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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Thursday, February 27, 2014

CODA

I cut short my response to Scott's comment about "market abolitionism" because I did not want it to become a full-scale revisiting of thing I have written and published, but there is a good deal more to say about markets and socialism, and in this post I shall say a little bit of it.

As I explained in "The Future of Socialism," the elements of economic planning grow "within the womb of capitalism" because as firms expand and diversify, the market ceases to give unambiguous signals by which capitalist managers may guide their decisions concerning capital allocation, their estimations of profitability, and their choices of such central factors as the proper rate of savings.  It is also true, of course, that such signals as the market does give do not serve to guide the decisions of capitalist firms toward the fulfillment of pressing human needs, but that is no concern of the managers, and it therefore has no effect on their corporate policy.  If money can be made building McMansions while hard-working men and women are unable to find affordable housing, nothing in the logic of capitalism will incline builders toward the production of well-designed low-cost housing.  But of course managers are not averse to satisfying human needs along the way, as it were.  Well-designed mass produced clothing is profitable, at least as long as cheap labor is available in Asia or Africa, so even the poor in America can be stylishly dressed.

Capitalists learned how to manage the periodic crises of overproduction and underconsumption, thanks in part to Lord Keynes, but the explosion of the world-wide financial sector has created new kinds of crises that capitalism has not yet subdued.  It would be a mistake, I think, to expect that failure to lead us toward the replacement of capitalist by socialist relations of production and distribution.  Rather, we can anticipate that capitalism will develop more effective institutions for managing the financial components of capitalism, which is simply another way of saying that the new will continue to grow in the womb of the old.

How, then, if at all, can a transition to a humane socialist economic order come about?  Only through mass mobilization, bottom-up organization, and the use of the collected political power of the great majority to take control of the thoroughly socialized means of production.  This effort, if it is to succeed, must be grounded in the simple ideas set forth in my Credo -- that the vast wealth of modern society is the product of the collective efforts of the all men and women, built on the efforts of past generations, and -- in the evocative words of Edmund Burke -- passed on to generations yet unborn.

After this great transformation, Scott, if ever it should come about, there will still be a role for markets and room for individual entrepreneurs.  Not to worry.

1 comment:

Jerry Fresia said...

“This effort, if it is to succeed, must be grounded in the simple ideas set forth in my Credo….” You probably mean more than “ground in ideas,” but it is “ideas” -as abstractions - that get all the credit. This sole emphasis on ideas generally troubles me.

One of the nice thing about your analyses is that you regularly make reference to non-ideas as having revolutionary import. Let’s call these non-ideas “simple pleasures;” simple, much like the ideas in your Credo, in that they are available to everyone and fundamental to the living of a just life in a just society.

For example, I loved the distinction you made between “hearing a sound” and “making a sound.” The latter issues in a “special pleasure,” you say – and here I infer that that special pleasure cannot be available to the listener in the same way.

You have shown to us the Marcusean argument “that the great works of art, literature, philosophy and music of our cultural tradition play an essential and unexpectedly subversive role….these works keep alive, in powerful and covert ways, the fantasies of gratification, the promise of happiness, the anger at necessary repression, on which radical political action feeds,” and which awakens “the unquenchable thirst for liberation from which social progress must come.” And then there’s the story of Archimedes whose chief concern is that the Roman soldiers do not disturb “his circles.”

Can we say, then, that “this effort” will spring not just from the ideas of your Credo but also, and necessarily, from the simple pleasures that each of us come to cherish all the while living within the womb of capitalism?