Capitalism is Opposed to Human Happiness Debate
Date: 07-17-2010, 04:30 PM
You make some good valid points, hiimjered. However, let's take the converse: if you are saying that workers are not good at managing their resources, then you must be implying at least that non-workers are better at it.
First, we must consider the direction of interests. Consider democracy versus monarchy. It has often been postulated that democracy is a society organized by idiots; and technically, this isn't far off from the truth, since "mediocre thinkers" are defined as the medium who are the bulk decision-makers in democracy. But, there is a difference: in Democracy, people can at least push towards their own ends, while fumbling and making their own mistakes. In Monarchy, the state is directed by the monarch, and it almost never tends towards the best interest of their subjects.
Carry that over to economics: are workers more likely to pollute their back yard? Are they more likely to postpone the development of cancer-curing drugs? Are they more likely to enter into a combination with other producers, fix prices, limit production, and create artificial famines and artificial winters in their neighborhoods? Are they going to shut down unprofitable community centers and set up opium dealers, like the British Capitalists in China? Etc., etc.. In virtually every aspect, the worker at least is personally effected by the decision-making process, but the Capitalist is completely untouched.
Second, I disagree strongly that workers are not capable of managing resources for themselves. As Adam Smith pointed out, the inventor of the automatic piston of the boiler engine was an eight-year old, child worker. Kropotkin points out that the railroad was invented by a unnamed worker similarly. And, when we look at Thomas Edison's business, we see this multiplied over and over: Tesla, Dickson, etc.. But I don't even have to go back that far: MS-Dos was purchased for $50,000 by Microsoft, and it virtually solidified their multi-billion dollar empire. Why did a businessman, and not the inventor, make profit? Like the other cases, it goes back to bargaining power.
The Capitalist knows that they cannot eat the tools they possess, even though they live in mansions and yachts and have tastes far beyond the workers. Why is it that the simple basic factors of productive existence, which they confront daily, would suddenly become mismanaged -- by those who manufactured and invented them? Rather, it would almost appear to me the opposite.
Date: 07-17-2010, 05:26 PM
I agree with you that happiness is a very relative, subjective term. I understand that it can be achieved by people with the least available to them; and, at the same time, happiness may forever be out of reach from those who have every possible source of luxury and material wealth.
But look at the person who is hungry and the person who is starving; the father who cannot afford an operation for his daughter and the other that can walk with her in the park; the mother who does not watch her children starve, and the mother who watches them become gluttonous. Wealth may destroy a possibility of happiness, when it reaches those who waste it and did nothing to earn it, like the Capitalist class. But when it is used by common people of the community, to provide for loved ones, wealth can be instrumental to happiness.
I'll agree with two things here: (a) yes, it does improve the bargaining power; (b) that is a direct, economic tactic that perfectly strikes at the heart of the matter in equalizing bargaining positions.
But, I will make one strong disagreement. I do not think that one could go so far as to say that they are on an equal footing. Members of management, when they are implicated in the murders of a dictatorship in Chile or Iran, are not named, charged, prosecuted, or imprisoned. The opposite is the case with workers who are implicated in murders. Similarly, one could find another comparison with any other area: drug-use versus doctor-shopping, prostitutes versus a trip to Las Vegas, shoplifting versus monopoly. Different words for when a poor man does the act and when a rich man does the act.
This has been the prevailing norm throughout the history of a few possessing everything. There are many proofs for the inequality of bargaining power: for instance, the ease with which management unites to make a monopoly, versus the excruciating difficulty to unite the vast majority of society. And, even in the latter, other difficulties like "party politics," bought-out leaders, etc., can serve to divide their interests against themselves.
Well, that's the question. Why does poverty exist? According to "The Economics of Under-developed Countries," edited by J.M. Keynes and Milton Friedman, more than three quarters of the world must seriously face the possibility of starvation. Compare this, in contrast, with the accounts of early Romans, who found people living like beasts in northern Europe; the discovery of the Native American society by those once-savaged European powers; and then any of the personal accounts of travelers in India or Africa.
Before there was private ownership of society's productive forces by a very few, poverty and hunger did not exist. There may have been "want" and "scarcity" in the technical terms of economy, but there was not famine, there was not wide-spread hunger. This is because there was nothing standing in the way of an individual working to satisfy their interests. But today, one must allow themselves to be subjugated, to produce for a very few, and to earn so little, that the chances of escaping such a situation are rare. A self-perpetuating social situation that keeps the many with nothing and the few with everything.
So, yes, nobody really needs more than they need to live. But, the tens of thousands starving to death everyday don't show a picture where everyone has what they need to live.
It is particularly curious: first, you suggest that happiness exists independent of material possessions; second, you now suggest that greed, or the joyless act of seeking material possessions, cannot be eradicated from humanity. It would seem unusual, entirely, if the acts of people that were selfish and greedy necessarily ended up causing themselves harm.
In fact, simple understandings of economics would probably disagree with these assertions. William Stanley Jevons of the Austrian School of Economics, for instance, argued that self-interest and a rational response to self-interest are at the core of all economic theory: "A true theory of economy can only be attained by going back to the great springs of human action - the feelings of pleasure and pain. A large part of such feelings arise periodically from the ordinary wants and desires of body or mind, and from the painful exertion we are continually prompted to undergo that we may satisfy our wants." ("Brief Account of a General Mathematical Theory of Political Economy," 1862.)
It is a contradiction that people are selfish and that their selfish activity does not improve their happiness. According to any number of psychology theories, such a situation cannot last, either leading towards mental breakdown or learning to act in a way that improves happiness. And then, the word "Selfish" loses all meaning, since people would be saying, "I'm doing what makes me the happiest most, without thinking of others -- which is the opposite of selfish."
I agree with you, that greed will always exist. But exploitation can only occur where there is an inequality of bargaining power: where one person bargaining with another must submit, or otherwise starve, or suffer worse than the other. This is why exploitation occurs between employee and employer; it is the same reason why it occurs between subject of the dictatorship and Communist Party official. There is an inequality of bargaining positions, whether it is Capitalism or State-managed Capitalism. Rather, my argument has simply been for a world where there is nobody who is in an inescapable, hellish bargaining position.
Date: 07-18-2010, 09:20 AM
Do you believe that the same people who were unwilling to invest time in getting a college education and are unwilling to invest a portion of their income are smart enough to give up or limit their short-term income for the good of the company that supports them?
Most people prefer instant gratification to delayed gratification, even if the delayed gratification is far better.
The same mindset that causes the above is the one that causes laborers to fight for higher pay and better benefits at the expense of the job that all of that pay and benefits comes from. How many times did the big corporations attempt to work a deal with the unions (laborers) to cut costs in order to save the company. How many times did the unions allow anything to be cut?
A person who insists on rapid personal gain isn't the one who can properly manage a company.
So why are CEOs, whos income levels show a drive for quick benefit, any better than the laborers for running a company?
Because the CEOs are laborers as well. They know they only have a job as long as the company is run in a profitable manner. They have to please the investors. Investors have a long-term perspective on the gains of the company. They don't mind a small short-term cut in profits if it will clearly bring great gains in the long term. CEOs who don't provide good long-term stability are fired.
High wages and top benefits are very expensive and often work at odds with the long-term performance of a company. Workers would most likely make decisions that would most benefit them in the short-term, with little regard to the long-term effects.
Take a simple example. A machine is developed that can paint car bodies. The machine does the job in a quarter of the time that the current 3 man team does it in. The results are always flawless. This machine costs less to maintain that even one of the three current employees.
If the laborers got to decide whether or not to get the machine, they would most likely care more about the laborer's families and jobs and less about the added productivity and product quality the machine could provide. Thus productivity and quality are harmed by the labor decision.
Or take one that anyone who has worked a wage-slave type job has seen. When offered a chance to get off early, 9 of 10 workers will take the chance, even though their paycheck will suffer. They will then complain when they get paid that they should be paid better and totally forget the opportunity they took to get off early. They focused on the short-term benefit and paid for it in the long term.
Most people are extremely shortsighted, which can rapidly kill a business. Businesses, in order to survive and profit, need people who are willing to make difficult short-term sacrifices to sustain long term survival.
Date: 07-18-2010, 09:26 AM
I have heard this before, and it's one interpretation, though certainly not the one that inspired either Capitalism or Socialism.
However, as I presented my arguments above, I'm not expecting any real, fundamental change in human nature. The system of Socialism, naturally, is based on the same precepts of Capitalism: everyone has desires, everyone responds to them with a certain degree of rationality, etc.. People are still going to have desires and are going to want to fulfill them, whether or not we describe these desires as virtuous. Consider equalizing the bargaining positions among all people, so that none must be subjugated by others economically. In this system, people can still seek to satisfy their own desires -- except an equal right to society's productive forces means that no one must submit to another's employment.
Date: 07-18-2010, 09:34 AM
Let's see... The automobile engine, railroad tracks, motion picture projectors and film equipment, the vast majority of the early industrial machinery of the 1600's to 1700's, etc., etc. -- not one of these inventors was ever paid. Well, Tesla received an extra $25 per week for the automobile engine, but he was pretty much promised $1 million in current standards money. So, the car you drive, the movie you watch, everything, was stolen -- illegally, in most cases -- from workers. And, the only reason the law won't fight it, is because, as Anacharsis once said, "...written laws, which were like spiders' webs, and would catch, it is true, the weak and poor, but easily be broken by the mighty and rich." ("Solon," from Plutarch's "Great Lives".)
Even MS-Dos, which created the empire of Microsoft, was only rewarded a few grand for a company now worth 50 billion. Bill Gates, like other capitalists, have only existed by stifling genius, as Kropotkin has pointed out. Now, with their monopoly, which was established by exploiting the workers (sometimes illegally), they seek to crush competitors, destroy open-source programs by lying about standards, etc., etc.. Who is the most wealthy in the country? The one person who never contributed anything, destroyed initiative, and abolished all creativity within the commercial computer market. (This is my opinion, though, after some decade and a half of programming in about 15 different languages.)