회신: [OPE] What about the French-Revolution Human-Bourgeois Right od Property?

From: 이채언 <conlee@chonnam.ac.kr>
Date: Mon Sep 29 2008 - 07:45:22 EDT

I have learnt a lot.


보낸 사람: ope-bounces@lists.csuchico.edu [ope-bounces@lists.csuchico.edu]이(가) Jurriaan Bendien [adsl675281@tiscali.nl] 대신 보냄
보낸 날짜: 2008년 9월 29일 월요일 오전 6:00
받는 사람: OPE@lists.csuchico.edu
제목: 회신: [OPE] What about the French-Revolution Human-Bourgeois Right od Property?

With due respect, Chai-on, I disagree.

You say "From the western viewpoint, it is taken for granted that human rights can only come from private property ownership." But this surely is not a uniquely "Western" point of view, it generally reflects the point of view of the bourgeoisie as an historically emergent class, East and West.

What Marx already suggests in his Paris manuscripts is that private property ownership is a necessary phase in the dialectic of human progress, since people who do not have the experience and responsibility of owning and managing property themselves, do not have the capacities to manage public (or socialised) property to start off with. A necessary distinction should also be drawn between personal belongings and assets owned or managed by an organization.

I think the problem is rather different: in our era, the distance between those who own assets, those who effectively control them, and those who use them has widened enormously. That means that "private initiative" often no longer means "personal responsibility". It is not that private property necessarily becomes a legal fiction altogether, but that ownership increasingly refers just to a legally enforcible title or claim to an income, a return or revenue. The game increasingly becomes one of extracting an income from any source. Increasingly, also, borrowed assets are used to claim and appropriate income, to the point of fraudulence (of course, if the asset used as "financial instrument" is not actually yours, then you can usually also evade tax, and if your financial instrument does not yield any profit to you, but to someone else, then you also evade tax).

Hence, private property can be evil and hypocritical, but not necessarily so. The Marxist rhetorics about private property are largely useless, because the real question is exactly what kinds of property and contractual forms best promote a better society in the given situation. That can be a tremendous intellectual challenge, to understand that.

I spoke previously of "bad socialist economics" and perhaps I should emphasize that this is not simply a prejudice of mine. For instance, in his (long as usual) speech to the third party congress of the Cuban Communist Party in 1986 (at which time a public service bureaucracy of 250,000 managed an economy with a labour force of 3 million), Fidel Castro himself fairly politely noted numerous absurdities: for example, new industrial and agricultural installations built in unpopulated areas without living quarters for the workers; important investments to cultivate tropical fruits while much arable land is without irrigation; irrigation projects which cannot be utilised because electric power or pump installations are lacking; workplaces built without supporting facilities and amenities; hundreds of millions of pesos invested in a railway without being able to use it efficiently, because the signal systems, loading platforms and stations weren't built, etc.

I hasten to add that obviously capitalist economies are not free from economic absurdities either, to the contrary - my point is really that general rhetoric about markets, private versus public ownership, and planning (whether right or left) is just not helpful, because good economic organisation involves not just accurately understanding the economic effects of policies, but also understanding the real interests people have, organisational culture, moral norms, and property forms. If economics has nothing useful to say about that, and just makes do with doctrinaire assumptions, it is unsurprising to find that e.g. no independent economists were invited for their advice about the US $700 billion bailout package ($700 billion is roughly equal to the GDP of Turkey, as an indication of magnitude). This package just reveals very clearly that capitalist society cannot escape from acknowledging that in a capitalist economy some people get something for nothing, and that the system breaks down if they don't.

To give a simple illustration of the complexity of the problems: here in Europe, the public service increasingly lacks the expertise to carry out projects with its own staff. Why? Because those who have the expertise defect to the private sector where they can make more money, and have less hierarchy to deal with. Promotion in the public service then comes to mean "getting control over a budget", which enables you to hire in private consultants, workers and advisors to do the work that really needs to be done. Problem is that the budget "owner" doesn't necessarily have the expertise to hire consultants who will do a good job, and the consultants take no responsibility for how their advice is used. If the project fails substantially, the budget "owner" just gets another job (it may not even be possible to sack him or her), and there are few procedures for litigation. The power of the budget "owner" is not necessarily good management, but budgetary control, and the ability to shunt employees from one task to another in the name of "personal development". The effect of that is, insofar as it does not mean "organized irresponsibility", that success depends on an identification or affinity with an organisation's goals.

But why do people identify or feel an affinity with the organisation's goals sufficient to motivate good work? Economics has no good answer there, it's a whole mix of things, and thus unsurprisingly management schools increasingly becomes political and focuses on "how you might get people to cooperate" - whether in a principled way, or a manipulative way. Market liberalism promotes the idea of people making their own private, individual choices about resource allocation, but in fact, the result of that is often that it may become very difficult to organise anything much - as soon as there is a substantial disagreement, people are off. One effect of that is that anybody who is really able to organise something effectively, can bid up his price. The Left frequently complains about the gigantic salaries of executives, which may be justified in many cases, I do not deny that, but it's just that some people are prepared to take responsibility for an organisation, while many will not - they prefer to take the benefits of market activity, while shifting the costs to someone else. That is really the slogan of the modern era: "privatise the gains of economic activity, socialize the losses". This implies a very deepgoing moral malaise, but I don't think we'll solve it with general slogans.


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Received on Mon Sep 29 07:54:09 2008

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