[OPE] "Parasitism"

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@tiscali.nl>
Date: Fri Jan 23 2009 - 17:27:06 EST

According to Jerry, "From a Marxian perspective, ALL capitalists are parasites living off the surplus labor performed by wage-workers."

But from Marx's own perspective this interpretation is false, both diachronically and synchronically. This kind of misrepresentation is one of the reasons why I no longer believe in "Marxism".

Marx himself distinguished explicitly between the "functioning" or "working" capitalist who works in a business, and mere "coupon clippers" who play no productive role whatever and never need to work. His real point is that, as he puts it, the work a capitalist actually does, "generally speaking" stands in inverse proportion to the size of his capital (Cap. Vol. 3, pelican, p. 354). Marx furthermore says that the trade in financial claims gives rise to a "new financial aristocracy, a new kind of parasite" contrasting with the old landed aristocracy (ibid. p. 569).

When you become a bourgeois in the proper sense, i.e. you own at least one million dollars, the capital owned provides sufficient annual income to make working a free and optional choice. But the actual number of people on earth owning one million dollars or more, is nowadays about 10 million people. This is only a tiny fraction of the global economically active population. Admittedly, because of factors such as currency differences, you can get an independent income from a capital asset sufficient to free you from working, which is far smaller than a million dollars. For example, if you lived in Thailand or somewhere like that, a few hundred thousand dollars might be sufficient to keep you going all your life without working for your money anymore.

Nevertheless, the fact is that the vast majority of the economically active population do have to work, i.e. their circumstances are such that working is not optional. Thus, in empirical reality, the majority of capitalists too are actually "working capitalists" who have to work for their money and cannot simply "live off the labour of others", or at least, they have worked for a certain number of years previously, to provide the savings for a rentier existence.

If we examine in detail the economic status of the whole population according to occupation and activity, we must scientifically conclude that the group of people "sustained by the labour of others" is enormously larger than the group which consists of capitalists. So, in reality, most of the people "living off the labour of others" are not actually capitalists, i.e. they are not people who obtain income exclusively from property ownership which is sufficient to sustain themselves.

For some intelligent discussion of the socio-economic definition of a "capitalist" in Marx's sense, see:

Ralph Miliband, Class and class power in contemporary capitalism, in: Stanislaw Kozyr-Kowalski and Jacek Tittenbrun, On Social Differentiation. A Contribution to the Critique of Marxist Ideology, Part 2. Poznan: Adam Mickiewicz University Press, 1992, pp. 7-62.

Ernest Mandel, Social differentiation in capitalist and postcapitalist societies, in: Stanislaw Kozyr-Kowalski and Jacek Tittenbrun, On Social Differentiation. A Contribution to the Critique of Marxist Ideology, Part 2. Poznan: Adam Mickiewicz University Press, 1992, pp. 63-91.

For an analysis of the notion of economic parasitism, see e.g.:

Helen Boss (1990), Theories of surplus and transfer: parasites and producers in economic thought. Boston: Hyman.

I should perhaps add that there is a difference between "free riders" and "parasites". Intrinsically, a parasite lives and grows to the detriment of the host organism which it feeds on. A "free rider" may in principle neither reduce nor add to existing wealth, i.e. the "free ride" may not be at a cost to the host organism.

Vulgar Marxism aims only to prove that the workers are exploited, but unfortunately this moral-religious concern gets in the way of the scientific analysis of the social organisation of an economic community.



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Received on Fri Jan 23 17:29:02 2009

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