The human being is very often not profitable from the system’s POV
September 28, 2014 5:41 AM   Subscribe

According to the philosopher Anselm Jappe, who has come to Lisbon to give a talk at the Teatro Maria Matos, in capitalism we are defined by our relation to labor. But the system is a “house of cards that is beginning to collapse”. It is time to rethink the concept of labor.
posted by a_curious_koala (67 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
So between this guy, Piketty and the other usual suspects... Where are all the big thinkers that can tell me that Capitalism is just fine, and we're not in fact heading for a Soviet style collapse?

Because I can't hunt and gather for shit.
posted by butterstick at 5:51 AM on September 28, 2014 [18 favorites]


Where are all the big thinkers that can tell me that Capitalism is just fine, and we're not in fact heading for a Soviet style collapse?

They're all really busy right now, loading-up their offshore accounts with as much wealth as they can siphon from everyone else. As was the case with the Soviets, the monied elite will be the ones to come out from a collapse of western Capitalism in fine shape. There will be a growth industry in private security and armies, so plan ahead.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:05 AM on September 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


None of these articles are in any way prescriptive. I'm happy to do my part (with whatever meager hours are left to me after all my labor is done) but somebody needs to put an idea on the table first.

I'm thinking something along the lines of "Let's all use public schools lets all eat basic healthy food lets all wear modest (not expensive) clothes lets all use public transportation or vehicles divorced from ego." But I feel like it's immediately apparent both how ineffective this would be and how difficult even it would be to actually do. It's clear that we can talk about this as much as we want but as rational individual actors we're damned to pursue our own interests and we really don't have any leverage at all.
posted by newdaddy at 6:33 AM on September 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


Basically I have no imagination to think what an actual solution would look like. Everyone work seventeen hour workweeks? Everyone retrain to study carbon nanotubes and quantum computers? Mandatory public service and free education for all? Eat the rich and start over?
posted by newdaddy at 6:39 AM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


"Beginning"

Yeah, it's been collapsing for decades, and so slowly that it's hard to see. Not to mention that this slow failure fools many into thinking everything is just fine.

It isn't.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:49 AM on September 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


None of these articles are in any way prescriptive.

Well, Jappe has a number of prescriptions, really. For one, he advocates localism in the interview. Organize communities in a way that local resources are distributed according to the logic of need, not according to the logic of the market. Thus the example of the disaster to African nations converting their food production to bananas (responding to global market demand) rather than producing in order to fulfill the food needs of the community in which the farm is located.

How would this localism come about? Ivan Illich, now long forgotten, had a solution in his book Energy and Equity that I still think is fantastic: limit the speed vehicles can travel to around 15 mph. Overnight globalization would be conquered, and at the same time, access to the world would still be feasible; just economically infeasible for the purposes of the massive distribution of goods.
posted by dis_integration at 7:12 AM on September 28, 2014 [16 favorites]


This article was great, but it did give me pause at the end when Anselm Jappe was talking about the welfare state being dismantled. It wasn't clear to me whether he thought that was good, bad or inevitable, then looking around the site I see that lib com stands for Libertarian communism, which makes me a little skeptical.

It seems to me that Nordic style social democracies function pretty well. Maybe not perfect but better than US style market fundamentalism. Why can't we make that the goal?
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:21 AM on September 28, 2014


The ambivalence about the welfare state was probably intentional. Dismantling the welfare state while retaining the basic structures of capitalism would be horrific. But what is the function of the welfare state if not to keep the basic structure of capitalism alive for just a little while longer? The Scandinavian countries do a lot of things really well, but their wealth and leisure is, in the end, only possible because of the ravages of global capitalism in the "developing" nations. The ability to redistribute that much wealth and produce that much leisure within the capitalism system is only possible if some labor is out there producing the wealth in the first place. If you can't find it in Norway, that exploitation is just happening somewhere else.
posted by dis_integration at 7:28 AM on September 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


Half-assed haven't-really-thought-about-it idea:

Once a company reaches a certain threshold of, I dunno, market cap maybe, or gross income, or whatever, it is now required to employ slightly more people working for the same total wages each but for slightly less hours per week each.

Start off with the threshold being stuff like Exxon-Mobil, the required number of additional employees being a tiny amount more than they now employ, each working for slightly less hours (like, an additional day off per year or something). Gradually (like over the course of decades) decrease the threshold, increase the required number of employees, and decrease the number of hours, until eventually you have everybody who wants to work working for reasonable wages and for only a relatively small amount of time.

Presumably technological efficiencies will continue to advance, so not only would the average hours per worker decrease (due to increased employment) but also the total worker-hours could decrease, leading to a lot more leisure time rather than just little.

That is, legally enforce that the gradual improvements in technology throw some of their benefit to the worker -- we don't need to work as long -- rather than having all of the benefit gobbled up by the capitalist -- more money in the pocket.
posted by Flunkie at 7:33 AM on September 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


It's not hard to come up with interesting high-concept, top-down solutions, but they ignore the really huge elephant in the room: the reason we're in this mess to begin with is because our institutions are either too weak when they're well-meaning, or too corrupt when they're powerful enough to get it done.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:51 AM on September 28, 2014 [19 favorites]


In the capitalist system, value is not given by the usefulness of things, but by the labor that was necessary for their manufacture. The more we work to make something, the more value is conferred upon the product.

This seems largely untrue to me, although maybe I'm defining value or labor differently than the author. I would restate the author's claim above as "In the capitalist system, things do not cost more based on how useful they are or how much consumers want them. Instead, the harder or longer people have worked to make something, the more it costs." Am I missing something?
posted by galaxy rise at 7:53 AM on September 28, 2014


Ultimately this comes down to our legal instruments that allow for one person to own everything, in theory. To avoid the risk of returning to feudalism, and their private governments, it may help to institute Georgism. All else are mere fixes and patches that end up looking like failure.
posted by Brian B. at 7:56 AM on September 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


galaxy rise

Jappe seems to be working with a pretty classical Marxist conception of capitalist economies. This Wikipedia article is not a bad breakdown of the idea of labor involved.
posted by dis_integration at 7:57 AM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


galaxy rise, that occurred to me as well when I read that, but I now (perhaps mistakenly) read it in the context of an example that he gave later, wherein it makes more sense to me: A worker is paid to create tee shirts. Depending upon technology, perhaps that particular worker's labor might make a tee shirt every two days, or a tee shirt ever fifth of a second. The worker will be paid the same amount regardless, because they are paid for their labor, not for what their labor produces.
posted by Flunkie at 8:06 AM on September 28, 2014


How are the masses using the leisure time that they currently have? Is it to improve themselves physically, socially, intellectually, spiritually? Are they acquiring the self-discipline needed to achieve true self-governance? Or are they content to labor under the whip in perpetuity?
posted by No Robots at 8:16 AM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Speaking as a mass, I use the leisure time that I currently have to (often unsuccessfully) attempt to simply relieve myself of the stress that has accumulated during my non-leisure time. If I had enough leisure time that that could be done and consistently allow me significant remaining leisure time, I don't know - the concept is almost unimaginable - but I'd sure like to give it a shot.
posted by Flunkie at 8:19 AM on September 28, 2014 [11 favorites]


Whatever happens I think it is more likely to be evolutionary than revolutionary. The systems involved are simply too complex, the interests invested in the status quo too powerful and the pace of change too gradual. I do think, however, one of the first things to head for the chopping block will be the tired charade of democratic governance. Were I to live that long (which, thankfully, I probably will not) I might opt for the cockroach stratagem. Inhabit the cracks, stay out of sight and live on the crumbs left by higher lifeforms. It's worked for roughly 300 million years, after all...
posted by jim in austin at 8:41 AM on September 28, 2014


I've now convinced that our best approach to reform is automating as much labor as possible, especially redundant white collar labor that wields any power, like sales, management, admin, etc. We'll achieve reform much more easily if fewer people hold jobs that make them feel "on top".
posted by jeffburdges at 8:45 AM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Where are all the big thinkers that can tell me that Capitalism is just fine, and we're not in fact heading for a Soviet style collapse?

They are all working for the Heritage Foundation or Reason magazine and are funded by the Koch Brothers.
posted by jnnla at 8:45 AM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


This guy does hit on the thing that drives me nuts about the minimum wage debate: both sides make the faulty assumption that a capitalist system will naturally create enough private-sector living wage jobs for everyone.

The only reason we don't have 60% unemployment in the US is that businesses have successfully convinced us to buy crap we don't need to survive, ensuring new jobs are created to replace those lost as old industries become more efficient. So- no matter what the environmental consequences- please don't stop buying crap or it will be the death of our economy! Sure, we could stop relying entirely upon jobs for wealth distribution, but merely suggesting the possibility is downright un-American!
posted by droro at 8:58 AM on September 28, 2014 [9 favorites]


I don't necessarily agree with everything he is saying, statements like "Today we work much more than ever before. All you need to do is to compare the pace of our lives and that of our grandparents." are, at the very least, misleading, if not outright false.

With that said, the crux of the article points to the one glaring idiosyncracy of capitalism: employers want as few employees as possible, while the system wants as many people employed as possible.

These two needs are colliding rapidly with the advance of technology and labour is obviously losing. I will point to a simple example that has unfolded in the last few years: the "take-over" of CP Rail by Pershing Square. CP Rail in 2011, pre-take-over, had a share price hovering around $60, an operating ratio of 81%, and employed about 19,000 people. In 2014 CP Rail has a share price at $225, operating ratio of 66%, and employs less than 15,000 people. Revenues have also increased in that time by 20%.

From a capitalist point of view CP is a massive success story, reaping millions of dollars in profits for share-holders and massive bonuses for executives. However the loss of 4,000 jobs, if mentioned at all, is seen as positive. This is the kind of society we are living in. A healthy company sheds 4,000 jobs and we consider this normal. Nowhere do we look at this and ask: could the company have increased its revenue and kept the 4,000 jobs? True, the operating ratio would not be as low, and share price would not be as high. But we would have 4,000 more consumers in our system. 4,000 more people paying taxes. Instead, most of those 4,000 people went on government sponsored employment insurance (our tax dollars at work); and we have no follow-up on how they are doing. Have they found new jobs? Or are they still receiving government benefits? How is their economic health?

For us to turn-around the system (which is much more feasible than scraping it altogether) we need goverments and financiers to give incentives for actual job creation and retention, and penalize job elimination. The current time-honored strategy is corporate tax cuts, which in classic economic theory works, but in 21st century reality does not. This is not an easy problem to solve, but if we put all our brains to work on this problem I think a solution could be found.
posted by Vindaloo at 8:58 AM on September 28, 2014 [27 favorites]


Dramatic social change is a tricky issue, and one the Left has been wrestling with for centuries. Various solutions have been tried, some echoed in this thread: the Utopian Socialist idea of carving out a small, alternative society divorced from a corrupt larger society; the Second International idea of slowly reforming our way to the end goal; the Third International idea of seizing power and then using the apparatus of the dictatorship to transform society.

Those are the classical methods, but they all occured in a context in which social progress was being made by labor. Today, the power of labor is in sharp decline, especially in the industrialized societies, so the power base that drove the Second and Third International solutions is really no longer there (and the Utopian Socialist strategy was never one for transforming society at large).

These limitations have caused some to turn to either a work-within-the-system Democratic-party style approach, or single-issue politics (environment, gay rights, women's rights, etc.). Both may have their merits, but both are clearly insufficient for the kind of large-scale economic changes that are needed. In desperation, some may even turn to populism or nationalism.

So, yeah, I agree with others in the thread who yearn for some kind of solution to the crisis that they could actively lend a hand to, but I haven't heard any compelling strategy either, frankly.

Btw, if anyone wants to quickly read about Marx's conception of wages, labor, crisis etc. a good distillation is his short pamphlet Wage Labor and Capital. Much, much shorter and much, much clearer than Capital.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:09 AM on September 28, 2014 [7 favorites]


Do academics really make more money than a skilled tradesmen -- say a plumber, or an electrician?

The one's I know definitely seem to work fewer hours for more money.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:34 AM on September 28, 2014


The breakdown of the system is happening slowly, and right before our eyes. Therefore the solution can happen slowly, and we can do it ourselves.

To see the breakdown of the system in the U.S., one need only look at the fierce competition for minimum wage service sector jobs. Steady factory work is a luxury for the poor at this point; the best many of them can do is two or three part-time jobs (w/o benefits) at fast food restaurants. Employers can be very choosy in who they hire and fire from these jobs, because the market favors the employer. Once those jobs become automated (and they will) there will literally be nowhere for poor people to work. At that point our valuation of labor and the system built around it will be completely broken.

The solution is to build local micro-economies that bypass the dollar (or at least value it differently). We're already seeing this in the local food movement, peer-to-peer lending, and resource sharing economies (like Uber, AirBNB, etc.) These movements have not made the jump from the monied elite to the poor, but that doesn't mean the jump isn't possible. Community gardens, farmers markets, arts and crafts shows, internet lending-- all these things are worthwhile alternatives to capital distribution. There is no logical reason they can't become a new economy; it's just hard to imagine how.
posted by a_curious_koala at 9:41 AM on September 28, 2014


Isn't "buying crap we don't need" mostly the reason the Chinese have jobs, droro? Americans have jobs because American companies employ people they don't need, while charging inflated prices. And all layers of government employ people they don't need, while inflating taxes.

We could all work less while buying almost as much crap from the Chinese, but only if we divide the remaining work fairly. Ain't gonna be a graceful transition if we push the culture of winners and losers down to the lower social rungs too.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:22 AM on September 28, 2014


resource sharing economies (like Uber, AirBNB, etc.)

Does anyone really believe that Uber is anything other than a scheme to get around worker protection laws? Not my idea of a solution here.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 10:22 AM on September 28, 2014 [10 favorites]


Lyft is like Uber -- and it helped me pay rent after the social safety net said basically, screw you, sorry about your failed career.

I didn't need to luck into a job. I just had a chance to do work -- provide a service -- and bills got paid.
posted by andreaazure at 11:10 AM on September 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


> Where are all the big thinkers that can tell me that Capitalism is just fine...?

They're busy working on resurrecting Milton Friedman.
posted by xtian at 11:14 AM on September 28, 2014


This is not an easy problem to solve, but if we put all our brains to work on this problem I think a solution could be found.

We don't need all our brains. I don't think the problem is particularly hard, and I think it has been solved many times over, including by people in this very thread, but no solution will ever take hold, because the very foundation of civilization is for a few to enrich themselves at the expense of the many. Creating a large-scale egalitarian civilization is probably possible -- in the same way that balancing a bowling ball on the end of a broomstick is probably possible: it would take a tremendous amount of continual effort in perpetuity since the default state of that system is for it to fall apart. Given this, it is probably, practically speaking, impossible, since in reality we are not asking one person to balance the bowling ball but billions, all at the same time.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:01 PM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


"There is a tendency towards personalizing capitalism, a tendency that is also often found in movements like the Indignados or Occupy Wall Street. This could prove to be dangerous because it is somewhat reminiscent of what took place in the 1930s with the fascist system, in which social hatred was turned against a group of people, in that case, against Jewish financiers."

So, basically, he's comparing hatred of the destructively greedy "it's nothing personal, it's just business..." crowd to hatred of the Jews, and comparing Occupy to the Nazis?!

I wonder... did he ever consider reversing the roles a bit, by comparing the Occupy movement as more akin to the disproportionately Jewish socialists and communists who fought the brownshirts in the streets, and were later systematically slaughtered by the Nazis and their "it's nothing personal, it's just business..." allies?
posted by markkraft at 1:02 PM on September 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


"it is probably, practically speaking, impossible, since in reality we are not asking one person to balance the bowling ball but billions, all at the same time."

See also...
posted by markkraft at 1:07 PM on September 28, 2014


Eat the rich and start over?

With wealth now being concentrated in so few hands, that will amount to little more than an amuse-bouche for the masses.
posted by fairmettle at 1:12 PM on September 28, 2014


Ivan Illich, now long forgotten, had a solution in his book Energy and Equity that I still think is fantastic: limit the speed vehicles can travel to around 15 mph.

Personally, I love the idea of summary executions every time a bicyclist goes over 16 mph. Maybe robots like ED-209 on every other corner ready to target speeders, though public hangings might get the point across better. Could we also execute bicyclist who travel the wrong way in sidewalks?

Of course if people knew about the old days of traveling anywhere at speed, being human they'd want that ability to travel fur themselves, so we're going to have to purge any reference to travel in the old times; possession of old copies of Conde Nast would be punishable by death.

I don't think he goes quite far enough though- if we REALLY want to localize our economy, we should limit travel speed to 4 mph, just like in the ills days. Nothing says "local economy" than having the vast majority of people never travel more than 10 miles from their home in their lifetime. In order to keep people from wanting fast travel, we should also encourage ignorance and fear of any area outside the local polity, restricting geographical information to the local elite who control the factories and farms. Instead of wasting their lives travelling, the people can spend their spare time working on building churches or monuments to the local rulers. It well be a much better world, really.
posted by happyroach at 1:14 PM on September 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


the interests invested in the status quo

like the very large human population that will die if we decide to "experiment" with the global economic system.
posted by rr at 1:22 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Creating a large-scale egalitarian civilization is probably possible -- in the same way that balancing a bowling ball on the end of a broomstick is probably possible: it would take a tremendous amount of continual effort in perpetuity since the default state of that system is for it to fall apart.

What is possible and relatively easy is for small groups to establish themselves according to alternative principles. These provide inspiration to others. They may also be links in a growing network. As the network grows, it exerts power over the mainstream system, and ultimately replaces it.
posted by No Robots at 1:41 PM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yes, happyroach, your totalitarian nightmare fantasy is precisely what Illich was advocating for. Let's kill all the fast movers. Not even sure why I'm bothering to respond to this but only athletes can travel at faster than ~15-20mph on a bicycle for any appreciable distance, carrying any appreciable load. Add traffic and you're forced to go much more slowly on average (if you've seen the cycling in Copenhagen, it's pretty leisurely, maybe 10mph at most). Eventually you'll have to slow down, and stop. That's the point, and why Illich advocates the bicycle as the primary mode of transport: it's limited to human energy, and therefore self-regulating, unlike engine-based transport which is limited only by the planet's available resources.

Or, more reasonably, we could put up stiff barriers to the possession of personal cars and limit the speed of (greatly expanded) public transportation.

Any significant transformation of society will require a revolution in our conception of the relationship between the individual and the community. Almost all the barriers to effecting such radical change stem from this problem: that we no longer are capable of thinking in terms of the common good, but only in terms of what is good relative to the individual.

Is your individual freedom to travel at speeds (that is, to command immense quanta of energy) unheard of until the late 19th century really so inviolable a right that the destruction it wreaks is irrelevant? Is the deathtoll of the modern highway that much worse deathtoll than even your nightmare dream of a world in which cyclists are given summary execution for going too fast?
posted by dis_integration at 1:41 PM on September 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm thrilled that AirBnB, Lyft, Uber, etc. let anyone simply do the work, without jumping through the hoops required by regulated industries, exactly like andreaazure described. Almost anyone today can drive a vehicle, so the taxi medallions mostly enable profiteering.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:46 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


The breakdown of the system is happening slowly, and right before our eyes. Therefore the solution can happen slowly, and we can do it ourselves.

I couldn't disagree more strongly. The world is more heavily invested in the capitalist system than ever. I think the ease of dismantling it is being vastly underestimated in this thread and article. There has always been dissatisfaction, and as bad as things got in 2008, I reject the premise that things got as bad as it was during the first (few) depression(s).

The global capitalist system only enlarged with the integration of China into international markets over the last few decades. Also, the developing world has been improving (overall) for at least ten years, and these emerging nations have a strong tendency to join the international (capitalist) economy. There's so much wealth, social architecture and indeed military power wrapped up in this system, I think it's impossible to imagine its slow and gentle erosion into irrelevance.

Besides which...in many ways, capitalism is as much a description of certain fundamental social activities as it is a system or a philosophy. To eliminate capitalism, you practically have to outlaw it. How are you going to prevent people from investing wealth? Because that's where it all starts...so many of the unpleasant effects of capitalism seem implied by that very act combined with certain technologies and a legal recognition of binding contracts.

If capitalism is to be truly replaced, it will require such an upheaval that I have a hard time imagining the exact shape of the world that will follow, or whether I would even survive to see it. I don't feel that it would be an exaggeration to consider this to be a post-apocalyptic society.

This is a telling quote:
A return to the Nation-State is not an alternative—to me this seems to be a very dangerous ideology.
A "return"? Sounds like somebody is getting waaaay ahead of himself.
posted by Edgewise at 1:57 PM on September 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


What is possible and relatively easy is for small groups to establish themselves according to alternative principles. These provide inspiration to others. They may also be links in a growing network. As the network grows, it exerts power over the mainstream system, and ultimately replaces it.

What you describe is basically billions of people balancing bowling balls, and has a heavy dose of "and then a miracle occurs" at the end with the "network" exerting some unexplained "power" over the mainstream system. What is far more likely is what actually happened, when small, localized, egalitarian groups were conquered and subsumed by militaristic civilization.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:58 PM on September 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


like the very large human population that will die if we decide to "experiment" with the global economic system.

Yeah, it's not like our current economic system ever kills people.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:01 PM on September 28, 2014


What is far more likely is what actually happened, when small, localized, egalitarian groups were conquered and subsumed by militaristic civilization.

Look at what is happening now, with all kinds of localized counter-cultural entities emerging and established a certain level of social autonomy. It is easier and easier for more and more people to establish their lives on alternative bases. The real impact of counter-cultural activity is self-evident in many ways. I guess you can always see the glass as half empty if you want, though.
posted by No Robots at 2:04 PM on September 28, 2014


jeffburdges: Almost anyone today can drive a vehicle, so the taxi medallions mostly enable profiteering.

Taxi licensing is nobody's idea of either a free market or a properly-regulated one, but the idea that these for-profit services are being pitched as an alternative to "profiteering" is quite ludicrous. Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, etc. are all interested in what every other for-profit corporation is interested in -- cornering the market as much as possible, exploiting their labor force as much as possible, and giving customers barely enough service to keep them as customers.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:07 PM on September 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


The real impact of counter-cultural activity is self-evident in many ways.

No, it's not, because I am looking at what is happening now, and I don't see what you are talking about, nor am I even sure what precisely "social autonomy" means. Give me real examples of all this change you see rather than hand waving objections away with airy dismissals of pessimism.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:23 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm all for non-profits leading the sharing economy, but the sharing economy companies remain preferable to taxis and hoels so long as their take remains limited.

Anyone know why Uber and Lyft take a 20% commission though? Are they subsidizing some rides while overcharging others? Is there any reason why ride sharing sites cannot take only single digit commissions? Or maybe they take 20% simply because the taxi gatekeepers take so much more usually? AirBnB's 6-12% sounds high imho but it's way better than 20%.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:26 PM on September 28, 2014


jeffburdges: I'm all for non-profits leading the sharing economy, but the sharing economy companies remain preferable to taxis and hoels so long as their take remains limited.

What's going to limit their take other than regulation? Capitalists gonna capitalize.

And don't say "competition" -- competition only exists when market participants are kept (via regulatory intervention) from gaining a oligolopistic / monopolistic position in the market.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:35 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's not like our current economic system ever kills people.

Without trying to explain elementary logic, you understand that both can be true, yes?
posted by rr at 2:36 PM on September 28, 2014


I'm all for anything which wouldn't grind so many people into dust. Just so some widget costs a half a penny less each and some institutional investor makes an extra nickle per share.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:58 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Give me real examples of all this change you see rather than hand waving objections away with airy dismissals of pessimism.

We have feminism, socialism, unionism, anti-racism, ecologism, public education, social welfare and healthcare.

There have always been those who have counselled the down-trodden to accept their condition as inevitable. There have always been those who have worked to help the masses emancipate themselves. And there will always be those who do emancipate themselves to one degree or another, and thereby provide inspiration for others.
posted by No Robots at 3:02 PM on September 28, 2014


Ok, thank you for the platitudes and generalizations.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 3:07 PM on September 28, 2014


Ok, less snarkily...socialism and "unionism" (not a word I've heard before, but will assume means "being in favor of labor unions") are currently dead, at least in America, and elsewhere (like dis_integration points out) it means the slightly more equal distribution of a local pie whose very creation entails the suffering of people elsewhere.

The systems of universal healthcare in Canada and the UK, at least, are under attack, and America simply doesn't have one, and maybe never will. I don't really have the inclination to go through the extremely broad things you mention one at a time, but there is nothing there (other than poor, dead socialism) that challenges the underlying logic of civilization in any significant way.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 3:15 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Bit late to the party, but...

Oof. Jappe says some interesting things here but this interview is terrible and jumps all over the place without actually digging in to anything that is said.

Can we back up a bit and come back to this whole "value is not given by the usefulness of things, but by the labor that was necessary for their manufacture" idea? I'm having a lot of trouble with the idea of socially necessary labor time, etc... "Value" here is the labor embodied in a commodity (both direct, and indirect aka the labor power of past workers embodied in capital). Is there a reason we are talking about value here instead of just "embodied labor costs"? (besides value being how the classical economists thought of it)

Are the following claims that are made by this article or Marxian labor economics in general? Can anybody straighten me out here?

-Use-value (which we could define as the market demand for a product if everyone had the same spending power?) is not the same thing as exchange value because people have different spending power and labor is not sufficiently marketized. (this is a bit of a no-brainer unless you are a libertarian, I think)

-Capitalism allocates production according to the exchange value (aka market price) it can get for them. (Jappe: "in the capitalist system, not all activities have exchange value, only those that can reproduce the invested capital.")

-This is bad because exchange value (aka supply and demand, the market, etc...) doesn't really work to allocate labor, because labor gets allocated where it can be profited from, and profits come from being able to pay labor less than the market price of the good.

-You can pay labor less than the market price when the price fluctuates upward because producers misjudged the demand.

-Capitalism will only be sustainable under competitive markets if labor costs are falling or demand is rising? (But is it true that competitive markets have eliminated socially-useful industries? Often we set up rent-maintaining institutions when this is the case, right? Like Ostrom's fisheries.)
posted by ropeladder at 3:32 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ain't too often that regulation reduces prices, if ever. Afaik only competition does that, tonycpsu. We need limited regulation to create an environment that protects that competition of course, especially anti-monopoly regulations, but that's pretty far removed usually. And taxi regulations oppose completion currently.

Air travel is relatively cheap only through aggressive competition, but if airlines could monopolize airports then they'd do so, ruining the service for everyone. Ain't yet clear what monopolization options Lyft and Uber posses, but not so much I think.

In practice, we usually need outright price regulation whenever an industry needs tight regulations anyways, like say health insurance. And such price regulations hold down prices, even if the industry is too small, like in say Germany. American regulators otoh happily allow price increases, service decreases, and worker exploitation, so they're pretty much pointless.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:34 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


There is an interesting fellow named Dmytri Kleiner who calls himself a venture communist, tonycpsu. I learned about him through his talk by Jacob Appelbaum in which he appears to be someone who thinks a lot about reforming this stuff on the internet.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:13 PM on September 28, 2014


jeffburdges: "Isn't "buying crap we don't need" mostly the reason the Chinese have jobs, droro?"

While China does have an export driven economy, there are other parts of the Chinese economy. Wikipedia's 2008 estimate suggests 36 percent of China works in agriculture, versus the US's .7 percent. And those are not 'sit on a tractor while the combine does all the work' agriculture jobs, either. Paradoxically, without an export market, there's very little reason to even bother building and buying farm equipment -- rising wages have to happen first before people start making labor-capital trades.
posted by pwnguin at 5:52 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


From "Dmytri Kleiner" link: Any challenge to capitalist hegemony must be prepared to provide for the same social needs which will persist any system.

Well, that's part of the problem, isn't it? We, all of us here on this website, profit personally from the system. We may not like how it works, but we don't--generally speaking--of course, want to give up whatever would need to be given up to change it. What if, as I believe to be the case, however, providing for those same "social needs" means the continued and active destruction of the natural environment to the point that those "needs" eventually cannot be met?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:59 PM on September 28, 2014


Bob Black was saying many of these same things 30 years ago in The Abolition of Work, and he wasn't the first, either. Robots could totally be providing everyone on the planet with a life of (comparative) leisure if it wasn't so important to us apes that some people be able to lord it over others.
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 8:04 PM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Robots could totally be providing everyone on the planet with a life of (comparative) leisure if it wasn't so important to us apes that some people be able to lord it over others.

If robot owners would share their extra profit with displaced labor, then why would they displace labor?
posted by Brian B. at 8:16 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


We need cheap robots so that neither capitalists nor government controls the means to production, Brian B., never work otherwise.

There is a huge caveat built into "will persist any system" though, Steely-eyed Missile Man. Read A Darwinian Left by Peter Singer. We must address the underlying social desires, but not necessarily the way we've satisfied them in the past.

I'm personally most interested in satisfying the social desires expressed by institutions because institutions seem easier : Institutions aren't subject to quite such complex emotional rules. It's 100% moral to simply kill institutions that refuse to change. etc.

In particular, we can push institutions to waste less by replacing their administrative tasks with admixtures of technology and transparency, ala crowd sourcing, etc. Administration is about increasing profits through secrecy, but enough specific cases benefit from transparency should compel more radical transparency.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:53 PM on September 28, 2014


Ain't too often that regulation reduces prices, if ever. Afaik only competition does that, tonycpsu.

It reduces prices pretty effectively in health care/health insurance.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:19 PM on September 28, 2014


Actually competition is integral to reducing healthcare costs abroad, along with technology, while systemic issues that prevent real competition keep costs high in the U.S.

It's simple : You cannot usually regulate a price decrease because the existing players actually spend that money somewhere. Instead, you regulate the playing field to reward reductions in spending whenever they present themselves, usually this involves competition.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:09 AM on September 29, 2014


Regulation does reduce prices in some instances. In Australia, the ACCC regulates the interconnect charge between phone carriers. A few years ago it cost 9c per minute to terminate a call on mobile. It is about to be 1.6c. The decrease is entirely due to regulation and the existence of a competition regulator that has the power to set prices where the market has failed (such as the cozy relationship between Australia's 3 cellular networks).
posted by bystander at 4:10 AM on September 29, 2014


AJ: A social movement that would directly occupy the workshops and the factories. Capitalism is abandoning many productive forces, because they are no longer profitable, but they are still capable of functioning effectively.

AC: You are talking about occupations, community management, it sounds like April 25.

AJ: There is a historical memory that is worth recovering. Obviously, we are not going to start from scratch.

Can someone explain the April 25 reference to me please?
posted by Ned G at 6:58 AM on September 29, 2014


jeffburdges: Ain't too often that regulation reduces prices, if ever. Afaik only competition does that, tonycpsu. We need limited regulation to create an environment that protects that competition of course, especially anti-monopoly regulations, but that's pretty far removed usually.

Your original statement was that you liked sharing services over the alternatives "so long as their take remains limited." In response, I did not claim that regulation always or even usually leads to falling prices. What I said is that, in the absence of regulation, a free market will tend toward a small number of players (eventually one player) who will increase prices.

It's also important to point out that prices are only one component of one side of the equation. Wages, negative externalities, and overall welfare of the society are all other variables that can be improved by regulations. Looking at the bottom line that customers pay while excluding these other variables is losing the forest for the trees. Remembering that the wages and living standards of the people driving the cabs or renting out their spare rooms is also important, you can certainly understand why lower prices for the people using those services isn't a good thing for everyone involved in the transaction.

American regulators otoh happily allow price increases, service decreases, and worker exploitation, so they're pretty much pointless.

This is often true now that unions essentially have no strength, but keeping in mind that the government is the entity that often determines how strong or weak unions are allowed to be via labor regulations, we're back again to the government's role in optimizing the equation for all sides of the transaction, not just the business supplying the goods and services.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:32 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ain't too often that regulation reduces prices, if ever. Afaik only competition does that, tonycpsu.

...NHS?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:19 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


limit the speed vehicles can travel to around 15 mph.

This will singlehandedly kill class mobility more than any other suggestion posed above.
posted by corb at 2:19 PM on September 29, 2014


Yes. I mean, just think about where Sammy Hagar would be today if he had grown up in such a world.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:29 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


limit the speed vehicles can travel to around 15 mph.

This will singlehandedly kill class mobility more than any other suggestion posed above.


Well I think we can assume that the goal is a society based around nearly self-sufficient agricultural communes, with the occasional factory providing a limited number of vehicles and gear for the authorities.

In such a system Sanmy Hagar would be a class enemy and seriously rehabilitated to provide appropriate music about harvesting crops.
posted by happyroach at 3:49 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


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