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Sandpit

July 21st, 2016

A new sandpit for long side discussions, conspiracy theories, idees fixes and so on.

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  1. Ivor
    July 21st, 2016 at 21:37 | #1

    This is a rather odd and stale refrain….

    ‘Taint the economics of capitalism that has been in the way, but its actually existing politics.

    It is false. The economics of capitalism determines the existing politics, particularly in commercial practices and policies but also in the ALP and Liberal Party (although there are a few exceptions).

    The economics of capitalism is based on maximising profits in competition with alternative producers. This principle by itself is enough to entrench fossil fuels in production.

    Capitalism also demands growth. This is not necessarily growth in goods and services but merely growth in net revenues. If fossil fuels maximise net revenues then the continuing availablity of fossil fuels will persist as a foundation of growth. If such growth creates social damage – there is no capitalist economics that can prevent such damage. All you can do is tax it or regulate it until a Thatcher, Keating or a Reagan comes along to remove any such constraints.

    As long as you have capitalism you will have political statements opposed to CO2 emissions and promising to do something about it, but political outcomes that achieve nothing and commercial practices that continue exploration for fossil fuels and exploit whatever fossil fuel resources they can get their hands on.

  2. Ikonoclast
    July 22nd, 2016 at 07:58 | #2

    @Ivor

    The quote made me laugh at its own patent ideological blindness. Where is it from? Whether it is apocryphal or not, it perfectly illustrates the inability of the mainstream to see that the economics IS the politics and the politics IS the economics. This statement is not to assert perfect identity. Rather it asserts a dynamic relationship where each generates and reinforces the other and the system spirals upward intensifying its essential relations. A simple example goes as follows. The system facilitates some concentration of wealth in minority hands. Wealth buys political power. Bought political power rewrites the rule book to further assist concentration of wealth in minority hands. The extra wealth buys even more political power. And so it continues.

    Even before the purchase of formal political power for their own ends, large capitals in private hands wield power everyday and more directly. Large capitals in private hands determine much of the daily “metabolism” of the society. They determine who gets work and who does not get work. They determine how the workers must spend their day. They determine what products are innovated and what wastes are emitted and where. The modern democratic state (such as it is and as democratic as it is – which is generally not very democratic) comes in after the fact as it were and will regulate and proscribe some actions of capitalist management. But the private owners and managers of large capitals have the first option or lead position on determining the norms of socioeconomic interactions. Many of their innovations become essentially capitalist system-determined faits accomplis.

    Capitalism does demand growth. Indeed, it cannot exist in a healthy state (by its own definitions of healthy not by human or ecological definitions of healthy) except by growing. Historically, about 3% growth has been necessary for capitalism to remain healthy in this sense. Competing capitals must grow or be bankrupted or swallowed. In late stage capitalism, the tendency to monopoly capitalism has become pronounced. In addition to the competitive impetus for growth there is the mechanical impetus imparted by the financial system itself. Any borrowing productive entity must grow to reliably meet debt repayment.

    Note, the emphasis is on the word “reliably”. It is the case that borrowing for non-expansionary purposes generates in most cases an excess and unacceptable risk of business failure. The capitalist system operates as a kind of genetic algorithm (and this is its power). Mostly, it is firms which seek to obey the growth imperative which will survive. New baby enterprises are also hatched by the system, funded often by speculative capital. The result is roughly the same as a boom in population ecology. It is a successful strategy for the species (or the “species” of capitalists) while the environmental limits are not exceeded. But such a system is headed for a crash.

    The theories of competing capitals and monopolism explain the tenacity of fossil fuel capital in the face of new and better energy generation technologies. Capitals compete and they do not “play fair”. That is to say while they pay lip-service to free market competition, in practice they abhor free market competition and will undertake any number of stratagems to obtain an unfair advantage. For monopolies and oligopolies we can list as stratagems (these may overlap); use of monopoly power, predatory pricing or underselling, cartel behaviour, purchasing of political favours and protection, lobbying for and receiving vast state subsidies, funding misinformation on negative externalities, dishonest mass advertising and so on. The list goes on and on. New ventures with a new production methods and starting from a low base have to fight this entrenched complex of privilege and established political and economic power.

    In short, the system itself is the problem. What is to be done? That’s a topic for another post. I will finish with a quote from John Barry.

    “It is salutary in this case to note what Richard Rorty has identified as the dereliction of this public duty on behalf of many academics (Rorty, 2000), a point echoed by Brennan in arguing that … many academics, ‘at precisely the historical point where we confront a totalizing process in practice [neo-liberal globalized capitalism], have chosen to oppose it by saying we cannot totalize in theory.’ (Brennan, 2000: 14). This means that they abandon the intellectual effort to offer alternatives to the ‘empire’ of capitalism.”

    I would say they have chosen to fail to oppose it.

  3. GrueBleen
    July 22nd, 2016 at 10:15 | #3

    @Ikonoclast

    I’ve read Tim Macknay’s mini essay in the Monday Message thread, Ikono, and I reckon that where he’s got you every time is simply timeframe. Unlike some other pollution (eg aerosols) CO2 is long term cumulative. If we somehow managed to stop dead right now, it would still take centuries to get back to where we came from.

    I just don’t think we’ve got time to wait for the revolution – and not nearly enough time to wait for evolution – to get fro ‘capitalism’ to ‘socialism’.

    And another thing: you (and Ivor, and even Tim Macknay) may be perfectly and unambiguously clear on what you mean by those words (ie ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’) but I’m not.

    As far as I can tell there are many colours and shades of both capitalism and socialism, and I have no idea of what you mean by those words is any approximation to what I understand when I ‘hear’ them. And I really don’t think I’m the only one with this problem, do you ?

  4. Ivor
    July 22nd, 2016 at 10:15 | #4

    The quote made me laugh at its own patent ideological blindness. Where is it from?

    It was a cocksure and ignorant comment by @derrida derider on the “Nuclear math doesn’t add up” thread.

  5. Ivor
    July 22nd, 2016 at 11:34 | #5

    @GrueBleen

    Capitalism is based on super-profits (obtained by accumulating profits produced by others). Socialism is based on ensuring workers profit from their own labour.

    Capitalism disrupts the circuler flow.

    Socialism does not disrupt the circular flow.

    Capitalism moves labour to serve capital.

    Socialism moves capital to serve labour.

  6. Ikonoclast
    July 22nd, 2016 at 12:01 | #6

    @GrueBleen

    I am not saying you are making the following point but capitalist apologists regularly make it. “We have made the omelette and now you can’t unscramble it.” This is a typical capitalist mantra. They always say it with great satisfaction and then often add TINA! as in “There is no alternative.” Of course now, sadly, in the case of climate change, they are right in part. Some considerable damage is already done. More considerable damage is already built in due to delayed system effects and their virtually inevitable feed-backs.

    However, “it’s a bad system but you can’t change it now” is a very poor argument. We can still progressively change the political economy as we address climate change. Indeed, we should use the pragmatic program of addressing climate change as a political wedge to progressively change the political economy for the better (away from more capitalism to less and less capitalism until a viable system end-point for that process is found in praxis).

    So, I completely reject the argument that it is too late to change capitalism to addess climate change. The climate damage and other biosphere damage is incremental and ongoing. It has accelerated under neoliberalism. The rising damage can be decelerated by winding back and decelerating the present form of capitalism. Actioning both will go hand in hand. First, we may just go back to more social democracy, more regulation, more mixed economy measures meaning more statist measures. In the long run the change must be thoroughgoing so that we transition to a more socialist system.

    I also reject the validity of thee common claims that people don’t know what terms like “capitalism” and “socialism” mean in broad outline. If I started talking of the Christian religion, agnosticism and atheism (in our Western culture), would educated people come back and say, “I don’t know what Christianity means, I don’t know what agnosticism and atheism mean? If they said this, I would say either you are disingenuous, or you are not educated or your education, formal and informal, is sadly lacking. The same applies to the terms “capitalism” and “socialism” in broad outline. I think this claim by otherwise educated people that they don’t know what these terms mean is preposterous. Even if they were poorly educated, ideologically part-educated or otherwise missed this information it their responsibility to themselves and as citizens of democratic polity to darn well get studying or reading and educate themselves. There any number of books available about capitalism, socialism and various other isms of the political, economic and political economy realm. There is no excuse for the intelligent person not to be across the basics of these things.

  7. Tim Macknay
    July 22nd, 2016 at 12:40 | #7

    @Ikonoclast

    So, I completely reject the argument that it is too late to change capitalism to addess climate change. The climate damage and other biosphere damage is incremental and ongoing. It has accelerated under neoliberalism. The rising damage can be decelerated by winding back and decelerating the present form of capitalism. Actioning both will go hand in hand. First, we may just go back to more social democracy, more regulation, more mixed economy measures meaning more statist measures. In the long run the change must be thoroughgoing so that we transition to a more socialist system.

    I think you’re being disingenuous here, by subtly changing the argument. I don’t think anyone has ever claimed that “it’s too late to change capitalism to address climate change”. I certainly haven’t. What you’re proposing here, which I broadly agree with, is quite different from what you have said before, which was that it was not possible to address global warming under capitalism. However, what you’ve just described fits perfectly well within the description of “addressing global warming under capitalism” while also pushing for the replacement of capitalism in the long run.

    I also think you’ve just fatally undermined your claim that it’s unreasonable, in the context of this discussion, for people to think that it’s not sufficiently clear what everyone means by “capitalism” and “socialism”. I actually thought I was reasonably clear on what you meant by “capitalism”, and was about to post a comment to that effect in response to Blugreen, but it now seems that I wasn’t clear on it at all. In fact, after whay you’ve said above, it now seems to me that much of the disagreement actually arises, not from ideological differences per se (although no doubt they are there, to varying degrees), but precisely due to a lack of clarity around what we all mean by certain key expressions. This is broadly why I find sweeping, simplistic claims of the “the problem is the system” kind to be unhelpful.

  8. Tim Macknay
    July 22nd, 2016 at 12:52 | #8

    * After what you’ve said above. Sorry for the typo.

  9. Tim Macknay
    July 22nd, 2016 at 13:07 | #9

    One thing I would add – it ought to be obvious (and I certainly hope it is) that a process of “winding back and decelerating the present form of capitalism”, including “more social democracy, more regulation”, will only be effective at mitigating the effect of global warming (partially or wholly), if it includes a large suite of policies specifically aimed at addressing global warming, that is, replacing emissions-producing activities or processes (particularly energy sources) with non emissions-producing ones. Slowing growth in consumption, and even economic contraction, will have only a marginal effect. A political and economic reform process that does not have that strong focus will completely fail to address global warming, whatever other objectives it may achieve. Again, this is why, in my view, a focus on socialist, or social democratic, reform, as the primary means to address climate change, is essentially a distraction. Reform of that kind may help to address global warming to some degree, but only in conjunction with policy reform programs that are specifically aimed at the problem.

  10. Ivor
    July 22nd, 2016 at 13:11 | #10

    @Tim Macknay

    If the context is capitalism, then statements such as “the problem is the system” are not unhelpful.

    If you think there is time to change capitalism…what are the changes and how do you roll them out through Africa, Saudi Arabia, China, India, and all through oil producing nations in North and South America.

  11. Jim Birch
    July 22nd, 2016 at 13:21 | #11

    I don’t see much actual evidence that non-capitalist states protect the environment any better. Except, via lower levels of economic activity.

  12. Tim Macknay
    July 22nd, 2016 at 13:24 | #12

    @Ivor
    It seems to me you should address that question to Ikonoclast.

  13. Tim Macknay
    July 22nd, 2016 at 13:25 | #13

    @Ivor
    BTW, the context is how to address global warming.

  14. Ivor
    July 22nd, 2016 at 14:16 | #14

    @Jim Birch

    You have not even looked at the evidence.

    The top per-capita CO2 emission economies are (tonnes per capita 2013):

    Kazakhstan 14.2
    Canada 15.9
    United States 16.5
    Saudi Arabia 16.8
    Australia 17.3
    Oman 18.92
    United Arab Emirates 21.3
    Kuwait 28.33
    Qatar 39.13

    Certainly non-capitalist enterprise – eg cooperatives – if the try to maximise their own workers incomes by competing against other cooperatives, will be tempted to utilise fossil fuels.

    However it is not essential to their economic viability that they follow this path. It is essential to Capitalists that they utilise the cheapest form of energy to compete against other capitalists or just to maintain their market share.

    Cooperatives also have democratic decision making which is far more likely to respect the interests of everyone than the totalitarian decision making of corporations which is far more likely to respect the interests of shareholders even when they conflict with the interests of all.

  15. Ivor
    July 22nd, 2016 at 15:30 | #15

    @Tim Macknay

    So do you think there is time to change capitalism?

  16. Tim Macknay
    July 22nd, 2016 at 16:04 | #16

    @Ivor
    I don’t really know what you’re asking. It sounds like a trick question. As I said, I think you should ask Ikonoclast about the idea of “changing capitalism”, since it’s his idea.

    While you’re at it, you might want to ask yourself how you think global warming can or should be addressed (assuming you believe it can be) and articulate that in a manner that does not involve vague generalities or obtuse abstractions, and avoids propositions that are contradictory.

    I’ve set out broadly what I think needs to be done to address global warming often enough on this blog.

  17. James of St James
    July 22nd, 2016 at 16:15 | #17

    I think we need parallel efforts here. The time imperative to implement policies to transition to a low carbon economy means we can’t wait for anything, be it a massive re-framing of capitalism, or its replacement with something else. I agree with Tim, we need specific policies to drive this transition ASAP, that means designing ones feasible within the current economic dominant paradigm. In parallel with that, the discussion about how to either reframe and tame capitalism or alternatively replace it also needs to happen – but such fundamental changes do not happen as quickly. We are no where near developing a new consensus about that reframed or alternative economic system should be, and there will need to be a clearer vision of what that can be and how to get there. with at least a core of people building consensus around it before one could reasonably expect such changes will occur. Do what is possible within the system now, and use the limitations of it to argue the more fundamental economic paradigm changes that may be needed.

  18. GrueBleen
    July 22nd, 2016 at 16:16 | #18

    @Ivor

    Hmmm. So what then, Ivor, do we call the Inca Empire which had no capital and no profits, and neither currency nor marketplace either ?

    But then, I’d be satisfied with an answer to this small query: we want, and nowadays very much need, scientific research. Thus, we will always have many scientists engaged in research – especially into medicines and antibiotics – that simply never comes to fruition and thus produces no benefit whatsoever.

    How do these researchers then “profit from their own labour” ?

  19. GrueBleen
    July 22nd, 2016 at 16:29 | #19

    @Ikonoclast

    I’m really glad you’re not saying that, Ikono, because I wouldn’t want to have to point out that I never said any such thing. What I said, and I’ll repeat it, is I don’t think you have time to first throw off capitalism and only then tackle anthropogenic climate change – we’ll have to fix our climate malefactions right now !

    By the way, when we go joyously socialist, are we going State Socialism or Commune Socialism ? And would you mind answering the question I just asked Ivor (above).

    Grazias

  20. Ikonoclast
    July 22nd, 2016 at 16:45 | #20

    @Tim Macknay

    Briefly, you seem to be holding me to a position where I must advocate and somehow prosecute (presumably with many like-minded people) an instant and total transition from capitalism to socialism. As soon as I advocate some degree of realistic, non-violent gradualism you equate my position to what is essentially the argument that “climate change can be addressed now without starting to change capitalism”. I am advocating that we can and must progress theory and praxis at the same time in a reinforcing process. Properly addressing climate change and other issues (step by step) will necessitate concomitant changes in the political economy system.

    I haven’t fatally undermined any understanding of capitalism or socialism for people who started with some basic of understanding of these matters. Do people these days really know so little about ideology and political economy? If so, it really is a tribute of sorts to the dominant ideology’s ability to suppress all alternative thoughts.

    “I find sweeping, simplistic claims of the “the problem is the system” kind to be unhelpful.” This is only true if you haven’t taken the trouble to investigate systematic political economy, institutional economy and related fields. It only appears true if you don’t understand there is a system and you don’t understand what that system is. As an example illustrating this point, Francis Bacon in Novum Organum Scientiarum (‘new instrument of science’) basically pointed out that the old system of scholasticism was not getting any results, not yielding new knowledge. He was saying in essence “the system is the problem”. It was a system of thought (and practice) in that case and he was advocating a new system of theory and practice, basically the embryo (at least) of empirical scientific method.

    It is not sweeping or inaccurate to say “the system is at fault” IF the system is actually at fault. Of course that argument has to be made. The system and its systemic effects have to be laid out in exposition. Then the back and forth arguments and positions have to made as to whether the exposition is accurate or not and whether various conclusions are justified or not. But in certain cases it is indeed valid to say a system in its entirety is at fault or has finally some fatal flaw or shortcoming. It is not always the case that individual components only are faulty, sometimes the design of an entire system is faulty. This holds true for many kinds of systems. Sometimes systems work within certain parameters but when conditions decay or evolve beyond those parameters the system no longer works. Capitalism has a rapidly approaching use-by date due to internal and external limits on its behaviours. I can’t make the whole argument in a blog and people can’t read the whole argument in a blog. People might need to read three of four big books in this arena. If you want complex theory in a nutshell, forget it. No complex theory comes in a nutshell.

    I would say avoid commentaries and read originals. Thus;

    (A) Das Kapital Vols 1, 2 and 3

    (Notes: Bear in mind;

    (a)This is an unfinished work at least so far as Vol 3 goes. Engels finished Vol 3 from notes and maybe his own interpolations.

    (b) Marx was still working this theory out as he wrote. Difficult theories take decades to work out and humans usually die before they finish such projects.

    (c) Marx did not work out everything, was not right about everything and could not predict everything. Human knowledge has moved on since he thought and wrote.

    (d) Orthodox Marxists and modern Marxians disagree about plenty but modern Marxians have uncovered much more that is correct IMO by building on and correcting Marx.

    (B) For your fourth book read Monopoly Capital by Paul Sweezy and Paul A. Baran.

    Note: This book will largely correct Marx’s major errors (born of developing a new theory from scratch and in an early epoch of capitalist development). Orthodox Marxists might disagree. They read Marx far too dogmatically IMO. If they read Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie (Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy), they would realise some of the greater complexity of Marx’s thought and be far less the orthodox dogmatists, again IMO. If you get really keen you might attack Grundrisse or at least parts of it.

    Finally, if you expect a simple theory of capitalism ask yourself, would I expect a simple theory of modern physics?

  21. GrueBleen
    July 22nd, 2016 at 16:53 | #21

    @Ikonoclast

    And now onto another thesis, Ikono. Let me quote you (twice):

    1. “…would educated people come back and say, “I don’t know what Christianity means, I don’t know what agnosticism and atheism mean? If they said this, I would say either you are disingenuous, or you are not educated or your education, formal and informal, is sadly lacking”

    and

    2. “There any number of books available about capitalism, socialism and various other isms of the political, economic and political economy realm. There is no excuse for the intelligent person not to be across the basics of these things.”

    Ok then, if you supply me, and any others who may be curious, with the name of a book (or books) in which each of:
    Christianity (and will there be separate definitions for Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox etc ?)
    agnosticism
    atheism
    capitalism
    socialism
    various other isms
    are defined clearly, uniquely and unequivocally (not to mention operationally specific), then I will gladly admit that my education is sadly lacking.

    But if, inconceivably I know, you cannot do that – if any of your references even so much as hint at there being more than one definition and/or understanding of any of these things, then maybe I’ll have to claim that your education, sadly, just hasn’t even begun.

  22. Ivor
    July 22nd, 2016 at 16:58 | #22

    @GrueBleen

    Wow, what a diversion … all the way back in time to the, wait for it ….

    Inca Empire???????????????

    Suffice it to say, the Incas produced above subsistence level and the surplus was distributed according to political and social rules.

    Researchers producing socially necessary products will always be able to earn an income. This is their profit.

    Researchers investigating Alchemy theory may not be able to earn an income and are unlikely to profit from their work.

  23. Ivor
    July 22nd, 2016 at 17:04 | #23

    Tim Macknay :

    BTW, the context is how to address global warming.

    And if not within capitalism – in what other context?

    If you cannot deal with climate change under capitalism, you certainlcannot deal with global warming, full stop.

  24. Ikonoclast
    July 22nd, 2016 at 17:11 | #24

    @GrueBleen

    I am still very uneducated about many, many things. Little by little, I attempt to rectify aspects of that while recognising that human knowledge is now much too vast, and I am much too mediocre and lazy, for me to become anything approaching a genuine modern polymath. The non-mediocre people are generally locked into the tunnel-vision of their specialties. That is necessary too. I want my brain surgeon, if I ever need one, to know what she is doing.

  25. Ivor
    July 22nd, 2016 at 17:12 | #25

    @GrueBleen

    So when you use these terms…..

    Christianity
    agnosticism
    atheism
    capitalism
    socialism

    Do you understand their meaning?

  26. Tim Macknay
    July 22nd, 2016 at 17:54 | #26

    @Ivor

    If you cannot deal with climate change under capitalism, you certainly cannot deal with global warming, full stop.

    Once again, I am unable to make sense of what you are saying. Are you saying that it is not possible to wait until capitalism is replaced or completely reformed to address global warming, and that it must be addressed immediately (which would put you in agreement with what I said on the other thread, and what James St James said above), or are you saying that it is not possible to deal with global warming, period?

  27. Tim Macknay
    July 22nd, 2016 at 18:07 | #27

    @Ikonoclast
    I seem to have got your back up. It was probably because I said you were being disingenuous. Take it on the chin, son. You’ve said worse to me. 🙂

    Briefly, you seem to be holding me to a position where I must advocate and somehow prosecute (presumably with many like-minded people) an instant and total transition from capitalism to socialism. As soon as I advocate some degree of realistic, non-violent gradualism you equate my position to what is essentially the argument that “climate change can be addressed now without starting to change capitalism”.

    No idea how you got to that conclusion. How am I “holding you to a position”?
    Certainly, one possible, and not unreasonable, interpretation of statements like “global warming cannot be addressed under capitalism” or words to that effect, is that the person saying it thinks that capitalism must be completely overthrown or reformed (i.e. replaced with socialism) before climate change can be addressed. I suspect that interpretation has been made by many people when you’ve made statements to that effect. Now that you have clarified that it is not actually that you meant, we are in substantially less disagreement than we were before. That’s what my words “What you’re proposing here, which I broadly agree with” were intended to signify, in case you missed them in your outrage ;).

    I haven’t fatally undermined any understanding of capitalism or socialism for people who started with some basic of understanding of these matters.

    I didn’t say you fatally undermined “understanding of capitalism or socialism”. Try reading my comment again after a bex and a good lie down, mate. I agree that educated people should have a basic understanding of what these things mean in general, and in my view, my own understanding of the meaning of these things in general is adequate more most purposes, including the discussion of climate change policy. In hindsight, I probably should have realised not to go down that rabbit hole, but I was taken aback by the apparent shift in your argument. I accept that the shift was not intentional, or was intended as a clarification rather than a shift, but I think you should at least recognise the potential for misinterpretation when people are discussing these issues, rather than making huffy demands that everybody should immediately and clearly comprehend precisely what you are talking about.

    “I find sweeping, simplistic claims of the “the problem is the system” kind to be unhelpful.” This is only true if you haven’t taken the trouble to investigate systematic political economy, institutional economy and related fields. It only appears true if you don’t understand there is a system and you don’t understand what that system is.

    No, actually statements of that kind are always unhelpful. In effect, all they state is that there is a problem. What is required is an articulation of a solution. A statement like “the system is the problem” is equivalent to a statement like “violence is bad”. In effect it is a statement of the obvious, and immediately prompts the question “so what do we do about it?”. When you actually started articulating what you thought needed to be done, e.g. social democratic reforms, more regulation, etc etc, you actually started making sense. If you’d used that kind of language earlier on, much of the disagreement would have evaporated.
    The only context in which those kinds of statement serve a useful purpose, IMHO, is as a form of catharsis for the person making the statement. I accept that it probably serves that purpose for you.
    It’s not good enough to say that everyone should know what your statements mean, and that it isn’t possible to write a detailed thesis on a blog thread, and people should go and read up on the background theory. I might as easily say to you, don’t make comments about climate change policy until you’ve gone off and read a substantial representative portion of the policy literature that’s been written over the last quarter century on the subject – you’ve made it plain enough in the past that you’re not across the detail when it comes to climate change policy. But I wouldn’t say that because it would be patronising and pretentious.

    If there isn’t space to articulate a detailed position, then don’t make broad sweeping statements that you know, or ought to know, will be subject to multiple interpretations. Try, at least, to add some context and detail. There isn’t that much space on a blog thread, but it isn’t twitter.

    Finally, if you expect a simple theory of capitalism ask yourself, would I expect a simple theory of modern physics?

    Of course I don’t expect a simple theory of capitalism. When did I ever suggest such a thing? My main complaint is with simplistic statements, e.g. “the system is the problem”.

    The irony of all this is that you still haven’t really actually presented a coherent reason why a transition to socialism is actually necessary to address climate change.
    I appreciate that the growth imperative in capitalism can readily be seen as underlying all problems of environmental degradation and unsustainability (it might also be said that that it is industrial modernity, rather than capitalism per se, that is the root cause, but since industrial modernity and capitalism have been almost universally concomitant, it is probably a moot point), but there are specific dynamics to global warming that require particular consideration, among which are that it is more urgent than most other large-scale environmental problems.

    You would be a lot more convincing if you moved away from the generic points about systems and focused in on the issue of greenhouse gas emissions specifically, what it is about capitalism (other than the growth imperative) which makes it particularly difficult to address under that system.

    Which brings me to the question: do you agree with what I said in my comment at #9, i.e. that a program of reforming capitalism in a social democratic/socialist direction will not succeed in addressing global warming unless it contains a substantial suite of policies specifically aimed at addressing that problem. Yes or no?

  28. Tim Macknay
    July 22nd, 2016 at 18:09 | #28

    Apologies for the poor formatting. Bleurrgh.

  29. GrueBleen
    July 22nd, 2016 at 18:21 | #29

    @Ivor

    How far back, exactly do you imagine the Inca Empire was, Ivor ? Millennia, maybe ? It was finally wiped out (last stronghold overcome) by the Spaniards in 1572.

    But your little diversion just cuts no ice, mate, because, let’s face it, every single state, cohort, tribe or family throughout the entirety of human history has, by ineluctable necessity acted such that “the surplus was distributed according to political and social rules.” Albeit that oftentimes those “rules” may have been determined and enforced by just one individual.

    So what are you telling me; that you are too simple minded to understand that ?

  30. GrueBleen
    July 22nd, 2016 at 18:30 | #30

    @Ivor

    Well, Ivor, I more or less mostly understand what I mean by them, and I understand some notions of what others may understand by them and I grasp that, even without resorting to the theory and practice of deconstruction, these and many other things have meaningS which are different to different people.

    Are you telling me that you are so uneducated and naïve that you simply don’t understand that ? Are you telling me that you’ve never read Wittgenstein and have no idea about “language games” ? Have you never tried to define a table so that your definition covers all and only tables ?

    Really, mate, please do try to engage the brain before activating the typing fingers.

  31. GrueBleen
    July 22nd, 2016 at 18:41 | #31

    @Ikonoclast

    Well I can wholeheartedly agree with that Ikono, but nonetheless I simply have to insist that none of the terms you’ve been pushing at us have simple, unique, clear and operationally consistent definitions.

    And when, as part of my limited education, I studied the theory and practice of logic at RMIT back in 1973 (and got a mark of 97 out of 100), I was clearly informed that the first step of any rational argument is to: define your terms !

    Now if you would be so kind as to do so, we might even find that there’s similarities and differences in our thinking that we might explore. But please don’t throw three volumes of Marx at me – regardless of what he thought, I want to know what you think, and I’ll bet it isn’t identical to what Marx (and/or Engel) thought.

    Oh, and BTW, physics theories are simple, it’s just the damn maths and the consequences that are complex and involuted.

  32. Julie Thomas
    July 22nd, 2016 at 19:08 | #32

    @GrueBleen

    I agree with you I think about the every group of people ever has distributed any surplus according to political and social rules. What difference is there between political and social rules?

    Do you think that there can be societies that actively through social (or political or even economic?) rules discourage the accumulation of surpluses and encourage other ways of keeping themselves alive, healthy and happy through hard times?

  33. Ikonoclast
    July 22nd, 2016 at 20:17 | #33

    GrueBleen,

    I’ve done all this on this blog before. I mean providing definitions and links for people. I have even explained that simple definitions of complex phenomena only go so far. But here goes;

    Definition 1 – From Wikipedia.

    “Capitalism is an economic system based on private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit.[ Characteristics central to capitalism include private property, capital accumulation, wage labor, voluntary exchange, a price system, and competitive markets. In a capitalist market economy, decision-making and investment is determined by the owners of the factors of production in financial and capital markets, and prices and the distribution of goods are mainly determined by competition in the market.

    Most existing capitalist economies are mixed economies, which combine elements of free markets with state intervention, and in some cases, with economic planning.”

    Definition 2 – From Professor R.D. Wolff.

    The good Professor Wolff being more intelligent, more accommodating and more gracious than I, does well in this article.

    http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/34767-on-the-meaning-of-capitalism-we-don-t-agree

    My afterword.

    Our mixed economy systems are not pure systems but hybrid systems as we all know. They are a mix of capitalist and statist operations and interventions as outlined in the above definitions. Calling our economy “capitalist” now is a shorthand nominating “the” dominant or “a” dominant strand. So far it appears, that under so-called late stage capitalism or neoliberal capitalism, capitalist relations are intensifying in countries like Australia but strong statist and welfarist strains remain and still have considerable political weight.

    Our formal political system also has weight obviously. Some writers call current systems like the USA, Really Existing Capitalist Democracies. Opinions vary on the “amount” of democracy left in some systems, especially the US system, after capitalists and lobbyists essentially buy representatives and influence production of legislation.

    Some writers point out that capitalism needs a state and that the state institutionally underwrites capitalism (and as the GFC aftermath showed the state financially underwrites capitalism too).

    Communism also needed a state. Soviet and PRC Communism was in fact state capitalism (as opposed to private capitalism) according to Prof. R. D. Wolff and in accordance with his theoretically consistent definitions. With others he makes a cogent argument, with which I agree, in the paper “State Capitalism versus Communism: What Happened in the USSR and the PRC?” – Satya Gabriel, Stephen Resnick and Richard D. Wolff.

    The thing is, the world is not simple, it is not binary, it is not black and white, it is not all one thing or the other. The more one studies political economy or any complex subject, the more one realises that simple definitions leave a lot out. A simple definition is a starting point and may do for some insights. In the long run, further study is necessary if one wants to understand anything at more than a very basic level.

  34. Ivor
    July 22nd, 2016 at 22:49 | #34

    GrueBleen :
    >
    I more or less mostly understand what I mean by them,

    Directly contradicts;

    …what you mean by those words (ie ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’) but I’m not.

    Why would you pretend to not understand the meaning of a word, to then later assert that you do understand what you mean?

  35. Ivor
    July 22nd, 2016 at 22:59 | #35

    @Tim Macknay

    If

    and that it must be addressed immediately (which would put you in agreement with what I said on the other thread,

    is true, then you probably now understand that the problem is the system, and this is not unhelpful, if you realise that the context is capitalism.

    QED.

  36. GrueBleen
    July 23rd, 2016 at 01:30 | #36

    @Julie Thomas

    I personally think of ‘social’ as being mostly ‘unwritten’ – ie, the largely unconsciously conditioned ‘learned practices’ – as against the more formal, often consciously debated, frequently written down ‘laws; that apply at the more general (ie political) level.

    Kinda like the difference between common law and statute law, I think.

    How to survive without surpluses. Hmmm. Well I can certainly survive extremely well without some surpluses, but in many cases I guess that either uncertainty in predictions of demand (which can lead to either surpluses or deficits) and, at least throughout the entirety of human history, unpredictability of environment have generally led us to go down the surplus path wherever, and whenever, we could.

    I guess I could envisage a situation where most, though not necessarily all, surpluses would be unnecessary – but that would require, I think, some combination of rigorous, and accurate, central planning and a production system that could make very rapid responses to varying circumstances.

    How about you – can you envisage a ‘surplus free’ society ?

  37. GrueBleen
    July 23rd, 2016 at 01:46 | #37

    @Ivor

    Oh well spotted, Ivor. What can I say to that but “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

    You can take that simple idea on board, can’t you ?

    If, as I suspect, it is way too subtle for you, then how about this: put the words you quote in context ! What I actually said was: “And another thing: you (and Ivor, and even Tim Macknay) may be perfectly and unambiguously clear on what you mean by those words (ie ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’) but I’m not.”

    Do you get that little qualifier, Ivor ? let me stress it for you: “may be perfectly and unambiguously clear “. Can you see that I can, without difficulty or contradiction, be both able to “mostly understand” (please note that word “mostly”, Ivor) but also “not perfectly and unambiguously clear” ?

    Maybe I should just hunt up my old class notes from my RMIT Logic course to send to you, I think you “perfectly and unambiguously” need them.

  38. GrueBleen
    July 23rd, 2016 at 02:06 | #38

    @Ikonoclast

    I thank you for taking the time to write that response Ikono. I do understand your frustration, but if you wish to continue to proselytize to a changing audience, you just may find that you have to repeat yourself quite often. I certainly do, and I think you might find that ProfQ would agree, especially in relation to nuclear power. 🙂

    However, even though I was more interested in what you thought than either Wikipedia or Prof Wolff, I guess you have put at least some of your own understanding into your response and I will endeavor to extract that from all the rest.

    But I must also say that I am basically familiar with the concepts and practices of mixed economy capitalism, having lived under such a system all of my life. I’m much less familiar with how socialism might function, having never seen an example of a socialist economy at any time in my entire life (does the Inca Empire or do Israeli kibbutzes count ? Neither of which I have personally seen, of course).

    I’m also just a little bit aware of the ‘variations’ that several generations of econorats have tried to introduce, and of the basic insanity of the libertarians, but I don’t think either have succeeded quite as much as you appear to believe. That, of course, may only be my most unfortunate blindness.

    Anyhow, I will try to take your response on board, and then maybe you can resume proselytizing me (and others, but of course).

  39. Julie Thomas
    July 23rd, 2016 at 08:20 | #39

    @GrueBleen

    “How about you – can you envisage a ‘surplus free’ society ?”

    Australian Aborigines?

    I’m not sure that I was advocating a ‘surplus free’ society; it is more accurately, a society that discourages the accumulation of surpluses I was thinking of, and even more fundamentally, I was wondering about the possibility of encouraging the attitude or philosophy that the accumulation of surpluses by individuals is a dysfunctional behaviour that creates unsolvable problems for societies.

  40. Ivor
    July 23rd, 2016 at 09:10 | #40

    @GrueBleen

    Anyone growing up in and benefiting from colonial slavery would also say:

    that I am basically familiar with the concepts and practices of mixed slavery economy having lived under such a system all of my life. I’m much less familiar with how non-slavery might function, having never seen an example of a free economy at any time in my entire life (does the Babylonain Empire or do cooperatives count ? Neither of which I have personally seen, of course).

    I’m also just a little bit aware of the ‘variations’ that several generations of democrats have tried to introduce, and of the basic insanity of the emancipists, but I don’t think either have succeeded quite as much as you appear to believe. That, of course, may only be my most unfortunate blindness.

    These arguments are the result of moral and political-economic blindness.

    The arguments for socialism, like the arguments for anti-slavery, are based on completely different logic.

  41. Ivor
    July 23rd, 2016 at 09:20 | #41

    @Julie Thomas

    I think I can envisage a surplus free society.

    You just need to ensure that producers of wealth receive and consume the wealth that they produce. If all production is income, and consumed, then there is no surplus.

    Any increased productivity then goes into generating a higher and higher living standard for all without increasing any gap between rich and poor.

  42. GrueBleen
    July 23rd, 2016 at 09:30 | #42

    @Julie Thomas

    Or Inuit ? Not much chance for them to collect a surplus either.

    But then, what did the human race invent granaries for if not to store and save one or more years of ‘surplus’ in order not to starve to death (at least not everyone) in years of famine. Even squirrels have learned that trick.

    But should, say, Bill Gates have acquired a huge ‘surplus’ because Microsoft was in the right place at the right time ? Or should Warren Buffett have a huge surplus because he was able to start investing at the right time ? At least via Berkshire Hathaway Buffett has shared his surplus (and don’t I wish I’d had the brains to buy in way back when, But then, if I’d had the nonce to buy a few Poseidon shares at say $5 a pop and sold them at $200 a pop, I too might have just a bit of surplus too).

    The thing is that many people end up with far more ‘surplus’ than is reasonable, but often without really trying to acquire that much in the first place. And then, some massive ‘surplus accumulators’ do try to do good with their ill-gotten gains – and I’m not including the ‘epistemically closed’ Bill Gates in that, I’m thinking more of, perhaps, Elon Musk and his Teslas and SpaceXs. Out of which he’ll most likely accumulate even more surplus.

    I think we might have to wait to see if Ikonoclast can inspire the socialist revolution before we ever get away from undeserved surpluses.

  43. GrueBleen
    July 23rd, 2016 at 09:38 | #43

    @Ivor

    Oh my bad, Ivor, I forgot you, like Ikono, are a social justice proselytizer when I credited him with wanting to inspire the socialist revolution in my reply to Julie Thomas.

    Now, if you could just tell me what the point of your diatribe about slavery and suchlike was, I’d be grateful.

  44. Ivor
    July 23rd, 2016 at 09:49 | #44

    @GrueBleen

    Ask your parents – they will explain it to you.

  45. GrueBleen
    July 23rd, 2016 at 10:00 | #45

    @Ivor

    That’s appallingly insensitive of you, Ivor; both of my parents are dead so I can’t ask either of them. Do you always try this hard to upset your interlocutors ? Do you think this will persuade people to follow your ideology ?

  46. Ivor
    July 23rd, 2016 at 10:00 | #46

    @GrueBleen

    This is a standard misrepresentation. The profits obtained by Microsoft, Warren Buffet, or whoever cause no problem if they are merely obtained while they are being competed away by new entrants. First movers often gain an advantage and steal market share from other producers.

    However with monopolisation and restrictive trade practices and lack of transparency, plus control of the State, Microsoft and other corporations are able to obtain superprofits. This means they obtain outrageous profits once all the free entry has been exhausted.

    Such capitalists make profits even at equilibrium. This directly contradicts Marshall et al who argue that competition would compete away all profits.

  47. Ivor
    July 23rd, 2016 at 10:07 | #47

    @GrueBleen

    Find someone else then. Maybe a taxi driver?

  48. GrueBleen
    July 23rd, 2016 at 10:09 | #48

    @Ivor

    This is a “standard misrepresentation” of what, Ivor ?

    You really do live so encapsulated in your own weird world that you simply can’t understand, or communicate with, other people.

    And don’t be so insensitive as to again suggest I ask my deceased parents to explain you to me.

  49. GrueBleen
    July 23rd, 2016 at 10:11 | #49

    @Ivor

    Yes, I guess that’s the level of response we can expect from you, isn’t it. Thank you for once again displaying your finest qualities to the blog.

  50. Ivor
    July 23rd, 2016 at 10:58 | #50

    @GrueBleen

    This is a “standard misrepresentation” of what, Ivor ?

    Read the first 9 words of the next sentance.

    [Don’t look herre – it is the sentance in the earlier post]

  51. GrueBleen
    July 23rd, 2016 at 17:05 | #51

    @Ivor

    Ok, that’s “The profits obtained by Microsoft, Warren Buffet, or whoever ” which is the first 9 words of the sentence in your earlier post. That’s just brilliant, Ivor, from somebody who recommends acquiring the wisdom of taxi drivers.

    The thing is, you see, that I was once a taxi driver, so I understand completely where you are coming from – you just make noise to cover your pitiful silence.

    And now that we’ve dispensed with that, what else do you have to misrepresent today ? Or are you still just randomly typing, hoping that some of it might make sense some day.

  52. Collin Street
    July 23rd, 2016 at 18:20 | #52

    The profits obtained by Microsoft, Warren Buffet, or whoever cause no problem

    No, because some goods are positional and thus distribution issues matter.

    [My chief hobby is notoriously expensive, in part because it uses a particular sort of land that is in fairly limited supply. I have a reasonably low income; a person with a much higher income than mine can afford to out-bid me even though it’s only a minor one of their interests and I’m willing to invest a much larger fraction of the resources I have available than they are of the resources they have available.

    There are, by the way, other reasons why my hobby is expensive, but the distribution issue here really, really doesn’t help.]

    Distribution issues always matter.

  53. Ivor
    July 24th, 2016 at 00:07 | #53

    @Collin Street

    you seem to have deleted all the words after “problem” starting with “if ….”

    This changes everything

  54. Collin Street
    July 24th, 2016 at 08:12 | #54

    you seem to have deleted all the words after “problem” starting with “if ….”

    This changes everything

    I deleted it because it represents an error on your part. The error you made was to say that there were no problems possible if the source of the profits was acceptable: in fact, distributional issues also cause problems, and distribution issues can arise regardless of the source of the profits.

  55. GrueBleen
    July 24th, 2016 at 14:34 | #55

    @Ikonoclast

    Re your post #33 of July 22nd, 2016 at 20:17

    I hope you’re still monitoring this thread. This is just to let you know that I did read your post, identified above, but I found it rather wanting in the sense of being just a tad simplistic. Now I do realize that is the inevitable result of reducing complex matter to very short descriptions, but …

    Anyway, it held absolutely nothing new for me – though I couldn’t quite understand why Wolff wouldn’t call “workers’ cooperatives” by the more correct name of ‘communes’. I also thought the reduction of “the enterprise” to two levels instead of the now routine three (ie owners/shareholder-managers/deciders-workers/doers) to be too simplistic. Because, as we now all know workers can, and do, become ‘owner/shareholders’ both directly and through their superannuation contributions (the total of which now comfortably exceeds one year’s NGDP).

    Managers and ‘management’ aren’t akin to feudal lords and haven’t been ever since the limited liability company was invented so as to free capitalist corporations from being responsible for their failures and debts. Perhaps, if you haven’t come across him before, you might like to read up on one of the all-time great capitalistic enterprise theorists: Henri Fayol ( here is a start: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fayolism ).

    I might just have to also read your post to Tim Macknay, but I’m still most unlikely – especially this late – to actually bother to read all three (or even one) volumes of Marx.

    However, it is abundantly clear that:
    1. there’s damn near as many ‘flavours’ of capitalism as there are states to host them – and even within a single state the forms of “capitalism” have become very mixed indeed.
    2. nobody seem to give much of a damn as to how ‘commune socialism’ might work, or even whether it’s possible (now don’t tell me that Marx has already given a detailed recipe). Maybe the Inca Empire (if only we knew more about it), or perhaps the typical Israeli kibbutz might be close ?

    Anyway, the whole topic is totally derivative: the basic, underlying question – also totally unanswerable – is: how do people want to, and how should they be allowed to, live, love and be happy.

    PS: oh, and for how long ? What do you estimate as the lifetime of that very mortal species, homo sapiens sapiens, and should we care ?

  56. Tim Macknay
    July 25th, 2016 at 11:42 | #56

    @Ivor
    A non sequitur is not an argument, Ivor. I confess I struggle to understand the point of your comments. You seem to be under the impression that you are being clever. But a failure to communicate is never clever.

  57. Ikonoclast
    July 25th, 2016 at 16:37 | #57

    @GrueBleen

    You make interesting points. I agree with some and not others. I will attempt to dot point.

    1. “I couldn’t quite understand why Wolff wouldn’t call “workers’ cooperatives” by the more correct name of ‘communes’.”

    There are probably as many definitions of “commune” as there are of “capitalism”. However, in my analysis a a commune is quite different from a cooperative. A commune involves extensive equal sharing of (a) work (within ability), (b) income (c) property and assets) (d) communal living arrangements and (e) decision making, value systems and common goals. The Israeli Kibbutzim were examples and they did thrive in one era (1960s?).

    A cooperative could be, for example, a farmers’ cooperative or a workers’ cooperative. Cooperatives are more limited compared to the above list. Workers’ cooperatives will involve an equal (or at least far more nearly equal than a capitalist enterprise) sharing of (a) work, (b) income, (c) ownership of productive assets and (d) decision making on use of productive assets. However cooperative members will usually own or rent their own homes or flats and live separately like the rest of modern communities in familial groups rather then together in communal groups. Cooperative members will keep their own private finances, own their own private property (that is non-productive property or consumption property like houses, cars etc., worship at their own church (or not for agnostics like me), pick their own friends, attend their own family, social and sporting activities, holiday where they will and so on.

    2. I agree with you. I am not interested in commune socialism. I am a sort of Marxian Autonomist with quite a big emphasis on my autonomy. However, to paint the sort of society and economy I envisage would take a longer post. No time at the moment.

    3. Not sure how long homo sapiens will last. My guess is anywhere from 2100 (yes, we could be extinct by then) to maybe another 200,000 years (doubling our current survival as a species). There might by then be a new line, a new species descended from us. Genetic engineers might create a new descendant species which supplants or out-survives us too. Hard to say.

  58. GrueBleen
    July 26th, 2016 at 01:52 | #58

    @Ikonoclast

    Well if we could be extinct by 2100, we’d better get some of these matters resolved Real Soon Now.

    Otherwise, 200,000 years is somewhat shorter than I had in mind – I thought we might just be able to make it to a million. But in any case, I’m really thinking about just how long some of our real core issues of today might remain relevant: even if we last for only 200,000 years, will we still be hung up on socialism versus capitalism right to the end ?

    Or will technology have turned us into something resembling Isaac Asimov’s Solaria (in The Naked Sun) or into Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World ? Or even into Huxley’s After Many A Summer 🙂

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