« Footsie's verdict on Brexit | Main | The democracy problem »

October 05, 2016

Comments

Criticalbill

Excuse me for being thick, but can I sum up your piece as so:

Marx said the state would always serve capital (people with accumulated wealth; the rich); but Engels (and Miliband) agreed that it would at times not necessarily serve capital, so that it can at a later date go back to serving capital.

But despite the fact that the state doesn't always serve capital, it is still serving capital, even when it isn't serving capital – because it isn't serving capital in order to go back to serving capital

But this doesn't mean the original theory is nonsense, because there is a way the state could not serve capital that wouldn't be in order to go back to serving capital

Dennis Smith

This argument starts from a very naïve (19th-century) vision of the world with three factors of production (land, money and labour) and three matching classes of owners (rentiers, capitalists and workers). A more realistic classification would recognise many different types of capital – financial, physical, natural, intellectual, cultural, social, etc. These have different logics and different modes of ownership and they can operate in mutually contradictory ways. For example, creative destruction of industries can produce financial benefits (for some) at the cost of destroying possibly irreplaceable cultural and natural capital (mutual trust, social solidarity, species diversity) for others.

Different classes of people (whatever that means in the contemporary world) possess, or specialise in, different types of capital. There are obviously many factors contributing to the current Brexit rebellion and similar phenomena across the developed world. But some of it is clearly a revolt of the dispossessed, in some cases the doubly dispossessed. Some people feel – rightly – that they are losing out economically; others, that they are being robbed of their cherished identity (local, national, class or whatever).

If social identities and social solidarities are conceived as forms of capital, then a state which seeks to promote them is not going against the interest of ‘capital’ as such – it is simply prioritising one form of capital over another.

A conscientious Marxist can of curse avoid this conclusion by insisting that social identities are merely epiphenomenal – by-products of the ‘real’ economic infrastructure. But any Marxist who goes down this road, in my view, is simply mistaken.

Stuart

It's not too hard to find those on the ultra left who would say that a high citizen's income, a jobs guarantee and the promotion of workers' co-ops would merely be an unusually high return to variable capital, a reorganisation of poverty, and an example of workers self-management of commodity production and exploitation. So the Marxist theory could rest secure even if those "refutation" conditions were met.

nicholas

I agree with Dennis Smith that it is outdated to think of the privileged as being the owners of capital. Rather, they are often the beneficiaries of some type of economic rent or market failure - eg the well paid hedge fund manager, the overpaid banker, the ftse 100 directors who have voted one another pay rises. Indeed, these rent seekers's interest are opposed to the interests of capital and labour - they cheat shareholders as much as they do other workers who possess no advantage.
Thus Theresa May can make a case that she is on the side of both Labour and Capital provided they operate in effective market, and against market abuse by either Labour or Capital. Maybe Marx would have approved.

Warren Tarbiat

@Chris Dillow:

I don't think this is odd thing happening; May seems to harken to the pre-1979 pro-property/monopolisation Liberalism (or as I like to call it "London Values" :p) of Tory State Interventionism post-WW2. But I'm probably talking crap and not asnwering you directly so feel free to blast me away with your intellect :p.

@DennisSmith:

"This argument starts from a very naïve (19th-century) vision of the world with three factors of production (land, money and labour) and three matching classes of owners (rentiers, capitalists and workers). A more realistic classification would recognise many different types of capital – financial, physical, natural, intellectual, cultural, social, etc."

I heavily disagree with this assertion, the basis of classical economics is still real. Alot of those categories fit in with the three methods of productions (for instance Financial goes into capital, intellectual into Labour, physical into land etc).

The big elephant in the room with economics is that it doesn't recognise Land which is the biggest cause of Industrial depressions.

From Arse To Elbow

@Dennis Smith,

Capital isn't money. That's just a medium of exchange. In Marx's theory, capital is the surplus value of embodied labour. Whether you agree with him or not, that's a precise definition from which other conclusions logically flow, such as what constitutes a "class" in Marxist terminology.

Appending the word "capital" to other natural or social phenomena, from a propensity to visit the theatre to bio-diversity, is merely metaphor (though strongly influenced by ideology). It's also worth noting that categorising capital, as Labour has been wont to do with the moralistic "good/bad" dichotomy, is also meaningless as regards Marx's monist theory.

One belief that Marxists share with libertarians and self-made capitalists is that capital can be "freely" acquired (whether by exploitation or talent). In contrast, the idea of a social identity as a form of capital presumes personal qualification: we are not all free to acquire it (consider the furore over Rachel Dolezal's self-identification as black). Calling a "cherished identity" "capital" is a category error.

B.L. Zebub

@ Chris,

"Theresa May’s government poses a challenge to us Marxists.
"What I mean is that Marx and Engels saw the state as a means of promoting capitalists’ interests. It is, said Engels, 'the instrument for exploiting wage-labour by capital'."

Whoever said all capitalists share all interests? Certainly neither Marx nor Engels. That would have been an exceedingly silly thing to say.

In their own times, local manufacturers opposed free trade and squealed like pigs in a slaughterhouse for import barriers. Big exporters and financiers opposed them. Marx made a speech in Brussels, if memory serves, clearly explaining that.

Or look across the pond. The Donald is a capitalist, a real estate mogul, and an evidently self-serving one, at that. He is opposed by Hillary, the Wall Street puppet.

One side must prevail, alright. The point is whoever wins, is a capitalist who wins.

Not one of those guys really gives a damn about workers. The state would never side with workers just because they are workers.

In fact, even Adam Smith said similar things way before Marx and Engels: don't you remember him writing about combinations of workingmen and masters and how there aren't acts of parliament against the latter, but they abound against the former?

chris

@ Me Zebub - yes, different capitals have different interests, which has mattered in many ways in the past. But this doesn't much matter in this context, as May is antagonizing almost all. Finance capital and exporters are jeopardized by Brexit, non-exporters by the higher import costs caused by sterling's fall, small firms by the "living wage" etc.
@ nicholas - I agree. But this isn't May's pitch at all. She doesn't seem to be saying "I want a true free market economy cleansed of rent-seeking snd monopoly."
@ Dennis - you have a point. But many of the advantages that accrue to other "capitals" do so because they generate access to economic capital - eg social and cultural capital/being a white man increase your chances of becoming an exploiter.

Anarcho

You seem to be confusing the government (which comes and goes) with the state (the institutions which have permanence -- and vested interests).

Moreover, it is perfectly possible for there to be a government at the head of the capitalist state which comes into conflict with sections of the capitalist class -- the state exists to defend the system as a whole. That can and does mean that it can appear to be "above" classes -- when it is in fact just securing the interests of few against the counter-productive position of a part of that few.

As for the Marxist theory of the state, it is hardly a good one. At its best, it approaches the anarchist one. At its worse, it is just naive democratic wishful thinking (hence you see Marx suggest that the bourgeoisie lost power under the regime of Louis-Napoleon or that universal suffrage was the equivalent of political power of the working class).

Anyways, I discuss this in section H of An Anarchist FAQ ( http://www.anarchistfaq.org ) if anyone is interested.

Sandwichman

"If the state were to maximize labour’s bargaining power at the expense of capital – for example via a high citizens income, jobs guarantee and promotion of worker coops – it would cease to be “a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”."

You leave out the most important one: limitation of the hours of labor.

" In place of the pompous catalogue of the 'inalienable rights of man' comes the modest Magna Charta of a legally limited working-day, which shall make clear “when the time which the worker sells is ended, and when his own begins.” Quantum mutatus ab illo!"

B.L. Zebub


@Criticalbill (October 05, 2016 at 02:30 PM)

**You** wrote: "Marx said the state would always serve capital (people with accumulated wealth; the rich)".

By which **you** mean that Marx said the state will always, invariably, without exception, serve capital. Because it obviously doesn't, Marxists are all bananas.

Okay, **I** will apply your own criteria to your argument. What you say, then, is that the state will always, invariably, without exception, serve the common good, regardless of interests groups and social class.

In other words, when Martin Giles of Princeton University - Department of Political Science, based on data, wrote ("Interest Groups and Inequality in Democratic Responsiveness in the U.S.") that:

"In this paper, I examine the extent to which the link between public preferences and government policy is biased toward the preferences of high-income Americans. Using an original data set of almost 2,000 survey questions on proposed policy changes between 1981 and 2002 (...) I also find that when Americans with different income levels differ in their policy preferences, actual policy outcomes strongly reflect the preferences of the most affluent but bear little relationship to the preferences of poor or middle income Americans. Rrepresentational biases of this magnitude call into question the very democratic character of our society."

You say he is bananas, too. His data, his qualifications, are shit. You know better based on god knows what.

Before you complain - correctly - that (1) I am refuting an extremely uncharitable reading of your objection, that (2) I am putting words in your mouth, and that (3) I'm just refuting a straw man version of your argument, let me remind you that your own argument checks each and every one of those three boxes. And you know it.

I have the same right you have to use straw men and I demand it. And, no, I don't forgive thickness. As a matter of fact, I don't think you are being thick; I think you are being dishonest. There's a difference.

B.L. Zebub

@ Dennis Smith (October 05, 2016 at 03:31 PM)

You wrote:

"This argument starts from a very naïve (19th-century) vision of the world with three factors of production (land, money and labour) and three matching classes of owners (rentiers, capitalists and workers)."

Microeconomics, too, starts with a very naïve (but 20th-century) vision of the world: consumers/households and firms. Why should one prefer one over the other?

"A more realistic classification would recognise many different types of capital – financial, physical, natural, intellectual, cultural, social, etc."

I think that lacks precision.

For one, that's not the view of national statistics offices all over the world (including Britain): GDP is divided into Gross Operative Profits and Compensation of Employees. Two different sources of income, for two different positions in the food chain. I side with them on this.

But if you think otherwise, shouldn't you try to convince them?

Mind you, their view is not arbitrary, either: How would national accountants put a dollar value to "intellectual, cultural, social" capital stocks? How does one measure income flows from them?

Each definition of capital I've seen invariably involves the notion of ASSET: You can inherit your parents' assets: house, bank accounts, etc. You cannot inherit your parents' "cultural" capital; they cannot sell it. "Intellectual, cultural, social" "capitals" are not assets, therefore, they cannot be capital.

"social identities and social solidarities are conceived as forms of capital".

You can't include $1,000,000 in your personal balance sheet corresponding to your "social identity capital". And it would be an scandalously mismanaged bank one that lent you money using that figure as collateral.

Could one tax those "capitals"? Are they affected by inflation/deflation?

"A conscientious Marxist can of curse avoid this conclusion by insisting that social identities are merely epiphenomenal – by-products of the ‘real’ economic infrastructure. But any Marxist who goes down this road, in my view, is simply mistaken."

With all due respect, if something is very naïve it is your opinion. One doesn't need to be a "conscientious Marxist" to reject your conclusion, a little sense of **English** pragmatism is enough.

Garden-variety common sense does the trick, too.

B.L. Zebub

@ Chris

Just three days ago you wrote:

"One reason why the Footsie has risen might well be that sterling’s fall is expected to be permanent, and so will raise overseas earnings – which account for around three-quarters of the FTSE 100’s total earnings. It’s no accident that today’s biggest risers include a lot of overseas earners, such as Pearson, Standard Chartered and Royal Dutch."

It's not like we are talking about Mum and Dad's next corner coffee shop: don't those people have any clout in Government?

I may be mistaken, but I think to remember Remainers reproaching Murdoch tabloids' unashamed pro-Brexit stance. Were Murdoch editors and reporters rebelling against him?

----------

Or take Australia's example. Renewable energy (especially wind and solar) is popular with Greens and Labor (what passes for Left here); coal with the Liberal/National Coalition.

Renewable energy is costly, compared to coal: renewable energy generators promote and fund climate change activists, asking for a carbon tax (or subsidies for them); coal energy generators fund climate change denialists and oppose the carbon tax.

At times, depending on which party is in power, one side gets more influence with the Commonwealth government. That doesn't mean the Commonwealth has become anti-capitalist.

(Personally, I side with the wind/solar capitalists, not because they are less capitalistic than coal generators, but because they are less environmentally damaging.)

The benefits the rabble effectively gets from those confrontations are epiphenomena, unintended consequences.

The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Why S&M?

Blog powered by Typepad