Sunday, March 27, 2005

A Just Capitalism? A Reply to Alan Wood.

Alan Wood has made a career out of making plausible sounding arguments regarding Marx that have no possible chance of being true. In fact one can spot a trend that has allowed a number of social theorists (I might add here Cohen's A Defense of K. Marx's Theory of History) to askew common sense and reasonable inquiry.

When I created this blog I promised to demonstrate how my particular method for understanding Marx might come in handy. I have chosen Alan Wood's contention that Marx believed that Capitalism was/(is) a just society, because it illustrates how distorted a view can become if one does not take into account how Marx often spoke sarcastically when he promoted his ideas.

I will be following Alan E. Buchanan's treatment of Wood's claim from his Marx and Justice. In the book ,Buchanan stencils out Wood's basic claim, by suggesting it can best understood when broken down in to (2) basic premises: [Buchanan p.53]

  1. According to Marx, a standard of justice can only be meaningfully applied to that mode of production from which it arises and to which it corresponds, and each mode has its own distinctive standard.
  2. According to Marx, the wage-relation between worker and capitalist is just according to the only standard of justice which applies to it, namely the standard which requires that equivalents be exchanged for equivalents.

Buchanan goes on to argue that "on the basis of premises (1) and (2), Wood concludes that for Marx the exploitation of the worker by the capitalist , though evil because it is a form of servitude, is not unjust." (Buchanan p.52)

Both Holmstrom and Buchanan rightly insist that Wood has "abstracted from his background" the fact that while the commodity of labour power is exchanged freely and equally , the worker is not on the same level playing field as the capitalist.

As has been noted by Buchanan, Nancy Holmstrom concluded that " we now see that calling it a just exchange could only be done tongue-in-cheek."[my emphasis]( Buchanan p. 54)

Within this unequal playground of Bentham and Mill ,the worker undergoes a compulsion under the threat of starvation and death, to enter within a contract with the capitalist , while the capitalist could wait out such a transaction for quite a longer period of time.

As one can see, without considering the sarcastic nature of attacks that Marx will use in defense of his ideas, a completely different account of the relationship between capital and worker could be given. Despite Marx's admonishments to stay away from moralizing the conflict between proletariat and capitalist, Wood's description of the conflict as Evil rather than unjust [ at least within the field of distributive justice] turns Marx on his head. Marx becomes a moralizer and utopian rather than a critic of capitalist theory.

I think in principle, that Marx believed that (equivalents vs equivalents) is a fair distributive practice within capitalism, but that the practice of real life capitalists was nothing like that, capitalism violated it's own myths so it was both evil and unjust. [ Not that I have show a real case for capitalism to be "evil." ]

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Marxism of the Right?

TCS: Tech Central Station - Marxism of the Right?: "Until this article by Robert Locke appeared in The American Conservative, conservatives and libertarians have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship. After all, there is so much on which they agree."

Max Borders' began his discussion of Robert Locke's article admitting that the "beneficial relationship" between libertarians and conservatives has been quite useful. Something most Objectivists and other libertarians are often quick to minimize.

Though a little later later, Borders' insists that if you suggest that conservetives describe libertarians as consisting of the ilk who indulge in drugs, selfishness and avarice then your simply ignorant about his movement: "You're thinking of libertinism. Mr. Locke is, perhaps, guilty of the same error."

Borders' reports that Mr. Locke's basis for comparison between Marx and libertarians is their equally "fraudulent intellectual" accounts of society based on "apriori accounts of the good":

"This is no surprise, as libertarianism is basically the Marxism of the Right. If Marxism is the delusion that one can run society purely on altruism and collectivism, then libertarianism is the mirror-image delusion that one can run it purely on selfishness and individualism."

I am not sure who should be more offended, Marxists or libertarians. Borders' is quick to distance himself though from the more fashionable wing of his thought, objectivism.

The notion that libertarians believe society ought to be run based on "selfishness" indicates that Mr. Locke frequents cocktail parties with objectivity, not libertarians. First of all, most libertarians don't think society should be "run" at all, rather -- as Hayek taught -- society should essentially run itself.

I won't inform "Max" if you won't about communism's belief in the withering away of the state. I also fail to see a diference between his libertarianism and objectivists (who would argue along the exact same line about how society would run.)[Not to mention anarchists, communists, trekkies etc.]

Mr. Borders takes Locke to task for his what he believes to be the contradictions found in Locke's "mirror-image theory" of Marxism and libertarianism while defending Marxist thought from Locke's simplisitc charge of economic determinism:

The assertion that Marx "reduced social life to economics" is amusing if not misguided. Perhaps the better description of Marxist thought is an attempt to "reduce social life to materialism." This more accurate description of Marx has nothing to do with libertarianism... [my emphasis] , and with that correction, Mr. Locke's cutely constructed "mirror-image" theory collapses.

While I agree with Borders' formulation that Marxism is concerned with materialism [ just how you "reduce" the material world to materialism is a bit confusing for Marxists.] But,as to Max's assertion that the real difference between Marxism and libertarianism lies in the grounding of Karl Marx's thought in materialism could not be further from the truth.

The epistemological foundations of difference between Marxist thought and most apologists for laissez faire capitalism is found at its level of analysis. Marxists recognize that individuals are found in society and cannot be seperated atomicistically from each other. This fundamental aspect of truth is not gleamed by most libertarians.