[OPE-L:4776] Re: opposition to Hayek

Michael William (mwilliam@compuserve.com)
Mon, 14 Apr 1997 15:56:12 -0700 (PDT)

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I'd like to wonder what has happened to Allin's usual careful
argumentation, even given that this particular thread is developing in a
rather broad-brush political manner.

Allin wrote
> I'd like to second Paul's response on this issue. It is not
> -- cannot be -- peripheral.


>If Mises and Hayek were right
> on the issue of socialist planning,

I for one don't make any such claim then, though I do think there is
something to their account of the informational advantages of market
systems, the likely 'cascade' of interventions once a capitalist State
starts on such a path and the undesirable aspects of central direction of
labour. Anyway, as to on what they were right or wrong, and to what
extent, *cannot* in my view be *decided* on the basis of the real or
imagined political implications of their arguments, or their own political

>the Marx-based
> critique of capitalism is so much hot air.

This is quite clearly a non sequitur. Even *if* the Austrian critique of
central planning were right, this conclusion would not follow:

1. There may well be other alternatives to capitalism than central planning

2. There is nothing empty ('hot air') about a critique of capitalism which
does *not* specify an alternative. My own current settlement is that I have
no well-grounded account of what might follow the demise of capitalism.
That in itself does not invalidate the critique of capitalism to which I
have made a very small contribution. (Ian Steedman somewhere makes a
similar defence of the Sraffian critique of neo-classical orthodoxy.) I
gave up seeking the Truth about the essentially unknowable future -
particularly beyond the essential discontinuities that must inevitably
characterise a systemic transition - when I left the Roman Catholic Church
at the age of 14. I mean to provoke only a discussion (and not a fight)
when I provocatively suggest that Allin's (and Paul C.'s) revealed
adherence to 'the scientific method', its application in the social
sciences and the necessarily progressive nature of 'scientific' knowledge
growth seem to verge on an act of Faith.
3. In Marx's time there was no clear actually existing alternative to
capitalism, and Marx offered no well specified theoretical/utopian
alternative. Did that invalidate his critique of capitalism by way of the
critique of classical political economy? I think not.

> defenders of capitalism don't claim it's a perfect economic
> system, just that it's the best _possible_ system. (Cf. the
> old quip about democracy being the worst form of
> government... apart from all the alternatives.)


> Grant the
> Austrians their anti-planning argument and we have no
> counter to this. It immediately follows that a generalised
> critique of capitalism is pointless self-indulgence,
> amounting merely to a declaration that one finds it
> distasteful.

This repeats the non sequitur (see above). In particular, an internal
critique of capitalism is not thereby moralistic in this sense. In
particular the value-form critique does not rely for its cogency either on
the existence of a well-specified - let alone actually existent -
alternative, or on any particular moral position. Having said that, it
provides the *basis* for critique of a whole raft of anti-human
characteristics of the bourgeois epoch. For many years I tried to ensure
that my critique of capitalism made no reference to these atrocious and
inhuman irrationalities - but then I decided to stop fighting with one hand
tied behind my back.

> So what, if there's no alternative? In that
> case anyone seriously concerned with the wellbeing of the
> working class ought to be thinking in terms of the
> possibilities for amelioration and reform of capitalism

Anybody seriously concerned with the well being of the working class ought,
IMO, to be doing this anyway: every shift in the system must be fought so
as to bring about a conjunctural resolution least damaging to the working
class. The problems of articulating reform and resolution are not easy, but
it would be gross arrogance to fail to fight for reformist improvements in
the lot of the working class whilst working for the latter. The revolution
is not on the agenda this year - but poverty, starvation, alienation, etc.
etc are.

> in which exercise Marx's ideas are unlikely to be much help.

I just don't see this (see above)

We are, of course, rerunning old battles between humanist and 'scientific'
marxism, reform and revolution, etc, etc. But I am happy to to do that as
some increased insight may ensue. I don't expect to persuade anyone,

Dr Michael Williams
"Books are Weapons"

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