Yes, Libertarians Really Are Lazy Marxists

I have only really just started studying Marxism in depth (though I am stopping short of Capital for now). Subsequently, while reading Bertell Ollman‘s Alienation: Marx’s Conception of Man in a Capitalist Society, it once again struck me that (right-)libertarianism is really just lazy Marxism. In many ways libertarianism reads like the first third of Marxism: the area which explores methodological questions and the nature of man. Both libertarianism and Marxism are generally fairly agreeable – and in agreement – in this area, but the former never really fleshes out its arguments satisfactorily. Often I find libertarians, after describing some basic principles (non coercion etc.), make the jump to property rights and capitalism being the bestest thing ever, without fully explaining it.*

I will focus primarily on Robert Nozick and Ludwig von Mises here, as they are the only two libertarians who really explored libertarianism from basic principles of man and his relationship to both nature and economic activity (Murray Rothbard was really an interpretation of Mises in this respect). Overall, I think Nozick and Mises combine to form a fair reflection of minarchist libertarianism.

The state of nature and the nature of man

In Anarchy, State & Utopia, Robert Nozick’s ‘State of Nature’ is one where there is no state (government). He asserts that individuals have rights to protect themselves from aggression, they have rights to the fruits of their labour, and they have the right to cooperate voluntarily, free from deception and theft.

It has always struck me how incomplete Nozick’s exposition of the state of nature is. That man should be a priori free from aggression and entitled to whatever he produces is not really in dispute. What bothers me is that Nozick never really attempts to explore the relationships between different men, between men and society, and between men and nature. For Nozick, an abstract expression of individual rights could be extrapolated up to the whole without much discussion of how things link together. This is especially odd because he demonstrated he was capable of understanding and the limits of such individualism in his incisive critique of methodological individualism. So much the worse for his philosophy that he didn’t apply this thinking to it.

Enter Marx. Marx emphasised that, naturally, man had ‘powers,’ which are the means by which he achieves specific needs. Eating is a power; hunger is the relevant need. Thinking is a power; knowledge is the relevant need. (The former is a ‘natural power,’ common to all animals; the latter is a ‘species power,’ specific to man). By exercising different powers, the individual emphasises different aspects of themselves, and depending on who they are with, which society they are born into, and their available resources, different aspects of the individual will appear to be important, and different conceptions of freedom, happiness, and even the individual himself will emerge.

This may seem like a digression, but in fact it is essential. Once you have established that the abstract individual, when interacting with society, with others, is a very different beast to a lone man in the woods, it leads you down a different ethical path. What becomes important are the interactions the individual engages in, rather than merely the individual himself. It is not enough merely to say an individual should be granted certain rights and that’s that; we have to explore how these rights affect the individual, even by virtue of being defined.

To define every man as an island who cooperates with society and others only through discrete voluntary actions is to diminish the importance of how society and others shape these actions. More than this, it ignores how the rights themselves interact to produce outcomes that may be inconsistent with the principles upon which those same rights, in abstract, were built. Libertarians will likely think I am about to suggest we strip individuals of their rights, but this is not the point. The point is that the rights are not a neutral baseline, and the emergent relations governing these rights could be opposed to individual freedom.

For example, private property is surely the foundation of libertarianism (private property is to be distinguished from possession, btw). But Marx did not think private property, the division of labour, wage labour and capitalist exchanges could ever take place independently; one necessarily implied the other. Any degree of material wealth that qualifies as ‘property’ implies accumulation, which implies producing more than one labourer can manage, which implies employing others, which implies splitting up their tasks into specific, repetitive actions, which implies that what they produce is not necessarily what they need to survive, which implies they must purchase this elsewhere, and so forth. Adam Smith observed this interrelation when he noted that, “as it is the power of exchanging that gives occasion to the division of labour, so the extent of this division must always be limited by the…extent of the market.” I will explore why this may be undesirable from the point of view of individual freedom below, but for now it is sufficient to show that such an emergent property amounts to more than the individual rights from which it originates.

Purposeful action is productive action (which is why capitalism sucks)

Mises claimed man acts to attain certain ends, and only by achieving these ends can he be said to engage in purposive action. If there were no ends to be sought, man would not act; that he acts tells us he has unfulfilled needs. Voluntary exchange gives man the choice and ability to engage in purposeful action with an ever-expanding range of ends at his disposal. The entrepreneur’s role in this is vital, as he channels the purposive actions of many people in the market place, allowing them to attain the ends they seek. This creates an evolutionary process through which man continually realises his chosen ends.

Marx too believed that only man is capable of purposive activity, and this is what separates man from other animals. However, for Marx, the most purposive activity was labour, not consumption. Man engages in productive activity for two main purposes: (1) the end product of his labour and (2) the ability to exercise certain powers of his choosing when labouring, for whichever reason he deems appropriate (efficiency, enjoyment of the task itself, development of skills, etc.). Marx saw capitalism as alienating because in a capitalist system, the individual becomes separated from both the product and the method of production, as well as the time and location in which it takes place.

This separation can be illustrated by an exchange between the worker and the capitalist. The capitalist pays the worker wages so the worker will produce what the capitalist requires him to produce. In this exchange, the worker becomes separated from the product of his labour, producing not what he wants, but what the capitalist requires him to produce. The worker is also required to produce not how he chooses, but at a time, location and in a manner chosen by the capitalist. The worker then uses the wages he earns to purchase other products produced under similar circumstances. The end result under capitalism is that individuals become primarily tied together by what the capitalist guided division of labour demands, rather than by their own autonomous, purposive action. The result is the worker’s alienation from his own labour and also from the products he purchases (this applies to the capitalists too, in a different form; after all, they are on the flip side of the relationship).

So we have two competing narratives here. In one narrative, the individual is merely at the whims of capitalism, while in the other narrative, the individual exercises control over capitalism. Which is more accurate? Ultimately, the question boils down to whether production or consumption is the more purposive activity.

In consumption, the means is exchange, which requires little in the way of personal development or planning, and is brief. What matters most in consumption is the end result: a good or service. Many goods purchased are interchangeable and the act of consumption is relatively brief.** Services are by definition done by somebody else, and generally speaking, the buyer is only interested in the end result (the outcome of a lawsuit; their health; a new conservatory). I’m not suggesting that purchasing goods and services is not useful and does not yield any positive results; I am merely pointing out that as far as man’s self-actualisation goes, as far as purposive action is defined, consumption does not require or achieve much in the way of planning, personal development or uniqueness.

In contrast, during production the individual has both means (productive activity) and an end (the product) in mind when he sets out to act. The productive activity itself cannot be separated from the individual and so the two are inextricably intertwined. Furthermore, productive activity requires and/or results in building up some personal attribute, whether a individual’s capacity to reason, his physical strength and fitness, his perseverance or anything else. Generally these attributes will last beyond the original act of production. The end result is both that the individual achieves some goal he chose, planned and set out to achieve, whatever its exact nature, and that through the process he exercises his individualism by realising certain powers (again chosen by him).

The question for Miseans is how exactly the individual can “discover causal relations” between his purposive productive activity and what he produces if he is not producing what he wants, but doing it under the command of someone else. Mises glosses over the role of the worker in his exposition of purposive action; in fact, he explicitly rejects the notion that labour can be considered ‘action,’ because he considers only ends, rather than means, important for man’s individual development. But are any of man’s actions as rational, as explicitly thought through, as deliberate and purposeful, as labour? For Marx, the tragedy was when labour became a means to an end; Mises merely assumed this was the case.

Conclusion

The heart of libertarianism is the abstract individual, who engages in voluntary actions to attain certain ends, and should be allowed to do this, free from outside interference. But such an abstract philosophy is incomplete and incoherent. In the mainstream, Marx is often projected as disregarding the individual, but in fact, Marx was always highly concerned with the individual. The difference is that Marx’s concern with the individual caused him to zoom out to see the context in which the individual operates, and which aspects of an individual’s character are shaped by the context in which the individual labours. Under capitalism, the most important aspect of purposeful individual action – production – is subsumed, under the command of somebody else, and spurred only by the fact that the work is necessary for the worker’s survival.*** Hence, within his most purposive sphere, the individual is not free to act to realise his own ends through means chosen by him; rather, both the ends and the means are determined by forces outside his control. To me, this doesn’t seem very libertarian.

*To be sure, libertarians do have plenty of fleshed out arguments for capitalism’s efficacy as a system; what I am arguing is that it does not follow from their discussion of man and his nature.

**This has the exception of durables, but how often is the joy of these based on one’s own work on them? Cars, houses and gardens are all the pride and joy of people precisely because they themselves engage in productive activity on them.

***We must remember the context (!) in which Marx was writing. What he says was literally true at the time; in modern liberal democracies the reality is less stark, but the underlying mechanics of working life, and why people work, remain the same.

PS I have used ‘man’ in this post because that is generally what was used by the thinkers I am discussing. I originally tried it with gender-neutral pronouns but it just became confused and more difficult to relate to the original texts.

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  1. #1 by oblomovIII on March 24, 2013 - 7:46 pm

    Or, in a liberal economy only the rich capitalist is truly free. I remember being so surprised when I first read Marx that none of it seemed radical, or even vaguely like the Soviet economy. Poor guy’s had a bad reputation from billions who never read him. That’s pretty hard to achieve. Nice piece.

    • #2 by Unlearningecon on March 24, 2013 - 7:48 pm

      Yes, precisely! Marxism is an entirely reasonable – and very interesting – philosophy. People get their impressions from silly caricatures in the media and reading the planks of the communist manifesto out of context.

    • #3 by Hedlund on March 24, 2013 - 11:42 pm

      People are quick to remark (for better or for worse) about Marx’s status as a philosopher, as a political economist, social critic, etc. Even, recently and interestingly, on his role as an accountant (I haven’t read the whole thing, but so far this is a very interesting take on his system, and one bound to resonate with people interested in the use of double-entry accounting principles, stock-flow consistency, etc, in macro). But one aspect of his persona that’s really been resounding with me lately is Marx the Polemicist. That is, the guy was one argumentative bastard, and I think this contributed hugely to his successes along other dimensions; he just spent so much time verbally sparring with people, preparing to rebut rebuttals, etc.

      I’m rereading sections of Capital, and it’s struck me a few times just how he’s littered the piece with both the views of his contemporaries and anticipations of counterpoints, many of which people still make to this day. E.g., the discussion leading to (and including) footnote 29 of chapter 24 digs into a refrain I’ve heard any number of times from contemporary Austrian School adherents: that “abstinence” is the fundamental source of economic growth. His excoriation of Bentham in footnote 51 of the same chapter might also appeal to you.

      • #4 by Hedlund on March 25, 2013 - 12:04 am

        Footnote 50, rather. Oops!

      • #5 by Unlearningecon on March 25, 2013 - 7:35 pm

        I remember reading a random extract of, I think, the Grundrisse, and being astonished when Marx randomly came out with a scathing critique of Bastiat. I can’t find it right now, but as I remember he referred to Bastiat as “nonsense” and insisted that we must disregard his analysis if we were to progress.

      • #6 by Draco T Bastard (@DracoTBastard) on March 26, 2013 - 3:31 am

        Sounds like me. The issue is that while in a discussion or writing about something can spark a thought on something else that’s possibly only related in an abstract sense. The trick, even for the person, is finding the relationship.

      • #7 by Tom on April 1, 2013 - 6:47 pm

        Marx sparred with losers. He sparred with obscure fellow socialists no one cared about and no one remembers. When did he take on a serious classical economist? Marx scribbled and scribbled against nobodies.

      • #8 by Unlearningecon on April 1, 2013 - 6:57 pm

        I’m forced to wonder if you even read Hedlund’s comment, and am certain you have not read Marx. Marx directly discussed and criticised Smith, Ricardo ad all the big hitters.

      • #9 by JakeS on April 1, 2013 - 7:22 pm

        One can hardly fault Marx for failing to spar with serious classical economists when his only contemporary classical economist of any note is J.S. Mill (whom the neoclassicals have pretty much disowned anyway). Other than Mill the classicals of Marx’s era are intellectual desert as far as the eye can see.

        – Jake

      • #10 by Unlearningecon on April 2, 2013 - 1:46 pm

        Yeah. I mean Bastiat is a revered figure among libertarians but he was incredibly limited at best. Marx actually did reference him; I can’t think of any other major ones.

    • #11 by JakeS on March 24, 2013 - 11:45 pm

      I tend to quip that the way to distinguish a great writer from a merely prominent one is that while every prominent writer will have to live with seeing his detractors make unkind caricatures of his work, only the great writer will have to live with his supporters doing the same.

      – Jake

  2. #12 by MarxistNutter on March 24, 2013 - 8:18 pm

    V.good post. I think you’d enjoy Harvey’s lectures on capital – freely available on youtube.

    One thing to consider is that only some form of society can give rise to the notion of an individual. The problem with all theories of a ‘state of nature’ is that they are logically incoherent. Mathew Kramer’s critique of Hobbes can be widened to include Nozick. Not only was there never such as thing as a state of nature there were never individuals prior to a social or community

    • #13 by Unlearningecon on March 25, 2013 - 7:06 pm

      Yeah, I agree that ‘state of nature’ is absurd and almost always ends up being ethnocentric BS. I almost elaborated on this but it would have been a diversion.

      Thanks for the HTs – I like Harvey and have watched a couple of his lectures before (the RSA animate one is good), I will look up Kramer.

  3. #14 by Rob Rawlings on March 24, 2013 - 8:44 pm

    Your argument appears to be that when in a libertarian world someone voluntarily exchanges their labor for wages they are accepting alienation in order to be able to consume. If you accept the libertarian model on its own terms then I don’t think this holds up. Even if one accepts that wage labor is alienating then individuals have still made the choice to work rather than having additional leisure time or working for themselves or in an environment where a greater degree of “self-actualization” is possible. In fact I think that Mises would likely argue that as people have choice where they sell their labor then working need not be alienating, as both bosses and workers have a vested interest in a productive workplace.

    I think Marxists need to bring in additional arguments about ownership of the means of production if they are to undermine this libertarian view. Individuals need access to and control over capital in order to achieve self-actualization. In a libertarian model anyone who saves can be a capitalist so there are no obstacles to individuals or groups achieving this . For Marxist on the other hand a small capitalist class will use ideology and (when necessary) force to maintain control,over the means of productions. Lacking access to capital, workers have no choice but to sell their labor and use their wages to consume. In this model they are alienated from their own labor and any story about voluntary exchange of time for wages is a sham that hides this reality. Under this Marxists vision consumption is also alienating as it is just a means to keep the worker working.

    For Mises both production and consumption are capable of delivering “self-actualization”.
    For Marx , under capitalism , neither are.

    • #15 by Unlearningecon on March 25, 2013 - 7:02 pm

      Even if one accepts that wage labor is alienating then individuals have still made the choice to work rather than having additional leisure time or working for themselves or in an environment where a greater degree of “self-actualization” is possible. In fact I think that Mises would likely argue that as people have choice where they sell their labor then working need not be alienating, as both bosses and workers have a vested interest in a productive workplace.

      But surely you’d agree that people have to work? In Marx’s time, it was literally a matter of survival; now, it is for some, but it’s more that people have to work to be socially acceptable. As Adam Smith commented, not wearing shoes is not exactly something one is ‘free’ to do. You expand on this below so I’m not sure how you reconcile your two paragraphs.

      In a libertarian model anyone who saves can be a capitalist so there are no obstacles to individuals or groups achieving this .

      Two things:

      (a) This is musical chairs. Not everyone can be a capitalist, unless you are talking about an agricultural economy like the US pre-industralisation, which isn’t really capitalism. So some portion of the population – historical experience would suggest about half – have to be workers.

      (b) I didn’t explore this but I did mention it: capitalists are alienated by the relation, too. In Marx’s world capitalists weren’t necessarily evil bastards in control of everything; they were also under the whims of the system. Who really wants to own a company that just produces staplers? Perhaps a handful of people, but overall capitalists are as constrained by the system as everyone else.

      • #16 by Rob Rawlings on March 25, 2013 - 8:49 pm

        I think for both Marxists and Misesians capitalism only exists because of material shortages and this drives the necessity to work.

        However for Marxists capitalism is exploitative in nature. Capitalists are stealing something that is rightfully the workers and this exploitation degrades and alienates capitalist and workers alike.

        For libertarians capitalism is win/win, about co-operation between people playing different roles. in the production process for mutual gain. It doesn’t matter that everyone can’t be a capitalist – those that can’t benefit by co-operating with those who can. Mises makes great play of the fact that the only way that capitalists can maintain their capital is if they use it for socially beneficial ends.

        So you can take the same set of facts about capitalism and spin them in two very different ways. I think that Marx was right about capitalism to the extent that he recognized it as an engine that would drive economic development and reduce the burden of scarcity. But as the global economy becomes richer I also think that the more “exploitative” features of capitalism will fade away. It is much harder to see a Google employee as being exploited than it is to see a 14-year old laborer in a textile factory in a third-work country. Its also hopefully much easier for the Google guy to escape alienation.

        So as capitalism drives economic progress I’m hopeful that it will start to look more like the libertarian version and less like the Marxist version.

      • #17 by Unlearningecon on March 26, 2013 - 11:59 am

        Mises makes great play of the fact that the only way that capitalists can maintain their capital is if they use it for socially beneficial ends.

        I don’t see how this is true. What about war and arms companies? Or the pharmaceutical company that used a patent to hide a needle that broke off after being administered, potentially saving millions of lives from HIV and AIDs? Or Coke killing union leaders? Or asset stripping companies? I know you’d probably dismiss all these things as caused by ‘state intervention’ but for me that’s part and parcel of capitalism; the corporations with the power, money, connections will influence the state in ways they deem fit.

        It is true that under capitalism, the worker benefits from ‘cooperating’ with the capitalist, in the sense that he would be worse off without the job. But this doesn’t mean the relation is necessarily the best we could hope for.

      • #18 by liberty on March 26, 2013 - 12:44 pm

        Unlearningecon: “I know you’d probably dismiss all these things as caused by ‘state intervention’ but for me that’s part and parcel of capitalism; the corporations with the power, money, connections will influence the state in ways they deem fit.

        It is true that under capitalism, the worker benefits from ‘cooperating’ with the capitalist, in the sense that he would be worse off without the job. But this doesn’t mean the relation is necessarily the best we could hope for.”

        I absolutely agree with this latter paragraph. But since you can imagine a different kind of employment/production relation, I wonder why you cannot imagine a different kind of state existing in a society with markets? If it is possible to completely change production relations, under any kind of state, why is it not possible to completely change the state, under any kind of production relations?

        If the state was restricted so that interests could not buy it out and use its powers, if those powers simply were not for sale, this could be a simple and practical way to end this tyranny of the wealthy; much simpler and more practical, in fact, than trying to eliminate wealthy companies, organizations, and people, as you have suggested* be done (and as was attempted in centrally planned socialist countries).

        * “Remove the interest and the problem disappears.” – from your first post on Lazy Libertarians.

      • #19 by Unlearningecon on March 27, 2013 - 12:17 am

        I also pointed out in my first post, briefly, to be sure, that if a state were so weak as not to be useful to special interests, the special interests could take care of the problem themselves. In fact the early UK colonial companies did exactly this; later, US companies had such large forces they could be considered armies (and they happily used them to mow down unions, btw); more recently, as I mentioned above, Coke did something similar, though subtler, in South/Central America.

        Power is power, regardless of the existence of the state. In the absence of a state either wars break out or somebody powerful takes over and becomes a de facto state. Seeing as a state is just somebody who owns land, I don’t see how those corporations who owned land under anarcho-capitalism would not become de facto states.

      • #20 by liberty on March 25, 2013 - 9:50 pm

        I very much agree with what you say Rob, especially the point you make about exploitation which concludes: “So as capitalism drives economic progress Im hopeful that it will start to look more like the libertarian version and less like the Marxist version.”

        I did notice something odd in your grammatical structure though, which might be subconsciously important–or might not. I notice that you say:
        “It doesnt matter that everyone cant be a capitalist those that cant benefit by co-operating with those who can.”
        — you use “that” for the non-capitalists, the workers, while you use “who” for the capitalists. It’s as you are treating the non-capitalists as a group or a type, while you are treating the capitalists as individuals, persons. This could be a way of distancing yourself from the disadvantaged… minor and potentially meaningless observation, but I thought I’d note it, since I noticed it…

      • #21 by Draco T Bastard (@DracoTBastard) on March 26, 2013 - 3:43 am

        But as the global economy becomes richer I also think that the more “exploitative” features of capitalism will fade away.

        Except for the fact that it’s not. In fact it’s getting more exploitative and the welfare nets are being cut up by governments in the so-called first world countries around the world so as to force more people into the workforce and lower wages.

      • #22 by Rob Rawlings on March 26, 2013 - 7:06 pm

        Some stereotypical views might be

        Anarcho-capitalist: Capitalism is based on co-operation and is intrinsically ethical – all the things you list are example of the state (or other bodies) using force) to impose their will

        Marxist: Capitalism is based upon exploitative property relations and leads by its nature to unethical methods. Once it has played it historic role it needs to be replaced by property relations that allow ethical behavior to flourish.

        What evidence is there to support one view over the other ?

        – Its pretty obvious to me that capitalism is not worse in this regard than other systems including ones that call themselves socialist.

        – But on the other hand there has been no examples of a capitalist society that was not supported by a state that was not to some degree oppressive

        I would probably make an argument along the following lines:

        – Capitalism taken as a whole generates greater wealth than other systems.
        – There is a correlation (I think?) between greater wealth and greater societal freedom.
        – In addition there is also a correlation between the existence of things that tend to restrict the ability of the state to suppress freedom (like democracy and an independent legal system) under capitalism than other systems.

        So my view is that as capitalism both generates more wealth and has more freedom -preserving institutions the smart for thing for libertarians (no matter what kind of property rights they support) to do is to try and chip always at statist capitalism and reform it in a libertarian direction. As it gets closer to a truly libertarian model then it will be possible for people to truly co-operate and see if socialistic property-relations are better than private ones.

      • #23 by Unlearningecon on March 26, 2013 - 11:56 pm

        The problem with you narrative is that the two systems have not existed separately and their histories are intertwined. You have to view existing socialism while bearing in mind it was actively attacked by capitalist countries (mostly the US), and considering most socialist countries were not industrialised before their respective revolutions, it’s no wonder they had trouble. Imagine if the US had had its crops and livestock poisoned by the UK for decades after its revolution, and the UK had also offered its citizens fast track membership with various benefits. Or imagine the US offered such a treatment to any number of the other Central American countries it has destroyed (but I digress…)

        As Hedlund points out, even though the US got a free ride when industrialising, the USSR still beat it to space, despite being attacked by up to 20 of the world’s biggest superpowers and despite starting over 100 years later! This isn’t to suggest the USSR didn’t have its ‘liberty’ problems, but you know, a lot of Russians miss the post-Stalin era. There’s more to freedom than freedom of consumption.

        Anyway, my question to you is this: had the capitalist economies been attacked in their cradle by already industrialised and far more powerful – let’s say socialist – countries, politically, economically and militarily. Would you be surprised that the capitalist countries subsequently displayed paranoia, excessive control, and that dictators, sometimes brutal, rose to power? Because such things have happened in capitalistt countries before under similar circumstances, the most obvious being Germany when Hitler rose to power. And actually Germany was not even treated as badly as the socialist countries.

      • #24 by Rob Rawlings on March 27, 2013 - 1:10 am

        I suppose its possible that the reason the socialism did badly both when measured economically as well as in terms of social freedom is because of the system being undermined by capitalists – but I’m not sure how many people would be convinced by that line of argument these days.

        I’m not dismissing the idea that socialism could work – as I mentioned above .I would like society to reach a level of wealth and freedom where libertarian socialism could be one of the models experimented with.

        In answer to your question: Even without being persecuted by socialist regimes capitalist societies have thrown up some pretty ugly dictators – I’m not here to defend that.

      • #25 by Unlearningecon on March 28, 2013 - 1:43 pm

        I think you underestimate how much being opposed by the world’s biggest superpower can affect your country, particularly when you are underdeveloped. Chile, for example, was a tiny economy highly reliant on the US importing (mostly copper). So when Allende was elected the US could immediately cut off trade, as well as aid, and as well as funding general strikes, propaganda, etc. Obviously they eventually just staged a coup.

        Btw, I agree that some communist countries had brutal dictators. But this isn’t specific to communism: Russia in 1917 was under repeated sanctions and interventions from the west, as well as suffering the most heavy losses out of any country in WW1. Such hardships remind me of the conditions under which Hitler rose to power (in fact in many ways it was worse than Germany). But that doesn’t mean Hitler = capitalism or Stalin = Communism. Something similar could be said for the Khmer Rouge.

        Perhaps we have more in common than it seems here, though. I am not interested in imposing my view on every country. What worries me is that the US will not allow any country – whether it is actually communist or not – to follow its own path, because such a country would be a threat to its hegemony. I doubt you disagree that this is unacceptable.

      • #26 by philippe on March 27, 2013 - 11:39 am

        You’re talking about communist dictatorships. As far as I can see there are democratic socialist countries which have done very well.

      • #27 by JakeS on March 27, 2013 - 11:35 pm

        Economically, the Soviet Union performed not measurably better or worse than would be expected once you correct for GDP and literacy in 1918 (which one would need quite exceptional rhetorical skills to blame the Bolcheviks for), and for the size of their trade bloc.

        Which is actually quite impressive, when you consider how much it cost the Soviet Union to be the only Allied power to put up a serious fight in the European theater of the second world war.

        – Jake

  4. #28 by Julia on March 24, 2013 - 8:51 pm

    Well, Marx did, in fact, take a lot of his ideas from Proudhon the anarchist, so I’m never surprised when the claim is made that Marx has lots of “anarchistic” elements to his works.

    Living in Libertarianland myself, I’ve found that a lot of these libernuts seem to envy the philosophy and ideas of the radical left. They understand that leftist thought has produced so much great philosophy in the past 120 years or so, such as post-structuralism, critical theory, semiotics, theories of cultural hegemony, theories of feminism and race, etc., which libertarianism barely incorporates, if at all.

    • #29 by Unlearningecon on March 25, 2013 - 7:07 pm

      Unfortunately these ‘freedom fighters’ are so indoctrinated with the idea that the evil left is the power they’re fighting against that often they can’t bring themselves to accept any ideas to the left of, well, Hayek.

    • #30 by Dan on April 1, 2013 - 12:40 pm

      Murray Rothbard’s goal was to create a Marxism on the Right. He tried to make libertarianism as philosophically rigorous as Marxism. In the end all Rothbard became was a salesman, the type of pseudointellectual that is more interested in selling an idea to you rather than engaging in true critical analysis of facts.

      • #31 by Unlearningecon on April 2, 2013 - 2:06 pm

        Gene Callahan once said of Murray Rothbard:

        Murray Rothbard never cared if an argument he offered was sound, but only about whether it seemed to make his opponent look stupid.

        Spot on. He was not a scholar.

  5. #32 by Min on March 25, 2013 - 12:20 am

    “It has always struck me how incomplete Nozick’s exposition of the state of nature is. That man should be a priori free from aggression and entitled to whatever he produces is not really in dispute.”

    Humans are free from aggression and entitled to whatever they produce in a state of nature? Is that what Nozick says? That’s not nature. that’s when the lion lies down with the lamb. To attain those freedoms human beings banded together. Without the ties that bind there is no human freedom. Unless you are the meanest sumbitch in the valley, as we used to say. ;) Human freedom always has a paradoxical aspect.

    • #33 by Unlearningecon on March 25, 2013 - 6:55 pm

      He says that these are man’s a priori natural rights, which sounds OK but once you try to build a system out of it that consists of more than a handful of people, problems develop.

  6. #34 by liberty on March 25, 2013 - 4:05 pm

    Thank you for this! I haven’t read the comments (or even quite finished the article and it’s linked predecessor) yet, but I would like to make two points..

    One point, which relates to the difference between Marx’s time and ours–as you point out, in his time the distinctions he made could be seen more starkly. What I am thinking of is entrepreneurship and self-employment, sole proprietorship, as well as partnerships etc: When a person is both worker and capitalist. Marx, to my knowledge, hardly discusses this. The prevalence of this is much greater now, and in highly developed capitalist countries (read: where markets have been allowed to grow and not been replaced by socialism) people are generally free and able to take this course – and it means that people are not alienated from their production. On the flip side, sometimes people do not want the stress and hard work of running a business! Think of Mark and Engels themselves–Marx essentially worked for Engels. Engels paid Marx to write–gave him endless grants, if you will–and he paid for this by running a factory. If Marx had to be a capitalist or a sole proprietor, making something to sell, or if he had to run a family farm to produce enough to feed himself and any dependent family members, he would not have had time to write. Through division of labour, Marx was able to write and Engels was able to fund that writing.

    My second point is that the LTV, upon which Marx’s whole theory rests, is fatally flawed. You can’t get three pages into Capital without seeing it. Furthermore, as I mention above, markets have grown and changed and produced great wealth (as Marx himself conceded)–including the ability for us all to have this conversation–so even if your points above are generally valid, and I think they are, it does not mean that libertarians should be Marxists. They have perhaps missed some of what Marx pointed out, but Marx also missed some of what they have pointed out.

    Anyway, thanks for this. Great reading and lots to chew on!!

    • #35 by Unlearningecon on March 25, 2013 - 7:34 pm

      Perhaps I should have placed more emphasis on the fact that for Marx, the capitalist was also alienated by the relations of production. It was a different type of alienation, to be sure, but was merely the flip side of the same phenomenon experienced by the worker. Also, as I say to Ron Ronson below, being a capitalist is musical chairs: there has to be a substantial workforce for capitalists to employ, otherwise it isn’t capitalism.

      I would probably say that, nowadays, the true ‘proletariat’ is not in developed countries but in China, Central America and so forth. In this sense Lenin’s expansion of Marxism to link imperalism to capitalism holds true.

      Marx was fascinated by capitalism. He praised capitalism and even capitalists for their innovation. However, he thought that innovation came at a price, and once a certain level of material wealth was reached, capitalism’s productive capacity could be harnessed by socialism and later communism in order to create a more just society.

      Btw, I don’t adhere to the LTV. you may notice that this piece does not rest on it at all.

      • #36 by liberty on March 25, 2013 - 9:59 pm

        There has to be a workforce–well, unless everyone finds a way to either self-employ (especially as technology becomes more sophisticated, this percentage may continue to grow at a high rate) or form their own voluntary cooperatives, etc–but this workforce need not be in alienating hierarchical corporations. Markets can allow many kinds of workplaces, and we see in developed market-based countries fewer and fewer of the assembly-line kind of jobs and many more of the high-skilled kind that may be less alienating and more creative and unique. The technology that some see as evil and job-killing is the foundation for better, less alienating, kinds of jobs.

        Also, you seem to be assuming (in your para re: Lenin & imperialism) that the developed countries are impoverishing and dependent upon the developing countries–on what do you base this? Marx did seem to believe this, but you make no arguments against the extensive Austrian literature–based on Smith and others who you seem to think had valid arguments about markets and trade–that argues the reverse is true.

        Regarding LTV, if you don’t buy into it, then much of Marx falls apart; particularly his exploitation theory (and thus much of his critique of capitalism from an economic POV) and his arguments for socialism (which requires LTV for planning and coordination of a socialist, and subsequently communist, society)

      • #37 by Unlearningecon on March 26, 2013 - 11:54 am

        There has to be a workforce–well, unless everyone finds a way to either self-employ (especially as technology becomes more sophisticated, this percentage may continue to grow at a high rate)

        Azizonomics has an interesting take on this with regard to 3D printers. I remain tentative but look forward to seeing what they bring.

        on what do you base this?

        US military history since WW2. See Guatemala, Iran, Iraq, the Congo and tens more. Some were paranoia when fighting Communism; some were more obviously about resources and contracts. All were ultimately about establishing control and making the world ‘safe’ for US (and other Western) companies.

        Re: markets allow for worker ownership. This is true to a limited extent. But history tells us that the dominant form of ownership under capitalism is a man with a top hat and a moustache. Why? Well, those who accumulate profit for themselves – rather than sharing it among the workforce, as worker democracies would surely do – can afford to buy out worker democracies. They can reinvest more, they can push their workforce harder, etc. The traditional capitalist work structure is quite possibly the most efficient, but then efficiency isn’t what socialists are interested in.

      • #38 by philippe on March 26, 2013 - 11:08 am

        “Regarding LTV, if you don’t buy into it, then much of Marx falls apart; particularly his exploitation theory”

        Have you read part 8 of Capital, ‘The So-Called Primitive Accumulation’?

    • #39 by Hedlund on March 26, 2013 - 1:10 pm

      My second point is that the LTV, upon which Marx’s whole theory rests, is fatally flawed. You can’t get three pages into Capital without seeing it.

      Alas, I must be terminally dense…

      Regarding LTV, if you don’t buy into it, then much of Marx falls apart; particularly his exploitation theory (and thus much of his critique of capitalism from an economic POV) and his arguments for socialism (which requires LTV for planning and coordination of a socialist, and subsequently communist, society)

      …But then, perhaps you are not the most credible source; this looks an awful lot like the sort of account I see from people who get all their Marx info third hand, usually from right-libertarian critiques.

      The LTV was not originally designed to be any sort of planning standard; in Capital it is purely, and expressly, an analysis of political economy under conditions of commodity exchange, division of labor, and anarchy in social production. It is descriptive, not prescriptive, and it would have little if anything to say about trans-capitalist society, since the goal of production under socialism or communism would be use-values and not exchange values. Thus, what Marx calls ‘value’ (without qualifier) would cease to exist as an economic determinant. Think of it as the ‘law of value’ being repealed.

      • #40 by liberty on March 26, 2013 - 2:48 pm

        It may look like that to you, but alas I do not rely upon third-hand sources, and certainly not from right-libertarian critiques. (I don’t like to get into stand-offs about credibility, but I have published in academic journals, written a book, and completed a Masters in Soviet economic history and theory). Most Marxists, at least until the fall of the Soviet Union, would not have held your position.

        For example, during the Congress of 1903, Lenin’s mentor Plekhanov conceded that if ‘bourgeois economists’ were correct and Marx’s labour theory of value was incorrect; if Marx’s ‘exploitation theory’ and his ‘theory of impoverishment’ were therefore untrue; then reformist socialists ‘have all the chances and every right to appear as the true spokesmen and defenders of the interests of the proletariat’.

        Bourgeois economists argued against those socialists who supported the LTV that if value is subjective then it follows that a market is necessary to determine prices; Marx and his followers disputed this directly (see Marx’s arguments against Bohm-Bawerk for example), arguing that socially necessary labour time adjusted for skill level and effort was enough to determine the value of commodities, with capital being derived from labour: as “dead labour.”

        The Bolsheviks, basing their system on Marx’s works, attempted to implement a wage and price system based upon the LTV. Their intention was equal pay for equal work (or “to each according to his work”). This was the foundation of socialism, which was seen as a necessary step before communism would bring “to each according to his needs.”

        As Chris Harman writes: “Marx insisted that the measure of the value of something was not simply the time it took an individual to make it, but the time it would take an individual working with the average level of technology and the average level of skill – he called this average level of labour needed ‘the socially necessary labour time’.”

        This was exactly the measure used by the early Bolshevik leaders (until quite quickly they found it was unworkable). This was also why, as explained in The ABC of Communism (which, of course, the party distributed to all schools and newspapers) Bukharin and Preobrazhensky wrote about the planning of the economy and the distribution of labor, which was necessary when all wages and prices were set to reflect the LTV:
        “it is obvious that everything must be precisely calculated. We must know in advance how much labour to assign to the various branches of industry; what products are required and how much of each it is necessary to produce; how and where machines must be provided.”

        Soviet leaders, and Soviet economists, were basing their policies on a much more extensive study of Marx than, I would assert (based on your admission that you have not yet read Capital) you (or I) have undertaken. Their interpretation was that the LTV should be used to ensure “to each according to his work”, which was a necessary step before the dialectical transformation of the state-capitalist society into the communist (“to each according to his needs”) society could occur–the necessary step of the planned “socialist” economy.

        Alec Nove explains how Soviet economists slowly came to realize the existence of subjective valuation and that their idea of “use-value” was not good enough. Use-value only admitted that the products must be of some use to the consumer and based the price only on the value of the labour involved in production. Nove explains:

        “If two goods, both of some use, are unequally valued by the user, though they cost the same to produce, for every practical purpose in any type of economy their value is surely unequal. In fact, of course, this state of affairs could not subsist in a market economy [because prices would adjust based on demand]. To a Western economist this is the merest common sense. Yet it required long (and to some extent still inconclusive) argument to establish the point in the USSR and to draw conclusions from it applicable to pricing.”

        I could go on, but I’ll stop there.

      • #41 by liberty on March 26, 2013 - 3:10 pm

        Or, in short, Capital is only a critique of capitalism, which derives the LTV from exchange relations (then using it to critique capitalism via exploitation theory etc), but Marx’s whole body of work argues for a new system; a system based initially upon “to each according to his work”, for which the practical implementation relies upon LTV as an ideal–for it results in the end of exploitation. How else can “to each according to his work” be ensured? Certainly for Marx, LTV played this role: the role of valuing the worker’s labour, to ensure she receives the full value of it.

      • #42 by Hedlund on March 26, 2013 - 4:33 pm

        Most Marxists, at least until the fall of the Soviet Union, would not have held your position.

        I thought we were talking about Marx, and not Marxists. Let’s not change the subject. This is tantamount to criticizing Keynes for the New Keynesians’ focus on rational expectations and sticky wages.

        (see Marx’s arguments against Bohm-Bawerk for example)

        Do you have a source for this? I am not aware of any correspondences between the two, and I am pretty sure the latter’s critiques were published after the former’s death. If there’s anyone known for arguing against Bohm-Bawerk, it’s Hilferding, not Marx.

        (based on your admission that you have not yet read Capital)

        Interesting. Can you link (or copy and paste) this admission for me? I can’t seem to find it.

        [Alec] Nove explains: “If two goods, both of some use, are unequally valued by the user, though they cost the same to produce, for every practical purpose in any type of economy their value is surely unequal…”

        Nove is using an extremely unclear definition of ‘value,’ but apparently it is at heart a subjective one. The effect of degree of demand on the quantity of a good produced (or its price) is a separate question from its value entirely, if we are really purporting to use Marxian value theory.

        How else can “to each according to his work” be ensured?

        Eliminating the institution of private property would remove exploitation as a factor. Those with anarchistic tendencies might suggest this all but accomplishes the task on its own.

        Someone with more Leninist leanings might suggest that the beauty of planning is that it is not “forced” to see to its own calculations without prices, but rather that it is “free” to do so. Austrians are absolutely right, as per their calculation arguments, to say there’s no way for a socialist state to replicate the allocation of resources in society of a capitalist one. But then, that’s the whole point: to abolish the ridiculous allocation of resources that devotes far too much labor to luxury goods (to say nothing of the means of destruction) while ignoring the needs of billions of poor.

        But anyway, this is all off the topic.

        I said that “the LTV was not originally designed to be any sort of planning standard,” and described Capital as descriptive. Your 3:10 comment agrees with me. Thus, this whole tangent about Soviet attempts to use a magnifying glass as a hammer is just a red herring. Do you have an argument against anything I’ve actually said?

      • #43 by liberty on March 26, 2013 - 5:00 pm

        Pardon me, Hedlund. I had not realized that you were not UnlearningEcon. I was referring to the admission by the author of the original post: “I have only really just started studying Marxism in depth (though I am stopping short of Capital for now). ”

        As to Bohm-Bawerk, you are correct of course, I was thinking of Hilferding, and also Bukharin. As to my discussion of Marxists, I am focusing on the body of Marx’s work and I believe that his followers are at least as well suited to interpreting this body as I am; and because I cannot see how the means of production can be collectively owned under conditions of scarcity (which exist so long as there are factors such as time and space) without the need for economic calculation, I agree with his followers that to create the society he championed the LTV must be used to set value in the socialist society.

        From what I can tell, Marx agreed with this. Certainly Engels seemed to think so. After all, he said that under socialism the ‘production without any definite plan of capitalistic society capitulates to the production upon a definite plan of the invading socialistic society’. How can one have a definite plan of production and distribution without prices?

        Despite your idealistic notions, one cannot just wish for production and distribution to flow out and feed, clothe, house, and care for the people without some measure of the supply of and demand for the various goods and the necessary tools of production. The Bolsheviks learned this the hard way–but if you must put your fingers in your ears and ignore 70 years of their experience, then just read Engels, and read other Marxists, in addition to Marx–because Marx famously ignored the issue (it would hurt his reputation to deal with it too closely is my guess) but most of those who shared his overall theory conceded the necessity both for planning and for some measure of value with which to calculate in a planned system, and agreed that LTV was the natural choice. … of course it didn’t work very well, but they tried.

      • #44 by Hedlund on March 26, 2013 - 5:51 pm

        because I cannot see how the means of production can be collectively owned under conditions of scarcity (which exist so long as there are factors such as time and space) … How can one have a definite plan of production and distribution without prices?

        I am hearing your personal incredulity, but that’s not an argument for or against anything, in and of itself.

        “Scarcity” is no great argument against socialism. In fact, it begs the question: If sellers raise prices in response to increasing scarcity, how do they know to raise their prices? The prices that they themselves incur? Well then how did those sellers know to raise their prices? Sooner or later it must be recognized that there are ways completely external to the price system to recognize that we’re running low on things. If the productive and distributive sectors can incorporate that information into prices, then they most certainly can incorporate that into other information systems. As supplies of a given thing start to slump below consumption trends, then more social labor can be applied to it even if profits aren’t calling the tune.

        As for your latter question, strange as this may sound: “By making conscious decisions.” The results may surprise you!

        I agree with his followers that to create the society he championed the LTV must be used to set value in the socialist society.

        I need to reiterate here: insofar as they used average labor time as a numeraire to determine production schedules, that constitutes a different application of the LTV, or arguably even a different theory altogether, than that contained in Capital. If the end is use-values and not exchange values, this has very serious ramifications for the very category of ‘value,’ let alone any analysis thereof.

        In other words, it says nothing one way or the other about Marx’s critique.

        Despite your idealistic notions, one cannot just wish for production and distribution to flow out and feed, clothe, house, and care for the people without some measure of the supply of and demand for the various goods and the necessary tools of production.

        “My idealistic notions,” huh? Why is it that those who argue for capitalism, so insistent on the primacy of problems of knowledge and the inability for a planned economy to ever truly understand, let alone meet, the needs of its people, always act like they understand my mind better than I do?

        <it would hurt his reputation to deal with it too closely is my guess)

        Ah, yes: guessing, speculating, idle supposition — the tools of the scholar. Pity Marx didn’t engage in more of that, or else we could take him more seriously as a scientist, eh?

        of course it didn’t work very well, but they tried

        Just to make sure, we are talking about the Soviet Union, right? The one that, from 1928 until the 1970s, grew faster than the economies of North America and Western Europe without experiencing an economic crisis? The one that started out as a fundamentally agrarian economy but nevertheless beat America into space? That one?

    • #45 by Karl on March 26, 2013 - 3:35 pm

      You’re quite wrong. Marx discussed the “petite-bourgeois” quite a bit. (He also talked about “small-holding peasants” — farmers who owned their own land.) Here’s my favorite Marx quote on entrepreneurs:

      No eunuch flatters his tyrant more shamefully or seeks by more infamous means to stimulate his jaded appetite, in order to gain some favor, than does the eunuch of industry, the entrepreneur, in order to acquire a few silver coins or to charm the gold from the purse of his dearly beloved neighbor. (Every product is a bait by means of which the individual tries to entice the essence of the other person, his money. Every real or potential need is a weakness which will draw the bird into the lime. As every imperfection of man is a bond with the heaven, a point at which his heart is accessible to the priest, so every want is an opportunity for approaching one’s neighbor with the air of friendship, and saying, “Dear friend, I will give you what you need, but you know on what condition. You know what ink you must use in signing yourself over to me. I shall swindle you while providing your enjoyment.” All this constitutes a universal exploitation of human communal life.) The entrepreneur accedes to the most depraved fancies of his neighbor, plays the role of pander between him and his needs, awakens unhealthy appetites in him, and watches for every weakness in order, later, to claim the compensation for this labor of love.

      Not really relevant to the discussion here, I admit — I just like it.

      But trust me, Marx wrote about the petite-bourgeois (what we now call “small business ow ners”) quite a bit. He talked about their influence on German and European politics, the conflicts in which they sometimes side with labor, other times with capital, etc.. Actually, you don’t have to trust me. Here’s an article about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petite_bourgeoisie

      • #46 by liberty on March 26, 2013 - 5:10 pm

        You are quite right – he does talk about the petit-bourgeois a lot, and I know the meaning of the term – what I really meant is that I don’t recall an analysis of how the petit-bourgeois as a class affect his division of society into workers and capitalists, the way, for example, the Bolsheviks did with regard to the three types of peasants (proletarian, middle, and wealthy or kulak), and in particular the way that entrepreneurship allows a worker to become a capitalist or to exist outside the worker/capitalist relationship (by being self-employed).

        In other words, it seems to me as if Marx ignored the dynamic nature of a growing capitalist society whereby someone is a worker one day and the next self-employed or employing others and then sometimes a worker again. I know he does mention this in one or two places, downplaying it (and indeed there was a lot less of it in his time), but I do not recall a real incorporation of it into his theory of classes. Do you, perchance?

        Thanks for the quote – he really doesn’t like people who work for themselves, it seems!

      • #47 by Karl on March 29, 2013 - 3:12 pm

        You’re mistaken about this mobility. http://mattbruenig.com/2013/03/24/income-inequality-is-very-rigid/

        Also, you’re mistaken to think *more* people are independent of wage labor now than in Marx’s time. It’s been a slow decline of independence as capital has accumulated into fewer and fewer hands.

        In Marx’s day, the “family farm” produced most of the crops, and there were no big box retailers or restaurant chains — “mom and pop shops” dominated the cities. No longer.

      • #48 by Unlearningecon on March 30, 2013 - 12:51 pm

        Michael Perelman’s book ‘the invention of capitalism’ notes that we don’t have to think of people’s dependence on capitalism solely in terms of the immediate wage labour relationship. It goes as far as apartments not having kitchens or washing machines so they must purchase the services (see New York and Japan), or promoting mortgages so people must work to pay off the debt. It’s all part of coordinating things so that everyone is dependent on the division of labour.

  7. #49 by liberty on March 25, 2013 - 4:13 pm

    I would also quickly add that – as markets evolve, or are able to evolve with some help from us all and our social growth and evolution – toward systems with less factory-work (few now are assembly-line style workers, in developed market economies) and more toward self-employment and skilled worker style work, the jobs working for others can be seen as sort of apprenticeships. Sometimes you need to learn from others before you can do something on your own. Who, just after graduating from school, is truly able to run a company–whether capitalist or cooperative? People need to learn. It seems to me that there is nothing wrong or alienating about working for someone else for a few years before (if you so desire) working for yourself or building a cooperative, or whatever you so choose. This is all possible in market societies. In university/graduate school you also usually start by working for someone else–being tutored, learning from others–and then break out on your own. Anyway, just some more thoughts on this “alienation of production” concept…

    • #50 by Unlearningecon on March 27, 2013 - 12:12 am

      I don’t disagree but I see no reason why a worker should have no voice in the production process, even when they are still learning.

  8. #51 by liberty on March 25, 2013 - 5:16 pm

    also, Rob Rawlings said what I intended to say but better. Austrians should struggle with what you have said, but you might also look more closely at their work in light of what Rob and I have said because your argument may not be as strong as you think. Great post though!

  9. #52 by randommarxist on March 25, 2013 - 7:59 pm

    You may be overstating the similarities between the libertarian thought and Marxist thought. Libertarians attribute some fundamental “nature” to human beings, with humans acting based on this nature. Marx flips the equation around. Humans aren’t endowed with some “nature”, they are individuals who act in concrete ways with the environment and other humans. How human beings act determines what they are, what their “nature” is. The arguments are really mirror images of each other.

    • #53 by Unlearningecon on March 25, 2013 - 8:04 pm

      Yeah, that is true. But fundamentally I think many of libertarian’s concerns can be answered by Marx, and that to be truly concerned about the individual is to be concerned about his relationships, not him in abstract.

      • #54 by randommarxist on March 25, 2013 - 8:21 pm

        I agree. What I want to highlight is that libertarian thought is incoherent because it starts from the premise that humans are endowed with a certain nature. Any theory that asserts humans have some inherent nature(whether it be liberal, feudal, socialist, whatever) will run into problems explaining society.

      • #55 by Unlearningecon on March 26, 2013 - 11:54 am

        Well yes – in that sense I think it is lazy. To reason backwards from what things are currently like and conclude that is the nature of man is not to reason at all.

  10. #56 by Hedlund on March 26, 2013 - 8:26 pm

    UE:

    On the note of all the Sovietchat above: The full text of Ludo Martens’s Another View of Stalin is available online. Saw it and immediately thought of your exchanges with ACL on twitter; throw it at him, I bet he’ll develop a nosebleed by the end of the foreword.

    • #57 by Unlearningecon on March 27, 2013 - 12:39 am

      I am always wary of defending Stalin. But then, I am wary of not defending Stalin and falling in line with the same people who think that Mao and Stalin were analogous. It is incredibly difficult to tell the lies apart from the truth.

      I any case, that looks well sourced. Is it available in book form?

    • #58 by Hedlund on March 27, 2013 - 3:41 am

      Well, yeah, he’ll get a nosebleed if you throw the physical volume at him, too, but that’s something else.

      But seriously, it is probably more accurate to say it existed in book form. It was published by the Belgian EPO in 1994 (ASIN: B000RQH906, ISBN: 2872622055, 327 pages), but it appears to be about as rare as elf whiskers, now.

      If you’re more into PDFs, looks like someone’s posted it in that form, too.

  11. #59 by Christian Evensen (@koerbagh) on March 26, 2013 - 9:39 pm

    Reminds me of Molinari: «The interests of the consumer of any commodity whatsoever should always prevail over the interests of the producer.»

    • #60 by Peter Nicholls on March 27, 2013 - 9:05 pm

      This is very interesting. Is this the start of maxim “the customer is always right”?

  12. #61 by Magpie on March 27, 2013 - 5:54 am

    I haven’t read the previous comments, so I don’t know whether this has been mentioned before.

    Prof. David Ruccio explains the Marx/libertarian coincidence in these terms:

    “Marx, in criticizing the classicals, started by allowing them their strongest case: private property, free markets, perfect competition, market equilibrium, and so on. On that basis, Marx showed that capitalist commodity exchange was such that, even when all commodities were bought and sold at their values, there would be an extra value, a surplus-value, that capitalist were able to appropriate for doing nothing. That’s the essence of Marx’s notion of class exploitation, a ripping-off of the laborers who produce the surplus.”

    http://anticap.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/fair-is-fair-2/

    Prof. Yanis Varoufakis makes a similar point here:
    yanisvaroufakis.eu/2012/04/04/on-keynes-marx-and-the-value-of-models-at-a-time-of-crisis-a-reply-to-david-laibman/

    • #62 by Dan on March 28, 2013 - 12:53 pm

      “Marx, in criticizing the classicals, started by allowing them their strongest case: private property, free markets, perfect competition, market equilibrium, and so on.”

      See I happen to think that this is the great flaw in Marx’s thinking, perfect competition, free markets, perfect private property rights and equilibrium really don’t exist in real economies. We have to account for the fact that Marx’s prediction of capitalism imploding on itself never came to fruition, he saw it as a train slowly gaining speed heading for a cliff. His reasoning and economic explanations were quite well done, but in the end capitalism proved to be more dynamic than he thought. And I think this is because he was still looking at economics with the same flawed assumptions in place as the neo-classicals were. The Walrasian viewpoint of economies as geometric planes with perfect symmetry simply isn’t correct, and unfortunately Marx never really attacked that aspect. That’s the biggest problem I had when reading Marx, especially with the firm and his LTV, I kept thinking about price fluctuations of commodities and labor, swings in the market etc. Markets are never perfect, prices are never spot on, wages are sticky and come out of a number of factors. There are lots of stickiness and slipperiness out there and it is in that less than perfect medium that economies are able to become dynamic and react to pressures, including social pressures like the class tension Marx spoke about.

      • #63 by Unlearningecon on March 28, 2013 - 1:33 pm

        I think this ties in nicely with Jake’s response to you below, Dan, where he notes that resource extraction has kept the modern capitalist economy going. This is precisely how Lenin explained capitalism’s survival.

        However, I partially agree. Marx’s ‘capitalism wouldn’t work even if we imagine an ideal capitalism’ is a worthwhile exercise, to be sure, but my opposition to capitalism mostly rests on the historical fact that it has never and can never be ‘ideal,’ but is always rife with corruption.

  13. #64 by Zolani Stewart (@Fengxii) on March 27, 2013 - 3:50 pm

    I’m not particularly sure whether Marx’s description of labour applies to the nature of work within the Post-Fordist capitalism that we live in today. The way Marx describes purposive labour seems to imply a physical end product which the labourer can enjoy and feel satisfied with, which in itself implies labour predominantly lying within the Fordist factory setting. This makes sense given the time it was written, but I just wonder where this purposive action lies within a labour that’s much more fluid, where work and life are not clearly separate like in the factory, but strongly intertwined.

    Is the work we do not more involved with digital information and communication than preparing pieces of steel on an assembly line? I’m thinking of things like, consulting, software development, various jobs within the service industry and sales, where capitalism doesn’t just require our physical action, that would allow the kind of alienation and disconnection from the laboured product that marx believe capitalism does to us, but also the alignment of our *ideology and thought-process* to capitalism. I feel like we need to internally believe in capitalism for it to function. It needs our complicity to its systems for those systems to sustain their control over us.

    Therefore, I’m not really sure whether capitalist labour is alienating. I feel like it’s the opposite. I think it requires our subconscious belief in it. I think Capitalism requires our *connection* to the product for it to justify itself as a satisfying economic system, so we don’t end up seeing the destructive aspects it tries to hide.

    – Also, I would very much appreciate it if you used gender-neutral pronouns “they” instead of ‘he’. I think leftist thought is much stronger when it acknowledges and engages with the little aspects of feminist thought.

    Great piece, btw

    • #65 by Dan on March 28, 2013 - 12:40 pm

      I think what you are pointing at is that Marx probably underestimated the rise of the service sector economies in capitalist countries which actually brought much more power to the worker since the individual’s labor is the commodity in a service sector. It also raised wages and reduced the reserve army of unemployment which means that it had a ripple effect of improving conditions in manufacturing as well. Also, economies of scale generally don’t exist in the service sector, which means that Marx’s prototypical capitalist firm that was on a path to destruction with overproduction, decreasing profit margins and stealing labor really couldn’t exist. So perhaps the service sector threw a bone in Marx’s entire model of capitalism.

      • #66 by JakeS on March 28, 2013 - 12:54 pm

        But historically, improvements in manufacturing wages and working conditions have lead, not lagged, improvements in service sector wages and working conditions (and manufacturing wages and conditions have resisted erosion much better than service sector conditions), for workers of comparable social strata.

        So that explanation is implausible, unless you wish to posit that consequence is permitted to precede cause. Which would be a rather extraordinary claim.

        Further, it should be noted that “the rise of the service sector” is largely an artifact of the contemporary core economies misattributing colonial tribute from the rest of their trade bloc as domestic value added.

        When core economies conduct resource extraction in peripheral economies unable to secure any appreciable resource rent for themselves, and off-shore manufacturing to low-margin semi-peripheral economies, it does not mean that the political control functions which remain at home constitute a highly productive “service economy.” It simply means that we have enough gunboats to ensure that the spoils of production are concentrated in our countries, rather than in the colonies. Nothing more, nothing less.

        You need the whole value chain to make the finished product. Allocating value added between the different links in the chain is a purely political exercise.

        – Jake

      • #67 by dan on April 1, 2013 - 3:23 pm

        “When core economies conduct resource extraction in peripheral economies unable to secure any appreciable resource rent for themselves, and off-shore manufacturing to low-margin semi-peripheral economies, it does not mean that the political control functions which remain at home constitute a highly productive “service economy.” It simply means that we have enough gunboats to ensure that the spoils of production are concentrated in our countries, rather than in the colonies. Nothing more, nothing less.”

        I find it strange that you are criticizing my analysis of 20th century labor relationships in “core economies” as a purely political excercise when Marx himself focused on labor relationships as the central part of his theory. It may be the case that Western wealth is mostly the result of exploitation of peripheral economies and colonial tribute, however that still doesn’t change my basic point that Marx’s theory oflabor relations in capitalism didn’t hold true. He predicted that as firms overproduced and the margin of profit fell, they would become more capital intense and attempt to usurp more surplus value by overworking the worker, stealing more surplus labor by decreasing wages and increasing unemployment until the social forces reached a breaking point and a revolution occurred. The revolutions should have been occuring in the “core economies” first.

        Instead what happened was that as manufacturing and industry became more capital intense in the early 20th century, more specialization was needed because the increase use in machinary had a learning curve to it and that high turnover rates of workers decreased production efficiency. As a result firms used higher wages, better working conditions and decreased hours as a way to attract workers to stay thus meaning that in order for the capitalist to be able to capture his share of the market, he had to redistribute the surplus more evenly than before. The increase in manufacturing wages led to a wealth effect that fueled a service sector that ballooned in its importance and share of the economy. This also had the effect of circulating wealth within the core economies as most of the services could only be provided locally.

        Marx on the other hand predicted that specialization would come to be a form of slavery and that the only way that conditions would improve was through revolution. Instead specialization increased the importance of the worker and decreased his fungibility. Marx thought that as the price of the means of subsistence decreased (from overproduction of commodities) that wages would go down too, instead wages began to rise and created an affluent middle class that supported a service sector far bigger than anything seen before.

        Now your analysis of colonial exploitation is nice and all, but I really don’t see why that makes the notion of specialization and service economies a moot point. To Marx labor and class relationships were the central focus. And pointing to globalization and exploitation of third world labor and resources as the reason for the failure of his prediction (that socialist revolution is the inevitable fate in industrialized capitalist nations) is kind of a cop-out in my opinion. It still doesn’t answer the main point that Marxian theory failed to predict the changes in labor relations that specialization brought.

      • #68 by JakeS on April 1, 2013 - 3:51 pm

        “I find it strange that you are criticizing my analysis of 20th century labor relationships in “core economies” as a purely political excercise”

        I don’t. I criticize it as being factually in error – manufacturing wages and working conditions led the way up and was the rearguard on the way down, which is indicative of the service sector worker being *less* powerful than the manufacturing worker.

        I then also note that the servant economy is inherently unsustainable, because it rests on a foundation of colonial power which cannot be maintained by a servant economy lacking a mature, technically sophisticated manufacturing plant.

        But that’s an aside to the main point that service workers are, going by historical experience, less, not more, powerful than manufacturing workers.

        “Marx’s theory of labor relations in capitalism didn’t hold true. He predicted that as firms overproduced and the margin of profit fell, they would become more capital intense and attempt to usurp more surplus value by overworking the worker, stealing more surplus labor by decreasing wages and increasing unemployment until the social forces reached a breaking point and a revolution occurred. The revolutions should have been occuring in the “core economies” first.”

        And it did – this is basically the story of the Great Depression and the rise of the Fordist planning system, which suspended the market in technologically advanced, capital intensive industrial products.

        The 19th century version of predator capitalism that Marx described in fact *wasn’t* sustainable and *did* collapse in a violent upheaval, pretty much along the lines Marx predicted. What came out on the other end wasn’t a Marxian socialist economy, but it was equally far removed from the version of capitalism that preceded it.

        “Instead what happened was that as manufacturing and industry became more capital intense in the early 20th century, more specialization was needed because the increase use in machinery had a learning curve to it and that high turnover rates of workers decreased production efficiency. As a result firms used higher wages, better working conditions and decreased hours as a way to attract workers to stay thus meaning that in order for the capitalist to be able to capture his share of the market, he had to redistribute the surplus more evenly than before.”

        This analysis, while generally sound, neglects the political impact of the wartime planned economy of the second world war, which proved to a lot of people that (a) sustained full employment was perfectly possible, and (b) activist government policy could be used to make recessions go away.

        It also rather conspicuously omits the volume and violence of capitalist resistance to this change.

        And of course, the Fordist planning system you describe could only be achieved because industrial firms were no longer subject to unfixed prices and unmanaged demand – they were, in other words, no longer subject to the capitalist system Marx analyzed. (This is readily seen by the fact that every time attempts have been made to subject the industrial system to “market discipline,” the result has been a new, innovative and – when observed at a safe distance – amusing form of catastrophe.) So I’m not sure why you think Marxian analysis should be applicable.

        – Jake

      • #69 by dan on April 1, 2013 - 5:45 pm

        “But that’s an aside to the main point that service workers are, going by historical experience, less, not more, powerful than manufacturing workers.”

        I don’t think thats true, sure if you are talking only about lowly servants and burger flippers, but doctors, lawyers, mechanics, plumbers, nurses and accountants generally have little history of having to resort to striking and lock outs to negotiate better deals. They tend to work in smaller firms (small businesses dominate the economies of places like the US and make up employ the majority of the workforce). More of them own their own businesses or are in partnerships.

        Unionization usually happens for a reason, and there is usually a reason why it appears in some sectors more than others. The fact is that factory workers and miners and the like are far easier for the capitalist to abuse and usurp from than an auto mechanic or a lawyer. As individuals they are less powerful and have less bargaining power. Thats why those industries have far greater rates of unionization. So no, manufacturing workers are not more powerful than service sector workers, in fact they are far more vulnerable. The death of BW and the Reagan/Thatcher era proved this when the supposedly well protected manufacturer had the rug swept up from under them because the pay and benefits they demanded were no longer sustainable in the current system and corporations could easily bypass them for cheap foreign labor. Historical experience has shown the opposite of what you claim.

        And to take it one step further, since you said to look at the “whole value chain” its important to keep in mind that globally, conditions in manufacturing have not greatly improved, in countries like China they still remain quite similar to those in the 19th century English speaking world. In terms of factory conditions worldwide I would contend that they have barely improved and if anything have gotten worse since the post war years due to the increase in 3rd world sweat shops deliberately taking advantage of cheap labor.

        “This analysis, while generally sound, neglects the political impact of the wartime planned economy of the second world war, which proved to a lot of people that (a) sustained full employment was perfectly possible, and (b) activist government policy could be used to make recessions go away.”

        The wartime economy was no more sustainable than the incarnations of capitalism that came before it. Its not hard to see why full employment would be easy when half of the work force is conscripted and sent to the front. How many job vacancies do you think that creates? Everyone knows that “military Keynesianism” is probably the fastest way out of a recession, but its political and humanitarian implications aren’t exactly desirable.

        Its also true that much of the Fordist changes occurred well before the second world war, in fact it was already beginning in the years leading up to the first world war. And yes, there were many changes in regulation and pricing that influenced these changes, but it still held true that capitalism in the sense of private ownership of the means of production and of property still survived through all that. And Marx said it wouldn’t.

      • #70 by JakeS on April 1, 2013 - 7:12 pm

        “I don’t think thats true, sure if you are talking only about lowly servants and burger flippers, but doctors, lawyers, mechanics, plumbers, nurses and accountants generally have little history of having to resort to striking and lock outs to negotiate better deals.”

        You have a funny idea of the composition of the workforce in the service economy if you think that the liberal professions are the dominant form of labor. They’re on the order of 10 % of the employed labor force (by full-time equivalent). And then you have another 10 % or so in assorted managerial positions.

        “The fact is that factory workers and miners and the like are far easier for the capitalist to abuse and usurp from than an auto mechanic or a lawyer. As individuals they are less powerful and have less bargaining power. Thats why those industries have far greater rates of unionization. So no, manufacturing workers are not more powerful than service sector workers, in fact they are far more vulnerable.”

        And yet they command a substantial wage and working condition premium over *similarly skilled service workers* (let’s remember to make apples-to-apples comparisons here). There’s some gender discrimination at work here as well, of course, in that service work tends to be “women jobs,” but even so the overall picture still holds.

        “The wartime economy was no more sustainable than the incarnations of capitalism that came before it. Its not hard to see why full employment would be easy when half of the work force is conscripted and sent to the front. How many job vacancies do you think that creates? Everyone knows that “military Keynesianism” is probably the fastest way out of a recession, but its political and humanitarian implications aren’t exactly desirable.”

        Obviously, but it proves that industrial Keynesianism works perfectly well, and can equally well be applied to peacetime pursuits. This makes it electorally unpalatable to return to the pre-war Austrian dystopia.

        – Jake

      • #71 by dan on April 2, 2013 - 12:53 am

        “Obviously, but it proves that industrial Keynesianism works perfectly well, and can equally well be applied to peacetime pursuits. This makes it electorally unpalatable to return to the pre-war Austrian dystopia.”

        First of all, I am not advocating that we return to an Austrian dystopia or laissez faire. I am very much a Keynesian Liberal in my views on economic policy and think that governments can and should do their utmost to boost employment and stimulate growth.

        That being said, I feel that Marxism focuses too heavily on primary and secondary sectors and often overlooks the tertiary sector. And given the huge role that the tertiary sector plays in post industrial economies its a major mistake to marginalize its importance, and far too many left wingers marginalize it. The fact of the matter is that in tertiary sector jobs the worker gets paid closer to what he as is worth and quality of work plays a bigger role in wages than gross productivity.

        “And yet they command a substantial wage and working condition premium over *similarly skilled service workers* (let’s remember to make apples-to-apples comparisons here). There’s some gender discrimination at work here as well, of course, in that service work tends to be “women jobs,” but even so the overall picture still holds.”

        That’s true, when you compare similarly skilled workers, primary and secondary sector jobs will give you the highest wages for the least amount of training. However at the same time you have less fluidity and more wage ceilings for the worker. Not to mention that in globalization these jobs can come and go quickly, all it takes is one factory to close for hundreds of jobs to disappear. Certainly developing economies with a largely uneducated population should utilize comparative advantage in these sectors to generate income and growth and build domestic wealth, but its simply unrealistic to have an advanced economy where the majority of workers are in the primary and secondary sectors. The focus on those sectors ultimately comes down to producing cheap goods which undermines their long term viability as mass employers. There’s also the environmental aspect as well in which its probably best to have your “hard” economy used in the most efficient and least wasteful way which calls into question the wisdom of classic industrial Keynesian scheme.

      • #72 by JakeS on April 3, 2013 - 11:40 pm

        “That’s true, when you compare similarly skilled workers, primary and secondary sector jobs will give you the highest wages for the least amount of training. However at the same time you have less fluidity and more wage ceilings for the worker.”

        I’m not sure what the career path is from burger flipper to lawyer. Can I have the paint-by-numbers version?

        In the service economy you’ll always have at least two burger flippers, hairdressers or retail clerks for every person employed in the liberal professions. And lawyers and doctors aren’t going to pull up the wages of burger flippers unless there’s a clear career path from one to the other.

        “Not to mention that in globalization these jobs can come and go quickly,”

        The entire point of the previous discussion of the international trade system is that globalization is an unsustainable short-term policy option, not a long-term fact of modern economic life.

        “Certainly developing economies with a largely uneducated population should utilize comparative advantage in these sectors to generate income and growth and build domestic wealth,”

        Secondary industry isn’t the comparative advantage of developing economies with a largely uneducated workforce. Primary extraction is.

        I am also given to wonder what you mean by “domestic wealth.” Maybe I’m just seeing ghosts here, but I smell a loanable funds fallacy in that turn of phrase.

        “but its simply unrealistic to have an advanced economy where the majority of workers are in the primary and secondary sectors. The focus on those sectors ultimately comes down to producing cheap goods which undermines their long term viability as mass employers.”

        I would counter that it is unrealistic to have an advanced economy which cannot defend its position in the international trade system, and that historically the only sustainable defense of one’s position in the international trade system is a strong industrial sector.

        “There’s also the environmental aspect as well in which its probably best to have your “hard” economy used in the most efficient and least wasteful way which calls into question the wisdom of classic industrial Keynesian scheme.”

        This implies that industrial Keynesianism is resource inefficient. That is an assumption contrary to fact: Industrial Keynesianism is a prerequisite for having a state-of-the-art production plant, which in turn is a prerequisite for having a resource-efficient production.

        Case in point: If you want an industrial Keynesian program for the 21st century, you could do a lot worse than a crash expansion of non-fossil electricity generation, combined with an infrastructure overhaul to electrify as many current uses of liquid fuel as technically feasible.

        – Jake

      • #73 by Dan on April 6, 2013 - 10:56 pm

        “Case in point: If you want an industrial Keynesian program for the 21st century, you could do a lot worse than a crash expansion of non-fossil electricity generation, combined with an infrastructure overhaul to electrify as many current uses of liquid fuel as technically feasible.”

        Hey I would be all for such a policy, in my opinion the challenges of global warming present great opportunity for infrastructural overhaul which in and of themselves would be a massive increase in sustainable output. Improving the US powergrid alone would save an enormous amount of energy and a focus on sustainability would help create lots of jobs in recycling, water treatment, biogas(potentially captured from wastewater and garbage).

        However, I am not sure if it completely solves the problem of labor and employment. Secondary and primary industries are shifting towards automation and less employment, entire factories are running assembly lines with robots, farmers are starting to use robotic tractors and dairy milkers. Its an increasing trend that doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon, regardless of protectionism and trade policies. I suppose it will eventually occur in the tertiary sector, but not as quickly. Within the next 20 years we could see unemployment continue to rise due to automation in more sectors which could equate to massive inequality and the middle class being obliterated.

        In the long run I think it may be wise to think of alternative ways to provide for people’s subsistence outside of labor. In the US especially we have decided to use mandates and minimum wages to put this burden on employers instead of having a well functioning welfare state. But the problem is that unemployment is only rising the past 50 years and with automation becoming cheaper than labor I don’t see this trend letting up.

        I am not exactly sure what the solution would be other than I think that at some point it will reach a breaking point, where humans have to choose between a form of capitalism with enormous inequality, or incorporating a greater wealth redistribution scheme to ensure people’s needs are met. I really think that Marx’s revolution was supposed to be about that, a communist society would look out for people’s welfare regardless of who they are and what labor they are providing. Production becomes socialized and the dividends and profits from producers are redistributed to society in an egalitarian way, either through welfare initiatives designed to help the poor or something akin to a national dividend.

      • #74 by JakeS on April 6, 2013 - 11:02 pm

        I agree that the logic of industrial civilization, taken to its natural ultimate conclusion, argues for the wholly labor-free production. And of course in that eventuality, society will need a primary income allocation scheme that is not based on man-hours.

        But that will be then, and this is now.

        And right now, I have a long, long list of nice stuff that we are repeatedly told we cannot have, while at the same time I have an equally long list of the involuntarily unemployed who are looking for gainful work.

        – Jake

    • #75 by Magpie on April 4, 2013 - 5:45 am

      @Dan

      “See I happen to think that this is the great flaw in Marx’s thinking, perfect competition, free markets, perfect private property rights and equilibrium really don’t exist in real economies.”

      That may be so, Dan. That may be so.

      But then, again, if there are no “perfect competition, free markets, perfect private property rights and equilibrium” then capitalism sucks big time, doesn’t it?

      I mean, it is “perfect competition, free markets, perfect private property rights and equilibrium” that, in the mainstream view, make of capitalism a stable (and moral!) system.

      Marx is only showing that, even if one assumes the mainstream view, capitalism is a crappy system.

      • #76 by Dan on April 6, 2013 - 11:17 pm

        “But then, again, if there are no “perfect competition, free markets, perfect private property rights and equilibrium” then capitalism sucks big time, doesn’t it?”

        I wouldn’t say that, you could just as easily say that if capitalism with perfect competition, free markets etc. sucks then a capitalism without those things could probably be better. I would just say that libertarians are wrong in their interpretation of how economies work, and just because their story about equilibrium and free markets isn’t true doesn’t mean that capitalism as a whole automatically sucks, it just means that laissez faire is a dysfunctional form of capitalism.

        For example, Keynes didn’t believe in those things but he still believed in capitalism, and ultimately much of his theories were designed for a better functioning capitalism. So just because the neoclassical explanations are wrong doesn’t mean that capitalism as whole has to go, it just means that economics work in different way from what they were saying and perhaps laissez faire should be looked at as a dysfunctional form of capitalism rather than the standard model of it. And with a better understanding of capitalist economics could be a lot better. In fact I will propose that economists did figure out a better way to run capitalism, and that’s why Marx’s prediction of complete overhaul of the entire system was wrong.

  14. #77 by Dan on March 27, 2013 - 4:52 pm

    I often find Libertarianism’s idea of “naturalism” to be nothing more than an extension of Herbert Spencer’s Social Darwinism which lambasted things like welfare and charity as merely keeping alive bad genes and traits that had to go and that Darwinian natural selection proves that allowing the weaker links to die is the natural way. The ironic thing about Spencer was that he had a huge impact on the late 19th century English speaking world, and yet most people today look back at the Victorian era as one of the most unnatural, awkward and bizarre periods in human history. Marx was alive then and he was able to realize what the proto-libertarians didn’t, which was basically that 19th century industrial society was kind of fucked.

  15. #78 by thirdworldliberator on March 31, 2013 - 4:35 pm

    You really ought to read “Capital”. It unravels Marx’s ideas and would give you a deeper understanding of how he thought capitalism works.

    • #79 by Unlearningecon on March 31, 2013 - 5:10 pm

      I agree but I’m lazy and it’s long. More substantively, I know it requires a lot of intellectual effort so I want to study it when I’ve finished formal education.

      • #80 by thirdworldliberator on March 31, 2013 - 5:24 pm

        Have you thought of trying a ‘reader’ version? That way, you’ll have help delving into some of the more complex ideas. As for formal education, you’d be suprised at some of the philosophical parallels you’ll uncover if you just read a little in your spare time.

      • #81 by Unlearningecon on April 2, 2013 - 2:10 pm

        Yeah, I should do. I know David Harvey and Michael Heinrich have good introductions, I should probably go with those.

  16. #82 by Alex on April 6, 2013 - 11:40 am

    This is foolishness. This idea of which is more important, production or consumption is misguided. Both only have meaning in the context of the other. True libertarianism, and i will ruffle some feathers by saying true libertarianism is now called ‘anarcho-capitalism’, is based on freedom to choose. The freedom to choose how to make yourself, create your life. Any attempt define a good life, or a better person, is foolish and naive.

    • #83 by Unlearningecon on April 6, 2013 - 11:59 am

      Any attempt define a good life, or a better person, is foolish and naive.

      Except when anarcho-capitalists do it, right? :)

      It’s quite lazy to define your ideology as the neutral one and then evade any actual discussion of political issues. You’ve given me no reason to believe anarcho-capitalism is a blank slate, and neither have any of its other proponents. It’s always ‘well people would be free to choose’ hand waving, avoiding serious questions like why land ownership would be functionally different from being a state, why corporations would play nice for no other reason than they believed strongly in The Ethics of Liberty or what have you.

    • #84 by JakeS on April 6, 2013 - 12:02 pm

  17. #85 by cookedspicy on April 6, 2013 - 5:06 pm

    This is great. I’ve always thought that the libertarian insistance on people being “rational actors” who make decisions based on their economic need completely misses what we know about social pressures and power. In essence, they complain that in democracy or marxism people aren’t free, but how am I free in a society in which the only power is capital, and someone else has all of it?

  18. #86 by Magpie on April 8, 2013 - 2:22 am

    @Dan (#76)

    Somehow this starts to sound like applying to Marx the old “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. You damn critics of capitalism for speaking the language of promoters of capitalism (“damned if you do”).

    So, let’s rewind. Ever since industrial capitalism started to get a hold in Britain, people came forward to denounce it, and for all sorts of reasons too. At the same time, promoters of capitalism took it upon themselves to reply.

    And I am not making this up. You know, I presume, of the controversies between Malthus and Ricardo, long before Marx. You know of the “Negro Question Debate” (already during Marx’s time).

    What was the response these critics got from the promoters of capitalism? It’s not a hard question: we hear exactly the same answer now. (Check here, if you don’t believe me: http://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile_canadian_initi/2012/07/can-you-please-read-a-first-year-textbook.html)

    I’ll let Arnsperger and Varoufakis answer that:

    “There is nothing more frustrating for critics of neoclassical economics than the argument that neoclassical economics is a figment of their imagination; that, simply, there is scientific economics and there is speculative hand-waiving (by those who have never really grasped the finer points of mainstream economic theory)”

    http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue38/ArnspergerVaroufakis38.htm

    You find two things in that quote:

    (1) critics of capitalism are reproached that they do not speak the language of promoters of capitalism (the “hand-waiving” bit, the “damned if you don’t”);
    (2) promoters of capitalism claim to know better (the “scientific economics” bit).

    So, Marx and others then and now endeavored to speak the same language (incidentally, this is what Arnsperger and Varoufakis propose in that article).

    You wrote this:

    “I wouldn’t say that, you could just as easily say that if capitalism with perfect competition, free markets etc. sucks then a capitalism without those things could probably be better.”

    So, with all due respect, the idea is to engage the “promoters of capitalism”, not you (I am supposing you are not one of them).

    Furthermore, as the notion of perfect competition, for instance, is widely seen as a good thing, because it supposedly limits the power of producers, it is contingent upon you to show it is not a good thing. Is that what you are suggesting? Do you mean to say that “capitalism without those things could probably be better”?

    Then, you added:

    “I would just say that libertarians are wrong (…), it just means that laissez faire is a dysfunctional form of capitalism.
    “For example, Keynes didn’t believe in those things but he still believed in capitalism, and ultimately much of his theories were designed for a better functioning capitalism.”

    You are right in saying that Keynes believed that capitalism could be tamed. That a capitalism without laissez faire was possible.

    To paraphrase you in a previous comment, Kalecki “just so happened” to hold similar theoretical positions in many senses, with one exception: he did not believe that capitalism could be tamed. Again, don’t take my word for that, check here:

    http://rwer.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/kalecki-on-the-confidence-fairy-and-full-employment-1943/

    And Kalecki was right; Keynes was wrong (check here for a humorous take, there’s plenty more serious stuff you can check on your own: http://leftycartoons.com/regarding-the-ongoing-irrelevance-of-keynesian-economics/).

    You cannot have “half capitalism”, any more than you can be “half-pregnant”. That’s why the “Golden Age of Enlightened Capitalism” came to an end.

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