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Sunday, January 22, 2006

And Another One!

Bolivia, South America's poorest nation, now has its first indigenous leader since the Spanish conquest over 500 years ago in Evo Morales, leader of the Bolivian political party Movement for Socialism. That's a LONNNNG wait for an indigenous leader. Once again, the U.S. government is fearful of his reform agenda as Al-Jazeera cites him as wanting to "end discrimination and inequality". What an evil man...sic the CIA on him! Has anyone noticed that this is simply not in the interest of any U.S. President or Congress in policy though they have often given the notion lip service? Think about it...Ending inequality would have to include ending capitalism (I am still waiting to hear an argument defending capitalism as just or leading to equality) as a means to bringing about equality. Does that mean socialism? Communism? Anarchism? What do you all think?

19 Comments:

At 4:03 AM, Blogger andrew golis said...

I think the main reason that no one has engaged you on the issue of capitalism is that you've never argued anything other than side antidote's and broad generalizations about it's evils, neither of which can really be engaged in serious intellectual dialogue. I am not one to deny the idea that market's are imperfect, and that right-wing free market capitalism often leaves those behind who start from a disadvantage. I'm also not an ec concentrator or well-read enough to be able to take apart victorian marxism. But the notes you link to are cursory at best, and you're not offering anything for people to actually engage.

I think if you actually made arguments that engaged modern America or the world, offered perscriptions for what systems should be changed and how and discussed things other than in the abstract world of "corporations vs. people", we could have a good discussion. Fundamentally, it seems strange to me that you think that those notes, or your mentions of bad things you claim are caused by capitalism, equate an actual argument for communism or anything else. How would any of that work? Who would control what? With what political institutions?

 
At 9:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I am also a fan of al Jazeera, I think looking at that news station alone for an analysis of the situation is just as problematic as looking only at American news media. al Jazeera in particular is paranoid about things like the CIA / American intervention / American ambitions.

 
At 9:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you, golis. besides, i don't necessarily believe complete economic equality should be our end goal anyway. jersey, why do you think it should? (i don't mean that as confrontational, i'm honestly curious)

 
At 11:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jersey Slugger - what is your real name, anyway? You're (I believe) the only person who posts on this blog under an alias. Don't worry, I don't have any negative motives here, I just think it might help CC readers if we could look at your facebook pf, etc, to get some context of who you are.

Yes, I recognize the hypocrisy of the fact that I am posting this anonymously ;). But this is not a challenge, just a request.

 
At 1:13 PM, Anonymous Guess Who said...

There is a tremendous amount of philosophical literature that (in my opinion) dismantles the argument for an entirely state-run economy and the way that most of us conceive of egalitarianism (outcome of resources/opportunity to attain same resources). This is not to endorse rampant free market capitalism in the least. I think it is probably defensible to have a minimum income for all citizens, completely contingency free, as are anti-trust laws and bans on the privatization of some services, such as hospitals, schools, or public safety. However, there seems to be evidence that some existence of a market allows a lot more freedom in pursuing various conceptions of the good and provides for the delivery of a wider range of goods, services, etc. than an only state-run economy probably ever could. Also, egalitarianism might be best conceived as each people having equal utility over a lifetime above a certain standard...because (I would imagine) you don't want everyone to just have the same material resources if they don't want them or value them. The point is for people to live lives they find valuable and that they have the freedom to do that. I don't claim to know the ins and outs of the debate entirely, but (and not facetiously either) perhaps you could start a reading group amongst cambridgecommons on the canonical (or even classic contemporary) defenses of meausred capitalism-- Smith's Wealth of Nations, Sen's Development as Freedom, Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia, some of Rawls' work...and do some communist/anarchist critques? One of the biggest problems is that this debate is entirely confined to old dusty professors in academia and the American public debate on economic theory is between George Bush giving everyone a tax cut and John Kerry giving everyone a tax cut except the richest 1%. Probably not the best way to overhaul a system obviously in need of some critique, no?

 
At 1:14 PM, Anonymous Keep Guessing Who said...

And P.S.-- don't give your name. That smells like a Justice Department set up to me. We're on to you anonymous...we got spies too...

 
At 1:53 PM, Blogger Jersey Slugger said...

These are all great concerns and I'm glad that you all have levied them. I want to give proper respect to each argument but, I do have a daunting final exam on the near horizon.

For starters, my name is Chimaobi Amutah. Facebook away and explore my profile to get a glimpse of me as a person. Send me a note, e-mail, or what have you.

Secondly, once again, knowing the history of the CIA and their actions and reach of influence should make everyone paranoid of the CIA/(United States of) American intervention/(United States of) American ambitions. Truthfully. All media (including blogs) reflect the interests of their progenitors so ubiased accounts can only come from first-hand experience with events as they occur.

Andrew, on a very basic level capitalism as an economic system inherently breeds inequality that spills over into the social and political system of whichever society practices it. This inequality that capitalism breeds effects people's lives in dramatic ways. Case in point: political campaigns. Large corporations and wealthy individuals who have amassed their fortunes through capitalism have huge amounts of capital that they can put towards whatever endeavors or enterprises they see fit. These organizations give large amounts of funding to political campaigns, candidates, and committees to see to it that legislative policy is created that ensures their continued ability to operate their businesses and their continued financial prosperity and elite position. Social inequality is also brought about by having candidates support legislation adversely affecting individual liberty (i.e. with gay marriage or abortion) and the ability for people of diverse backgrounds to come together. Wealthier individuals have more free reign as to where they can live, what types of leisure activities they can engage in, access to politicians and the political establishment, what types of schools they send their children to, etc. Poorer people do not enjoy this freedom or ability to move around and the "Construction Game" from FUP shows this, Andrew. Result: social segregation along the lines of class, race, sexual orientation, etc. Candidates end up spending significant amounts of their time fundraising and pandering to big business and its leaders as oppose to assessing and addressing the needs of the public even in basic respects such as with regards to adequate housing, education, or healthcare. Clairvoyantly, people that are in these predicaments are fed political platforms through the media (also controlled by big business with strong political ties) that make candidates sound appealing and make oppressed populations think that real change is impending, though every four years they find themselves without these basic necessities once again. What real change is happening? None. Now many people will say this is just "the nature of the game" of contemporary U.S. politics and this is very true. That does not make the game just, however, when a very small, elite, wealthy, and racially/gender homogenous group of political and economic leaders makes choices affecting the diverse population that is the United States of America. Their in-group interests are often detrimental to out-group members.

The above paragraph should suffice in what I argue against that has its roots and essence in the inequality of capitalism. As to what I want to argue for, I want to see a just economic system that is not based on exploitation and wealth concentration; a just political and social system that protects minority liberty just as much as majority opinion (the TRUE test of democracy); and an ideological system where people genuinely care about one another's well-being and work towards communal happiness (which includes themselves, of course) and betterment. Labels such as communism, socialism, or whatever else may be attached to what I'm saying because that is the frame of reference you all are coming from but don't necessarily attach any of that to what I'm saying. Think outside the box of European political/social/economic arrangements and explore something else. Something new and something practically implementable. I don't have a lot more to say on how to bring about that system right now or the difficulties in it that you all will immediately highlight. That would be a thesis or book topic.

 
At 1:58 PM, Blogger Jersey Slugger said...

Sorry, guess who. I guess I fell for the trap. The Justice Department (or feds/CIA/whoever) probably has a file on me already though that's growing...daily...exponentially...happily...

 
At 2:22 PM, Anonymous anonymous #2 said...

thank you, jersey, for responding so quickly. I agree that extreme economic inequality means differential access to social services, which can prove detrimental for society's poor. that said, guess who's post hits a lot of important points about the benefits a free market system, especially on individual choice and freedom. so i pose the question again: why should economic equality be an end goal in the first place?

 
At 3:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The power of business to control the government is no different than the power of others to control the government in societies that are not capitalist. Individuals like this are traditionally party officials, union leaders and others. If your argument is that income inequality creates and fosters corruption, you need to explain why it is that you can't just try to end that corruption.

Also, no offense Mr. Slugger, I appreciate some of your thoughts, but you lack of understanding of complex economics is abundantly clear considering your inability to actually explain how a state-run economy would work and respond to Mr. Guess's comments. We can all think of a million critiques of almost all of the economic and political systems that exist in the world, but your willingness to root the world's injustices in capitalism without explaining what would be better just makes you seem dogmatic.

That being said, thank you for the conversation. It's not often at this school that something like this can be openly discussed and I appreciate your willingness to engage in "forbidden topics" like criticizing capitalism, even if I do disagree.

 
At 4:03 PM, Blogger kyledeb said...

First of all I just want to say that I think it's a mistake to characterize Evo Morales as just another leftist leader. I wrote a blog entry on this
http://kdebeausset.multiply.com/journal/item/13

and also it's important to realize that he's not just the first indigenous president of Bolivia, but of the Americas.

As to the comments on capitalism. One of ten principles they teach you in EC 10 through Mankiw's book is that one of the central trade offs in a free market economy is between efficiency and equality. Complete economic equality is inefficient, but I feel it ears on the other end of that as I don't see extreme economic inequality as efficient. Nevertheless on smaller scales thats the argument that most people go by.

My problem with the idea of capitalism is the greed that it promotes. The idea that by being as greedy as possible, or the most fit as social darwinists would say, is good for society is a dangerous concept. I can't tell you how many "capitalists" say I'm going to look out for myself and so what? I think that concept is among the most detrimental to a global society.

 
At 5:19 PM, Anonymous dear pen pals, said...

Anonymous at 3:20pm—

Firstly, I’m not sure what you’re trying to express here: “The power of business to control the government is no different than the power of others to control the government in societies that are not capitalist.” I think that Jersey’s point was that it would be possible to envision a society that was different—without a concentration of power that was attached to such a narrow window of interests (the wealthy in our country, as jersey points out, do tend to fall into certain overlapping categories). I think he’s made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t have the answer (what would be the perfect solution?), but that he’s willing to ask the question. So—pointing to other corrupt, yet non-capitalist societies doesn’t really address his point.

Secondly, “lack of understanding of complex economics”? I think that Jersey is expressing some of the complexities that go undiscussed, at least in my experience, in Harvard Ec-classes. The whole conversation thus far hasn’t been rooted in exact theory (using equations, etc.). If anything, you might suggest that we get deeper into specifics, but, as no one seems to have tried that approach yet, it seems pointless to evaluate and criticize Jersey’s level of expertise.

Also, can we all “think of a million critiques” of capitalism? I really doubt how many readers are accustomed to thinking about the true definitions of capitalism and esspecially capitalist alternatives. To many, other systems such as socialism and communism all blend together in some haze of the evil other that didn’t quite work out over there. . . And that’s just not fair.

It seems like a perfectly logical starting point to explain why one thinks that capitalism is unjust. You seem to conflate this with an attempt for jersey to root all of the “world’s injustices in capitalism.” That’s not what I read. . . Also, how would explaining what would be a better system be less dogmatic? He’s using a critique as a starting point. Once the ins and outs of that critique are addressed (and yes that means counter-arguments against Jersey, pro capitalist), then we can move onto what Jersey is right to call an endeavor for a book or a thesis: suggesting alternatives. Anyways, Jersey humbly stated he doesn’t have all the answers for what a better system would be--- no dogma there.

Now, my goal here is to push some deeper conversation, not to launch a personal defense for Jersey. What do you want to see happen on this blog? How do you want to see things more deeply rooted in theory? What in particular seemed like it betrayed a lack of “understanding of the complexities”? What makes you think that those complexities are discussed elsewhere?


Kyledeb—thanks for the link to more info. About Evo Morales. I can’t believe that we’re talking about the first indigenous president of the Americas. Le wow. . .

Guess who—Are our only two alternatives completely state-run and untampered with capitalism? Your suggestion about a reading list is interesting (and social studies 10, mua ha ha). . . Maybe people could offer up some key passages and interesting lines to get the debate going on solid ground. That’d definitely be a realistic starting point to getting people on the same page as far as background reading. . . Le cool. . .

 
At 7:42 PM, Anonymous Guess Why said...

Definitely not. Even my post says I think you could have things like a guaranteed minimum income, public provision of certain services, and anti-trust laws. To that I would add income caps and progressive taxation. All of those are far from unfettered capitalism without completely eliminating a market. There are a variety of critiques of even this very reigned in capitalism both from the so-called right (Nozick and Hayek) and from other political orientations, including philosophical anarchism, facism, communism, and socialism. Even more complicated critiques would come from those wings primarily concerned with the environment or a (highly improbable) return to pre-modern cultures. I think there are a lot of ways to think about this that are being ignored, definitely in the wider arena, but even on this blog too. What would be, in my opinion, a good starting point, would be to talk about what a worthwhile egalitarian goal would be (or even if there should be an egalitarian goal in the first place). This is all the stuff that is being discussed within the bounds of distributive justice (Dworkin, Cohen, Elizabeth Anderson) and the development as freedom (Sen, Raz) conversations. Equality is usually thrown around as a buzzword because it has so much intuitive resonance (perhaps because of the civil rights movement), but we rarely talk about what we mean when we use it, and that allows opponents to kill anybody who says it by posing the troubling objections about "penalizing success," "controlling luck," and "restraining freedom." Now, I think a lot of the aformentioned thinkers have had success meeting these objections, but only in convoluted academic stuff. Is it possible to repackage this for people, policy, and politicians? That should be the ultimate goal, in my opinion...

 
At 10:40 PM, Anonymous dear pen pals, said...

hey, i really appreciate the end of that post, and agree that a lot of the authors you name do a great job---the next step would be decoding what they say for mass consumption and everday conversation.

you seem really intrigued by the idea of defining equality and questioning its worth. what makes you question it as a good ultimate goal? maybe you could start off our dialogue about equality.

i'd try to start off the convo. on that tip, but my brain is too fried. maybe tomorrow. . .

 
At 11:52 PM, Blogger kyledeb said...

I just have to echo the fact that I love the way this conversation has turned to the topic of equality, which is so key. Of all the powerful political words used (freedom, liberty, etc.) this is most important and the only one that actually has a chance at measurement and implementation.

Of course definitions of equality, and the policies to achieve it become very complicated, so I personally use another abstract term to help me define whether or not a policy will help in the fight for equality. I think that the most important thing that we have to work towards, is equal opportunity.

Just as with all abstract ideas this pie can be cut all different ways as well, and I won't go into that unless people want to discuss it further. I just thought it forth as I too came to the conclusions mentioned above and this is what I've generally come up with.

 
At 11:39 AM, Blogger katie loncke said...

One of the books guess who mentioned, Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen, really changed the way I thought about equality, equal opportunity, and freedom. Kyle, your prioritization of equal opportunity is essentially the heart of Sen's work, as he attempts to redefine 'development' in broader, more accurate terms than simple GDP measurements. Sen's position is that elements like health, education, civil liberties, and high environmental standards are just as important indicators of development as economic and technological capacity. For instance, a health-based analysis of development would reveal that people living in Kerala, south India, have a longer life expectancy than African Americans born in the U.S., even though the real incomes of Blacks in the States are much higher than Keralans'.

Sen also does a really good job of clearly analyzing the ways in which elements of freedom are interconnected and mutually reinforcing. For example, nations or communities that expand education opportunities to include women tend to experience a decrease in birth rates (which is often good for areas in which population growth strains resources) and a decrease in infant mortality rates. Another example he discusses at length is the connection between democratic government and freedom from starvation through famine.

I don't have the book in front of me so I can't cite any exceptional paragraphs, but I would highly recommend it to people interested in exploring a conception of freedom through equal opportunity. Sen's concept of development shows that broadening definitions of freedom beyond traditional economic frameworks leads to more accurate, not less accurate, standards of measurement. It is not, in fact, all about the Benjamins. :)

 
At 12:59 AM, Blogger Jersey Slugger said...

Pure equality is the elimination of social discrimination, political hierarchy, or economic disparity. I'll term this "sympathetic anarchism".

I advocate for a new type of equality that is based on humanitarian cooperative action in pursuit of an apex of happiness. I'll term this "nihilistic utilitarianism".

Contend with either of these two and we can move on in our debate.

 
At 5:49 AM, Anonymous Guess What said...

I guess from the start, I would want further clarification of the terms, for they are quite loaded with baggage, even in their combinated form. Obviously we wouldn't be able to answer all of these without a paper-length response (or really a book length response), but these are some questions that immediately arise, even (especially?) from the short statements you proposed.

What is social discrimination? Discrimination in the most benign sense of the term merely means perceptually differentiating between two legitimately different things. Would this end to social discrimination mean that we would not be allowed to develop social organizations or business enterprises that cater to specific interest groups at the expense of, or exclusion of other groups? What about affinity groups? Ethno-racial groups? Religious groups? At what point does a perceived inequality, even after your system is implemented (given that inequality might arise again, even if unintended) justify these groups coalescing around an identity to protect their life outcomes? Does a curtailment of the freedom to associate along discriminatory lines prove supremely damaging for people's pursuit of the "apex of happiness"? If I find my Jewish-only political/cultural organization to be imperative to my happiness, can you legitimately deny it to me on egalitarian grounds?

As far as the elimination of political hierarchy, would this mean an advocation of direct democracy? Deliberative democracy? Would all people be required to participate or would elected representatives suffice? Is it feasible to ask each of the 300 million people in the United States to know enough about various social, economic, scientific, cultural policy to vote on it? And still there would seem to be a gap in that there would be some hierarchy of those drafting and researching the policy before presenting it to the presumed demos. How do we account for that? Do we even need to?

And as far as economic disparity, we have already pieced together some of the major questions around this, but it won't hurt to go into it again. Is it more important that people get their basic needs fulfilled or their wants? Who is going to determine what "basic needs" are anyway-- obviously the list of one's basic needs has grown considerably over the last few decades to include things like running water and public schooling. Who determines this and in what ways is that determination culturally specific? Gender specific? Does this whole idea mean eliminating property? Can you have individuals invested in a system where they don't own anything themselves? More broadly, what is the point of economic equality anyway? Is there something inherently good in everyone having the same amount of stuff? Obviously if we all only had 1 penny to live on for the rest of our lives, we would reject that, but it would be equality-- so there has to be something else at play. If it that we want people to have resources to pursue their own ends then do we curtail this autonomy by deciding for them what their needs are? If you want to work 100 hours a week and have an extra television, and I would rather work 40 hours a week and sleep the rest of the time, we are both happy-- should government seek to redistribute wealth from you to me when I don't want it or need it, just for equality's sake? I think there has to be some measure of variance within the system for individual choice/conception of a good life and the fact that people knowingly take risks and chances and expect to be rewarded or punished accordingly. And even all this says nothing about the natural inequality in physical strength, different types of intelligence, creativity, attractiveness, speaking ability, etc. Do we attempt to legislate out the influence of luck and natural talents that will inevitably have an effect on people's life chances and economic status?

Finally, I was a little confused by your use of "nihilistic," because it's usually used to describe a sort of self-imposed social death, a capitulation to vast uncertainity and horror in the world. How are you using it? Also, "an apex of happiness" opens itself up to all the usual utilitarian criticisms. If we could design a Matrix-like machine, that simply stimulates the brain in a way to give everybody on Earth euphoric happiness constantly at the cost of being unable to perceive the "real" outside world, would you accept that? That would be an apex of happiness, and if everyone in society worked together to build it, it would be a cooperative enterprise. Yet something still seems wrong about it, and I think what's missing is our respect for the development of meaningful human relationships as well as personal autonomy. Also, do we need to have the greatest happiness of the greatest number like Mill or Bentham (traditional utilitarians)? This often leads to the oppression of minority groups, as you well know. If too much Brokeback Mountain makes the majority of Americans a little bit unhappy, even their marginal feelings of unhappiness will outweigh the strong feelings of unhappiness that gay men might feel if representations of their sexual orientations were banned from the cinema. The utility calculus in this case would wield unwanted results. There are ways around this, perhaps, though. On the other hand, does everyone need to be equally happy so that no one is envious of one another? In this case, what do we do if what it takes me to be happy is infinitely more than what it takes for you to be happy, so much though as it is a strain on the community? Do we deny me my happiness? Aren't I worthy of equal concern? And how are we measuring happiness anyway? Fulfillment of desires? What if I would rather have a gold chain than use my resources to get education? Is that a legitimate desire if it makes me happy, or do we need to posit some set of "higher order" desires? In that case, who decides what desires are of a higher order than others? (really) Finally, do we measure happiness over a lifetime or at certain given points in a person's life in order to decide equality of happiness?

 
At 12:03 PM, Blogger Jersey Slugger said...

Under pure equality...

Social stratification would not exist due to the breakdown of racial lines, geographic borders, sexuality/gender disparities, etc. It would be a Pan-Humanism and that human quality would be all that was recognized.

Eliminating political hierarchy would mean anarchism. No elections.

Basic needs are just that. BASIC. This does not include running water and public schooling. Those thoughts are coming from a modern and Western sense of basic. People survived countless centuries without those things (even up to the 20th Century and still, some, in the 21st Century). Basic needs are that which humans need to survive which are food, water, shelter, clothing, and love.

*Note what I'm saying above is my personal definition and an ideal. Also note that I don't think that the things above are what we should be moving towards.*

As for "nihilistic utilitarianism", I used "nihilistic" in the third sense of the word here. The humanitarian aspect of my sentence will ensure that people realize that the "apex of happiness" is true LOVE for oneself and those around you that is reciprocated (thus "cooperative"). No machine can give you that. Only fellow humans.

On the utilitarian thing, people's actions would be based on the amount of happiness that it brings to others or the amount of love it expresses to others. Again, constantly in pursuit of that apex.

 

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