Re: [OPE-L] Socialism and markets

From: Jerry Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Sun Jan 15 2006 - 17:09:08 EST

> Materially, there are sufficient resources
> globally to give everyone a decent life in terms of physical needs.

Hi again Jurriaan,

I have yet to see credible evidence to support this assertion unless
we make further heroic and limiting assumptions about what
constitute physical needs (as is done e.g. by the UN in defining "basic
needs") and how many resources are available globally (where? Are
you & should we include all potential resources in Antarctica?  ... in
the rain forests of the world? ... in the world's oceans? If these
resources are  fully extracted to provide for human needs, what are the
environmental consequences and long-term consequences  life,
including human life?).

> 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.

I don't see the larger question as one of corruption. The main area of
conflict potentially is by workers in the more advanced economies who
might be unwilling to make sacrifices (even a decision to maintain a
current living standard, when a higher one is possible, would be viewed
as a sacrifice perhaps by many) to move towards the goal of global
socialist equality.  And, I don't think it would be unfair to suggest that
if  a movement towards the equalization of living standards is viewed
by people in other regions as taking too long, then that feeds into a
recipe for international conflict.

> Conspicuous consumption does not necessarily mean immorality,
> anymore than non-conspicuous consumption connotes morally
> sound behaviour.

Socialist morality must embrace environmental concerns.
Conspicuous consumption, to the extent that it wastes resources,
is immoral if one views the economic waste of resources as
immoral.  This is not rooted in a Protestant ethic which views
waste as .. well ... wasteful but rather is an ethical claim rooted in
environmental history and consciousness.

> Stealing from Wal-Mart? In that
> case, you would most likely endorse stealing as well in other situations.

Indeed.  It's not a social solution, though.  For some individuals, though,
under capitalism it is a workable and legitimate short-term way of
addressing a problem.  What is a moral action in one mode of production
might be viewed as being immoral in another.  To take an extreme case: if
a slave 'steals' food from her/his slaveowner in order to survive, is that
immoral? No.  If a Wal-Mart worker isn't offered company-paid health
insurance and decides to 'steal' Wal-Mart products to pay doctor's
bills or the rent, etc,. is that immoral?  Obviously -- from a capitalist
perspectives -- the answer would be .. Yes!  But,  other workers
might legitimately view it as moral and justified, under the
circumstances.  [NB: Circumstances matter -- even most mainstream
bourgeois ethicists would say that under certain extreme circumstances
cannibalism is moral.  E.g. in the case of a celebrated plane crash in the
Andes or at sea in certain life raft 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 is OK from a certain ethical perspective to do unto others under
capitalism is not the same as what is OK to do unto others under
socialism.  The problem will be how in practice one ethical standard
is abandoned and another one -- more appropriate for a 'higher' form
of social organization -- is adopted.  It can be done but it's not an
easy process (perhaps there are some lessons here from the Cuban
experience).  A related problem is how this can be done _without_
resorting to pronouncements from state 'authorities': i.e. how
people can learn a new ethics without having some authority (e.g.
political party, religious leader, revolutionary hero, etc)
'write' the new ethics. [An example, perhaps, of  'ethics from above'
might have been _Quotations from Chairman Mao_ which, in my
view, was used in a quasi-religious and authoritarian way in China.]

In solidarity, Jerry

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