Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Real Failure of Our Ruling Class


Yesterday I put out a piece on American Thinker advising America's Muslims not to become "little darlings of the liberals." After all, look what happened to the white working class.

But really this is just part of a bigger issue that has been rattling around in my brain for years. It has just come to the boil in the last few days as I've read a Marxist history of capitalism, The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View by Ellen Meiksins Wood.

I've already blogged on Wood's book here, and I may analyze the whole book, chapter by chapter, later. The point of Capitalism is to point out that capitalism didn't begin with the Industrial Revolution and wasn't a natural evolution. "I was pushed," said Eeyore after finding himself in the river, and so were we in the agrarian capitalism of the 16th and 17th century in England, in which landowners and their tenants "improved" and enclosed their farmland and drove the surplus population off the land.

Everything is "exploitation"in Marxism, and Wood argues that capitalism replaces the age old exploitation by military and political compulsion of kings and lords and conquerors with a new, economic compulsion.

Stripped of its Marxist warpaint this argument is true. Eric Hoffer says it more elegantly when he says that we have two options when it comes to getting the world's work done. Either the boss tells us what to do, or we have to direct ourselves. In Wood's terminology, "the boss tells us" is how military and political compulsion works; "we have to direct ourselves" is how economic compulsion works.

Of course, by "economic compulsion" we really mean the market. The whole point of the modern global economy is that, instead of subordinate people sitting around waiting for the boss or the lord to tell us what to do, we go out and offer our skills and ideas to the world. The price system tells us if our skill or idea is any good. This is what a Marxist like Ellen Meiksins Wood objects to. As she writes in closing her Capitalism:
The hope of achieving a humane, truly democratic, and ecologically sustainable capitalism is becoming transparently unrealistic. But although the alternative is unavailable, there remains the real alternative of socialism.
This kind of sentiment is based on the idea that before capitalism the rural poor lived a humble but decent life as retainers in the collective of some lord, and scraped a living with traditional rights of gleaning after the harvest and grazing on the common land. Maybe they did, although I have my doubts, particularly after reading Marriage and Family in the Middle Ages by Frances Gies and Joseph Gies. In their compilation of marriage practices and the various practices of dowries and dowers, you get the strong impression that nobody got married unless they had the wherewithal, and that usually meant land, either from the groom, the bride, or both. So it is likely that people that lived by gleaning and grazing on the Commons were people on the downward slide to nothingness, and always had been.

So I reckon that social humans always have and always will live under some kind of "compulsion." Either we live at the beck and call of lords -- or their modern equivalent, politicians and bureaucrats and CEOs -- or we live on our own responsibility. But in the context of a modern, interdependent economy based on specialization, that places on each of us the responsibility, the "compulsion" to find work that pays. Work is a service that we provide for other people, in return for which we get paid.

I just wish that modern elites and their nominees, the politicians, were honest enough to tell that to the people. Either you go to work for the government or a big corporation and do what the boss tells you or you develop yourself, your skills, your knowledge, and you figure out, on your own, how to contribute to society. Society, in the form of the market and the price system, will pretty clearly tell you what you and your skills and your ideas are worth.

There is no escape from this into "social justice" or humane and genuine democracy. There is no escape into "the real alternative of socialism." There is only working for a boss or working for the market.

And when our ruling class teases working people with raising the minimum wage, or retailing the fantasies of labor unions, or taxing the workers on one hand and giving them benefits out of the other, they are failing in their duty. In the context of today's global market, there is only submission to the will of the market. That is all.


















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