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Is poverty a kind of robbery?
September 16, 2012 10:36 PM   Subscribe


 
There'd be enough for the needs of all if not for the greed of a few.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:37 PM on September 16, 2012 [23 favorites]


There'd be enough for the needs of all if not for the greed of a few.

Needs cite.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:43 PM on September 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


If they think low food security is a problem for darker skinned people in the US, wait til they start looking at the data for the rest of the world.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:46 PM on September 16, 2012 [4 favorites]




Needs cite.
In terms of types of financial wealth, the top one percent of households have 38.3% of all privately held stock, 60.6% of financial securities, and 62.4% of business equity. The top 10% have 80% to 90% of stocks, bonds, trust funds, and business equity, and over 75% of non-home real estate. Since financial wealth is what counts as far as the control of income-producing assets, we can say that just 10% of the people own the United States of America.
posted by scody at 10:57 PM on September 16, 2012 [39 favorites]


I think the problem is that one thing we are not in short supply of are those greedy few. As long as it's structurally possible to be greedy, it'll happen.
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:58 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Needs cite.

Would the combination of an exponentially growing global GDP and record wealth inequality suffice? Divide GDP by world population, and you get about $10000 per person, including children and elderly in extended families, people who generally do not directly contribute to the economy.

It seems that kind of wealth would be more than enough to keep families fed, clothed and sheltered in most countries, perhaps outside of densely populated and overpriced urban centers. Regardless, wealth disparity is real and is maintained through largely regressive tax schemes that we use to funnel money upstream, not only through loophole schemes that benefit the rich directly (one can look at Romney's deliberate lack of tax documentation as a canonical example) but through regressive sales and property taxes that hit the poor and elderly particularly hard.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:06 PM on September 16, 2012 [22 favorites]


The last paragraph of this article is both powerful and fear-inducing:

This skewing of the odds in favor of the rich comes at a time when the Democratic Party is already inhibited by accusations that it likes to foment “class warfare” and to play “the race card.” The result has been a relentless shift of the political center from left to right. The two most recent Democratic presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, have pursued agendas well within this limited terrain. There is little reason to believe that Obama, if he wins in November, will feel empowered to push out much further into territory the Democrats have virtually abandoned.

This, to me, reads that there is no easy solution. The right has backed the left - and the poor they used to, even in my life time, be able to publicly stand for - into a corner. And I don't see an easy way out. I think things are going to get a lot worse, and those closest to the edge are going to suffer the most...and in some cases get pushed off it. And it will be the right who will have that blood on their hands, although they'd never admit to it.

I grew up in a staunchly Republican environment. You might say I'm a product of it. Metafilter helped change me in the later years of my life on that matter, but even more than some website of socially concious people, the issue of poverty helped me break away from a right-minded upbringing.

Speaking as a Christian, here's the thing about poverty: its the church's job to fix it. The link between Christianity and the right in America is clear. There's a lot of great Democrats of faith as well, but I don't need citations to prove the correlation between the church and the GOP in the US. So, as the poverty indexes and indicators continue to grow, and the yawning gap between the poorest Americans and the richest continues to grow, I see two problems: 1) the church isn't doing its job, and 2) the richest Americans are typically (again, does anyone really need a citation?) more closely aligned to the Republican party. The implications of #1 I'll get to in a second, but the implications of #2 are pretty straight forward: lots of very rich "Christians" go to church. There are a shit ton of very well moneyed churches in the US and I'd wager that the large majority of them are doing fuck-all for the poor in their communities.

So, if the church isn't doing its job, someone has to do it for them. The logical next player is of course the government. If you don't like that as a right-wing believer, then I ask you, my fellow Christian, who else you would propose, if the church isn't going to do it.

The Bible is crystal effing-clear on the poverty issue. Its not a suggestion or even a moral standard, really - its quite often stated as a flat out warning: "Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered."

So we've reached this juncture. The left can't be vocal on the poverty issue any more for fear of being even less empowered to help the disenfranchised. The right, logically and undeniably, will only get more powerful in regard to protecting the wealth of the few.
Its like they've created the machine of their own undoing, eventually, if greed was something that we could argue had been created in our lifetime. The poor, quite frighteningly, will suffer first and most, but they won't be alone in it forever.

If I look at history, the outcome for the nation is bleak. I personally believe that the only hope for a positive outcome is a revival within the church as a whole on its outlook and approach on the poverty matter, because I don't see a solution in the political arena with the right holding the stranglehold on the left and the poor that it now does.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:09 PM on September 16, 2012 [52 favorites]


Sadly ironic to be talking about food security problems in a country with perhaps the highest obesity rate.
posted by xdvesper at 11:10 PM on September 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


it’s going to create a lot of millionaires. You know, if you have money right now, you can profit from other people’s failures. … I’m catching the properties. I’m catching ‘em.”

Oh wow, it has been over 20 years since The Super, Joe Pesci's expose of the reality of slum lords. And well over 30 since the invention of the co-op and the gold rush of pushing out low paying renters, at all costs, to sell the units. Seems like we just discover the same thing over and over.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:11 PM on September 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh wow, it has been over 20 years since The Super, Joe Pesci's expose of the reality of slum lords. And well over 30 since the invention of the co-op and the gold rush of pushing out low paying renters, at all costs, to sell the units. Seems like we just discover the same thing over and over.

Not mention Michael Harrington's The Other America, published in 1962.
posted by vac2003 at 11:23 PM on September 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


finance-insurance-real estate

F.I.R.E. is the source of the problem. These "industries" do nothing but skim off the top, taking billions out of the economy and transferring wealth away from productive sectors. Ideally they'd be run as non-profits, in order to assist entrepreneurs and creators in helping to move society forward, instead they perniciously hold back real economic growth in favor of managed boom-and-bust cycles where the house wins every time.
posted by cell divide at 11:34 PM on September 16, 2012 [16 favorites]


Unfortunately, I have a strong feeling that exploitation is inextricable from capitalism. People often cite the welfare states of Europe as a more humane form of the system, but would it work implemented for all 7 billion of us simultaneously? Denmark and Sweden provide well for their own countrypeople-- commendable-- but they still depend on the exploited miners, factory workers, and coffee pickers of Uganda, Taiwan, and Guatemala to keep things running...right?

(My reaction to this thought is not, by the way, "So whatever! Keep on truckin'! :D" I'm...not a fan of capitalism.)
posted by threeants at 11:37 PM on September 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is poverty a kind of robbery?

Is property a kind of theft?
posted by Rumple at 11:38 PM on September 16, 2012 [19 favorites]


Sadly ironic to be talking about food security problems in a country with perhaps the highest obesity rate.

Obesity is much more about what you eat than how much you eat. Poor people tend to eat calorie-dense high-carb foods, which promote obesity.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:38 PM on September 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


Is property a kind of theft?

Your ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to your manifesto.
posted by threeants at 11:39 PM on September 16, 2012 [12 favorites]


On that note, I recently read the Communist Manifesto for the first time, and one part that really, really stuck with me was this:

You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any property for the immense majority of society.

That is to say, they who are so attached to the concept of property have little justification therein other than the preservation of their own special privileges.
posted by threeants at 11:42 PM on September 16, 2012 [25 favorites]


I tend to think that deep down most Americans believe in a sort of economic Darwinism, we see it here when we argue that some industries that are ailing, such as the newspaper industry, do not deserve to exist. We also see it when some people seem to argue that CEOs deserve the money they get simply because they somehow managed to get it in the first place.Many people seem to feel the same way about humans. By failing, some people show they deserved to fail all along. I'm not sure if this is endemic to America or what.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:44 PM on September 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sadly ironic to be talking about food security problems in a country with perhaps the highest obesity rate.

I find it more ironic that we're talking about a country that wastes 40% of its food.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:45 PM on September 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


Good points, allkindsoftime. I think I have an experience that's typical in that local/regional wealthy Christian business owners who vote Republican treat their employees well, tend to find jobs for people who need them, and go out of their way to not lay off employees during downcycles. I am not sure how much more to expect of them -- the benefit of a stable, local business to all people in a city is worth quite a lot so it doesn't seem like a good idea for them to do anything risky with cashflow in any particular year. I'd rather see a business survive for 100 years employing neighborhood people or members of particularly disadvantaged groups like some Laotian refugees in our area.

People with more time than money volunteer at soup kitchens, tutoring centers and such, and they give what they can. It's hard, though, as long as the recipients are statistics. The best results seem to come from a few people helping someone they've gotten to know personally. It seems like groups of 2-5 financially stable people are enough to help one poor person or family in a variety of ways. So, I would definitely like to find a way to pair more of these groups (which could be one family) with a person who could use the help.

That is to say, they who are so attached to the concept of property have little justification therein other than the preservation of their own special privileges.

As usual, it's frightening to hear the left described as anti-poverty and to read anti-personal-property comments from [fill-in-the-blank]-ists such as you and others in this thread. The application of your favorite ideas has impoverished and killed hundreds of millions of people across the globe and destroyed entire nations worth of good farmland as well as the people who farmed it. I would urge you to start thinking of homes, gardens, tools, and so on as something everyone should own. Figure out how help the poor get those things, and I assure you they want their own things, instead of scheming how to make it impossible for them to have anything at all.

I hope you're all talk and don't actually propose to carry out a murderous revolution. You might get lucky and kill the Koch brothers or whoever you hate, but the bulk of the people who die will be the sort for which you claim to care, and you will be responsible for that.
posted by michaelh at 11:57 PM on September 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Needs cite.

Actually, to anyone with anything other than a reactionary, conservative worldview and mindset, it doesn't. It's clearly and painfully obvious, and it doesn't need a fucking cite on Metafilter.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:59 PM on September 16, 2012 [31 favorites]


The application of your favorite ideas has impoverished and killed hundreds of millions of people across the globe and destroyed entire nations worth of good farmland as well as the people who farmed it.

In contrast, the application of *your* favourite ideas has led to the decimation of the industrial base in the richest country that human history has ever known and more than a fifth of all children live in familes that exist below the poverty level.

This wasn't some historical accident or natural disaster. This was a systematic looting and plundering of the country's wealth by people who espouse the ideas that you espouse here as a smokescreen for enriching themselves at the expense of the rest of their community.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:26 AM on September 17, 2012 [32 favorites]


In contrast, the application of *your* favourite ideas has led to the decimation of the industrial base in the richest country that human history has ever known and more than a fifth of all children live in familes that exist below the poverty level.

This wasn't some historical accident or natural disaster. This was a systematic looting and plundering of the country's wealth by people who espouse the ideas that you espouse here as a smokescreen for enriching themselves at the expense of the rest of their community.


The nice thing about believing in and working towards widespread ownership of property is that I also oppose the same things you oppose, so that one does not mirror so well.
posted by michaelh at 12:32 AM on September 17, 2012


And the sad thing is, michaelh, we probably *both* voted for parties that facilitated the grand theft. But I like to think your lot were much more culpable than mine.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:45 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


As usual, it's frightening to hear the left described as anti-poverty and to read anti-personal-property comments from [fill-in-the-blank]-ists such as you and others in this thread. The application of your favorite ideas has impoverished and killed hundreds of millions of people across the globe and destroyed entire nations worth of good farmland as well as the people who farmed it. I would urge you to start thinking of homes, gardens, tools, and so on as something everyone should own. Figure out how help the poor get those things, and I assure you they want their own things, instead of scheming how to make it impossible for them to have anything at all.

I'm not sure how you know what my "favorite ideas" are. I was paraphrasing Marx (he's kind of famous, heard of the guy?) and while I certainly find the idea intriguing, I'm typing this on my own computer, which I own. That said, as Peter McDermott's noted, capitalism has wrought similar havoc as have Communist nations, but as far as I can tell, that havoc is a principle feature -- whereas I'd be interested to see you point out the parts of the Communist Manifesto that necessarily result in global suffering on the same scale. (That's non-rhetorical. I think it would be genuinely educational if you found some; I'm not going to barf from humiliation and live in the ground for the rest of my life or something.)

I hope you're all talk and don't actually propose to carry out a murderous revolution.

I...certainly don't recall ever endorsing murderous revolution.
posted by threeants at 12:51 AM on September 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


My party has never elected a president. :( They probably would accrue some culpability, though.
posted by michaelh at 12:52 AM on September 17, 2012


This was a systematic looting and plundering of the country's wealth by people who espouse the ideas that you espouse here as a smokescreen for enriching themselves at the expense of the rest of their community.

Yes, but capitalism does it without dictatorship, mass murder, forced relocations, and gulags. We've all seen what happens when good intentions becomes a replacement for private property.
posted by three blind mice at 1:08 AM on September 17, 2012


I'm not sure how you know what my "favorite ideas" are. I was paraphrasing Marx (he's kind of famous, heard of the guy?) and while I certainly find the idea intriguing, I'm typing this on my own computer, which I own.

I apologize; you seemed to be blaming private property for global poverty and I was concerned about that since, as I said, the poor really do benefit when they also own property. You certainly wouldn't be the first if you did think the way I thought you did. I've obviously heard of Marx; you must not be surprised if you quote him in agreement and someone assumes you want to bring about what a Marxist tends to want and has wanted and done in the past.

That said, as Peter McDermott's noted, capitalism has wrought similar havoc as have Communist nations, but as far as I can tell, that havoc is a principle feature -- whereas I'd be interested to see you point out the parts of the Communist Manifesto that necessarily result in global suffering on the same scale. (That's non-rhetorical. I think it would be genuinely educational if you found some; I'm not going to barf from humiliation and live in the ground for the rest of my life or something.)

Large discussion here. I think the conclusion of the C.M. speaks for itself:

"But they never cease, for a single instant, to instil into the working class the clearest possible recognition of the hostile antagonism between bourgeoisie and proletariat."

"In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things."

"They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions."

This is explicitly destructive by design.

Also, considering the writers of the manifesto knew that the existing social and political order of things consisted of people who would prefer to defend themselves, it intentionally means civil war, which tends to be magnificently awful. And since the revolution has no check, there is no point at which the existing class is subdued enough that it's not worth going after them -- only practical limits, which are unintentional consequences, protect people.

Furthermore, it encourages taking actions to prevent the working class from not wanting to recognize hostile antagonism, i.e. destruction of any harmony/peace/integration is necessary until the aims are met. Poverty is not something to be healed if the workers would then not revolt.

Worse, the manifesto also has no geographical limit in addition to no limit on duration or intensity, so it necessarily means that a country that has completely overthrown the existing order must turn its attention to other countries. That's international war.

Yes, but capitalism does it without dictatorship, mass murder, forced relocations, and gulags. We've all seen what happens when good intentions becomes a replacement for private property.

Indeed. Again, I am not a capitalist, but if I were forced to vote in a two-party election I would choose the one without the mass murder and the gulags. I strongly prefer not to endorse either, though.
posted by michaelh at 1:17 AM on September 17, 2012


I mean to elect a capitalist or a Marxist; we don't have a choice nearly that interesting in the United States this November.
posted by michaelh at 1:18 AM on September 17, 2012


Yes, but capitalism does it without dictatorship, mass murder, forced relocations, and gulags. We've all seen what happens when good intentions becomes a replacement for private property.

The indigenous peoples of just about everywhere in the world are raising a very noticeable collective eyebrow at this statement.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 1:25 AM on September 17, 2012 [54 favorites]


I apologize; you seemed to be blaming private property for global poverty and I was concerned about that since, as I said, the poor really do benefit when they also own property.

With all due respect, isn't this tautological? Of course the poor benefit when they own property...in a property-based system! The question, for me, is whether it is even possible within capitalism for everyone to have enough. I mean, not mathematically possible, but realistically so.

This is explicitly destructive by design.

Also, considering the writers of the manifesto knew that the existing social and political order of things consisted of people who would prefer to defend themselves, it intentionally means civil war, which tends to be magnificently awful. And since the revolution has no check, there is no point at which the existing class is subdued enough that it's not worth going after them -- only practical limits, which are unintentional consequences, protect people.

Hmm, ok, I'll agree that those quotes (not re-quoted for length) are destructive. However, moving beyond the challenge I posed (which you've definitely made good on), is this necessarily worse than the "civil war" currently inflicted by the bourgeoisie on the proletariat (I feel like these terms have more limited usefulness in our world, but in the current context...)? Per my reading, that's Marx's point; the bourgeois don't want prosperity, they want prosperity for themselves. They don't want peace and safety, they want peace and safety for themselves.

Worse, the manifesto also has no geographical limit in addition to no limit on duration or intensity, so it necessarily means that a country that has completely overthrown the existing order must turn its attention to other countries. That's international war.

The never-scribed capitalist mandate knows no borders or duration either, no? Poor and otherwise subaltern people in every single corner of the world are suffering because of the rich, and there's no end in sight.

Basically I'm not sure if a woman who was raped crossing the Mexico/US border; one of the civilians recently killed in Yemen by a US drone attack; a New Orleans resident flooded by Katrina; a Canadian First Nations elder who's one of the last existing people to speak her language; Ken Saro-Wiwa; a 2-week-old Somalian baby who died from bad water; a Chilean "disappeared" by Pinochet; etc, would see the "but a revolution would be deadly!" criticism in the same way.
posted by threeants at 2:02 AM on September 17, 2012 [9 favorites]


Don't get me wrong-- I'm a pacifist myself, and I don't think things would end too well for me in the violent proletariat revolution, to boot. But when comparing different violences, I don't see the theoretical Marxian uprising as more bloody than the reigning state of affairs.
posted by threeants at 2:06 AM on September 17, 2012


Anybody who is against violence is implicitly *for* the current state of affairs.
posted by Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing at 2:29 AM on September 17, 2012


"Sadly ironic to be talking about food security problems in a country with perhaps the highest obesity rate."

Pope Guilty beat me to it, but yeah, dying young from heart disease or diabetes is the new starving to death. Of course, if you're poor and don't have health insurance either you show up at an ER to get super-expensive emergency care that won't really prolong your life significantly and everybody else pays for it by having to shell out even more to their private HMO's.

So there's that too. America needs single payer.
posted by bardic at 2:35 AM on September 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Coming back to the article (without the intention of evading the CM side-convo), here's a back-of-the-envelope calculation that I'd posit to one of our fine candidates if I had his ear in public for a few seconds:

For 2012, the US military budget is $1.030–$1.415 trillion1. Ok, great, so $1.2 trillion. Ish. I'm feeling generous, so let's let the DoD keep 20% of that. That leaves us with a nice little allowance of $96 billion. In 2010, 17.2 million US households were food-insecure2. Assumedly this number is not radically different two years later. All right, distro time! With the money Defense kindly gifted to us, each of those households could have...uh...an additional $5,581.40 just for food.

Damn! That's a whole lot of organic asparagus. Might as well share the love-- we'll get the upper- and (fabled?) middle-class folks a little extra spending money, too. Every household in the US3 could have an extra $728.90 for food this year. Not too shabby.

Then again, why let Americans have all the delicious joy of not being malnutritioned? 2010 saw 925 million hungry people worldwide4. Surely more than that now, but let's stay conservative. With the aforenabbed 80% of the yearly US Defense budget, every hungry person (not household) in the world could add an extra $103.78 to their yearly budget for food. This would go an incredibly long way in rice and pulses in the Global South, and, if I could be so bold, basically cure hunger.

In conclusion, what the fuck.
posted by threeants at 2:39 AM on September 17, 2012 [15 favorites]


the capitalists will let you starve but the communists will kill you for being bourgeois

all these people talking violent revolution are so sure of their ability to survive. that's nice if you're a charismatic young dude with a ready stable of allies but for those of us who are none of those, the prospects are a little dimmer

the problem is power and it is an insoluble problem

also anyone speaking against capitalism on a site you have to pay to join? man, come on
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:43 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unbelievably, I did the math wrong and those numbers are way too low. Each hungry American household would get an extra $55,813.95 per year. Each American household at large would get an extra $7,289.03. Every hungry person in the world would get $1,037.84 for a year of food, resoundingly and unequivocally ending hunger.
posted by threeants at 2:47 AM on September 17, 2012 [9 favorites]


If you actually think that unfettered free-market capitalism and oppressive communism are the only two choices on the table, maybe you should get out a little more.
posted by Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing at 2:49 AM on September 17, 2012 [38 favorites]


also anyone speaking against capitalism on a site you have to pay to join? man, come on

Not really, since the entrance fee seems more to be a speedbump for spammers, automated shenanigans, and the like than a significant revenue source....

Every hungry person in the world would get $1,037.84 for a year of food, resoundingly and unequivocally ending hunger.

Except that money is not the only issue -- access to food is also a problem. Making sure that the money is not just diverted into the hands of national, regional, or local powers would take some doing, and I imagine a large influx of cash into poorer regions would inspire inflation and efforts by local elites (however modest) to claim more than their share, increasing their status further and allowing more skimming the next year. I don't think those problems are insolvable, but your administrate costs for the scheme are going to eat up a greater percentage of your budget thn I think you are planning for....
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:56 AM on September 17, 2012


also anyone speaking against capitalism on a site you have to pay to join? man, come on

Not... sure... how many layers of sarcasm operating here...
posted by ominous_paws at 2:56 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


the problem is power and it is an insoluble problem

i don't believe any problem is insoluble.

also anyone speaking against capitalism on a site you have to pay to join? man, come on

Let me make it 100% crystal clear clear that I am not saying or suggesting that *you* are a stupid and laughably simplistic person, but that comment is, yessiree bob golly and a pack of gum on the side, stupid and laughably simplistic.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:57 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I've abandoned my ability to criticize bankers' ability to pay themselves hundreds of millions of dollars while living on creepy Randian floating cities because I paid 5 dollars to read a website.
posted by Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing at 2:59 AM on September 17, 2012 [15 favorites]


I thought one of the takeaways of the article was that simply distributing money wasn't much of a solution: Desmond backs up his argument — that cash transfers to the poor get siphoned off by landlords — with evidence from his study of evictions.

Perhaps it would be better to Help people cultivate wealth and maintain private property. As mentioned above, Co-ops, or renting to own, etc would be helpful as well as having the few benefits we do give to the improvised (foodstamps, section 8) be more of a phase out system instead of regressive tax which discourages people from earning between certain thresholds.
posted by Shit Parade at 3:03 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


@JMPf

if you're replying to me, that isn't really at all what I said?

Like, I was actually kind of pointing out that people who tend to advocate violence on either side, the "let them die" people and the "pitchfork revolution now" people, are kind of like the dudes who fantasize about zombie attacks in that They seem to think they'd be the ones who'd survive despite all the, you know, violence? Whether the violence of poverty or of killing the oppressors?

And no one's saying you don't get to criticize our plutocrats, but like GenjiandProust said, the site doesn't even really need it to operate. It's just to keep out the riffraff. The bit about automated spammers is kind of dodgy because couldn't you just use a captcha and in fact a lot of forums have come up with solutions to this problem that don't require you to pay anything which kind of makes you wonder what exactly the "riffraff" is, but all that aside, if money and private property weren't a thing, the basic function of the registration fee would be inoperable, wouldn't it?

and the fact that people on paid sites get really peeved when you point that out makes me wonder what the deal is. I mean, no one is demanding that you be morally pure or anything but don't be blind to the little ironies.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:11 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


This, of course, alludes to you seems to think he his the first person to point out that this site costs money.
posted by Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing at 3:15 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Oh wow man, you just blew my mind. I'm just a cog in the system like everyone else! I paid 5 dollars for internet words, so OF COURSE the CEO of Citibank should allowed to live in a series of Matryoshka doll nesting helicopters of East Midtown while children in the Bronx die due to minor dental abscesses that could be caught with a checkup that should be routine and free."
posted by Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing at 3:21 AM on September 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


*over East Midtown
posted by Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing at 3:21 AM on September 17, 2012


I'm not saying it or capitalism or money is bad, just that it's a kind of funny irony. You don't need to justify your decisions or yourself to me but it might be rewarding to consider the paradox.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:21 AM on September 17, 2012


With all due respect, isn't this tautological? Of course the poor benefit when they own property...in a property-based system! The question, for me, is whether it is even possible within capitalism for everyone to have enough. I mean, not mathematically possible, but realistically so.


It's not tautological because the poor enjoying stability is not possible in global capitalism or Marxism -- but it seems like it because the goal of seeing the poor have their own property and means is so simple.

Enough is hard to define; it doesn't seem possible in our current system, but our current system does co-exist with charity rather well; perpetual revolution is not necessary, just perpetual reform.

The never-scribed capitalist mandate knows no borders or duration either, no? Poor and otherwise subaltern people in every single corner of the world are suffering because of the rich, and there's no end in sight.

Yes, that's about right. There's really no need to force a choice between state-enforced capitalism and Marxism, though.

Basically I'm not sure if a woman who was raped crossing the Mexico/US border; one of the civilians recently killed in Yemen by a US drone attack; a New Orleans resident flooded by Katrina; a Canadian First Nations elder who's one of the last existing people to speak her language; Ken Saro-Wiwa; a 2-week-old Somalian baby who died from bad water; a Chilean "disappeared" by Pinochet; etc, would see the "but a revolution would be deadly!" criticism in the same way.

Those are all sad, but even combined they are not worth eight to nine figure death tolls, and I'm sorry to say there are many counter-examples from the past enormous death tolls.
posted by michaelh at 3:22 AM on September 17, 2012


The ability to commit extreme and terrifying acts of violence is a bargaining chip that the poor are silly to keep off the table.
posted by Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing at 3:25 AM on September 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is criticizing Capitalism for it's failings really all that controversial? Sure it's done wonders, but who is going to take a sober look at today and not think there is room for improvement?

Pricing everything in human society so it can fit into a market seems foolish -- standard economic theory says markets tend towards efficiency not equality, and efficiency in every endeavor may not be the normative reality we want, especially when the distribution of resources is currently so heavily skewed towards a very small global elite.

During the middle ages Kings were, on average, rather sight-sighted decision makers, and I don't see how hedge-fund managers and board members are any different.
posted by Shit Parade at 3:33 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


all these people talking violent revolution are so sure of their ability to survive. that's nice if you're a charismatic young dude with a ready stable of allies but for those of us who are none of those, the prospects are a little dimmer

Yes, it's a large mistake to think the way to help a lot of people cooped up in Section 8 with not enough food is to destroy the system that delivers to them food, heat and everything else.

This is correlative only, but history tells us the young revolutionaries generally plan to be at the center of the party forming and to be too busy killing and collecting to be killed or distribute much. Senior communist party members have always lived well.

The ability to commit extreme and terrifying acts of violence is a bargaining chip that the poor are silly to keep off the table.

This is quite true; the difference between just use of that time-honored tradition and Marxism is that Marxism prescribes it, endlessly, and not to achieve any definite aim, whereas its successful use in the past has been more like a pot that periodically boils over to snag a bad noble and goes back to having fun afterwards.
posted by michaelh at 3:33 AM on September 17, 2012


@flapjax
i don't believe any problem is insoluble.
i admire your optimism

also, though some other sites might be creepier/ickier/more overtly classist about it, the reason I chose us is because first, this is where relevant discussion is taking place, and second, because advocating violent revolution against capitalism in a place that literally depends for its existence on money being valuable (to technically educated people who understand how to work e-cash) is just... like, what?

also @michaelh LTGB people did not have that easy a time under Stalin afaik. so there's that.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:46 AM on September 17, 2012


Those are all sad, but even combined they are not worth eight to nine figure death tolls, and I'm sorry to say there are many counter-examples from the past enormous death tolls.
Even though millions were starved to death as a result of policy during the Great Leap, more actually died from hunger and malnutrition in similarly populous India during the period seen as the high socialist phase in China (you can see Drèze and Sen for this, especially Chap 11 available as a PDF here). The major reason why China performed better when it wasn't actively fucking it up is the land reform that took place in the early years of the regime (also a bloody affair), the public health system and so on,.
That doesn't let the PRC regime off the hook for the crimes it committed, but it says something damning about the global capitalist order India remained a part of - it starved more people than those who engineered a man-made famine.
posted by Abiezer at 3:48 AM on September 17, 2012 [9 favorites]


Let me add a few links to this comment - Yes, but capitalism does it without dictatorship, mass murder, forced relocations, and gulags. We've all seen what happens when good intentions becomes a replacement for private property.

17,000 children die of hunger every day and yet this system is a success? Why can't we criticise both capitalism and the actions of the Soviet Union etc?

And my account was free...
posted by knapah at 3:50 AM on September 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


The bit about automated spammers is kind of dodgy because couldn't you just use a captcha and in fact a lot of forums have come up with solutions to this problem that don't require you to pay anything which kind of makes you wonder what exactly the "riffraff" is

Take it to MeTa is my advice. (Blue-Green-Grey line up! Success!)
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:57 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


That doesn't let the PRC regime off the hook for the crimes it committed, but it says something damning about the global capitalist order India remained a part of - it starved more people than those who engineered a man-made famine.

Thanks for the reading. India is an interesting study. Western industry has destroyed the the culture in almost every country it's touched and caused a lot of problems, but in India's case it's in addition to the heartless caste system, subjugation by the British, and even ongoing effects from the muslim conquest several centuries back.

China is not a free country and its people have paid very, very dearly for communism, but it's still China and pretty much destined to be the #1 country in the world every thousand years or so.
posted by michaelh at 4:02 AM on September 17, 2012


Well, I've stayed too long in this thread. Please don't pile up too hard while I'm gone. I like to leave you all some homework:

1. Find something in your house or bank account that's there and shouldn't be.

2. Find a person who should have it instead.

3. Give it to them.

You may optionally attach a copy of your favorite manifesto to the item.
posted by michaelh at 4:06 AM on September 17, 2012


Would the combination of an exponentially growing global GDP and record wealth inequality suffice? Divide GDP by world population, and you get about $10000 per person, including children and elderly in extended families, people who generally do not directly contribute to the economy.

Are you prepared to make the first move? The rich are plundering, but if your households take more than $10,000 per person, you're the rich to the world without that. People are hungry and poor today and nothing the rich is doing is preventing you from evening out your own moral inequity by giving everything you have above $10,000 per person to someone who needs it. They may even be in your own neighbourhood.

This false altruism is an interesting thought exercise, but I wonder if it's the fact that most people fail to realize where their own standard of living is going to need to go to be "fair" or are simply looking for the rich to give it all back and keep their own advantages in life. I don't know a lot of people who are taking responsibility for their own role in global inequality.

A lot of people seem to ask "why should I give it back first? The rich are so much better off." The answer is people need you today and waiting until it's turn is also making people worse off. You can give it back and still fight for the rich to give theirs too.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 4:19 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking as a Christian, here's the thing about poverty: its the church's job to fix it. The link between Christianity and the right in America is clear. There's a lot of great Democrats of faith as well, but I don't need citations to prove the correlation between the church and the GOP in the US. So, as the poverty indexes and indicators continue to grow, and the yawning gap between the poorest Americans and the richest continues to grow, I see two problems: 1) the church isn't doing its job, and 2) the richest Americans are typically (again, does anyone really need a citation?) more closely aligned to the Republican party. The implications of #1 I'll get to in a second, but the implications of #2 are pretty straight forward: lots of very rich "Christians" go to church. There are a shit ton of very well moneyed churches in the US and I'd wager that the large majority of them are doing fuck-all for the poor in their communities.

So, if the church isn't doing its job, someone has to do it for them. The logical next player is of course the government. If you don't like that as a right-wing believer, then I ask you, my fellow Christian, who else you would propose, if the church isn't going to do it.

The Bible is crystal effing-clear on the poverty issue. Its not a suggestion or even a moral standard, really - its quite often stated as a flat out warning: "Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered."


Speaking as an atheist I agree in part. The moral teachings in the bible are mostly to do with economics. And are very much saying that poverty should be solved. As a human being and an atheist, I agree emphatically with the social justice agenda here.

On the other hand the Church held massive sway over Europe for a period of about 1500 years (marking the bounds of Christian domination of the hierarchies by Constantine and the French Revolution). And for 1500 years, the Church failed. Miserably. The only time I can think of off hand The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different answers.

On the other hand, effectively secular democracies* have more or less succeeded in many places. Sweden. Denmark. Norway (special case - Oil money). Canada. Germany. France. Britain (despite the best efforts of the Tories). I could go on. In none of these countries is there the sheer level of poverty there is even in the world's richest country. Start off by making sure everyone's needs are provided for - a living wage, a roof over their head, decent food, and access to healthcare, and ability to start saving money to invest in something. After that point you can start building.

We have systems that work to more or less solve poverty (none of them work completely). We also have an almost uninterrupted record of 1500 years of failure with the Church holding sway. To insist that the Church should fix it with this record is nothing more than the sin of pride and shall ensure, in the words of Jesus of Nazareth that "the poor shall always be with you".

On the other hand, most of the time when things are turned over to "we, the people", poverty issues improve. The US healthcare system, terrible as it still is was a world leader for a while. And the more you bring people into the system and less you disenfranchise them, the more people think everyone should have something to build on rather than kicking those below them. If the Church actually wants to do something about poverty it should support the systems that have been shown to work. Notably government intervention and individual empowerment.

And as for the choice between pure free-markets and pure marxism, I hold the firm belief that humans aren't pure and can't ever be pure. An argument for ideological purity in any direction is an argument against humanity.

And if we're going into exposes of poverty, what do you want me to cite? The Grapes of Wrath? Charles Dickens? (To be fair we more or less fixed those last two).

* Yes, you can be secular with an established church in the same way you can be a democracy with a constitutional monarchy. It gets the whole thing out of the way.
posted by Francis at 4:29 AM on September 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Is the use of rhetorical questions as article titles a scourge on journalism?
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:25 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


oh wow, it has been over 20 years since The Super, Joe Pesci's expose of the reality of slum lords. And well over 30 since the invention of the co-op and the gold rush of pushing out low paying renters, at all costs, to sell the units. Seems like we just discover the same thing over and over.

The problem is that no one looks into the mirror and sees a rental property owner slum lord, they're just regular middle class folks. In the US, people tend to extract value from their own homes by deferring maintenance and then selling when they want to "upgrade", so it's natural to do the same with rental properties. There are an awful lot of normal people who own one or two "slum" properties. You might have even gone to college on the proceeds.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:28 AM on September 17, 2012


Well, I've stayed too long in this thread. Please don't pile up too hard while I'm gone. I like to leave you all some homework:

Or, you could do your homework and read the article by Stephen King linked in this thread about why your approach does not and cannot work. Philanthropy is nice, but it doesn't solve systemic problems.

Additionally, despite the horrible policy excesses of Chinese Communism (debated at some length in this thread), the position of the rural workers and women in China seemed to improve during the middle of the century then decline again under the state-controlled crony-crypto-capitalism that forms current Chinese state policy.

Additionally, unfettered concentration of wealth and the rise of a super-elite had a major role in undermining both Rome and Imperial China (comments of mine here and here from the King thread), so I don't buy the argument that "Capitalism will fix all," since it quite manifestly doesn't.

Lastly, charity from churches is great, but -- it has the same problems with philanthropy that King talks about in his editorial, churches are somewhat free to pick and choose who they support, so in a secular or even multi-faith society that's a problem, and, really, it's the government's job. Whatever Christians might think is the role of their congregations or not, our society has chosen to organize itself around secular institutions, and those institutions should be doing the heavy lifting. Personally, I think churches could best support the social safety net by abandoning their tax-free status and supporting state efforts via taxes, but that's probably an argument for a different thread.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:32 AM on September 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


Sadly ironic to be talking about food security problems in a country with perhaps the highest obesity rate.

Obesity is much more about what you eat than how much you eat. Poor people tend to eat calorie-dense high-carb foods, which promote obesity.


Irregular eating and stress also contribute to weight gain.
posted by jb at 5:37 AM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, but capitalism does it without dictatorship, mass murder, forced relocations, and gulags. We've all seen what happens when good intentions becomes a replacement for private property.

Have you even heard of Pinochet? or for that matter, the recent shootings of striking workers in South Africa, or the Trail of Tears (moving native people to promote white capitalist farming) or the whole of the Slave Trade, which was twin of so much early capitalism?
posted by jb at 5:42 AM on September 17, 2012 [9 favorites]


You're not going to get rid of the market, but you can make it work for you, and not against you. Mixed market economies have been successful in providing a decent standard of living, a stable economy, a path out of poverty, and all without restricting too significantly the wealthy from having and enjoying their possessions. If the whole world followed the Nordic model, it would be paradise.
posted by Jehan at 5:46 AM on September 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Also, if you've never heard of capitalism murdering millions, you've never heard of India under British misrule.
posted by Jehan at 5:48 AM on September 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Poverty is the worst kind of violence." -Gandhi

Isn't there some theory that revolution only occurs in improving societies? America is clearly in decline, making effective violence unlikely. I'm dubious if random mob ever violence accomplishes much when so many people support the status quo though, especially when police are so militarized.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:05 AM on September 17, 2012


Thanks for the reading. India is an interesting study. Western industry has destroyed the the culture in almost every country it's touched and caused a lot of problems, but in India's case it's in addition to the heartless caste system, subjugation by the British, and even ongoing effects from the muslim conquest several centuries back.


The horrific lasts 19th century famines in India - which killed 10s of millions of people - did not occur due to the caste system or the defunct Moghul empire. They happened because the British Raj believed in laissez faire capitalism and refused to interfere in grain markets or exports whatsoever. cite

criticising capitalism does NOT make one a supporter of Stalin or even a communist (even though communists such as Hutterites have never mass murdered anyone). But it's so very wrong to ignore the horrific crimes that have been committed in the name of capitalism - some indirectly, like the Indian famines, but many directly, like worker massacres and the mass dislocation of people on every continent except Antarctica.

one does not need to be a Pinochet apologist to avoid being a Stalin apologist. those are not out choices.

I'm going to keep banging on about the crimes of capitalism, because that's the system I live in and the system creating problems right here, right now -- and I don't criticize to destroy it, but ameliorate it. it's like how if I were catholic, I might want to criticise my church without destroying it. And I might say how I don't like how they've treated native religions - Without then defending the Aztec blood sacrifices.
posted by jb at 6:07 AM on September 17, 2012 [18 favorites]


TOCATY, I'm really sure you didn't intend it, but that joke is pretty close in sentiment to those conservative posters making fun of OWS-ers for using cell phones and tents manufactured by corporations.

@jeffburdges: I've heard of the theory, but I never heard if it had a specific name - please link it if you find it!
posted by GenericUser at 6:14 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking as a Christian, here's the thing about poverty: its the church's job to fix it.

I think the Christian churches have an exemplary track record on providing charity, but an almost non-existent track record on addressing the structural causes of poverty.

And that's what the article is about -- exploitation as a structural cause of poverty. I'm all for individual and group charity -- the world needs more kind actions, absolutely. But the poor people the researchers in the article spent time with, and the poor people I have lived with in other countries, need laws (and rigorous enforcement of those laws) against usurious lending, predatory landlording, and on and on and on -- all the ways that poor people are exploited and preyed upon. A single poor person has very little, but collectively they have a lot, and almost all of it is available to be taken.

It's not a new idea in the study of poverty -- I know I read similar articles in graduate school, for example -- but it's a concept that is almost totally gone from our national discourse. We put the emphasis on the individual instead, focusing on whether a person is making "good" choices, say, rather than noting the ways in which that person is being screwed over at every turn.
posted by Forktine at 6:33 AM on September 17, 2012 [10 favorites]


I know Elvis Costello wrote the lyrics to "Shipbuilding" about the Falklands war, but every time I read about modern poverty I think:

With all the wealth in the world,
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls.

posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 6:57 AM on September 17, 2012


The horrific lasts 19th century famines in India - which killed 10s of millions of people - did not occur due to the caste system or the defunct Moghul empire. They happened because the British Raj believed in laissez faire capitalism and refused to interfere in grain markets or exports whatsoever.

Indeed. See also Ireland, a net exporter of food during the potato famine.
posted by knapah at 7:01 AM on September 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


intent is a component of sentiment

as for this, that was not my sentiment, but going apeshit over what one sees as hypocrisy is probably a lot more embarrassing than calmly pointing out the small discrepancies in what people profess to believe and what they do

i don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that the poor will have difficulty affording or justifying to themselves spending money on an internet community, or that they and the rural and disadvantaged will have trouble navigating the technology to do that, or that it's not lame that people be aware of their own information and financial privileges, or that they should be aware of how those privileges relate to what and how they're saying what they're saying, or that this state of affairs not be exempt from examination and criticism. i really don't.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:14 AM on September 17, 2012


Making poor people pay any tax they might use to better themselves is a form of serfdom. That's why most people consider it a normal duty to pay, even if your are poor, rather than a functional method to raise money for the government without hurting anyone's chances to survive.
posted by Brian B. at 7:15 AM on September 17, 2012


The discussion reminded me of this "gem" from last year. I'm sure incremental change is awesome!!!, but your main choice this November is between the guy who fought behind the scenes to prevent the minimum wage of earthquake-struck Haiti from rising to 61 cents, and the guy who wants to bomb Iran (and surely do that sort of Haiti shit all the time too).

(I'll be voting for Jill Stein, but obviously we need real electoral reform to make that kind of thing actually possible.)
posted by threeants at 7:19 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking as a Christian, here's the thing about poverty: its the church's job to fix it. The link between Christianity and the right in America is clear. There's a lot of great Democrats of faith as well, but I don't need citations to prove the correlation between the church and the GOP in the US. So, as the poverty indexes and indicators continue to grow, and the yawning gap between the poorest Americans and the richest continues to grow, I see two problems: 1) the church isn't doing its job, and 2) the richest Americans are typically (again, does anyone really need a citation?) more closely aligned to the Republican party. The implications of #1 I'll get to in a second, but the implications of #2 are pretty straight forward: lots of very rich "Christians" go to church. There are a shit ton of very well moneyed churches in the US and I'd wager that the large majority of them are doing fuck-all for the poor in their communities.
Many of the "well moneyed" you speak of live in suburban gated communities completely insulated from the poor that you think they should be helping. These people don't think of the poor in their area as part of their community; they see themselves as comprising an independent community living within residential developments catering to their income bracket and sheltered from those below it. This seems to be exacerbated by the type of suburban communities that exist in the U.S., that don't contribute to city taxes, and sometimes are located miles from their corresponding urban centers. As long as this situation persists, poor are everyone else's problem. It becomes easy to forget that they even exist – which is why you see so much support from GOP loyals when a Republican senator tows the party line about "bootstraps" and how the sobbing poor need to suck up and work hard like to rest of us until they can afford a house with a garage in the 'burbs and a Lincoln Town Car to put in it.

Anyway, if the desired outcome is for the rich to give some of their surplus income to the poor in the form of charity, why entrust the health and well-being of so many human beings to the whims of individuals? Why wait for Mr. CEO the Christian to feel generous enough to buy medicine for the poor schlubs living in the bombed out inner-city neighborhood he drives past on his way to work? Why not grease the wheels of justice a little bit via taxes and food stamp programs and the like so that just in case Mr. CEO happens to forget to fund a charity organization or donate to the local church soup kitchen society won't collapse into plutocratic ruin?
posted by deathpanels at 7:24 AM on September 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


If you squeeze your eyes shut really tight, stick your fingers in your ears, and shout "La, la, la, la..." as loud as you can, there will be no poor or homeless in American beyond those that choose to be poor by their laziness. In this way, you don't have to spend any of society's resources on them and can write them off, the way our Lord Jeebus said to.
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:38 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Many of the "well moneyed" you speak of live in suburban gated communities completely insulated from the poor that you think they should be helping.

Yes. I read an article about exactly this a few months ago, and the thing that struck me was the observation that, for Christians, the question "who is my neighbor" has theological significance.
posted by gauche at 7:43 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


"...churches have an exemplary track record on providing charity..."

Not being snarky, but really want to know where this record is written. As far as I know, there aren't any accountings of church finances, except in the cases of incorporated charities sponsored by the church. Has someone done a tabulation of the charity (by that I mean traditional charities that provide food, clothing, housing, etc.) by religious/non-religious affiliation? It would be interesting to see this in comparison to the churches' total revenue.
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:49 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


the capitalists will let you starve but the communists will kill you for being bourgeois

Correct. If the revolution actually comes it will be all the silly communists on MeFi who will be the first to be lined up for the firing squads.
posted by shivohum at 7:53 AM on September 17, 2012


Actually, to anyone with anything other than a reactionary, conservative worldview and mindset, it doesn't. It's clearly and painfully obvious, and it doesn't need a fucking cite on Metafilter.

Thank you. No need for earnest, if flawed, attempts by folks like Talez, Scody or Blazecock Pilon. Because, when it comes down to the bottom line, the idea that there'd be enough for the needs of all were it not for the greed of a few is really a matter of faith that need not any critical thought.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:02 AM on September 17, 2012


Correct. If the revolution actually comes it will be all the silly communists on MeFi who will be the first to be lined up for the firing squads.

The bourgeois are the owners of production, as opposed to the proletariat who live by selling their labor to the bourgeois.

Either you think Metafilter is full of capitalist business owners or you don't know as much about communism as you think you do, and should probably refrain from discussing it. Read a book, maybe.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:03 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes. I read an article about exactly this a few months ago, and the thing that struck me was the observation that, for Christians, the question "who is my neighbor" has theological significance.

I'd agree that it has theological significance, but as a Christian, I don't see how it's a question any Christian provides an answer to other than "everyone," although obviously they often do. It's an important question, but the New Testament doesn't really make it a hard one.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:13 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, but capitalism does it without dictatorship, mass murder, forced relocations, and gulags

Oh, really?
posted by Gelatin at 9:30 AM on September 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Read a book, maybe.

If you had taken this advice, you would know that communist governments in Russia, China, and other places made it a point to purge the intelligentsia.
posted by shivohum at 9:38 AM on September 17, 2012


Actually, to anyone with anything other than a reactionary, conservative worldview and mindset, it doesn't. It's clearly and painfully obvious, and it doesn't need a fucking cite on Metafilter. (flapjax at midnite)

Suggesting that the request for citation was born from a reactionary, conservative worldview is an example of argumentum ad hominem. Asserting that it is "clearly and painfully obvious" is an example of proof by assertion. The tone of "it doesn't need a fucking cite" probably counts as argument ad lapidem (dismissing as absurd the idea that citation is needed). And the "on Metafilter" part is a neat combination of argumentum ad numerum (suggesting that everyone here already knows the claim to be true) and some sort of in-group appeal (if you were a real MeFite, you wouldn't need a citation).
posted by d. z. wang at 9:51 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


flapjax at midnite: Needs cite.

Actually, to anyone with anything other than a reactionary, conservative worldview and mindset, it doesn't. It's clearly and painfully obvious, and it doesn't need a fucking cite on Metafilter.
Ah, the good ol' It's so painfully obvious I get to ridicule anyone who disagrees attitude.

You forgot to mention some class name that ends in "101" - Civics 101, perhaps?

Of course, our goal here is supposed to be discussion of ideas, not ridicule of dissent and skepticism. You're not helping.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:18 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing: Anybody who is against violence is implicitly *for* the current state of affairs.
Gandhi sighs, rolls over in his grave, and ignores your prattle.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:22 AM on September 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


If you had taken this advice, you would know that communist governments in Russia, China, and other places made it a point to purge the intelligentsia.

This isn't true of Russia at all. Yes, they sought to purge dissidents, but the intelligentsia were regarded as a valuable resource who could put their invaluable minds at the service of the revolution.

There's nothing inherent in communism that seeks to destroy intellectuals -- most communist theory is created by intellectuals. But all revolutionary upheaval and all ideologies provide opportunities for those who would unjustly enrich themselves at the expense of their comrades.

The interesting thing about communism is that when it happens, it displays a profound inconsistency with the stated ideology -- whereas when it happens under capitalism, it's just business as usual and the natural order of things.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:22 AM on September 17, 2012


2N2222: "There'd be enough for the needs of all if not for the greed of a few.

Needs cite.
"

World GDP per capita. Seems like not much to our western standards, but that's only because, you know, we're generally not poor compared to the rest of the world (not that we don't have massive poverty issues)... Add in that certain issues regarding wealth and money are related to discrepancies in wealth (keep up w/joneses), and remove a lot of that disparity, perhaps it's not as bad as it seems.

I'm not saying everyone should only make 11k a year on the planet, but let's face it, a small portion of the world profits at the expense of many who end up suffering needlessly.
posted by symbioid at 11:24 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


No need for earnest, if flawed, attempts

You came in here, you got to drop your silly bon mot, and you got what you wanted, which I guess involved getting responses you weren't serious about understanding in any way, shape or form. Don't do that shit. Otherwise, if you're going to be one of those jerks on Metafilter who hurts this place by playing the Expert Card and dismissing others' comments without reading them, it'd be nice to see some credentials, some facts, and a cogent argument that wraps it all together. Failing that, if you have to comment, please don't be one of those annonying Expert Card-playing jerks, unless you can back it up with something approximating facts and a cogent argument.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:27 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Let's see. If the average per capita income of the world is ~US$11,000 (2011), then we could provide everyone with US$10,000 a year and that would leave at least $7 trillion to fight over in our capitalist games. I know that's not as much as is available now, but it seems like it should be adequate to lubricate the wheels of enterprise.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:24 PM on September 17, 2012


OH MY FUCKING CHRIST, WAY TO RUIN WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN A GOOD DISCUSSION WITH STRAW-MAN MARXISM AND CAPITALISM FELLATING BULLSHIT.

This was a good, if slim, article about acknowledging open exploitation as a factor in systemic poverty. Instead of talking about that, we get pedantry about wealth distribution and a farcical allusion to fucking gulags.

YES, EVERYONE CRITICAL OF CAPITALISM OR WILLING TO ACKNOWLEDGE EXPLOITATION WANTS YOU UP AGAINST THE FUCKING WALL. WE'RE ALL UNRECONSTRUCTED STALINISTS. NOW FUCK BACK TO ENRON AND AIG.
posted by klangklangston at 12:35 PM on September 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


I don't see how renting low-income apartments is exploitation of the poor. I know a few small-time landlords, and it's basically a horribly time-consuming hobby on which you're lucky to break even. One bad tenant can stop paying the rent, use all the legal methods to avoid eviction, and cost you tens of thousands of dollars. Not that landlords are angels -- just that they're mostly in a constant struggle to break even.

On the other hand, payday lenders and for-profit colleges are definitely exploiting the poor, so there's that.
posted by miyabo at 2:18 PM on September 17, 2012


I would note a couple things: First, I don't think that most landlords are only breaking even. Second, I don't think that most low-income housing is rented by small-time landlords. Third, I do think that most low-income renters deal with a disproportionate amount of slumlords. (My experience in renting is that a few large concerns own 70 to 80 percent of housing in any given market, even if they're outnumbered by small owners in total).

Finally, I'd note that almost all of the regulations that make it a hassle to own rental property exist because some asshole made them necessary by fucking over renters.

(I used to be on the board of a pretty huge housing co-op — about 350 units — that served a lot of section 8 folks, and also have rented a lot in college towns and seen the level of bullshit that landlords will pull as a matter of routine. I've also seen what a cash cow owning rental property in a college town is.)
posted by klangklangston at 4:03 PM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


One bad tenant can stop paying the rent, use all the legal methods to avoid eviction, and cost you tens of thousands of dollars.

But during the same amount of time, each of the other tenants who are paying their rent have made you tens of thousands of dollars.

There are lots of headaches that accompany being the manager of a rental property (which is not necessarily the same thing as being the landlord) but I find it hard to believe that they're anything other than a golden-egg-laying goose, even when the aggravations are at their worst. And if owning however many hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars' worth of property really is some terrible hardship for anybody such that we should all feel sorry for them, they can feel free to sign it over to me and I will relieve them of the awful burden of being a member of the landed aristocracy.
posted by XMLicious at 4:54 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Renting can often be a frustrating task but to imply no profit is made questions the entire enterprise.
posted by Shit Parade at 5:04 PM on September 17, 2012


Sure, that's why investment firms form to achieve rental of vast swathes of real estate, because of the immense profits that can be made by paying rent.
posted by XMLicious at 5:13 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


This isn't true of Russia at all. Yes, they sought to purge dissidents, but the intelligentsia were regarded as a valuable resource who could put their invaluable minds at the service of the revolution.

Purely puppet intellectuals, yes. But no intellectual who sought even a modicum of independence (by e.g. daring to be a Trotskyist instead of a Bolshevist) was tolerated. Too dangerous.

The interesting thing about communism is that when it happens, it displays a profound inconsistency with the stated ideology -- whereas when it happens under capitalism, it's just business as usual and the natural order of things.

I don't really know any capitalist philosophers who would say that large purges of the population are part of capitalist philosophy.

More importantly, capitalism is largely self-correcting. One of the main reasons that slavery disappeared was because it was economically inefficient; so too segregation. Arch-capitalists like JP Morgan helped establish the Fed because they didn't want instability. Teddy Roosevelt implemented progressive reforms in large part to save capitalism. And so on. Not to say that all capitalists have foresight; far from it -- but there is a significant number which does, and that makes all the difference.
posted by shivohum at 5:30 PM on September 17, 2012


Not being snarky, but really want to know where this record is written.

It's been written in the social and physical fabric of every place I've lived, with a large number of foodbanks, shelters, etc, being run or supported by churches. I'm sure it's a small percentage of church revenues, but it's a large percentage of the charity work that gets done in a practical sense.
posted by Forktine at 5:35 PM on September 17, 2012


I'm sure it's a small percentage of church revenues, but it's a large percentage of the charity work that gets done in a practical sense.

Well, anecdotes are nice, but I'd sure like to see what percentage they represent, vis a vis non-sectarian charities like United Way, etc.
posted by Mental Wimp at 6:04 PM on September 17, 2012


"I don't really know any capitalist philosophers who would say that large purges of the population are part of capitalist philosophy."

I don't know any True Scotsmen, but large purges of, say, indigenous people are pretty fucking endemic to capitalism.

"One of the main reasons that slavery disappeared was because it was economically inefficient; so too segregation."

This is just flat out bullshit. Slavery and segregation wouldn't have taken generations of abolitionists, a civil war in the US, and ultimately federal intervention if capitalism was self-correcting.

Likewise, it's a puff of fart to argue that the recurrent cyclical depressions and recessions of unfettered capitalism are "self-correcting" and that arch capitalists supported the Fed out of altruism rather than rent-seeking self-interest.

I know that you have to trot out the Randroid capitalism apologia every time your batteries get charged, but to credit capitalism with the end of slavery just shows how circular and faith-based your grasp of history and economics are.
posted by klangklangston at 6:12 PM on September 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Well, anecdotes are nice, but I'd sure like to see what percentage they represent, vis a vis non-sectarian charities like United Way, etc.

I just checked, and half of the organizations receiving allocations from my local United Way (representing well over half of the total dollars) were religious-affiliated charities. At the grassroots level, in the US and in many other places, a large amount of hands-on charity work is done by church-affiliated organizations -- this isn't a controversial statement at all. But sure, if you could track down the percentages involved at the national or international level it would be interesting, though probably hard to compare across countries because of the very different ways these things are tracked.
posted by Forktine at 6:23 PM on September 17, 2012


I don't know any True Scotsmen, but large purges of, say, indigenous people are pretty fucking endemic to capitalism.

Consider taking some reading comprehension lessons. The quote I responded to talked about the relationship of action to explicitly stated ideology. Not to mention that purges of indigenous peoples have nothing to do with capitalism per se since they happen (with great frequency) in communist, fascist, tribal, and plenty of other systems.

Slavery and segregation wouldn't have taken generations of abolitionists, a civil war in the US, and ultimately federal intervention if capitalism was self-correcting.

A predictably simplistic view of how these systems work. The North won the war in large part because of capitalist industry, and because many capitalists realized that slavery was inferior to free labor. Capitalist prosperity is what funded and pushed for the end of slavery and the capitalist ideology and the realization that the disenfranchisement of millions stymied productivity helped end segregation.

but to credit capitalism with the end of slavery just shows how circular and faith-based your grasp of history and economics are.

It may be a surprise in your narrow, dichotomous leftist thought process, but multiple factors are involved in every historical contingency. Capitalism helped end both slavery and segregation, but, like Al Gore's creation of the Internet, it was not the only cause. It was a powerful factor in a large and complex system.
posted by shivohum at 6:29 PM on September 17, 2012


"Consider taking some reading comprehension lessons. The quote I responded to talked about the relationship of action to explicitly stated ideology. Not to mention that purges of indigenous peoples have nothing to do with capitalism per se since they happen (with great frequency) in communist, fascist, tribal, and plenty of other systems."

Yes, capitalism's great virtue is not that it produces different results, but that capitalism can describe them as unintended consequences.

"A predictably simplistic view of how these systems work. The North won the war in large part because of capitalist industry, and because many capitalists realized that slavery was inferior to free labor. Capitalist prosperity is what funded and pushed for the end of slavery and the capitalist ideology and the realization that the disenfranchisement of millions stymied productivity helped end segregation."

And again, bullshit. It's not a simplistic view to attribute the main end of slavery in the US to the civil war — it's a revisionist reading to argue that it was really great, enlightened capitalism that was embarking on the noble enterprise of free labor. Further, arguing that capitalism ended segregation in this country is even more specious bullshit — you do well to keep the focus off that — especially when compared to things like the Civil Rights Act and federal troops being sent to integrate schools.

Like I said, capitalism is an article of faith for you, where it explains everything good and is mysteriously absent in times of evil.

"It may be a surprise in your narrow, dichotomous leftist thought process, but multiple factors are involved in every historical contingency. Capitalism helped end both slavery and segregation, but, like Al Gore's creation of the Internet, it was not the only cause. It was a powerful factor in a large and complex system."

I'll politely decline your capitalism snowball here and point out that your argument was that capitalism was self-correcting, which is an idiotic and Panglossian take on economic ideology. Capitalism was an ancillary factor for segregation and slavery, and by arguing for its importance, you're taking a markedly Marxist view of history. Much, much, much more important were the actual stated reasons for people's opposition to slavery and segregation; inventing flights of capitalist fancy may impress the rest of your dorm mates, but it's no good in the real world.

(I do enjoy that every time you disagree with me, you seem to call me a leftist. This will no doubt bring great guffaws to all the regular leftists on MeFi who denounce me as a running dog of status-quo capitalism.)
posted by klangklangston at 6:51 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


embarking on the noble enterprise of free labor

Who said anything about noble? The whole point of capitalism is that it often makes morality into a matter of self-interest. Dirty self interest often sponsors great good.

Like I said, capitalism is an article of faith for you, where it explains everything good and is mysteriously absent in times of evil.

Hardly. I often ply the capitalist viewpoint on MeFi because there's such a tendency here towards becoming an extreme anti-capitalist echo chamber. Someone needs to provide some balancing truths.

Much, much, much more important were the actual stated reasons for people's opposition to slavery and segregation

These are not separate. Capitalism was woven into the fabric of abolition. It sponsored the war for the North. The ethics of capitalism and the valuation of hard work and self-reliance dovetailed with religious opposition to slavery. The logic of capitalism argued against the inefficiency of coerced labor. Capitalism created the technology that made slaves increasingly obsolete. Capitalists realized that large pools of slave labor stymied the creation of larger domestic markets. The South was less capitalist; the North was more capitalist; the greater fought the lesser and won.
posted by shivohum at 7:09 PM on September 17, 2012


Speaking of what capitalist philosophers say, Adam Smith on rent (in 1776):
Rent, considered as the price paid for the use of land, is naturally the highest which the tenant can afford to pay in the actual circumstances of the land. In adjusting the terms of the lease, the landlord endeavours to leave him no greater share of the produce than what is sufficient to keep up the stock from which he furnishes the seed, pays the labour, and purchases and maintains the cattle and other instruments of husbandry, together with the ordinary profits of farming stock in the neighbourhood. This is evidently the smallest share with which the tenant can content himself without being a loser, and the landlord seldom means to leave him any more. Whatever part of the produce, or, what is the same thing, whatever part of its price, is over and above this share, he naturally endeavours to reserve to himself as the rent of his land, which is evidently the highest the tenant can afford to pay in the actual circumstances of the land.
posted by XMLicious at 7:15 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


(So it's interesting that even in a very early version of capitalism at least, it was just as clear that rent had nothing to do with markets or the exchange of value, but was even then just about soaking the tenant for every penny that can possibly be squeezed out.)
posted by XMLicious at 7:21 PM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


...a large amount of hands-on charity work is done by church-affiliated organizations...

Well, I was looking for the funding part. It would be nice to know two proportions. The first is what percentage of gross revenue from churches goes into actual charity work, as opposed to building structures, paying staff salaries, and proselytizing. The second is what percentage of total charity funding comes from that revenue, when measured against all sources. Clearly, United Way funds funneled through a church-affiliated organization wouldn't count, as that comes from people not affiliated with the church.

As I said before, it seems that hard numbers are difficult to find. I'm always wary of assertions that "everybody knows." My sense is that private charity of all types summed together is woefully inadequate to address the social needs out there and that if we got government out of the business of social support, we would retreat back to the hard and nasty environment we had before the New Deal.
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:45 PM on September 17, 2012


One of the main reasons that slavery disappeared was because it was economically inefficient; so too segregation.

That's a fucking lie that you should be ashamed to tell. We literally had to shoot hundreds of thousands of people to end slavery, and segregation still isn't gone de facto; simply ending it de jure sparked massive riots and terrorism. "The market" is a dead, absent god.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:50 PM on September 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


One of the main reasons that slavery disappeared was because it was economically inefficient; so too segregation.

How much hope do we hold out for the environment then, as it's usually (always?) going to be more efficient and profitable to exploit biological resources before someone else gets there, and value/profit increases with scarcity. Please explain how Capitalism is going to prevent, for example, the ongoing plunder of oceanic fish stocks?
posted by sneebler at 8:02 PM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


There are a shit ton of very well moneyed churches in the US and I'd wager that the large majority of them are doing fuck-all for the poor in their communities.

This. What I found amazing about churches back in the day when I attended, was that they're idea of charity to the poor meant rattling a can for those poor Africans/Asians/South Americans several times a year, but the majority of their efforts went to collecting for the feeding of their souls, not their bodies. It's missionary time, people. I do remember the wonderful good they did for the poor in the community when they handed out the 50 or so Christmas Dinner Baskets of Shame in parochial school. The families might have needed it, but I know a few of the kids hated it.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:06 PM on September 17, 2012


I see that I am late to the party as usual, and all the best epithets have been flung.

I want just to enlarge upon slightly what a couple of others have tried to get across earlier in this thread: Marxist and capitalist approaches are not the only possible responses to reducing poverty (or fixing any other social ill). More generally, ideologies are useful as guides or outlines to help get yourself oriented. Trying to use them prescriptively -- cookbook style -- as ways to fix major social problems is bound to end in tears, because ideologies are highly simplified, incomplete and often downright wrong descriptions of how the world works.

Why not look at policies that have worked elsewhere to reduce poverty, and try to adapt them to the situation you face in your own country? After all, there are plenty of examples from other societies that have worked to maintain greater equality or other social good. Focus on what actually works. You can stick a label on it later.
posted by dmayhood at 8:32 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Who said anything about noble? The whole point of capitalism is that it often makes morality into a matter of self-interest. Dirty self interest often sponsors great good."

… and great evil. And shows the boundaries to a purely utilitarian morality. But please, tell me more about Volkswagen.

"Hardly. I often ply the capitalist viewpoint on MeFi because there's such a tendency here towards becoming an extreme anti-capitalist echo chamber. Someone needs to provide some balancing truths."

Sure, that's fair. Fortunately, we already get balancing truths pretty regularly. What we don't need is unapologetic bullshit like the assertion that capitalism ended segregation, in pure naked defiance of actual, historical fact. And since that's a viewpoint that's peddled like rags in a Lewis Hine photo, that's a big part of why you get shirty cod Marxism thrown back at you.

"These are not separate. Capitalism was woven into the fabric of abolition. It sponsored the war for the North. The ethics of capitalism and the valuation of hard work and self-reliance dovetailed with religious opposition to slavery. The logic of capitalism argued against the inefficiency of coerced labor. Capitalism created the technology that made slaves increasingly obsolete. Capitalists realized that large pools of slave labor stymied the creation of larger domestic markets. The South was less capitalist; the North was more capitalist; the greater fought the lesser and won."

Again, this is circular, faith-based reasoning. If abolitionism and capitalism are not separate — and Wilberforce's hypocrisy comes from his opposition to better working conditions in England — then neither are slavery and capitalism. When you stretch your definition to "logic," it needs must embrace amorality fully, and many of us seek a just society.

Further, the logic of capitalism did not argue against the "inefficiency" of coerced labor! At most, it argued against the inefficiency of paying food and lodging for coerced labor! And what gall to describe my skepticism as simplistic — an industrializing England with just a little different historical leaning would have gladly bought the South's cotton.

This is an invention of febrile Southern revisionism, predicated upon a just so story of economic Darwinianism that would baffle anyone with a high school education as much as seeing dinosaurs in the Bible. Further, it is as equally simplistic as arguing that the Civil War was the battle of the industrialized bourgeoisie against the aristocracy, or the crushing boot of federalism on the necks of Southern individualism.

Just how much of the Union win can be, in your opinion, fairly attributed to capitalism as a philosophy? Not as a descriptive model, but as a prescriptive one?
posted by klangklangston at 10:17 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


We literally had to shoot hundreds of thousands of people to end slavery

Yes, and as I explained above, capitalism helped win that war.

and segregation still isn't gone de facto; simply ending it de jure sparked massive riots and terrorism.

Let's not exaggerate now. We de facto no longer have separate water fountains and bathrooms, and black people can no longer be kept out of restaurants. We have a half-black president now, de facto and de jure. We have de facto interracial marriages. There has been enormous progress, and capitalism has had a lot to do with it. Black or white, money is money, production is production. Capitalism constitutes a universal secular philosophy that reaches across other, more traditional dividine lines.
---
If abolitionism and capitalism are not separate — and Wilberforce's hypocrisy comes from his opposition to better working conditions in England — then neither are slavery and capitalism.

Slavery long precedes capitalism. But a fight against abolition in a culture deeply intertwined with the virtues of business and productivity has a unique relationship to capitalism.

Further, the logic of capitalism did not argue against the "inefficiency" of coerced labor!

It did. Slaves work very reluctantly at best. Volunteers work far better, far more creatively. That's why the army doesn't like the draft, for example. It doesn't want people who don't want to be there.

Just how much of the Union win can be, in your opinion, fairly attributed to capitalism as a philosophy? Not as a descriptive model, but as a prescriptive one?

How can I put percentages on it? It helped ensure the Union win by giving it far greater productive power, and it helped justify abolishing the slave trade by bolstering moral arguments with economic ones.
posted by shivohum at 10:50 PM on September 17, 2012


justify abolishing the slave trade
and slavery generally
posted by shivohum at 10:52 PM on September 17, 2012


I'm familiar with the idea and the evidence that more advanced industrialization helped the North win the war but interchangeably swapping in capitalism and "business virtues" in place of industrialization is a bit loosey-goosey. It seems equally valid to for example say that capitalism lost the war for the South.

Come to think of it, rather than self-reliance one of the other major advantages possessed by the North was that it had engaged in socialist projects like the government-orchestrated construction of Macadamized roads, canals, railways, river dredging to increase navigability, and navigational surveys, port facilities, lighthouses, etc. on the sea.

I guess we could say that socialism and communal virtues freed the slaves. That is, since we're into breaking free from narrow thought processes and embracing the reality that multiple factors are involved in every historical contingency and all that.
posted by XMLicious at 12:02 AM on September 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Black or white, money is money, production is production. Capitalism constitutes a universal secular philosophy that reaches across other, more traditional dividine lines."

Well, not in any coherent sense, nor in any moral sense. Capitalism no more constitutes a secular philosophy than evolution does.

"Slavery long precedes capitalism. But a fight against abolition in a culture deeply intertwined with the virtues of business and productivity has a unique relationship to capitalism."

Ah, so post hoc, ergo propter hoc. And a lot of hand waving about a unique relationship, tied through a nebulous appeal to culture.

"It did. Slaves work very reluctantly at best. Volunteers work far better, far more creatively. That's why the army doesn't like the draft, for example. It doesn't want people who don't want to be there."

You might as well argue that Christian soldiers fight better because of God.

First off, people conscripted weren't slaves. Second off, the argument that they fight better is not based on any military history so far as I can tell. Napoleon beat the the Prussians with a conscript army; the Union was stronger than the Confederacy in part because of superior conscription; the draft in America was ended explicitly to demobilize civilian opposition. While your explanation is good as far as soap bubbles go, it pops as soon as it touches the world.

"How can I put percentages on it? It helped ensure the Union win by giving it far greater productive power, and it helped justify abolishing the slave trade by bolstering moral arguments with economic ones."

Oh, so it's something that's unquantifiable, unfalsifiable and can be seen everywhere if you squint. Do you swallow a dime on Sundays and wash it down with Coca Cola?
posted by klangklangston at 12:09 AM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, just as a note, "slavery would've ended eventually because it was inefficient" is a line that eventually comes tumbling like a turd out of the mouth of every Confederate apologist.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:12 AM on September 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


2N2222 writes: Thank you. No need for earnest, if flawed, attempts by folks like Talez, Scody or Blazecock Pilon. Because, when it comes down to the bottom line, the idea that there'd be enough for the needs of all were it not for the greed of a few is really a matter of faith that need not any critical thought.

Hey, I think it's great that Talez, Scody and Blazecock Pileon (as well as symbioid) took the time to actually provide cites for you (especially considering that "needs cite" was a blithe, snarky comment that didn't especially deserve their efforts), but I stand by my comment 100%. I don't consider it a "matter of faith". Like I said, it's obvious. I'll say it again, in fact.

Now, if you were actually interested in a good faith conversation, you'd be replying to the cites that your fellow Mefites were kind enough to provide you with: that you indicated were necessary. Instead, you've simply returned to the thread after all this time to admonish me.

Your snarky, tossed off comment actually received four replies with cites. Why don't you show that you're interested in something other than scoring cheap points here and answer them?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:37 AM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


capitalism and "business virtues" in place of industrialization is a bit loosey-goosey

I'm not saying "in place of"... I'm saying and.

It seems equally valid to for example say that capitalism lost the war for the South.

No, slavery has really nothing to do with capitalism. It's a much older model.

rather than self-reliance one of the other major advantages possessed by the North was that it had engaged in socialist projects like the government-orchestrated construction of Macadamized roads, canals, railways, river dredging to increase navigability, and navigational surveys, port facilities, lighthouses, etc. on the sea.

Those aren't socialist projects except to tea partiers. It's capitalists who demanded those things and saw that they got done.

I guess we could say that socialism and communal virtues freed the slaves.

You could say that, but you would be wrong. The South was far more communal and socialist than the North, much more about preserving a non-market-based society.

---

Capitalism no more constitutes a secular philosophy than evolution does.

What a bizarre analogy. Capitalism is not a scientific theory. Capitalism is a system that in the United States is historically very intertwined with things like the protestant work ethic and a faith in the reason of the market.

post hoc, ergo propter hoc

Silly use of this phrase. All causal judgments are post hoc, ergo propter hoc. The only question is what other conditions of the situation justify or do not justify the judgment.

While your explanation is good as far as soap bubbles go, it pops as soon as it touches the world.

You clearly know exactly zero about the arguments about against the draft from the professional military. We used to have a draft; we implemented an all-volunteer army, and it's been judged a big success. Perhaps you should do some research before commenting on these things.

Oh, so it's something that's unquantifiable, unfalsifiable and can be seen everywhere if you squint.

So you only believe in things that can be measured in percentages? That explains a lot.
posted by shivohum at 6:07 AM on September 18, 2012


All causal judgments are post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

No, no they are not. Please read up on causal inference and counterfactuals if you don't want to persist in this foolishness.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:03 AM on September 18, 2012


No, no they are not. Please read up on causal inference and counterfactuals if you don't want to persist in this foolishness.

Clearly you're not comprehending that I'm making a philosophical point about the tedious abuse of this phrase. While it is true that mere temporal sequence does not justify causal judgment, it is also true that in a larger sense, all science is just an elaboration-with-caveats of before-and-after patterns. In the largest sense, post hoc... is a foundational assumption of science: that it is the past that causes the future, rather than the future causing the past, or the future being completely arbitrary.

It's like the people constantly chirping on about correlation not being causation. Yes, that's true, but only in certain contexts. In other contexts--when, for example, alternative explanations of the correlation are plausibly argued away--correlation very much does suggest causation.
posted by shivohum at 8:22 AM on September 18, 2012


all science is just an elaboration-with-caveats of before-and-after patterns.

No, again, no it's not. This is an obtuse statement. Experimentation actually takes you well beyond this simplistic characterization to valid counterfactual substitution. Don't bandy these terms about until you understand them.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:21 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


You should try reading some philosophy of science, maybe some Quine. Could cure you of your inflated opinion of experimentation.
posted by shivohum at 9:25 AM on September 18, 2012


I teach it.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:30 AM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well then you should be able to see my point. Experiments are just one method of ruling out alternative explanations for a particular sequence of events, but they are hardly perfect. Ultimately whether an experiment successfully isolated all relevant confounding factors is itself a judgment call, and to what extent it may be generalized if any is as well. Ultimately it does again come down to interpretations of before and after sequences.
posted by shivohum at 9:48 AM on September 18, 2012


Correlation is correlation.

Which, given the non-experimental nature of historical studies, is often the best a historian can do. But we can talk about timing and other factors to get closer to understanding causation.

And here are some of the issues around timing for the slave trade and the chattel-style slavery of the Americas

- it started with the growth of capitalism in Europe
- slave traders like the Royal Africa Company were some of the first large, capitalist corporations
- plantations functioned on a capitalist model (as opposed to feudal or any other model), albeit with a mixture of paid and unpaid labour rather than all paid labour; a non-capitalist model might have been one where the plantation owner received rent or tribute of the products, above which his workers (free or unfree) could keep the rest
- slave labour was an inherent part of the growth of capitalism in Europe - it's not like the sugar processed in London or the cotton spun in Manchester just appeared out of thin air
- a great deal of the capital that was necessary to get the capitalist industrial revolution started itself came from the fortunes being made by plantation owners and investors in the slave colonies

- the British slave trade ended only after years of religious and political lobbying, and there was no reduction in the profitability of slavery in the British empire before the end of either the slave trade or slavery itself (1807 and 1834 respectively)
- American slavery also ended only after decades of political and religious lobbying, and a very bloody civil war -- interestingly, British capitalists supported the South in the war (remember where that cotton went?), while their workers supported the North

If fact, I would point out that the North was no more "capitalist" than the south -- indeed, if we are looking at the concentration of capital, the South probably had more concentration. But what it had was a greater industrial base (no need for the south to industrialize when they were making so much money off of plantation agriculture) and a larger free population (which REALLY makes a difference not because of the difference between conscript and free soldiers but because no slave owner was going to EVER put guns in the hands of his slaves).

The relationship between capitalism and slavery is a complicated one. Maybe capitalism didn't give birth to chattel-slavery but was rather its child.

But arguments that capitalist ideals promoted the end of chattel-slavery are uninformed and ahistorical.
posted by jb at 9:55 AM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


also - it seems that the definition of "capitalism" is a bit unclear.

Industrial is not the same as "capitalist". Most industrial concerns do happen to capitalist, because the costs of industrial production are usually too great for each worker to provide their own equiptment. But there have been communally owned industries as well as, of course, state-owned industries.

Market-exchange is not "capitalism" - markets have been a major means of exchanging goods for millennia. Ghana, for example, before colonialism had a non-capitalist, market-based economy, as did 15-16th century England. (I know more about the later case -- basically, most people weren't subsistence producers and they paid cash rents, rather than feudal dues, but they also tended to own their farms or businesses, rather than working for a wage).

To put it simply (and incompletely): capitalism is a system of economic organization where one person (or many people, in the case of share-holders) owns the means of production (land, materials, equipment, whatever) and other people trade their labour for a wage.

This system isn't inherently evil. It's pretty efficient for organizing very large production, whether on a farm or in a factory or services, etc. But it is a system in which the profits tend to accrue to the holders of capital disproportionately to those who are wage-labourers and which can lead to increasing inequality unless non-market actions are taken (like government regulation or collective bargaining).
posted by jb at 10:08 AM on September 18, 2012


Well then you should be able to see my point. Experiments are just one method of ruling out alternative explanations for a particular sequence of events, but they are hardly perfect

I can't see your point, because it is wrong. Experimentation is a method for producing a valid counterfactual so that causality can be directly tested. You are conflating the testing of elaboration (theory) with the testing of causality. It's an understandable confusion, but Quine is quite clear about the distinction. Go back and re-read.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:09 AM on September 18, 2012


That said: I should say that the word "industrial" is itself problematic. I've read a hell of a lot of economic history, and I couldn't tell you what it means, exactly.

especially as what most historians would call "proto-industrial" (eg the putting-out system) would be better described as walls-free capitalism (one person owned the materials, and paid other people to work them into goods, but the workers did so in their own homes and with their own equiptment).

Historical "industrialization" seems to be this strange combination of economic change (from household-based to capitalist) and technological change (from organic energy to mineral and mechanical) which happened at about the same time and combined together.
posted by jb at 10:14 AM on September 18, 2012


- plantations functioned on a capitalist model (as opposed to feudal or any other model), albeit with a mixture of paid and unpaid labour rather than all paid labour; a non-capitalist model might have been one where the plantation owner received rent or tribute of the products, above which his workers (free or unfree) could keep the rest

Yet if you look at the Smith excerpt upthread, "the rest" was commonly enough for subsistence, not more. Slavery was basically a last dying gasp of feudalism.

No doubt people profited from the slave trade, but immorality in the service of greed is hardly unique to capitalism. Capitalism in the North demonstrated the viability, and therefore the moral desirability, of a society not based on slave labor.

Culturally, it also seems to me that capitalism breeds a respect for self-reliance and a kind of ruthless meritocracy of the productive that is exactly opposed to dynastic families subsisting for generations on slave labor.

Thanks for your otherwise very interesting historical notes.

Go back and re-read.
I think it's you who might need to re-read. Are you saying that whether an experimenter has, for instance, accurately calibrated instruments, is only a matter of theory and does not bear on causation?
posted by shivohum at 10:22 AM on September 18, 2012


Yet if you look at the Smith excerpt upthread, "the rest" was commonly enough for subsistence, not more. Slavery was basically a last dying gasp of feudalism.

Do you know any economic history? You are citing a scholar who wrote 200 years ago -- historical research has moved on since Smith. Not that he did any empirical research on feudalism or peasant economies in the pre-modern period to start with. Marx, in contrast, was not a bad historian -- but very, very out-of-date of course.

Chattel slavery was nothing like feudalism.

Serfs were unfree, but still had a right to their property. They owed labour to the lord and rents on their lands, but kept the surplus (if there was any - and there was sometimes, and those serfs got richer). Serfs could accumulate wealth.

In contrast, slaves in America owned nothing, not even their own bodies. They were listed in probate inventories along with tables, chairs, horses and cows. They were not persons, but chattel (thus "chattel-slavery" to differentiate it from other forms of unfree labour). Chattel means property, and slaves were a form of capital, just as the machines in a factory are a form of capital.

Slave-owners could be seen as the ultimate capitalists -- they cut out the workers entirely by converting their labour force itself into capital that they owned, just like robots today.
posted by jb at 10:38 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


"What a bizarre analogy. Capitalism is not a scientific theory. Capitalism is a system that in the United States is historically very intertwined with things like the protestant work ethic and a faith in the reason of the market."

Capitalism is a descriptive theory of economics. I do appreciate you granting that economics isn't scientific, and that you're proposing only to hold yourself to an evidence-free conception, but I believe I already made the point about articles of faith not being persuasive.

"Silly use of this phrase. All causal judgments are post hoc, ergo propter hoc. The only question is what other conditions of the situation justify or do not justify the judgment."

Look up "ergo" again.

"You clearly know exactly zero about the arguments about against the draft from the professional military. We used to have a draft; we implemented an all-volunteer army, and it's been judged a big success. Perhaps you should do some research before commenting on these things."

Aww, I know it's tempting to just assume that your interlocutors don't have the fantastic depth of knowledge that you do, but you're making broad claims and cherry-picking evidence because you don't have much of a leg to stand on. Sorry.

"So you only believe in things that can be measured in percentages? That explains a lot."

So, again, you don't believe that the effects of capitalism on abolition can in any way be quantified, yet you insist on declaring it causal. Just out of curiosity, what burden of proof do you hold yourself to?

(I do like how you presume to lecture a couple of profs about their fields, refusing to engage with the historical record and retreating to weird axiomatic claims about the socialist Confederacy.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:00 AM on September 18, 2012


Are you saying that whether an experimenter has, for instance, accurately calibrated instruments, is only a matter of theory and does not bear on causation?

Now you're just being argumentative.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:04 AM on September 18, 2012


No, slavery has really nothing to do with capitalism. It's a much older model.

This is a ridiculous argument. It's like saying that because the Qin Terracotta Army and associated artifacts exhibit evidence of assembly-line manufacture and they're from more than two millenia ago, any system that involves assembly-line manufacturing can't be capitalist because that's a much older model.

Enthusiasm for private ownership of the factors of production to the point that an entrepreneurial plantationer, craftsman, or industrialist with the requisite wealth is able to own other people—via indentured servitude, direct title in chattel slavery, custody of an apprentice before the age of majority, workers who are in hock to the company store and owe their lives to the firm or are otherwise captive like by their employers holding their passports, etc.—actually seems more capitalist to me than anything. (On preview, jb said this already.)

Those aren't socialist projects except to tea partiers. It's capitalists who demanded those things and saw that they got done.

"Capitalists asked for these government projects, therefore they can't be socialist." Seriously?

For a moment I almost bought your claim that you're just being the devil's advocate here and trying to disrupt the echo chamber and resist dichotomous thinking, but you're embracing it: you're talking as though things are either capitalist or socialist and never the twain shall meet.

It's actually tea partiers and conservatives in general who try to pretend that anything that existed or was expanded while Ronald Reagan was in office can't possibly be socialist at all. Even to the point of denying, as you are, that large-scale, cooperative, centrally-planned government projects designed to alter and augment the economy and facilitate the operation of industry are not in the least bit socialist.

As you yourself said above, "the service of greed is hardly unique to capitalism." Just because a bunch of industrial and mercantile barons collaborated with the government while it carried out its monumental public works projects and engineered certain aspects to devolve the greatest benefit upon their own organizations doesn't sprinkle some sort of magic pixie dust that renders the resulting infrastructure or the associated eminent domain seizures of private property non-socialized and intrinsically capitalist, small-government, and free-markety.

klang: the socialist Confederacy

All power to the C.C.C.S.A.! ☭!
posted by XMLicious at 2:19 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh... so conservatives trying to frame the civil-war era Southern states as having been socialist is evidently a thing? The satirical New Yorker article linked to in this recent FPP references this 1997 article from The Weekly Standard:
Voter cynicism aside, the tax-cut issue was of Lilliputian proportions in comparison with the question of whether our constitutional rights are derived from the natural and God-given rights of human persons or from their race, sex, religion, and ethnic origin. This was the basic issue in the American Civil War, which pitted individual rights as proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence against collective rights, called states' rights.
posted by XMLicious at 6:38 PM on September 19, 2012


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