Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Contra-deBoer: Anti-capitalist

I'm continuing with an analysis of Fredrik deBoer's left manifesto for 2016. My first piece was "Materialist". Now we look at his "Anti-capitalist."

deBoer states that the "moral and practical problems of capitalism cannot be reformed away". So the left must build a "post-capitalist world" to deliver a truly "moral social system".
This world would take advantage of the incredible productive capacity that capitalism has unleashed on the world and use it to spread material goods through a system of collective ownership. It would not eliminate private property entirely, but rather entail universal joint ownership and control of the productive apparatus of society.
"[M]aterial security and comfort" would not be "earned"; they are "the fundamental right of all humans".
[This world] would acknowledge that we’ve moved from an age defined by scarcity to one defined by abundance, even while it acknowledged that there are certain resource limits on the planet. It would achieve material egalitarianism while preserving aesthetic, philosophical, social, and personal diversity. It would operate under the assumption that removing human beings from the immediate need to work to live would not result in mass apathy and listlessness, but rather unleash a massive flourishing of creativity, productivity, and inspiration. 
Notice that the imperative for a "moral social system" as a replacement for the capitalist world goes immediately against deBoer's first topic, Materialist, in which he privileges the "is" over the "ought." For his, the imperative of a moral social system means that the practical success of capitalism, to the extent we understand it even now, counts for nothing against the moral imperative of a moral social system. Earth to deBoer: the people in any society, except for a few activists, think that their own moral social system is the best going. And what happens to "preserving aesthetic, philosophical, social, and personal diversity" versus the "moral social system" that the left movement has set up? The whole point of the aesthetic or philosophical or personal life, as practiced for instance by the left for the last century or so, is to imagine a new point of view. So what happens when that point of view, perhaps shared by a coterie of the most moral people going, comes up against the one true moral social system just implemented by the left movement?

The idea of implementing a truly "moral social system" also goes against the anticlericalism in the Materialist paragraph. This is something that is hard for people on the left to grasp. The best way to realize it is to assert that all the movements of the left are secular religions, and that each claims to have discovered the true "moral social system." When you talk about discovering or developing a moral social system you are talking about what St. Augustine did 1,500 years ago and St. Thomas Aquinas did 800 years ago. They were clerics putting together a moral social system for the benefit of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. And the question for people on the left is: what happens to the people that don't agree with your truly moral social system?

It is all very well to say that material equality and material security and comfort are fundamental rights of all humans. The question is: how? How does the material for the material security get produced? Obviously there must be a bunch of people out there producing the products and services that yield material security and comfort for all. But who decides? The answer to the question was made by Eric Hoffer half a century ago. Either the boss tells the worker what to do, or the worker figures it out for himself. If the boss does this (whether an actual boss or the voting community) then the moral social system is based on force. If the worker decides what to do then he needs some sort of feedback to tell him whether he is making the right product in the right way for the right use of resources. We know what this feedback is called; it is called the price system. And it is telling that whenever people say: we don't need no stinkin' price system, economic chaos ensues.

It is obvious to me what this new post-capitalist world is all about, with its new moral social system where there is no requirement to work and everyone gets to practice "aesthetic, philosophical, social, and personal diversity". It is a paradise set up for artists and writers, Dichter und Denker, as the Germans say. La Wik, in the original German.
Dichter und Denker ist das Ideal der Verbindung von Kunst und Wissenschaft, insbesondere der Philosophie, in einer Person oder Gruppe.
Here is the translation from La Wik:
"Poets and Thinkers" is the ideal of combining art and science, particularly philosophy, in an individual or group.
By the way, in German Wissenschaft doesn't just mean science, it "incorporates science, learning, knowledge, scholarship and implies that knowledge is a dynamic process discoverable for oneself, rather than something that is handed down."

On my Three Peoples theory, deBoer's ideal is the cry of the People of the Creative Self. They don't want to be subordinate serfs, working for The Man. They don't want to be responsible individuals, working on a dull family and a career. They want to be funded to think deep thoughts and imagine a great thing.

deBoer skates over the cosmic responsibility that the leaders and followers of the post-capitalist world are taking on. He assumes that it is a given that we humans can replace the capitalist world with another that is better and more moral. He assumes that we understand how capitalism works. He assumes that we can design the moral system and then implement it.

I'd argue, even as a raging pro-capitalist, that the opposite is true. We really don't have a clue how capitalism works. All we know is that, in the past 200 years the peoples that have lived under capitalism have experienced a 3,000 percent increase in personal material welfare. We know that, e.g., when the Chinese government switched from a socialist-inspired economic model to a capitalist inspired model it resulted in the biggest increase in material prosperity in human history. We know that, e.g., when the Venezuelan government replaced a so-so capitalist economy and started driving towards socialism, it visited economic chaos on the Venezuelans.

Let us imagine that the Chinese government just got lucky, and the Chavistas in Venezuela just go unlucky. But, as Napoleon said about generals: "Is he lucky?" In other words: never mind how he did it, did he get the job done?

I'm inclined to go with modern science and its chaos theory. Like the weather, the economy is a chaotic emergent system. Central to the notion of emergence is the notion that the interactions are so many and so governed by chance that it is impossible to understand or control it. You don't try to control the weather; you merely adjust to it.

But humans bridle at the idea that they are at the mercy of events. Central to the conceits of prophets, rulers, thinkers, moralists, and political activists is the notion that they can grasp the meaning of it all and reduce it to a formula, as in "moral social system."

I don't think so.

Back in Marx's day, he had a point about Anti-capitalist. Based on the science of the classical ecnomists, t looked like capitalism was going to result in immiseration for the workers and the middle class. Only he was wrong. Capitalism didn't immiserate the workers, it birthed unimaginable prosperity for everyone. Today, the anti-capitalist had better come up with a better idea than, oh, we'll keep the good parts, but trust us, we know what we are doing.

Nest up: "Antiracist."

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