[OPE-L] Socialism and markets

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Sun Jan 15 2006 - 14:53:17 EST

Hi Jerry

>I'm not really convinced that with socialism there
will be harmony: struggles will continue.

Undoubtedly - but there is a big difference between people struggling over
their daily bread, and people struggling over e.g. a game of chess. The
question is what the fight, or competition, is really about.

>Scientifically based moral understanding?  I don't know about that.
I don't even really know what it means.

In empirical ethics, our moral understandings ought to be supported by solid
scientific facts, rather than being based on a priori values which are held
to be absolute and unarguable or good for all time. In other words, we don't
makes assumptions about e.g. human nature, to extrapolate the good, but
investigate what human nature actually is and has been like, to extrapolate
the good.

>What workers want, rather, is something less easily defined and specified:

Well, you're the Marxist authority on what workers want, not me :-) From the
standpoint of empirical ethics, this is something you have assumed, but it
has to be proven. See http://www1.eur.nl/fsw/happiness/. As Markus, Feher
and Heller suggested, if the Marxists tell the workers what they need, as
they typically do, you get a Dictatorship over Needs. Anyway, happiness
usually involves having a decent life, and a chance to improve your lot.
Happiness is a synthetic result of essential needs being met, but like I
say, these needs are not necessarily physical needs, and that is why the
conditions for happiness are often difficult to define. Happiness is not
necessarily "being satisfied" either.

> I'd like to
see someone crunch the numbers and see how much of a pie there
really is and what this means per capita in terms of the ability to
satisfy peoples' needs.

Not sure that there is such a pie. There is a stock of physical products and
a stock of physical resources, a consumption pattern, and a real or
potential capacity to produce more (see also www.worldwatch.org ). However,
two problems are: potential capacity depends a lot on technological design
and on how resources are allocated, and, many needs are not physical needs.
This makes the relation between real output and potential output very
elastic. Modern social accounting does not estimate physical outputs, and
therefore the calculation is difficult to do. Also, different population
groups have different kinds of needs, and estimating purchasing power parity
is a problem-fraught task. Materially, there are sufficient resources
globally to give everyone a decent life in terms of physical needs.

  But, there is still another issue:  if we
believe that socialism must be an international system, then given the kinds
of inequalities and disparities in development in different social
formations, how do we get there?

Presumably through a drastic change in the world division of labour and an
international reallocation of resources. It would take about a hundred years
at least, I think. If governments are corrupt, nobody is really motivated to
redistribute resources.

As regards David Graeber, he emphasizes the social processes involved in
economic exchange, and lives accordingly. That's not really compatible with
Yale, seems like. But it's probably not a good example, insofar as what Yale
authorities specifically object to, is his political activity.

>Oh, I don't know about that.  Capital expansion breeds its own
forms of moral  decline.  E.g. conspicuous consumption.

Conspicious consumption does not necessarily mean immorality, anymore than
non-conspicuous consumption connotes morally sound behaviour. I think what I
said hold true, as a generalisation, i.e. provided everyone can make gains,
the general level of moral behaviour typically improves.

>Well, yes, there does seem to be an empirical correlation between
unemployment and crime.  But, this does not translate into an
increase in immorality. If workers, e.g., steal from Wal-Mart to
meet their basic needs, this is not from my perspective an
immoral act.

It is not just the employment level, but the aggregate economic growth rate
which correlates with reported crime levels. Stealing from Wal-Mart? In that
case, you would most likely endorse stealing as well in other situations.
The trouble though is, that any kind of socialism cannot be built on crime.
It requires a high level of moral integrity. The most general moral norms
are "do unto others..." and "don't do unto others...". What you visit upon
others, can be visited upon you.

You may be right, that life is what happens when you're making other plans.
My bike keys disappeared in the supermarket, and I need them back. Better
get on with other things...


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