148 thoughts on “Monday Message Board

  1. Tony, I don’t agree with your critique of Thomas Piketty’s book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”, as stated in your post at #1, p1, for reasons given in my post in #27, p 1 and, in reply for your attempt to defend you ‘reading’, in my post in #22, p2.

    You blurring a hypothetical ‘agreement’ on another matter involving a conversation with Ikonoclast resulted in me abandoning this conversation. I switched to disentanglement.

    Now it is perfectly clear you have no defence against my critique of your critique of Piketty’s book. At least we have one result.

  2. OK. Your response to my objections was simply confused. I pointed out that a global wealth tax was Piketty’s neatest, shortest, logicall to the point, solution. I then noted than other attempts at the same end had to do the job the GWT did directly. Piketty acknowledged the GWTwas utopian for political reasons. That is, the oligarchy didn’t want that a solution to the inequality problem. It follows logically that they don’t want any other, tricky or sneaky ways of getting to the solution.

    This is neither a metaphysical or inductive claim as you suggested. It is deductive.

  3. @Ikonoclast

    I don’t think you do understand my position, but you’re not obliged to try.

    I note that you answered none of my questions, although I answered all of yours.

  4. Tony, where is your proof that my response to your objection to my objection to your initial post is confused?

    Where is your admission that your first post misrepresents Piketty’s statement about “utopia”?

    Where does Piketty talk about ‘oligarchs’ in his book, which you claimed to have finished reading?

    To be frank, your critique of Piketty in your post #1, p1, is at best viewed as one based on an error you introduced, assuming you flicked through the book.

    You may be right that me suggesting your approach is pure metaphysics is inappropriate. Pure nonsense might be a better term.

  5. @J-D

    Whether or not anyone has or has not defined capitalism rigorously is independent to whether or not such a definition, and use of the word, is useful.

    This is the topic, not your latest irrelevant distraction.

    If you want to play games over definitions – there is always the sandpit.

  6. @J-D

    1. True, I am not obliged to try understand your position on economics.

    2. I don’t consider you have given me enough information to understand your position on economics.

    3. I answered none of your questions in the last past referred to because they were mixed through general comments and answers to my questions . Also, they seemed to me to be of rhetorical nature rather than questions actually seeking answers. However, I will now go through them and answer every sentence ending in a question mark. I will answer somewhat in the spirit you answered my questions. I will set them up in Q. and A. fashion.

    Q. Have you noticed whether other people answer them (fine-toothed questions)?
    A. I have noticed that some appear to answer most, some answer some and some answer few or none.

    Q. How many fine-toothed questions have I asked you, and how many did you answer?
    A. I cannot recall details of how many you asked me nor have I quantified the count. I answered some, IIRC.

    Q. Now, do you think if I asked you to define what you mean by ‘capitalism’ you would be able to answer?
    A. Yes.

    Q. What do you think my chances would be of getting a direct answer if I put the same question to Ivor?
    A. Your chances would be good.

  7. This post is for Tony Lynch. Any others who happen upon it may read it if they wish. Any others who happen upon it and do read it may reply if they wish. However, I do not want to intellectually engage or entangle anyone against their wishes.

    In the field of argument or disputation there is a style where the opponent may employ a method of frivolous disputation of terms. This style of disputation can usually be uncovered as frivolous because, when opportunities or invitations are made to substantiate the objections to current grounds, terms and definitions for debate and to seek better and mutually acceptable grounds, terms and definitions, the responses can be any of flippant, facile, dismissive or haughty and plainly inadequate to help settle where the debate might begin.

    Such responses demonstrate no real desire to clarify terms to enable debate. Rather they are geared to disputing and rejecting terms to bog down or halt debate. They can also appear as tactics of retreat or disengagement back to an unapproachable specialist “citadel” where views are held but a drawbridge is raised to cut off all further dialogue, communication and disputation. The implication is this latter case is often an elitist one that the knowledge is so refined and abstruse that another person of coarser understanding could never comprehend it nor approach some level of comprehension even via quite complex standard language augmented with some technical definitions.

    In a world of many specialisations how do specialists of different specialities engage with each other in disputation as formal academic debate? How do they engage with generalists? How do they engage with lay people? A democracy or social democracy presumes people will engage in various forms of disputation (academic, political and colloquial) to arrive at shared understandings, to learn new things and to arrive at new synthesised understandings. It is very arguably their responsibility as citizens of a democratic polity to do so. Interdisciplinary communication and understanding and also communication and understanding with the “secular laity” would both require this.

    The question of how specialists must attempt dialogue, communication and disputation with other specialists in other fields and with non-specialists is relatively easily answered. They must use a common and mutually well-understood language. In our case, this language is English. This language is well adapated for such purposes with a reasonably long history of being used for philosophy, literature, science, social sciences, politics, economics and interdisciplinary studies.

    In English language universities and English-speaking societies other specialist languages do exist. Mathematics is a key one as are the latin vocabularies for naming and categoristion in anatomy or in biological classification systems. In addition, specialist “academic dialects” have been developed, some to a high degree. The legitimate purpose of the academic dialects of a language is “to give writers (and readers) specialist dialects to use when they want their ideas to transcend the pragmatic constraints of both their vernacular and the vernacular of their reader”: and when writers and readers are genuinely capable of such writing and reading performances.

    A non-legitimate purpose of academic or specialist dialect, from the point of view of disseminating knowledge as widely as possible in an egalitarian manner, would to use it to prevent common or vernacular understanding; to maintain secrecy or a kind of “guild monopoly” on the knowledge in general (as opposed to specific legitimate rights and responsibilities to put certain knowledge into practice professionally).

    Notwithstanding these above obstacles and exceptions, the principle of specialist interdisciplinary debate and specialist to generalist debate requires, if engaging in a good faith, a sincere attempt to communicate in plain English so far as is possible and to cooperate in carefully defining and explaining specialist terms and language when their use is unavoidable to communicate essential points. There will be subject areas where the knowledge is so obscure, rarefied or difficult OR the need for specialist language so acute OR the point of view so different from the common or intuitive point of view that communication will be very difficult. Quantum physics is such a field.

    I am tempted to think that fields in the soft sciences, even when heavily mathematised, do not have the same globally valid claim to native and exclusive esoteric difficulty as does advanced physics. However, they may have such claims in specific specialist areas. This does not relieve economists of the most specialist type(s) from a general requirement to justify the need, applicability and validity of specialist mathematical methods more broadly than just to economist peers. At the very least, they would need to engage in a very full interdisciplinary dialogue with full professional mathematicians and physicists.

    In addition, the very real and indeed almost certain possibility exists that many and perhaps all economic mathematical models are formal system dependent (not to mention real system dependant as well). Change the political economy profoundly and not only could the maths change, entire model sets could be rendered pointless having no real application. This is not the case with physics. The real systems decribed by physics are dependent on no formal systems of humans and humans can repeal none of the discovered laws of physics. On the other hand, laws and mores of political economy can be invented, repealed or comprehensively revolutionised.

    To sum up, those we might call “name-distinguishers” and “distinction-disputers” can be genuinely interested in first seeking clear language for reference and categorisation to enable genuine disputation to proceed to distinguish facts. Or they can be interested solely in the frivolous and facile aspect of refusing to either accept clarification or to offer their own clear terms form alternative grounds, definitions and classifications (for disputation) to thus confound an interlocutor’s attempt to dispute and reach common agreements or effect new understandings for one or both parties.

    When commonly accepted words in a discourse within an accepted and legitimate field (like “capitalism” in political economy or “cyclone” in meterology) are disputed or are claimed to be unnecessary and this claim is made without argument or justification one can reasonably expect that one has encounted a “name-distinguisher” or “distinction-disputer” in the negative sense. Then we understand with Lü Buwei (“Annals of Lü Buwei”) that we have encountered one of those who engage in disputation in the wrong manner. “Their sayings are facile and expressions are upside-down. They don’t seek the facts (shi, the actual things, what is real). They strive to demolish each other, with victory as their [sole] purpose…”. “They twist words so “people cannot get back to the thought” they were trying to express.” (Shi Ji, Book 130).

  8. Sounds a bit like the “Gish Gallop”.

    Historically, you could add “democracy” to that list (of pointlessly circular quibbling with, but avoidance of, definition).

  9. R Murdoch has shown his dark side again, with this tweet reported on Crikey. “Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognise and destroy their growing jihadist cancer, they must be held responsible.” Which led to the Harry Potter author JK Rowling’s response: “I was born Christian. If that makes Rupert Murdoch my responsibility, I’ll auto excommunicate.”

    The late community leader and Timor Leste activist David Scott’s book “Last Flight out of Dili” reports his 1975 meeting in New York with Murdoch, a relation by marriage, where Murdoch boisterously announced him to his news colleagues as “the man who wants the commos to take over East Timor.” The Australian press as a mouthpiece for rightwing distortions and complicity with atrocities over the subsequent period contributed greatly to Timorese deaths in the hundreds of thousands. Rod Tiffen wrote a great little book about the media’s role.

  10. @kevin1
    Ironic, considering Murdoch’s close ties with at least one Saudi. Has he vetted his major shareholder to ensure none of the profits from News go to jihadists?

  11. @Ikonoclast

    The dilemma reminded me of the story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby.

    The Wikipedia entry contains this gem:

    “The term “tar baby” has come to refer to a problem that is exacerbated by attempts to struggle with it, or by extension a situation in which mere contact can lead to becoming inextricably involved.”

    My view is that some things, and people, are best ignored – no good comes from engaging.

  12. @kevin1

    It’s weird that on this issue I hold similarly absolutist views to Rupert Murdoch!

    But, while he says:

    Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognise and destroy their growing jihadist cancer, they must be held responsible.

    I would say:

    Maybe most Australians are peaceful, but until they recognise and destroy their growing Murdoch/neo-con cancer, they must be held responsible.

    “We” are of course not responsible for Murdoch, but “we” are definitely responsible for our fascist neo-con political duopoly. They gave Murdoch his media monopoly, so we are indirectly responsible for that too.

    We can destroy both (Murdoch & the duopoly) in a flash. All we have to do is totally and absolutely reject them.

  13. @Megan

    I must make it very clear my long post above was NOT directed at Tony Lynch. It was actually for Tony Lynch’s understanding and possible philosophic agreement. He will know what I mean.

  14. @Ivor

    Rigorous definition of ‘capitalism’, like rigorous definition of any term, can be useful. I note that you still haven’t attempted it.

  15. @Megan

    Your position has considerably more validity than Murdoch’s. Australia is a polity. The world community of Moslems is not a polity. As a supposedly democratic Australian polity we are much more responsible for the continuance of Australian neo-conservative government and its ramifying effects locally and abroad than is a widespread and varied religion (without a formal governing hierarchy) responsible for the actions of all of its real and claimed adherents.

    Even though we are nominally democratic rather than truly democratic, due to the hijacking of our government and major parties by oligarchic wealth and power, we are still responsible for permitting our situation. Even decisive action at the ballot box alone sans any protest or rebellion could somewhat alter this situation. As you mention, we could destroy the current political duopoly at a stroke. Whether by even doing this we would destroy the neoconservative ideological monopoly which grips our country is more doubtful at this stage.

    We can note that France has a supposedly socialist government.

    “The Second Valls Government is the thirty-eighth Government of France. It is led by Manuel Valls, who was appointed Prime Minister of France on August 27, 2014. It composes of (sic) 15 ministers from the Socialist Party (PS) and two from the Radical Party of the Left (PRG).” – Wikipedia.

    The socialists came to power recently in France because the population hoped and perhaps even believed that such a government would do some socialist-like things. In this the population has been sorely disappointed. We need to consider why non-neocon politics is now inoperative in France and indeed all over the world even when nominally or genuinely non-neocon parties are elected. The answer in a nutshell is the global dictatorship of capital.

    Both in the EU and all over the globe, a corporate-technocratic implementation and extension of the power of capital (the EU is an example) either gravely weakens the state or drafts state power to the cause of capital. The state ends up in a straight-jacket and river-dances to the tune of the capitalist oligarchs. Capitalism and democracy are diametrically opposed. Strengthen capitalism and you weaken democracy. Strengthen democracy and you weaken capitalism.

  16. Some want to argue that capitalism does not exist. Some want to tell us that a recognition and understanding of this (now dominant and near universal) form of political economy is not necessary to understand the modern world. They often want a simple definition of a complex phenomenon and then might cavil when the simple definition does not entirely encompass real world variation and complexity. However, I will put forward a simple definition relying on Professor R. D. Wolff. I have kept the American spelling.

    “Capitalism, for me as for many others, refers to a system of production in which a small minority monopolizes the means of production requiring the mass of people to work for them in order to secure their means of life (food, clothing, shelter, etc.). The work is organized such that the workers produce more – a surplus – than they are paid, a surplus appropriated by the employers as profit. The employers then use that profit so as to reproduce the capitalist system and their favored position therein.

    Notice that this definition of capitalism leaves open whether or not the state has a large or small role, whether enterprises are large or small, etc. All such variations simply mean different kinds of capitalism if and when the basic organization of production common to all variations is that described in the first paragraph above.” – Professor R. D. Wolff.

    Though fairly colloquially delivered, this is actually a very careful definition. Note the phrase “for me as for many others”. This notes that the definition is neither ideosyncratic nor universal. However it notes that “many” accept it.

    It refers to the system of production as the key starting point for developing out the definition. It uses the phrase “monopolizes the means of production” and carefully avoids specification of whether this monopolization consists of “ownership”, “control” or both. (Thus this definition does not preclude for example the argument that Soviet Communism, so-called, was in fact state capitalism.) It avoids defining “ownership”. Simple definitions of complex phenomena must avoid over-definition which will rapidly fall foul of real world complexity and variants.

    Mention is made of the “surplus appropriated by the employers as profit”. This alienated* or appropriated surplus is then applied to reproduce and augment (by capital investment) the capitalist system and their (the capitalists) favored position therein. The second paragraph then comments on some factors that are left open in the definition. Indeed, I have gone further and shown how some other factors are left open in the first paragraph definition.

    * Note: No Marxist definition of alienation need be applied to make sense of my use of the word “alienated” in this context. A simple moral philosophy or ethical development from alienation as a standard property law concept is all that is necessary.

    “In property law, alienation is the capacity for a piece of property or a property right to be sold or otherwise transferred from one party to another. Although property is generally deemed to be alienable, it may be subject to restraints on alienation.” – Wikipedia.

    If an indolent person inherits a factory and thus becomes a capitalist employer it could be argued that that person, while having legal title to both capital ownership and profits of the going concern under current law and extant political economy, does not have moral title to such capital and earnings through no personal effort when the great majority of able-bodied working-age people are required to earn through effort and produce all that society requires to function. In the extant legalistic situation, the produced product which is morally the possession of the workers, since they made it with effort, is formally legally alienated (“otherwised transferred” since it is not sold) by the capitalist owner.

  17. @Ikonoclast
    While I agree capitalism is extant and that it is in a late phase prior to total ecological disequilibrium and collapse, I don’t see that capitalism and democracy are natural antagonists and that more democracy equates to less capitalism. Let’s accept the democracies that we have as ‘actually existing democracy’ all of which have developed along with industrial capitalism to the extent that we can reasonably talk of ‘market society’.

    What unites the West (global North, if you prefer) is acceptance of the dominance of ‘market’ social relations. These social relations, in prior historical/economic periods, were inefficient, family and kinship based, local and so on. The social relations that attended feudalism no longer exist except as strange, free floating events like easter and christmas, national holidays and the like. The social bonds that bound us have evaporated under the inexorable march of modernity only to be replaced by a dominant neoliberal subjectivity in which self interest reigns as the only acceptable motive for action.

    The democracy we are currently able to create from the human resources that neoliberalism has given u, that is, people, is profoundly limited by the dominance of this logic within the personnel of the state and elsewhere.

    After the failures of the revolutionary impulse of the 1960’s and 70’s (in Austrlia) I undertook ‘the long march through the institutions’ using humanism as a guiding star. To some effect. However, on the ecological clock, there’s not enough time left for another generation to undertake the long march.

    We have a ‘market democracy’ fit only for the rule of ‘market relations’. It is in a deep crisis of legitimacy. Other, sometimes pre-existing forms of democracy will emerge, better suited to our needs perhaps for being small and accountable, compared to the information sucking, profiling, surveilling, terrorist practitioner state that has so far emerged.

  18. @J-D

    Sometimes you have to tell dumb people the same thing twice before they get the message.

    Whether or not anyone has or has not defined capitalism rigorously is independent to whether or not such a definition, and use of the word, is useful.

    This is the topic, not your latest irrelevant distraction.

    If you want to play games over definitions – there is always the sandpit.

  19. @jungney

    I do see democracy and capitalism as totally antogonistic. The real problem is that workplaces are not democratic. Workers get to vote once every three years in an almost tokenistic farce that always returns a capitalist party, then they get to go to work 5 days a work in an autocracy under a boss’s direction for a capitalist (if in private enterprise). A society can only be democratic if the relations of production are democratic. This would mean breaking up capitalism in favour of worker co-operative socialism. Ergo capitalism and democracy are roughly inversely proportional.

    I wonder, am I allowed to use the “s” word now? This will be a test.

  20. @Ivor

    Yes, I understand your point. Consider the sentence:

    “The employers then use that profit so as to reproduce the capitalist system and their favored position therein.”

    It could be re-written as:

    “The employers then accumulate profits so as to reproduce and expand the capitalist system and their favored position therein.”

    Of course, this still does not capture all the nuances of capitalist accumulation. Then again, a brief definition is just that. It’s a brief definition. We cannot expect it to capture everything about a complex system.

    I notice that J-D after clamouring for a definition has now made no comment on it. People who want brief definitions, descriptions or explanations of complex systems do amuse me.

  21. @Ikonoclast

    It seems to me that the definition offered is one into which, for example, the manorial system of much of medieval western Europe and the system of latifundia in parts of the Roman Empire would fall. I don’t know how to find out what RD Wolff’s views about that would be, but what are yours? Do you consider that the examples I mentioned were forms of capitalism? If not, what would you say distinguished them from capitalism? I ask this because I know that at least some people consider capitalism to be a more recent development, and the definition offered would therefore appear to conflict with one common usage.

  22. @J-D

    “I don’t know how to find out what RD Wolff’s views about that would be, but what are yours?
    Do you consider that the examples I mentioned were forms of capitalism? If not, what would you say distinguished them from capitalism?”

    My views are that they are not forms of capitalism. Wolff kept the definition as general as possible so as not to exclude variants of modern systems generally viewed as capitalist or as having a capitalist component. The term “employers” is used by Wolff. This is to be understood in the modern sense which presupposes that the workers are employees, that is wage labour, not serfs or force-recruited labour (peonage) as in latifundia. Exploitation is common to all these systems. The nature of the exploitation and the productive relations are quite different. Incidentally, capitalism displaced feudalism in a revolutionary fashion and represented an advance on feudalism.

    Now, I hope you don’t expect a basic definition to encompass an entire theory. I am sure you don’t expect this in any other field.

    What’s a basic definition of soccer? Here are some attempts from simple to slightly more developed.

    1. Soccer is a game.
    2. Soccer is a game played by two teams.
    3. Soccer is a game played by two teams of 11 people each.
    4. Soccer is a game played by two teams of 11 people each on a rectangular field.
    5. Soccer is a game played by two teams of 11 people each on a rectangular field with netted goals at each end.
    6.Soccer is a game played by two teams of 11 people each on a rectangular field with netted goals at each end. The objective of each team is to kick a round ball forward into their target goal.

    You can see that a definition can be progressively developed. At some indeterminate point the definition must be considered complete for practical purposes. Otherwise, it ceases to be a succinct definition and becomes a developed explanation. At some point in our interminable debate you asked for a definition of capitalism, IIRC. I provided it. This was in the context of your statement that “capitalism” as a term or as a developed explanation does not need to be introduced into a discussion of modern political economy. If you are not satisfied that the succinct definition is adequate (and I can understand that view) then you need to read developed explanations of “capitalism” as a subject. Only then can you attempt an informed judgement on the proposition that accepting capitalism is a real phenomenon and understanding its complexities and ramifications are necessary to understanding modern political economy.

    However, all of this response I suspect will do no good. You should read my post number 8, page 3 (this page) if you have not done so. That is my definitive reply to people who “argue” in your manner.

  23. @Ikonoclast
    I have found your exploration of the capitalist system stimulating and thought provoking.

    It was your explanation using the game of Soccer that really started to put it together for me.

    I would propose inserting somewhere in your developing definition a statement on “Rules”.

    For example:

    Soccer is a game played using a common set of rules and customs.

    My point here is that in all thing even in a totally free market there are still rules and customs that all of the players observe. The same broad statement can also apply to a totally communist market as it to is defined by rules.

    When we as a group discuss many of the ethical and procedural issues about the various market systems we see in our global village we almost always neglect to factor in the impact of the “Rule of Law” which plays a flexible but important part in distorting each of the discussed theories which; (I Beleive), would never allow the pure implementation of any such theory.

  24. @Bill

    My technical point was about the nature of brief definitions compared to full expositions.

    But certainly, I think what you say is true. Rule sets (laws, customs) as the institutional setting determine economics to a very considerable degree. Other things that play a role in determining economics are human needs (and desires) and natural resources and the environment.

  25. @Ikonoclast

    As far I know, nobody would assert that golf or polo or cricket or field hockey is a form of soccer. Therefore there is value in a definition of soccer which clearly excludes golf and polo and cricket and field hockey. A definition that failed to do that would not be rigorous.

    For parallel reasons, there is value in a definition of capitalism which clearly excludes economic systems which are generally considered distinct from capitalism, and a definition that failed to do that would not be rigorous. As I indicated above, I couldn’t see how the definition you quoted from RD Wolff was rigorous enough make that distinction. However, when you refer to the concept of ‘wage labour’, it’s different. I can easily conceive of the possibility of serious communication using the term ‘capitalism’ if there’s agreement that ‘capitalism’ is defined as ‘an economic system in which wage labour is the dominant economic relationship’. Wage labour was not the dominant economic relationship in the classical Roman Empire, or in the classical Chinese Empire, or in the classical empire of the Incas; but it is the dominant economic relationship in the contemporary USA, and in contemporary Australia, and in many modern countries, perhaps most. I do see the potential usefulness of having a single term to refer to the concept of an economic system in which wage labour is the dominant economic relationship, provided there’s agreement that that is the core meaning of the term.

    Returning to some of the substantive points under discussion earlier, on the basis of this understanding of what is meant by ‘capitalism’, I would make these observations on the basis of the historical record:

    1. Continuous increase in economic inequality is not inevitable in an economic system where wage labour is the dominant economic relationship; it is possible for economic inequality to be reduced within the context of an economic system where wage labour is the dominant economic relationship.

    2. It is possible for an economic system where wage labour is the dominant economic relationship to lead to disastrous outcomes; it is also possible for other economic systems to lead to disastrous outcomes; it is not the case that all possible alternatives to capitalism are preferable to capitalism.

  26. @J-D

    It seems to me that the definition offered is one into which, for example, the manorial system of much of medieval western Europe and the system of latifundia in parts of the Roman Empire would fall.


    I don’t know how to find out what RD Wolff’s views about that would be,


    Do you really expect others to do your homework for you.

    Wage labour is labour purchased for a fixed amount of money (a ‘wage’) when productivity is usually greater.

    Under capitalism, the gap between wages and productivity has increased sine the 1970’s demonstrating that Marx was right.

    Exploitation of wage labour

  27. @J-D

    Look, overall I agree with your comments there. “Wage labour” is key as the dominant economic relationship. I would hold that a couple of other factors arise out of this and are very basic to capitalism. Whether they need to be included in the basic definition is open to debate. I am not sure myself. Class interests arise where labour and capital exist in an uneasy relationship. They need each other under a capitalist system. Yet there is a tendency for each class to pursue its own interests to the detriment of the interests of the other class and possibly to the detriment of the economy as a whole. There is intrinsic conflict built into the system.

    The last point above needs to be understood in the context of a claim that capitalism is more vigorous and productive than any other economic system trialled in empirical reality. Thus even its conflict periods (strikes, lock-outs) and its downturns (economic crashes, recessions, depressions) need to be viewed in context. In the wider context its bad periods would in this view need to be smoothed with its good periods for a balanced judgement.

    The conflict between labour and capital really turns on the issue of who controls the means of production. But I had better not get long winded about this. I would identify key components of the capitalist system as;

    (1) Wage labour;
    (2) Capital ownership;
    (3) The Relationship between Labour and Capital;
    (4) The extraction of surplus value (profits) by Capital;
    (5) Reinvestment of surplus value (profits) for more production.

    Different defintions / explanations of capitalism will emphasise different aspects.

    Thus Encyclonomic Webpedia will say;

    “The three key components, or institutions, underlying capitalism are private property, individual freedom, and competitive markets.”

    In an expansion it defines capitalism as follows;

    “A type of economy, or economic system, based on–(1) private ownership of most resources, goods, and other assets; (2) freedom to generally use the privately-owned resources, goods, and other assets to get the most wages, rent, interest, and profit possible; and (3) a system of relatively competitive markets.”

    These first point essentially match up with my “Marxian” five points definition of capitalism. Private ownership matches wage labour and capital ownership. Capital onwership is clear as provate onwership and the one saleable commodity or asset the workers owns is his/her own labour power. This is different from a slave, serf or peon who does not own his/her own labour power.

    The second point about “freedom to generally use the privately-owned resources, goods, and other assets to get the most wages, rent, interest, and profit possible” becomes more contentious. We can be sure that an insecure day-labourer or day-worker (and such arrangements are becoming more common again) does not feel the same “freedom” or scope of action and possibilities in life of production, consumption, standard of living, social, intellectual and cultural life as does a multi-millionaire capitalist.

    Ernestine Gross made this point and a point related to environmental damage in a post on another thread “Weekend Reflection” on this blog.

    “It is one thing to say we wish to live in a liberal society, it is another to pretend laissez-faire ideology is actually consistent with the physical properties of the world and then, to make matters worse, ignore the minimum wealth condition (wealth distribution), which ensures that the notion of ‘freedom of choice’ makes any sense at all.” – Ernestine Gross.

    We cannot ignore “the minimum wealth condition… , which ensures that the notion of ‘freedom of choice’ makes any sense at all.”

    In the same post Ernestine Gross has something to say about what competitive markets can and cannot do.

    “Those who believe by making the ‘market economy’ (ie that part for which there are prices) more ‘efficient’ by increasing ‘competitiveness’ and monetary profits, also live in fool’s paradise. They speed up the misallocation of resources.” – Ernestine Gross.

    I don’t want to imply that Ernestine Gross supports my overall views on political economy. Her views are nuanced quite differently to mine. But we might conclude that E.G. and I share a scepticism about the efficacy of the free market to achieve certain goals on its own, like environmental sustainability and a level of reasonably equitable wealth distribution that makes the claim of “freedom of choice” operative in practice.

    Monetary profits or capital accumulation is the one goal of capitalism. This leads to environmental destruction (unaccounted negative externalities) and human costs of impoverishment of the lower working class and unemplyed underclass. This system (capitalism) needs another system (the state and social democracy in our case) to both underpin it, legislate to ameliorate its abuses and redistribute the wealth inequalities it generates.

    To me the question is this. If a system has a great biases which require constant correction is it possible that another system might have less inherent biases which require less correction?

    Trying to imagine a transition to something other than capitalism is very difficult and perhaps impossible. Could a person of feudal times have imagined capitalism? It seems highly doubtful. Did any one person or group consciously invent capitalism theoretically and completely first and then implement it? This also seems highly doubtful. It seems that capitalism arose “naturally” or “organically” in a sense although the manipulations of the many players involved were anything but “natural” or “organic”. They were a matter of self-seeking artifice. There is quite a paradox there and I have expressed it poorly.

    Thus although it still might be impossible to imagine a transition to a new system beyond capitalism this is not to say it cannot arise. Our combined human actions (under human system and natural world pressures too) do generate phenomena (complex systems) beyond individual or collective intentional invention.

  28. @Ikonoclast

    Trying to imagine a transition to something other than capitalism is very difficult and perhaps impossible.

    Not so. Cooperatives and market socialism, within an appropriate legal framework to ensure appropriate competition and credit controls, is a concrete, easy alternative to capitalism.

  29. More evidence on the increasing gap between wage-labour and productivity.

    This corroborates the previous info [pdf file].

    Notice how no academic modeller has produced any model capable of predicting this trend.

    They are all trained to assume that wages follow productivity.

    Are there any exceptions?

    See Productivity-wage-gap

  30. @Ivor

    As I expressed it, my contention is very contestable. I agree with you contesting it. Perhaps I should have said something like;

    “Trying to comprehensively imagine a complete transition to something radically different from capitalism and which corrects all of capitalism’s failings whilst retaining all of its positives (if such exist) is very difficult and perhaps impossible.”

    Let me lay out my problems of conception and imagination in this arena. They might well be caused by my intellectual limitations of course. First, I address the issue of violent revolution which is of course is not the only path nor am I saying you or I advocate this path. Peaceful reform is the other path.

    I recently advanced the argument that capitalism is “unreformable”. At the same time, I again declared myself against violent revolution. The two positions are irreconcilable. My logical inconsistency was immediately exposed to me when I reconsidered matters. I long ago refused to take up the theoretical idea of violent revolution as it was scarcely credible to me that murdering people could lead to anything good. People pushed to extreme desperation and with no other recourse can view matters differently. While conceding that point, consideration from a complex system perspective suggests that violent revolution must increase disorder thus reducing the functional complexity of a society at least for a given time. It follows from this that violent contemporary revolution could not immediately produce a change from a complex capitalist mode of production to an equally complex but entirely new mode of production. Given the extensive interrelations and dependencies of our modern economy, any reduction in complexity must give rise to a great number of production, supply and distribution difficulties. These would lead on to social and humanitarian difficulties.

    The violent revolutionary period perforce must be a period of reduction in functional complexity. People are killed. Each murdered person represents a reduction in complexity both internally in terms of living biological, emotional and ideational complexity and externally as a reduction in the complexity of social relations and productions. Killing and destruction as activities temporarily replace to some extent production, reproduction, negotiation, compromise, democratic or other governing processes, existing rule of law and so on. Given this radical simplification* in the violent revolutionary period, the generation and replication of order are partly supplanted by increasing disorder. It is entirely possible of course that a proportion of existing complexity is non-productive and indeed anti-productive. What proportion demonstrates this character is a matter for debate and points of view. Further, proximally distinguishable anti-productiveness can function as a preventative of greater and ramifying distal damage to production or social-humanitarian values.

    * Intervening note. “Radical simplification” of the political economy system does not preclude life becoming more individually complex and difficult for persons affected by the chaos and disruption. There is the appearance of a paradox here which I suspect might be resovable by understanding that formal system complexity as social management and production externalises and solves complexity problems for the individual. End of note.

    To reconstruct society after and even during such a revolutionary period, new systems must be rapidly raised up to replace aspects of the existing complex system destroyed or simplified, especially the political economy aspects of production, distribution and control, along with issues of ownership, obligations and rights. Under these conditions, violent revolution appears more likely to produce in the short term a brutal and simplified caricature of the complex system it overthrows rather than a new and better complex system. Given the population’s “investments” as material claims, paper claims, emotional and intellectual claims in an extant complex political economy system, it is not likely that all individual and group interests would be satisfied by a brutal and simplified caricature of the previous system. It is not even clear that such a system could function as efficiently and effectively as the previous system whatever the limitations of that previous system.

    I would argue, along with others, that under Lenin, Soviet Russia transitioned to state capitalism. It was essentially a brutal and simplified caricature of the previous system. Statist management of the economy superseded capitalist management. State apparatchiks superseded capitalists and had command and control over the productive apparatus. Workers exchanged capitalist bosses for Party Official bosses and in the main gained no more control over the productive apparatus. This is a simplified reading.

    It is worth reading “Proposing a Path to Socialism: Two Papers for Hugo Chávez by Michael A. Lebowitz, in the context of this debate. Lebowitz mentions how;

    “Everyone understands that it is impossible to achieve the vision of socialism for the twenty-first century in one giant leap forward. It is not simply a matter of changing property ownership. This is the easiest part of building the new world. Far more difficult is changing productive relations, social relations in general, and attitudes and ideas.

    To transform existing relations into the new productive relations, we need first of all to understand the nature of the existing relations. Only then can you identify the mechanisms by which the new relations can be introduced.”

    Then he goes on to talk about Cooperative Productive Relations, Statist Productive Relations and Capitalist Enterprises and how to transform each of these. In my view, the various problems of ownership, control and societal need in detail still have to be solved under these transition systems and in the final socialist form whatever it is. When he gets to Choosing Concrete Steps – Producing for Communal Needs and Communal Purposes – Social Production Organized by Workers – Social Ownership of the Means of Production and so on, the exposition becomes vague. The idea of Communal Councils is advanced for matching social production organized by workers to communal ceeds and communal purposes and so on. Then he talks about the problems of integrating socialist decisions at local, regional and state levels.

    The form of all this becomes somewhat speculative which supports my point that “Trying to comprehensively imagine a complete transition to something radically different from capitalism and which corrects all of capitalism’s failings whilst retaining all of its positives (if such exist) is very difficult and perhaps impossible.”

    Lebowitz writes:

    “There is no automatic place for the protagonism of the people in … state decisions. Perhaps some day a new state which is based upon the communal councils will emerge, and perhaps at some point computers will permit instant referenda on a host of national issues. On such matters at this point, however, the participation from below that allows people to develop their capacities will only occur as the result of a political commitment, one which makes real the Constitution’s understanding that the sovereign people must become not only the object but also the subject of power.”

    This is necessarily vague and illustrates that while we can start the process we cannot completely envisage were it will end up and what final developed form it will take. This is what I mean when I say we cannot imagine the end point of a fully developed socialism radically different from capitalism.

    The more extensive and complex a system the more difficult it is to change and the more difficult it is to change without disruption. The modern capitalist system now demonstrates this character of great complexity and great extent. Indeed, it is almost all-pervasive all over the globe in one variant or another.

    To look at this matter practically, imagine the steps I would advocate in trying to reform capitalism and then trying to radically “evolve” it somehow to some new system. I can rapidly think myself into difficulties which is the best I can say for most of my homespun theories!

    1. Re-nationalisation. I would re-nationalise natural monopolies like rail, water, power grids, internet and communications infrastructure and so on. I would re-nationalise one private bank namely the Commonwealth. I would possibly nationalise some aspect of the power of the private banks to create credit money or at least much more heavily regulate this power.

    2. Co-operativise large businesses and corporations. I would “co-operativise” large businesses and corporations. This would involve divesting first “rich capitalists” of all their wealth above a legislated wealth limit. This wealth would be distributed to the workers in the enterprise who would now own the productive apparatus. But now workers must also become managers. Mechanisms must be devised for worker councils to now make previous owner decisions. Specialist managers would have to be retained for a transition period and progressively “depowered” and “de-remunerated”.

    You see the practical problems I am already entangled in. About the time that I confiscate the wealth of US billionaries invested in Australia, the USA would unleash a military attack on Australia and implement regime change.

    But leaving that aside, what happens to small investors and super investors who are all mostly workers or retired workers? How are they compensated? For they must be compensated. Super could be nationalised and small investors could get money payouts at a fairly determined price. Such a price determination would not be easy as I have already seriously disrupted asset pricing in the country. Workers in co-operative companies large and small are now better off. They are not losing surplus value to the capitalists. But how do they trade? I must retain the market presumably and implement a form of market socialism.

    But those not lucky enough to be in employment and to get this new bonus of wage + surplus value are now further behind. State employment and state compensation must make up this difference until and when full employment is achieved. I have to also continue super and pensions to retired workers: no problem in itself but the fair and just amounts must be set by new tribunals I guess with regard to everything else going on in the economy.

    Now, what is my long term vision? Do I stop at worker co-operatives and market socialism or do I go further? Already my vision clouds and I cannot envisage even possible next steps either via explicit planning or by waiting for them to evolve. I don’t know if what I propose to that point would be sufficient, effective or even workable.

  31. Well thanks Ikonoklast for a fascinating read.

    I’ll only address your discussion of revolutionary violence as legitimate to the needs of the population, or not. I also eschew violence against persons for the unexceptional reason that I’ve seen the consequences of all types of violence and have no wish to visit that distress on anybody. Plus, you know, Genghis Khan, Ashoka, Pol Pot, Abbott, Kim Il Whomever and human history in general.

    However, your purview seems to exclude attacks on privilege and power in the form of attacks against property. Attacks on property are the simplest and most forthright statements of discontent and, in the form of arson, are a superb weapon because they are cheap and have the added benefit of destroying DNA and other types of evidence. Which is why arson has some of the stiffest penalties in all common law.

    Footnote: unless less of course you are an associate of Graeme Richardson and Rene Rivkin, in which case it pays well (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Offset_Alpine_fire). End.

    In the meantime there is a particularly lame debate going on in the very broad environmental movement about whether or not violence against property constitutes violence at all. It is lame because the majority position is that violence against property is a form of violence against the body which is preposterous. These extremist peace-nicks lay claim to the high moral ground of Ghandi’s life and work and the success of ML King’s nvda civil rights campaign. According to them, love paved the way.

    The problem with these Disney versions of history is that they neglect the contemporary context. In both cases there were fairly unattractive alternatives on offer: in the US, the Weathermen, the Black Panthers and fractions and offshoots, who all used violence against property as a political and propaganda tool; in India, any number of contending, violent, ethnic/nationalist aspirants who used traditional peasant tools of rebellion, including arson, to express their discontent.

    In the US the animal liberationists are regarded by the FBI as the most likely source of ‘terror’. Whatever their methods, and they have been spectacular in burning down almost an entire ski resort built at the expense of some native cumquat or other, they are nonetheless all of a piece with a long standing critique of industrial capitalism’s relations with first nature which goes back at least to Blake’s protests against ‘dark satanic mill’s’ or ‘the epic of gilgamesh’, which pre-dated industrialism but which certainly scored on instrumentalisation of nature.

    If we accept that violence against property is not violence against the body then actionable options expand exponentially. I cannot see in any way how actions against property and the social relations embedded within property are equivalent to violence against the body. It would take a madman, probably from the IPA in Oz, to argue to the contrary.

  32. @jungney

    I take a strong contrary view to yours. I don’t want to offend you so I have to be careful and limited in what I say.

    I would limit action to peaceful actions with no physical damage to persons or properties. Allowable actions might reasonably include obstructive actions on public property and public infrastructure. For example, I think citizens have a right to peacefully block a public road (after all it’s as much our road as the capitalist’s road) to prevent say fracking or CSG equipment reaching a site. Once police arrive, protesters can remain in place but must remain non-violent. They would then have to move on or accept arrest. The point of peaceful demonstration and civil disobedience is that once it truly becomes popular the authorities cannot arrest significant proportions of the entire population. If you don’t have those numbers, the struggle isn’t mature nor democratically supported.

    Of course, this simplistic analysis fails to deal properly with cases where the authorities and their system have already escalated their own repression and even violence against minorities for no justifiable reason.

  33. @jungney

    Jungney, I want to ask you a serious question. You are in a minority at this blog – with me, Fran and Ernestine Gross – in trying to connect with empirics – historical/statistical/sociological – rather than dogma and sterile definitional arguments.

    It seems to me that the scholastics and logicians – whose interest is intellectual sword-play not a commitment to progress – are dominant. Not to mention the disingenuois trolls who conspire against genuine debate.

    So there is an issue of commenter bona fides here, because there’s an opportunity cost: time is precious, and can be applied to reading good commentary and books, and working for change, rather than indulging deliberate time-wasters.

    Although I have huge respect for the intellectual challenges our host has produced against the dominant policy foolishness, I feel at present what’s the point of being here with people who have little interest in social advancement. Am I right?

  34. @kevin1

    In your view am I one of the “scholastics and logicians”? I presume I am as you left me out of your self-selected elite. In the context (coming directly after my post), I am conspicuous by omission as it were.

    I consider that in many of my posts I have attempted to “connect with empirics”. I consider I have an interest in social advancement. I also consider that thinking about how we think and develop theories has a place. If we don’t think through matters before we act then action becomes ill-considered and even counter-productive.

  35. Iconoclast, I have not ever been offended by what you say and I have never intended to offend you.

    If it appears that way perhaps it will help if I explain that I am, as the psychology industry likes to call it, ‘on the spectrum’, that is; I am one of those putative non-neuro-typical people who lack ‘social skills’; I see it as being honest. Shrug, whatev, get over it, build a bridge or not.

    I am not intentionally offensive and I have learned to notice, a bit, when it happens. But I do not know how to change the way I ‘am’, without specific instructions – like the rule book that Sheldon in Big Bang Theory has. It often seems more functional not to provoke people by pressing my point.

    I agree that you “have attempted to “connect with empirics”” and I really appreciate your attempts, and your gentle and polite dismissal of ‘other’ ways of hypothesing about the world and it’s people.

    With great respect and admiration, I am wondering if your attempts to understand ‘other’ ways are foiled by a lack of motivation that is based on a lack of respect for ‘fuzzy’ ways of cogitating?

    But maybe this thinking is only fuzzy at this point in time just as maths was fuzzy a few centuries ago?

    There *are* different ‘types’ of people – the Greeks thought 4 types and so does Gary Larsen. We have different personalities and our personalities become ‘disordered’; we need to understand this dynamic that affects the way we self-organise.

    It is personality that affects how we use our ‘intelligence’ not the raw intelligence we inherit.

    Different personalities see different patterns in the world that we are all observing; co-operation between these diverse personalities is clearly how humans have over-run the world and adapted to almost all environments.

    The point I want to make is that some brains are better than others at seeing and abstracting patterns in numbers. And some brains are better at seeing and noticing the patterns that occur in human behaviour/cognition; these patterns that are called human nature are based on the rules of the universe – what else could they be based on? – and so can be abstracted in the same way as the laws of physics are, and made comprehensible at some level to all of us who choose to try.

  36. @kevin1

    I will not waste much time on this. But you have failed to understand the necessary dichotomy between the academic trade and intellectual endeavour. The first wallows in simple empirics and apparent understandings, the second advances further and engages in rigorous analysis and truer knowledge with rather more cross examination (which frightens you).

    I don’t know why you condemed Fran, Jungney and Gross as mere empiricists. I would be surprised if they concurred – but I may have over-estimated them.

  37. @Julie Thomas

    We are getting a bit off-topic now. For what it’s worth I don’t the think the word “normal” means anything globally in psychology. Nobody is “normal” overall. In other words, I think everyone is “on the spectrum” somewhere.

    Some highly functional and successful people I knew were great at succeeding for themselves and at the same time spread mayhem around them as they stressed and ruined other people’s lives and wrecked work or family milieus. But our dysfunctional socio-political system seems to reward these people. I have no time for them. A lot of ordinary people struggling with problems have been screwed over by such people and the current system.

  38. @kevin1
    I enjoy my time here because it connects me with experiences from an earlier age when discussion could be as robust as necessary so long as it was informed and rationally advanced. It appears to me that many respondents are very well aware of the serious nature of our crisis. Discussions here are useful ways to exchange information and views in a reasoned way.

    I learn something about economics from reading here and as well about people’s attitudes towards issues and others, which can be entertaining in a benign way.

    Again, thanks to JQ for running an orderly joint 🙂

  39. Icon

    That’s another one of my problematic and non-typical behaviours – I fail to understand the rules about what the topic is. 😦 And I am extra confused because this is a Monday Message Board and the topic is ….?

    The psychology industry does try to find the average person just as the economic industry has been happy to accept economic man as the one and only pattern of human nature on which to build it’s theoretical and conceptual foundations. These ways of thinking have only limited utility in understanding the potential of the plastic and responsive ‘human nature’ that we have.

    The fundamental fault of our dysfunctional system(s), it seems to me from my idiosyncratic point of view is the type of human ‘nature’ and behaviour that as you identify. It has ruined and increasingly does, so many lives.

    But this is not *the* human nature; it is *a* human nature that has been carefully cultured and social engineered to be seen as the default human ‘nature’.

    Rupert’s publications – for example the celebrity fetish that he celebrates in the magazine he publishes, the adulation of ‘entrepreneurs’ and the pornography – all contribute to the construction of a human nature that is not one that has ever existed before.

    All types of personality have been influenced – some personalities revel and very much enjoy behaving in a way that is consistent with the prescriptions of self-interested man. The culture shift has been supported by the lack of understanding of the complexity of Dawkins’ selfish gene metaphor and those with a motivation to do so, have taken this idea as literally encouragement to be selfish.

    As you suggest, some of us are far more susceptible to the allure of winning at all costs and the belief that this will bring happiness.

    All these dysfunctional beliefs and assumptions about the way human nature naturally is, are ‘developed’; they do not just occur. Developing or raising not racist children, not selfish children and even developing empathy in neuro-atypical children who are said to lack empathy is possible. It is being done.

    If we put our intellectual efforts into understanding how to prevent communities tolerating selfish and greedy children and the people who raise this type of children who grow up with the personality problems that we see in Tony Abbot, we will be much better off than if we keep trying to understand where the economic system has gone wrong.

    As far as I can tell with my limited understanding of economic thinking is that it went wrong when it ignored this paper by REXFORD G. TUGWELL, Journal of Political Economy, in June 1922


    ““It may be suggested too that for the economist who
    seriously intends the construction of a theory of production and
    who intends to treat production as something more dignified
    than as a source of supply for the market, a field of theory entitled
    to separate endeavor and understanding, the questions of human
    nature will be found to be the most difficult and the most immediate.
    Production is a human enterprise, carried on in part at
    least for the sake of the ultimate human satisfactions to be gained
    by using the goods and services produced. Some production is
    carried on for the sake of the work itself;’ but in the producing
    efforts of our modern factories (and it is no matter for selfcongratulation)
    very few of the resulting goods embody the joy
    of effort. More of them, if they revealed upon their surfaces their
    human costs, would be tinged by the hollow shadows of fatigue
    and colored by the unnatural stains of forced labor.
    Truly the humanity of production is its most important”

  40. I found this article, on a young Australian Muslim, uncomfortable.

    Is this the norm for other so called radicalised Muslims?

    The subject, Musa, seems to be dangerously deluded and left to his own devices perhaps only a danger to himself. But this “movement” seems to attract a lot of similarly dangerous and deluded people who, when acting as a group, become extremely dangerous. Like Boko Haram.

  41. @Ikonoclast
    No need to mind offending me. There’s no risk of that. It’s an exchange of views, is all.

    Your description of how to go about nvda is pretty much what happens with the aim of increasing the actions to mass proportions. The only way to gain legitimacy against state and corporate oppression is to adhere to principle which means extending the rights of the person to include corporate property. So violence against property is pretty much ruled out. I’m sure you’ll excuse me noting that this adherence to bourgeois property rights is ironic given that the stakes are so high. On the whole in Australia, with some historical exceptions, damage to property by environmentalists has been minimal.

    There have been two clear killings of activists (Tasmania) and one unconfirmed (East Gippsland):

    On 8 September 1972, Brenda Hean and pilot Max Price set off in a Tiger Moth airplane, flying to Canberra to lobby politicians against the flooding of Lake Pedder. They never made it and the wreckage of their plane was never found.

    Bob Brown believes there is a prima facie case for murder.

    Property damage to protestors vehicles is common place especially in out of the way areas. Threats of violence are also common place as well as the usual rough handling that private security and police like to dish out against those smaller than them.

    On a whole, as usual in Australia, it is the forces of repression that initiate violence against property and the person. The problem, from a tactical point of view, is that the sorts of mass actions necessary may not actually happen. This leaves the state and corporations in the comfortable position of not having to negotiate in good faith they because they have time and inertia on their side.

    Which is why it seems that we can draw on history for examples of how to wage asymmetrical battle more effectively: the ribbon gangs, the resistance organisations of France, Greece and Italy, the shearer’s strike, post colonial liberation movements, Pemulwuy and current Aboriginal resistance.

  42. rog,

    I read the article too. It certainly had its funny elements – with the Monty Python and Dracula etc bits and that Musa/Robert had managed to reconcile himself to his Mum’s graven images of owls.

    The dangerous bits seemed to be the Saudi funding, and interventions by ASIO, and the guy’s mapping and the Filipino responses. He seemed not to be very interested in fighting himself – although perhaps he incited others to fight – but the article doesn’t really seem to conclude he was an especially dangerous person.

  43. ZM

    I was more concerned about the psychological state of the person of concern and how it seems to be typical of many that has manifested into a nationalist ideology.

    I’ve often wondered if the bulk of suicide bombers have been intellectually impaired persons being utilised by a smarter and more cunning organisation. Now I’m wondering if the intellectual impairment is homogeneous to the group.

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