Changing the rules or changing the game?

I’ve just been to a lecture by Professor Joseph Stiglitz as part of a series organised by the British Labour Party on ‘new economics’.  The lecture series is designed to raise the level of economic debate and for the new range of economic advisors to the Labour Party to come up with ideas.  Joseph Stiglitz is one of the advisors.  He is a Nobel prize winner in economics and former chief economist at the World Bank.  And he is author of several books, particularly on the rise of inequality of incomes and wealth in the major economies over the last 40 years.  His latest book is called, Rewriting the rules of the American economy to achieve shared prosperity.

Stiglitz is deeply concerned with the rise in inequality exhibited across the major economies and elsewhere globally.  He obviously sees it as the major issue before the people and politicians at the moment.  He started by saying that his original PhD thesis was on the subject of the distribution of income and wealth, in 1969 (published in Econometrica).  Back then, mainstream economics was clear that the distribution of income or the wage-profit share hardly moves.  And as they taught this fact, the facts started to change and inequality rose sharply from then on!

Stiglitz showed, using the work of Saez, Piketty, Atkinson and others (often mentioned in this blog) to show the sharp rise in inequality of income since the 1980s, led by the US and closely followed by the UK, especially the rise in the share of income and wealth going to the top 1%, or even worse to the top 0.1%.  Now eight families have as much wealth as 150 million Americans.

This has all been well documented and so has the impact of extreme inequality on social mobility, life expectancy and poverty.  Right now, poor white males of working age are suffering a significant decline in life expectancy, a fall similar to that suffered by Russian males after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

While the top 1% has been doing great, the real incomes of average (median) households has been stagnant since 1995 and for full-time male workers since 1970!  And the minimum wage in real terms (after inflation) is now lower than it was 60 years ago!  Global inequality has also been rising, with the top 1% of income earners in the world (obviously mostly in rich countries) increasing their share the most, along with the Chinese middle-class, while the working class in rich countries have lost ground, as have the very poorest in the world.  All this has been documented before on this blog and in my Essays on Inequality.

There are two questions that really matter.  What has caused the rise in inequality? And what can we do about it?  Stiglitz attempted to answer these questions.  He did not think inequality had risen because of what he called normal market forces in capitalism, as Piketty has argued.  If you exclude housing wealth, then the income on productive capital has been falling, so labour income should have risen, but it hasn’t.

No, he thought the main reason was ‘structural’.  What happened was that in the early 1980s, under Reagan and Thatcher, neoliberal policies were introduced to cut taxes for the rich and relax regulations on finance and monopolies.  This was supposed to boost growth and incomes for the rich and this would ‘trickle down’ to the rest.  Stiglitz said this policy approach had miserably failed: growth was slower, inequality worse and average household income stagnated.  The financial sector did not lend funds to invest productively, but to speculate.  So the problem is not capitalism or the market generating inequality, but the changing of the rules of the market: namely ending regulation, progressive taxation and public services in a ‘mixed economy’.

But Stiglitz did not say why the rules of the game were changed in the 1980s – it just happened because of ideology, greed, errors…?  He did not say.  Marxists like me would say the policies were changed because the Golden Age of capitalism with its decent pensions, public services and benefits and full employment could no longer be afforded by market capitalism as profitability of capital plunged.  The change of rules was necessary for the saving of the capitalist market system.  Extreme inequality of wealth and income is the norm for capitalism: it was the short Golden Age after 1945 that was special, not the neoliberal period since the 1970s, as Piketty has shown.

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Stiglitz wants to change the ‘rules’ back.  As he said, “I am no left-winger, I’m a middle of the road economist”.  He just wants to reduce ‘extreme’ inequality and get growth up.  He is sure that this can be done in the US by getting the Federal Reserve to set interest rates to promote jobs not reduce inflation; to cut the student debt burden; increase the minimum wage and introduce anti-trust laws to break up the banks and big monopolies etc.

Stiglitz admitted that even these mild rule changes were unlikely to see the light of day in the US, given the present balance of forces in Congress or for that matter in the UK.  I’m tempted to repeat the comment of left Keynesian Joan Robinson: “Any government which had both the power and will to remedy the major defects of the capitalist system would have the will and power to abolish it altogether”.

“We can’t leave to market forces to solve the problems by themselves”, concluded Stiglitz, so we must rewrite the rules of the game.  This is like saying bear baiting should be moderated by rewriting the rules.  Why not stop the game altogether.

44 Responses to “Changing the rules or changing the game?”

  1. Henry Says:

    Not much to disagree with here.

    The only point I would make is in response to the Joan Robinson quote. This is the problem, we don’t have the power but we have the will. This is the situation both Sanders and Corbyn, and any other socialist, find themselves in. In that situation you have to take the scenic route and not the freeway.

    It is a positive development that socialists are making inroads. I would certainly say both Sanders and Corbyn go beyond social democracy. You only have to look at Corbyn’s views on NATO etc to understand this.

  2. Danny Lambert Says:

    Sorry Henry but you’re wrong, workers because we do all the work necessary to reproduce society day to day if, we had a mind to could dump capitalism tomorrow and no one could stop us. It’s not the power we lack it’s the will.

    http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb

  3. Victor Onrust Says:

    With no other agenda then “ending capitalism” there will be no will. Rightly so. Nobody wants a “plan economy” anymore. So one has to think about a new, seriously social and democratic capitalism. Bound to the culture that brought it about and not to the whole world.

  4. Danny Lambert Says:

    “Democratic capitalism” surely your having a laugh Victor.
    Real democracy is a method of social administration where all socially relevant information is freely available to all as to ensure shared responsibility in social decision making.
    Are you suggesting that we workers should have a say in how our masters arrange our exploitation and their level of profit?
    For me and I’m not alone, the idea that ending capitalism is just an and in itself is incoherent, it is a means to end, the free association of producers.
    Take a look at the website below and check out my agenda.
    http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb

  5. SimonH Says:

    Say what Victor? If you mean people don’t want a redo of Stalinism I’d agree but planning can’t be reduced to Gosplan. Indeed planning is a big part of capitalist society. The task is to point this out to people, who do they want doing the planning, themselves or the robber barons?

  6. Victor Onrust Says:

    @Danny, @Symen Social here means that property of (large) production facilities is not in private hands; not direct, nor indirect by means of shares. And not inheritable. Democratic means that all concerned (not only the workers) somehow can participate in electing the management and a controlling committee. The market, if managed well, is a very democratic instrument, giving a lot of freedom, flexibility and openness to new development. But it presupposes actors who can act on their own accord. The ruling elite should be replaced if they are unwilling to support this. Central planning is not a good idea. This has nothing to do with Stalinism.

    • Apostolis Says:

      A decentralized planned economy is a very good option in my opinion.

      But even if we have a market, we need to end the game and not change the rules. And capitalism is based on making profits and investing to maximize profits.

      Any solution will need to end the existence of profit making.

    • Danny Lambert Says:

      It seems to me Victor that you propose a social relationship where the workers and others you don’t specify, organise their own exploitation
      As for the market being “democratic’, an examination reveals it’s nothing of the sort, with the market there is only effective demand, demand backed by money, no matter how dire the need, the laws can’t pay can’t have, no money no life, are unavoidable.
      Why don’t we just get over ourselves and affirm our common identity as the human family, we all share the same ancestors do we not? And acknowledge that fact by bringing according to ability and taking according to need, like a functional family. That being the case all the useless unproductive toil managing the market/money system will be redundant and instead of being too busy taking care of business to take care of ourselves, we’ll have the time and resources to create a world where we can all live as real humans, free humans.

      • Victor Onrust Says:

        “Exploitation” in this context is a frame. For any kind of openness, freedom of choice, flexibility, creating a surplus is necessary. It all depends on how surplus creation is managed, what boundaries are set, who benefits. I have not stated markets in its present form are democratic. But they could be. Most processes where millions have to decide “democratically” together will do worse.

  7. Henry Says:

    “It’s not the power we lack it’s the will.”

    I should have been more precise with my comment. When I say we I mean socialists, the advanced guard if you like. *I do not mean the mass of people*. So we socialists, people like Corbyn and Sanders, have the will but we do not have anything approaching class power to back it up. This means that when these people get elected there is only so much they can do.

    The market always but always concentrates wealth and privilege into the hands of a few. Other than violence the market is a perfect mechanism for inequality. Bourgeois democracy is not the result of markets but the result of struggle by classes/groups/individuals. Markets, if anything, ensure that the bourgeois democratic structures are deformed by the inequalities they create.

    Markets come into conflict with democracy rather than being a democratic thing in itself. That is not to say markets are not effective.

    Oh and Victor the problem with your idea of replacing the ruling elite is it is the ruling elite who call the shots. This is why they are called the ruling elite! The answer is to get rid of the ruling elite, replacing them is a paradox.

    • Danny Lambert Says:

      Henry how can someone who proposes to run capitalism in the interests of workers be referred to as socialists, because doing so is about as feasible as running an abattoir in the interests of the animals it slaughters. Capitalism and socialism are mutually exclusive.
      We can ourselves whatever we like but it’s what we do that identifies us.

    • sartesian Says:

      “we socialists, people like Corbyn and Sanders….”????

      I hope none of “we socialists” are “like” Corbyn and Sanders. I know I’m not, but then again, I may not be part of the “we…”

  8. Apostolis Says:

    Yanis Varoufakis, when the Greek Government was pressured to accept the new programme, when the Syriza leadership could’t find an alternative solution, he said that what we need to do is to tell the people that we have failed on our promises and to step back from power.

    Now Varoufakis is not a revolutionary but that proposal makes sense.

    Any other option would mean that the Greek leadership would have to change what constitutes acceptable.

    So let us stick to our belief that we need to change the game and step back from power if we can’t because anything else would be dishonest.

    I wouldn’t dismiss the market, only those that ignore the forces that are at play at a capitalist economy.

    Mutualism is one such bad theory.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutualism_(economic_theory)

  9. murray cohen Says:

    Michael, I’m glad you pointed out that extreme inequality of wealth and income is the norm in capitalism. In regard to the “golden age” of capitalism after WW2, it shouldn’t have to be pointed out that here in the United States a very large minority of the population lived during this this “golden age” suffering extreme oppression and poverty. Organized labor won some economic victories for white workers…that were easily taken away, because they came with a political and moral price. Their children are likely to vote for Trump, their grandchildren for Sanders. Which is good, provided that they can educate themselves and not become disillusioned with sham politics and “socialism.”…In that regard (and in regard to points taken in the “comments”…shouldn’t we (marxists) insist on always placing the Russian Revolution in its historical context, and judge its leaders in terms of the conditions that they faced? That would free us to defend the revolution for what it was: absolutely necessary–and, given the truly murderous forces (including social democratic ones) ranged against the soviet people–one of the great emancipatory achievements in human history…. What’s wrong with organizing and acting? and defending oneself? What’s wrong with planning? Stalin was a man, a bad one. Lenin was also a man, a good one.

  10. Victor Onrust Says:

    @Murray I agree with you on the point that Lenin (and Trotsky!) had not much choice in their time and did what had to be done under the circumstances, even though their theories contained serious errors. And of course L & T are to be held responsible for Stalin, their biggest error. I don’t think it’s possible to “defend the revolution” as strategy to overcome the “bad name” of socialism and marxism. I would try to leave history out of the debate as much as possible. At this moment the frame of “cultural marxism” is a greater problem.

  11. Victor Onrust Says:

    Sorry “greater” should be “bigger” but editing is not allowed.

  12. Danny Lambert Says:

    Victor, the Bolchecvik Coup d’Etat was “socialist” in name only. All that could be done was to further the bourgeois revolution already taking place in Russia. The whole enterprise from start to demise has retarded and obstructed the growth of socialism, in that Lenin et al concocted a brutal state capitalist dictatorship over the proletariat and fraudulently passed it off as socialism. Little wonder workers are inclined to associate socialism with various tyrants.
    We have to expose these counterfeiters and the forgeries they produce

    http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb

  13. murray cohen Says:

    Onrust and Lambert, of course, miss the point. Historical conditions demand revolutionary actions and people make revolutions in defense of their lives, not of the “right” kind of abstract political formation. I’m a socialist because there is no other alternative to the increasing barbarism of capitalism. I’m that kind of socialist, as was Marx, Lenin, etc. Imperialism is an epiphenomenon of capitalism, and permanent war against the exploited peoples of its periphery is necessary to the profitability of its mode of production. Russia’s (if you exclude Mexico) was the first anti-capitalist revolution in capitalism’s periphery. Isolated and under attack, this peasant revolution necessarily came to be led by socialists, who nationalized the scant means of production because they had no other choice. Nether did the Chinese nor the Vietnamese, nor the Cubans. None of these revolutions were “betrayed” and have their honored place in the human struggle to end capitalism. We ex-privileged workers at the center of it all must understand history, if we are are to intelligently, morally, and effectively deal with our own problems with capitalism, whose imperial crimes have come home to roost, as it pecks away at the crumbs we’ve enjoyed that now must be swept away to pay for its permanent wars against all of us. Keynes once called for the euthanasia of the rentiers, but he also said that in the end he would side with the educated bourgeoisie–a time when the best educated of the bourgeoisie in England were marxists! Michael’s use of Joan Robinson’s quote is perfect. She is the Rosa Luxemburg of Keynesians! Who cares what she calls herself….

    • Victor Onrust Says:

      @Murray a.o. will have to explain the ideas they have on what should replace capitalism. How will a new elite be formed and by what mechanisms will they rule? The idea that 7G (or even 1M or 1K) people ever could mount an apparatus of decision where each member plays the same part, has the same power in decision-making or the same chance and capabilities to manage is beyond any imagination.
      And then they will have to explain where a proletariat exists, that, apart from being an economic category in the Marxian sense, has any potential to become a revolutionary subject on a worldwide scale. Read Gramsci (i.e. The Gramscian Moment, Peter D Thomas, http://www.amazon.com/The-Gramscian-Moment-Philosophy-Materialism/dp/1608461165)

      • sartesian Says:

        Why should there be a “new elite”? What would the necessity for such an elite, historically, that is? What possible advance in the emancipation of social labor could a new elite bring that would not sooner rather than later simply disintegrate into the restoration of capitalism, Gramsci to the contrary not withstanding?

      • Victor Onrust Says:

        @sartesian The question is not why their should be such an elite, because a society spanning large numbers of people and with sophisticated division of labor always will have to be managed, ruled, governed or how you want to name it. And it is an illusion that every human has the same capacities and should hence have the same chance to be part of it. That would require a very harsh selection in the reproduction of humans that no-one would wish and isn’t realizable, not even in the more distant future. So the only thing that rests is see to it that a new elite comes into existence with better norms, especially not wanting growth above all else, not groping for ever more status and power and with more respect for non-human nature. Gramsci to my knowledge is the only Marxist that has some thoughts on this.

      • sartesian Says:

        Onrust– Yeah, the question is exactly why their should be an elite, since every elite has some sort of privileged, if not proprietary, relation to the products of social labor.

        That social labor has to be managed is not the “reason”– in any sense of the word you care to use– for the rise of elites, no more than than the different abilities of human beings is the basis for the law of value, or for its abolition.

        What you’re really advocating is one more iteration of the fantasy of an ‘enlightened bourgeoisie’– an oxymoron if ever there was one. Call it what you will– talented tenth, technocracy, meritocracy, blahblahblah– whatever, it all comes down to the mimicry of capitalism.

      • Victor Onrust Says:

        (1) I don’t see any argument on your part why one could do without elite.
        (2) The law of value operates in every society with division of labor.
        (3) The “extraction of surplus value”, in the strict economic sense, is always necessary if the management of organizations and society is included in the division of labour. It’s a big problem of M theory that the organizational activities of the ruling class are not seen as productive.
        (4) This obscures the real problem: Permanent accumulation (and the subsequent necessity for continual “growth”) as the primary force in a capitalism based on the private ownership of the means of production. It is the latter that should be abolished.
        (5) I’m not saying that the present ruling class (if you can call it that) will and can transform all by itself into anything better. At least partly it will have to be replaced. The big question is who qualifies for that job. Certainly not the non-existing “world proletariat”.

      • sartesian Says:

        1) The issue isn’t “my argument,” but rather the historical necessity for “elites,” which necessity is grounded in a property relationship, not an “administrative” one.

        2) Nonsense. The law of value operates where labor itself is constituted as value producing. The law of value did not govern social production in pre-capitalist societies, despite the existence of divisions of labor, many of which were gender based.

        3) The production of surplus as opposed to the extraction of surplus value is the social necessity; that production gets expressed, manifested, mediated by specific relations of classes, of labor to property– wage labor is not an eternal, pre-existing, once and future condition of labor. “The organizational activities of the ruling class are not seen as productive.” That’s a “big problem” for Marx? That’s hilarious. Look how productive the actions of the ruling class have been over the last century.

        4) The ruling class will “have to be at least partly replaced”? That’s absolutely brilliant. Which parts? And how is that determination made? And if only parts are replaced, how will the need for “permanent accumulation” be abolished? And by whom– by the part of the ruling class that remains? And what could possibly impose such a change if the non-existent world working class is non-existent? You and your friends? Technocrats?

        5) Short version: GTFOOH

      • Victor Onrust Says:

        Sartesian, you are an excellent representative of the orthodox, economistic school of Marxism that was so hugely succesfull the past 150 years. Not wanting to discuss any insights on the limits of human nature (however historically formed) for realizing a better (not perfect) society.

      • sartesian Says:

        1) Good points, Dr. Strangelove. They don’t answer any of the questions I raised, but still… good points
        2) I’m not an economist, or economistic; economics is nothing but the social relations of production obscured by allegiance to the ruling ideology– that’s kind of where your allegiance lies.
        3)I have no idea why the insights into the “limits of human nature” wouldn’t apply to the very members of the ruling class you think are so capable of enlightenment, progress, and realizing a better (not perfect) society.
        4) “excellent representative of orthodox school of Marxism”…. well, I’ve been called worse, and by better.

  14. murray cohen Says:

    Aren’t there more industrial workers than ever? Mostly they’re not white and live in the periphery of global capitalism. In the US, our basket of wage goods has been largely produced by these super-exploited proletarians (including food produced locally by “guests” [and illegals] working in the fields and food processing factories). Maybe the present systemic profitability crisis had done us (the 99%) a favor by waking us up to our common interests with those who feed and clothe us, to our mutual material and spiritual impoverishment.

  15. Henry Says:

    “Henry how can someone who proposes to run capitalism in the interests of workers be referred to as socialists”

    Because socialism is not a dogma, not an absolute idea. Marx I think criticized socialism in its many varied forms.

    My point is that even if you had people who said they were anti capitalist and intended to overthrow capitalist relations, without the power of a class behind them they would soon find themselves on the same or similar road to the likes of Corbyn and Sanders.

    The implication of your argument is that we should avoid politics all together, which is an anarchist position and not one that Marx and Engels supported. I think Engels said something along the lines of, you cannot persuade workers to have no interest in politics and anyone who does would be shown the door swiftly.

    So in the interest of politics I welcome the success of Sanders and Corbyn. But I am pessimistic about their chances of success without the class power to back it up.

  16. Dave B. Says:

    I really enjoy reading Mr . Roberts’ blog due to the intrigue of economic and political policies it puts in the limelight. Whether you are socialist, capitalist, or communist, every economy relies on human beings to make it work. The issue no one seems to address is the fallacy of human nature in politics and economics. Economic and political ideas/ideologies will always devolve into inequality. History has proven this again and again. I find it ironic that the layman’s definition of insanity plays itself out over and over: “doing the same thing, and expecting different results.”
    I digress. The answer is simple, yet made complex. ‘What system works the best, with the least amount of human intervention?’ Please do not confuse this with “free market” ideology. My point is human intercession rarely benefits the majority. With that in mind, any “effective and fair” system requires oversight and regulation to have any semblance of equality. There in lies the dilemma to the answer: ‘we are needed to ensure the system remains “equal,” yet, our involvement will result in absolute inequality.

  17. Victor Onrust Says:

    Well said Dave B. I hope your arguments are better received by Sartesian than mine.

    • sartesian Says:

      Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: We need “‘[a] system works the best, with the least amount of human intervention” when it comes to a situation where there is the need, almost tautologically, for the greatest amount of human “intervention”– human society, the organization of human social labor? That’s the “argument”???

      Dr. Strangelove thinks that’s an “argument” for elites, as if the elite humans will somehow be less inclined to the frailties of human nature. In short, he wants “supermen” and “superwomen;” priests to mediate the vulgar demands coming from the noisy, filthy, self-aggrandizng rabble who are playthings of their own biology.

      Well, I think history shows us exactly how super such men and women really are. Priests? Great gig for molesting children; for protecting slaveholders and fascists.

      What was it Connelly said? Yeah, I remember “All hail to the mob, the incarnation of progress.” I’ll take Connelly and the mob every time over the priests/predators.

    • Henry Says:

      “The issue no one seems to address is the fallacy of human nature in politics and economics.”

      If only this sentence made sense it would be easier to critique. But here goes…

      There are 3 million and one books about human nature in economics and politics. So it would be more accurate for Dave B to say, “I am ignorant about the fallacy of human nature in politics and economics”

      “Economic and political ideas/ideologies will always devolve into inequality”

      Just remind me where in the bible it says this?

      “History has proven this again and again.”

      Can you provide the evidence please. My understanding of history is that we went from tribal communities to class structures such as feudal/slavery/capitalist but along the way the general development has been to more democratic structures and away from absolute power (e.g. French revolution).

      “I digress.”

      This is the mother of all understatements.

      “What system works the best, with the least amount of human intervention?”

      If we link this to mechanization which solves specific tasks and goals then I may have some sympathy with this argument, however you then follow up with this,

      “My point is human intercession rarely benefits the majority.”

      Now the point about mechanization is that it reduces human error, mistakes etc. But you do not make this argument you actually think if you have human intercession you get less equality and without human intercession you get more? How does that work? We should ask why would you get less equality with human intercession? Let me give you a scenario, we have 3 people Roger, Peter and Alice. They have 30 apples to share between them, are you saying that if Roger, Peter and Alice decide to share the apples they will agree on Roger getting 28 and Peter and Alice getting 1 each? And if you somehow take Roger, Peter and Alice out of the decision making they will get a more equal share?

      “any “effective and fair” system requires oversight and regulation to have any semblance of equality.”

      Why didn’t you say, any system requires oversight and regulation to make it effective and fair? I tell you why because this would have exposed it for the nonsense it is. See next answer.

      “There in lies the dilemma to the answer: ‘we are needed to ensure the system remains “equal,” yet, our involvement will result in absolute inequality.”

      Absolute inequality. Are you sure? That is a rather bold position, going out on a bit of a limb here aren’t we? So in order for any system to be effective(be it a computer system or economic system or any system) we need oversight and regulation but because humans are involved in that process we will get absolutely ineffective systems?

      Yes, well said Dave B!!!

    • Victor Onrust Says:

      Time and again I am surprised by the a-historic quality of the arguments of Sartesian, supported here by Henry. As if there is no history with all the failed attempts to organize the proletariat into some revolutionary or at least politically and organizationally active subject. Leaving alone the question whether the claim of the revolutionary “last” and “good” class, able to end inequality has any merit at all. And if the idea that every inhabitant of this world is “a human like you and me” isn’t a Christian-humanist fallacy that falsely qualifies for equality.

      So yes, inequality is inevitable at least for the next 200 years or so, after which I am not interested to speculate. So yes, as long as governing, ruling, managing human society is a human task, there will be an elite. And however hard, even impossible it seems to have this elite replaced by a better one (in the sense mentioned above), it still is a more realistic idea then hoping for a “constructive” revolution, bringing “no one” to power.

      Of course the idea of a world completely run by AI has its charms and would probably be the only way to realize an equal society. I don’t think I would call that society “human” and I think I wouldn’t like to live in one.

      I will ignore your attempts to play the man instead of the ball.

      • sartesian Says:

        I’m never surprised by the ahistoric quality of Strangelove’s arguments. As if there hadn’t been such attempts, of greater or lesser degrees, longer or shorter periods of some success in this area– as if such attempts didn’t arise, don’t still arise, weren’t drowned in blood, and will continue to be drowned in blood unless and until a triumph is achieved… and then the hard work really begins.

        As if there never had been the uprisings in China in the 20s; in Spain in the 30s; in Vietnam in the 30s, 40s, and further; in Chile in the 1970s; in Poland (as confused as it was) in the 80s; in Argentina; in France in 2009-2010.

        Just have Strangelove let me know how his human elites are going to be inoculated against human nature and won’t fall prey to simply reproducing what he thinks they are overcoming.

        If he doesn’t have an answer for that, well there’s no point pursuing the discussion.

  18. Henry Says:

    It is Victor who is being ahistorical with the concept of inequality or equality (depending on how you look at it). Victor seems to believe that inequality or equality can be defined for all time and all place but this isn’t the case. For example, the inequality existing in a jungle tribe is qualitatively and materially different to that of an industrial capitalist society. So even though we have high levels of human intervention in both systems the nature of equality or inequality is palpably different, to the point where you can’t even compare the 2 things. We can even doubt if a jungle tribe has any concept of inequality.

    The big mistake by me and sartesian is to indulge this ahistorical nonsense. But dissecting such nonsense takes too much time and effort, as every concept needs to be dissected and the logic worked through. I took the polite route and tried answer on Victors terms but the gloves are now off and I am playing the man and not the ball, because this isn’t football, its bare knuckle fighting.

  19. Victor Onrust Says:

    “Victor seems to believe that inequality or equality can be defined for all time and all place” Henry & Sartesian, you willfully misread my statements. I rest my case.

  20. Dave B. Says:

    I really appreciate good feedback, however, sarcasm is not good feedback. Perhaps my use of generalizations and being somewhat philosophical caused some confusion, so I will use some specifics to answer a few of Sartesian and Henry’s points:
    1. The issue with human intervention is made in your point about priests. Although the majority of priests are not predators, it is the extent of damage done by the minority that dominates and defines our image of priests. Similarly, most human intervention into politics and economics is done with the ideology of a “greater” good, but one only have to look at the current status of the world to see this has not worked out well. More than half of the world’s wealth is controlled by 1% of the population. The minority again defines our image.
    2. I know there are many books regarding human nature and its affect on politics and economics. My point was that none have figured out how to prevent humanity’s insane nature of repeating its mistakes.
    3. I did not think I would have to clarify how history has shown we will devolve into “absolute” inequality. You may reference the French Revolution, but I am referencing a much broader population. Again, statistics show that our world is drastically unequal. 70% of the world’s population lives on less than $2/day. Furthermore, one only have to look at all the revolutions in South America and how the distribution of power and wealth never materialized.
    I was blown away by the shear arrogance and ignorance displayed by an attempt at splicing pieces of economic and political history to make ones point. My point was that history has demonstrated that no matter how many times humanity has attempted to bring about equality, inequality has prevailed. From the Greeks to the Romans to the nations of Europe, and more recently to the oligarchy of the USA. I don’t have the answer, and I do not believe anyone in the near future will.

    • sartesian Says:

      ” I did not think I would have to clarify how history has shown we will devolve into “absolute” inequality. You may reference the French Revolution, but I am referencing a much broader population. Again, statistics show that our world is drastically unequal. 70% of the world’s population lives on less than $2/day. Furthermore, one only have to look at all the revolutions in South America and how the distribution of power and wealth never materialized.”

      Is that an innate, eternal, absolute condition or is it the result of a specific organization of social labor? You argue that it is an innate condition, and then get all ruffled when people point out that “human nature” can be used to rationalize anything while explaining nothing..

      Economic/political ideologies don’t always devolve into inequality. As ideologies, that is to say self-serving representations that distort actual history, ideologies originate in and perpetuate a capitulation to “things as they are.” “You can’t fight human nature” is exactly such an ideology.

      Marx’s historical materialism, which is not an ideology, is about the social emancipation of labor from the shell of private property. If historical materialism, that struggle of classes for/against the relations of production that entrap human labor, is invalid, then it needs to be shown as invalid on the basis of its own organization– that is to say– that there is no necessity for the struggle of classes over the relations of production; that there is no conflict at the very core of the relation that compels labor-power to present itself as a value, and value producing; that there is no conflict between the labor process and the valorization process.

      Viktor thinks somehow an elite will arise to guide the great unwashed us, the petty, squabbling, greedy little fucks that we are to some sort of uneasy peace with ourselves. I’m sure he includes himself in that elite. That’s wishful thinking. If we really are greedy little fucks by nature then the so-called elites will prove themselves to be, as an institution, exactly what the institutions of priests– called the church– has proven itself to be– a protection racket for molesters.

    • Danny Lambert Says:

      The worst kind of illiteracy isn’t the inability to understand the written word, but the unquestioning acceptance of the total horse shit we’ve been told about how we live and who we are.
      There’s an equation Dave B, unconditioned human nature + human situation = human behaviour. Simples!

  21. Henry Says:

    Does history have a purpose or do things just happen? Henry 2016

    Dave B,

    “Similarly, most human intervention into politics and economics is done with the ideology of a “greater” good, but one only have to look at the current status of the world to see this has not worked out well.”

    We live in an economic system where the primary purpose is employing people in order to enrich yourself. The nature of this system does indeed concentrate wealth and power and privilege in a few hands, at least this has been the case in what is called the neo liberal phase (I sort of reject this description but for illustrative purposes it does the job). But this epoch of ever rising inequality was preceded by a period of less inequality. Has the difference between the 2 periods been one of increasing human intervention? I would argue not. Or more to the point in any system that concentrates wealth power and privilege those with the wealth power and privilege can buy off the state and use it for its own means. Therefore the human intervention in our society today has the objective of enriching the few. Do I conclude from this that human intervention = more inequality and that the 2 things can be closely correlated? No, I conclude that we need to change the system. This is called politics. And seriously only a fool would think the 2 can be correlated. The only thing i take away from what you said is the idea that when machines replace men less mistakes are made and processes are made more efficient, but this wasn’t your claim! If it had been I would have thought, actually he makes a good point here.

    “My point was that none have figured out how to prevent humanity’s insane nature of repeating its mistakes.”

    I do not think this was the purpose of these books or that they even began from the premise you describe. If we look at history for say the past 300 years we do not see human nature taking humanity to insanity but rather the opposite, humanity creeping toward increased political participation, gender equality, general intellect etc etc. We may say that socialism has faced some technical difficulties which have retarded the progress of humanity, but it isn’t for the want of trying by humans. The Germans tried a socialist government before they were spellbound by the Nazi’s; the people of Greece have turned to Syriza before they would give Golden dawn a chance. It isn’t human nature that is the problem; it is technical aspects of replacing markets etc and the inevitable protracted development of history. You appear to be a radical who has lost patience, but we live for a very short time and it is dangerous to judge all human history by the short time we live in.

    The problem when anyone uses words like insanity, I accept we all do it, is that you really need to define what you mean by insanity. We can’t just accept human nature is insane because you say it is.

    It should also be noted that the increased cooperation and collaborative techniques developed by humans has increased the quantity of goods available to humans, at least in the ‘Western’ world. So wider access to education 9greater human intervention for want of a better phrase) has resulted in greater technological development which has led to a situation where it is not just Kings and Queens who feast upon roast chicken and Beef of an evening. If anything the tendency to make goods available to all has resulted not only in less inequality but in some damaging impacts on the environment.

    “My point was that history has demonstrated that no matter how many times humanity has attempted to bring about equality, inequality has prevailed. From the Greeks to the Romans to the nations of Europe, and more recently to the oligarchy of the USA. I don’t have the answer, and I do not believe anyone in the near future will.”

    I know exactly what your point was which you have summed up pretty well in the above quote. You could flip this around and equally say, it doesn’t matter how many times humanity is enslaved by some class of elites, eventually they will attempt to break free. Another lesson of history, no matter how many problems have been put in front of humanity they always come up with a solution. These are as much a lesson of history as anything you have said. And this is my fundamental problem with your position, you are drawing conclusions which almost show your ideological bias. What you are saying isn’t objective or reasonable. It is highly subjective and highly ideological. I suspect that is more out of weariness than anything more sinister.

    It is as if you are trying to say to humanity, if you are being tortured, exploited, enslaved, molested, oppressed do not try to fight it, just accept it.

    If history tells us anything it is that this will never happen!

  22. Victor Onrust Says:

    About the purpose of history one should read Luhmann on the evolution of functional systems. Though he is a kind of conservative and his vision on society is warped that way, there is a lot to be learned. Unfortunately mostly in German.

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