Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Monday, August 9, 2010

AN ATTEMPT TO MOVE THE CONVERSATION ALONG

There is something profoundly unseemly about a group of well fed academics debating the relative misery of billions of people, none of whom has the slightest chance of ever living in the way that we do. So, let us stop.

As a Marxist, let me stipulate that capitalism has been an enormous step forward for the human race, both by dramatically expanding the total physical output of the world's economy and by undermining religious supersititions and traditional ways of life [although unfortunately not enough]. So if anyone feels the need to give Brownie points to capitalism, to give it a gold star, feel free. No serious Marxist will dispute you.

It is indisputable that in the present capitalist world order, there are enormous disparities of wealth and poverty and very great misery abroad in the world.

If you think that capitalism is the only alternative to feudalism or slavery, then your only concern, if you feel one, will be to figure out ways to ameliorate some of that misery. If you do not feel the slightest concern for that misery, then I have nothing to say to you. Go your way, and try to stay out of trouble.

But, suppose capitalism is not the equivalent of rationality. Suppose that just as capitalism grew out of feudalism, so perhaps something different can grow out of capitalism, something even more rational, even better at serving human needs and avoiding the periodic crises, such as the one we are now in. Then I for one want to figure out what that is and work to bring it about. I do not expect those who have benefitted the most from capitalism to join me in this struggle, although some may. But I can at least hope that those harmed by capitalism, those impoverished in the face of its outpouring of goods, those who have no option but to take a bad job, rather than the even worse job or no job that would otherwise be their lot, will join with me, or allow me to join with them, in the fight.

6 comments:

Mike said...

Robert,

I like the direction in which you're heading. I'm not sure, though, that you're framing the question accurately. You ask whether it would be worth trying to bring about an economic system that was better than capitalism at serving human needs. Of course it would. Serving human needs, after all, is an economic system's purpose. But the real question is whether it would be worth trying to bring about a system that MIGHT be better than capitalism at serving human needs but might also be much worse. That's a much harder question to answer, especially since, as you concede, capitalism has been the most successful economic system so far invented. In the face of deep uncertainty, this makes me reluctant to scrap it.

Alternatively, we can work within capitalism. We can press for greater assistance to the poor, more redistribution, and so on, without toppling the capitalist order. That sounds to me like the saner option. I take it you're not especially fond of it, though. I wonder why.

Scott said...

These well-documented and well-understood failings of Marxist economics in the 20th century should make one pretty skeptical to say the least to expect Marxism to provide a beneficial alternative to the status quo.

There are other alternatives to capitalism which incorporate market mechanisms that Marxism tried to abolish. Benjamin Tucker and Kevin Carson’s mutualism is one example. Agorism, a system in which corporations and wage labor all but vanish due to nearly all agents in the economy being self-employed, is another. Economic Democracy, a system in which prices are set by and competition is carried out between democratically-run firms is another. Organizations like the Seasteading Institute, correctly recognizing that we don’t really know much about human society are helping people finance and build their own communities on the sea and experiment with all kinds of things that statist constraints prohibit on the land.

To me, this is where an alternative to capitalism will come from, not from any “dictatorship of the proletariat” or anything like the horrors that 20th century Marxist states inflicted upon humanity.

Anarchists in particular, imho, should spend less time focusing on critics of the status quo who neither offered nor tried to offer any detailed alternative (i.e. Marx) and more time learning about and discussing proposed alternatives already in motion.

JP said...

Robert, the best case scenario I can see is where the world adopts a swedish system, i.e. an essentially capitalist system with high taxes, where these are used to make medical care and education free, and to guarantee a decent minimum standard of living.

Now assuming this can be made to work, it still only represents tinkering (albeit in a massive scale) with what we have at present. So I assume you want something more radical. Any idea of how this could go? The only thing I can see radically changing is that the nation-state becomes quite different, i.e. becomes an EU-like entity, or, alternatively, the world is composed of a huge number of tiny countries with easy migration between them.

Any idea where you think radical change is possible?

Chris said...

I'm still wondering how capitalism intends to conquer environmental sustainability. Frankly, the experiment in industrial civilization seems doomed to failure.

Scott said...

Why does my first comment keep getting deleted?

偉曹琬 said...

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