables at the market or running a bike repair shop or whatever isn’t “capitalism”, and I’m pretty sure no-one here has a fundamental problem with it. The issue is alienation of labour.

  54. Vivec says

    @57

    Why not make social democratic societies better rather than pipe dream Marxist utopian fantasies.

    Social democracies do nothing to unpack the harm and exploitation that is inherent to capitalism and at best sets up a “Our countries workers are cool but we’re still totally willing to exploit slave labor overseas” system.

    Lets say Sweden not only set up perfect ideal jobs for all Swedish workers, but also ceased to import finished goods from corporations that utilize slave labor. Could sweden also vote to cease all imports and exports to countries that benefit from slave labor?

    If yes, why wouldn’t that cause their economy to collapse? If no, why wouldn’t they still be supporting slave labor and exploitation by importing and exporting to countries that use slave labor and exploitation?

  55. ragdish says

    Vivec,

    There is light years of difference when taking a stance against misogyny and homophobia. The huge distinction is that social policies that promote human equality work. Taking a stance against capitalism in all it’s forms warrants realistic solutions and engineer societies free of capitalism that promote human happiness and flourishing. When I say “I’m against homophobia” I mean I’m against homophobia. I won’t pull a 180 and say “maybe a little bit of homophobia is OK”. WRT capitalism, socialist societies do that all the time. Your moral equivalence is false.

  56. Zeppelin says

    ragdish:

    But claiming that social democracy cannot work because of the status quo of Nordic nations exploitation of third world nations is not a valid argument against social democracy

    Good thing that’s not my claim, then!

    Social democracy cannot “work” (in the sense of “create a world free of economic exploitation”) because social democracy by definition props up capitalism, which by definition relies on economic exploitation. That’s how you get capital, through alienated labour. This is inherently, fundamentally unjust, you’re just haggling over the degree of injustice you’re willing to accept. In the case of modern social democracies they get away with enough exploitation to create nice profits and a standard of living people accept by inflicting the worst of it on foreigners rather than their own voting population. If you systematically “make social democracy better” to the point where this no longer happens, you’ve turned it into socialism.

    I think social democracy is all right, as far as historical systems of government go. But it’s not the end of history.

  57. ragdish says

    Zeppelin,

    In the strictest sense by giving the petite bourgeoisie a pass means you are not totally anti-capitalist. Where is the moral line between “good” and “bad” capitalism. Between the peasant who with his/her hired hands sells vegetables and the corporate industrialist, who decides where to draw the line. If that peasant makes a profit beacuse he/she owns the garden and limits the profit sharing to the hired hands, has the line been crossed? What if those hired hands are happier because if their earnings, are they slaves in guilded cages? What if a socialist government then taxes the small business so that a chunk of the profits support the welfare state? Has such a government crossed the line? Indeed, such petit bourgeoisie businesses function everywhere except perhaps in North Korea. If you support them then you’re not really anti-capitalist. You’re like me who is also against the excesses of unregulated corporate power.

  58. Vivec says

    Taking a stance against capitalism in all it’s forms warrants realistic solutions and engineer societies free of capitalism that promote human happiness and flourishing.

    Uh, no it doesn’t.

    One can oppose capitalism without proposing an alternative. Yet another case of you not really grasping basic epistemology. My stance on system y doesn’t necessarily require a stance on what will replace system y.

    You don’t have to be a movie maker to criticize movies, and “I’d like to see you make a better movie” isn’t a valid criticism.

    When I say “I’m against homophobia” I mean I’m against homophobia. I won’t pull a 180 and say “maybe a little bit of homophobia is OK”

    Yeah, and when I say “I’m against capitalism”, I mean “Capitalism is inherently exploitative and wrong, no matter how liberal the government in any given country is.”

    (And, as mentioned, personal property exchange isn’t capitalism. Barter systems existed for centuries before the establishment of capitalism)

  59. Vivec says

    @62

    If you support them then you’re not really anti-capitalist. You’re like me who is also against the excesses of unregulated corporate power.

    False dichotomy. I’d rather get slapped than shot, but Ideally I’d want neither to happen to me. Saying “I’d rather get slapped than shot” doesn’t mean that “I don’t really oppose violence!”

  60. Zeppelin says

    ragdish: You don’t get to “hire” or “employ” people. There will be no “hired hands”. That’s the line.

    If you want others to work with you on a project, be it a bike repair shop or a theatre or an industrial concern, they must be partners. It becomes their project too, and so everyone decides together how work is organised, who gets to wield authority over which tasks, who gets to join, and what happens with the profits — whether they are paid out, invested in the business, whatever. Under such a system there is no petite bourgeoisie.

  61. JP says

    an example of sorts: a good friend of mine runs a co-op video store in a Midwestern city. He and three of his friends got a loan and bought it from their former boss, and they run it together, making all the business decisions together and paying each other equally (enough to live on.) Yes, it still involves banks and profits, but again, you can’t escape that model entirely as long as you live in a capitalist world.

  62. Vivec says

    No but see, the farmer’s name is on the deed (to that land he couldn’t till without the help of his 5 farmhands) and his name is on the business cards (which he can only afford to print from the money his workers make him)

    He totally deserves to make more money and have more executive power than the people that are responsible for him being something other than just a guy with some untilled dirt fields.

    After all, they’re just planting seeds and picking vegetables, he’s doing all the hard work!!1!

  63. Zeppelin says

    JP: Yeah, I guess I could just have said “if you need help running your business, it must be organised as a co-operative rather than a dictatorship”.

  64. unclefrogy says

    in most of the discussions around capitalism and various kinds of socialism one issue is seldom addressed, that would be worker controlled unions. A strong vigorous democratic organized labor movement is completely lacking where there is worker exploitation. Here in the US as the strength of the labor movement has diminished so has the disparity in pay and wealth of the capitalist class increased. It is also pretty clear that the organized labor movement and unions are not very effective or could even say that they do not exist at all in China or Russia. it looks like the “capitalist” and the “communist” countries power structure dislike & distrust unions
    . It has been very common to find that same attitude here

  65. JP says

    I’m big on worker controlled unions; that’s why I mentioned syndicalism. I’d be a member of the IWW if I could afford the dues.

    As I’ve also already mentiomed, Russia and China were never communist. They were totalitarian state capitalist regimes.

  66. JP says

    I could also mention that most of the labor people back in the day were communits, socialists, anarchists. and they “rioted.”

    the next time someone tells you to thank the labor movement for the weekend and so on, tell them to thank a riotous commie.

  67. Zeppelin says

    I think unions are an excellent thing. Even the poorly-run ones yield better results than no unionisation at all. I see no reason why you wouldn’t want unions under socialism either — you’d still have people working in the same field who have common interests that need to be represented and defended, after all.

  68. Akira MacKenzie says

    I am curious though, is “commercialism” something we can actually avoid in an innovative, high tech, culture where the talented can share their ideas in such a way that they can make a living off of them?

    That’s the one thing where capitalism seems to have the advantage: If you have an idea for a good or service, and you can raise the capital to make it happen, there are few if any government-based barriers stopping you from perusing your ambitions. Besides the opportunity for wealth (albeit it small), I imagine the appeal of the libertarian notion of the free market is that you don’t need a “mother may I” from some central economic planner to pursue your dream, you just do it.

    How can we distill the positive aspects of capitalism from the negative (i.e. inequality, privilege, exploitation, etc.) and not have an stagnant command economy.

  69. says

    I’m not sure that “capitalism” is inherently wrong.

    The fact that cooperatives and such (described by JP and others) can be done in a capitalist system really seems logically incompatible with the “inherently” this or that claim.

    @67, Vivec

    The farmer in your example is a decision maker, a manager. Management and decision making is a skill-requiring activity that deserves some pay. Negotiating that pay can and does happen (functionally).

  70. Vivec says

    @74

    The fact that cooperatives and such (described by JP and others) can be done in a capitalist system really seems logically incompatible with the “inherently” this or that claim.

    Not remotely so. The raw materials and funds that go through said co-ops in a capitalist system are still drawn through exploitative means. If the system was entirely made up of co-ops with no exploitation, it wouldn’t be capitalism.

    The farmer in your example is a decision maker, a manager. Management and decision making is a skill-requiring activity that deserves some pay. Negotiating that pay can and does happen (functionally).

    The farmer in my example is a leech and a dictator that contributes nothing to the business that couldn’t be achieved by the workers acting in concert, while getting paid more than the workers that make his existence as a business entity possible.

  71. Zeppelin says

    Brian Pansky:

    The farmer in your example is a decision maker, a manager. Management and decision making is a skill-requiring activity that deserves some pay. Negotiating that pay can and does happen (functionally).

    The farmer in that system is the “decision maker/manager” only because no-one else is allowed to make those decisions. Because the farmer holds power and doesn’t share it. Not because it’s been established that such a decision-maker is needed to run a farm.
    And even if a single decision-maker is absolutely required for some tasks for some reason, it doesn’t follow from this that they should have ownership of what is produced and control how the profits are allocated, the way our farmer paying hired hands does.

  72. says

    I think we’re making progress in this conversation, in that we’re pressing up against foundational issues. Like jargon, and (hopefully) values.

    One way to proceed would be to “taboo” (temporarily forbid) certain words like “capitalism” and “exploitation”, and rephrase the basic jargon/value claims such as:

    capitalism, which by definition relies on economic exploitation. That’s how you get capital, through alienated labour. This is inherently, fundamentally unjust

    Capitalism is inherently exploitative and wrong

    These statements are defined to be tautological, so what do they mean, and are they true in any relevant sense?

    Giving it a shot myself:

    The definition of the thing being discussed (“capitalism”): when people can personally own “capital”/”the means of production”. That is, when people can personally own stuff like factories or work tools, such that people other than themselves can work at these factories, with these tools, and make the owner money.

    If I describe that right, the question is: is what I just described inherently wrong? Why or why not?

    It could take me some time to try to provide a high quality answer to that question (which includes time to re-read the comments and links, and google to look for good answers), but for now I might as well post this and allow for feedback.

  73. Vivec says

    My statement aren’t remotely tautological.

    Capitalism, as a system, relies on hierarchical a hierarchical structure that deprives workers of power and wages commensurate to the value of their work.

    If workers did have power and wages commensurate to the value of their work, the kind of hierarchical systems that capitalism relies on wouldn’t exist.

    That’s no more tautological than saying “Stabbing someone is inherently violent” or “Eating chocolate is inherently an act of consumption”. The things that characterize capitalism are by their very nature incompatible with equality and fair-treatment, just like how the things that characterize stabbing someone is incompatible with a lack of violence.

  74. ragdish says

    Zep, Viv, JP, and perhaps Contra if you all agree that social democracy is a transitional stage towards a democratic worker’s state then that is worth exploring. That is, a social democracy is transformed by a democratic electorate into autonomous anarcho-syndicalist communes or cooperatives with rotating executive power. This all occurs at a grass roots level with minimal top down decision making from the state i.e. no state coercion. There is no chance of a Napoleon or Snowball to “take over”. There is no Marxist bull that the people have a false “bourgeois” conscious and thus, this cannot be accomplished via democratic means. And in that milieu, over time the local executive powers may become redundant and wither away to achieve communism. And all this achieved democratically as per the desires of the masses. Mistakes will be made with often 2 steps forward and 1 step back. It will be flawed with the risk of the masses periodically electing right wing governments ie. democracy with warts and all. If this is the road to achieve the good life for all, then sign me up. Or rather, you envision something similar but democratic.

    But if you’re a Naxalite carrying pictures of Chairman Mao……

  75. JP says

    Like I said, a Social Denocracy would be better than what we have now. Hell, basic reforms when it comes to health care and welfare and education would be light years better than what we have now for the people living here.

    My main beef with Social Democrats as a whole is that they don’t want to move any further left than Social Democracy. They support capitalism. They killed Rosa Luxemburg, FFS.

    As long as capitalism exists, the continual funneling of wealth upwards will be a thing, and the capitalists will continually agitate and lobby to move the economy away from even Social Democracy. It’s happening all over the world, including in Nordic countries.

  76. Zeppelin says

    Brian Pansky: Before we do that, could you explain why you think my quoted statement is tautological?

    I think “taking part of what a person produces without giving them anything in return” fits the colloquial definition of “exploitation” as well as falling under the technical definition of “economic exploitation”.

    By definition, if someone else’s work is “making you money”, as you put it, you are not paying them the full value of their labour. Since using capital (i.e. your legally granted control over the use of certain resources etc.) to make profit (i.e. to get people to work at a wage lower than what their work is worth so that you can skim off part of the wealth they produce) is what capitalism is, if we agree that enriching yourself at the expense of others in this way is immoral, because all people are ultimately of equal worth, then capitalism is by definition immoral. If you change the system so that this no longer happens, it stops being capitalism.

  77. Zeppelin says

    ragdish:

    Well, I don’t consider social democracy a “natural” transitional stage towards a democratic worker’s state. Social democracy in Europe was created to keep the people from tearing down capitalism after the disaster of the Second World War, when the perception was almost universally that capitalism had failed and through its crises brought about disaster. (Seriously, have a look at 50s West German party programmes some time if you speak the language. Even the right-wing Christians wanted “Christian socialism”.)
    It’s not a transitional stage towards anything really, it’s a band-aid. That doesn’t mean you couldn’t turn a social democracy into a socialist society, of course, but the intention behind the creation of social democracy was to protect the capitalist class from being collectively strung from the nearest lamp post, by reining in the abuses somewhat and giving people a safety net.
    To prevent socialism, in other words. And now, with proper globalised manufacturing and whatnot, it’s easier than ever to throw your own proletariat the occasional bone by shifting the worst abuses onto people who can’t string you up as easily. That’s also why social democracy is currently receding in most places — post-Cold War, there has been a feeling that the commoners no longer have a real alternative, so they don’t need to be placated quite so much.

  78. ragdish says

    Then I’ll hold my breath until those on the left devise a democratic means to achieve the workers utopia.Otherwise for all practical purposes, social democracy is the best governing ideology for the working class.

  79. Zeppelin says

    ragdish: When a population tries to democratically introduce actual socialism, the election is usually sabotaged or else the government toppled by foreign intervention. If socialism actually happens, they try to isolate them and sabotage their economy to provoke a counter-revolution (think Cuba).
    What possible incentive does the capitalist class have to allow a peaceful transition to socialism? The only use of democracy to them is as life insurance, preventing coups and violent transitions of power that endanger them. If socialism actually happens they lose everything, so at that point the mask comes off and they use force — you can still make good money in a dictatorship, after all.

  80. ragdish says

    Democracies are messy and often yields terrible results e.g. Trump. But to throw your arms up and say “What’s the point? The capitalists run the campaigns and those with the most wealth will win elections”. All is true but the only to change a system is to un-rig it via the democratic process. It’s the best means we have. A coercive overthrow of the system as you implied has historically resulted in far worse totalitarian dictatorship. I prefer the flaws, imperfections, setbacks and no guaranteed results of the democratic process. Otherwise you will get Napoleon and Snowball.

  81. JP says

    If you actually pay attention to the way the sausage is made in nominally democratic capitalist oligarchies, I don’t see how hoping for radical change through elections (or expecting any move to the left democratically not to be squashed) is any less hopelessly idealistic than advocating revolution.

  82. Zeppelin says

    ragdish: I don’t see how that could possibly happen. How do you envision this “democratic process” working? Again: What possible reason would the people who currently own the world, who rely on capitalism to maintain their power, have to allow a peaceful transition to socialism? Why wouldn’t they take the gamble of a violent crackdown once words and economic coercion have failed? They’ve got nothing to lose at that point, so they’ll put down the threat while they’re still in control. We have seen this happen throughout the 20th century, both to workers’ movements within nations and to nations that attempted to implement socialism (or even just to nationalise key industries or whatever).

    You seem to think that I’m saying “what’s the point of voting, it’s all rigged”, but that’s not it at all. Of course voting makes a difference, but the degree of difference it’s permitted to make is fairly narrowly delineated. Any democratic decision that would be seriously inconvenient to capitalists will be silently ignored or its implementation undermined. Angela Merkel once talked about how German parliamentary democracy needs to be “marktkonform” — those are the limits we’re moving within.

    I’m actually not too keen on revolution, because I honestly don’t have a good idea how you would go about running one to avoid the usual disasters any change of power tends to entail, and because it’s very difficult to guard a successful revolution against a hostile capitalist world. But I’m under no illusion that capitalism will go away without a massive, costly upheaval.

  83. ragdish says

    Democracy has given us the emancipation of women, civil rights, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights and soon non-binary gender rights. And I could likely list a lot more. None of this serves the all powerful capitalist oligarchy. Why would they allow it? Why should progressives bother to vote out trump and renegotiate our prior role in the Paris Agreement over climate change? What’s the point you say if it only has a Machiavellian nefarious ending that fills bellies of the bourgeoisie (which I fail to see how)? What’s the point of trying to elect the Bernies and Baracks? No matter how sincere they may be, their ends only serve the Adam Smithies, right?

    You’re saying there has been no progress at all for the working class over the past century. Standard of living for the average Joe has not risen. It was all an illusion. Democracy is a farce.

    The only way out is for a small band of idealists to impose the perfect ideology on the masses through coercive means if necessary. Let’s see how far that’ll get you. I’d rather chew on the blue pill and bask in my so called illusion of democracy.

  84. says

    Right, “tautological” wasn’t quite the right word, sorry everyone!

    (But if you want me to explain what I was trying to say instead: it looks like “capitalism” was being used to mean something called “exploitation” of some kind, and the intended meaning of “exploitation” was (among other things) “immoral”. If so, then “capitalism” would be “immoral” by definition. That’s what I really meant, I think. I was wrong to say tautology, where “immoral” would also simultaneously mean “capitalism” by definition!)

    It’s bed time for me, and I’m too tired to read over the substantial things I’ve written, and check to see if I’ve got things right (it’s long right now, and I took a long time writing it and rewriting it). So I guess I’ll save it for tomorrow!

  85. JP says

    Democracy has given us the emancipation of women, civil rights, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights and soon non-binary gender rights.

    No. Members of oppressed groups standing up for themselves and fighting for their own rights, including rioting at Stonewall, brought about these things. (As with the labor movement.)

    Barack Obama was against gay marriage until it was politically expedient not to be. Ditto HRC, though she took even longer.

    Politicians don’t support civil rights until the majority of the population does.

  86. KG says

    And news flash–private businesses exist in Cuba albeit on a small scale. Don’t tell me that they will never follow China’s lead. – ragdish@54

    I didn’t. I was merely pointing out that predictions such as yours of the imminent demise of the Cuban model (which I don’t support) have a poor record.

  87. KG says

    I could more or less equally easily argue on either side of this discussion – I’m sceptical about the prospects for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, but also of those for ameliorating its evils sufficiently to provide a reasonable life for all while remaining within a capitalist politico-economic framework, and very concerned that currently, it appears to be heading towards increasing inequality, repression, human suffering and environmental catastrophe.

    As a bit of background, I was an anarchist communist from the ages of 14 to around 33, since then have been a democratic ecosocialist (I credit Margaret Thatcher for my change of view – I first noticed how the anti-statist rhetoric of my youth could be weaponised by the right, than that many of the things that had made my life better, such as health care and education free at the point of delivery, had in fact been provided by the state). The gains of social democracy show that the revolutionary (Marxist or anarchist) claim that only the overthow of capitalism is worth working for is false, while the current situation shows just how fragile those gains were – and I agree with whoever noted that post-Cold War, the elites have decided that they don’t need to maintain social democratic concessions, and have been systematically withdrawing them. Moreover, capitalism has given very little reason to believe that it is capable of dealing with anthropogenic climate disruption, or indeed other major environmental issues, such as soil erosion, the depletion of fresh water resources, and plastic pollution of the oceans. As long as production decisions are determined primarily by the search to maximise profit, regulations intended to mitigate these problems will be first opposed by special interests, often successfully (I note in passing that these can include workers as well as capitalists), then subverted if passed – even in states with meaningful democratic institutions.

    Currently, I’m more focused on avoiding disaster – in environmental forms, nuclear war, or the revival of fascism – than in achieving utopia. But in order to make progress toward either, we need to maintain the democratic gains previous generations have made, unite as far as we can despite political differences, and split the elites – it’s hard to think of any revolution, or radical reform, that has succeeded without achieiving this. Despite what some have seemed to suggest, capitalist elites are not themselves united in views or interests, and are not all ready to gamble on violent repression rather than accept even radical change (they never have “nothing to lose” while they are alive). I am currently wearing a badge showing a watermelon – a reference to a sneer by a Tory member of the Scottish Parliament against the representatives of my own party, the Scottish Greens – implying that they are “green outside, red inside” – i.e., intended using environmental issues to advance socialism. The badge was a best-selling item at the subsequent party conference, and for me, as for many (not all) in the party, represents a basic truth: at the very least, progress toward socialism is necessary to avoid environmental catastrophe, and at the same time, the fact that avoiding such catastrophe is in the objective interests even of most of the elite – all those who expect to live another few decades, or have younger relatives or friends they care about provides a potentially powerful political weapon. On any given issue, there will be a subset of the elites whose short-term interests make them unreachable, but others who are not – and the logic of the situation can be used to push these – as it did during WWII – towards acquiescence in social democratic and even socialist measures.

  88. Zeppelin says

    ragdish:

    What’s the point you say if it only has a Machiavellian nefarious ending that fills bellies of the bourgeoisie (which I fail to see how)? What’s the point of trying to elect the Bernies and Baracks? No matter how sincere they may be, their ends only serve the Adam Smithies, right?

    You’re saying there has been no progress at all for the working class over the past century.

    The only way out is for a small band of idealists to impose the perfect ideology on the masses through coercive means if necessary.

    No-one has said any of these things. Please go easy on the hyperbolic strawmanning. You’re trying to twist our position to easily-debunked extremes because your shoddy epistemology (thanks, Vivec!) is failing you.

  89. Zeppelin says

    Brian Pansky: Thanks, that’s clearer! I think I addressed your point in post #81, in that case.

  90. Zeppelin says

    KG:

    Well put, thank you! I think we’re about on the same page. I don’t particularly want a revolution (it’s guaranteed to be disastrous and costly in the short term, and unlikely to yield my desired outcome in the long term). I just don’t see capitalism going away without a massive upheaval of some sort, so that’s how my conception of a socialist society starts, by necessity. Until I come across a plausible method to get from that upheaval to socialism, I’m all for doing things your way.

    Shame the Greens here in Germany have gone all middle-class neoliberal. They had a lot of “watermelon” potential back in the day. I won’t even start on our Social Democrats…

  91. Vivec says

    @97
    I’m in the same group as you two insofar as I’m pretty opposed to any sort of actual revolution or takeover. My personal opinion, however, is that Capitalism is unsustainable, especially in a world with finite resources and incompatible political interests. It’ll collapse at some point – probably long after our lifetimes, because I can’t imagine the upper class letting go of power even after things start to fall apart – and it’d be then that there’d be a chance to start over with something new.

    Surely, this would entail a lot of people dying – but not because bomb-throwing communists finally decided to storm the palace. It’d be a natural consequence of capitalist power brokers top-loading an unstable system past the point where it topples.

  92. Zeppelin says

    Vivec:

    I agree! That’s why I wrote “upheaval” rather than “uprising” or “revolution” — the latter might happen, we might even figure out how to do it properly, but some sort of collapse is inevitable, because that’s what civilisations do eventually. And I don’t see globalised Western capitalism lasting long, as civilisations go.

  93. says

    First, I need to do some brief (virtuous) virtue signalling, to acknowledge important points: ragdish does need to improve with understanding and not strawmanning people. Also, I do like some ideas advocated for by anti-capitalists here, and I’ll need to record them somewhere for myself.

    Now then…

    @78, Vivec

    Capitalism, as a system, relies on hierarchical a hierarchical structure that deprives workers of power and wages commensurate to the value of their work.

    Does it? They do have various powers. They do get wages (and can negotiate for them, especially in unions and such). I go into this further when I look at Zeppelin’s argument below. Let me know what you think, does it apply to what you’re trying to say here?

    If workers did have power and wages commensurate to the value of their work, the kind of hierarchical systems that capitalism relies on wouldn’t exist.

    Hmm, why couldn’t capitalism still exist if the wages were equal to the value of the work? I’ll explore the idea of an “owner” getting money “just for owning something” below.

    @81, Zeppelin

    taking part of what a person produces without giving them anything in return

    But giving someone a wage is giving them something in return.

    By definition, if someone else’s work is “making you money”, as you put it, you are not paying them the full value of their labour.

    I don’t think such wages are necessarily less than the full value of their labor. I think you’re relying on the assumption that (by definition?) the owner isn’t contributing any value at all (or something). For that, see my contention (1) below.

    At least Vivec steelmanned this slightly: this particular farmer (maybe not all farmers) was contributing something maybe, but…

    nothing to the business that couldn’t be achieved by the workers acting in concert

    In general (not just on this hypothetical farm), doing that takes time, energy, knowledge, skill, etc.

    This kind of seems like a dismissal of the value of division of labor. You don’t have to study for years to design your own car, computer, etc, you don’t have to grow your own food …the list goes on. Division of labor seems good.

    Yes, you can spread around the responsibility, you can even divide it differently (perhaps the farmer would contribute to the physical labor, and all of them would contribute to the management, etc.). Maybe dividing labor differently wouldn’t always be as absurd as a world with no division of labor.

    But if you don’t divide the management labor among the workers, is it inherently unjust? Are the wages inherently unequal to the value contributed? Maybe on the hypothetical farm Vivec imagined. But what about always, in the real world? Is it always leeching to some extent? Must it be?

    Well ok, you might say, that’s the labor of management. It sometimes gets complex so maybe handing that job to specialists is a smart division of labor.

    But what about ownership? That’s what this is about right? Who owns the land, who owns the tools, the buildings, and the finished products that go to market? And all that?

    I’ll have to try to address the most difficult case for me to address: someone owns the land, the tools, and all that, and gets money while seemingly contributing nothing. In fact, they even hire someone else to manage (and decide) just about everything!

    I see only two ways to try to defend capitalism here:

    1) Contend that the owner actually has contributed something, added some value, etc.

    2) Contend that giving someone income (other people’s income) for doing nothing is ok and good

    So, for (1), I think that ownership is always just a kind of division of management and decision making. They might have hired people later to do more decision making for them, but in getting things started they necessarily had to contribute decision making (deciding what to do with the capital they owned). If it was a good decision, the market should reward it (if the market is designed to reward good decisions). And the fact that people are working (producing value), and receiving wages for themselves is a good thing, so maybe it was a good decision that contributed a great deal of value, see? Any excess here can be negotiated away with appropriate collective bargaining. A bad decision could be something that doesn’t have such a nice outcome, maybe the workers are told to produce stuff that no one values, but the paychecks are due so the owner has to sell the capital (and thus let someone else try to make better decisions) just to compensate them for the work.

    Contention (2) might seem ridiculous, but I wonder if you’d think guaranteed minimum income issued by the government to poor people (or people who have difficulty doing work) would be ridiculous? Is mandated charity a “waste”, or unfair, or whatever? A capitalist owner of a factory could be paid a very low wage while the workers receive much more. So the owner could be pretty poor. It’s a possible thing, especially with powerful collective bargaining.

    Is this capitalism as difficult to achieve as non-capitalism?

    So I think that brings us to Zeppelins complaint in #76:

    The farmer in that system is the “decision maker/manager” only because no-one else is allowed to make those decisions [including “ownership of what is produced”]. Because the farmer holds power and doesn’t share it.

    Hmm, is that just plain bad? The answer to this question is assumed, but not answered.

    So it needs to be answered.

    Maybe while I think about my own answer to that, others can once again give me feedback. I’ll admit that so far this looks like it’s going to be a strong argument against allowing these kinds of ownership.

    Anyways, I hope I’ve identified key areas of contention here. Both for my own sake, and for the readers, and for the people the readers then go on to influence.

  94. Vivec says

    @100

    Hmm, why couldn’t capitalism still exist if the wages were equal to the value of the work? I’ll explore the idea of an “owner” getting money “just for owning something” below.

    Wages and power commensurate with the value of their work. If the five farmhands had influence equal to the value of their labor, there’d be no boss, and no capitalism – you’d basically just have a co-op.

    But if you don’t divide the management labor among the workers, is it inherently unjust?

    Yes

    Are the wages inherently unequal to the value contributed?

    If the workers that the company literally couldn’t exist without are paid less than a starched suit who signs papers and goes yachting for a living, yes.

    Contention (2) might seem ridiculous, but I wonder if you’d think guaranteed minimum income issued by the government to poor people (or people who have difficulty doing work) would be ridiculous?

    I mean, I don’t think money is a good thing that should exist, so yes, I have a problem with it. I think it’s a good way of reducing human suffering in a system that already has money in it, but I also think emergency triage is a good way of saving someone from a knife wound. Doesn’t mean I think that emergency triage against knife wounds is a good thing that should be needed.

    A capitalist owner of a factory could be paid a very low wage while the workers receive much more.

    So the capitalist owner is getting paid with a value that is commensurate with the value of his labor. Congrats, you’re halfway there. Give him nothing but a tiny chunk of the business power and you’ve fixed the thing.

  95. consciousness razor says

    JP, #91:

    Democracy has given us the emancipation of women, civil rights, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights and soon non-binary gender rights.

    No. Members of oppressed groups standing up for themselves and fighting for their own rights, including rioting at Stonewall, brought about these things. (As with the labor movement.)
    Barack Obama was against gay marriage until it was politically expedient not to be. Ditto HRC, though she took even longer.
    Politicians don’t support civil rights until the majority of the population does.

    It’s as if you responded to the claim that “politicians have given us these things,” but that was not the claim. It was that democracy did. Obviously, “the majority” in a democracy is responsible for how their democracies manage to do anything, and standing up for minority rights (if/when they are oppressed) is how democracies occasionally manage to do anything good.
    To the extent anyone here is opposed to democracy — which isn’t clear at all, but some apparently are — there’s no reason to believe that goes along with opposing capitalism. Indeed, if democratic institutions can be fair, then they can certainly be a way we oppose capitalism (the unfairness of which is the basic problem to be addressed), not something standing in the way of that goal.

  96. consciousness razor says

    standing up for minority rights

    Or, of course, for the rights of disenfranchised groups, like women, who aren’t literal minorities yet that is the effect of disenfranchisement.

  97. Zeppelin says

    Brian Pansky:

    Vivec has responded in a fairly concrete, realistic way, so let me try and cover the abstract angle, as I see it.

    But giving someone a wage is giving them something in return.

    That’s why I said “part of”. You are paying people a wage lower than the total value of their work. That’s how making a profit through wage labour works. Which means you are taking some proportion of their labour without giving them anything in return. You are short-changing them. Hence “exploitation”.

    There is no getting around this. If you pay everyone the total value of their work, you make no profit. If you make no profit, you can’t do capitalism.

    But if you don’t divide the management labor among the workers, is it inherently unjust?

    It’s not failure to divide management labour that’s unjust, it’s unilaterally claiming decision-making power for yourself. Ownership doesn’t justify leadership, and leadership doesn’t justify ownership. If the people on the farm decide that it’s useful to give some person authority over how some tasks are done, then their authority, like any legitimate authority, must derive from the assent of the “governed”.

    1) we can test, but only if authority and control of resources aren’t claimed by fiat by the “boss”. What happens when everyone gets to collectively decide wages, what to invest in, and so on? What happens if someone else does the co-ordinating? And even if it turns out that the current boss/manager is completely irreplaceable and somehow contributes fifty times more than anyone else, or whatever: so what? Do they need fifty times more money/resources? Is it reasonable for one person to consume fifty times more than another in a world of scarcity?

    2) is easy. Society has a moral duty to care for its members, so freely giving resources to people who need them is just. The boss, as a human being, has a right to a decent life and to the help of others in achieving this, same as anyone else. There is no such human right to profit, power, or luxury.

  98. JP says

    I’m in favor of direct democracy, but I certainly don’t think that’s what the USA has. Usually when people talk about “democracy,” they mean representative democracy of the sort that the US ostensibly has, and which is run by politicians with oligarchs propping them up. Which is how the conflation happened. (See all the people rooting for the USA “spreading democracy” around the globe.)

    If any sort of revolution (with good results) is to happen, or even a swing to the left in the current system, we’ll have to get a whole bunch of people on our side. Sadly, that’s going to be very hard to do with the way things are.

    I just read a book called Alt-America about the right-wing alternative reality that so many people (including the elites that some here have said might be able to see there own self-interest in preventing the planet from going to shit) live in. It got going in the late 80s/early 90s with talk radio, and has *really* shifted into gear as of late.

    It certainly helped me understand why certain relatives are just impossible to talk to about anything political – they literally don’t care about facts.

  99. says

    @101, Vivec

    Yes I think I handled all of what you just said except for:

    1) the existence of money, but you don’t identify any problem with money

    2) “power/influence equal to the value of their labor” but the money they get is power

    3) Obviously I haven’t yet handled (and may never be able to handle) things that are basically equivalent to the part at the end of my post #100, (maybe you missed it because you thought it was only addressed to Zeppelin? but I can address it to you too). But neither have you shown why your answer to that is the correct answer.

    You repeatedly state a conclusion without showing why you think it is true. I’m not sure why you’re doing that, but it isn’t helping to convince me that your conclusions are correct, or well reasoned.

  100. Vivec says

    @107

    the existence of money, but you don’t identify any problem with money

    Yeah, because it was part of my own thoughts on the matter, not something I’m trying to convince you of. I’m personally of the opinion that money is a tool that obscures the use and material value in favor of an intermediate exchange value.

    My ideal end-game is production for use, not for exchange. Money not required, money not wanted. Things are made because they’re useful and because people want to have them, not because they can sell them for enough Vivec dollars to exchange for things they want/need.

    “power/influence equal to the value of their labor” but the money they get is power

    Not in the sense I’m using it. Power in this case is referring to oversight and control over the means of production.

  101. says

    Hmm. Kind of of two minds here. Does capitalism create “needs” that we don’t really need, then provide what is often junk to fill them. Yeah, but.. honestly, no one “needs” almost anything at all, but if you go back to a much earlier time, when such economies didn’t really exist, and had never heard music, wandered into a tavern, heard someone playing an instrument for the first time and go, “Wow!”, that also creates a “need”, which don’t actually have to have, and which you are likely to be a lot bloody harder than today to “fulfill” this need.

    Seems to me, the problem isn’t the existence of such things, or even, within certain limits, advertising. Its egregious advertising, and protection schemes, which make it so that a) they offer something you have no imaginable need for at all, b) offer as a solution something that is sub-par, and c) go to absurd lengths to try to make sure they are the only ones that *can* provide it, whenever possible.

    Its sort of like the issue I have now – looking at buying myself a new computer, because the one I have is acting.. squirrely, in some situations, and some things on it won’t work any more (like the brand new bluray I installed). I could waste time hunting about for advertisements, all of which would invariably offer me some crap machine, which doesn’t do what I want, or need (which includes playing games I probably wouldn’t have ever played, if there wasn’t at least “some” level of advertisement involved). But, what I *will* be doing is going to a site that specializes in letting me pick and choose what will be in the thing, to find a decent price, for what I actually do need – with maybe some side looks, to see what might be out there I don’t know about, and would find useful to add to it.

    In short, the traditional advertisements won’t do jack all for me, but if the site itself never advertised, or I had never, ever, seen an ad for computers, or games, like *ever* there is a chance that I would have wasted a lot of talent for what stuff I do on the computer that “isn’t” just games, but requires similar features, cutting meat, or sweeping floor, or.. who knows, then, one day I would have walked onto some lord’s land, and “seen” my first computer, and gone, “Wow!” But, with even less capacity to do a damn thing about that new “need” than the peasant hearing music in a tavern.

    Its a double edged sword, in a sense. Without capitalism its bloody unlikely we would have produced the world we have today, technologically, including the internet, at least as a “public” thing, if at all. Yet.. for everything that benefits us, there is a million pieces of crap out there, which benefit no one other than the people selling it. Russia failed, “badly”, in its attempt to gain the former, without the other, and not steal most of it from someone else. China, did a bit better, but they have a nasty mix of capitalistic communism, in which innovation is being pushed like mad, but its not the people themselves that have any freaking say in what gets allowed – in other words, the state is deciding what everyone needs, and one of those needs isn’t truth, freedom of speech, or anything else that might “upset things, or threaten the government.”

    Maybe, in some ways, it could work better than the mess the US has, but.. half of our mess is the decision of the state to kill anything that might upset or threaten corporations, so.. again, the people aren’t in charge of it. But.. for a most part, we have one thing they don’t – the ability to tell all the corporations to F themselves, assuming we have the skills, or knowledge to do so, and find a solution online, which China may or may not decide to arbitrarily block as a threat to them. The rise of DIY sites, videos, non-corporate information sources, etc., when people can/bother to use them, or have the time, undermines the whole advertising issue. Because, people that are aware, and willing to work at it, can find the “best” option they can afford, not just the best option Walmart has on their shelf at the time.

    Its probably only kind of advertising that can, when its not someone scamming us (like fake facebook posts, which advertise what the believe, buy, etc. as though a friend offered it as a solution), which can offset the rest of the advertisements. But.. some place in the mix still needs to be the offer of, “We have a new kind of way to listen to music, called an mp3 player!”, or, you never bloody get iPods or Pandora via your cell phone.

    Someone might, but.. its not going to be *everyone*, because the only people who know it exists, at all, are the ones in the tavern when the guy shows up, and the few people they manage to tell about it (half of whom may not believe it ever happened).

    Its kind of catch-22. The way advertising is done is horrible, and generates absurd amounts of waste and worthless junk. But, without it, most of us also wouldn’t bloody have most of the useful things either. Killing capitalism won’t fix it. Changing it into something saner, maybe… But, its probably no more fixable than wishing you didn’t need to have to deal with shoes, or owning a car, but lamenting that you can’t walk without shoes (safely), or avoid walking, without having to drive to your destinations. Until someone finds a workable way to get both…. You are stuck with some unfortunate combination of things that will be both a benefit, and a curse, at the same time.

  102. says

    It’s bed time for me again, but here’s some things I thought of today, about the “who gets to decide how resources get used” problem.

    Sorry if this is too rambly and unfinished.

    Maybe the problem is that this kind of ownership allows for certain kinds of unkindness, like (hopefully this is a strong enough steelman for me to face, I didn’t properly face what was “allowed” when I previously said “Is it always leeching to some extent? Must it be?”) if unions happen to be weak or gone, and the workers happen to need a lot more money, and have no other options, and the farmer really could help them more but is just like “too bad”.

    Or even that fact that it’s possible for the farmer to make a bad decision when the collective wisdom of the civilization knows it’s bad. Fixed with legislation? Well, that’s slow, and often beyond the voter’s attention, and often beyond the precision that voters can exercise in our current democracy. These might just be issues with our democracy, not with the ownership. But fixing one might be equivalent to fixing the other.

    Another scenario to think about: someone works for a long time and then has tons of cash. What does that have to do with whether or not they are fit to decide what to do with large amounts of land and other resources? Seems like there should be no relationship. But money can be used for gaining exactly this kind of decision making (gaining ownership of large amounts of land and resources). It fundamentally doesn’t make sense. But is it bad? It won’t always have terrible outcomes. But as a method of meta-decision making, it’s surely quite questionable.

    (I also like what Vivec said in #108 about the profit motive causing businesses to decide to make things that maybe aren’t as important as other things they could make, etc.)

    But careful, other random workers aren’t necessarily more fit to decide than this one in the above scenario. So giving them all equal decision making power and voting on everything all the time might make just as bad of decisions, or sometimes worse. And be slow (disputes can be slow to settle, even if you could get everyone’s opinion immediately).

    More tentative ownership/power (like Holacracy, I think?) could get the benefit of speed and special expertise, while still being limited and easily changeable.

    Maybe even money would be ok if you were restricted from (A) having too much money and (B) owning so much land and tools and so on.

    =============================================================

    It does occur to me again that (technically) regulation does allow others to make decisions (to an extent) about how to use the things that other people own. But I’m not sure that fully answers the question? But if it does, then all we’d need to adjust is how to develop regulation best (better real democracy), what the regulation should be (needs to be flexible and fast enough, etc.) …and all that might functionally look a lot like abolishing such ownership and using a non-capitalist system. Functionally the same, kind of like the way different languages can be used to functionally say “the same thing” with similar effort to achieve similar precision. But using different words/concepts and slightly different rules.

    Some such regulation could be: tight limits on the amount of money and property you can own, mandatory public consultations for more decisions, various asset-seizing and awarding consequences for certain situations…

    If this seems complicated, alternatives might be just as complicated.

    That might leave us asking if this capitalism is as hard to achieve as non-capitalism.

    Again, hopefully I’ve identified key issues, and explored them helpfully. Even though my post is less polished than my previous big post.