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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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
LECTURE ONE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d__In2PQS60
LECTURE TWO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Al7O2puvdDA

ALSO AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ONE THROUGH TEN ON IDEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE



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Monday, June 22, 2015

HANG ON A MINUTE

My animadversions have stimulated a very interesting flurry of comments, all of which deserve a response, but what with fete de la musique and seeing relatives and planning for a trip to Amherst MA on the way home to attend an early music concert, I am swamped.  I shan't be back in Chapel Hill until Sunday night.  I will try to start responding while I am here in Paris, but if things get past me, I hope you will be patient with me.  As soon as I get home, I shall continue the conversation with some responses to the comments. 

My early morning walks here in Paris have actually been devoted to an extended take-down of Rawls' A Theory of Justice, in preparation for a reading group I shall be conducting next semester for graduate students in Philosophy at UNC Chapel Hill.  All these years later, I have been elaborating in my mind a line of critique that I did not develop for my book on Rawls.

5 comments:

Chris said...

As a fan of that book, I'm wondering if you'll be making this critique public? Either on the blog or published somewhere?

Ludwig Richter said...

As usual, I'm late to the party, but I'll take a chance and throw out a couple ideas.

What might the socialist fetus in the womb of capitalism look like? In Seattle, we have in REI the largest consumer cooperative in the United States and in PCC Natural Markets the largest consumer-owned food cooperative (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consumer_cooperative). These cooperatives are very much operating within a market economy, but they are supposed to be service-driven rather than profit-driven. I don't think it's a coincidence that REI and PCC are based in Seattle. Given the high prices of REI's recreational equipment and PCC's classy food, I would say that their success is partly the result of Seattle's political concerns.

Seattle is also home to Group Health Cooperative, which is not actually a cooperative but rather a nonprofit corporation. Again, GHC is supposed to be service-driven rather than profit-driven, though I must note that it was a small scandal some years ago when it was revealed how much the head of GHC was making. In addition, GHC is not exactly known for its labor relations, and there has been a troubling record of GHC stockpiling reserves like other health care companies. Nonetheless, GHC is a nonprofit that exists in a sector of the economy that is about as profit-driven as it gets.

My sense is that the Seattle area could go much farther in creating a climate in which nonprofits and cooperatives play a larger role in the economy than they are currently. However, the political climate has to move left before that will happen. This article in The Nation hints at what that might look like:

http://www.thenation.com/article/210201/can-kshama-sawant-build-actual-socialist-city-america#

Wallace Stevens said...

Here in Canada we have something similar to REI, modelled on REI in fact, called Mountain Equipment Coop, or "MEC."

It is important to note that both are CONSUMER coops and not WORKER coops. From a Marxist perspective, or a neoclassical economics perspective for that matter, this means that the surplus value created by the employees, or the neoclassical profit, is appropriated by the consumer/owners of the enterprise in the novel form of a discount on merchandise instead of either a cash dividend, or capital gains arising from re-invested earnings. (Yes, the merchandise at REI and MEC is pricey, but it is cheap relative to brand name goods of similar quality.)

In a sense these are just firms whose shareholders happen to be major users of what the firm produces and who are therefore willing to accept an implicit, or "in kind" dividend in the form of lower prices. There is no question that it works in cases where the firm's output can be more or less directly consumed. But it is hard to see it working in steel or livestock, say. And, more importantly for the discussion here, it does not change the experience in the workplace. That isn't necessarily a problem for me, because I am skeptical as to the extent to which the workplace experience CAN be changed--other than making the work day and work week shorter. So I am pointing to this as a simple matter of fact about coops like REI and MEC, as opposed to a failing. I don't think they can do any more for their workers than what a reasonably enlightened and law-abiding for-profit employer would do.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Chris, I will certainly make it public, on this blog, but I need to finish the Marcuse post and then, when I get home, respond to all the good comments. Then I can get to Rawls.

Ludwig Richter said...

Wallace Stevens, you make a good point. There is certainly an important distinction between consumer cooperatives and worker cooperatives. However, if consumer cooperatives owe their existence, in part, to a responsiveness to political considerations, then it's a moderate step from consumers belonging to a coop because the products reflect their views about the environment to consumers belonging to a coop also because the workers have a large hand in running the company. I would add that that kind of shift in thinking could come about in a political environment in which there is considerable consciousness-raising, as in the case of Seattle's socialist movement, now clearly led by Council member Kshama Sawant.

However, as things currently stand, a for-profit employer could certainly do more for workers than PCC, GHC, and REI are doing for theirs. A case in point is Seattle's Gravity Payments, where CEO Dan Price lowered his salary from $1 million to $70,000 a year, and then raised the minimum wage of his 120-person staff to $70,000. Was this a politically savvy move in Seattle? Yes, I think so. Gravity Payments is hardly any kind of coop, much less a worker-owned coop.

(http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/14/business/owner-of-gravity-payments-a-credit-card-processor-is-setting-a-new-minimum-wage-70000-a-year.html?_r=1)