“At approximately 13:30 GMT+2, a group of about 20 neo-nazis (according from information received so far, aligned to ‘Golden Dawn’ and/or to the Cypriot fascist group ‘DRASIS-KES’ entered the Physics and the Mathematics department of the University of Athens main campus in the suburb of Zografou. The thugs injured at least three students. According to eye-witnesses they were welding sticks, helmets and possibly axes. Students managed to group up quickly and to hold an anti-fascist demonstration of a few hundred, while the perpetrators of the attack disappeared from the scene.
In a remarkable twist of reality (even by their usual, low standards) many mainstream media outlets claim this to be an attack by ‘hooded-up youths’ (koukouloforoi), with an indirect, or even direct reference to anarchists.”
I would like a better understanding of your approach towards economics. I consider myself a capitalist. However, I am interested to hear how you all present your points and answer a few questions. I do not want to make some long hateful flame fest and the minute I start seeing this or even get hints of it, I’ll delete this post.
Now, if you are interested, without using strawmen, personal attacks, ideological insults, or anything else aside from reasonable, simple explanations, could you please address the following:
1) What is wrong with private property? How is private property theft? 2) What makes free-market capitalism hierarchical? Exploitative? 3) How can wealth be redistributed in a non-coercive manner? How can redistribution occur without negating the non-aggression principle? 4) Why should an individual’s primary concern be for others instead of himself? 5) How do you eliminate class and capitalism in a manner consistent with the non-aggression principle? 6) How are issues such as racism, gender inequality, religious discrimination, ableism, etc. linked to capitalism? How are these issues addressed under other systems?
I really appreciate anyone who takes the time to answer this. As I said, full blown capitalist and quasi-Objectivist here, but I am legitimately curious. Please maintain civility.
I have seen at least one really compelling answer to this question already and I apologize if I repeat any of the points already mentioned.
1) What is wrong with private property? How is private property theft?
First, we must define “private property” in the context of Marxism, because the term means something somewhat different from common usage; specifically, the distinction between private property and personal property. To say that property is theft does not mean that by claiming exclusive ownership of my clothes, food, books, chair, computer, etc. I am somehow stealing from others. The relationship been person and commodity is that of personal property, which is earned fairly based on the use of your personal labour to perform some service and from which one can therefore justifiably exclude others. However private property refers to capital or the means of production, that through which goods or services can be obtained, both in the context of humans and machines. To use a classic example, a factory is considered private property because one person (or a small group of people) owns the building, the machines, and the land on which that factory stands, and the profit made from selling the goods produced goes to the factory owner, even though that owner performed no actual work. In short, because the factory workers themselves used their human capabilities to produce the goods they should get the money then made from selling the goods; but it a portion of that money goes to someone who did not make the goods, ie the factory owner, then that money is being stolen from the workers. The money is rightfully theirs but goes to the factory owner instead.
2) What makes free-market capitalism hierarchical? Exploitative?
Free-market capitalism is based on economic self-interest; you as an Objectivist should agree with this point. Therefore, each person will do whatever they can to make as much money as possible. Without any regulatory force in place all possible options for making money are valid/legal. However such things as paying a living wage, giving benefits to workers, keeping working conditions up to par, maintaining environmentally-friendly practices, and giving workers shorter work days and paid leave cost money for the company and the people raising capital off the company. Thus, if the objective is to minimize profit loss none of these necessary conditions will be met. Look to slavery as an example. The southern United States protested against the end of slavery because, besides racial prejudice, they feared that actually having to pay their slaves for their work would make them go bankrupt. Fast forward to today and we see the same sort of arguments being made by Apple after the controversy over Foxcom: paying workers in China barely anything, no benefits, making them work at the drop of a hat if shipment requires change, are all key to keeping the costs of Apple products down while still raising a tidy profit for Apple. Those operating on the level of the economic bottom line as an absolute necessarily do not give workers what they need to survive, live long, healthy, fulfilling lives, and thus exploit their workers.
3) How can wealth be redistributed in a non-coercive manner? How can redistribution occur without negating the non-aggression principle?
There are two answers to this, depending on the context of the question. As far as the existing capital in the world today and its inequitable distribution, simply fair income tax brackets are a completely non-coercive manner in which to redistributed wealth. This tax can either go directly into rebates to those who are less fortunate or go into funding infrastructure and services used by all, especially those who could not afford that service on their own. Based on your free-market Objectivist standpoint I assume you want a justification for taxation itself, which I will give, however taxation of income is an internationally accepted paradigm for the administration of the state and therefore I question the legitimacy of any group or theory that rejects the legitimacy of taxation. But in any case, taxation is legal/justified/moral/non-coercive because of the social contract. In brief, by residing in a society, using its goods and services and soliciting its implicit protection (driving on federal roads, letting the state police and army protect you and your country from harm instead of hiring your own hit squad) you must find some way to repay these services in kind. This comes from the simplest definition and interpretation of justice, in which deeds are reciprocal and therefore if someone helps you, you have an obligation to help them back. Therefore, unless you’re going to hire your own vigilantes or build your own roads, you have to pay your taxes. Extend these arguments to your second question about the non-aggression principle; not paying taxes would be an act of stealing and therefore it would be you, not the state, that would be violating the non-aggression principle if you did not pay taxes.
The second possible context is that of after the revolution, in the “worker’s state” that we propose to formulate. In this case it is not a matter of redistributing wealth but constructing economic relationships such that the initial distribution is equitable in itself. This comes from a collective ownership of the means of production so that each worker has an equal voice, or at least equal representation, in making decisions about how the money received for goods sold or services performed will be distributed. If each worker has an equal say and they each want to make as much money for themselves as possible, the only logical conclusion is that each will make (generally) the same amount of money based on difficulty of task performed and relative merit. This is non-aggression precisely because these decisions are made on a equitable and democratic framework and therefore no one is coerced into a decision but instead they are freely made.
4) Why should an individual’s primary concern be for others instead of himself?
This is a false dichotomy. An individual can be concerned (even primarily) about theirself while also being concerned for others, because the Marxist argument is that socialism maximizes the ability for each individual to procure goods and services for themselves. In a socialist society my “caring for others” (which should be seen here only in the context of an economic relation that takes into account others’ actions, needs, and relationship with my own, rather than a moral relationship of empathy; that is important but not relevant to this argument) allows me to also care about myself because we are all working for the good of all. If I choose to work counter to the group I am harming part of productive force and thus less can be produce, necessarily leaving less for everyone including me. A relevant metaphor is a group school project. I want to minimize the amount of work I have to do, since that is in my self interest. The easiest and fairest way would be for my group to divide the work equally between all of us. However if I choose to do nothing instead of performing my task, while I have done the absolute minimum amount of work - nothing - the overall project suffers because it is only partially done, or one person had to pick up my part and they therefore have to hurry to get it done or feeling like the work was unfairly carried out felt no obligation to finish it well. Even though I was supposedly completely self interested and did nothing, I still suffer because the overall product is worse off, giving me a worse grade. In the context of socialist economics, the example still stands: lets say I’m working on a factory line. I decide that it is in my best interest to do as little as possible and thus have more free time, so I only do my assembly work half-heartedly. The result is that whatever my task is on the assembly line it is done at a lesser level, thus producing a lesser product. Then, if we are operating on a socialist market basis (there are different formulations of a modern socialist economy, some of which involve markets), people will choose not to buy my lesser product and I will not get paid as much. If the economy is more command-based where there are not really choices between types my lesser product will cause me, or possibly the entire staff, to be fired/punished for our inadequate work, clearly violating my self interest by depriving me of work and therefore pay. So as you can see, so long as you operate within a collective economic context (which we do even in capitalism but the inequitable distribution of capital to begin with makes many of these points moot) self-interest is inherently linked with caring for others.
5) How do you eliminate class and capitalism in a manner consistent with the non-aggression principle?
This again necessitates a two-part answer, since this is a two part question: elimination of class distinction and elimination of capitalism. Because elimination of class only can occur after the elimination of capitalism I will answer the second part first.
First of all, seeing as I am a Bolshevik-Leninist (Trotskyist) and not a libertarian I don’t believe in your non-aggression principle so this question is somewhat irrelevant. However I do have an answer that goes beyond this. The non-aggression principle agrees with the notion of violence in self-defense or defense of others. Derived from the above analysis of private property and exploitation we Marxists argue that because of the socioeconomic relationships that occur under capitalism the workers are already being attacked. Thus, to overthrow those exploiters using revolutionary means is classified as economic self-defense. Furthermore, there are even deeper sociological issues that are linked with economic standing, needing much more analysis than I can give here to fully back up, that show that such things as statistically significantly higher rates of non-whites in the US are sent to prison and executed using the death penalty (two different studies) go beyond economic exploitation to a literal assault on people’s lives and thus a clearly justified use of force against the assailant, just on a massive scale. With that in mind, I advocate for nothing less than armed struggle against the bourgeois state, starting with peaceful mass strikes but necessarily preparing far ahead of time for clashes with police and possibly the army on the basis of revolutionary discipline. The masses of workers, armed and trained in a military fashion but organized democratically and decentralized, will take down the coercive arms of the government, police and army, and next force all existing political forms to step down in favour of the collective representation of the workers. Once this occurs, reorganization of economic relations, including the overthrow of managers, bosses, large business owners, and others holding private property and forming instead collective decision making bodies, will be free and encouraged by the worker’s state.
After socialist revolution comes the move towards full communism, the classless society. Classes are created by inequality in the ownership of the means of production as well as influence in the state. When the workers collectively own the means of production and the capital raised from production of commodities and performance of services is equitably distributed the economic distinction between classes will vanish. The completely democratic worker’s control of the government will also eliminate the link between political influence and class. Once everyone has a completely equal say in the government - not necessarily completely direct democracy but real communication between the people as a whole and those they have elected to represent them in larger decision making bodies that serves as the pragmatic equivalent - classes will cease to exist. Furthermore, over time people will no longer see society in terms of classes if all are economically fairly equal. The (false) argument that the US is a country without classless stems from the idea that while some people may have more money than others the fair distribution of opportunity means that people see each other as equally capable of success and therefore equally worthy in the eyes of society. This is class at its rawest, and socialist economic relationships will lead to the eliminate of it.
6) How are issues such as racism, gender inequality, religious discrimination, ableism, etc. linked to capitalism? How are these issues addressed under other systems?
Some of these issues are directly linked to capitalism, some are not, but all of them are marked by the capitalist problem that reformism faces: the inability to make policy changes that will reverse discrimination. One of the fundamental problems with reformism (the idea that we can use the existing democratic systems we already have to make people’s lives better by passing legislation) is that, despite what the official version of a country’s government will tell you, not everyone has an equal say in the decisions made in the administration of the state. This may be a lesser problem in other countries, but here in the United States it is key issue that money has been legally equated with speech in the sense that lobbyists and campaign donors can use their money to influence the decisions made by governments. There are many loopholes in laws against bribery, widened considerably by 2010’s ruling Citizens United vs FDC which allowed corporations and unions to contribute unlimited funds to Super Political Action Committees (Super PACs) so long as the Super PACs do not coordinate with the candidates, even though the definition of this has been questioned by many (including very comically, but no less validly, John Stewart and Steven Colbert). This is critically important in issues of economic significance but even in terms of social issues like discrimination the supremacy of the influence of business over anti-descrimination groups, which tend to be non-profits since you can’t exactly sell anti-descrimination and raise capital with which to launch massive campaign-funding operations. To put it simply, the influence of money in politics is such that those who are discriminated against cannot get their issues into government and the problems against them will not be solved.
On a social level I’m doubtful that the elimination of capitalism will on its own address issues of discrimination, except in the context of inequitable pay, since as I described above socialism necessarily creates absolutely equitable salaries. People will always have their prejudices and being in collective economic relationships won’t suddenly make all humans completely moral, rational, loving, and perfect beings. But by changing the economic and political landscape such that each person has an equal, but much louder on average, voice in politics the social issues of discrimination can and will be addressed in a way that capitalist governments cannot. And over time, there’s a good chance that institutionalized (ie law-mandated) protection against discrimination will become a mainstream acceptance of differences between human beings.