[OPE-L] what is irrational in the functioning of capitalism?

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Tue Nov 28 2006 - 12:35:54 EST


If we suppose capitalist business produces outputs only in order to sell
them profitably, and no other reason, this does not necessarily mean that it
is ipso facto irrational, because very clear means-ends relationships are
involved. It means only that the commercial rationality governing capitalist
business is limited to producing outputs for profitable sale.

The argument about world hunger can and has been inverted also, by the
defenders of capitalism: if we had more capitalism, there would be no
hunger. In this case, the hunger exists because of obstacles to market
trade, and if those were removed, there would be no hunger; the perceived
irrationality here consists in the fact that obstructions to capitalism are

Throughout the 20th century, millions have died from hunger every year, but
it is not altogether clear to me that you can blame that simply on
capitalism. But regardless of one's point of view on this, it is evident
that capitalism flourished, despite these millions dying from hunger.

In reality, when Marxists decry capitalism as an irrational system, what
they are doing most often is that they make a moral argument about what
human priorities should be (a hierarchy of values), except that they often
do not make this explicit, and assume their case is self-evident. But it may
not be self-evident at all.

Another frequent supposition in the talk about the irrationality of
capitalism is that rationality is by definition a "good" thing. Capitalism
according to Marxists is a "bad" thing, and, therefore, it must be

But rationality is not necessarily a "good" thing at all. Rational thought
and action may be applied for good or for evil. A given means-ends
relationship can be judged quite rational, even although we object to the
means and/or the ends on other grounds. I would think this is precisely one
of the root causes of the postmodern condition, i.e. the lack of
substantive, consensual and objective criteria about what is rational or

When I sit here typing a mail, it is a rational activity. But someone might
argue it is irrational, because I could better spend my time on other
things. This is a value judgement which may be more or less informed by
knowledge about my life. I could justify my activity rationally, but that
justification might not be accepted by somebody else, operating with a
different means-ends relationship and value-hierarchy.


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